House of Commons Hansard #15 of the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was first.

Topics

Employment Insurance
Petitions
Routine Proceedings

12:05 p.m.

Conservative

Mark Warawa Langley, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to present a petition for my residents of Langley.

The petitioners say that a number of severe potential life-threatening conditions do not qualify for disability programs because they are not necessarily permanent.

They therefore call upon the House of Commons to enact specific and precise legislation to provide additional EI benefits to at least equal, if not better than, maternity guidelines.

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

12:05 p.m.

Langley
B.C.

Conservative

Mark Warawa Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment

Mr. Speaker, I ask that all questions be allowed to stand.

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

12:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

Is that agreed?

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

12:05 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-9, An Act to amend the Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act, 1992, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act, 1992
Government Orders

12:05 p.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is with some relief that I rise in the chamber today to speak to Bill C-9 in that this bill is long overdue, at least that part in dealing with the issue of transportation of dangerous goods.

The riding that is immediately adjacent to mine is held by the NDP member for Windsor West. It contains several border crossings that are the busiest not only in Canada and the United States, but we believe the busiest between two sovereign countries anywhere in the world. More passenger vehicles and vehicles carrying cargo cross that border daily in numbers that are not matched anywhere else in the world.

The issue of moving dangerous goods in this country has been a long-standing problem from an environmental standpoint. I can remember dealing with this issue over a good number of years. The municipal levels of government, the city of Windsor and the county of Essex, were greatly concerned about the movement through their jurisdictions of goods that were not properly regulated. Safety regulations were not in place. There were no requirements in provincial or federal legislation to identify that dangerous goods were moving through their jurisdictions. Over the years there were a number of incidents where it came to the knowledge of the municipal governments that on a regular basis certain dangerous goods, toxins, and in some cases even radioactive material such as medical isotopes, were moving through their jurisdictions and they had no idea it was happening.

This has been a great concern not just to the elected officials in the municipal governments in my area, but also to our firefighters and police and emergency responders. Oftentimes they are called to scenes of motor vehicle accidents involving goods that are unknown to them in terms of the quantity and how dangerous the goods are. Historically, on a number of occasions, we have been very worried as to whether our emergency responders, police and firefighters have been exposed to toxins and other serious pollutants that would damage their health and the environment in the region around the accident.

This is not something that has been going on for the last few years while consultation on this bill has been going on; it has been going on literally for decades in our area because of its geographic location. Much vehicular traffic moves through our area on a daily basis. In order that people can appreciate the significance, in terms of the numbers, more goods and vehicular traffic goes through our city and crosses to the American side and vice versa on a daily basis than all of the traffic that goes across the Confederation Bridge to Prince Edward Island in a year. Having to cope with that traffic has been a major issue, and perhaps the major issue, in our community for a long time.

It became even more of a concern when the incident of 9/11 took place. It moved from being an environmental and health and safety issue to one of national security. Since 9/11 there has been a significant slowdown in the traffic patterns across the border, at the bridge, at the tunnel, and even with regard to the rail tunnel that moves a huge amount of cargo between the two countries on a daily basis.

The United States has been very adamant and protective of its side of the border. The U.S. refuses to accept that our standards, our safety and precautionary measures are sufficient to respond to the concerns the Americans have. Again, this is around the transport of hazardous waste and goods, but also with regard to the potential for that transportation network to be used by terrorists to attack the United States.

It has been a grave problem for us since 9/11, one to which the government has finally responded. In the last few years the Conservatives and the Liberals before them were very slow to pick up on it. In a number of other ways, we have spent huge amounts of money to deal with national security issues. One can argue that it was probably spent unwisely in a number of areas and that it would have been much better to have spent some more time and to have been more focused on this particular area so that the legislation and standards would have been in place and we could have been moving to deploy and enforce those standards.

I am going to use one example to highlight one of the concerns. The City of Toronto has been transporting huge volumes of municipal waste, general garbage from households in particular, to the state of Michigan. In the last few weeks the City of Toronto has announced that because of some recycling programs it has put into place and other policies around the reuse of items, it has been able to reduce the number of trucks crossing at the border crossings in Windsor and Sarnia by almost 50% in the last year. That is a good development, but one of the reasons it was pushed to do that is that the state of Michigan had taken some very strong measures to prohibit the importation of that garbage into its jurisdiction.

