House of Commons Hansard #51 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was libraries.

Topics

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

Noon

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

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

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

Noon

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

Is that agreed?

Questions on the Order Paper
Routine Proceedings

Noon

Some hon. members

Agreed.

The House resumed consideration of the motion.

Opposition Motion--Oil and Gas Industry
Business of Supply
Government Orders

12:05 p.m.

Liberal

David McGuinty Ottawa South, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise today to address this very important motion tabled by the NDP. This opposition day motion focuses on Canada's overall energy future. It is unfortunate that the NDP did not situate the motion in that context, but I want to make some opening remarks for Canadians to understand why what this motion is calling for is so fundamentally important to our future.

This motion would have the House of Commons approve that the government conduct a review and revision of all relevant federal laws, regulations and policies regarding the development of different forms of oil and gas. This would include the oil sands, deepwater oil and gas recovery, which is the type of exploration we are seeing in the Gulf of Mexico, and shale gas so that we can ensure that Canada has the strongest set of environmental and safety rules in the world.

By conducting such an analysis, the government would report back to the House on how we could take appropriate action to improve a situation. After all, good government is always a constant improvement struggle. It is constantly moving to improve a situation as it evolves over time, through knowledge, technology and investments.

For me and many Canadians, this motion shows that there is absolutely no national strategy in Canada for our energy future. We really do not know where we are going with respect to energy.

That is why just a few short weeks ago in an opposition day motion which I was privileged to table on behalf of the Liberal Party of Canada, I asked the House to endorse the notion that the Prime Minister would, within 90 days of the passing of that motion, convene a first ministers meeting to deal with energy and climate change for this country. The motion did pass and the Prime Minister has yet to respond to Parliament's desire to see that meeting convened.

I asked specifically because there is a lot of good effort and good work going on in the country, led by the provinces, our cities, our municipalities, our universities, our schools and our hospitals. We have good practices in industry. We have all kinds of improvement being made. However, we do not have federal leadership to tie it all together and identify those best practices to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and become more efficient with our energy use.

As I said a moment ago, this motion shows that we have no national approach, let us call it a strategy, for Canada's energy future. We are seeing increasing and inordinate pressure being placed on Canadian citizens, Canadian companies and Canadian provinces who are desirous of seeing more and more offshore oil and gas exploration and exploitation.

All of a sudden, with massive publicity and in dramatic fashion, the Canadian people see what can potentially go wrong and the risks inherent in the kind of exploitation that is taking place in the Gulf of Mexico with the BP oil rig, which is leaking more oil than the Exxon Valdez in a much shorter period of time. It is a huge challenge not just for a particular oil company, but for hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Americans living near the Gulf of Mexico. It is wreaking havoc not just on the environment, but is now showing how it can also wreak havoc on the economy there.

We have no national approach to energy because the Conservative regime in place does not want to talk about it. For example, the Prime Minister has completely stopped talking about putting a price on carbon emissions. He promised in a foundational speech that he delivered in London, England several years ago that in the next several years, Canada would see a price placed on the privilege of emitting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

Since that speech, which he described as a clean energy superpower speech in his first foreign trip to the United Kingdom, all talk by the Prime Minister about an energy future for Canada has evaporated. He has not talked about this issue since. I can only ascribe it to his handlers and his pollsters who are telling him that he cannot win on this issue, which is very unfortunate and very irresponsible from my perspective.

Canadians need to know where we are going on our energy front. We need to know how hydro power will connect with nuclear power will connect with, yes, fossil fuel power and fossil fuel usage. They need to know how we are moving to become, hopefully, the most energy efficient economy in the world and the cleanest economy in the world. That is the race, after all, that we are embroiled in here. I would ask the Prime Minister to buy himself a pair of sneakers and get in the race, because we are being left behind, as I hope to illustrate through these remarks.

Industrial sectors right across the country, the oil and gas sector, the transport sector, the manufacturing and exporting sector, every single group I meet with is clamouring for a vision and an approach nationally on our energy future. They understand the climate change crisis is connected directly to our energy usage patterns and our energy efficiency patterns.

Citizens get it. Senior citizens in their homes get it. That is why they were stunned to learn last month that the government, by sleight of hand and in the dark of night, had announced that the eco-energy grant program which had commenced five, six, or seven years ago, with a threefold increase in take-up in the last three years, was being eliminated without any rhyme or reason when Canadians are most prepared to make those investments and do the right thing to help reduce their energy consumption and to save money, change their furnace and windows, and become more energy efficient.

