Carr set up a parallel consultation process for Kinder Morgan pipeline review, why not Energy East?
A few months ago I interviewed Jim Carr, Canada’s minister responsible for pipeline reviews. He told me Canadians would be consulted at length about new energy infrastructure projects. But I have a question: When?
That question is now pressing because eco-activists have turned the National Energy Board’s review of the 1.1 million b/d Energy East proposal into a three-ring circus as part of their strategy to “Keystone” it to death. All three members of the Energy East review panel resigned Friday after allegations of an improper meeting with a TransCanada lobbyist. The resignations mean unreasonable delays while new French-speaking members with technical expertise are appointed.
And that puts Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government in the middle of a conundrum: How to protect Canadians’ right to express their support or opposition to Energy East while at the same time protecting the integrity of the NEB review process, which is designed to evaluate technical issues, not political or social ones.
Here are excerpts from my interview with Carr, in which he discusses various types of pipeline review consultation:
“…we announced interim principles on Jan. 27 that established more vision with the indigenous communities about projects that are currently under review. We felt that indigenous communities needed more time and better opportunity to express their opinion about these projects and that will also apply to Energy East so the Government acknowledges that meaningful consultation with indigenours communities are both a constitutional and a moral obligation.”
“Our strategy is to create a process and room for all Canadians who have an interest in these major projects to express themselves, and ultimately the Cabinet will take its responsibility and make decisions in the national interest. We think that when those decisions are made, Canadians will say, ‘Yes, that was thoughtful and a reasonable way to get to a decision.’ I know full well and so do you that not every single Canadian is going to agree that those decisions were the right ones. But that’s the job of government – to consult, to offer lots of opportunity for a discussion and then to make a decision that we believe to be in the national interest for which we will be held accountable by the people of Canada.”
In Saturday’s column, I explained how eco-activists like Greenpeace and the Dogwood Initiative Keystoned Ebridge’s Northern Gateway and Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain Expansion pipeline proposals throughout the NEB review processes.
Those reviews are finished (Northern Gateway approval was thrown out by the Federal Court of Appeal because Stephen Harper’s Conservative Government failed its “duty to consult.” Trans Mountain was approved by the NEB with condition and the Trudeau Government will make a final decision in Dec.).
There are no other major inter-provincial pipeline projects on the horizon.
Energy East is the only one on the NEB’s agenda for the foreseeable future.
If Minister Carr intends to set up a process to consult Canadians – including eco-activists, so they aren’t able to crash NEB panel hearings in the future – he better get cracking. The Energy East review ends in 2018 and there is a lot of work to do between now and then.
Let me suggest how the Trudeau Government should proceed.
Based on an interview with Gaetan Caron, former NEB chair and now a fellow at the School of Public Policy, University of Calgary, I wrote that any pipeline review has a “hard” side (the technical merits of the pipeline) and a “soft” side (politics, social engagement, upstream GHG emissions, First Nations consultation, etc.) that is properly the responsibility of the Canadian government.
Carr and the Department of Natural Resources should immediately launch a “soft” consultative process in Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, and the affected Maritime provinces.
Any issues that are not technical in nature should be moved into this new process.
At the end of the Energy East review, the Trudeau Government can review reports created by the NEB and the consultation process and make its final decision.
Such an approach would be fair, comprehensive, transparent, and would prevent the NEB review from being Keystoned as it was with Northern Gateway and Trans Mountain.
And it would be consistent with the promises Carr made to Canadians in his interview.
To top it off, the Minister already has a precedent of sorts.
In May, Carr appointed a three-person panel, chaired by former First Nations Chief Kim Baird, to lead public consultations on the Trans Mountain project. It was widely viewed as a parallel process, since the NEB was only days from making its decision.
“I encourage communities, Indigenous groups and citizens to engage the panel and let their views on the project be known so the Government can make decisions that reflect the interests and needs of Canadians,” Carr said in a press release at the time of the announcement.
If a parallel consultation process was good enough for Trans Mountain, it’s good enough for Energy East.
Appointing one now would allow a consultation panel – or panels, if the government sets up a separate one for Quebec – to provide a thorough airing of the non-technical issues prior to a final decision by Cabinet in two or three years.
The parallel process will be vilified by eco-activists, but the Canadian government has a broader responsibility to all citizens, and a parallel process satisfies that responsibility.
Time’s a’ wasting.