Michigan specifically used the example of the number of times that hazardous goods had gotten through the Canadian side and the American side of the border and ended up in the landfill sites on the Michigan side, and it was discovered only at that point that there was hazardous waste in that garbage. The state of Michigan has now taken steps to pass legislation that has curtailed the amount of garbage that is being transported into its jurisdiction.

This legislation is badly needed from that perspective with regard to environmental and health and safety factors. It is also badly needed to satisfy our concerns on this side of the border with regard to items that are coming in from the U.S. side. By raising our standards here in Canada, we would be able to prohibit goods coming in from the United States that we do not want in our country. That part of the legislation is badly needed. It is a good step forward.

Since 2004 the government has spent an extensive amount of time on consultation. However, that consultation was over in a meaningful way sometime around 2006 or 2007, at least two years ago. This legislation should have been before the House in that period of time. It should have gone through committee, been amended, clarified and refined as necessary, gone back into the House, passed through the Senate and given royal assent. We should have been at that stage at least a year and a half ago, perhaps even as much as two years ago. We could have been at the stage now of deploying the bill and the law and, in particular, putting in place the regulations that would flow under this law so that we could dramatically increase the safety in our communities. I mean safety in terms of the natural environment of my city and county and the national security items that this bill addresses.

There is one significant negative in this bill. Generally, members of the NDP are supportive of this legislation, but we have a significant concern with regard to the methodology that is going to be used by the government with regard to security clearances for truck drivers, but also for personnel at our border crossings such as in my area, but also at our airports to some lesser degree, and most important, at our shipping ports on our coasts. The difficulty we have with the legislation is it would appear on the surface that a good deal of the methodology that will be used to institute the surveillance of employees will be done in secret.

If we are trying to satisfy the Canadian people that we are serious about these security clearances, they will have to be done in an effective, efficient and state-of-the-art way. We have to do it as well as anybody in the world does, and hopefully better. It is hard to imagine how we are going to instill that confidence in the communities most affected by these types of goods being transported through them that we are doing it effectively. We cannot convince people that we are doing a good job unless they can see it. It is an issue of transparency.

I have heard no argument on the part of the government as to why there is this insistence on these regulations that will govern how people will be cleared for this type of employment. How does not telling the general public the criteria that people have to meet and the process they have to go through in any way enhance that sense of confidence in our government and our government institutions, that we are doing a good job in protecting our citizens? I say protecting them both from a personal security basis, that their personal security is assured in this country, but also that the natural environment around their homes and businesses will be protected as well as it can be, and that our emergency responders will be protected as best they can. This insistence on secrecy makes no sense to us in the NDP.

However, there has been a history, and it has been particularly true that some of the tools that we have tried to put in place at our ports to screen employees and the types of methods that were being used were, quite frankly, offensive to our charter of rights, basic human rights and civil liberties. I am going to use one example that came up, I think it was a couple of years ago, when I was a member of the public safety and national security committee.

Transport Canada was proposing at the time to do clearances not only on the employees but on a very wide range of people who were associated with candidates for employment, the candidate's immediate family and extended family, without any reasons for doing that. There would be no suggestion that the person had an extensive criminal record or was associating with people with extensive criminal records. Transport Canada was going on the assumption that everybody was a potential criminal or a potential terrorist, rather than doing the reverse and assuming that unless there was at least some indication that the person was a security risk, it would do a fairly conventional security clearance for the person through our regular police forces.

We are concerned and we will need to take this up, to a significant degree, assuming we can get the government to move beyond its secrecy, almost paranoia, to understand why the security clearances are being done, it appears from the legislation and from some of the comments we have heard from the government, behind the scenes in total secrecy. That does not advance the level of confidence and security in the country. It certainly does not give our citizenry additional assurances that things are being done properly and that we are advancing the level of security, both with regard to environmental issues, health and safety issues and national security issues, if they do not know what is going on.

I can well understand, because of the extensive amount of work I have done in national security since 2004, that there are times when we do need to do things behind the scenes, to do them undercover and to maintain them that way when national security is at issue.

