My editorial, published in the Kitimat Northern Sentinel, September 8, 2010.
The Joint Review Panel organizers did one thing particularly well.
They allowed people, in as much as it is possible, in such an artificial environment to feel comfortable and speak in their own way.
Interacting with government can be intimidating, in some cases intentionally so, that’s why the judge sits higher than anyone else in the room.
Presenters were spoken to respectfully and panelists did not speak down to presenters.
The presenters themselves came from a number of backgrounds, some clearly were comfortable speaking in front of an audience, or in formal circumstances, and others appeared to be people who would not otherwise choose to make themselves the centre of attention in such a forum.
After asking presenters to give their names and spell them, the panelists allowed people to speak as they wished.
Speakers were supposed to be responding to three topics, the draft list of issues, additional information Northern Gateway should be required to file and locations for oral hearings.
Some gave presentations firmly rooted in the three topics, with supporting documentation delivered in even tones.
But some people simply spoke from the heart about issues they were concerned about or feared outright.
These people spoke emotionally, some levelling accusations at Enbridge, others questioning the legitimacy of the process, and still others spoke passionately to the three topics at hand, all were allowed to speak until they expressed the thoughts and feelings they needed to get out.
Audience members also helped to create an atmosphere where people could speak honestly and openly.
Speakers comments were received with applause or silence, panelists did not have to maintain “order in the court”, so people could allow themselves to speak from the heart, in what would otherwise have been an uncomfortable, artificial situation.
By allowing that kind of space, people could speak the truth, whatever that may be, in the way they wanted to say it, however they might understand it.
Regardless of the outcome, this one thing was done well.