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REPORTING · 16th December 2009
Walter McFarlane
There has been quite the request for a public hearing for the Enbridge Project, Judge Thompson style, in Kitimat this year. On Tuesday, December 8th, a presentation took place at Riverlodge so that the community could learn the difference between the Public Hearing and the Joint Review Panel, the method which will be used. The event was put on by the Community Advisory Board.

The key speaker of the night was Roland Priddle. He has a background with the National Energy Board and was the Chair of the Public Inquiry on Offshore Oil and Gas in British Columbia. He provided a little bit of his own background before beginning his presentation.

Priddle explained the fact that the pipeline crosses the BC / Alberta boarder makes this a Federal Matter which is why it faces a joint review by the National Energy Board and the Environmental Assessment Energy. The purpose of the night was to compare and contrast the two processes. Priddle admitted to having to research the public inquiry before speaking about it. He also admitted that the Joint Review Panel he was about to explain might differ from the Joint Review Panel that may evaluate the Enbridge Project. He added that the two were quite similar in nature.

His next slide showed examples of Public Inquiries on one side and Joint Review Panels on the other. One of the Public inquiries listed was the Thompson Inquiry. Looking at the key steps, the similarities were evident. The Government appoints the commission or agrees upon the panel, Terms of References are made. The inquiry establishes rules, the participants, gathers evidence and reports while the Joint Review Panel establishes hearing order, lists the issues and the interveners, listens to and gathers evidence and makes a decision based on the National Energy Board and Canadian Environmental Assessment Approval requirements.

However, there are two key differences between the two. The first is that the Joint Review Panel is an adversarial hearing so a group cannot represent both sides of the issue. Second, the government can choose to act on the public inquiry while they must act on the joint review panel recommendation.

The next slide dealt with regulatory requirements. A public inquiry could be about any matter while a Joint Review Panel deals with matters relating to the two boards that sit on it. One thing that Priddle pointed out was that the questions that the Joint Review Panel was supposed to answer include: “Is the construction of this pipeline in the Canadian Public Interest,” said Priddle. “Is this project convenient and necessary in the Canadian public interest. […] Is the project likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects.”

He pointed out that the effect is defined broadly. However, it includes impact on culture, health, economic and Heritage of the First Nations. However, the Joint Review Panel will take into account any implementation mitigation measures that related government departments might make.

The next slide dealt with time lines. In both cases, time lines are generally not set but a public hearing could have a time line set by either the commission or the government. A Joint Review Panel could have changed since Priddle was involved but they typically take between 17-56 days. Regardless, the government response to the panel typically takes the same amount of time with a Joint Review Panel.

Priddle moved onto the key attributes of each of the options. Both are independent, effective and transparent. The Public Inquiry addresses issues requested by the government while the Joint Review Panel addresses issues after speaking to the public. The inquiry has broad powers while the Panel has the powers of a court.

The presentation was starting to speed up. The next slide dealt with public involvement. In the public inquiry, the public was involved at the discretion of the commission. However, in the Joint Review Panel, the public had to get involved before the panel began. In addition, letters and statements are accepted into the process.

Overall, the key similarities between the two are that they are a form of administrative tribunal, conform to legal principles and can be appealed in the courts. The next slide dealt with their differences. A public inquiry is an extraordinary step that is only taken when public institutions cannot be trusted. It looks back at what went wrong and there are no set rules for the inquiry until the commissioner makes them. A Joint Review Panel typically is a normal step that uses established institutions. It does have a set of rules in advance and looks forward at the two questions (see above quotes).

The final slide dealt with how the outcomes are handled. The Government does not have to act on a public inquiry. As for the Joint Review Panel, the Government has to respond. If the Joint Review Panel is positive, then the government can veto it. If the Joint Review Panel is negative, the government cannot change the outcome although they have done so in the past. A copy of the report goes to the public and the First Nations.

The presentation was over. Priddle chose not to state which he thought was the better of the two models and he concluded his presentation. Questions were asked which related to the Enbridge Project rather than the presentation. The people of Kitimat are still concerned.

Did the presentation reach it’s target audience? No! It was announced the previous day on the news and at the Kitimat City Council Meeting. In fact, one of the Key Spokespeople for the public hearing, Dieter Wagner was unable to attend the meeting because he was out of town at the time. Dianne Hewlett, who introduced the presentation promised that they will put on further presentations and that they would be better advertised.
Can't be trusted
Comment by K. Dedosenco on 17th December 2009
'A public inquiry is and extraordinary step that is only taken when public institutions cannot be trusted.'


'If the Joint Review Panel is negative, the government cannot change the outcome although they have done so in the past.'

Which is why they can't be trusted!
Comment by Leon Dumstrey -SooS on 16th December 2009
My question is simple:

Are those of recommending various groups (Public Inquiry , Joint Review) afraid of PUBLIC MAJORITY decision??

What CONTRIBUTION there could/may be from the Economic Dev.Office?? Nothing happened so far for past ten years.

Or Mr.Wagner,who in his letter (early in the year) praised Alaska for giving each man ,woman and child $!,800.00 per year from OIL & GAS ROYALTIES... What do we get, just look around?

Why not ,for the heck of it ask ENBRIDGE to ad to their project a REFINERY.After all we deserve few more jobs from our resource...that can go on the REFERENDUM..thus the future for our families may look just as good as for CHINA and INDIA!

and ONLY ONE CONDITION: REFINERY but here in KITIMAT or TERRACE not in CHINA OR INDIA or lower MAINLAND for that matter.