In a press conference at city hall late this afternoon, Montreal mayor Denis Coderre dropped a bombshell. He called for the suspension of National Energy Board hearings on TransCanada’s Energy East pipeline project, set to start on Monday in Montreal, saying he was unsure of the impartiality of the process. He would be joined within hours by the leader of the official opposition Parti Québécois.
“As president of the CMM, and mayor of Montreal, with what I see now, we need to suspend the process and pay special attention to it,” the mayor explained in French.
The CMM is an umbrella group representing the 82 municipalities of the Montreal region, and the group’s mayors joined Coderre in opposing the pipeline this past January.
Coderre went further today, joining environmental groups and citizens in questioning the fitness of two of the board’s three commissioners to sit in judgement on the project.
“On Monday, the elephant in the room is going to be the question: Are these people fit to serve as commissioners?”
Secret meeting undermines process
The National Observer’s Mike De Souza first uncovered a secret meeting between the two commissioners, other NEB staff and former premier Jean Charest, who was employed at the time as a consultant by TransCanada, in early August.
The board had denied the meeting took place and was forced to apologize after access to information requests unearthed emails and notes showing that the meeting did occur, and that the primary subject of discussion was the pipeline project.
The NEB has the powers of a federal court, and its members aren’t permitted to privately discuss projects currently under review.
No discussion allowed
This morning Le Devoir reported that the NEB had deferred a decision on requests from two environmental groups to have those two commissioners recused, and announced that comments about the commissioners would only be accepted in writing, barring intervenors from raising the issue during oral arguments.
This seems to have been the tipping point for Coderre.
“If there are facts that are disturbing, rather than saying ‘send this to us in writing and we'll see what we can do at the end of the process’ they should be saying ‘let’s take a break’.”
Shortly after 6:30 p.m. EDT, interim PQ leader Sylvain Gaudreault tweeted that his party agreed with Coderre, and was also calling for a suspension of the hearings.
Calls for Trudeau to intervene
“This is a clear sign that Trudeau needs to step up,” argued Patrick Bonin, climate and energy campaigner with Greenpeace in a telephone interview with Ricochet.
“Trudeau promised during the election campaign to reform the NEB. He said the NEB had no credibility and he promised to bring back the impartiality of the process. They’ve been adding layers, but the core of the process is rotten. We’re still operating under the same system Harper put in place.”
“We need a suspension of the process, and a credible inquiry to know what happened here. As long as we don’t have those things there’s no way they can evaluate this pipeline properly,” concluded Bonin. “This process has no credibility, and it must be stopped.”