All 19 politically-appointed members of the National Energy Board are slated to be swept from their positions under new environmental legislation introduced last week by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's government.
While public servants would retain jobs in a restructured energy oversight regime, the bill introduced in the House of Commons is designed to jettison the current members of the pipeline regulator, the federal Natural Resources Department said on Tuesday. This means that once the legislation is adopted, the government would be able to remove a group of people appointed by former prime minister Stephen Harper's government to oversee Canada's energy sector.
Prior to the 2015 election, the former Harper government renewed the mandates of all permanent NEB members in a move that would have prevented the incoming government from making its own appointments to the regulator before the next federal election, scheduled for 2019.
These current political appointees have been at the head of a regulator which has been criticized in recent years for being too cozy with industry, including in a 2016 report by a Trudeau government-appointed panel.
Critics have also slammed the National Energy Board (NEB) for a series of controversial decisions made by the politically-appointed members, including a refusal to allow cross examination of company officials about testimony and evidence that was eventually used to approve the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project, a major west coast oil pipeline proposed by Kinder Morgan.
In 2016, the regulator found itself embroiled in another scandal following an investigation by National Observer which revealed that its members and its chief executive officer, Peter Watson, had met privately with a consultant of pipeline operator TransCanada, former Quebec premier Jean Charest. At the time, the regulator, which has the powers of a federal court, was supposed to be leading an impartial and independent review of the TransCanada's Energy East project.
The legislation introduced by Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna last week, Bill C-69, creates a new agency to evaluate the impacts of proposed industrial projects as well as a new regulator to provide oversight of the energy sector. Public servants who work in the two existing organizations would transition into the new agency and the new Canadian Energy Regulator.
But unlike the NEB's boss, the government said that the current president of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, Ron Hallman, is slated to be president of the new Impact Assessment Agency after the new law is adopted, an agency spokeswoman said in an email.
In the case of the NEB, its successor would have a new board of directors as well as a group of regulatory commissioners, to be appointed by the Trudeau government. This means 19 current permanent and temporary Board members are facing termination as soon as Bill C-69 is adopted.
"Existing Board members (both permanent and temporary) appointed under the National Energy Board Act would cease to hold office on the coming into force of the Canadian Energy Regulator Act," said Natural Resources Canada spokeswoman Catherine Leroux.
The new regulator would also separate the role of CEO and chair, currently held by Watson at the NEB, creating a new chief executive officer position and a separate chairperson of a board of directors. This change would allow the chief executive to manage day-to-day operations of the regulator, without getting involved in its regulatory decisions.
The department also said that the government wanted to ensure a smooth and orderly transition into the new organization, "to support efficient and predictable energy regulation in Canada."
Leroux added that the government would undertake a "rigorous recruitment and selection" process for the new appointees, to reflect a range of views and expertise in environmental science, community development and Indigenous traditional knowledge.
An NEB spokesman referred questions about current Board members to Natural Resources Canada, but said in a statement that it would implement legislative changes if the bill, which proposes to repeal the existing National Energy Board Act, becomes law.
"We welcome any measures that strengthen our regulatory framework," said spokesman Marc Drolet in an email to National Observer. "A robust and modern regulatory regime is important to keeping Canadians safe and protecting our environment. In the meantime, the NEB will continue to implement its existing legislation, the National Energy Board Act. Projects that have been approved or are currently being reviewed under the NEB Act are required to follow current legislation."
with files from Carl Meyer
Editor's note: This article was updated at 7:40 p.m. ET on Feb. 13 with additional comments from the NEB.