OTTAWA — Federal Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr has moved to revive the stalled review of TransCanada’s Energy East pipeline by appointing three new, bilingual, temporary members to the National Energy Board.
The move came Monday while the dust was still settling on the Liberal government’s pan-Canadian climate policy framework, which Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wrestled into reality late Friday in a hard-won and less-than-unanimous agreement with provincial and territorial premiers.
The Trudeau government has been playing off climate policy initiatives and fossil fuel infrastructure approvals in a carefully choreographed dance all fall, hoping to advance the duelling agendas amid deeply divided regional and public opinion perspectives.
With much of the policy fine print of the pan-Canadian climate framework still to be negotiated — such as a low-carbon fuel standard for vehicles — the government is now setting the stage for another major pipeline debate, this time on a proposed 4,500-kilometre line that would carry Alberta and Saskatchewan oil to refineries and ports in New Brunswick.
The Energy East hearings by the National Energy Board were barely underway when they fell apart in September over appearances of conflict of interest by the panel reviewing the application. NEB chairman Peter Watson and vice-chair Lyne Mercier were both implicated for having private meetings with a paid TransCanada consultant to discuss public opinion around the controversial project.
Three months later, Carr has named temporary replacement panellists and kicked the issue back to the NEB.
“We have now given the board the resources they need to do the job that has to be done on these hearings and they will determine how they will proceed from there,” Carr said outside the House of Commons on Monday.
In the meantime, the Liberals have approved a major liquefied natural gas project in northern British Columbia and two major oil pipeline expansions that will add about a million barrels a day to Canada’s export capacity. The Liberal government is also conducting a longer term review of the entire National Energy Board mandate, but the Energy East assessment will go ahead under the amended, interim process announced by the government last January.
At the time, Carr set a 21-month timeline for the completion of the Energy East review, but the clock was stopped by the conflict-of-interest allegations.
“The 21 months will be determined by the board on how it chooses to deploy these new members — whether or not they can be briefed up and resume (the former hearings) or whether they would go back to the beginning of the briefings,” Carr said Monday. “And that’s their call.”
The three new members — one each from New Brunswick, Ontario and Quebec — were not specifically named to the Energy East review panel by Carr because it’s up to the acting chair of the National Energy Board to assign duties.
The board issued a statement Monday saying it will name the Energy East panel “shortly.”
“The new hearing panel will determine how to move forward with the review process of the Energy East and Eastern Mainline projects,” said the NEB.
TransCanada said it’s awaiting instruction from the board on next steps.
“And we certainly look forward to engaging with Canadians on the Energy East project during the regulatory process,” spokesman Tim Duboyce said in an email.
The board appointments, as with all pipeline matters in the current political climate, did not assuage Conservatives or New Democrats.
Conservative critic Shannon Stubbs said the Liberals have created “total uncertainty and chaos” in the regulatory process.
“The longer they take to provide clarity and certainty and predictability in the review process overall, the more at risk any investment or construction of new pipelines is,” she said.
Alexandre Boulerice, the NDP lieutenant for Quebec, where Energy East opposition is particularly fierce, said the public has simply lost confidence in the current regulatory model and new appointees won’t fix the issue.
“We don’t trust the National Energy Board and sometimes it’s not only individuals who are the problem. It’s the whole frame and direction of the NEB.”
The three new NEB members are Don Ferguson of New Brunswick, Carole Malo from Ontario and Marc Paquin of Quebec.
Ferguson is a former senior New Brunswick civil servant who currently works as chief strategy officer at the New Brunswick Institute of Research, Data and Training.
Malo is a former vice-president at engineering giant SNC-Lavalin Capital and a director-level employee of Hydro-Quebec.
Paquin has a background in environmental law and is the longtime president of the UNISFERA International Center, a think tank that works on issues of governance, climate change and international development. He’s also a part-time member of Quebec’s environmental review agency.