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House of Commons Hansard #52 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was chair.

Topics

Natural Resources--Main Estimates, 2010-11Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:30 p.m.

Conservative

Christian Paradis Conservative Mégantic—L'Érable, QC

Mr. Chair, I thank the hon. member for his question.

As the House knows, Canada's rich mineral resources represent significant economic opportunities both domestically and internationally.

Canada's mining sector is global, operating in over 100 countries, with approximately $110 billion in mining assets worldwide.

Domestically, we must combine the best of our intellectual and natural resources to create jobs and stimulate growth and opportunities.

Our government's key investments, in innovation, in infrastructure, in a sound financial system, in progressive taxation measures, and in working with provinces and territories to improve the regulatory system, are all helping to improve the competitiveness of Canada's mining sector.

Our commitment is whole-hearted because we want Canada to be the best place in the world to invest. We also want to maintain our status as a global mining leader and capture the world's interest.

A big part of this will be joint efforts on behalf of government and industry to improve the social and environmental performance of mining. In this regard, the Government of Canada is strongly committed to implementing Canada's corporate social responsibility strategy, which aims to enhance the reputation of Canadian mining companies worldwide.

This is clearly the right path to take in the new global economy. Some financial and regulatory systems ensure a competitive sector, but equally important is operating in a socially and environmentally responsible manner.

Corporate social responsibility is not just a catchphrase. Our public profile and reputation for integrity have a direct impact on our competitiveness and how we are seen as a nation.

The mining industry must continue to promote environmentally and socially responsible operations, both domestically and abroad. Expectations are rising, and performance must continue to improve to meet these expectations. At the same time, we need to communicate the good work that is already under way and our accomplishments to date.

We have a corporate social responsibility strategy in place, and the response so far has been outstanding.

Mining has been a cornerstone of the Canadian economy for many, many years. We are taking concrete measures to ensure that this important industry remains a cornerstone for many more years to come.

Natural Resources--Main Estimates, 2010-11Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:35 p.m.

Conservative

Randy Hoback Conservative Prince Albert, SK

Mr. Chair, the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has truly been a wake-up call for the global oil industry, for governments and for the regulators. Indeed, all Canadians are disturbed by the environmental and economic impacts of the gulf spill.

The reason for concern is obvious. We do not want to see a repeat of this disaster here. Therefore, it is only right that we take a good, long look at our own situation and that we ask hard questions about the safety and security when it comes to offshore activities in Canada.

Would the Minister of Natural Resources please enlighten the House as to current levels of Canadian safety preparedness when it comes to offshore exploring and drilling?

Natural Resources--Main Estimates, 2010-11Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:35 p.m.

Conservative

Christian Paradis Conservative Mégantic—L'Érable, QC

Mr. Chair, the Government of Canada recognizes that accidents can happen anywhere regardless of laws and safety measures, but we are also very confident in our safeguards. We have very strong environmental laws and standards and a robust and well-developed safety regime for offshore exploration and drilling.

Oil and gas rigs used in the Canadian offshore industry as well as the equipment and training required to operate them must meet strict regulatory standards that are among the highest in the world. The NEB evaluates each drilling application in the northern offshore for compliance with federal regulations.

For our east coast, the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board and Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board have similar responsibilities. Drilling cannot occur unless the responsible board is fully satisfied that drilling plans are safe for workers and the environment. Beyond high standards for training, safety and equipment, oil and gas companies are required to maintain environmental production and spill response plans.

As the member mentioned, there is currently a moratorium on oil and gas exploration and production off the coast of British Columbia and the northern Hudson Bay. A moratorium on Georges Bank off the coast of Nova Scotia has just been extended to the end of 2015.

At present, there is no drilling or production occurring in the offshore in northern Canada. If something did go wrong, Environment Canada's skill and expertise would play an important role. Environment Canada is our expert in the detection of spills. Using aerial surveillance and satellite imagery for detection and tracking, it can provide advice about spill trajectory modelling, weather in sea state forecasts and warnings, location of wildlife-sensitive ecosystems and cleanup and remediation options.

Of course, responses to oil spills in Canada are always a combined effort of industry, federal, provincial and municipal government regulators and non-government organizations. If an oil platform incident were to occur, the Canadian Coast Guard would also play an important supporting role in the Government of Canada's overall environmental response. Other federal departments or agencies such as Public Safety Canada or Fisheries and Oceans could be involved as needed.

My department, Natural Resources Canada, has oversight responsibilities for federal petroleum legislation and regulation, applicable in Atlantic Canada and south of the 60th parallel. Natural Resources Canada is also responsible for oil and gas lands management for offshore areas south of the 60th parallel and outside offshore Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia. NRCan has an important liaison function with the offshore boards and the National Energy Board, which reports to Parliament through the department.

