The Liberal government appears to be stymied in its campaign pledge to remake the National Energy Board as it signalled Friday that it will not demand the resignation of last-minute Conservative appointees to the embattled regulatory agency.
The Conservatives made a slew of appointments and reappointments to boards and agencies in the leadup to the August election call, including more than 30 cases in which the candidates were scheduled to assume their posts or begin their new term after the Oct. 19 federal vote.
Liberal House Leader Dominic LeBlanc sent letters in early December to 33 office-holders, asking them to resign their posts. The Prime Minister's Office confirmed Friday that "a significant number" of those appointees have agreed to step down, but would not provide the precise numbers, their names or where they worked.
"As a matter of fairness and transparency, the government asked that the appointees voluntarily choose not to serve the appointment made by the previous government," PMO spokeswoman Andrée-Lyne Hallé said in an e-mail. She said the targeted positions involved appointments that Parliament did not have an opportunity to review prior to dissolution, though in practice, few – if any – of the postings receive such scrutiny.
Some of the most controversial appointments involved the National Energy Board, as critics accused the previous government of stacking the regulatory body with industry insiders. The board is currently conducting reviews of two proposed oil pipelines that would carry Alberta crude to ports on the East and West coasts, and it faces legal challenges from opponents who argued the process is biased.
In the most controversial case, Calgary energy consultant Steven Kelly was named to the board on July 31, with his tenure commencing Oct. 13, just six days before the vote that ousted the Conservatives from government.
Mr. Kelly had served as consultant for Kinder Morgan Canada, which is seeking approval to dramatically expand its TransMountain pipeline that carries crude to Vancouver harbour. He had submitted evidence on Kinder Morgan's behalf at the board's review, and – while he won't be involved in the hearing – his appointment prompted a delay in the proceedings as the panel had to expunge his evidence and sought to reassure the public.
The Conservatives also appointed Keith Chaulk, a Memorial University ecologist who has substantial regulatory experience in Northern Canada. His appointment took effect Nov. 23. The Tories also reappointed the board's deputy chair, Lyne Mercier, whose term was not due to expire until December, and reappointed two part-time members – Michael Richmond and Jacques Gauthier – both with long Conservative ties whose terms were set to expire in November.
However, no one was asked to step down from the National Energy Board, a spokeswoman for Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr said in an e-mail Friday.
Dr. Chaulk was asked to step down but declined, spokeswoman for Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr said in an e-mail. The minister's office indicated it will not force the issue, given he cannot be terminated except for misconduct.
"Dr. Keith Chaulk was the only National Energy Board member to receive a letter given that his appointment became effective after the election," the official, Micheline Joanisse, said in an e-mail. But she added that Dr. Chaulk was highly regarded and well-qualified, and is not expected to step down but will appear before a Commons committee that will review all such appointments.
As an opposition leader, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was critical of the board's makeup and the Conservative-imposed rules under which it operates. He pledged to restore "credibility" to the borad.
The Liberals promised to "modernize" the NEB to ensure it reflects regional views and has expertise in environmental fields, community development and indigenous knowledge. But Conservative appointments and the renewal of sitting members' terms means the Liberals will not have an opportunity to appoint a full-time member of the board until 2020.
The Conservatives insist all the late-term appointments were based on merit.
Editor's note: An earlier digital version of this story incorrectly stated that no one was asked to step down from the National Energy Board. This story has been corrected.