House of Commons Hansard #76 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was restitution.

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A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.

6:30 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, it is a great honour to debate tonight. We have been instructed and scheduled by the private members' office to follow up on a question this evening asked of the government last spring, and the subject is of great concern for many Canadians.

With the world attention centred on the devastating oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, which cost billions of dollars in environmental damage over its five month leakage, I asked what specific plans the government had to ensure this devastation did not occur in Canada.

The minister told us that Canada had very strict offshore drilling regulations. However, in a recent follow up exchange I had with the government, it could not explain to me why our regulations did not even meet the stringent levels of regulations in place in Greenland.

The government of Greenland requires proponents applying for exploration licences to accompany their applications with a feasibility study and environmental impact assessment and a strategic impact assessment.

Fortunately the National Energy Board is keeping an eye on what is happening in the Gulf of Mexico to understand the situation better and to improve existing technology in Canada.

The minister forgets, however, that the NEB came within a hair this past summer of having hearings about allowing offshore drilling in the Arctic without relief wells until the pressure from the opposition forced the NEB to halt these hearings and hold hearings in the near future on all aspects of Arctic drilling and to be prepared should a drilling project be hit with a blowout or a spill.

What is also disappointing in the minister's answers is the failure to realize that, while he constantly has harped on Canadian drilling activity regulations in place, which we know are not quite adequate for the Arctic, and that there are no immediate plans for drilling in Canada, the current threat we are not prepared for could come from drilling activities in neighbouring international waters.

As we know, Shell had planned to drill this summer, but because of a moratorium, that is probably put off until next summer. However, drilling in fact occurred adjacent to our waters in Greenland this summer.

Not once did the minister refer to the responsibility of the Canadian Coast Guard to be the lead agency should such an incident cross into our waters. Fortunately for Canadians the Coast Guard knew of its responsibility and actually staged a mock oil spill clean up exercise in Arctic waters this past August.

Once again, Canadians are asking for the 12th time, with the government of Greenland and oil giants excited about preliminary results from offshore drilling this past summer, one could logically expect heighten drilling activity to take place off Canadian waters. How prepared is the government to deal with such a disaster should one happen from an adjacent neighbouring country?

Let me remind the minister that the time for lip service is over. Offshore drilling is happening in neighbouring waters. Our Canadian drilling standards are less stringent and do not match the best practices of some of our neighbours.

When it comes to safety, let me tell the House once again that since 2006 the government has spent no more than $10.25 million on research and development on methods to deal with offshore blowouts and offshore spills. There are no exact figures as to how much of that money was directed to the north and we still do not have the answer to clean up an oil spill.

Millions of Canadians were horrified as they watched the Gulf of Mexico spill, the largest environmental disaster in history. They assumed that our government had a plan to deal with it should such a disaster come from our drilling or drilling near our waters. They were equally horrified when the government was asked nine times last spring and had no answer, no plan, as to what it was planning to do if this happened in Canadian waters, and especially to protect our fragile Arctic.

The private members' office directed us to debate this tonight and we certainly hope that the parliamentary secretary can finally relieve Canadians and provide some information on what the government's plans for such a huge disaster in Canada.

6:30 p.m.

Cypress Hills—Grasslands
Saskatchewan

Conservative

David Anderson Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources and for the Canadian Wheat Board

Mr. Speaker, the strangest thing about this series of questions the member has asked is that it almost seems as if he is looking for some sort of a disaster so that he can take advantage of it in some kind of political sense.

The member knows full well that our government is committed to the safe, responsible and sustainable development of all of Canada's natural resources. He also knows that we rely on a strict arm's-length regulator to make science-based decisions and who has the responsibility of ensuring the protection of the public and the environment.

The member knows as well that there are currently no active authorizations for drilling of any kind in the Beaufort Sea and that the NEB has been safely regulating that activity for almost 20 years.

I think the real question tonight is one of credibility. The member wants to keep raising these questions and giving the impression that he is representing his people on these issues. On an issue that came up recently, I think 88% of the member's constituents were on one side of this issue. He stepped forward.

The other side is starting to heckle because they know full well what this is. This is an issue of integrity.

When it came to voting, the member opposite abandoned his constituents. He abandoned the north. He walked away from them. This was an issue that was key for Yukoners. It was a key issue for the aboriginal people and for Canadians across the country. Of course we are not talking about drilling. We are talking about the gun registry.

The member comes into the House pretending that he is representing Yukon but on an issue where he had almost 90% of his constituents on one side of the issue, he walked away from them. The reason he walked away is because he is representing Ottawa now more than he is representing Yukon.

I want to say that that will not happen on this side of the House because we do represent the local people. We are standing up for them. When I talk about the National Energy Board announcing a review of the Arctic safety and environmental offshore drilling requirements, we are doing that for the people of Yukon and the people of the north.

