Mr. Speaker, I am happy today to speak to Bill S-245, which asks this place to declare the Trans Mountain expansion project to be in the general interest of Canada. I assume this has been brought forward because of the bureaucratic process the project has been through for the past few years and the legal quagmire that it remains in today.
The Conservatives have been gleefully blaming the Liberals for this mess and the Liberals have been blaming the Conservatives. For once, I am happy to report that they are both right. The irony is that this was a problem created by the Conservatives in the previous government, and is a problem that the Liberal government now has failed to address.
In the rush to get a number of pipeline projects done, the Conservatives gutted the Fisheries Act, the Navigable Waters Protection Act and the environmental assessment process. These actions served to polarize the Canadian public around energy projects and policy. That polarization is certainly part of the reason that pipeline projects continue to be a source of division in Canadian society today. That division is part of the reason these projects continue to be delayed.
Under the Conservative watch, the National Energy Board undertook an impact assessment process regarding the Trans Mountain expansion project, then owned by Kinder Morgan, now owned by us. That process was deemed by many to be deeply flawed. Consultation with first nations was inadequate. Concerned citizens, experts and groups were denied opportunities to appear before the panel. There was no opportunity to question or to cross-examine the testimony of Kinder Morgan. Major parts of the environmental study were ignored, namely those involving the marine transport aspect of the project.
Because of these shortcomings, in the 2015 election, both the Liberal Party and the NDP ran on a clear platform that called for the Kinder Morgan assessment to be redone. The Prime Minister repeated that promise numerous times: a brand new process. However, when the Liberals came to power, they announced something very different.
A ministerial panel made a quick tour along the pipeline route in the summer of 2016, giving first nations and communities very short timelines to prepare. It did not even record the proceedings. The panellists did produce a report that posed six questions they felt the Liberal government had to answer before making their decision on the project, but those questions have never been adequately answered.
When the NDP pointed out that this process was completely inadequate and that the Liberals should live up to their promise of a new thorough process, we were criticized by those who said that a new process would delay the project, perhaps by as much as two years. That was three years ago, and we are back at square one.
We are back at square one because at the end of August, the Federal Court of Appeal quashed the federal permits for the Trans Mountain project based on two errors: the lack of consideration of marine transport issues and inadequate consultation with first nations. Ironically, those are interconnected because a lot of the concerns that first nations had in that inadequate consultation were around the fact that marine transport was left out of the whole process.
I want to start by talking about that consultation issue.
The Court of Appeal clearly stated in a unanimous decision that the consultation process was simply bureaucrats who were sent out to listen to the concerns of first nations and to relay those concerns to cabinet. As the court repeatedly states in the decision, they were simply note-takers. There was no attempt made to actually address any of those concerns. In fact, the consultation team and the government apparently mistakenly believed they could not add any more conditions on Kinder Morgan than the National Energy Board had done, so why bother consulting if they could not make any changes.
One example of that failure is the concern of the Coldwater First Nation, which wanted the pipeline to take an optional route to the west to avoid crossing its aquifer. It is a big concern, a very reasonable concern and a reasonable request. However, there is no evidence that acting on that concern was even considered.
I could go on and on about consultation, but I will simply say that the government knows what proper consultation is. It is not an impossible task. It has been done before. It just requires more effort and that sincere desire to address concern, rather than just writing them down.
In the natural resources committee, we have heard many examples of proper consultation, many from the mining industry and certainly from the oil and gas sector. One example is the Squamish process regarding the Woodfibre LNG project.
The other error the court of appeal pointed out was the failure to include concerns about marine transportation. One of the main concerns there is the status of the southern resident population of orcas, which is something we have heard a lot about in the news this past summer. I must say that I know a fair about this, because I was on the committee on the status of endangered wildlife in Canada a few years ago and was at the meeting where we actually assessed that population as endangered in Canada. The Liberals are saying that they are relying on their oceans protection plan to cover off those concerns. It is a plan that claims to include world-class oil response. We hear a lot of that “world-class” talk around here.
This summer, I attended the Pacific NorthWest Economic Region meetings in Washington state, and I talked to people from the United States about that plan. It seems that the states of Washington and Alaska are very concerned that the Canadian plans are not world-class at all, at least not in the sense of being the best of the best or near the best. They are only run-of-the-mill world standard apparently. Alaska and Washington state would like Canada to join with their system of tracking ships off the Pacific coast, a truly world-class system that would be a proactive way of minimizing the risk of collisions and spills. This is the kind of thing we might have heard about had the TMX project included marine transport in its proceedings.
I want to turn again to this issue of polarization. When people who are concerned about the environment or first nations reconciliation are labelled “foreign-funded radicals” by the former Conservative government, and I still hear those words in Conservative remarks today, it makes a wide public choose sides and makes it very difficult to have a reasonable discourse on an issue. There is a way forward, a way to reduce this polarization.
I have been involved in a number of meetings here in Ottawa organized by Positive Energy. I think a meeting is happening right now today, which I cannot be at, but its goal it to bring these disparate sides together for a proper discussion on energy issues in Canada.
At one of these meetings I sat with Nik Nanos, the pollster, who had done some polling across Canada on this issue. He had found that only 2% of Canadians had strong confidence in Canada's energy regulation system, also known as the National Energy Board. His polling also indicated that there was a path to rebuild this confidence, and that path was through proper consultation with first nations and proper consultation with communities.
This court decision is a reminder that we have to put the effort in at the start. There are no shortcuts to the approval and assessment process for energy projects.
Finally, I would like to mention the story that we need a pipeline to tidewater, because it will give us a fair price for our oil, and that the discount we are forced to pay now is because we are forced to sell to one customer, the United States.
I have talked to many oil industry people and read a lot of articles in industry magazines, and two things seem to be clear. The first thing is that the best price for the oil we have is to be had in the United States and not in Asia. The second is that the discount we have been suffering through off and on for the past few months is due only to pipeline flow constraints and not to whoever we are selling to. Therefore, it is not who we are selling it to but how easy it is to move.
I met with pipeline industry reps this morning in my office and asked them about Line 3, one of the new expansion proposals for selling our oil to the United States. They said that line will be in operation late next year and added that it will fix the discount problem. Therefore, if we think that Trans Mountain is in the national interest because it is the only solution to the discount problem, that does not seem to be true.
The NDP feels that it is time for a thorough and critical look at our energy strategy in Canada. It is time to invest boldly in the clean energy sector to provide good, long-lasting jobs in a sector that is the true future of the world energy market. We feel that purchasing old pipelines is not proper use of public funds. Let us invest in the future.