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House of Commons Hansard #124 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was chair.

Topics

Environment—Main Estimates, 2012-13Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

May 16th, 1 a.m.

NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Chair, what that shows is that on average, every 72 hours the environmental emergencies program was responding to an environmental emergency. So much for it being a rare occurrence. I think it is very good to have that exposed.

I would like to come to the issue of the probable increase in environmental incidents that would require a response from the emergency environmental program if the northern gateway pipeline project is approved.

Has the department calculated the probable increase in environmental incidents that the EEP would be called to?

Environment—Main Estimates, 2012-13Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

May 16th, 1:05 a.m.

Conservative

Peter Kent Conservative Thornhill, ON

Mr. Chair, first, to correct my colleague, of those 1,050 instances, the vast majority were very small and were contained by local or provincial agencies.

With regard to the legislation before us and the possible development of major projects, in budget 2012 we provided $35.7 million, for example, over two years to further strengthen Canada's tanker regime, again depending upon projects and tanker routes as they would be approved.

With regard to major pipeline projects, there has been provision for far greater inspection and oversight of any new completed project.

Environment—Main Estimates, 2012-13Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

May 16th, 1:05 a.m.

NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Chair, he did not answer my question, which asked if they have calculated the probable increase in environmental incidents.

I will not give the minister another chance to obfuscate. However, if he does have the response, I hope that he will gave it.

As we know, the B.C. environment minister was very surprised about the closure of the environmental emergencies program in British Columbia and the B.C. spill response centre. Were any consultations at all done with the Government of British Columbia before the B.C. spill response centre was closed?

Environment—Main Estimates, 2012-13Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

May 16th, 1:05 a.m.

Conservative

Peter Kent Conservative Thornhill, ON

Mr. Chair, first, my colleague is asking a hypothetical question. In a perfect world, there would be no additional, or possibly fewer, spill incidents to respond to.

With regard to the contents of the legislative material before us, the responsible resource development and the jobs, growth and prosperity legislation, we can not breach cabinet confidence to consult. I did consult immediately after the tabling of the legislation and immediately after the details were released.

Environment—Main Estimates, 2012-13Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

May 16th, 1:05 a.m.

NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Chair, that explains why British Columbians and the B.C. government were so surprised by what many considered to be irresponsible actions taken by the government.

I will move on to the issue of the media protocol for scientists. There have been a number of concerns about Environment Canada scientists being limited in how they can speak to the media about their work.

What is the department's overall media protocol for scientists?

Environment—Main Estimates, 2012-13Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

May 16th, 1:05 a.m.

Conservative

Peter Kent Conservative Thornhill, ON

Mr. Chair, again I go back to my colleague's preamble. In consultation with my counterpart in the British Columbia government, there has been recognition that the decision to consolidate offices from six to two and the provisions to continue our environmental service to lead agencies with regard to spill has been accepted as a sound and logical decision.

With regard to the second part of the question, our government believes that taxpayer-funded scientists should focus their efforts on taxpayer-funded research. We do enable thousands of interviews across government every year with our scientists, with reasonable media requests.

However, we believe that a demand to meet a 60 minute deadline by an individual reporter is simply not acceptable. We will continue to work with the media on reasonable requests. Again, I would expect many thousand more interviews in the year ahead.

Environment—Main Estimates, 2012-13Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

May 16th, 1:05 a.m.

NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Chair, will the minister make the media protocol public? Specifically, what was the media protocol for Environment Canada scientists attending this year's international polar year conference?

Environment—Main Estimates, 2012-13Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

May 16th, 1:05 a.m.

Conservative

Peter Kent Conservative Thornhill, ON

Mr. Chair, I would remind my colleague that any large organization that does not have a communications policy is out of touch with modern realities.

With regard to the polar conference, it was a very successful conference at which we enabled any number of interviews on location, with a number to come in the future. We ensured that our scientists spoke to the science of their projects and that ministers spoke to policy.

Environment—Main Estimates, 2012-13Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

May 16th, 1:10 a.m.

NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Chair, again, will the protocol be made public? That is the question.

