Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased today to rise to speak to this motion. I will be splitting my time with my neighbour, the member for Nickel Belt.
I thank the member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley. He has been a great defender of the environment and his constituents in the House. Even before I was elected, I admired him from a distance. He has carried on the tradition of my old friend Jimmy Fulton, who I know is watching from above and cheering on the man who has taken over his portfolio of protecting this beautiful area of our country.
It is important to remind the House that the motion brought forward by my colleague from Skeena—Bulkley Valley is necessary because of the failure to act on an earlier motion tabled by our party, by myself, which was voted unanimously on by the House. That motion called for a review of current federal law and policy to deal with the safety environmental aspects of unconventional oil and gas development.
Clearly this is an unconventional oil and gas activity. We have not yet seen the piping of raw bitumen across the pristine area of northern British Columbia, through rocky, mountainous, river-laden terrain, through first nation territory. Nor have we witnessed, yet, the travails of large tanker traffic through rough seas.
In the interim, I would also like to compliment my colleague for referring to the natural resources committee the beginning process of moving on with this long-awaited review of whether the federal government was delivering on its responsibility to regulate and provide sound policy for the safe and environmentally sound development of unconventional resources in our country.
The motion deals with the specific aspect of unconventional oil and gas development. It deals with three parts. It deals with the front end, which is the fast pace that intensifies development of the oil sands for the shipment of bitumen to eastern countries, including China. It deals with the development of a pipeline through an extremely risky area, where many communities and first nations have raised strong objections. It then deals with the end result, which would be the movement of that bitumen into tankers and those tankers going through difficult waters.
The reason we tabled our earlier motion in May was we thought the country had signed on to the cautionary principle. Our country also believes in sound, economic development that does not put communities at greater risk. The whole idea was to allow Canada to benefit from the wake-up call of the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.
What better opportunity than to put in place a proper protective regulatory regime in advance, with a sound plan for how we develop our resources in a way that will reduce, not increase, risks to Canadian communities and to our very valued environment.
Yet what we are doing is continuing with this fast paced, unregulated sector. We had three reviews on unconventional oil and gas, more specifically, on the development of the oil sands. One was a two-year review in which the Government of Canada participated. It was initiated by the Government of Alberta. A good number of recommendations were made with regard to improving the regulation of that sector.
The parliamentary committee on natural resources then led a review starting, I believe, in 2007, which made similar recommendations for action before we proceeded unchecked with the development of this resource.
Then the committee in which I have the fortune to participate, the parliamentary committee on environment and sustainable development, spent two years reviewing the development of this resource and a number of the members of the committee submitted lengthy reports documenting the recommendations made.
This is the time to be acting on the many recommendations that have been made from a broad array of experts in Canada, from first nation governments to leading scientists and technologists at universities in Canada to the Governments of the Northwest Territories and Alberta to federal agencies.
Instead we are leaving ourselves open to an unplanned development of our resources. We are simply sitting back, as legislative officers, waiting for someone to propose something. We can do more. As elected members, we can show leadership and provide that regime for which Canadians have asked.
We have heard concerns today relayed to us through their elected members. People across British Columbia are very concerned about the proposal for the tanker traffic. They are also very concerned about the development of the pipeline that would lead to this tanker traffic.
The questions I would like to put before the House is this. What are the risks posed by the pipeline? What is the risk to Alberta? What is the risk to British Columbia? Are adequate laws in place to regulate tanker traffic through this risky body of water, putting at risk significant areas, including west coast fisheries?
My colleague, the member for New Westminster—Coquitlam, has very thoughtfully tabled in the House a bill recommending improvements to the Canada Shipping Act to give expanded powers to the government to do exactly that, to better regulate and assert its powers and responsibilities to protect our oceans and the resources in those oceans on behalf of the people of Canada.
What are the capacities to respond to a spill or explosion? We have heard from a number of members of the House and we certainly have heard reference to the audit of coast guard capabilities. I can speak very personally to the capabilities of the federal government to respond to a significant spill.
I hope all the members have taken the time, because we have the Railway Safety Act coming before us as well, to take a look at the review of the Cheakamus spill and the Wabamun spill. Prosecutions arose out of that. Those reports by the rail safety board, by the respective provincial governments and the matters that came out of the government clearly said that the federal government had dropped the ball in respecting to these significant spills. Yet the Wabamun spill was less than a few miles from a main highway, only 40 miles from a major city, in the oil capital of Canada and it completely failed to contain a major spill of bunker sea, half of which remains on the bottom of Lake Wabamun.
Where is the action on developing a framework for emergency response and spill response plans? Yes we know that we can stop the ships and the Coast Guard can demand to see the spiller response plan of the tanker. What good is this at that point? The tanker is already within our waters. Surely we should be standing back and conducting an overall review of whether that is adequate. Do we need stronger measures to prevent the kinds of incidents that have occurred along the Alaska coast.
People on the east coast have raised concerns about the lack of access to emergency response plans, that even in those cases where a company is required to develop an emergency and environmental response plan, they are not disclosed to the public.
Surely we need to be reviewing the system for the development and approval of these kinds of risky developments in Canada.
What about capabilities of foreign tankers? How will the government control what kind of emergency spill response equipment is contained on those tankers, or will the people of Canada be required to pay the cost of storage of the spill response equipment on shore? Can that even be adequate? Surely we should be standing back and taking a close look at whether it is even possible to respond and if so, who should pay and where should the liability be imposed.
Given the hints in cutbacks by the government and the fact that it turned down a sincere request by the city of Edmonton for support for an expo on activities to celebrate clean energy development in Canada, how can we expect the Coast Guard, which has already been cut back, to do the job? Will the government commit to major resources to beef up the ability of the Coast Guard not only on the west coast, but also in the high Arctic and on the east coast.
I can share with the House the statistics from Alberta on incidents on pipelines. In a 15 year period there were 8,000 releases. That is not very reassuring.
The members of our party have been repeatedly been calling for an open and transparent dialogue on a clean and sustainable energy strategy for Canada. I am pleased to say that the Alberta minister of energy just today advised me that he is supportive of our proposal and he called it a national energy strategy.