It is just a small example of the government's abdication of federal leadership on our energy future. The government says it has a target. Okay, let us take that at face value. The Conservative regime says it has a target to reduce our greenhouse gases by 17% from 2006 levels in the next nine years. Okay. How are we going to get there? In the Liberal motion that we passed some two weeks ago, we asked for an independent group of experts to report to the House of Commons to help design the pathway.

How are we going to reduce our greenhouse gases by that amount? Where is the plan? Where are the regulations that were promised? What are the regulations to deal with greenhouse gas emissions that were promised not once but seven times by the Prime Minister in the last fifty-three months? He is on to his third minister of the environment. There is no regulation and there is no plan.

The second issue I want to deal with is the continuing claim, repeated again here today during question period and in remarks made by the Minister of Natural Resources earlier, that Canada is somehow harmonized with the United States when it comes to energy and environmental policy, or that we are harmonized on a continental basis. Let us just examine that claim for a second.

Yesterday President Calderón from Mexico spoke in this chamber. Afterwards he was very open and direct with the Prime Minister and told him face to face that he was making a serious error by waiting for the United States to act and that he was compromising Canada's future and Canada's leadership on the climate change and energy front.

It took a Mexican president to get the Prime Minister's attention to understand that it is not responsible to allow for a climate change and energy plan to be designed for Canada in Washington. Would Canada design a plan to benefit the specific nature of the American economy? Never. Would we do so to benefit the specific nature of the Mexican economy? No, we would not.

Why would we expect the United States Congress to go forward and design a climate change and energy plan, which would be a benefit to the Canadian economy and the Canadian people? It would not be. I think that is why President Calderón disciplined the Prime Minister yesterday and reminded him that Canada was a sovereign state with sovereign responsibilities.

Let us look how the Prime Minister reacted to this unfortunate spill in the Gulf of Mexico. His first knee-jerk reaction, as he has wanted to do, a function I think of his character and his anger, was to attack the United States. He stood in the House of Commons and finger wagged the American administration and the American regulatory system and said that it was all their fault. This was the day after he stood and said that Canada had the most stringent standards and regulations in place to deal with the environment and oil and gas exploration both onshore and offshore. That is really quite a claim.

We then learned that the environmental assessment regime in the United States was a much more demanding regime than the one in place in Canada when it came to, for example, offshore oil exploration and exploitation. The Prime Minister does not address that issue.

Then two days after his claim that Canada was perfectly all right, in a very career limiting move, the head of the National Energy Board undercut the Prime Minister by specifically announcing that the National Energy Board would be conducting a complete analysis, a serious and detailed review, of what was happening in Canada's Arctic, not on the west coast, not on the east coast, but in the Arctic when it came to oil and gas exploration and exploitation.

The head of the NEB should be very careful. I commend him for his courage because many heads of independent boards, agencies and commissions have spoken out with the Prime Minister in power and have seen their heads cut off. Five or six senior regulators have been fired by the Prime Minister, none the least of which was the head of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission for speaking truth to power. Doing her job got her fired.

There is another angle on this that has come up more recently. I raised it earlier today with the Minister of Natural Resources.

The Prime Minister flew to Pittsburgh and participated in a G20 meeting on behalf of Canada. He signed on to a specific commitment to phase out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies. He stood, in response to that, and said that we had already done it, that in budget 2007, the government announced one measure, which begins in 2011, called the accelerated capital cost allowance measure, which will be phased out over four years.

Then we find out, through a leaked memo produced by the deputy minister at Finance Canada, that the Prime Minister was not exactly forthcoming in his remarks. We find out that the deputy minister, Mr. Horgan, advised the Prime Minister, through his Minister of Finance and through the Clerk of the Privy Council, the top official in Canada, that the Prime Minister should move responsibly to eliminate a series of fossil fuel subsidies.

We heard the Minister of Finance say, no, that would not happen, despite the efforts of the Minister of the Environment to bring him to understand the connection between the environment and the economy.

It is interesting that the deputy minister of Finance Canada confirmed in a leak memo that the Prime Minister was briefed on a whole series of new measures that could be eliminated to make Canada more efficient and to stop subsidizing fossil fuel production. In other words, he got caught and he got caught again.

