EUB chairman disbands controversial security unit, Angry critics want board, employees held accountable by Geoffrey Scotton, September 25, 2007, Calgary Herald
A week after being parachuted into the province’s beleaguered energy regulator, Alberta Energy and Utilities Board, chairman William Tilleman has let go two staffers in the EUB’s security unit in response to revelations the adjudicator spied on landowners who opposed a power line project it was examining.
At least three EUB board members and six staff were aware of the spying, which occurred at hearings in May and June into a controversial 500-kilovolt transmission line proposed to be built and operated by AltaLink LP between Edmonton and Calgary. Tilleman, named to the EUB’s top job Sept. 17 by Energy Minister Mel Knight, also moved Monday to transfer much of the EUB’s day-to-day energy infrastructure security work to the provincial solicitor general’s department and will hire two senior managers to oversee protection of privacy, and dispute resolution, within the agency. “These changes are the first major decisions I am making to reassure Albertans that the EUB had a strong regulatory framework that inspires landowner, industry and public confidence,” Tilleman said in a statement. He was unavailable for questions. Landowners and opposition politicians slammed the announcement, and all called for a public inquiry, citing the foreknowledge and involvement of EUB board members. “Mr. Tilleman is letting the security branch take the fall, but we still don’t know how far up the chain of command the decision to hire private investigators went,” said New Democrat Leader Brian Mason. There was widespread sentiment among the groups that Knight has failed to take responsibility for illegal activities and blundering that occurred in his portfolio.
“This is a smokescreen,” said Joe Anglin, vice-chair of the Lavesta Area Group of landowners in the Rimbey area. “What they’ve done is held accountable low-level employees for a much greater wrong,” said Anglin, whose organization includes more than 700 citizens, about 40 of them affected landowners. “It’s a whitewash. These employees probably did what they were told to do. The board panel was fully aware, which means the board was fully aware — but they didn’t stop it. Not until we caught them,” Anglin noted. In fact, three panel members and at least six EUB employees were informed via e-mail May 9 of the spying, a week before it commenced. “The EUB condoned spying on landowners in a legitimate legal process. They should be held completely accountable,” said Anglin. “The buck has got to stop somewhere and the guy in charge is Mel Knight as minister. Nobody’s holding anybody responsible — and some hourly employee gets it right in the backside.”
Despite suspicions by landowners to the contrary, EUB spokesman Tom Neufeld said Monday the EUB had only used private investigators twice, at the Rimbey hearings and at another hearing in May in Redwater. “The EUB has reviewed security going back a number of years and has determined there has not been any other situations similar,” said Neufeld. “We have not employed private security, private detectives at other hearings or any other EUB meetings or proceedings.”
Tilleman’s announcement re-ignited controversy about Bill 46, the government’s plan to remake Alberta’s energy regulatory system by winding down the EUB and replacing it Jan. 1 with an Energy Resources Conservation Board and Alberta Utilities Commission. Landowners and critics charge the bill will disenfranchise and disadvantage opponents to projects the regulators adjudicate. “After this spying scandal in Rimbey, Bill 46 is not the answer,” said opposition Liberal energy critic Hugh MacDonald. “We’re going from bad to worse. It’s unlimited power to rubber-stamp applications and to deny, limit and restrict citizens’ involvement,” MacDonald noted, calling for Premier Ed Stelmach to demand McKnight’s resignation
“The only good thing about Bill 46 is the regulatory agency won’t have to hire spies anymore, because citizens are not going to have any input to start with.”
Along with the disbanding and planned hirings, Tilleman said Monday that future hearings will include the identification of all EUB staff. The regulator ran into its worst crisis in its more than 90-year history when in May it hired private investigators to covertly monitor landowners affected by and opposed to a 500 kilovolt transmission line at hearings the board was holding. Concerned about violence, the EUB then applied the same strategy at a second set of hearings in Redwater related to a separate project.