Let us look at two issues. Scientist David Tarasick and his ozone layer research published in the journal, Nature, and the scientific team publishing in the Journal of Geophysical Research, were not allowed to do the interviews that were requested by the media. Was the minister's office involved in that decision? Again, will the media protocol be made public?

Environment—Main Estimates, 2012-13Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

May 16th, 1:10 a.m.

Conservative

Peter Kent Conservative Thornhill, ON

Mr. Chair, again, and I will try to be very clear for my colleague's benefit, the media protocol is public.

Journalists of one sort or another, whether scientific journalists or general news journalists, contact the department when they see an item, a paper or a statement that they would like to address. The communications department of Environment Canada, as in other government departments and in most private sector companies, processes the request. In 99% of the cases it enables the interview to take place.

With regard to the two incidents referenced by my friend, the circumstances simply did not work out to enable those interviews at that specific time.

Environment—Main Estimates, 2012-13Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

May 16th, 1:10 a.m.

NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Chair, does the media office keep statistics to track how often it meets or misses deadlines for comments? How many complaints has the media office received in the last year from journalists about delayed access or restricted access to Environment Canada scientists?

Environment—Main Estimates, 2012-13Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

May 16th, 1:10 a.m.

Conservative

Peter Kent Conservative Thornhill, ON

Again, Mr. Chair, my colleague is speaking as though this is a regulatory process. Journalists do not file complaints with non-compliance. Some of them are understandably upset if they do not get immediate satisfaction to their request, but, as I said, we enable many thousands of interviews across government with no complaints.

I would assure my colleague that the complaints are relatively few and far between.

Environment—Main Estimates, 2012-13Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

May 16th, 1:10 a.m.

NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr.Chair, the question was how many complaints, and as we saw with the environmental emergency program, according to the minister, what was rare turned out to be not so rare when we asked about the statistics. That is why we were asking for hard facts. That is what we are looking for.

I will move on now to the accusations made about Canadian environmental charities. The minister made a claim around criminal activities because that is what money laundering is. He made the claim on April 28, repeated it on May 1 and again on May 3 in this House. Tonight he has responded that he simply does not have any proof of criminal activity.

Would the minister retract the term and retract the claims that he made on three occasions in the House of Commons?

Environment—Main Estimates, 2012-13Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

May 16th, 1:10 a.m.

Conservative

Peter Kent Conservative Thornhill, ON

The short answer, Mr. Chair, is no. Our government appreciates the great service that charities across the spectrum provide in adding and supplementing in areas where government cannot necessarily provide services. Charities provide great support in areas of culture, the arts and, indeed, in health care and academia.

My points were referenced and included the environmental non-governmental organizations. My remarks reflected our government's concern about a small number of agencies in Canada with charitable status which, as evidence accumulates almost by the day, were putting their charitable status at risk by behaviour and by actions that were in violation of CRA regulation.

Environment—Main Estimates, 2012-13Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

May 16th, 1:15 a.m.

NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Chair, we simply need to ask the minister even understands the definition of money laundering. That, of course, is a criminal activity. What he has said tonight is that he has no proof of any criminal activity from these environmental charities.

I would like to move on to the issue of the minister's statement on January 12 in Calgary when he described the decision to withdraw from Kyoto as “an early Christmas present” to himself. Could he please explain what he meant by that?

Environment—Main Estimates, 2012-13Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

May 16th, 1:15 a.m.

Conservative

Peter Kent Conservative Thornhill, ON

First, Mr. Chair, the term that I used was a figure of speech. I could have used greenwashing. I could have used whitewashing and, as I have said in this House, I could have used shell game or three card monte, which is also an offence under the Canadian Criminal Code. However, these are only offences if criminal proceeds are involved.

It is a figure of speech. I am delighted that it caught the attention of those charities that may have been compromising their status. I am glad if it has caught the attention of the opposition and I am glad it has caught the attention of the Canadian public. I would hope that those charitable organization, which do have the benefit of charitable status, will conform with CRA regulation.

With regard to my early Christmas present, our government, since coming to power in 2006, had stated quite clearly that the Kyoto protocol was one of the largest single mistakes made by the previous Liberal government with any thought or consideration or due diligence. It was my honour to represent Canada, both at the Durban conference in December and upon the--

Environment—Main Estimates, 2012-13Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

May 16th, 1:15 a.m.

