All right, maybe Calgary is not a verb. But if you’re among the 4000+ Canadians who have registered to make an oral presentation to the National Energy Board Joint Review Panel (JRP) that’s considering the controversial Enbridge Pipelines and Tankers Project, and you haven’t scheduled a time to be heard, then you’d better jump to it. Calgarians who were registered to speak found out the hard way – if you snooze your public hearing gets cancelled.
According to an email from the JRP, which we received last Friday:
On 9 March 2012, the Joint Review Panel (Panel) for the Enbridge Northern Gateway Project invited participants who had registered to make an oral statement before the 6 October 2011 deadline to schedule their oral statements using an online scheduling tool.
The community hearing for oral statements in Calgary was scheduled for 1 August 2012 and scheduling for Calgary using the online tool closed on 25 July 2012, one week prior to the start of the session. Less than 15 registered participants scheduled oral statements in Calgary before the deadline. As a result, the community hearing session in Calgary will not be held.
Now the fewer than 15 Calgarians who did register to speak are being contacted to make alternative arrangements (they can present in another community or by teleconference), but that has to be a blow. Of course, things were even worse in Edmonton, where the hearing was cancelled after no one scheduled a time to speak.
So if you are in Kelowna, Vancouver, Victoria, the deadline to register is September 30th. If you’re in Port Hardy the deadline is today (July 30th) and Comox, the deadline is Friday (August 3rd). Get scheduling.
What happened in Calgary and Edmonton?
The irony of the JRP’s statement is: while Calgarians and Edmontonians may have been invited to “schedule their oral statements using an online scheduling tool” on 9 March 2012, the Hearing dates for both cities (and for 5 other communities) had not been set at the time, making it impossible for Calgarians to schedule their time. It was not until June 27, 2012 that they were able to schedule their time – and the JRP emails sent at that time did not clearly indicate to anybody that they had to take action.
Here’s the chronology:
- An email dated March 9, 2012 notified individuals who had registered to speak that hearings for oral statements were scheduled for 15 communities, and that individuals in those communities should schedule a time using an “online scheduling tool.” A link was provided to the tool, and instructions of how to use it. The email went on to explain that for other communities:
The Panel will also be visiting the following locations: Edmonton, AB, Bella Coola, BC, Kelowna, BC, Vancouver, BC, Port Hardy, BC, Victoria, BC, and Calgary, AB. These locations will be available for scheduling at a later date. Individuals making their oral statements in these locations will be notified when these sessions become available for scheduling.
A separate letter about scheduling sent on March 8th indicated that hearings would not begin in these 7 communities until November 2012.
- A reminder email was sent, again with instructions on how to schedule using the online scheduling tool was sent on May 14th, 2012, but again people in Edmonton, Bella Coola, Kelowna, Vancouver, Port Hardy, Victoria and Calgary were again told that “Registered participants who intend to present their oral statements in these locations will be contacted at a later date.”
- On June 27th, 2012 everyone who registered to speak received 2 emails one entitled “Final Schedule for the Community Hearings (Oral Statements)” and the other “Updated Hearing Schedule”. Neither emphasizes the need to schedule or the deadline for doing so, and neither gives the type of clear directions for registration found in the March 9th or May 14th emails. The recipient must read carefully and follow several links to find out how to schedule a hearing.
- The first indicates when hearings will be held in the 7 communities, but merely notes that “Information about all previously announced locations and how to schedule a presentation for an oral statement can be found on the Panel’s website at www.gatewaypanel.review.gc.ca,” leaving the reader to locate the scheduling information on the website.
- The second merely invites the reader to view a copy of the updated hearing schedule (which is provided as an attachment and as a link). Mid-way through the second page, after listing all hearing dates, the updated schedule does mention that “the online scheduling tool is now available to schedule your oral statement for all remaining community hearings for oral statements,” as well as the scheduling deadline for Victoria, Vancouver and Kelowna, and provides a link to a web page about oral statements (which is not the scheduling page, but which does list scheduling deadlines and does contain a link to the scheduling page).
- We are informed by NEB staff that a reminder email with scheduling information was sent on July 19th to individuals registered to present in Port Hardy and Comox. However, the folks in Edmonton, Bella Coola, and Calgary apparently did not receive such a reminder.
- All registrants were invited to participate in webinars about how to make an oral presentation. Those who did participate were apparently told, during the webinar, about the need to schedule a time.
West Coast Environmental Law is not participating as an organization in the JRP. However, I have registered to speak as an individual, so I can speak from personal experience.
I now remember receiving notice that the online scheduling tool was up and running – probably back in March (could have been May, not sure). And I went and looked, but realized that I couldn’t register (as a resident of Victoria) at the time. However, I had forgotten that when I glanced at the Updated Schedule at the end of June, and I missed the paragraph in that letter that was apparently intended to remind me of it. The volume of emails sent by the JRP to registered presenters is large, and it’s easy to miss an email. I’m very interested in the issue, and a lawyer to boot, so I am embarrassed to admit that if I had been presenting in Edmonton or Calgary, I would probably have missed my opportunity.
People who wanted to present in Calgary had less than a month’s notice to register (and people in Edmonton apparently about a week), limited instructions on how to do so (short of opening an attachment and following 2 links), and no reminder.
Better public engagement is needed
It seems that there was much more effort made to engage the residents of the first 15 communities that were scheduled, but this was somehow overlooked when the remaining public hearings were finally scheduled.
The emails of March 9th and May 14th refer to “Scheduling your Oral Statement” right in the email title. They contained specific instructions on how schedule time for an oral statement. We have no complaints about these emails. But they did not constitute notice to people in communities that could not register until June 27th, 2012.
The people in those communities were informed that
- they would not be expected to present until November 2012; and
- that they would be contacted when it was time to schedule a time.
Under those circumstances, a single email with the generic title “Updated Hearing Schedule”, with no reference to specific communities, the tight time-lines or information about scheduling in the email, and with an attachment that contains only a brief mention of the scheduling tool is not good enough.
We’re willing to believe that the National Energy Board’s staff are trying to engage the public – but designing appropriate public participation is not as easy as it seems. Indeed, the need for an appropriately designed public consultation process is one reason for not turning over environmental assessment processes to agencies that don’t have such expertise and experience.
It is worth noting that Bill C-38 recently removed all requirements to hear from the public in environmental assessments of pipeline projects.
We have written to the NEB and JRP staff encouraging them to send a reminder email immediately – complete with instructions and an obvious subject that lets people know that it’s time to schedule – to anyone who has not yet scheduled their oral statement, and to consider scheduling new hearings if there is sufficient interest from the communities that didn’t get proper notice of the hearing dates.
In the meantime, if you've registered to make an oral statement, make certain that you've scheduled a time.
By Andrew Gage, Staff Lawyer