I am writing this open letter regarding my participation in the National Energy Board protests that erupted spontaneously — without my prior knowledge — inside the hearing room in Montreal on Monday. A journalist with the Canadian Press interviewed me, using my first and last name to describe me as an “anti-pipeline protester,” in spite of my request to be identified as a “concerned citizen.” The former label makes me sound like a radical, which I suppose is not necessarily bad, as our world is in need of some deep changes.
But the stakes of the Energy East project are high. Given my researched stance on the issue, I think the public deserves to understand my position as a conscientious citizen of a rapidly changing 21st-century Canada, and not just discount me as an “anti-pipeline protester.”
I know that the pipeline conversation is dominated by concern over how to maintain Canada’s competitiveness in the global economy on the one hand, and fear of environmental and climate impacts on the other.
Between climate and energy changes, our nation’s economic future will look very different than its past. For that reason I write this letter to add much-needed nuance to the polarized pipeline debate, and to push back against the label of “anti-pipeline protester” I received. My goal is to bring alternative perspectives to the debate that move beyond the simplistic dichotomy of environment versus economy.
So, I have two main issues: the pipeline project and the review process. Let’s start with the project. Given the potential impact that pipeline expansion will have on the climate and Indigenous rights, but also because of the impending decline of oil in the global economy, Canadians deserve a fair, impartial and balanced approach to pipeline governance. We deserve a process that will hold companies to a higher standard — far higher, I might add, then the laughable PR documents produced by TransCanada that I saw at the hearings in Montreal. They did not reference any peer-reviewed scientific literature and were probably compiled by the company's interns.
When TransCanada’s glossy advertising campaign repeats shallow slogans about environmental safety and job creation, I am not reassured in the face of the very real dangers of carbon lock-in, runaway climate change and the transformation of Canada back into a resource colony for the planet's emerging and developed economies. The public deserves a review process that is sensitive to the new ecological realities of our planet, where social, environmental and economic issues are intertwined in ways unimaginable to the founders of the NEB in the 1950s.
Tying Canada to the sinking bottom line of oil profits is not a way forward. Nor is pumping massive amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere, emissions whose price we will inevitably pay later.
Unfortunately, the NEB's preoccupation with narrow, techno-economic considerations (not to mention the interests of its industry buddies) is a huge risk for all Canadians. Most importantly, not overhauling and modernizing the NEB cheats us of a robust review process, which in turn risks blinding us all to hundreds of examples of expert opinion and scientific analysis that urge divestment away from the fossil fuel economy and no new pipelines.
Of course, let us not forget the elephant in the room. The mere fact that the culture and interests of the oil and gas industry are so deeply entrenched in the NEB (a body that has been described as a “truly industry-captured regulator” by a former CEO of B.C. Hydro and Suncor board member) is very worrisome. I applaud the NEB’s decision to suspend public hearings and finally look into the recusal of two panel members for their dubious meeting with Jean Charest, who was at the time a TransCanada employee with a mandate to advocate for the pipeline project. Clearly, such behaviour is not befitting of senior civil servants at the head of a federal tribunal with the quasi-judicial powers of the NEB.
When protesters disrupted the hearings, their frustration about this suspicious encounter resonated with members of the public, including myself. That is why I joined in the protest, as did many members of the audience. That the NEB did not take seriously the public outcry over its board members’ actions until now shows a profound disrespect for the integrity of our democratic institutions. And blaming the hearings’ suspension on “public safety” concerns bypasses the fact that their own negligent and biased actions created the conditions for the surge of citizen indignation.
For that reason, I urge the NEB and Prime Minister Trudeau to not only remove the two commissioners in question, but also to act on Trudeau's election promise to modernize the NEB and submit all new and existing projects to the revamped review process. Only then can citizen confidence in this institution be restored.
Kristian Gareau, a.k.a “anti-pipeline protester”