However, I also learned throughout that period of time that oftentimes national security is used as a cloak for breaching civil liberties in this country. It is used as a cloak to, at times, cover up mistakes made within the public service. This, obviously, is a rare exception, but if we start with a system that says that we are entitled to keep everything behind closed doors, that we will not tell the citizenry anything about it nor will we tell members of Parliament about it, we will not even give access to this kind of information, then that is the wrong approach. It is one the NDP will be looking very closely at in committee and moving amendments, if that is necessary.

Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act, 1992
Government Orders

12:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

Is the House ready for the question?

Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act, 1992
Government Orders

12:25 p.m.

Some hon. members

Question.

Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act, 1992
Government Orders

12:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act, 1992
Government Orders

12:25 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act, 1992
Government Orders

12:25 p.m.

An hon. member

On division.

Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act, 1992
Government Orders

12:25 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

I declare the motion carried. Accordingly, the bill stands referred to the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities.

(Motion agreed to, bill read the second time and referred to a committee)

Indian Oil and Gas Act
Government Orders

12:25 p.m.

Conservative

Diane Finley Haldimand—Norfolk, ON

moved that Bill C-5, An Act to amend the Indian Oil and Gas Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Indian Oil and Gas Act
Government Orders

12:25 p.m.

Vancouver Island North
B.C.

Conservative

John Duncan Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Mr. Speaker, I am proud to have the pleasure of introducing Bill C-5, An Act to amend the Indian Oil and Gas Act.

In the recent Speech from the Throne, the government committed to take steps to ensure that aboriginal Canadians fully share in economic development opportunities and this legislation is a concrete example of that commitment.

The oil and gas sector provides a real source of promising economic development opportunities for first nations. Few other countries in the world can lay claim to the secure, abundant and diverse energy resources we enjoy in Canada. This energy wealth has fueled tremendous economic growth in many regions of the country.

The world's need for Canada's oil and gas holds significant promise for development for many years to come.

Since the government was formed, we have made clear our determination to ensure first nations share equally in our country's prosperity and that they are able to build stronger and self-reliant communities that can manage their own affairs.

Bill C-5 would help to advance these goals by enhancing Canada's capacity to assist first nations in managing their own affairs. The management and administration of oil and gas resources is governed on reserve lands by the Indian Oil and Gas Act and it is administered by Indian Oil and Gas Canada, a special operating agency within Indian and Northern Affairs Canada.

The mandate of Indian Oil and Gas Canada is to assist in fulfilling the Crown's fiduciary and statutory obligations related to the management of oil and gas resources on reserve lands and to ensure first nations initiatives for greater control over the management of their resources. In practical terms, this means that the agency issues and administers agreements on first nations lands, monitors oil and gas production and collects royalties for the benefit of first nations.

I will now speak to why the existing act needs to be amended.

The legislation under which Indian Oil and Gas Canada operates has not kept up with the times. The act first came into force back in 1974 when the industry was in the midst of a global energy crisis. Since then, most provinces have overhauled their laws and updated their regulations numerous times. For example, Alberta's legislation, the Alberta mines and minerals act, which governs resource development, has been amended more than 15 times since the 1970s. In contrast, the Indian Oil and Gas Act has remained unchanged for the past 34 years. We need to change that.

Furthermore, oil and gas exploration and exploitation on reserve lands and the revenue that these activities generate are significant. Over $1 billion in revenues from on reserve oil and gas activity have been collected on behalf of about 60 first nations over the past five years alone. This revenue is credited to those communities in its entirety. The industry is continuing to invest millions of dollars in exploration and exploitation activities on first nations reserve lands, more than $300 million in the past five years for drilling alone.

I realize that these amendments are very technical in nature but they are important. The broad changes brought forth can be grouped under three themes: first, amendments that would bring clarity to the oil and gas regulatory process; second, amendments that would ensure and strengthen accountability of Indian Oil and Gas Canada; and finally, amendments that would enhance the protection of first nations environmental, cultural and natural resources.

In terms of bringing clarity, once adopted, the amendments would ensure that the role and powers of the minister and reference to the courts are clear and provide for broader regulation-making authority. They will, equally important, allow federal regulations governing oil and gas projects to be harmonized with provincial oil and gas regulatory regimes. Co-operation with provincial authorities is key.

I want to make it clear that Bill C-5 would not increase the jurisdiction of provinces. It would allow for federal regulations to be made that are consistent with provincial laws, which is important to create clarity and certainty for both first nations and industry.

