Hearings on Energy East pipeline a circus

1 Sep 2016

Lethbridge Herald


Demonstrators for and against the Energy East pipeline project were out in force Monday when the National Energy Board opened the Montreal phase of its national hearings on the project. The anti-pipeline crowd, however, not content to make their point out in the street, pushed their way into the hearing room, shoved the security guards aside and broke up the meeting. The energy board members, ill-prepared for the antics of the demonstrators, were driven from the room and the hearing was called off.

The Energy East pipeline, using the path of TransCanada’s existing natural gas pipeline, would pass under the St. Lawrence River near Montreal and then lead to a terminal near St. John, N.B. It would allow for refinement and export of bitumen from the northern Alberta oilsands.

Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre, who had been scheduled as the first witness, has been leading the area opposition to TransCanada’s pipeline project, complaining that members of the energy board had previously met privately with Jean Charest, a former Quebec premier and more recently a lobbyist for TransCanada. He wanted this week’s hearing called off because of that. When the energy board tried to hold the hearing anyway, the protesters appeared and broke it up, achieving what Mr. Coderre was not able to do through political manoeuvring. Mr. Coderre walked out of the adjourned hearing, calling it a circus.

Mr. Coderre and his allies turned it into a circus and hurt their messaging. Had they allowed the hearing to proceed, Mr. Coderre’s complaints about the energy board would have been exposed as totally fake. The invasion of the hearing room and cancellation of the hearing spared Mr. Coderre from exposing his complaints to rational study.

In January 2015, National Energy Board chairman Peter Watson and two commissioners met with Quebec representatives from a wide range of groups: municipal associations, chambers of commerce, mayors (including Mr. Coderre) and former premier Charest to seek their advice on how to engage with the province. This was an entirely appropriate step toward ensuring they listened sensitively to all relevant points of view. When these meetings were disclosed by the National Observer news website a month ago, the energy board at first denied Energy East was discussed in the meetings, which was a foolish thing to do. Then the board backed away from its denial, creating an appearance of impropriety.

Board members are perfectly free to meet with advocates of Energy East such as Mr. Charest and opponents of the plan such as Mr. Coderre in order to ensure everyone interested in the subject can get their views before the board in its hearings. How can Mr. Coderre complain about Mr. Charest attending such a meeting when Mr. Coderre himself was also there?

Environment Minister Catherine McKenna has been urging Canadians to have confidence in their institutions and especially in the National Energy Board. That will be easier to do when the board shows it has the muscle to protect the integrity of its public hearings. The board should overwhelm Mr. Coderre with the facts and reduce him to silence. It should hire enough security guards to ensure the public hearings can in fact happen and the facts of the case can be widely understood.

Rational study may lead to the conclusion that the Energy East pipeline should be built. For that reason, Mr. Coderre and the protesters will do all in their power to prevent rational study from happening. The energy board should be ready for them.

An editorial from the Winnipeg Free Press (distributed by The Canadian Press)