It is particularly striking that he got caught because he has said that we are harmonized with the United States. However, in a 2011 budget, being proposed by President Obama, 12 measures are singled out to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies on the production side of fossil fuels, not necessarily fossil fuel subsidies to deal with the question to help, for example, Canadians in the Northwest Territories to comply with very high costs for diesel fuel so they can have power like every other Canadian in an affordable way.

When the government also relies on the National Energy Board's commitment to conduct a review, it does not tell us that the review, as I mentioned earlier, is specifically curtailed, that it is actually just about the Arctic. It only covers a review of safety and environmental requirements in the Arctic but not in other areas. It does not include a review of existing or future projects, for example, in Newfoundland and Nova Scotia. It does not talk about potential future projects off the coast of British Columbia.

While drilling in the Arctic environment would require a different set of safety and environmental rules, Canadians are watching television and they are questioning the safety of existing and soon to be developed projects.

It is interesting to note that there are a whole series of projects being contemplated off the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador and the coast of Nova Scotia: the Terra Nova floating production, storage and offloading vessel, which is currently operating; the Hibernia production platform; the Searose floating production, storage and offloading vessel; and the Deep Panuke offshore gas development project. All these projects are being contemplated or are under way. There is so much inherent risk in terms of what is at play here if we are to continue in our country to pursue offshore exploration and exploitation.

I want to turn to those risks for a second.

Almost two years ago to the day, I stood in the House and I asked the government about the fast-tracking of exploration licences, which was then under way in the Beaufort. The ocean is very shallow and fragile at the very northern part of the country. At the time, I raised the fact that one of the project proponents had already had a spill in 2000 on the American side of the Beaufort Sea. During that spill, the particular oil company discovered that its existing technologies, its boom system to contain a spill, and there was a small spill, failed. The Arctic Ocean seawater is particularly rough and particularly aggressive. As a result, the system put in place by this company collapsed and oil was shed in that part of the ocean.

At the same time, I raised concerns about wildlife habitat. I asked the government about beluga whales, about the polar bear habitat, about the pristine and sensitive nature of the shoreline in that area of the Arctic. My question was met with a denial. It was met with, quite frankly, a deceiving answer, that nothing was happening, until we confirmed, with the good help of WWF and other actors, that the government was in fact fast-tracking those very licences.

There are currently in place oil and gas development moratoria, or basically temporary bans. They go back in B.C., for example, on oil and gas drilling, to the 1980s. The province of B.C. and the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers have come out in favour of lifting the moratorium to allow for oil and gas exploration and extraction. It is a very interesting possibility.

I was in British Columbia some 10 days ago. I spent a considerable amount of time meeting with people in British Columbia and western Canada from the Vancouver Port Authority to the Vancouver Aquarium, which is one of Canada's leading west coast research and analysis locations. I met with folks involved with existing pipelines and proponents for a future pipeline between Fort McMurray and northern British Columbia for a new deep sea port so we could sell more oil and gas into emerging markets in India and China. It was interesting to note that every actor I met was unable to defend the call for, or the need for, an additional pipeline.

What that really tells us is this motion is timely. Canada needs to stop, take some time out and examine not just the existing state of technology for offshore oil and gas exploration, but also the question of moratoria, temporary bans, and the question of fiscal measures, as I alluded to earlier, promises the government made to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies. That would constitute the beginning, the architecture, for a national approach to our energy future. That is why the official opposition is pleased to support this motion.

We would call on the government to do the right and reasonable thing. Stop the bobbing, the weaving and jumping from ice floe to ice floe, stop trying to contain environmental issues as just another crisis to contain from a public perception approach and, instead, do the right thing. Sit down with other parliamentarians in the House and come forward with a new, improved national approach to our energy future, its linkage to climate change and greenhouse gases and, hopefully, place Canada not just at the forefront for leadership in the world, but to become the most energy efficient, cleanest economy in the world.

We can do it. We have the knowhow, the people, the risk takers and the practices. It takes political leadership and some courage. I call upon the government to get with it.

Opposition Motion--Oil and Gas Industry
Business of Supply
Government Orders

12:25 p.m.

Bloc

Bernard Bigras Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened closely to the Liberal environment and energy critic, but I am a bit surprised by his rhetoric today. He is saying that we need to strengthen laws and ensure that an event like the one that recently happened in the Gulf of Mexico does not happen in Canada. However, I remember quite well that on March 26, 2005, his own government wrote a regulatory amendment in the Canada Gazette that would not require exploratory drilling projects to undergo a comprehensive study, but just a simple screening. I took the time to write to the then environment minister on April 25, 2005, to ask him to withdraw the regulatory plan.