Enforcement powers would be clarified, as well as modernized. The current act limits fines to $5,000. This would be increased to $100,000 per day and sometimes more could be imposed by the courts.

In areas of high risk, such as the seizure of records and equipment, this would all be governed by relevant Criminal Code provisions and overseen by provincial courts. These amendments would ensure that the government, through Indian Oil and Gas Canada, can provide certainty and consistency for first nations, for industry and for provincial stakeholders.

The amendments that strengthen accountability to act on behalf of first nations by Indian Oil and Gas Canada are examples such as clear audit powers for Indian Oil and Gas Canada and accurate reporting and paying of royalties due to first nations when companies operate on reserve lands.

As another example, rules would be put in place to address complex relationships, not only between unrelated corporations but also between an existing corporation and its subsidiaries.

Bill C-5 would authorize new regulations to prevent companies from using non-arm's length transactions to unjustifiably reduce the royalty which would otherwise be payable to first nations. A company would not be able to sell oil or gas at a reduced price to a company it already owns in order to pay less royalty.

Furthermore, the limitation period to commence legal proceedings would be extended to 10 years and there is no limitation period in cases of fraud or misrepresentation.

The final set of amendments deal with enhancing protection for first nations' environment, cultural and natural resources. These amendments would balance the development of oil and gas resources with environmental protection. This is of interest to all Canadians. The current act has limited remedies in the case of non-compliance. Under the amendments, provincial environmental laws can be incorporated by reference into the federal regulations that apply to first nations reserve lands.

It is very important, of course, that anyone doing work on a reserve respect first nations' cultural and spiritual values and their special relationship to the land. Bill C-5 would authorize the minister to suspend operations of a company if areas involving these special values are at risk.

There are some further concerns from first nations. They wish to have a remedy when companies trespass on their property. With this legislation, there would be specific offences so that Indian Oil and Gas Canada would have more options to deal with these breaches.

A key policy objective for the government is ensuring our legislative framework supports first nations. The current Indian Oil and Gas Act falls short in this area. Many first nations are concerned that they will not be fully benefiting from the increase of exploration and development taking place around them. The Indian oil and gas industry is equally frustrated.

The reason behind these changes is to provide consistency and certainty to the oil and gas regime. That is one side of the equation. For the affected first nations, the revenue generated by this activity translates into increased economic development, new jobs and improved living standards.

The money being raised is used by first nations for training, housing, water and sewer projects, building stronger communities and a brighter future for their children. This modern suite of tools will better enable first nations to seize opportunities.

The amendments, as I mentioned, are very technical in nature. The first nations have been asking for these changes, and Canada started the process to modernize the act in 1999.

The Indian Resource Council is a national aboriginal organization advocating on behalf of 130 first nations with oil and gas production or the potential for production. We had extensive consultations with first nations and with oil and gas interests. First nations have validated the principles embodied in the legislation and have made suggestions for improvements.

Most noteworthy was the need to amend and modernize the legislation, and this need was endorsed by the Indian Resource Council at annual meetings in 2006 and 2007. Thanks to this close working relationship, oil- and gas-producing first nations have had the opportunity to influence the development of the amendments and will be called upon again to participate in the development of the regulations that will flow.

This support is reassuring, but the council went even further in order to make sure all communities with oil and gas interests had the opportunity to become fully aware. It held a symposium earlier this year in Alberta. Over 100 members representing more than 60 first nations attended. Their involvement and support were encouraging, and we are on the right track. We will continue to work in partnership, and this will lead to greater first nation control and management of petroleum resources on their lands.

The key to unleashing this potential lies in modernizing the legislative framework. Strong regulatory regimes are essential for both economic and social development. That is why we are bringing the Indian Oil and Gas Act up to 21st century standards.

Indian Oil and Gas Act
Government Orders

12:40 p.m.

Conservative

Bruce Stanton Simcoe North, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is great to hear the parliamentary secretary here today speaking on these important amendments to an act that I am sure will be important for aboriginal peoples and in particular northern communities.

I would like to put a question to the parliamentary secretary, if I may. One of the things I understand is that the amendments will modernize the regime for the management of oil and gas activities, but in the course of that, the government has not done anything to affect its fiduciary responsibilities with first nations or to affect aboriginal or treaty rights.

Could the member expand on that subject for the House?