ARCHIVED - NEB Chair Peter Watson Guest Column in Vancouver Sun

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NEB takes its obligation extremely seriously

By Peter Watson
Chair of the National Energy Board

Canada’s National Energy Board (NEB) is a quasi-judicial independent agency created by Parliament in 1959 to regulate pipelines and energy development in the public interest.

As Canada’s energy regulator, we expect scrutiny of our decisions. Canadians expect no less. We also owe it to Canadians to provide them with our views. That is why it is important to address the issues that Marc Eliesen raised in his recent letter of withdrawal from the NEB’s Trans Mountain pipeline hearing.

First of all, I must admit that I am disappointed by Mr. Eliesen’s withdrawal - he has an impressive resume and experience. In fact, Mr. Eliesen’s letter stated that he has spent 40 years in the energy sector and has an understanding of the operations of the NEB.

Given his 40 years of experience, I am sure that Mr. Eliesen would agree that today we are operating in a very different environment from what we were in 1974 or even in 2004. For example, when the NEB reviewed Trans Mountain’s Anchor Loop Project through Jasper National Park in 2008, there were eight intervenors at that hearing - only eight. At today’s Trans Mountain pipeline hearing, we have more than 400 intervenors.

The public’s appetite to participate in energy hearings is greater than ever, and when expectations are high, the status quo is not always an option. We need to be flexible so that increasing numbers of intervenors can participate in our hearings in a meaningful way.

An example of this flexibility is the NEB’s recognition of the critical evidence that Aboriginals bring to our pipeline hearings. So, over the years, we have altered our process to gather oral Aboriginal traditional evidence. For the Trans Mountain hearing, we are holding four in-person sessions in four communities with a number of Aboriginal groups to listen to their evidence.

In his letter, Mr. Eliesen states his dismay that the oral cross-examination phase “…was inexplicably removed from the hearing.”

In fact, the NEB’s decision on oral cross-examination was fully explained in a letter written by the NEB and sent to him and all other intervenors six months ago. In that letter, the NEB wrote that it has a considerable amount of flexibility in how it gathers information. Some hearings include oral cross-examination. Others do not. In addition to the Aboriginal oral evidence, the hearing includes the opportunity to file evidence, two rounds of written questions, and the option of presenting written and oral summary argument.

Mr. Eliesen then writes, “For most Intervenors submitting (questions) Trans Mountain has failed to respond and address the actual core elements of the question.”

In reality, of the nearly 10,000 questions (that’s right -  ten thousand questions) written to Trans Mountain by the 400 intervenors participating in the hearing, the Board was satisfied that 8000 of them were answered.

Rest assured, the Board puts its mind to each and every question before it makes a decision. Fifty intervenors said they were not satisfied with the responses they received. In some cases, we agreed that Trans Mountain could have done a better job of answering and we directed them to do so. In many cases, we found that the questions were premature and should be asked later in the hearing. Some questions were not related to the List of Issues we will be looking at during our review.

By the time this review wraps up next year, the NEB will have spent nearly twenty-one months reading, listening, and otherwise receiving the views of participants. This hearing will be just as rigorous as any other in the NEB’s 55 year history.

I appreciate Marc Eliesen’s contribution to this important hearing over the past months, and I am disappointed that he has chosen not to continue to participate. That he chose to withdraw is his choice, but when he did that he also removes his voice from the record and thereby becomes a voice that can no longer influence the decisions of the Board.

Finally, I want to be clear that the NEB has a duty to Parliament - and through them to all Canadians - to objectively review all of the evidence that is relevant on the Trans Mountain pipeline application and deliver a recommendation that is fair, balanced and best reflects the public interest.  Our job is not easy, and I do not expect that everyone will agree with us. However, I can assure you that we take this obligation to the people of Canada extremely seriously.

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