Harper, in an interview Monday with CBC, was asked if the federal government would accept a negative decision by the National Energy Board that is now conducting hearings into the proposed Enbridge megaproject to ship oilsands bitumen by pipeline from Alberta to port in Kitimat, B.C., for export by tanker to Asia.
"Well, obviously, we'll always take a look at the recommendation. We take the recommendations of environmental reviews very seriously," Harper said.
"And this government has in the past changed projects or even stopped projects if reviews were not favourable, or (the government) indicated that changes had to be made. So we'll take a close look at what the conclusions are."
But two academics familiar with the NEB process said Harper has misportrayed the relationship between cabinet and the independent agency.
"Harper did not represent the structure of authority in this case correctly," said George Hoberg, a professor at the University of B.C.'s department of forest resources management.
He said the Joint Review Panel that is assessing the project under both the NEB Act and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act "is the final decision-maker, not the cabinet."
He said the NEB can't give the project the go-ahead by issuing a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity without cabinet approval, which means the government could overrule a positive decision.
"But cabinet can't overrule a 'No' decision without new legislation," Hoberg said.
University of Calgary law professor Nigel Bankes agreed, saying that while negative NEB decisions are "very rare," the outcome represents the "end of the line" unless the government brings in new legislation.
An NEB spokesperson couldn't be reached for comment Tuesday, but in November, Carole LegerKubeczek confirmed that cabinet is only involved in approving or disapproving a decision if the NEB recommends the project get the go-ahead.
But she noted in an email that the government, or anyone, could formally ask the board to reconsider its decision.
Source: leader post