Pipeline problems

NEB indefinitely suspends Energy East hearings in Montreal

Board cites problems with logistics and security in announcing decision
AJ Korkidakis

As soon as Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre, an erstwhile populist, joined his traditional arch-enemies — protesters — in calling for the National Energy Board’s hearings on the Energy East pipeline to be suspended, you had a feeling the Montreal hearings were limping along on borrowed time.

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Tonight, the axe finally fell. Shortly after 7 p.m. EDT, Radio-Canada reported in French that the hearings on the Energy East pipeline proposal would be suspended indefinitely.

In a statement posted on its website, the National Energy Board blamed "a violent disruption in the hearing room this morning which threatened the security of everyone involved in the panel session" for the decision to postpone tomorrow's hearings. The board promised to "provide more information tomorrow about how it will hear from Montreal intervenors." At this time it remains unclear if the regulatory body will attempt to hold more hearings in Montreal.

The Trudeau government promised during the last election campaign to overhaul the NEB process.

The Montreal phase of hearings on the controversial pipeline project was scheduled to begin this morning, with a widely anticipated speech by Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre, who last week called for the hearings to be suspended and for two of the NEB's three commissioners to be removed over conflict allegations.

That didn’t happen, after a group of chanting protesters unfurled a banner in the middle of the hearing room and declined to leave. Those protesters were eventually roughly removed by police, but it appears their bruises may be worth it. Their intervention, coupled with renewed attacks from Coderre, appear to have succeeded in their goal of getting the hearings suspended.

Trudeau has left the NEB he so fiercely criticized as a candidate largely untouched as it performs its most controversial reviews yet.

The question now is what next? The Trudeau government promised during the last election campaign to overhaul the NEB process and, when buttonholed by the Dogwood Initiative’s Kai Nagata, promised that existing projects like Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline in B.C. would have to undergo the new, strengthened process.

Instead, Trudeau has left the NEB he so fiercely criticized largely untouched as it performs its most controversial reviews yet, adding an additional level of cabinet review to ongoing processes and initating a nebulous “modernization” initative to review the state of the NEB itself.

During the campaign, Trudeau promised to rebuild trust in the NEB. As of today, that trust is definitively broken. Now all eyes will be on the prime minister, and it will take more than a facelift for a process that collapsed under the weight of its own contradictions to recover public trust.

The Globe and Mail published an editorial this evening arguing that “The only option now may be to ask the commissioners who met Mr. Charest to recuse themselves from the proceedings. If that is what it takes, that’s what should happen. The NEB can no longer ignore this issue and hope it blows over.”

But that may not be enough to staunch the bleeding. For many Quebecers, nothing less than a complete overhaul of the NEB will be able to restore its credibility.

UPDATE August 29, 9:10 p.m. EDT: Details of the NEB statement added. UPDATE August 29, 9:48 p.m. EDT: Globe and Mail editorial added.
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