Judicial inquiry needed into EUB, other boards’ autonomy

Judicial inquiry needed into EUB, other boards’ autonomy Patrick Cleary, October 7, 2007, The Edmonton Journal

Re: “Ex-EUB chairmen just don’t get it,” by Janet Keeping, Letters, Sept. 28.

In her response to the letter by the former Alberta Energy and Utilities Board chairmen (“EUB has served Albertans well over 70 years, ex-chairmen say,” by G.W. Govier, G.J. DeSorcy and M.N. McCrank, Sept. 22), Janet Keeping stresses the importance of an ethos of accountability and transparency in government, in contrast to that of secrecy and surveillance.

Keeping, president of the Sheldon Chumir Foundation for Ethics in Leadership, expresses her disbelief that “things would deteriorate to the point where EUB leaders would have to be told that covert surveillance was ethically wrong” and that, consequently, “they (the chairmen) are part of the problem.”

Keeping offers the long-term solution of “a full inquiry with public hearings … into how energy policy is made and … implemented by the EUB and the Department of Energy.”

Here, I would like to acknowledge the EUB ex-chairmen’s cautionary note urging, “all of those with a stake in the issue reflect carefully.” I now propose to do so.

I served as senior socioeconomic specialist to Alberta’s Natural Resources Conservation Board from 1991 to 1997, where I participated in the public hearing process and where I enjoyed the privilege of working with chair G.J.
DeSorcy, an author of the Sept. 22 letter. In 1991, the Klein revolution was yet to manifest itself and, with it, the drive to redefine the relationship between politics and business in the pursuit of prosperity.

In my experience, quasi-judicial, public interest boards like the NRCB and EUB were expected to conform to the revolutionary mindset. For example, on the eve of the Klein revolution, Ken Smith, assistant deputy minister to then environment minister Ralph Klein, replaced DeSorcy upon his retirement as NRCB chair. To that time, Smith had been a career civil servant and now continues his career as Alberta Energy’s deputy minister.

An important public policy question here is, to what degree might Smith have been willing to assert the independence required by the chair of a quasi-judicial tribunal — that is, to what extent might the NRCB’s independent, rule-oriented, public process have intentionally been compromised by the Klein government through the board appointment process?

Extrapolating from this question comes another: To what extent has the public hearing process in Alberta been compromised as a result of a lack of adherence to the formal rules governing these boards and/or by government efforts to inappropriately manipulate board outcomes?

I have a biased hunch as to sound answers to these questions given my NRCB experience. However, to control for personal biases in developing public policy surrounding this issue, it would seem that the veracity of Alberta’s public interest boards would benefit from a public inquiry different in focus and scope than that proposed by Keeting.

I would propose there is a need for a transparent, judicial inquiry into Alberta’s public hearing processes with a view to recommending how these important Alberta institutions should be improved. Regrettably, I say “judicial” inquiry based on my personal knowledge of how government has used its power to control information brought before a hearing panel and to recognize the need to confer a degree of judicial protection to those participating in such an inquiry.

Given Alberta’s current pace of development, I would urge Albertans to seriously consider the need for a formal judicial inquiry into the degree to which the ham-fisted behaviour by the EUB has simply been a very public expression of values systemically nurtured within Alberta’s administrative boards during and after the Klein revolution.

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