How can the member say that there needs to be tougher regulation when, in 2005, his own government proposed to relax, and even weaken, Canada's environmental assessment rules for oil projects?

Opposition Motion--Oil and Gas Industry
Business of Supply
Government Orders

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

David McGuinty Ottawa South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague. It is true that those proposals were made five years ago, but it is now 2010. We have learned a lot. We have a lot to learn and we have a lot of progress to make. That is why I am again calling on the government to work with the opposition to finally create an energy plan for Canada's future.

And I do not mean a plan like the National Energy Program in the 1970s and 1980s. No, now we want a credible plan. The government says it has set the targets at 17%. Let us work together. We need to make progress now. That is exactly why I think this is a good motion: it is asking the House of Commons to work together to develop a plan.

Opposition Motion--Oil and Gas Industry
Business of Supply
Government Orders

12:25 p.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan Edmonton—Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for Ottawa South for expressing the support of his party for the NDP motion and for this broader review to proceed. He is quite correct. The review that was about to proceed was extremely narrow. It is still unclear whether the government is talking about a review that it will undertake or whether it is talking about the National Energy Board broader review that is about to be undertaken, which, frankly, is not the government but an appointed agency.

I also appreciated the reference the hon. member made to what President Calderón said in his speech to the House, which we all witnessed. He had a hard time finding anything complimentary to say about what has been done by government. He very politely did not talk about the deregulation of the environment going on, but called on us to move on climate change.

One thing the government seems to be saying is the International Energy Agency is endorsing its path. In fact, more than a year ago, the International Energy Agency called on all developed nations of the world to endorse a new greener path to energy security.

Is the member supportive of the call by the New Democratic Party for a national energy, security and sustainability strategy so we get on that path?

Opposition Motion--Oil and Gas Industry
Business of Supply
Government Orders

12:25 p.m.

Liberal

David McGuinty Ottawa South, ON

Mr. Speaker, a call for a comprehensive and coherent approach to Canada's national energy future transcends the New Democratic Party. It has been called for by industrial sectors, by NGOs and by consumer groups. It has been called for by, I think, a consensus in Canadian society. For five years now, it has been called for by the official opposition.

There is a desperate need in this country for the ball to sit down on the green, as I say for those golfers out there who may be watching or listening. We need a plan for how Canada is going to move forward efficiently on its energy future. We have to make choices. We need coherence between how we spend money and how we provide incentives for investment, using fiscal measures, as I alluded to earlier.

It is not just parliamentarians who are seized with this, but this is becoming a very important question of economic competitiveness for Canada. Our investors out there, our risk takers, our entrepreneurs are saying, ”Where are we going? How can we make hard choices about allocating scarce dollars into our companies to employ our people if we have no idea what the future looks like?”

That is why I again call on the government and the Prime Minister to actually call together the first ministers within 70 days and hold an energy and climate change meeting so that Canada can win this energy efficiency race.

Opposition Motion--Oil and Gas Industry
Business of Supply
Government Orders

12:30 p.m.

Liberal

Alan Tonks York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, the natural resources committee has been holding hearings as a result of the very dramatic and traumatic effects of the gulf oil spill. This motion, while it is not immediately predicated on the events down there, has vision and is looking at the whole regime that exists.

The worry that some members of the committee have had is that the industry appears to be taking a wait and see approach, maybe thinking that a little bit of a tightening up of the regulations would help in this respect, and waiting to see what happens with respect to the technological approach being taken to the spill in the gulf.

More and more it seems that parallel drilling of a relief well is superior in every sense and that the act should be amended so that the regulations stipulate before drilling permits are allowed that such a well must be drilled at the same time. It appears that the experience in the gulf is coming to the same conclusion.

Would the member like to comment on the National Energy Board's hearings and whether the seriousness of the more dramatic impacts is actually going to be taken into consideration, or whether there is just going to be an imbalance toward the needs and concerns of the industry, as opposed to the higher interests of Canadians with respect to what we are learning as we go forward from that oil spill in the gulf?

Opposition Motion--Oil and Gas Industry
Business of Supply
Government Orders

12:30 p.m.

