Mr. Speaker, I am happy to have another chance to speak on the slightly amended version of Bill C-46, the pipeline safety act and of course, this is legislation that would amend the National Energy Board Act and the Canada Oil and Gas Operations Act, with the idea of strengthening the safety and security of federally regulated pipelines in Canada.
In fact, this legislation is long overdue and represents some progress. The Liberal Party recognizes that pipelines are a critical part of our energy infrastructure. We know that Canada must always strive to have the safest pipelines in the world. In fact, we have many thousands of kilometres of pipelines within Canada transporting both oil and gas and sometimes other products, but mainly those two, and they form an important part of our economy. People use those products every day in a variety of ways, so those pipelines play an important role and it is vitally important that they be safe.
However, we do not believe that we have to make a choice between protecting our environment and growing our economy. We have to do both. That is an important responsibility. Across this country, Liberals support projects that offer responsible and sustainable ways of getting our resources to market, while at the same time respecting indigenous rights, protecting our natural environment and earning the trust of local communities.
In fact, approximately 1.4 billion barrels of oil cross provincial and international borders every year. It is important that legislation like Bill C-46 clarifies the audit and inspection powers of the National Energy Board which regulates federal pipelines.
I should point out that many of the pipelines in Canada are not federally regulated because they are within the boundaries of a province, but they do not cross boundaries of a province or international boundaries between Canada and the U.S.
As we heard recently at the Standing Committee on Natural Resources, Bill C-46 implements a number of measures under the headings of prevention, preparedness and response, and also liability and compensation.
Prevention, of course, is critical as we must make every effort to ensure that a spill does not occur in the first place, obviously. The bill includes some sentencing provisions for environmental damages as well as additional audit and inspection powers for the National Energy Board. Of course, this raises the question of whether the NEB will do the job it is supposed to do. That would be a concern for members going forward as we watch whether the powers it is given in the bill are utilized properly.
Hopefully, the government will ensure the the NEB has the necessary resources to carry out these audits and inspections because a number of stakeholders said they were concerned about it. I am concerned about it after the recent budget. There is a question whether it has enough funding.
In fact, the NEB indicated that funding for several programs related to pipeline safety will be sunsetting in the next few years. It is up to the government to bring forward sufficient funds for the NEB to do the job of protecting Canadians and ensuring that these pipelines are operated in a safe manner. I think that needs to change.
In the event of a spill, Canadians need to have confidence that pipeline companies and the National Energy Board will respond in an appropriate manner. Bill C-46 would require companies operating pipelines to hold sufficient financial resources to cover any potential costs associated with a spill. Companies would also be required to hold a minimum level of accessible financial resources to ensure immediate response to a spill happening and that they have the financial capacity to do that. That is an important measure and I certainly support that.
Also, in exceptional circumstances, where a company is unable or unwilling to act, the NEB would have the authorization to take control of a spill response and it would have the authority to compel reimbursement of costs associated with a spill because if the NEB is incurring costs at the expense of the taxpayer, it should be reimbursed by whoever is responsible for the pipeline in general.
It is the company operating it that is going to be liable and that is why under this legislation absolute liability is provided for. In other words, whether or not negligence was provided, if a company is the owner-operator of that pipeline, it will be responsible for it. That is very important.
Finally, with respect to liability and compensation, the bill invokes the polluter pays principle with the goal of holding major pipeline companies liable for costs and any actual losses or environmental damages resulting from a spill. It includes a set of new measures which provide for no-fault or absolute liability set at a minimum of $1 billion for major oil companies, and the legislation contains the number of provisions relating to the abandonment of pipelines.
Bill C-46 seeks guidance from the National Energy Board on the application of the best available technologies for pipeline construction and operations. It also sets out how government will be required to work with aboriginal communities and industry to develop a strategy to better integrate aboriginal peoples into pipeline safety, including planning, monitoring, incident response and related employment and business opportunities.
