Madam Speaker, I am very honoured as a Nova Scotian and as a member of the Conservative Party to take part in what I believe is a critically important debate for the future of our province, for the future of Atlantic Canada and in fact for the best economic future of the country, because it is in everyone's interest, the interest of our entire country, to have the improvements to the economies of Atlantic Canada that we see happening elsewhere in this country.
I want to begin my remarks by congratulating the Leader of the Opposition for the passionate and poignant case he has made before Canadians today in defence of Atlantic Canada. As he has done on numerous occasions since the House has resumed, whether it be on BSE or on trade issues, issues that affect the lives of Canadians, he has put forward in a very articulate and straightforward way what should happen. That is the type of national leadership we need in this country and I applaud his actions on this file.
There has been a lot of discussion, even early in this debate, about the numbers and how equalization factors into the formula when it comes to the provision of the royalties scheme and the flow that we would see in Atlantic Canada from our own natural resources, mainly oil and gas.
A number of accords and agreements are in place already, signed by previous governments, as alluded to by the Leader of the Opposition, going back to the 1980s when there was a recognition by a Liberal government at that time and subsequently by Brian Mulroney's government that Atlantic Canada and Nova Scotia and Newfoundland in particular were entitled to the same treatment and the same benefits that they would receive from their natural resources as other provinces were, such as Alberta.
There was also a recognition that when an industry is started there is a lag time before those benefits actually begin, as in the province of Alberta, which was permitted to continue to receive equalization. And equalization is just that: it is meant to equalize opportunities, both financial and otherwise, for citizens of that region.
Alberta was permitted to have that industry kick start, to have that exploration that has to take place, the difference being--and I want to highlight this issue--that underground technology, the ability to extract oil from under the ground, is not nearly as expensive as it is to go down hundreds of fathoms in the ocean and extract it from the ocean floor. So there is a parallel here, an important issue, and that is the ability for Nova Scotia and Newfoundland to have that exploration and continue to receive the support of a revenue stream that will allow them to truly develop in the area of offshore oil and gas technology. It costs up to $100 million in some cases to drill a single well on the ocean floor. Equalization is about giving our region the ability to reach our potential and our future growth.
What we have in this instance is the Prime Minister making a desperate attempt to ameliorate things with voters in that region of the country by promising something that he now is reneging on, by promising something that was meant to simply buy votes from Atlantic Canadians. Now, in the stark light of day, faced with the reality that he has to keep his promise, he is pulling back. He is putting qualifications in place. He is indicating to Atlantic Canada, “On second thought, I don't think we can do just that”.
That is not good enough. That is not the type of deal that can be struck when it comes to the important matter of Atlantic Canada's future.
We in the Conservative Party have been putting forward this issue since the House resumed for this simple reason: we understand fully that Atlantic Canada wants to be a full participant in Confederation. We no longer want to have the status of have not. We no longer want to carry the stigma that our people are not able to attain the same level of success that people in this country in other regions have attained.
This issue is of historic proportions for Atlantic Canada. In the past, we have seen attempts made to put forward what I would describe as “election amnesia”. That is what the government seems to be suffering from today. It is not cognizant of the fact that it is on the record. It has been recorded as to what it put forward to Atlantic Canada. And the only number that counts--not the percentages, not the equalization formula, not the type of rhetoric we are hearing already from the government side--is 100%. One hundred per cent of our revenue.
The Minister of Fisheries, who is from the province of Nova Scotia, said back in September of this year:
The idea of the offshore accord...that we're looking forward to is one that allows each of the provinces to keep 100 per cent of their offshore oil and gas royalties.
This echoes the same words of the Prime Minister.
As well, he went on to say:
I've heard talk of working toward a deal in Newfoundland by the end of the summer, and that sounds like a good time frame for me...
That came from the federal minister of fisheries, who is from Nova Scotia.
Summer has come and gone and now we are faced with a situation where we are seeing the same type of provision, the clawback which is currently in place and takes 81¢ of every dollar generated from our offshore. In the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador, it is more. This results in billions of dollars coming to Ottawa that potentially would go into those regions, coming to Ottawa as opposed to the region that would build for the future and build the economic prosperity of that region. That is the dollar amount which will affect our provinces.
This type of folly, an election fortune that was so important to the Prime Minister, now appears to be falling away because people are realizing that without that true commitment, without the follow-through from the Prime Minister, we will not be able to enjoy that potential.
Therefore, Premier John Hamm of Nova Scotia and Premier Williams are very, very serious about holding the Prime Minister to his very, very serious commitment. That is what we in the official opposition want to see as well. These premiers understand, as does the leader of the opposition, that this issue is principally an issue of people. It would allow people to stay in the region in which they currently live to enjoy the future spinoffs that would come from this industry.
I want to refer to a study put forward by the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Resources Accord. This study speaks very much to the impact that this would have on a province like Nova Scotia. In 2002, the Greater Halifax Partnership released this study by the Conference Board of Canada on the economic impact this would have on the province. The study predicts a steady rise of employment in Nova Scotia, with the creation of 57,000 additional jobs by the year 2020.
The study goes on to see the growth in the construction, manufacturing, utilities and services sectors. As for rural Nova Scotia, we know there is an increasing divide between rural and urban Canada, but the impact of this would be in the construction and manufacturing sectors while growth in the retail and services sector would be almost as pronounced as we see in our capital, Halifax. The study predicts a gain of $1 billion by 2020 in the construction industry alone.
That is the type of impact this would have. It would allow young people, our best natural resource, to stay at home, our young, educated, motivated Canadians who now have to leave their homes and go elsewhere, sadly, and sometimes out of Canada, to find employment, to find their future. For example, the Leader of the Opposition's roots go back to Atlantic Canada; his family, like many others, left that region to seek a future elsewhere. What Atlantic Canadians want is the ability to stay at home, to contribute to the growth of their own region, which they know and love, with the passion that they feel for their home, for their ground where they grew up.
That is very much tied to the ability of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador and in fact all the provinces to benefit from their own natural resource, a non-renewable natural resource as has been pointed out. There is a finite time in which we can truly enjoy the benefits of this. To suggest that we should accept anything less, that we should now accept this qualified clawback of the Prime Minister's commitment, is ludicrous.
Premiers Williams and Hamm will continue to insist that the Prime Minister do what is right, what is fair, what is equitable and what is in the interests of all Canadians: to keep his word and allow the provinces of Nova and Newfoundland and Labrador to attain the same level of economic future and the same type of prosperity that exist elsewhere in this great country of ours.
We will continue on behalf of the official opposition to make that case passionately, with a great deal of support coming from all Canadians. I think that is a concept implicit in this debate. It is one of fairness. It is one that all Canadians respect and understand.