Former National Energy Board Chair discusses how to make the review process for energy infrastructure serve the best interests of Canadians
OTTAWA, April 14, 2016 – Canada’s environmental assessment process is generally working well, contrary to popular opinion, but there is a danger in politicizing what should be an independent review.
That’s the message from Gaétan Caron, the former National Energy Board Chair and CEO, in a Straight Talk Q&A with the Macdonald-Laurier Institute.
The discussion centres around pipelines, politics, and how to ensure the environmental assessment process serves Canada’s best interests.
To read the full Q&A, click here.
Caron acknowledges there’s been a loss of faith in the National Energy Board in recent years, but he asserts that this is largely due to confusion about what role the environmental assessment process is supposed to play.
Many “people believe the regulatory process is political, which it is absolutely not”, says Caron, who is currently an Executive Fellow at the School of Public Policy at the University of Calgary.
The NEB’s job is simply to assess a development project for its safety and environmental protection concerns according to evidence-based, independent criteria.
Caron makes the following recommendations for de-politicizing environmental assessments:
- Better define expectations: Many people believe an environmental assessment about a pipeline, for example, is the best place to address larger issues. It’s not, says Caron. “The assessments of the merits of pipeline projects have become a place where Canadians have tried to fight broader policy debates like the development of natural resources, the fight against climate change, and other broad discussions that are beyond the project-specific assessment that regulatory and environmental bodies are required to conduct under their enabling legislation”.
- Create an outlet for people to express themselves democratically: Just because the NEB is not the right place doesn’t mean these discussions shouldn’t be happening. Caron says Ottawa should look at democratic reforms, such as renewing Parliament and the committee system, to make it easier to listen to Canadians. “We would be well served by a public place where citizens can go and be heard on these broad issues”, he says. This will be particularly important in the case of two major projects currently in the works: the Trans Mountain and Energy East pipeline projects.
- Better engage with Aboriginals: The history of Canada shows governments have repeatedly failed to listen to First Nations and Aboriginal communities. This needs to change, says Caron. “Listen with sincerity and authenticity”, Caron advises, “leaving those we listen to, on both sides, with the belief that we are prepared to change our minds based on what we are hearing”.
- Respect the role of provinces and municipalities: Mayors and premiers in Ontario and Quebec are free to criticize and bargain when it comes to projects like Energy East – this is part of their democratic role in representing their constituents. But they also can’t, nor should they be able to, hold back projects that are in the national interest. “Mayors have a legitimate role to play in having opinions on things that affect them”, writes Caron. “Mayors also understand that it is not their decision”.
- Recognize the NEB’s great work: It is normal to expect that some people and groups will be unhappy with NEB decisions, as with court decisions, but we should recognize the good faith and hard work of many NEB employees. Caron believes a little perspective is in order: Not a single member of the public has been hurt by a federally-regulated pipeline since 1959, and not a square metre of land has been irreversibly affected by a leak or rupture – thanks in large part to the NEB.
Gaétan Caron is the former National Energy Board Chair and CEO. Currently he serves as an Executive Fellow at the School of Public Policy at the University of Calgary.
The Macdonald-Laurier Institute is the only non-partisan, independent national public policy think tank in Ottawa focusing on the full range of issues that fall under the jurisdiction of the federal government.
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