The federal government has appointed three new bilingual members to the National Energy Board (NEB) in a move that could get the stalled Energy East pipeline review back on track.
The temporary appointments by Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr fill a void left when the previous panel examining TransCanada Corp.’s proposed 4,500−kilometre pipeline stepped down in September due to perceptions of a potential conflict of interest. Peter Watson, the NEB's chair and chief executive officer, also recused himself from choosing the next panel over the same conflict concerns.
Carr did not specifically name the new members — one each from New Brunswick, Ontario and Quebec — to the Energy East review panel because it’s up to the acting chair of the NEB to assign duties. But the government news release Monday pointedly noted the two men and one woman are all qualified to be considered for the pipeline review.
"The National Energy Board now has all the temporary members they need," Carr told reporters outside of the House of Commons on Monday. "They will determine — because they are, after all, (at) arm’s length from government — what panels they’ll appear on. So we’ve now appointed seven (temporary members). I’m very pleased about these three all fluently bilingual from Ontario, New Brunswick and Quebec and now it will be up to the National Energy Board to determine how they’ll be deployed."
Charest affair prompted panel recusals
The three new members are Don Ferguson of New Brunswick, Carole Malo from Ontario and Marc Paquin of Quebec.
The NEB did not have any bilingual members available to step in and pursue the review when its Energy East panel stepped down due to evidence uncovered by National Observer that two of them had met privately with a paid TransCanada consultant, former Quebec premier Jean Charest. So the government began a job search for new panel members that the Board could appoint for the review of Energy East.
TransCanada said in a statement that it was not its place to comment on the process.
"We will await further instructions from the NEB on what the next steps will be," spokesman Tim Duboyce said in an email to National Observer.
But André Bélisle, president of Association québécoise de lutte contre la pollution atmosphérique, a Quebec environmental group, says any new Energy East panel will have no credibility if it is allowed to proceed without major reforms to the NEB.
In an interview, Bélisle said that evidence uncovered in recent months by National Observer shows that the Board was actively developing a strategy to convince Quebec residents to accept the project, instead of leading an objective review. He added that all of these matters need to be investigated before a new panel begins its work.
“The review (of Energy East) is unacceptable as long as there is no public inquiry," Bélisle said.
Carr made the announcement in a news release that was issued after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had concluded a news conference with reporters on Monday morning.
Several environmental groups have called for the hearings to start from scratch, but Carr said it would be up to the NEB to decide how to proceed since it is independent from the government.
"I don't think it would be appropriate for me to say to the National Energy Board that I have a preference," Carr said. "The hearings will be run by the Board, as they should be. They now have the resources they need to have to do a proper job. That was the government's responsibility that we discharged today."
What you need to know about the new panelists:
- Don Ferguson is a public servant with 35 years of experience, and the current chief strategy officer at the New Brunswick Institute of Research, Data and Training. He holds a bachelor of science in geology from the University of New Brunswick and an honorary doctorate in public administration from the Université de Moncton.
- Carole Malo has worked in the development, procurement, and implementation of large energy and infrastructure projects — including pipelines — for 25 years, both in Canada and internationally. She currently runs her own consultancy firm, but has held senior roles in both the public and private sector for Hydro-Quebec, Project Finance, Infrastructure Ontario, and others.
- Marc Paquin is a seasoned lawyer whose career has focused on sustainable development, environmental assessments, environmental law, public hearings, and corporate social responsibility. Since 2002, he has served as CEO of the UNISFÉRA International Centre, an independent think tank focused on governance, sustainability, corporate responsibility, climate change and international development.
Largest oil pipeline ever proposed in Canada
Energy East is the largest pipeline project ever proposed in Canada, and if constructed, would cross nearly 3,000 waterways from Alberta to New Brunswick. It would ship up to 1.1 million barrels of crude oil per day across six provinces.
Critics of the project argue that it could put the drinking water of five million Canadians at risk and violate indigenous land rights, while supporters believe it will create thousands of jobs, boost local economies, and get Albertan oil to tidewater.