Saturday, March 23, 2013

NEB serves industry, not the public

This article is an updated and extended version of one published in January 2012.

Particularly since it gained majority control of the House and Senate, Canada's Conservative Party has been crippling the mechanisms of environmental oversight. Harper's team slashed agency budgets, gagged scientists and installed political apparatchiks throughout government, including senior levels of the RCMP, to ensure that all messages were and are politically acceptable and branded with a prominent Harper imprint.

No function of government was more constrained than protection of the environment. Opponents of unrestricted oil and gas industry development have been labelled radical and disloyal, even traitorous, conspirators. At behest of the pipeline industry, Conservatives limited federal protection for waterways to a handful of rivers and 97 of Canada's lakes, which number in the tens of thousands. Almost none of these actions were subject of parliamentary debate; they were imposed by omnibus legislation of the sort Harper spoke against in the nineties.

Friday, the National Energy Board panel wound up its current stage of Northern Gateway hearings. In due course, they will announce agreement with the Enbridge project and authorize its construction. They can do nothing else. Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Energy Minister Joe Oliver have already signalled the desired outcome. If the people at the regulatory agency ignore directions, they'll be replaced.

However, Harper's minions are unlikely to present any significant roadblock. The National Energy Board members are entirely drawn from the energy industry. This is government sanctioned self-regulation, the surpassing aspiration of all who seek to convert public resources to private. The final ground of conflict regarding Northern Gateway will be the Supreme Court of Canada. Ultimately, coastal lands will be preserved by the populations that have survived here for 500 generations.

I've long been aware of the NEB but never paid much attention to it. However, for my article Regulators throwing loaded dice, I had a look at backgrounds of the people involved in the NEB. I was immediately reminded of a quote from police psychologist Mike Webster used in June 2009 in the article State Sanctioned Violence. Here is the context and the quote:
One psychologist suggests that police violence is encouraged by expanded inventories of weapons and wider use of body armor and tactical assault training. The act of dressing in body armor and the discomfort of wearing it remind police officers of dangers they might face. They are encouraged to use violence by the anticipation of it. As Dr. Mike Webster said,
"When you think the only tool you have is a hammer, then the whole world begins looking like a nail."
The parallel is direct, I think. The NEB's objective is to promote transport and export of petroleum. For the most part, its members spent their adult lives facilitating the industry they now supervise. They are like armour clad persons carrying only a hammer.

Instead, the review agency should function like a jury, listening to arguments from experts, pro and con, with fairness and impartiality, laying aside all bias and prejudice. Where are the ordinary people, the social scientists, the environmentalists? Maintaining a National Energy Board almost entirely composed of professionals from the energy industry is like prisoners being told to manage the prisons and the parole board. Of course, they would run the system for the benefit of themselves and their associates.

Members of the NEB originate from and represent a very limited segment of Canadian society :
  • Chair Gaétan Caron, a Quebec engineer who has been a career bureaucrat with the NEB.
  • Vice Chair Sheila Leggett, a Harper appointee to the NEB, is a graduate of Montreal's McGill University who previously worked for the Alberta Energy Resources Conservation Board (ERCB), an industry facilitator Alex Nikiforuk accused of reacting slowly to public concerns. According to the writer, several recent court decisions show that ERCB fails to uphold its own laws.
  • Kenneth Bateman is a Calgary based lawyer who had been Vice President of Enmax, a large Calgary based energy supply, distribution and service firm.
  • Philip Davies has 30 years working in North American energy industries, most as an executive with large gas operator Encana and the associated Niska Gas Storage.
  • Roland George, also a McGill graduate, worked throughout most of his career as senior principal of an international energy consulting firm.
  • Georgette Habib is an economist who also came from the Alberta Energy Resources Conservation Board (ERCB), the industry friendly facilitator (See Sheila Leggett above).
  • Lyne Mercier is a former executive of Gaz Metro, which distributes natural gas in Quebec and owns a number of financial interests in transmission, storage, gas and other underground systems enterprises.
  • James Ballem was a Nova Scotia Conservative MLA until defeated in 2007. He failed in a 2010 bid to become Nova Scotia Conservative leader. He owns an energy industry consulting business.
  • David Hamilton is a career government bureaucrat, much of his time spent in the Northwest Territories.
  • Hans Mathews is a geologist with more than 25 years experience in resource management industries.
  • Mike Richmond is a Toronto energy industry lawyer. He was once a Director of the Ontario Energy Association where his colleagues included executives of Enbridge, TransCanada Pipelines and other major industrial players.
  • Alison Scott is a former Nova Scotia civil servant and Director of Offshore Energy Research, which promotes in offshore energy development.
  • Bob Vergette is a pipeline engineer who has been active on many industry association initiatives;
* * * * *

Please don't miss Andrew Nikiforuk's article at The Tyee. What the Keystone Rejection Really Reveals emphasizes the central point I make here:
"Canada's National Energy Board, a half-hearted regulator at best, rubber-stamped the [Keystone XL] pipeline several years ago. The board expressed no interest in how the pipeline might grow bitumen's ugly mining footprint and carbon liabilities. Nor did it want to know much about the impact of raw bitumen exports on Canadian refining jobs."

* * * * *

Energy Minister Joe Oliver and NEB regulator Ken Bateman
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  1. Three encapsulations of our 30 year parade of media and political poodles in a mass crapathon, might assist in widening your proctological autopsy.

    Agreed. What government now calls "assessment" meaning, chanting "Greed is good!" until the money stops, merits assessment.

