NEB's call on Energy East must be independent, McKenna says, as Charest talks revealed

Environment Minister Catherine McKenna is urging Canadians to have confidence in the NEB following revelations ex-Quebec premier Jean Charest met with the chairman of the environmental body while working for TransCanada.

Former Quebec premier met with government body to discuss pipeline while working for TransCanada

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

Environment Minister Catherine McKenna urged Canadians on Tuesday to have confidence in the evaluation process of large-scale energy projects like Energy East.

McKenna declined to comment directly on new revelations surrounding the National Energy Board, the body responsible for conducting consultations on TransCanada's proposed pipeline project.

The National Observer revealed last week that the NEB's chairman and two of its commissioners met with ex- Quebec premier Jean Charest in January 2015, while he was acting as a consultant to TransCanada, and talked about the pipeline.

The NEB, which initially denied discussions about the project took place during the meeting, apologized to the online news site and called it an honest mistake.

NEB spokesman Craig Loewen said there was no ill intent behind its initial denial.

The federal regulator had asked to meet with Quebec representatives from a wide range of groups: municipal associations, chambers of commerce, mayors and a former premier.

The exercise was in an effort to learn how to engage with the province, said Marc-Andre Plouffe, an NEB director at its Montreal office.

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

'We must have confidence in our system'

Environment Minister Catherine McKenna says the environmental review system needs to be fair and independent. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

With the board's credibility under fire, McKenna told a news conference in Halifax that Canadians must have faith in the system.

"We must have confidence in our system, we must have confidence in our institutions, and we must ensure we have decisions that are independent,'' McKenna said, adding the Liberal government is committed to reviewing the environmental assessment process rigorously.

A spokesman for Charest at McCarthy Tetrault law offices where he works was unavailable for comment Tuesday.

NEB hearings began Monday in New Brunswick with promoters of the Energy East project reassuring the public about the safety of the 4,500-kilometre pipeline that would see crude oil transported from Alberta to Eastern Canada.

Hearings move to Montreal from Aug. 29 to Sept. 2 and to 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.