National Energy Board marks 50 years as industry watchdog
Group oversees cases ranging from pipeline toll technicalities to megaproject approvals that change livelihoods, the environment and society
At play and work, letting down his hair on a bandstand or buttoned up as chairman of the National Energy Board, Gaétan Caron likes quality. He respects heritage.
On stage, NEB veterans say he plays decent rock-country crossover with his Fender Stratocaster, the choice of electric guitar greats like Eric Clapton, Buddy Guy and John Lennon. Caron’s Strat sports an extra, known as a reverse or upside-down headstock, which Jimi Hendrix used to achieve his voodoo twang and baritone bass with lengthened strings and altered tones.
On the job in charge of the nation’s energy watchdog for its 50th birthday in early November, Caron pledges allegiance to a crossover code of mixed professional legacies. From its Ottawa birthplace, the NEB inherits ideals of impartial public service and law court-like independence. From Calgary, the board’s home since 1991, comes an infusion of entrepreneurial vigor.
Caron says he completely agrees with an expression of the public service conscience that a retired NEB chairman, Roland Priddle, voiced in an address on the agency’s 40th anniversary to the Canadian Petroleum Law Foundation. At the meeting in Jasper, Priddle said: “I confess to some ambivalence about the role of administrative tribunals in our economy and society. This is largely because of the scope they have in Canada for arbitrary decision-making without the control of Parliament, or, excepting of course in matters of law and jurisdiction, the courts which supervise them. Because of this scope, the most important thing that governments can do for the sector that is regulated by the NEB is appoint good members to the board. Good members must be capable people, but they must also have the humility to recognize the extent of the powers that Parliament has conferred on them and resolve always to make only prudent and moderate use of those powers.”
Caron has a motto to describe the NEB’s duty in all cases ranging from pipeline toll technicalities to megaproject approvals that change livelihoods, the environment and society. “If we’re not fair, we’re nothing. We’re everything because we’re fair.”
The national agency always had an Alberta streak. The first chairman, Ian McKinnon, was a previous chairman of the province’s Energy Resources Conservation Board. Early regulations, such as a “surplus test” that restricted natural gas exports by holding back supplies for future Canadian needs, mimicked Alberta policies.
The streak became a stamp when Priddle led the NEB west. Caron recalls, “When we moved from Ottawa to Calgary, we lost two-thirds of our employees. We recreated an NEB that was made from the best of two worlds. We had the public interest element from Ottawa. We acquired the can-do attitude that makes Calgary move.”
The three top priorities recited by the NEB’s chairman as it heads into its 51st year draw on both sides of its pedigree.
Job one is to match and exceed current service standards, says Caron. That means maintaining a quality regulatory process by paying attention to all concerned with issues. It also means putting a premium on businesslike efficiency, with a commitment to finish public hearings and decisions within reasonable and predictable amounts of time.
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