While I noted earlier that Bill C-46 is a step in the right direction, that does not mean that no concerns were expressed about this particular bill. We have seen concerns raised over the potential impact of leaving many of the proposed changes in Bill C-46 to the discretion of cabinet and the National Energy Board. The Union des producteurs agricoles raised several points in a written submission, including their concern about the definition of “ground disturbance” in the legislation and how this will impact the cultivation of crops like alfalfa. They also expressed concern about whether the timeframe for claims should be tied to the time when a leak is discovered or the time when it occurred. Obviously, I believe that it should be tied to the time when the leak is discovered.
Ecojustice lawyer Ian Miron testified regarding the shortcomings in the legislation. He called for more guidance around the assessment and calculation of damages for the loss of non-use value in relation to public resources. Mr. Miron also suggested that, as drafted, the bill is best described as polluter might pay as opposed to polluter pays, as the government is suggesting.
Mr. Martin Olszynski of the law faculty at the University of Calgary offered suggestions to strengthen the wording of the bill with regard to environmental damages. Mr. Olszynski said that the federal cabinet should be required to make regulations setting out a process for environmental damages assessment within a prescribed timeframe.
Unfortunately, the Conservatives failed to put forward any amendments during the clause-by-clause consideration of Bill C-46 and they killed all but two of the amendments tabled by opposition members.
One of the amendments, which was adopted, will mean that an aboriginal governing body would be able to be reimbursed for expenses they may incur in responding to a spill. I think that is a good amendment.
Without that amendment, the category of entities that could get reimbursed for reasonably incurring expenses in relation to a spill, in other words for a cleanup, were limited to “Her Majesty in right of Canada, or a province or any other person”.
That would not include an aboriginal first nation and in my view it would also not include a municipality either. That is why there was, in fact, another amendment proposed to add the word “municipality” to that list, but I suppose the government side was not authorized. It did not have the green light, we might say, to say yes to that change, which would have been harmless and a good one.
The question of whether or not the province is authorized or the municipality, since municipalities are creations of provinces, is not clear at all. It might have been a very good clarification to have in the bill. Unfortunately, I am afraid the Conservatives did not support that.
The second amendment deals with a section of the bill which said that the NEB may recover funds to compensate those affected by a spill. In this case, the word “may” was changed to “shall”, another good change. At least there was some minimal accommodation and I suspect members opposite on the Conservative side would incorrectly and falsely claim that they were completely flexible on our amendments.
I know that the Minister of Natural Resources is fond of pointing out that between 2008 and 2013 more than 99.999% of oil transported in federally regulated pipelines was moved safely. That is a great record. Our pipeline companies deserve recognition for this achievement. However, we also need to look to the future. We need to take every step possible to continue to prevent spills, to put in place the proper measures to efficiently and effectively clean up spills, and to assign appropriate liability when spills do occur.
Canada must have the safest pipelines in the world. We need to ensure that this pipeline safety act is designed to achieve that goal.
The NEB has been given increased regulatory control over 73,000 kilometres of pipelines that transport more than $100-billion worth of oil, gas, and petroleum products across Canada annually. That is a lot of pipelines and a lot of value to our economy and also a lot of concern about the impact that would have on our environment if it was not dealt with properly.
Bill C-46 would build on previous moves, giving the NEB the authority to increase the number of pipeline inspections and doubling the number of yearly safety audits.
The NEB has also been asked to provide guidance on the best available technologies for pipeline construction and operations. Obviously, that is why we are hoping that the NEB will be given the resources to do that job and that it will do it properly. We will have to keep an eye on that. That is, I think, one of the important responsibilities of this chamber. It is to keep an eye on that and watch the statistics as time goes on.
We have seen measures that set out how the government is supposed to work with aboriginal communities and individuals to develop a strategy to better integrate aboriginal peoples and pipeline safety operations, including in planning, monitoring, incident response, and related employment and business opportunities.
Clearly, these and other measures in Bill C-46 signify a much-needed overhaul of the liability regime for federally regulated pipelines. The no-fault liability, the additional authorities given to the NEB, and the measures for abandoned pipelines are welcome, and the Liberal Party will therefore support the legislation.