Changing the culture of Canada’s embattled pipeline regulator is part of a comprehensive review that will unfold in the coming months, federal Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr said on Friday in a short interview with National Observer.
Carr made the comments in Ottawa, one day after the Liberal government appointed four new members to the National Energy Board, including an Indigenous lawyer from Alberta, Wilma Jacknife, and other regulatory experts with experience at high levels of government.
The appointments bring some fresh faces to a regulator that has often been criticized for being too cozy with industry and weak when it comes to enforcing safety rules. The regulator has said its staff acts professionally and continues to apply extensive technical expertise in the interest of Canadian pipeline safety and environmental protection.
Carr said the upcoming federal review of the NEB would fit into a series of major investigations, announced in June, to review the status of major Canadian environmental laws that were overhauled by the former Conservative government.
Apart from Jacknife, the Liberal government also appointed Damien Côté from Quebec, Ronald Durelle from New Brunswick and Alain Jolicoeur from Ontario as new temporary members to the NEB.
Carr also said that three additional appointments of NEB members would be on the way to give the regulator panelists to preside over hearings to review the Energy East pipeline, a 4,500 kilometre crude oil pipeline proposed by Calgary-based TransCanada Corp.
Hearings on this pipeline adjourned with all panelists resigning after admitting that they appeared to be biased in the wake of evidence uncovered last summer by National Observer. The report revealed that the NEB's chief executive, Peter Watson, and two of the panelists had met privately with a TransCanada representative who gave them political advice about how to get the project approved.
Q and A with Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr
Q: Do new appointments have a mandate to change the culture of the NEB?
A: "Well the mandate to change the culture of the NEB will come during the modernization process. When we look at long term reform of the National Energy Board, we will be announcing an expert panel very soon and as you know there are three other investigations across the country on reform to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, the Navigable Waters Act, and the Fisheries Act and the government will take in all that advice and come up with an across-the-government approach to reform the environmental assessment system. These temporary members are delivering on a promise that Minister (Catherine) McKenna and I made on Jan. 27 that we would add more temporary members to the National Energy Board to give them more capacity to hear the Energy East pipeline deliberations."
Q: So you’re now going to have seven new (NEB) members... That wasn’t initially the plan when you first came into (power) right?
A: "Well because we had the recusals. So there are two tranches. This is the promise of Jan. 27. We’re appointing four new members. They’re first rate. I hope you have had a chance to look at their bios. And then, very soon, we will appoint three new members to replace those who were recused."
Q: So does this give the government the opportunity to put more of its stamp on the NEB?
A: "They’re very high quality individuals, reflecting the diversity of the country and in the case of Energy East, (they reflect) the region. So we think that that’s important and people will see that the new process that we are using to appoint members, not only to the National Energy Board, but throughout government is yielding very good results."
Q: How will the new acting chief executive (of the National Energy Board) be selected to oversee the Energy East process? Because Mr. Watson can’t do that anymore. Is that you’re choice or theirs?
A: "No that’s theirs. That's up to them."