CAMPUT 2014: Reliability and Security:
A Kaleidoscope of Regulatory Challenges

CAMPUT 2014: Reliability and Security: A Kaleidoscope of Regulatory Challenges [PDF 133 KB]

CAMPUT 2014: Reliability and Security:
A Kaleidoscope of Regulatory Challenges
Halifax May 4-7, 2014

Notes for Panel Session: Communications
- Don’t Shoot the Messenger


Gaétan Caron is participating in a panel session from 10:45 am-12:00 pm on May 7 titled "Communication - Don’t Shoot the Messenger" at the CAMPUT 2014 Conference. Other panel members include: Scott Hempling, Attorney at Law LLC, and Graham Steele, Former Minister of Finance, Nova Scotia, and Former Minister responsible for the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board Act. The moderator is Shawn McCarthy, Global Energy Report with the Globe and Mail.

The format is a discussion between panelists. The moderator will pose a series of questions to each panelist, based on the conference program, and then elicit a discussion.

Panel Session

Communications - Don’t Shoot the Messenger

Overview: "Regulatory boards and commissions are typically quasi-judicial bodies, which issues legally-binding decisions after lengthy proceedings and thorough examination of evidence. Traditionally, a board lets its decisions speak for themselves, and does not elaborate on its reasoning.

In today’s social and political environment, with growing public involvement, an organized civil society and concerned citizens, tough questions are asked and clear answers are expected. The media is moving from in-depth analysis by professional journalists to 140 characters."

Question 1: How is the regulator fitting into this social dynamic and how can it survive in the media jungle without losing its quasi-judicial soul?

Key Messages

We must not only survive but thrive as we anticipate and respond to the values and preferences of Canadians. We must be part of the social dynamic. We do this by having a diverse group of 450 employees reflecting Canada's diversity and by leveraging the skills and the varied experienced of our Board members.

If, by "quasi-judicial soul", people mean the formality of rigid hearing rooms supervised by quasi-judicial judges in wigs and robes - not that any of us would wear that - maybe we need to lose part of our quasi-judicial character. People sometimes may see us as removed from the day-to-day reality of the life of Canadians. We must retain the quasi-judicial imperatives of natural justice, fair processes, "he or she who hears must decide", and the like. But we also need to find and use new tools to remain part of the evolving social fabric of Canadian society.

A few examples of how the NEB is evolving with the social fabric of Canadian society, while remaining within our mandate, include:

  • Holding strategic fora, like our safety forum held last year in Calgary over two days for nearly 400  people from all walks of life to talk about pipeline safety and safety culture - more on that in response to question 2 (National Energy Board 2013 Safety Forum Report);
  • Posting more than data on our websites, rather, posting highly organized information so Canadians can readily use it, for instance our new safety and  environmental performance dashboard (Safety and Environmental Performance Dashboard);
  • Giving media interviews - From April 2013-March , our staff and Board members gave 578 interviews. This is a 104% increase from the previous year;
  • Meeting face-to-face with communities and listen, with sincerity, and show a willingness to change. By this I mean a willingness on our part to change our understanding of their realities, as a result of listening to them - I'll have a few examples of community meetings in answer to question 2; and,
  •  The ultimate move, making me feel 25 years younger, we now have a Twitter account. Since its launch on January 15, 2014, we have gained over 300 followers, including community leaders, journalists, politicians and ENGOs. Since its launch, Twitter has driven over 500 new visitors to our website. We expect continued growth in this area. (Twitter account)

I would not refer to the world of media as a "jungle". Media do their job: they report on stories. These stories are made of facts and people's actions, what they do, what they don't do, what they say, what they refrain from saying. If we do not like the media coverage for our organization, seeing the media as a jungle will not help.

We must see media as a system, a complex one, with its own rules, mostly unwritten, which must be learned and followed. That's the way it is. The NEB reaches out whenever possible, to sit down with editorial boards and lead reporters, and explain the work we do and offer our regulatory perspective. When we find that a media story is not fact based or fair, this gives us an opportunity to "detect and correct" inaccuracies and stay in front of an issue. A few examples of the kinds of “detect and corrects” we do include responses to incorrect or incomplete information about the Board’s regulatory authority (Ottawa Citizen February 27, 2014), about our commitment to the safety of our staff, Members and participants during public hearings (Letter to the Editor, November 21, 2013) or about how pipeline safety is the Board’s top priority.

Question 2:How, and to what extent, should the regulator open a dialogue with interested parties without breaching the rule of impartiality?

Key Messages

We do indeed need to continue to have an open dialogue with Canadians.

  • If there is a hearing underway, of course a dialogue with interested parties must take place using the regulator's rules of procedures.
  • If this is about improving the regulatory framework, improving the flow of information to citizens, or responding to questions about public interest matters such as safety and environmental protection, as the questions suggests, it is the regulator who must open the dialogue.
  • A few examples include:
    • The NEB has hosted more than a dozen web-based information sessions for the Trans Mountain Expansion Project. These sessions were available online or via the telephone and focused on NEB 101, the Application to Participate process and How to be an effective intervenor.
    • In response to the Deepwater Horizon incident in the Gulf of Mexico, we reviewed the safety and environmental requirements for offshore drilling in Canada's Arctic environment - called the Arctic Review. We conducting extensive community engagement and held a week-long Roundtable meeting in Inuvik, attended by nearly 200 people, so participants and the Board could gather information and have a meaningful dialogue. The Review resulted in the development of filing requirements for offshore drilling in the Canadian Arctic (Review of Offshore Drilling in the Canadian Arctic).
    • Over the past year or so, Board Members and NEB staff have held over 50 meetings across the North, and I have participated in a number of these. The meetings involved, among other things, listening to Northerners' concerns around offshore drilling and seismic work for oil and gas, explaining the Board’s role, and getting feedback on how we're doing.
    • Last year, the Board held a Safety Forum in Calgary to advance critical topics around safety and environmental protection between regulators, the public and industry. The event brought together speakers ranging from Chief Executive Officers to subject matter experts and was attended by 385 participants representing the public, Aboriginal peoples, industry, consultants, academia, government, National Energy Board representatives and youth.

Question 3: How should regulators deal with political issues?

Key Messages

The regulator deals with political issues by letting the political process run its course without interference from regulators.

The political process and regulation intersects in two places:

  • First, when a legislature or Parliament passes a new law affecting the regulator, the regulator must faithfully implement the law, which is a manifestation of the wishes of the people through their duly elected officials. This is democracy.

    Before a law is passed a regulator should review the bill carefully and begin to prepare for implementation. The regulator must be ready to implement it promptly if and when a bill is passed into law. If new resources are required, the regulator can prepare a request for funds which must go through another political process, that is, approval by Parliament through the Appropriations Act. In all cases, the regulator refrains from having an opinion as to whether a law should be passed, rejected or amended. This is the work of policy and politics and the people working in that sphere. We don't work there.
  • Second, a regulator can be asked to appear before Parliamentary committees. There again, its role is to help the policy and political process runs its course and answer questions the best it can so that the role of the regulatory agency is well understood, its performance can be observed, and its plans for continual improvements discussed. Appearing before a Parliamentary Committee is the ultimate expression of accountability of a regulatory agency towards Parliament.
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