Evidence of meeting #25 for Natural Resources in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was pipeline.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

9:25 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Leon Benoit

Thank you, Ms. Krause.

Mr. McGuinty.

February 9th, 2012 / 9:25 a.m.

Liberal

David McGuinty Ottawa South, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I want to move into a series of questions that might help Canadians understand where we're going with energy. This last exchange is too reminiscent of things I see on Glenn Beck's show on Fox News.

Mr. Caron, can you help us understand? You're the chair of the 53-year-old National Energy Board. You have a tough job; it's a tough mandate. You're under a lot of pressure. Recently you've had ministers of the crown, to whom you report, make spurious allegations about radical groups, and that's tough. I'm sure that as a regulator it's also tough to let it roll off your back.

Can you help us understand? Maybe the most important question could be how to improve. I think Mr. Anderson alluded to this. We are all interested in improving regulatory processes. That's why successive governments have built five- and seven-year review mandates into the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, and the Species at Risk Act. We know that as parliamentarians we have to contemplate improvement.

Can you help us get a couple of ideas of how we might be able to improve? Is there an inordinate influence, as Ms. Krause implies? Maybe it's not in your regulatory process—if there is, I'd like to hear about it. I think her comments are targeted more at public influence. How can we improve the process to make sure that Canadians have confidence in the decisions we're making?

9:30 a.m.

Chair and CEO, National Energy Board

Gaétan Caron

The only influence that NEB is itself subject to is the influence of the records it gathers by listening to Canadians in an open and transparent way. We are a quasi-judicial board. We do not report to a minister. We report through the Minister of Natural Resources for the purpose of reporting to Parliament.

I'm not an officer of Parliament; I need a minister to report to you as parliamentarians.

9:30 a.m.

Liberal

David McGuinty Ottawa South, ON

I stand corrected.

9:30 a.m.

Chair and CEO, National Energy Board

Gaétan Caron

The influence of public statements and opinion polls doesn't apply to us as a quasi-judicial board, because it is our duty to listen to Canadians through the processes we have, which, with few exceptions, are essentially transparent and accessible to all.

I must say that on the process we administer, I will credit the legislators of 1959. They gave us an NEB Act that is essentially unchanged, except for a few bells and whistles from the early days. My suggestion to you as parliamentarians is that the process is working, provided that the people like us are able to administer your act and to do it with the desire to keep improving the process.

If we felt happy about the process, I think you should question us hard. We should never be happy about anything, especially when it comes to public safety.

9:30 a.m.

Liberal

David McGuinty Ottawa South, ON

Let me ask you what three fronts you think we can make progress on within the ambit, the four corners, of the parameters of your statute.

9:30 a.m.

Chair and CEO, National Energy Board

Gaétan Caron

I don't have opinions on how my statute could be improved, because--

9:30 a.m.

Liberal

David McGuinty Ottawa South, ON

I don't mean your statute. I mean the way you operate.

9:30 a.m.

Chair and CEO, National Energy Board

Gaétan Caron

I'll give you the first one. It's actually happening already. I find that when we look at environmental impact assessments, sometimes there is too much time spent on process. I'd rather have our environmental specialists look at content.

For instance, under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, you have the concept of screening, comprehensive studies, and panel reviews. Those are administrative requirements that are helpful from a process standpoint. But at the NEB, it doesn't matter to us whether a project is being screened, is a comprehensive study, or is a joint panel review. The same people will look at the same thing and look at the same environment. The less time we spend on process, sir, the more time we have remaining for content.

9:30 a.m.

Liberal

David McGuinty Ottawa South, ON

That's number one.

9:30 a.m.

Chair and CEO, National Energy Board

Gaétan Caron

That's number one.

The other improvement I've seen us administer, and we're still learning along the way, is that we now have a participant funding program. We're one of the few institutions in Canada without a program--

9:30 a.m.

Liberal

David McGuinty Ottawa South, ON

It is sometimes called intervenor funding.

9:30 a.m.

Chair and CEO, National Energy Board

Gaétan Caron

Yes, exactly. In our case, we call it participant funding. Our act did not allow for that. Parliament fixed that a few years ago. Now we're learning the hard way to make it efficient and are going to the right people for the right amount of time. We're applying ourselves to that.

9:30 a.m.

Liberal

David McGuinty Ottawa South, ON

I suppose you're drawing on provincial experiences across the country.

9:30 a.m.

Chair and CEO, National Energy Board

Gaétan Caron

We're drawing from best and not so best practices. That's right. We are learning from both sides.

You're looking for number three. I'd say that it is safety, pipeline safety in particular.

In my opening remarks I talked about the focus on management systems. Our recent study on offshore drilling revealed that the best way to promote safety on platforms, and the best way to protect the environment and ecosystems, is with the concept of a safety culture. Now, it may sound a little soft to talk about culture. It is a difficult concept to describe. But safety culture is driven by rigorously documented management systems that start from the top of the organization. People know about them. Safety culture is what people do when nobody else is watching. I think we can continue to progress on that.