Liberal

David McGuinty Ottawa South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I think it would be a grave mistake for the National Energy Board and the parties engaged in that process to underestimate the importance of making the vast improvements in the regulatory system and regime that have to be in place if we are going to continue to pursue exploration and exploitation of offshore oil and gas. That would be a very big mistake.

Oil companies and, for that matter, any large companies, really do not get their licence granted by regulators. They now have learned through this BP exercise, and many more before, that their licence to operate is granted by the public. Ask BP shareholders if they are pleased about the fact that it has now cost their company probably well over $1 billion to deal with this crisis. Ask them if they think that is a productive use of the scarce capital they are investing in this company. I doubt it.

I think it is a moment in time right now, and beyond, that we should seize as a country. I do not know why we are not, for example, leading this question in the Arctic Council context, where other nation states around the Arctic are also brought up to speed on best practices. This may actually come after the review, but sometimes there may be a point in time where we simply have to say no, that the economic and environmental risks inherent in pursuing offshore drilling are simply too large and that we need to move forward.

Again, all of this decision-making is going to occur in the absence of a coherent national approach to our energy future. Where are we going on nuclear power? Where are we going on hydro? Where are we going on coal and where are we going on other fossil fuels? Where are we going on solar?

Canadians often talk about wanting to invest in renewable power. The Liberal Party of Canada has been clear. It is not that we are looking for a levelling of the playing field between renewable power and non-renewable power; we want the playing field tilted in favour of renewable power.

I think at this stage it would be really important for the government to work with the opposition parties to come up with a coherent approach to Canada's energy future.

Opposition Motion--Oil and Gas Industry
Business of Supply
Government Orders

12:35 p.m.

Bloc

Bernard Bigras Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am happy to take part in this opposition day debate on a topic I feel is important. It is important to discuss this issue, because it is a terrible ecological disaster. The motion is very timely, and calls on parliamentarians to make a commitment about projects that could be carried out here, in the Beaufort Sea or in the waters off the coast of Greenland.

I will read the motion:

That this House notes the horror with which Canadians observe the ecological disaster unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico and their call for action to prevent such an event in Canada, and therefore calls on the government immediately to conduct a thorough review and revision of all relevant federal laws, regulations and policies regarding the development of unconventional sources of oil and gas, including oil sands, deepwater oil and gas recovery, and shale gas, through a transparent process and the broadest possible consultation with all interested stakeholders to ensure Canada has the strongest environmental and safety rules in the world, and to report to the House for appropriate action.

This lengthy motion is important because it is to some extent the result of the incident that happened on April 20, 2010, in the Gulf of Mexico. The Deepwater Horizon oil platform exploded, causing an environmental disaster. According to the company, some 800,000 litres of oil are spilling into the gulf every day. That is a lot of oil. That is the company's estimate, although according to certain American government teams that have been assessing the situation, it could be nearly twice that amount. This ecological disaster is even worse than the infamous Exxon Valdez spill in the north.

This disaster, which is already affecting many ecosystems in the United States, will have very serious environmental impacts on wetlands. That is one appalling aspect of this incident, along with the economic repercussions. That is what people are now realizing. Despite everything, this ecological disaster does serve to raise awareness.

There are moratoriums on fishing, market losses and considerable revenue losses affecting fishers, along with all the ensuing human tragedies. We realize that an ecological disaster not only leads to the loss of ecosystems, the pollution of certain wetlands and the loss or endangerment of certain species, but it also causes economic losses. Today we need to demonstrate that an ecological disaster can also deal a serious economic blow. Fishers in Louisiana are beginning to realize the scope of the disaster.

On this side of the border, no one predicted this disaster. The government has been weakening environmental standards for the past five years. It is easy for the official opposition to accuse the Conservative government of being too lenient and authorizing exploratory drilling.

The truth is that the previous government, the Liberal government, was the first to weaken environmental standards. On March 26, 2005, without having held a public debate on the issue, the environment minister at the time, the member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, published a regulatory amendment in the Canada Gazette that some considered to be cosmetic and unimportant. His amendment sought to change the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act so that exploratory offshore drilling projects could get away with a screening type assessment and would no longer be required to undergo a comprehensive study. The purpose of the amendment was to remove exploratory drilling projects from the consultation process, thereby denying all stakeholders the opportunity to comment.

The Bloc Québécois reacted because we are in touch with the people. We toured all regions of Quebec in 2005, especially those along the St. Lawrence. We eventually got to the Îles de la Madeleine, where groups told us about the federal government's proposed regulatory amendment to make environmental assessment regulations more lenient.

