Denis Coderre calls for suspension of Energy East hearings over Charest affair

Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre says he has questions about the impartiality of the Energy East hearings following revelations ex-Quebec premier Jean Charest met commissioners on the National Energy Board while working for TransCanada.

'I'm not sure of the impartiality of the process,' Montreal mayor says of hearings into TransCanada pipeline

Denis Coderre has called the Energy East pipeline 'risky' and questioned its economic benefit to Montreal. (Radio-Canada)

Public hearings into the proposed Energy East pipeline were compromised when federal energy officials met with a former premier lobbying for the company backing the pipeline, says Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre.

Coderre said there is a "major perception problem" following revelations ex-Quebec premier Jean Charest met the chairman and two commissioners on the National Energy Board while working for TransCanada, the company heading the project.

The NEB says it wasn't aware of Charest's relationship with TransCanada when they met with him. 

"I'm not sure of the impartiality of the process," he told reporters late Thursday.

​"I think they should take a break and look seriously at this [issue] ... The only thing that we'll see in the media is questions about the process, and I don't think that's helpful."

Coderre has repeatedly questioned whether the potential environmental risks outweigh its possible economic benefits.

He is scheduled to speak Monday on behalf of the Montreal Metropolitan Community when the environmental hearings begin in Montreal.

Former Quebec premier Jean Charest has been working as a consultant for TransCanada. (Graham Hughes/Canadian Press)

The $15.7-billion Energy East pipeline would carry 1.1 million barrels a day of western crude as far east as Saint John, serving domestic refineries and international customers.

The National Observer, an online news site, revealed earlier this month that the NEB's chairman and two of its commissioners met Charest in January 2015 while he was acting as a consultant to TransCanada and talked about the pipeline.

Marc-Andre Plouffe, an NEB director at its Montreal office, has said the meeting was part of efforts to learn how to engage with the province.

He said the federal regulator met with Quebec representatives from a wide range of groups. These included representatives from environmental groups as well as Coderre and Charest. 

Plouffe said the board wasn't aware of any ties Charest had with any particular company when the meeting took place.

Comments in writing only

Environmental activists, however, insist the meeting was inappropriate.

A collection of 36 environmental groups have called on the Trudeau government to halt the NEB hearings.

And, earlier this week, the Vancouver-based Ecojustice asked the energy board in a formal motion to recuse the two commissioners.

​In a letter posted on its website, the NEB said it would consider the motion and invited others to submit comments. 

But it said it won't allow participants to talk about the issue during presentations. 

If the hearings aren't postponed, Coderre said he will raise questions about the meeting with Charest during his own presentation on Monday.

Steven Guilbeault of Equiterre, which was among the groups that met with the NEB commissioners, also argued the hearings should be put on hold.

"We will continue to make the case that there are many problems, and they should be suspended until we ensure that we have commissioners that are independent to run those hearings," he told CBC's Daybreak.

The 4,500-kilometre pipeline would see crude oil transported from Alberta to Eastern Canada. (CBC)

A coalition of Quebec union and management groups, for its part, came out in support of the project on Friday.

In a statement, the group said the project would help stimulate economic growth in the province.

"The coalition believes that this project represents yet another opportunity to leverage the expertise of workers and businesses in Quebec's construction industry," the group said. 

'Significant environmental threats': Coderre

The Montreal Metropolitan Community, which includes the neighbouring cities of Laval and Longueuil, came out against the pipeline earlier this year.

"We are against it because it still represents significant environmental threats and too few economic benefits for greater Montreal," Coderre said in January.

The NEB hearings began earlier this month in New Brunswick.

TransCanada Corp.'s proposed pipeline project, which would carry 1.1 million barrels a day from Alberta through Quebec to an export terminal in Saint John, N.B. (Canadian Press)

Hearings are scheduled to run in Montreal from Aug. 29 to Sept. 2 and in Quebec City from Oct. 3 to 7.

The board must submit its report by March 2018 after which the federal cabinet will have the final say on the project.

with files from Steve Rukavina and The Canadian Press