Conservative

The Assistant Deputy Chair Conservative Bruce Stanton

I have to stop the minister there. We just have one minute left.

The hon. member for Burnaby—New Westminster.

Environment—Main Estimates, 2012-13Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

May 16th, 1:15 a.m.

NDP

Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

I have two questions to conclude, Mr. Chair.

First, we had a recent media story that highlighted the amount of overtime charged by ministerial drivers. Environment Canada refused to release those overtime records. I would like to ask the minister why he refused to release those overtime records.

Second, I would like to point out to the minister, in the Accountable Government Guide it says that he must answer all questions pertaining to his areas of responsibility, correcting any inadvertent errors at the earliest opportunity. He has made an error tonight and in previous declarations in the House accusing environmental charitable organizations of criminal activity. He has the opportunity to withdraw and retract. We certainly hope that he will take that opportunity tonight.

Finally, will the minister commit to respond to the many questions we have asked him over the course of this evening that he was unable to respond to directly? He does have the responsibility to respond. Will he do so in the coming days?

Environment—Main Estimates, 2012-13Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

May 16th, 1:15 a.m.

Conservative

Michelle Rempel Conservative Calgary Centre-North, AB

Mr. Chair, with regard to the driver policy, I am certainly glad our Minister of the Environment is working hard. Anything to do with the policy is also subject to confidentiality terms, privacy terms as per Parliament.

With regard to the charitable status of political activities in this country, Canadians want to see charities work within the tax code. Surveys have been done that show that more than 80% of Canadians agree with what we put in budget 2010, which is ensuring compliance with the tax code. Charities do great work in our communities. We just want to make sure that, when people are giving their hard-earned dollars to charities, they are complying with the tax rules. That is all.

This is something the opposition should support. We want to make sure that scope is respected.

Environment—Main Estimates, 2012-13Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

May 16th, 1:15 a.m.

Conservative

The Assistant Deputy Chair Conservative Bruce Stanton

That will conclude the round. We have just one more round to go. It will be the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment. However, I should point out to hon. members that there is about eight minutes remaining in the time allocated for this evening's debate.

The hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment.

Environment—Main Estimates, 2012-13Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

May 16th, 1:15 a.m.

Calgary Centre-North Alberta

Conservative

Michelle Rempel ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment

Mr. Chair, I want to thank all my colleagues here on the government side for being with us tonight and doing such a great job. We have a great team here. It is 1:20 Wednesday morning, and it gives me great pride to work with my colleagues.

I want to speak about our plan for oil sands monitoring.

Over the last year, Canada has weathered economic storms, and few other countries in the world have succeeded in the same way we have. Oil sands and oil sands development have had an important part to play in this. They are an extremely important resource for Canada and a key driver of our economic development.

Our country's oil reserves, 97% of which are found in the oil sands, are third only to major producing nations such as Saudi Arabia and Venezuela in proven national oil supplies. The oil sands sector accounts for 2% of our GDP and accounted for more than $17 billion in capital investment in 2010.

Equally important to this government is that the oil sands are developed in an environmentally responsible way. While the leader of the opposition will travel across this country and try to tell Canadians it is okay to slander people in one region, who work in one sector, against people in another, Canadians know different. They know we are united under one banner.

We are united under an economy that provides jobs and opportunity for Canadians in an equal way. This equality, this unity, is something our government stands for, and as a government member, I am certainly proud to stand here tonight and talk about responsible resource development that will ensure jobs and economic growth for years to come for this country.

The sustainable development of Canada's oil sands will require discipline, focus and co-operation to protect the environment while realizing the full positive potential for all Canadians. That is exactly what our government is committed to doing.

Last July, we released our integrated environment monitoring plan for the oil sands, a plan that was developed in partnership with leading environmental scientists from across Canada. It outlined the elements needed for a world-class monitoring program with a comprehensive approach that covers water, air and biodiversity. Then in February, we released a joint implementation plan describing how we would work with the Government of Alberta and industry, in consultation with other key stakeholders, to put a world-class monitoring program in place.

