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Clark's 'A team' veers off topic at Northern Gateway hearing

The team representing the B.C. government at this week's Northern Gateway pipeline hearings in Edmonton have come under scrutiny.

The province's lawyer, Elisabeth Graff, was cut off by panel chair Sheila Leggett moments into her cross-examination of Northern Gateway president John Carruthers when she asked about insurance for oil spill disasters.

The question of insurance was raised by former attorney general Geoff Plant -- who was appointed yesterday by Premier Christy Clark to lead the province's legal "A team" at the hearings.

"The question [is] whether Enbridge is actually capable of getting the kind of insurance to ensure against the risk of liability," Plant told the CBC as he boarded a plane to Alberta for the hearings.

Leggett told Graff that line of questioning was irrelevant to this phase of the hearings, which are focused on the economic impacts of the project. Disaster preparedness is being dealt with at upcoming hearings in B.C.

NDP Environment Critic Rob Fleming said he is concerned the government isn't prepared for the final hearings of the federal review panel, and Green party leader Jane Sterk issued a press released this morning calling the government's intervention "complete incompetence" and criticized Clark's appointment of Plant.

"Surely after a year on the Enbridge file, in-house government lawyers and Environment Minister Terry Lake are much better versed on the file than Geoff Plant," wrote Sterk.

Lake, who was also at the hearings, told the CBC that nothing unusual happened at yesterday's hearing and the panel adjourned because it was short on time.

The hearings move to B.C. next month with sessions in Prince George in October and in Prince Rupert in November.

Colleen Kimmett reports for The Tyee.

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