The Government of Canada has always taken a very cautious, safe approach to offshore drilling. We will continue to act in a responsible manner on behalf of the best interests of all Canadians.

Natural Resources--Main Estimates, 2010-11Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:35 p.m.

Bloc

André Bellavance Bloc Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Mr. Chair, since we are talking about the estimates this evening, I have a few suggestions of investments for the minister.

First, I would like to address some comments that were made by the NDP member, the party's natural resources critic, regarding chrysotile. It is always the same old thing when the NDP talks about this issue. I just want to mention to the House that when attacks are made against us, as politicians, they do not affect only us. The minister and I are the only members who have chrysotile mines in our ridings. This affects all of the workers there and our constituents to the point where things can sometimes get completely crazy.

For example, there are exchanges between teachers from France and Quebec. The Government of France barred a teacher from taking part in an exchange with a teacher from Thetford Mines because there is a chrysotile mine there. There has been asbestos in that municipality forever. I remember speaking to the French ambassador regarding this issue. Things have gotten to that point. We are shooting ourselves in the foot. Earlier, we heard comments, though fortunately they were brief, regarding this issue.

I want to share some interesting points with my colleagues. In March, the Geological Society of America held its annual meeting in Baltimore. After the meeting, there was a debate in a workshop on asbestos. There were health scientists present, but also scientists who specialized in mineralogy. One of these experts, André Lalonde, a mineralogist and dean of the Faculty of Science at the University of Ottawa, came from the region. He said the following in response to the debate: “Historically, doctors have misunderstood asbestos. We cannot blame them, since they did not study mineralogy...[however,] all of these minerals have different chemical formulae and crystalline structures...and the proof that [the misunderstanding] is still present today is that people still talk about asbestos instead of talking about amphibole or chrysotile”, which are different fibres. I am not an expert, but that is what an expert had to say about this topic.

Mr. Lalonde tells us that amphibole is a highly carcinogenic type of asbestos, but a number of studies have proven that chrysotile, the type of asbestos used in Quebec, is not. I say that in response to what we heard earlier and what we hear quite regularly, from the hon. member for Winnipeg Centre in particular.

A recent CBC report—which is odd, because there have been all sorts of other reports—talked about chrysotile. It said that the U.S. Department of Health had a list of dangerous products showing that chrysotile ranked 119th out of a total of 275. Nickel, which we find a lot of in Canada, in Ontario in particular, ranked 53rd on the list of most dangerous products. Lead, which Canada also exports, is second on the list. On a list of dangerous products, we can add lead and nickel. Aluminum, phosphate and oil are also on the list, as is mercury.

I wonder whether the NDP will one day want to eliminate the development of those natural resources as well. Obviously, they are not here to answer that.

I would like the minister to say a few words about that and then I will continue speaking.

Natural Resources--Main Estimates, 2010-11Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:40 p.m.

Conservative

Christian Paradis Conservative Mégantic—L'Érable, QC

Mr. Chair, Canada has favoured safe, controlled use of chrysotile asbestos both nationally and internationally since 1979. That is the distinction I made to the member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley earlier when he was speaking about asbestos in general.

First of all, there is a difference between the fibres that must be understood. Second, we also need to evaluate safe use. The example given previously was spraying insulation in the open air, which is unsafe. That has not been done for years. Currently, the safe approach is to encapsulate the fibre in a material such as cement.

Exposure is one example that I am giving, but that is just to say that there is a safe approach in place. We know that exposure to chrysotile is strictly controlled by exposure limits in workplaces and that these limits are set by the federal, provincial and territorial governments. Exposure is also controlled by banning certain categories of consumer products and products in the workplace under Canada's Hazardous Products Act. Moreover, this use was developed in the past with the input and collaboration of unions and workers.

Canada continues to work with other countries on issues related to the safe use of chrysotile through the Chrysotile Institute, a not-for-profit organization that is mandated to promote controlled use, here in Canada and internationally and better understanding of how to use this mineral.

Natural Resources--Main Estimates, 2010-11Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:45 p.m.

Bloc

André Bellavance Bloc Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Mr. Chair, earlier I was talking about how bad reputations, unfortunately, are often caused by the hon. members of this House. The minister mentioned that we used chrysotile in the past as well, just as we used other natural resources without knowing their inherent danger to human health or the environment. This has also created a certain reputation. Nonetheless, we have corrected that situation.