Rather than slander the sector, we worked with the stakeholders, we worked with industry and we worked with the communities to put together a plan that would ensure this monitoring system was put in place in a sustainable way.

This plan will make Canada's oil sands monitoring among the best in the world. It optimizes existing provincial and federal environmental monitoring for water, air and biodiversity and is being carried out in an efficient manner as we utilize infrastructure that is in currently place. Monitoring will be comprehensive and integrated. We will seek advice from all stakeholders as we deliver on this plan. Implementation will be tracked through annual progress reports.

This new program will be subject to external scientific peer review at the end of the three-year implementation, and periodically thereafter. Therefore, in spite of what the opposition will say, there will be external peer review as part of this process.

This will ensure that we build and maintain one of the best environmental monitoring systems anywhere in the world. This is a democratic free country where we have oil reserves that are under a democratic government with a world-class oil sands monitoring program.

This collaboration and informed discussion are the cornerstones to success for an undertaking as complex and as important as the oil sands monitoring development project. We will make the system highly transparent. We will ensure that scientific data that is collected from our monitoring and analysis is publicly available with common quality assurance practices in place. As we move forward with the implementation of this program, we will continue to engage stakeholders, so they are informed each step of the way.

The governments of both Canada and Alberta have already committed significant resources to environmental monitoring. Industry has indicated it is willing to provide the additional funding required to implement the new monitoring activities and is working with the two governments to establish sustainable funding arrangements for the program.

Our plan for the oil sands monitoring is a direct result of the fact that this government listened and acted. We listened to environmental monitoring experts when they raised concerns about possible environmental impacts of the oil sands. We acted. We listened to an environmental advisory panel that recommended we develop a world-class, scientifically credible and trusted monitoring reporting system, which the Environment Commissioner noted as such in committee testimony.

We listened to Canadians who support the environmentally responsible development of this economic resource. We look forward to the next 12 months as our government is keenly interested in striking the right balance between economic renewal and environmental protection.

As we close off this hearing tonight, I think it is really important to note that our government is not interested in rhetoric or inflaming different regions against each other.

We want to ensure that our country is prosperous. We have seen the creation of hundreds of thousands of jobs since 2009. We have a plan to ensure that economic growth is created, and the energy sector is part of that. We are balancing that with a firm environmental stewardship plan that is funded in this budget. We have all sorts of excellent metrics in place through the oil sands monitoring program. We need to ensure that the rhetoric that is put in place by the NDP is not something that Canadians take to heart. This is about the sustainable development of our energy sector.

As an Albertan and as a Canadian, I certainly hope that my constituents' voices and the voices of all Canadians who are impacted by this important sector are listened to by the NDP and that the NDP will not continue this harmful, disuniting practice of pitting workers in one region against the other.

When we look at the government's track record, millions of dollars have been invested into programs that have created positive environmental impacts. My colleagues tonight have talked about the Lake Winnipeg Basin and the local conservation groups that we are supporting. Right now we are travelling across the country in the environment committee, but the NDP is not talking about that, listening to Canadians and talking about how we can engage local conservation groups in creating a national conservation plan framework, something that we committed to in our throne speech.

Instead of the Liberal Party that puts forward plans, grand international accords and sees greenhouse gas emissions rising, we are actually taking action. The most recent greenhouse gas emission trend report came forward. It showed that for the first time we are seeing economic growth in this country, and the stabilization of our greenhouse gas emissions.

Listening to Canadians and industry and coming up with a plan that balances economic growth with environmental stewardship is something that is prudent, it is something that Canadians want and it is something that I am certainly proud to support.

I am proud of our environment minister and proud of our team here.

Environment—Main Estimates, 2012-13Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

May 16th, 1:25 a.m.

Conservative

The Assistant Deputy Chair Conservative Bruce Stanton

It being 1:27 a.m., pursuant to Standing Order 81(4) all votes are deemed reported. The committee will rise and I will now leave the chair.

Environment—Main Estimates, 2012-13Business of SupplyGovernment Orders

May 16th, 1:25 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

This House stands adjourned until later today at 2:00 p.m. pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 1:28 a.m.)