This article is an updated and extended version of one published in January 2012.
Particularly since it gained majority control of the House and Senate, Canada’s Conservative Party has been crippling the mechanisms of environmental oversight. Harper’s team slashed agency budgets, gagged scientists and installed political apparatchiks throughout government, including senior levels of the RCMP, to ensure that all messages were and are politically acceptable and branded with a prominent Harper imprint.
No function of government was more constrained than protection of the environment. Opponents of unrestricted oil and gas industry development have been labelled radical and disloyal, even traitorous, conspirators. At behest of the pipeline industry, Conservatives limited federal protection for waterways to a handful of rivers and 97 of Canada’s lakes, which number in the tens of thousands. Almost none of these actions were subject of parliamentary debate; they were imposed by omnibus legislation of the sort Harper spoke against in the nineties.
Friday, the National Energy Board panel wound up its current stage of Northern Gateway hearings. In due course, they will announce agreement with the Enbridge project and authorize its construction. They can do nothing else. Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Energy Minister Joe Oliver have already signalled the desired outcome. If the people at the regulatory agency ignore directions, they’ll be replaced.
However, Harper’s minions are unlikely to present any significant roadblock. The National Energy Board members are entirely drawn from the energy industry. This is government sanctioned self-regulation, the surpassing aspiration of all who seek to convert public resources to private. The final ground of conflict regarding Northern Gateway will be the Supreme Court of Canada. Ultimately, coastal lands will be preserved by the populations that have survived here for 500 generations.
I’ve long been aware of the NEB but never paid much attention to it. However, for my article Regulators throwing loaded dice, I had a look at backgrounds of the people involved in the NEB. I was immediately reminded of a quote from police psychologist Mike Webster used in June 2009 in the article State Sanctioned Violence. Here is the context and the quote:
One psychologist suggests that police violence is encouraged by expanded inventories of weapons and wider use of body armor and tactical assault training. The act of dressing in body armor and the discomfort of wearing it remind police officers of dangers they might face. They are encouraged to use violence by the anticipation of it. As Dr. Mike Webster said,
“When you think the only tool you have is a hammer, then the whole world begins looking like a nail.”
The parallel is direct, I think. The NEB’s objective is to promote transport and export of petroleum. For the most part, its members spent their adult lives facilitating the industry they now supervise. They are like armour clad persons carrying only a hammer.
Instead, the review agency should function like a jury, listening to arguments from experts, pro and con, with fairness and impartiality, laying aside all bias and prejudice. Where are the ordinary people, the social scientists, the environmentalists? Maintaining a National Energy Board almost entirely composed of professionals from the energy industry is like prisoners being told to manage the prisons and the parole board. Of course, they would run the system for the benefit of themselves and their associates.
Members of the NEB originate from and represent a very limited segment of Canadian society :
- Chair Gaétan Caron, a Quebec engineer who has been a career bureaucrat with the NEB.
- Vice Chair Sheila Leggett, a Harper appointee to the NEB, is a graduate of Montreal’s McGill University who previously worked for the Alberta Energy Resources Conservation Board (ERCB), an industry facilitator Alex Nikiforuk accused of reacting slowly to public concerns. According to the writer, several recent court decisions show that ERCB fails to uphold its own laws.
- Kenneth Bateman is a Calgary based lawyer who had been Vice President of Enmax, a large Calgary based energy supply, distribution and service firm.
- Philip Davies has 30 years working in North American energy industries, most as an executive with large gas operator Encana and the associated Niska Gas Storage.
- Roland George, also a McGill graduate, worked throughout most of his career as senior principal of an international energy consulting firm.
- Georgette Habib is an economist who also came from the Alberta Energy Resources Conservation Board (ERCB), the industry friendly facilitator (See Sheila Leggett above).
- Lyne Mercier is a former executive of Gaz Metro, which distributes natural gas in Quebec and owns a number of financial interests in transmission, storage, gas and other underground systems enterprises.
- James Ballem was a Nova Scotia Conservative MLA until defeated in 2007. He failed in a 2010 bid to become Nova Scotia Conservative leader. He owns an energy industry consulting business.
- David Hamilton is a career government bureaucrat, much of his time spent in the Northwest Territories.
- Hans Mathews is a geologist with more than 25 years experience in resource management industries.
- Mike Richmond is a Toronto energy industry lawyer. He was once a Director of the Ontario Energy Association where his colleagues included executives of Enbridge, TransCanada Pipelines and other major industrial players.
- Alison Scott is a former Nova Scotia civil servant and Director of Offshore Energy Research, which promotes in offshore energy development.
- Bob Vergette is a pipeline engineer who has been active on many industry association initiatives;
Please don’t miss Andrew Nikiforuk’s article at The Tyee. What the Keystone Rejection Really Reveals emphasizes the central point I make here:
“Canada’s National Energy Board, a half-hearted regulator at best, rubber-stamped the [Keystone XL] pipeline several years ago. The board expressed no interest in how the pipeline might grow bitumen’s ugly mining footprint and carbon liabilities. Nor did it want to know much about the impact of raw bitumen exports on Canadian refining jobs.”
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Energy Minister Joe Oliver and NEB regulator Ken Bateman