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Ecojustice asks pipeline panel to affirm its impartiality in the face of government interference

January 29th, 2012

Ecojustice is calling on regulators overseeing public hearings on Enbridge’s Northern Gateway project to investigate and comment on whether remarks made by the Government of Canada in recent weeks have damaged the integrity of what is supposed to be a fair and objective process.

“Comments made in recent weeks by Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver have cast a dark shadow over what is supposed to be a fair and open process, independent of politics,” said Devon Page, Ecojustice executive director.

“Given the impact the proposed pipeline would have on our country, it’s absolutely critical that this review process is objective, representative of all interests and conducted with integrity and fairness.

“This isn’t just an ethical issue — it’s about the legal principles of due process.”

The motion comes in response to recent remarks by the Prime Minister and Minister Oliver, who have singled out “environmental and other radical groups” for threatening to “hijack” the regulatory system to achieve a “radical ideological agenda” and undermine Canada’s national economic interest.

Minister Oliver has gone so far as to say that he expects the Joint Review Panel (JRP) to rule in favour of the project.

Meanwhile, internal documents detailing the government’s strategy for promoting oilsands projects overseas, released by Greenpeace yesterday, labelled environmental groups, First Nations groups and the media as “adversaries.”

According to Ecojustice, these attempts to discredit select groups — some whom are formally registered interveners in the process — and prejudge the hearing’s recommendations could undermine the JRP’s ability to carry out a fair process.

“In light of recent events, there is a real risk the Joint Review Panel will be unable to do its job effectively unless it takes steps to now protect the integrity of its own process,” Page said.

Filed on behalf of ForestEthics, Living Oceans Society and Raincoast Conservation Foundation, the motion asks the JRP to issue a public statement that both affirms its independence and requests that the government refrain from making further comments on the proceedings and its participants while the process is underway.

“The JRP is the rightful judge of whether or not the pipeline should be built,” said Page. “And given the government’s recent comments, Ecojustice believes those participating in the process — and in fact all Canadians — need to hear from the JRP that its process has not been compromised.”

Ecojustice’s motion was filed as the federal government also announced its intentions to overhaul the way regulators review industrial projects so they can be approved more quickly. Page said the government is now making it explicit that promoting the interests of industry is their priority.

“This promise to roll back legislation is consistent with a shift that we’ve seen ever since the prime minister came into power, and it’s the shift from being a steward of the natural environment to being a partner with industry.”

Read the motion or download the supporting documents from the National Energy Board website.

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