The minister talked about the Chrysotile Institute. I have talked to many stakeholders from the Chrysotile Institute and to restore this reputation, many of them have formed a coalition quite recently. The chambers of commerce—in the minister's region and in my region—and the three main unions in Quebec have also joined this coalition for the safe use of chrysotile. That was how the idea for rebuilding the reputation of chrysotile in the world got started. We must push the spirit of the existing memorandum of understanding on the safe use of chrysotile further. This could eliminate any doubt on its safe use in the export markets.

My suggestion to the minister—and I would like him to comment on this—would be to broaden the Chrysotile Institute's mandate to include more concrete action abroad. Many people say that countries that buy and import chrysotile should be responsible for the safety of their workers. Some developing countries have ultramodern plants. That is the case in India, where Mr. Coulombe, president of the Jeffrey mine, visited a number of factories. However, it is not the case in other countries. Workers are still at risk, and that has to change.

I believe that the Chrysotile Institute could ensure that teams of experts are set up on the ground over there, without doing this itself, to supervise the production of materials using chrysotile at the importer's site.

I wonder if the minister is open to this possibility. It would require sufficient funding, of course, from Chrysotile Institute backers, the federal government, the industry itself and the Government of Quebec, which could all increase their contributions to the Chrysotile Institute to help fund its new mandate to go train experts on site, thereby ensuring more supervision and restoring chrysotile's reputation.

Natural Resources--Main Estimates, 2010-11Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:45 p.m.

Conservative

Christian Paradis Conservative Mégantic—L'Érable, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question. In the past, there have been a number of criticisms about this mineral and for that reason Canada's position is clear. We have always argued in favour of a controlled-use approach, not just for argument's sake, but because recent scientific studies show that this mineral can be used in a controlled fashion without any health risks, unlike substitutes for which there are not yet any studies.

Banning a natural resource in its present unprocessed state would perhaps create a false sense of security. For that reason we continue to support its safe use. Production of the fibre is governed by standards and regulations, but its use by the client is an important factor. The institute's role is to ensure that agreements are signed to ensure its appropriate use.

That being said, the Government of Canada obviously does not have the authority to impose its regulations elsewhere, in importing countries, and those countries must ensure that it is used safely. Thus, we have always supported its safe use through our policies and through the institute in order to show that the fibre can be used safely in Canada and around the world as well.

Natural Resources--Main Estimates, 2010-11Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:50 p.m.

Bloc

André Bellavance Bloc Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Mr. Chair, I would like the minister to respond to this question more specifically because we cannot leave things as they are. Some countries have already banned chrysotile. Several groups in Canada are against chrysotile, and it is becoming increasingly difficult for that industry to show its worth and demonstrate that chrysotile can be used safely.

Is it not time to be more proactive and demand greater accountability from the users and importers of chrysotile? Expanding the Chrysotile Institute's mandate could prove that stakeholders in this industry recognize the importance of using chrysotile safely and that they are taking concrete action abroad to ensure that it is being used safely. This could go as far as being presented as an additional service provided by Canadian exporters at the time of sale.

In the course of negotiations with countries that are often developing countries, we could even provide added value by offering to go to those countries to train the workers in order to ensure that chrysotile is being used safely. It is not enough to say that chrysotile can be used safely; it must actually be used safely, both for the workers in this industry and for the people who will have it.

Is the minister prepared to consider any investments in that regard?

Natural Resources--Main Estimates, 2010-11Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:50 p.m.

Conservative

Christian Paradis Conservative Mégantic—L'Érable, QC

Mr. Chair, as I already told my colleague, stakeholders and users are looking at safe usage, which our government has supported since 1979. This approach was developed together with workers, unions, the industry and other levels of government. We have to begin by distinguishing the fibre, then make sure that strict rules for safe usage are being followed.

In general, this is a challenge for Canada's mining sector, which is vital to our economy. The mining sector accounts for $40 billion of our GDP. It is the economic driver for more than 150 communities, including my own home town. That is why our government has introduced several measures, including the corporate social responsibility program for companies operating mines elsewhere.

This is an example of an initiative undertaken to restore the reputation of the mining sector, which has been falsely accused by environmental groups that take extreme stances, unfortunately. We have to set the record straight in some cases. That is why our government is proud to present tangible programs like those ones, as well as institutes to provide a factual demonstration of how chrysotile can be used cleanly and sustainably without sacrificing the health of users and miners.

Natural Resources Canada has invested lots of money, including $8 million in the green mines initiative, which is a relatively new program. We are turning to such initiatives more and more. That is the key to economic recovery. We have to do it sustainably, and we are aware of the needs. That is the way we are heading.

