Home Regular Contributors Josh Bilyk Ottawa’s NEB Gambit Smacks of Political Maneuvering

Ottawa’s NEB Gambit Smacks of Political Maneuvering

Josh Bilyk

On the surface, it might be difficult to conjure up any significant level of concern over the latest news on the National Energy Board (NEB) – as most people are actually unaware of what the NEB really does.

Last year, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appointed an expert panel and tasked them with reforming the Energy Regulator. Their report came out May 15, and among its more than two dozen recommendations is one to dismantle the NEB into two separate agencies and relocate them from Calgary to Ottawa.

Sure, it’s irritating for Alberta – who is the country’s experts in this field – though not at all unexpected that Ottawa appears to be clawing back power and influence from Alberta during a time that Alberta is trying to recover. The report’s stated reasoning for the move is that the NEB’s objectivity has been somehow comprised because it shares an area code with the major energy companies.

You need to get to page 72 of the 100-page document to find the reasoning. The report declares, “We do agree entirely that Canada’s energy transmission infrastructure regulator needs a stronger connection to the seat of the federal government.”

According to the report, the NEB has, over time, become captive to industry interests because of its close proximity to the sparkling glass towers in downtown Calgary. Using that logic, let’s delve a little deeper. Wouldn’t that also mean – by untangling the NEB from the supposedly meandering tentacles of Calgary’s energy executives and plopping it in the political epicenter of the federal government – the regulator would simply go from being compromised by industry to being influenced by politics?

It’s right there in the report. They want a “stronger connection to the seat of the federal government.” This seems more a pendulum swing than finding some middle ground.

The federal government has already rejected the Northern Gateway pipelines, they’re in the process of implementing a national cap and trade and carbon tax plan, and just last month they formalized the oil tanker ban off the British Columbia northwest coastline.

If we’re going to accept that proximity dictates influence, one could certainly make a compelling argument that the government’s pipeline and energy agenda could improperly sway a supposedly independent regulator.

The reality is, Alberta remains the logical place for Canada’s energy transmission regulator. We are recognized as global leaders in this area – amongst many. It’s where the vast majority of Canada’s oil and gas production takes place and where the greatest number of industry stakeholders live and do business. Nisku, for example, is home to the largest oil field service sector on the planet.

Any of the NEB’s shortcomings from – namely, the skepticism from environmental groups around the regulatory process – can be addressed without uprooting the organization and moving it out east.

If allowed to proceed, it could be interpreted as a major snub to western Canada and the possible erosion of the stature we have worked so hard to achieve on the national stage.