For the member opposite, it is a serious issue of abandoning his constituents. Can the member be trusted? I think that is what a lot of people are asking. There are people in here who are saying that he probably cannot be trusted because even in his own province the premier himself is wondering about the member from Yukon. His comment about what the member opposite did was to say that his government does not change its mind like the Liberals did on the long gun registry and that it does not hide from its verbal commitments to Yukoners. It backs it up with action. It is about trust and the Liberals are all in it together. He said that Yukoners cannot trust them.

Certainly if they cannot trust the member opposite on an issue where he had 88% support for his previous position, which he then switched because the Liberal leader told him to, I doubt if Yukoners can rely on him on issues regarding oil drilling, regulations and those kinds of things.

This is not a small thing that he changed. There was a motion introduced in the legislature in Yukon demanding that he return to the territory to explain his actions. The MLA who put that forward said that the Yukon government wanted to know why he chose to follow the dictates of the Liberal Party leader and breach his commitment to Yukoners by voting to save the long gun registry.

How or why would Yukoners trust the member on this oil drilling issue when they certainly could not trust him on the gun registry issue, even when he had 90% support for his previous position?

6:35 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for promoting Yukon to a province, but other than that he had a very dismal reply on oil drilling. He has actually failed the government again. The same parliamentary secretary had the option before and once again has failed the government.

The government has had 12 times now to suggest that it actually has a plan for cleanup. He said nothing about ships, harbours, booms, disbursements and nothing about what the Canadian government could do to protect the Canadian Arctic, which is a big fear for Canadians.

He has failed the minister who could not answer nine times. At least he could have come forward and suggested that the minister did have a plan and provide part of that plan.

He certainly failed himself by showing that he does not know anything about that portfolio or anything about what Canada could do to prevent us from being damaged by the greatest environmental accident in North American history.

This is a very sad day for Canadians and their desire to protect the fragile Arctic environment.

6:35 p.m.

Conservative

David Anderson Cypress Hills—Grasslands, SK

Mr. Speaker, for some strange reason the member has decided to get personal about this.

I can assure the member that I actually do know my portfolio. The energy board actually has announced a review of Arctic safety and environmental regulations. It is open to the public. The public is allowed to come and make its presentations. Last week the energy board released further details of it. He can look them up and find out what they are. We are pleased to point out things, including the issue of relief wells that will be one of the many important aspects of that study.

The member talked about failing people. I think he is the one who needs to acknowledge that he has completely failed his principles and his constituents. This government looks forward to representing and protecting the interests of Yukoners and folks in northern Canada, as we protect this country from sea to sea to sea.

6:40 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, the question I asked on May 6, last, related to the current government's questionable record on ethics and how it seems to have established its own set of what is ethical. It talks a lot about rules, about law and order, but there are certainly different rules that apply to the government.

This is a Prime Minister who decides to set as an example, for all his caucus to consider, the treatment he meted out to the member for Simcoe—Grey. His ethical standard is simple, “Disappoint me in any way and I will not only remove you from cabinet but I will kick you out of caucus and, in the process, do everything in my power to ruin your reputation in the community”. That is the way the Prime Minister operated. No one, certainly not the current Prime Minister, has had the courage or the decency to explain his actions in regard to the treatment of the member for Simcoe—Grey.

Did the official opposition believe the member should have been removed from cabinet?

Absolutely. We felt she should, and we stated so.

However, did we, on this side of the House, ever demand that the member in question be kicked out of caucus, that the RCMP be manipulated by the Prime Minister personally to undertake an unwarranted investigation, which led nowhere?

Absolutely not. We did not.

These actions came out of the Prime Minister's Office, personally.

Where is the ethical bottom line for the current government and the current Prime Minister? What will the current Prime Minister not do to keep order in his caucus?

We now know that the RCMP found nothing, and although the member wants to come back into caucus, the Prime Minister stands by his position.

I would say to members opposite, the backbenchers of the governing party who jump like trained seals when the Prime Minister speaks, that if it can happen to the member for Simcoe—Grey, it can happen to any member on the government benches. Quite seriously, they have a leader who is prepared to destroy not only their political career but their and their family's reputation in the community if he sees advantage in doing so.

Members opposite should give that some thought, and they no doubt do, although I am certain we will not hear any admission of that on the floor of the House of Commons.

Let me close with the most recent example of a serious lapse in ethical behaviour by the current government.

Here is what the former House leader told this chamber on June 4, 2010:

Our ministers will not only be answering questions, as they do every day, in this chamber but at committee as well. Ultimately, it is they who are responsible for the actions of their staff and for their departments.

