A lawyer who challenged two federal officials to recuse themselves from a review of a major Canadian pipeline project for showing bias is pleased that Canada’s energy regulator is going to review his motion.
“That’s the right thing to do,” said Charles Hatt, a Toronto-based lawyer from Ecojustice, an environmental law firm that is representing an Ontario group in ongoing federal hearings about the proposed Energy East pipeline.
Hatt made the comments one day after the regulator, Canada’s National Energy Board, invited all participants in its hearings on the proposed Energy East pipeline to submit written comments on his motion. Hatt requested the recusal of two NEB panelists in the wake of revelations, uncovered by National Observer, that they held a private meeting with a representative of the company, former Quebec premier Jean Charest, in January of 2015. Notes from the meeting show that the Charest gave them political advice about how to gain public support for approval of the Energy East project, a proposed 4,500 kilometre crude oil pipeline between Alberta and New Brunswick.
The two panelists who participated in the meetings, Jacques Gauthier and Lyne Mercier, have not publicly commented on the controversy.
TransCanada has repeatedly declined requests to comment on whether any of its employees knew about the meeting. The company also declined to say whether it would submit any recommendations to the NEB about the request for the recusals.
“Not to my knowledge,” TransCanada spokesman Tim Duboyce told National Observer in an email on Wednesday. “Our focus is on preparing for the sessions in Montreal next week which are an opportunity to hear from members of the public and stakeholders, and address the questions and issues they raise.”
New Democratic Party ethics critic Alexandre Boulerice has sent two letters to the federal lobbying commissioner, Karen Shepherd, asking her to investigate whether the meeting violated any rules.
The NEB has defended its actions, noting on its website that it has been “criticized” for what it believes were efforts to engage “more effectively” with a wide range of stakeholders in Quebec.
Hatt said that the NEB needs to accept that the actions of its members leaves the public with an appearance of bias, which requires them to recuse themselves in order to ensure that people have confidence in the process.
“What we’re concerned about are the actual facts,” Hatt said in an interview. “Energy East was discussed and in ways that are pretty clearly inappropriate. We don't think that spinning it one way or the other can change what the facts show.”
Participants will have until Sept. 7 to submit their comments about Hatt’s motion, which is also being combined with a similar request from Montreal lawyer, Dominique Neuman, who is representing Stratégies Énergétiques and the Association québecoise de lutte contre la pollution atmosphérique at the hearings.
The NEB said it would decide what to do after reviewing the written submissions, but it has noted that participants must address the issue in writing and will not be allowed to speak publicly about their views during hearings next week in Montreal.