Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to discuss this bill, one that is so important for Nova Scotia and particularly Cape Breton Island. This bill demonstrates the entrepreneurship and courage of the people of Cape Breton, who have never lost hope regarding the issue of coal in their economy, their province, their corner of Canada.
If we look at the history of Nova Scotia and, in particular, Cape Breton and other parts, coal brings about the worst and most difficult stories in our history and also the best. We know of the mining disasters. We also know of the labour strife over the years, the beginnings of the industry which was a near slavery type situation for the workers in that industry.
We also know what it has brought to our province in terms of immigration into our province and developing a culture. The songs of Cape Breton alone are great cultural riches to Canada and a lot of it relates back to the growing and the beginning of the implementation and continuation of the coal industry.
Therefore, it was a very difficult day in Cape Breton in that whole economy when we had the loss of the last operating deep mine. It is a great pleasure to see the renewal of this industry and to look at the courage of the people of Cape Breton who never lost faith. The labour unions and the skilled people who worked within those mines never lost faith. They knew of the potential of Donkin. They have had great support and leadership by their members of Parliament, the member for Cape Breton—Canso and the member for Sydney—Victoria who worked ardently on bringing this to where we have it now.
One of the problems that we encounter when we deal with a project like this that is a little bit off the beaten path, slightly different than the others, is that the basic infrastructure for the mine is on land and the resource is under the sea.
If we look at the jurisdictional thing, it becomes a question of who owns it. Is it the responsibility of the Province of Nova Scotia? Is it the responsibility of the Government of Canada? We have been unable to resolve that discussion. Even at this point we have been unable to resolve that argument in ownership.
At least what we have here is an agreement among the two, that the most important thing is the communities, particularly the communities of Cape Breton in this region, and there is a possibility for economic development.
This bill brings us to an accommodation where no party abandons their jurisdiction. The federal government still claims ownership of the resource because it is the sea floor. The provincial government still maintains that it has a right and responsibility for occupational safety and environmental regulations, as do the feds. However, we have come to an agreement where the province will be the regulator and will adopt the federal law, implement federal law and be the agent that will be dealt with in all these matters with the acting companies. I think it is a very good arrangement.
I agree with the member for Charlottetown who said earlier that it would be good if we could have some overarching legislation or proposals in this country that could take care of situations like these in the future because this has kept that community in stress for a long time. For a number of years the community has wanted to redevelop that mine. A very large international company with a good reputation in that field was interested in doing it but it needed a lot of patience because it was a three or four year process and the legislation was not done. We are doing it now but we must wait for the regulations and get the work done. It would be a lot better if we could have it faster in the future.
I was dealing not so long ago on behalf of the federal government with the Province of Nova Scotia, working with the offshore oil industry that was looking at getting permits to operate on the Nova Scotian shelf. Because of those same types of disputes as to who the regulator is on occupational safety, who the regulator is on labour and who the regulator is in all the other fields, both of them claimed jurisdiction, so we ended up with two sets of regulations. The approval process ends up taking two, three or four times longer than it would in another active field in other parts of the world.
If that time could be linked to better operating conditions, then it might be understandable, but it cannot. It is not that we do a better environmental job on those or that we ensure better safety for our people. It is just the bureaucracy and the technicalities of getting those permits which are so difficult.
We have come a ways a bit and have some agreements in Nova Scotia on the offshore that we have been able to improve through the smart regulation process started in the Chrétien days.
We just had good results in my community. A large quarry in a beautiful, pristine community wanted take away all the basalt rock and ship it to the U.S. It did not want to destroy its communities so it tried to excavate the seashore in Nova Scotia.
However, there were federal and provincial jurisdictions. On the socio-economic side, the Province of Nova Scotia was the only one that could stop the proposal. The federal government maintained responsibilities on the establishment of a port and on the environmental questions related to the fisheries and seawater, as well as some elements of the groundwater in the province.
The resolution we found at that point was to have a joint review panel under the Environmental Assessment Act of Canada join with the review panel of the Province of Nova Scotia to create one review panel where the laws of both apply. Dr. Bob Fournier, who chaired that panel, heard from experts and from the community and came out with a recommendation not to pursue the project, which was a great relief to the people of western Nova Scotia, although maybe not unanimously. Some people would have liked to have seen the jobs associated with it, but most people did not want to see that type of activity in their community. On that side it was the provincial regulations that prompted the provincial responsibilities.
From the federal side, Bob Fournier made some interesting points on an environmental side and the whole seacoast of Nova Scotia. That was a good area of cooperation but we want to see more between Nova Scotia and the Government of Canada. As has been pointed out in this House today, for Nova Scotia to advance there needs to be that type of cooperation with the federal government.
It was a great day when the prime minister at the time, the member for LaSalle—Émard, met with the member for Halifax and, with the Premier of Nova Scotia and the minister responsible for petroleum development, signed the Atlantic accord, the Canada-Nova Scotia agreement. It was a beautiful day because not only did it bring us some much needed money to do the economic development and those projects that we needed in Nova Scotia, but it also signalled cooperation for the future. We could set aside some jurisdictional disputes and problems and look at how we could improve the lives of people, and all of Canada benefits from that.