But that does not seem to apply to the current Minister of Natural Resources who, while minister of public works, had in his employ Sébastien Togneri. Mr. Togneri, in his testimony before the ethics committee, testimony given under oath, stated two things. One, he acknowledged that he had broken the law with respect to the Access to Information Act prohibiting the interference with an access to information request. Two, he stated that he was given the “informal” authority to be actively involved in the access to information files by his minister, the current Minister of Natural Resources.

Why has that minister not resigned? This government campaigned—

6:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

Order, please. The hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board.

6:40 p.m.

North Vancouver
B.C.

Conservative

Andrew Saxton Parliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board

Mr. Speaker, it is always a pleasure to rise in this House to address the questions of the hon. member opposite. It is a pleasure, but truth be told, today it is also a surprise. Why?

For weeks this past spring the hon. member from Malpeque stood in this House and demanded not just the resignation but the tarring and feathering of the former minister of state for the status of women. No defence was considered reasonable; no need for a hearing was considered warranted. Indeed, the member demanded her resignation on March 5, twice on March 10, on March 11, which is my birthday, on March 12, March 16, March 22, March 30, March 31, and twice on April 1. On April 19, after the former minister of state's resignation, he demanded to know why she had not resigned two years earlier. That is 12 times he demanded her resignation.

I mention this history only to explain my bewilderment at having to stand here today to explain to the member why the former minister of state is no longer a member of the ministry or of the Conservative caucus. After his repeated calls for her pound of flesh, I am puzzled to be here today to explain the ethical principles behind the actions of our Prime Minister.

The Liberals just cannot be consistent on this or on any other issue for that matter. For weeks they demanded the minister's resignation, yet today they demand to know why the minister resigned. We really are getting a full display of the Liberal's hypocrisy tonight. In fact, their blinding hypocrisy could light this chamber.

In contrast, our Prime Minister's record on dealing with matters of ethics is consistent and unblemished. Immediately upon taking office, our Prime Minister brought in the Federal Accountability Act, the toughest anti-corruption legislation in Canadian history. He has ended the revolving door between lobbying and government. He has banned big money from politics. He has expanded lobbyist transparency rules to include parliamentary secretaries, members of Parliament and staff in the official opposition leader's office. He has brought a significant increase in ethical standards to Parliament and this past spring, the Prime Minister again did the right thing in his dealings with the former minister of state.

The record shows that in every circumstance when presented with credible allegations of ethical impropriety, the Prime Minister has acted immediately and appropriately.

In the case of the former minister of state, serious allegations were brought to the Prime Minister's attention. Rather than sweep the issue under the rug, he did the right thing. He referred the matter to an independent third party. That is the high ethical standard our Prime Minister promised and that is the high ethical standard he has lived up to. The Prime Minister has set a high ethical standard for the conduct of his ministers and caucus.

The Liberal Party does not understand the concept of ethical standards for membership in its caucus. One Liberal member is pocketing tens of thousands of dollars for her taxpayer subsidized home. Another one is being charged for refusing to take a breathalyzer test. Now, to talk about ethics, how about the member for Malpeque promising his constituents that he would vote against the gun registry and then he flip-flopped and broke his word. How is that for ethics?

On this side of the House we take ethics seriously. Why can the Liberals not do the same?

6:45 p.m.

Liberal

Wayne Easter Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, it is really interesting how the government member tries to reinvent history. Of course we asked that the minister resign and for valid reasons. It has now been proven that the charges the Prime Minister laid against the member for Simcoe—Grey were not fact but were invented.

The parliamentary secretary talked about the Federal Accountability Act. The fact of the matter is, as we are learning more each and every day, that never in the history of Canada have we seen a government with such a level of secrecy and abuse of information laws as we have seen from the Conservative government. It is unprecedented. The Conservatives talk the talk, but they do not walk the walk.

When it comes to my riding of Malpeque, I have never said that I would vote against the gun registry. I made it clear that I would speak up for constituents. Members on that side of the House should not try to falsify that argument too.

6:45 p.m.

Conservative

Andrew Saxton North Vancouver, BC

Mr. Speaker, the member brought up freedom of information. This government's record speaks for itself. We fought for Canadians' right to know how their government operates and our record is clear.

We made 70 new crown corporations and institutions accountable to Canadians, something the Liberals refused to do. We increased the Information Commissioner's budget by 26%. This government has worked hard to improve transparency since the Liberal years.

Our rules with respect to access requests are clear. Political staff should not attempt to make access to information decisions. The record shows that transgressions in this regard have severe consequences.

The Minister of Natural Resources, like our Prime Minister, acted appropriately with the highest ethical standards by having the issue referred to the Information Commissioner and accepting the former staff member's resignation.

6:50 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

The motion to adjourn the House is now deemed to have been adopted. Accordingly, this House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 10 a.m. pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 6:50 p.m.)