The people of Îles de la Madeleine told us to take a close look at the regulatory amendment because it would have posed a danger to them. They asked us to intervene. We met with groups such as Attention Fragiles and the Îles de la Madeleine preservation society. They asked us to intervene.

On April 25, 2005, we wrote to the Minister of the Environment to say that “the purpose of this proposed regulatory amendment is to change the type of environmental assessment of the first exploratory drilling project in an offshore area”.

We told the then-minister that he “knew that exploratory drilling projects were being planned for the Gulf. If the regulatory amendment passes, sites like Old Harry, Cape Ray and others off the coast of Nova Scotia identified for exploratory drilling would be subject to a screening type assessment instead of a comprehensive study”.

We reminded him that “the renewable resources in that area were critical to the tourism and fishing economy in the Gaspé and Îles de la Madeleine region”. We intervened.

What did the environment department say in a statement attached to the proposed regulation change? Here is what it said: “—the environmental effects of offshore exploratory drilling are, in general, minor, localized, short in duration and reversible”.

That was the department's reasoning for its regulatory changes. It said that the environmental effects of offshore exploratory drilling were, in general, minor, localized, short in duration and reversible.

But that is not what we have been seeing lately, and it is not true of the April 20 catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico.

The Liberal Party made the first wave of changes that weakened the environmental assessment regulatory regime. The Conservatives picked up where the Liberals left off and, in a more wide-ranging bill, also changed the environmental assessment rules, so that future oil projects would not come under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, but the National Energy Board. That is another big mistake by the federal government: shifting responsibility for environmental assessments from government institutions whose mission is to protect the environment to organizations with an economic focus that serve the oil industry.

We criticized this decision by the government long before the April 20 catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico. We still believe that the environmental impact of drilling projects should be assessed by the people whose job it is to protect the environment, not the people who are responsible for increasing oil production. That is how the federal government thinks.

There are three threats on the horizon. I will identify three types of projects. The first is a drilling project in Newfoundland that got under way a few weeks ago, 430 kilometres from St. John's. The goal is to drill 2,600 kilometres below sea level, which is a kilometre further than the project in the Gulf of Mexico where the catastrophe occurred on April 20.

In other words, because of the Liberal government's changes, this exploratory drilling in Newfoundland was not subject to a thorough assessment, but a simple screening. If the regulatory amendment had not been made in 2005, this project in Newfoundland would have been subject to a thorough assessment and public consultations where stakeholders, scientists and people concerned about the environment could have proposed a number of risk scenarios with regard to the exploratory drilling. Because of the Liberal changes, this project in Newfoundland was not subject to a thorough assessment. That is the first risk.

Last week, when officials appeared before the parliamentary committee we asked them a number of questions. Oil drilling occurs in Canada, including in Orphan Basin. We asked the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board what the timeframe would be in the event of an accident like the one on April 20 in the Gulf of Mexico. What would be the monitoring plan? What would they do? What could we expect? The board's spokesperson, Sean Kelly, told us that a platform would have to be sent from the Gulf of Mexico to be able to drill a relief well at such depths and that it would take at least 11 days for the platform to arrive. According to another analyst, it would take four to five months to drill a relief well. We know what that means. Someone decides to drill at 2,600 km below sea level, which is deeper than the oil well in the Gulf of Mexico and if there were a similar accident, a platform would have to come from the Gulf of Mexico. It would take 11 days for the machine to arrive and five months before the drilling was complete.

Then, the government told us not to worry, that everything was fine, and that it was all in our heads. They said that there was no risk, and that people on the Îles de la Madeleine and Canadians do not need to worry. That is what the government calls an emergency plan. That is completely unacceptable. The government has been making decisions with its eyes closed since 2005. First, it was the Liberals, and those who went along with them without changing the regulations, and then it was the Conservatives, who slipped amendments into Bill C-9.

If an accident were to happen, someone would have to assume the ministerial responsibility. Ministers in this House would have to take responsibility if ever there were an accident off Newfoundland or elsewhere offshore.

We are calling on the government to come to its senses and amend the regulations to ensure that this type of drilling is subject to comprehensive studies and that consultations are held. The public and experts have a right to be heard. On this side of the House, we believe that we must learn from the environmental disaster of April 20, although the government does not seem to agree.