We must understand how disappointed Canadians were when the budget was presented in this House by the current government and, after it had specifically stated that it would support that agreement, it demolished the agreement completely. Nova Scotians know that $1 million were lost in Nova Scotia. What probably bothered them more than that was the pretence over the summer months that the Prime Minister and the premier had resolved it and that they had come to a mutual understanding that would restore the Canada-Nova Scotia agreement.
However, I know that to be false. I know the offshore Canada-Nova Scotia agreement, as well as that with Newfoundland and Labrador, meant that those provinces would benefit from revenues from the accord above and beyond revenues of any new equalization program, any changes in equalization or any other programs of the federal government. The benefits under the accord would be above that.
The Conservatives have said in their exchange of letters, as best as I can understand it and as every analyst has told me so far, that the provinces can choose either/or in any of the given years whether they want to go by the provisions of the new equalization formula or of the old accord, which is a little better than what was put in the budget last spring but is not still the full accord.
I do not know exactly what the loss will be. I would guesstimate in the area of $600 million for Nova Scotia but I cannot say for sure because the government will not show me the information. It will not provide it. What we have seen is an exchange of letters between the Minister of Finance of the federal government and the minister of finance of the Province of Nova Scotia. When we listen to what these people have said, specifically the Prime Minister in the press conference in the foyer when he was with the premier, he said that there would be no stacking. The Atlantic accord is stacking. That is the principle of the accord and that is why it was of such benefit for economic development for Nova Scotia.
The member for Cape Breton—Canso, on behalf of Nova Scotia Liberal members, arranged to have a briefing. The government said that it would have a briefing but that it would have to be with all Nova Scotia MPs. We agreed to that because that was understandable.
One briefing was arranged for a late Friday afternoon. For members from Nova Scotia, myself included, it takes an hour to get to the airport and on the flight. Then it is a two hour flight. Then it takes about three hours to get back to my riding. I had intended to leave as early as I could on Friday afternoon, but this meant I would have to go home on Saturday and I would lose the best constituency day of the week. I agreed to stay here. Then that meeting was cancelled.
I think there was no intention of having the meeting. The intent was to have us wait around here and then cancel at the last minute.
My memory does not permit me to recall the fourth meeting, but I will talk about three of them. Another meeting was arranged during the week of the November 11 break, when everyone was in their constituency. This meant that 11 MPs and a bunch of senators would have to fly back, at the taxpayer cost, to spend a couple of days in Ottawa, perhaps only one, for that briefing. I would have lost those days in my riding.
I attended the November 11 celebrations with students at a number of schools in my riding. I visited the veteran's wing at the Yarmouth hospital and spent an afternoon with the veterans. I would have had to cancel two days of those meetings to be in Ottawa for that briefing.
However, the member for Halifax West raised a point of order in the House. The minister agreed to move the meeting. The parliamentary secretary said that the meeting would be held this morning, November 20 at 10:30. Fourteen minutes before the meeting, we found out that it had been cancelled. No reason was given for this cancellation. We only saw the officials scurrying down the hall to the elevator. They had received their order from on high that there would be no briefing. What do we have? We do not receive a briefing.
Another briefing was planned, but I cannot give the details because it escapes my memory. However, four briefings were cancelled.
I do not think the federal government ever had any intention of explaining to the people of Nova Scotia the details of that supposed agreement between the premier of Nova Scotia and the Prime Minister, which would have restored all the provisions of the Atlantic accord.
This is a shame. Before the election, the Prime Minister sent a flyer to every house, saying something about the worst lie was a promise not kept. He promised to support the accord.
I remember sitting on the government side and the Prime Minister and his ministers, who were on this side at the time, asked that the budget, which included the implementation of the original accord, be divided, so they could support the accord and not vote for the full budget. Opposition members at that time were willing to support the accord, or so they would tell Nova Scotians.
The instant the Conservative government got its hands on the levers of power, we saw in the first budget a warning shot. It said that the Atlantic accord was not well accepted everywhere in the country because it was a special provision. Sure it is a special provision. There are special needs. All these museums in Ottawa, financed by the federal government, are special provisions. They are not a per capita distribution of federal funds.
When our government invested in the oil sands in Alberta, we saw there was a great economic opportunity, and oil was not at the prices that it is now. We accelerated the cost allowance program for that industry so it could become what it is today, the great economic generator of the country. This was not done on a per capita distribution of special tax incentives. It was done as a special assistance to that part of the country because it had a certain potential, a certain resource and it was good for the country.
Many people from all over the country, including from my riding, went and found good work in that area. Hopefully some day they will return to my riding, with the expertise they have gathered there, and develop businesses and give employment in the area. It was that type of an investment as was the Atlantic accord.
The Atlantic accord gave some economic development money to Nova Scotia and to Newfoundland and Labrador so they could develop their provinces. The first $800,000 was delivered by the member for LaSalle—Émard and that went directly to pay off the capital debt of Nova Scotia, debt accumulated through the Buchanan years, with Greg Kerr as minister of finance of the day. We now were struggling with that debt. Finally, we would get some assistance.
Now what do we see? We see that promise completely reneged upon. That brings me back to the bill, which I support. I think it is a great bill.
The Conservatives reluctantly agreed to follow the direction brought by the member for Cape Breton—Canso, who virtually had to write it himself to ensure that the people of his province and his riding would have access to the opportunity, a chance to work hard on developing a resource that is part of their culture and tradition. He warrants the full support of the House and I hope all members will vote with the member for Cape Breton—Canso in support of the bill.