Back in June, shortly before the Harper-appointed National Energy Board gave a thumbs-up to Kinder Morgan’s oil tanker proposal, the Liberals announced the creation of a new review panel tasked with “restoring public trust in Canada’s environmental and regulatory processes.”

Barely two months later, the panel has failed spectacularly. Not only has the slapdash process failed to restore trust, it has actually dragged our faith in Canada’s pipeline and tanker reviews to historic new lows.

Dogwood watched closely and reported as the panel failed to invite local leaders and First Nations, flailed about in a state of total disorganization and shut out hundreds of voices from speaking on Kinder Morgan.

As the hearings got underway, we raised the alarm about the cozy links between Kinder Morgan and Kim Baird, the panel’s de facto Chair. In any serious legal process, Baird’s longstanding relationship with Kinder Morgan would have disqualified her as an impartial panel member.

But then, as the panel lurched toward its final hearings in Victoria, Baird did something bizarre. Writing an editorial in the Globe and Mail, Baird delivered what was essentially a preview of the panel’s report, before the hearings had even concluded.

What’s worse, Baird’s article emphasized the “impatience” she was hearing about getting this pipeline built. With 90 per cent of presenters to the panel dead set against Kinder Morgan’s proposal, where was Baird’s sense of “urgency” coming from?

Well, now we know. In what must be the final coffin nail of this panel’s credibility, Baird has told Alberta Oil magazine that, before holding any public meetings, her Liberal-appointed Ministerial panel met privately with Kinder Morgan, the pipeline proponent, before beginning public hearings. This is exactly the type of behaviour that has the National Energy Board in hot water in Quebec.

In case you haven’t been following, in the past two weeks the National Energy Board has descended into crisis, forfeiting whatever shred of legitimacy remained after being caught lying to the public.

What prompted the NEB to mislead the public? It turns out that with its review of TransCanada’s Energy East pipeline proposal getting under way, panel members met with TransCanada lobbyist (and former Quebec Premier) Jean Charest behind closed doors, with no public record.

What makes it okay for the Liberals’ Ministerial panel to have met with Kinder Morgan behind closed doors before starting their review of this project? Answer: nothing. The only reason the Ministerial panel didn’t break any rules in meeting with Kinder Morgan in advance is that it has no clear rules or mandate to break.

This panel was supposed to help restore public trust in the pipeline review process. Instead it has opened up more uncomfortable questions:

  • How many “pre-engagement sessions” were held between Kinder Morgan and the Ministerial panel?
  • Where were they held and who attended these meetings?
  • What was discussed and where are the transcripts?
  • Did Kinder Morgan influence the panel’s review process?
  • How did the panel decide who to invite for the “pre-engagement sessions”, and why did only pipeline proponents attend?

While the Ministerial panel was not elected and will not have to answer to voters, Liberal MPs were and are accountable to their constituents for the panel’s failings.

Alberta Oil says that Kim Baird will be the last voice Trudeau hears before making a decision on Kinder Morgan. Let’s make sure that is not the case.