House of Commons Hansard #92 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was elections.

Topics

Canada Water Preservation Act
Private Members' Business

6 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

There being no members rising on debate, I would invite the hon. member for Lac-Saint-Louis for his five minute right of reply.

Canada Water Preservation Act
Private Members' Business

March 8th, 2012 / 6:05 p.m.

Liberal

Francis Scarpaleggia Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

Mr. Speaker, the Conservative government's opposition to Bill C-267 is puzzling because it amounts to a reversal of its previous public commitments on the issue.

In the 2008 election campaign the Conservatives said that they agreed with the principle of a federal ban on bulk water exports through a prohibition on interbasin transfers of water within Canada. This was in response to the then recently published recommendations of the Canadian Water Issues Council working in collaboration with the program on water issues at the Munk Centre for International Studies at the University of Toronto. These recommendations were incorporated in the earlier version of Bill C-267, which I introduced in the House of Commons prior to that election.

In the November 2008 throne speech which immediately followed the election, the government clearly committed to introducing legislation like Bill C-267. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment said in her speech that water is a resource and as such it is a matter of provincial jurisdiction.

Water is not a resource like any other. Water is not oil or copper or nickel, resources that are locked in the ground and not part and parcel of living ecosystems. Oil may be the lifeblood of the economy, but it is far from the lifeblood of the environment.

What is more, natural resources like oil are static. In their natural state they do not move across provincial and international boundaries, either above ground in rivers or underground in aquifers like water does. If they did, they might likely have been designated a shared federal-provincial responsibility, or even an exclusive federal jurisdiction in the manner of another well-known resource that moves freely through Canada's natural environment without regard for political borders, namely fish.

My colleague also said that there is no constitutional justification or rationale for federal “incursion” into the matter of prohibiting bulk water exports, that for example, the federal role does not accrue in this case under the federal residual power of peace, order and good government. However, it is not necessary to invoke this residual power to justify a federal role in limiting water transfers and exports.

If the federal government has the power to prohibit activities harmful to the environment, such as pollution, it is not because it was granted this power under a Canadian Constitution that predates the word “environmentalism”, nor is it because of the federal residual power of peace, order and good government. Rather, it is because the court has ruled that society has evolved and that environmental protection in the political and economic context of the late 20th century is a matter worthy of Criminal Code protection.

I refer the parliamentary secretary to the 1997 Supreme Court decision in the case of Regina v. Hydro-Québec, where the utility challenged Ottawa's authority to use an interim order under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act to stop the provincial utility from depositing toxic substances into a watercourse in Quebec. Hydro-Québec argued that Ottawa's interim order could not be justified either by virtue of the federal criminal power or as a matter of national concern under the peace, order and good government residual power in section 91 of the Constitution Act, 1867.

The Supreme Court, however, held that the interim order and its enabling legislation, CEPA, were valid because the protection of the environment is a major challenge of our time that constitutes “a wholly legitimate public objective in the exercise of the criminal law power”, and that “the stewardship of the environment is a fundamental value of our society and that Parliament may use its criminal law power to underline that value”. I believe the court would view Bill C-267 in very much the same light.

The Supreme Court decision was close, five to four. The dissenters held that Ottawa was not authorized to act in the matter because CEPA's purpose is to regulate, not prohibit, and that regulation is not a matter of criminal law which is normally aimed at prohibiting a deleterious action.

I would submit that Bill C-267 is not intended to regulate water removal but rather to prohibit it outright. This legislation would pass muster at the Supreme Court. In any event, the intent behind the bill is to have Ottawa engage and work with the provinces to make the current national consensus against bulk water exports watertight into the future.

In conclusion, Canadians want a government of courage and character prepared to assume federal leadership when it counts. They do not want a federal government that shrinks from involvement with the provinces on matters of profound national concern, like Canada's water sovereignty and security.

Canada Water Preservation Act
Private Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

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

Canada Water Preservation Act
Private Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.

Canada Water Preservation Act
Private Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

Canada Water Preservation Act
Private Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

Canada Water Preservation Act
Private Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

All those opposed will please say nay.

Canada Water Preservation Act
Private Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

Canada Water Preservation Act
Private Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

In my opinion the nays have it.