    The first two offerings are military and well represented by timeless examples in Hansard:

    [Some Hon Members: "FUBAR! SNAFU! Hear! Hear!"

    These near-sacred terms never are used without very deep consideration of just how stupid humans of elevated rank routinely insist on being... because being entitled doesn't require thought.

    A third outburst typifies European contempt for their own porkers - "Schlimbesserung!". It's loosely translated as, making far worse by insipidly corrupt attempts to improve something.

    Briefly, think of human rights policy; fisheries; forests; economy; dis-employment; environmental sell-offs; welfare\health care denial-systems, military procurement spendathons; Parliamentary levels of debate; pandering to corporate backers. Plus or minus whatever is too scary to tell us about.

    To conclude: one final offering of total shit-on-a-stick courtesy of the CBC.

    "Suzuki charity denies benefit from game with pipeline bombs"

    Now! The breathless text:

    "The developer of a controversial video game that included depictions of pipeline bombings had said a portion of any proceeds of the game would go to the David Suzuki Foundation, but the organization has denied any relationship with the game maker."

    Get it? There were "depictions.." And.. "a portion of proceeds".. "would go".. to the Suzuki Foundation.. "the developer".. "had said”.

    Gotcha cold, you bearded science believer's Foundation!

    But get this: even after being nailed on CBC's Page One that diabolically duplicitous world-honoured Suzuki Foundation still "denies" the story is in any way relevant to scientific inquiry, the public interest, or reality...

    Uh huh, that “denial” is Very Suspicious.

    Wait. Finally, for a brief moment I may have experienced some of the nausea and dismay the Russians felt for decades, while reading Pravda and watching everything that mattered to them buried under a landslide of lies, corruption, incompetence, greed and sycophancy.

    Nah. It couldn't happen here.

  2. Great comment anonymous. The Suzuki foundation is guilty through innuendo not facts. Denying only further embeds the guilt. What a corrupt world we live in. How do we purge ourselves of this? I believe it will have to be through legislation, education and toughing up the libel and slander laws. Obviously industry likes the status quo.

    1. The stupidity and arrogance of even assuming that life-long pacifist Suzuki would countenance profiting from a violent game? It's as far from fair comment as you can get.

      To me it looks like a typical politically-inspired smear to trivialize the man, his ideas about science, his values as a Canadian, and his Foundation.

      During Canada's recent Dark Age Regression - Science in general and Suzuki in particular have become targets: Enemies of The State. In the USSR - remembering the maligning of Andrei Sakharov - this kind of attack was expected. 'You won world renown for a Nobel Prize in Physics? Who cares? You do not adhere to The Party Line! You must be denounced! Shunned!'

      That the CBC published such inept trash [and apparently is purging reader complaints] is one more nail in the corporation's sinking credibility coffin.

      Why? On which national network do Suzuki's shows appear? Who profits from sales of his DVD's across Canada and the world? Oh, right: the CBC...

      Put country simple: in essence they've just smeared their own best employee. To accomplish what?

    2. Evidence of the CBC's politicization. The Conservative Party has similarly interfered with every federal department and agency. Even the RCMP has a Conservative commissar overlooking and approving public announcements and policy initiatives by the Commissioner. Federal ministries and organizations don't serve the people of Canada, they serve the Conservative government.

    3. Old enough to remember what was common practice in the Soviet Union? Recall the looting of its satellite states? It's not too difficult to interpret where modern governments are sourcing their policy ideas.

      Control the media, frame the debate via propaganda. Spy on everyone. Exclude the lower orders from the educational system via a ludicrously high financial paywall. Hoard money for the purpose of doling it out to keep party backers happy and circulate the money upwards. Impose a state-sanctioned superstition as The Economic Ideal. Purge all non-believers.

      Suziki's Great Sin? He has stated too often that... "Economics isn't a science."

      Ergo, Economists don't understand the maths they use
      or the limitations of their hypotheses,
      or that life is non-linear -
      meaning far beyond the grasp of Newtonian arguments.

      And that? Well folks, that's just Heresy.

      Has it been forgotten that our ever-rebranded policies (now called Austerity) result in state bankruptcy? Probably not. Except for the creation of mass gulags, our collapse is becoming equally as evident here, as it was in the 1980's overseas.

      I recall a great segment, probably true, from Solzhentisyn's Gulag Archipelago. A young prisoner at gulag intake complains that he's been sentenced to 5 years, "for doing nothing!" Taking deep offense at the claim, an irate guard shouts him down. "You lie! For doing nothing you get at least a tenner!"

      It takes a long time for a state to become intractably corrupt. Russian economist Kondratiev thought it would average about 40-60 years for a cycle of dysfunction to become so complete that collapse would be unavoidable.

      State dysfunction? It's hard to find the lack of it, anywhere.

  3. Off topic, Norm.

    But I had to look it up -- Time's person of the year 2006.

    How completely appropriate to this blog!



    1. For your always articulate comments, I share the award with YOU!

  4. the NEB is a quazi judicial body, a tribunal. Tribunals are designed to uphold government policy. Tribunals have specific terms of reference set by the government. Their primary purpose is to give the appearance of fairness in the Government's duty to consult in controversial matters. A Court with a Judge could easily do the work of a tribunal but the outcome would not necessarily support government policy. So tribunals are a way of circumventing our legal system. Do not expect a tribunal to take your views into consideration. They are free to cherry pick information from testimony that supports government policy and if you watch or participate in a government hearing, that is exactly what they do. The best way to avoid a tribunal is to get your matter dealt with by a court so pick your battles wisely.



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