The Canadian government moved Thursday to heal a sore spot in its regulatory regime -- aboriginal relations -- and resume the stalled review of the country’s biggest pipeline project by expanding the National Energy Board (NEB).

In the first of two rounds of appointments, the Liberal cabinet gave board seats to four native affairs experts. The second round, promised within weeks, will name another three new members to restart examination of TransCanada Corp.’s Energy East proposal to convert and extend its natural gas Mainline for oil service (see Daily GPI, Sept. 12).

Instead of hiring the new recruits for full seven-year terms the cabinet designated them as temporary board members, which is standard practice during periods when the NEB workload is heavy.

The first group includes: Damien Cote, a veteran lawyer, civil servant and COO of Inuvialuit Regional Corp., the economic arm of the Mackenzie Delta native community; accountant Ronald Duvelle, a former New Brunswick civil servant; native lawyer Wilma Jacknife from Cold Lake First Nation in east-central Alberta; and Alain Jolicoeur, a former federal deputy aboriginal affairs minister.

The quartet will consult communities of all stripes, and especially native settlements, along the 4,050-kilometer (2,700-mile) route of the C$15.7 billion (US$12 billion), 1.1 million b/d Energy East project from Alberta to a New Brunswick tanker terminal. The new trio will conduct formal hearings and craft the approval decision, which is expected to include a raft of conditions.

Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr said in a statement, "Major resource projects must go through a thorough technical review and engagement and consultation process. I am confident these four individuals will ensure the process is thorough.”

The announcement was the second disappointment in less than a month for hardcore environmental and native opponents of the regulatory system in general, and pipeline and liquefied natural gas (LNG) projects in particular.

The revival of the Energy East review follows approval Sept. 28 of Pacific NorthWest LNG’s C$11 billion (US$8.5 billion) plans for an export terminal to load up to 3 Bcf/d into tankers on the British Columbia coast at Prince Rupert (see Daily GPI, Sept. 28).

Regulatory scrutiny of TransCanada’s mammoth pipeline scheme has been suspended since Sept. 9, when the NEB’s three-member review panel stepped down over allegations of bias arising from private meetings with Quebec business and political figures.

Critics of the agency and the petroleum industry hoped the process would stay halted until the federal cabinet completes a wide, long-range review of all elements in the energy and environmental regulatory regime that was announced June 20.

The big review involves extended committee and consulting work by six federal ministries: fisheries and oceans, natural resources, transportation, environment, science and indigenous affairs (the official Ottawa replacement term for Indian and aboriginal).

The groups are scheduled to start turning in reports early next year. No target date has been set for completing cabinet consideration of recommendations or enacting changes. The sweeping review implements a plank in the federal Liberals’ successful 2015 election platform. The party promised to reconsider legacies of the former Conservative government but did not spell out how the regulatory regime may be changed.

Officially stated goals of the exercise, described as “comprehensive,” include rebuilding trust, modernizing institutions and rules, restoring lost environmental and community protections, reviving credibility of regulatory agencies and basing decisions on science, facts and evidence. The 2015 defeat of Canada’s Conservative government was partly blamed on regulatory procedural moves that made efficiency the regime’s top priority.