Canada's National Energy Board is embarking on a cross-country engagement tour to sell pipeline safety in an election year.
"Canadians can have confidence in the work we do," Peter Watson, the chairman and CEO of the National Energy Board, told engineering students at Dalhousie University on Monday.
The federal government has limited public participation at National Energy Board hearings and has reduced the time given to the regulator to review applications.
Halifax was the first stop in the first leg of a cross-Canada tour by the board. Watson and other board staff will spend 10 days in Atlantic Canada before moving to Quebec.
"We could probably do a better job of reaching out to Canadians outside our hearing processes and just talk to them about their on going fundamental concerns about the safety of the infrastructure in their communities," Watson told CBC News on Monday.
Declined to reveal cost
The National Energy Board declined to say how much the national road show will cost, saying it has been rolled into the overall operating budget.
At Dalhousie University's engineering school, Watson and temporary National Energy Board member Alison Scott were speaking to a friendly audience. Fourth-year chemical engineering student Khalid Hamdan welcomes energy development.
"When I think pipelines, I think career opportunities, economic benefits for Canada," he told CBC News.
Watson also met with the environmentalists at the Ecology Action Centre in Halifax. The environmental group recently survived a two-year political activities audit by the Canada Revenue Agency. The agency targeted environmental groups after Stephen Harper's government set aside millions of dollars to fund a special unit to audit charities.
The National Energy Board tour was met with a protest over the proposed Energy East Pipeline Project. The TransCanada Corporation wants to carry Alberta oil to Saint John Part of the plan involves converting an existing natural gas pipeline.
Alex Guest, a protester, questioned the credibility of the National Energy Board given the limits imposed by the Conservatives.
"They've stripped away environmental protections for lakes and rivers. They've changed how the process works so the scope is more limited," said Guest.
"The NEB can't meet with as many people. They aren't allowed to consider climate change."
A contrary voice emerged at the protest in favour of the Energy East pipeline. It came from Andrew Dawson, the Atlantic representative for Canada's Building Trades Unions.
"I think of bringing that resource East and having those people at home in our communities doing the same safe healthy work they do in western Canada here in Eastern Canada," he said.
As for Watson, he declined to comment directly on Energy East. He told students there was general agreement that "not having access to tidewater is a challenge for our country."
"We don't have the diversity of markets that we need," he said.
On Tuesday, Watson was scheduled to meet with the Maritimes Energy Association.