The institutional non-credibility problem

For and against shale gas in New Brunswick: The immoveable object meets the implacable foe

For and against shale gas in New Brunswick: The immoveable object meets the implacable foe

 

New Brunswick Premier David Alward’s concern that his provincial Energy Institute is losing credibility owing to the long shadow its not-so-dearly departed founding chairman, Louis LaPierre, has cast raises a certain question: What credibility?

Are not reputations, good or otherwise, built on track records?

The Conservation Council of New Brusnwick’s Stephanie Merrill comes as close as anybody to putting a finger on the matter when she tells the Telegraph-Journal, “We’re concerned about this institute. Its mandate and what it’s going to do have been very unclear.”

Though she allows that the province could use an organization that soberly deliberates the future of energy in this neck of the woods, she perceives a “serious flaw in continuing the discussions around shale gas, pipelines, the same old story and not a new vision.”

It is, of course, in her job description to question the merit of pursuing a fossil-fuel -based economy, but I wonder if she prematurely gives the Institute too much credit. In the several months since its formal founding, it hasn’t done much for or against “shale gas” and “pipelines” and what might be termed an “old vision” of industrial development.

That’s not to say it isn’t packed with expertise (a fact which critics, who are out to skin Dr. Lapierre for misrepresenting his academic credentials even as he, himself, conceived of the Institute, conveniently neglect to mention).

Its scientific advisory council includes Adrian Park,Tom Al, Maurice Dusseault, Karen Kidd, Richard Saillant, David Besner, and Fred Metallic. All but one hold PhDs in relevant disciplines, such as geology, earth sciences, civil engineering, environmental biology, chemical engineering.

Dr. Besner, who replaces Dr. Lapierre, will function as the Institute’s interim chairman, a job for which he is eminently qualified, at least according to N.B. Energy and Mines Minister Craig Leonard. “He is very familiar with the framework that has been established for the institute,” the minister declared in a statement last week. “I am pleased that he accepted to lead (it). . .as it prepares to launch the water monitoring program along with several other key initiatives.”

So, what are these “key initiatives?” A more intriguing question, perhaps, is how they’ll be prosecuted, given this tasty revelation, reported in the Telegraph-Journal on Friday: “Besner’s hgonorarium does not increase in his new position. All members (of the Institute) are entitled to $450 for a full day’s work. Previous to taking the new position, Besner said the job typically involved a day and a half of work a month. He expects he’ll be be busier as chairman.”

Still, “he’s not quitting his regular job as a consultant and will not work at the institute full time.”

All of which sounds like extraordinarily light duty for a deliberative body in which the premier and his lieutenants have invested both money and confidence.

Certainly, the organization’s website doesn’t offer much in the way of enlightenment. “The New Brunswick Energy Institute is an independent body separate from government that was created to examine the science surrounding energy possibilities in our province,” the home page states. “Made up of experts in different areas of science, the Institute will examine the science pertaining to oil and gas development in the province.”

The “Research” section lists two publications: Dr. Lapierre’s initial report, which called for the Institute’s establishment (hardly, we now know, a rigorous piece of science); and a Deloitte study on shale gas supply chain opportunities in the province.

Click on the “Ongoing Research” button, and up pops a promise: “Coming Soon.”

To be fair, the Institute is still young. It hasn’t had time to find its walking shoes, let alone hit the ground running. But the political spin surrounding its eminent authority and now endangered credibility, which, we are assured, must be urgently restored is both irksome and counterproductive.

The perceived misdeeds of one man have far less to do with the Institute’s reputation than does its own lack of deeds to date.

Let it actually do something before we assign any degree of importance to its role – good or bad – in framing energy policy in New Brunswick.

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