Regulatory bodies must remain autonomous

Democracy takes a hit when political agendas overshadow the rights and concerns of citizens

The National Energy Board has finally released the schedule for the community hearing leg of the Joint Review Panel’s assessment of the Northern Gateway Pipeline. So, for those of us who haven’t seen the list it’s no surprise that Smithers has been given a possible nine days of hearings. More days than any other northern community.

This speaks volumes about, not only the seriousness of the issue but also the overwhelming support and opposition we find here in Smithers. Definitely not the largest community the JRP will visit but we’re clearly the most out spoken.

However, the question of legitimacy still hangs over the three-member panel. And with some of the fiery people I know who will be speaking, there is no doubt in my mind that Smithers will become a battleground for when this issue really heats up.

Opposition to the pipeline is strong here, and rightly so. We have it all here and there are enough of us to stand up for what we really cherish in this life.

However, there is also a strong support for the pipeline as well. The promise of long-term jobs is too great to pass up. But allegiances aside the real issue that has come to light over the past few months of testimonies continues to focus on the autonomy of the JRP.

They have projected themselves as an on-the-level regulatory body that receives no outside influence. Whenever Sheila Leggett, the panel chair, tries to explain this at the beginning of each hearing I try not to laugh. Simply because like many I read the writing on the wall. When you have a Conservative Government that has motioned to its supporters and foreign market investors that these types of projects are “in the best interest of Canadians,” you have to wonder how tight their leashes are.

A couple weeks ago the Ministry of Transport approved the use of supertankers that will travel up the Douglas Channel to Kitimat and back to the open sea more than 200 times a year.

Transport Canada, one of our largest ministries found “no regulatory concerns” during their review of the tight water way. I found this to be absurd. That channel is teeming with life, hairpin turns and a corridor that shrinks to about a kilometre and a half at its smallest point. Have they even seen the Douglas Channel? More than likely someone is making these decisions form a desk far, far away from here.

If they are not on the ground then how can they possibly know what’s at stake here?

The intimate relationship that people have built with this land has taken centuries, which cannot be understood in a matter of months. And to think the Conservatives want to have less regulation so projects like Northern Gateway can move ahead much quicker with very little input from the people who live with the consequences.

So I ask you, when approaching the JRP whether you support the pipeline or not, at the very least question their legitimacy. The one thing I think we all can agree on is that we need our democracy to remain intact.

When political agendas overshadow the rights and concerns of taxpaying citizens we lose faith in that system. And when our people lose faith in our regulatory systems our Canadian democracy fails. It becomes a black eye that can’t be rubbed off.