Les Leyne: Public hearing security a bit overdone

The federal review hearing into the Northern Gateway pipeline at the Delta Ocean Pointe was just like going back to first-year university at Carleton.

It was full of attractive communications women and all they did was say no — in both official languages.

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“Can I interview the panel?”

“No.”

“Can I sit here?”

“Non.”

“Can Victoria MP Murray Rankin come in?”

“No.”

Even their hotel room number was kept confidential for a while (which triggered more flashbacks). The fear was that the public hearing would be interrupted by members of the public — specifically, the anarcho-enviro fringe that sometimes hangs around the edges of such things.

The exercise is a joint effort between the National Energy Board and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency.

They’ve staged hearings the length and breadth of B.C. and Alberta. But the Victoria show was the most clenched, uptight production so far.

Citizens wishing to speak to the panel were checked to make sure they were pre-registered, then ushered into a waiting room. They were escorted in front of the panel three by three and given time to voice their thoughts.

Unregistered riff-raff were invited to the Ramada on Gorge Road, where they could watch a video feed from the hearing room.

Panel chairwoman Sheila Leggett explained: “In light of the urban centre in Victoria and the potential for larger audiences than previously experienced, we’ve added extra measures to ensure the process runs smoothly.

“We’ve established a viewing room … separate from the hearing room, where people can hear and listen to today’s proceedings live, on the video screen.

“Being courteous and respectful of one another in both the hearing venue and the meeting room allows everyone to concentrate on the person who’s speaking.”

The segregation of the unregistered from the pre-registered was enforced by private security personnel and a batch of uniformed off-duty Victoria police, hired by the panel to keep the “courtesy and respect” thing foremost.

All of which was unnecessary. No protesters showed up until noon, when a few dozen staged a little demonstration in the courtyard. They were unarmed. In fact, four of them were unclothed.

The question left is whether it was all another big Ottawa waste of time and money, or whether the bio-containment security operation and the remote viewing area prompted the forces of chaos to give up and stay home. Only a few people showed up at the remote feed. If this were a pay-per-view event, they would have lost heavily.

It was all a helpful introduction to the ways of the federal government for newly elected Victoria MP Murray Rankin.

He didn’t register because he only won the byelection in November, after the deadline. So he showed up at the private public hearing in his own riding and couldn’t even get in. He was banished to the remote location, and left sputtering in indignation.

“I presented myself as the member of Parliament for Victoria,” he said. “I wanted to observe on behalf of my constituents. I was told there’s a public viewing room for this public hearing at some venue three or four kilometres from here. I was not happy.

“I’ve never heard of a public hearing that was not open to the public … It’s Kafkaesque.”

He said watching from off-site is like watching TV coverage of question period — you only see what the fixed cameras show and it’s not like the real thing.

With more than 200 people registered to speak, the show will play Victoria again today and most of next week.

Based on opening day, it’s going to be a long parade of sincere people all saying essentially the same thing.

Enbridge’s pipeline plan is too risky, the hearing process is flawed and this thing should be stopped.

The panel is basically a technical review of an engineering problem. But the final decision on this — still a year or more away — is as political as can be.

Just So You Know: Back to Rankin, the idea that reporters were allowed to swank around in four-star luxury while he had to make do with a lesser-starred holding pen seemed to prompt some jealousy.

“It bothers me, Les, that you’re the media and you get to be here, I’m the member of Parliament, and I don’t. It’s not fair!”

Too bad, pal. Go back to Ottawa and tell Prime Minister Harper.

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