The government has always said that it is important to harmonize with the United States. But President Obama declared a moratorium and wants to create an independent commission to assess the situation. He does not want to move forward until they have examined the issue. Here, our government is agreeing to continue oil drilling off Newfoundland. Plus, it continues to be in favour of calls for tender from oil companies for the Beaufort Sea. In 2007, the government sold the rights to explore three parcels in the Beaufort Sea for about $50 million to oil companies, including Exxon. And in 2008, it sold BP the rights to drill oil wells 700 metres below sea level.

The government is telling us that no drilling will take place before 2014, and that is true. However, we need to understand the signals that we have been getting in parliamentary committee lately. Representatives from BP came to see parliamentarians and were unable to say if it would be possible to clean up the mess if an accident were to occur in Canada's north. They did not know if they would be able to clean up after a disaster. The representative from BP did not have enough information to respond to the questions.

What is more, since it is costly to operate during the off season, from the start of December until spring, oil companies have asked to drill the northern Canadian relief wells later, after drilling activity has begun. They have asked an economically driven, non-environmental organization to give them an exemption from drilling relief wells because it costs too much. What costs too much? Will it cost BP too much to clean up the mess from April 20?

The oil industry is pressuring us to weaken—some would say relax—environmental standards once again and give breaks to and create loopholes for an industry, which is completely unacceptable.

I will take advantage of the fact that the Minister of Foreign Affairs is here to remind him that next week, from June 9 to 11, there will be an important Arctic Council meeting. Canada is expected to take a leadership role there. Drilling will begin this summer in Greenland, which is very close to Canada. They hope to drill in Baffin Bay, near the mouth of Lancaster Sound, near where the government wants to establish a marine conservation area, at the boundary of Canada's territory.

There will be risks for Canada and Quebec. Greenland is far away, but it does not seem so far when you look at the devastation in the Gulf of Mexico.

We are hoping to see some Canadian leadership to ensure that we have the means necessary to prevent a disaster like the one on April 20 from ever happening in Canada.

Opposition Motion--Oil and Gas Industry
Business of Supply
Government Orders

12:55 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, a few of us were down at the Gulf of Mexico a few weeks ago and received a briefing on that whole issue. The member was talking about drilling at very extreme depths. We see now that there was really no plan by the authorities in the event that something went wrong.

When we are dealing with drilling in the Arctic, it is even more of a complicated situation. A polar bear expert is arguing that an oil well blowout in Canada's northern Beaufort Sea just before freeze-up could be disastrous to northern animals; that the Arctic conditions pose special risks for oil extraction and transportation because of the lack of natural light, extreme cold, ice floes, high winds, low visibility and remoteness; and that the same conditions make oil spill response particularly challenging.

The northern environment provides an even more serious challenge for the oil industry if something were to go wrong. We can see that it is not if something is going to go wrong but when something is going to go wrong. I do not know why countries allow companies like this to drill without proper oversight or proper regulation. That has to stop and I think the member and I agree with that.

Does the member have any more observations as to the complexities of drilling in the Arctic versus in the Gulf of Mexico?

Opposition Motion--Oil and Gas Industry
Business of Supply
Government Orders

12:55 p.m.

Bloc

Bernard Bigras Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is indeed very complex, because of ice and snow. No guarantees can be given with regard to a cleanup plan.

For example, two weeks ago, Fisheries and Oceans Canada was considering spilling 1,200 litres of oil in Lancaster Sound, in the Northeast Passage, just to assess how, in the future, we might have to clean up an oil spill in northern Canada following an environmental disaster.

We have a government that grants rights to companies through tender offer. Four years away from a potential drilling project, all the Government of Canada finds to do is to spill 1,200 litres of oil in northern Canada to see how, over the next few years, we will manage to clean up that environmental disaster. That is a case in point. Rights are being granted, yet we do not know how a disaster would be cleaned up. That is totally unacceptable.

In fact, Inuit communities in the North have opposed such a move by the government. It takes some gall to put forward that kind of plan just one, two or three weeks after the April 20 oil spill.

I think that goes to show that the government is in the process of approving such a project without having a monitoring plan or a cleanup plan in place.

Opposition Motion--Oil and Gas Industry
Business of Supply
Government Orders

12:55 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, while my colleague was giving his speech, the member for Pontiac and foreign affairs minister talked about Quebec's interests and the fact that the Bloc Québécois was still defending them. I would like to hear my colleague on how Quebec's interests are being jeopardized by the Conservatives' policy.