National Energy Board suspends Energy East hearings
A demonstrator holds up the name plates of two of the commissioners as they disrupt the National Energy Board public hearing into the proposed $15.7-billion Energy East pipeline project proposed by TransCanada, in Montreal, Monday, Aug. 29, 2016. (Paul Chiasson / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Giuseppe Valiante, The Canadian Press
Published Tuesday, August 30, 2016 3:05PM EDT
Last Updated Tuesday, August 30, 2016 5:01PM EDT
MONTREAL -- All future National Energy Board hearings into the Energy East pipeline project will be suspended until the board rules on motions demanding two panel members resign, the federal agency announced Tuesday.
The board received the motions after a news report revealed the two members met in early 2015 with ex-Quebec premier Jean Charest, who was at the time a paid lobbyist for TransCanada, the company behind the project.
"Given that the board has invited written comments by Sept. 7, 2016 on these motions, the board will not proceed with further panel sessions until it reaches a decision," it said in a statement.
The NEB has been heavily criticized by many politicians and activists in Quebec who claim it is in a conflict of interest due to the revelations two of three people presiding over the public review sessions met with Charest.
The panelists are charged with recommending to Parliament whether to proceed with the pipeline, which would transport crude oil from Alberta to New Brunswick.
On Monday, protesters stormed a conference room in Montreal minutes before the public hearings were scheduled to take place, forcing the NEB to cancel the day's events.
The regulator also ditched Tuesday's panel sessions "as a result of a violent disruption on the first day of proceedings and ongoing security concerns," the statement said.
Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre walked out of Monday's hearings after anti-pipeline protesters began screaming and chanting.
Coderre, who has come out against the pipeline, suggested strongly the NEB review process had the perception of bias and that TransCanada has failed to satisfy local concerns about safety and emergency preparedness plans in case of spills.
TransCanada (TSX:TRP) said Tuesday the company "will wait for the NEB to provide guidance on how it plans to proceed."
The firm said that prior to Montreal's scheduled hearings, it participated in five panel sessions in New Brunswick that were "productive and respectful."
The company said it will "look forward to continuing to be able to listen to people's questions and concerns regarding Energy East and to address them."
Former BC Hydro CEO Marc Eliesen said the NEB is suffering from a "petro culture" and that its review process is "biased and non-objective."
Eliesen dropped out as an intervener during the NEB's review of Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain pipeline expansion proposal in 2014, calling the process "a farce."
"I thought the kind of decision-making involved was done with such a bias and lack of objectivity," he said in an interview from Vancouver. "I believe the whole nature of the hearings for Trans Mountain was a farce and I think this was continued with the Energy East proposal."
He said the NEB's two panel members should "absolutely" resign.
Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr said it's not the federal government's role to make a decision regarding NEB panelists, who are supposed to be independent.
"I think the National Energy Board is going to have to deal with the situation," he said in Calgary. "They have guidelines, they have the statute that governs how they do business. They are an independent group. I'm sure they are looking at it very seriously and we'll await to see how it is resolved."
Meanwhile, Alberta's energy minister said the disruptions at the Energy East hearings in Quebec were disconcerting and a hindrance to the debate.
But Marg McCuaig-Boyd said Alberta is determined to move forward and will work harder to reinforce its message on the importance of getting oil to the coasts to ship to overseas markets.
"We're just going to keep doing what we're doing," McCuaig-Boyd said. "It's working. I'm hearing from companies all the time that our climate leadership plan is helping the discussion."
With files from Dan Healing in Calgary and Dean Bennett in Edmonton