And five or more members having risen:

Pursuant to Standing Order 93, the division stands deferred until Wednesday, March 14, 2012, immediately before the time provided for private members' business.

Canada Water Preservation Act
Private Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

Conservative

Gordon O'Connor Carleton—Mississippi Mills, ON

Mr. Speaker, if you seek it, I believe you would find consent to see the clock as 6:30 p.m.

Canada Water Preservation Act
Private Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

Is there unanimous consent to see the clock as 6:30 p.m.?

Canada Water Preservation Act
Private Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

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

6:10 p.m.

NDP

Philip Toone Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, QC

Mr. Speaker, the coastal communities of the five provinces bordering the Gulf of St. Lawrence are concerned about this government's lack of commitment regarding the responsible management of natural resources. Their concern seems justified.

The Canada-Newfoundland Offshore Petroleum Board recently rejected an application from the young oil company Corridor Resources to suspend its drilling permit.

While I applaud the board's decision, I am concerned about the arguments presented by Corridor Resources for the suspension of its permit. The oil company is experiencing financial difficulties. The Gulf of St. Lawrence's ecosystem supports all bordering coastal communities. How is it that a young oil company is authorized to conduct operations in such a fragile area, without adequate financial resources to do so?

I note that the department has approved a Corridor Resources application for a two-year extension of its drilling activities in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and allowed it to dispense with the deposit of a $1 million guarantee. This means that the drilling permit of that oil company was renewed with a two-year rent break, which amounts to $750,000. Normally, that $750,000 would have been paid to the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador. Instead, it will stay in the pockets of an oil company, even if it ends up making a fortune in the gulf.

Is that the government's idea of responsible development, to give money back to oil companies? And what about the very real concerns of Canadians in the five provinces bordering the gulf? It seems to me the department is prepared to deliver permits to any drilling company, regardless of its financial stability.

The government's eagerness to give presents to oil companies does not inspire confidence among Canadians living in the gulf's coastal communities, and nor does its refusal to create an environmental assessment panel, as requested by the board and by Canadians living in the gulf's coastal communities. Even the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers supports the establishment of a federal panel.

Since last summer, the board has had to change its way of assessing the environmental impact of the drilling project several times. The board, which only has the authority to monitor oil and gas development in Newfoundland and Labrador, does not have the power or the resources to deal with our concerns. That does not make sense: the Conservatives seem to show a lack of respect by giving the board such an important mandate without all the necessary powers.

Once again, I am asking the government to establish an environmental assessment panel with the necessary powers to evaluate the impact of all oil and gas development in the gulf. The establishment of this federal panel would reassure Canadians living around the gulf. This is long overdue. We have been asking for it for months now, and we are asking for it again today. I hope the department will agree to this request.

6:15 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, as the member across has said, things have changed since he asked his question, so we certainly want to deal with the questions that are relevant to the present.

I thank the hon. member for asking about the next steps involved in the review of the Old Harry project in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

Our government is strongly committed to ensuring the safe, responsible and sustainable development of Canada's natural resources. We recognize the importance of the Gulf of St. Lawrence to all Canadians. We also understand that some stakeholders have concerns regarding environmental sensitivities in this region. That is why we rely on arm's-length independent regulatory bodies to make science-based decisions regarding development in Canada's offshore.

Corridor Resources' submission of its environmental assessment report to the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board is an important step to ensure that the safety of Canadian workers and the environment will continue to be protected.

The board has undertaken a completeness review of the environmental assessment report. It will also review the drilling application for completeness and for compliance with federal regulations.

I want to assure hon. members that Canadian regulators will not allow any offshore activity unless they are convinced that the environment and the health and safety of workers are being protected.

On January 20 of this year, Corridor Resources requested a prohibition order from the board until the strategic environmental assessment of the Gulf of St. Lawrence could be updated. On February 28, the board announced that it would not be issuing that prohibition order. However, it did indicate that the strategic environmental assessment of the gulf will go forward as planned and the project specific public consultations will recommence only once the SEA has been completed in early 2013.

The hon. member should be happy with the thoroughness of this review. It means that we have an independent regulatory body that is doing its job in the best interests of this country and in the best interests of his constituents. I want to assure him that the environmental review of Old Harry is in fact on track. That is the bottom line.