Canada’s Liberal government has recruited experts in adapting projects and regulations to environmental, community and aboriginal concerns for a panel mandated to chart a course to “modernize” the National Energy Board (NEB).

The appointments, made Tuesday to conduct a review announced in June, are anything but hardcore opponents of pipeline, power transmission, and northern and offshore developments that come under NEB jurisdiction (see Daily GPI, Oct. 21).

Far from telegraphing intentions to accommodate environmentalist and native rights demands to abolish the 57-year-old NEB and curb industrial expansion, Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr described the inquiry as a search for ways to make economic growth publicly acceptable.

“This targeted review will ensure that Canada’s regulator serves the needs of Canadians into the future,” Carr said. “The panel has a mandate to consult with Canadians to seek input and make recommendations to the federal government on changes to the national energy regulator’s governance, structure, role and mandate, including the participation of Indigenous peoples.”

The panel’s co-chairs from Quebec and Saskatchewan, Helene Louzon and Gary Merasty, have strong business backgrounds in careers that have emphasized participation in industry rather than political resistance.

Louzon, a Montreal lawyer, represents a variety of business sectors before government and community agencies as head of the Quebec Business Council on the Environment/Conseil patronal de l’environnement du Québec (CPEQ).

Merasty is president of a northern Cree First Nation’s economic arm: Des Nedhe Developments LP, a conglomerate with interests from construction to mining. He is also a director of the pro-business Canada West Foundation and a former Liberal Member of Parliament.

The other NEB review panel members have similar backgrounds in roles dedicated to making industry environmentally and publicly “sustainable.”

Engineer David Besner, head of the New Brunswick Energy Institute, is a veteran civil servant and consultant who had a hand in devising the Atlantic province’s regulatory regime. Aboriginal lawyer Wendy Grant-John is prominent in British Columbia native rights and economic affairs. Engineer Brenda Kenny, a University of Calgary professor, is a former NEB staffer who has also served an eight-year term as president of the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association.

Apart from the panel members’ backgrounds, the clearest clue to the government’s goals for the review was an instruction in their mandate to examine the evolution of the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER).

Like the NEB the predecessor of the three-year-old AER, Alberta’s Energy Resources Conservation Board (ERCB), ran into a jam between industry demands for efficiency and hot criticism from environmentalists, community activists and aboriginal settlements.

After a years-long review, the ERCB was enlarged and renamed the AER as a single agency to absorb, co-ordinate, deepen and accelerate previously separate technical, economic, environmental and public lands regulatory structures.

In the NEB’s case the main difference from Alberta is heightened emphasis on adapting the regulatory regime to aboriginal rights and development issues, which are primarily federal responsibilities under the Canadian constitution.

The national regulatory review, originally promised by the Liberals’ successful 2015 election platform, was given a deadline of March 31 to report. No date has been set for government action.

The review panel will not have the only or last word on native participation in energy affairs. Aboriginal rights disputes are coming to a head in an omnibus appeal of NEB project approvals that the Supreme Court of Canada is tentatively scheduled to hear starting Nov. 30.

The Liberal government is also moving current major projects through the regulatory process without waiting for results of the review, which is described as an exercise in future improvement rather than immediate change.

A new NEB tribunal will soon be appointed to resume hearings on TransCanada’s Corp.’s Energy East proposal for partial conversion of its natural gas Mainline to oil service. Before the end of 2016, the federal cabinet plans to make a decision on ratifying conditional NEB approval of tripling capacity on Kinder Morgan Canada’s Trans Mountain Pipeline from Alberta to expanded tanker loading facilities on the southern BC coast in Vancouver.