Natural Resources--Main Estimates, 2010-11Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:50 p.m.

Conservative

Russ Hiebert Conservative South Surrey—White Rock—Cloverdale, BC

Mr. Chair, I will be sharing my time with the member for Lethbridge.

The matters we are discussing this evening are of real importance to Canadians. Canada is a natural resources powerhouse, an abundance that continues to make a tremendous contribution to our economy and to the quality of life we enjoy in this country.

Although members on opposite sides of the House may not always agree on some issues, I am confident there is unanimous support for a Canadian natural resources sector that is both economically competitive and environmentally sustainable. In that regard, I would like to take this opportunity to draw hon. members' attention to the valuable and ongoing contributions of the House Standing Committee on Natural Resources.

Although there will always be healthy debate and dissenting opinions, members of the committee show a consistent ability to set aside partisan differences in order to do what is best for Canada and to better inform government decision making. The committee's 2009 report on integrated community energy systems, for example, known as ICES, continues to play an important role in guiding the government's strategy for advancing the implementation of this innovative approach to energy production and use at the community level.

As the Minister of Natural Resources stated in the government's response to the committee, the “report does an excellent job of framing the issue and rightly points out the importance of cross-jurisdictional collaboration that respects each jurisdiction's responsibilities”. The government has taken this advice to heart and continues to explore ways to co-operate and collaborate with the provinces and territories, as well as the large number of stakeholders that have essential roles to play.

With support from the committee, the government moved forward quickly with the modernization of the Energy Efficiency Act. Important amendments to the act set the standards for additional products that affect energy consumption, including windows and doors, and thermostats and other devices that control energy systems.

The changes also allow the government to proceed with standards for so-called standby power, the energy used by everything from televisions to computers even when they are turned off, further helping Canadians reduce their energy consumption, reduce harmful emissions and control their energy costs.

The standing committee also continues to play a key role in building awareness and understanding among parliamentarians and Canadians alike of the complex issues of the day. Its examination of the situation surrounding the supply of medical isotopes is an excellent example. By hearing from a wide variety of witnesses representing a broad cross-section of views and expert opinion, the committee's work allowed Canadians greater insight into the issue, in particular the understanding that assuring a reliable, long-term supply of medical isotopes is indeed a global issue that requires a global solution.

The committee has also provided valuable input into the government's effort to modernize Canada's nuclear liability legislation. The committee's June 2008 report on Canada's forestry industry gave new insight into the challenges and opportunities facing a sector that is so important to thousands of Canadians in hundreds of communities across the country.

The government has already implemented many of the committee's recommendations to improve the sector's economic and environmental performance. In budget 2010, for example, the government announced an investment of $100 million over four years to support the development, commercialization and implementation of advanced clean energy technologies in the forest sector.

The government has also endorsed the committee's recommendations on the importance of good marketing to the future prosperity of Canada's forest sector, launching and extending key programs that help to raise the industry's profile in both traditional and emerging markets.

There are many more examples of the excellent work and commitment shown by the members of the House Standing Committee on Natural Resources, but I would like to pose a question to the minister. What assurance can he offer that he will continue to work closely with the committee to ensure Canada remains a natural resources powerhouse?

Natural Resources--Main Estimates, 2010-11Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

10:55 p.m.

Conservative

Christian Paradis Conservative Mégantic—L'Érable, QC

Mr. Chair, I would like to thank my hon. colleague for that great question and for drawing the attention of the House to the valuable and conscientious work of the Standing Committee on Natural Resources.

I would like to add my personal acknowledgement of the committee's reports and thank the members for their valuable contributions.

As members are aware, the global market for natural resources is changing rapidly and the vast simple volume was enough to exert our dominance in the world's commodity markets, but we know that it is no longer enough.

Today the emphasis is on value on innovative products produced in an environmentally sustainable manner. Meeting this challenge and seizing the opportunities it presents is a complex and demanding job. It requires all of us to work together at all government levels and within our academic and research communities, our industry associations and our research industries themselves. It also requires that we base our policy and program decisions on the best information and the best advice we can find.

I can assure the House that I view the Standing Committee on Natural Resources as one of the most important resources available to me and to the Government of Canada. I look forward to working closely with the committee in the months and years ahead.

Natural Resources--Main Estimates, 2010-11Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

11 p.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Andrew Scheer

It being 11 p.m., pursuant to Standing Order 81(4) all votes are deemed reported. The committee will rise and I will now leave the chair.

Natural Resources--Main Estimates, 2010-11Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

11 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

The House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 10 a.m. pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 11:01 p.m.)