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The National Energy Board 

The Rt. Hon. John Diefenbaker opened the 1959 Parliamentary Session with a promise to his MPs: " the earliest opportunity you will be invited to authorize the establishment of a national energy board to ensure, so far as it lies within the jurisdiction of Parliament, Canada's energy resources are used effectively and prudently, to the best advantage of Canadians."

Today the National Energy Board (NEB) is an independent federal regulatory agency that regulates the Canadian energy industry. It reports through the Minister of Natural Resources to the Parliament of Canada. Its primary responsibilities include:

  • ·      Inter-provincial and international oil and gas pipelines and power lines,
  • ·      Export and import of natural gas under long-term licenses and short-term orders,
  • ·      Oil exports under long-term licenses and short-term orders      

The first NEB appointees were lead by the chairman of the Alberta Oil and Gas Conservation Board, Ian MacKinnon, a personal friend of then Alberta Premier Earnest Manning.

The first order of business was to create the National Energy Board Act.

The very busy NEB grew from five to eleven members by 1984. In it’s early years the NEB was supportive and protective of Canadian economic and environmental interests; it rejected several applications.

The Supreme Court had to deal with some shenanigans in 1976 when NEB Chair Marshall Crowe, at one time a member of the Arctic Gas management committee, the very company applying to build a gas pipeline to the Mackenzie Delta, got himself on the Arctic Gas Project review panel. A new panel was created and after a two year delay the application was reviewed and then rejected for environmental reasons with the added recommendation that construction in the Mackenzie Valley should be put on hold for at least ten years to allow for native land claims to be settled.

1981 - The National Energy Board Act is amended to include provisions for appropriating land for a pipeline right-of-way.

1982 - The Canada Oil and Gas Act is proclaimed. It includes subsidies for exploration on federally owned oil and gas properties in the North and offshore.

1991 - Finance Minister Michael Wilson announced the move of the National Energy Board from Ottawa to Calgary in his budget speech.

The NEB and various Federal Governments have often come to different conclusions. Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau created the National Energy program without NEB input. Today, we have a Federal Government that is interfering with the NEB as it processes the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline application. Industry complains bitterly that the regulatory process is hurting Canadians: “The biggest single impediment is the regulatory process” says former TransCanada Corp CEO Hal Kvisle. Also, First Nations groups are not convinced that the NEB will take their concerns seriously.

I don’t envy the task that is before the NEB. Canada is the only country in the 27-member International Energy Agency without strategic petroleum reserves and the only one with no plan to deal with a sudden international oil crisis, "even though one is almost certain to hit soon," says University of Alberta political economist Gordon Laxer.

Having a plan in place would surely help the NEB make decisions that are truly in Canada’s best interest.

The biggest challenge of the Northern Gateway Pipeline lies with Alberta.Their resource is landlocked and they cannot behave like a lone ranger. Premier Redford appears to understand this very well and has called for a discussion on Canada’s energy policy.

Ultimately, the NEB, has to stick to its mandate.

The purpose of the NEB is to regulate pipelines, energy development and trade in the Canadian public interest. The NEB is accountable to Parliament through the Minister of Natural Resources Canada.

Parliament is accountable to Canadians first; not industry, not the PMO, not just one province.