Mr. Speaker, I rise today to address a bill that has several significant parts, a bill the official opposition will be supporting to study at committee. It has the electrifying title of an act to enact the Aviation Industry Indemnity Act, to amend the Aeronautics Act, the Canada Marine Act, the Marine Liability Act and the Canada Shipping Act, 2001 and to make consequential amendments to other Acts. While that might not seem all that gripping a title, the actual impacts and effects of the bill are significant and do mean something, particularly to the people I represent in northwestern British Columbia. Very specifically, these are the aspects around oil tanker traffic.
In northern British Columbia, a company out of Calgary called Enbridge is proposing the northern gateway pipeline. It is a pipeline that would stretch 1,100 kilometres from Alberta to B.C.'s coast at Kitimat. The company then proposes to put it into supertankers that would run the inside passage out Douglas Channel, make three hairpin turns on their way out to the open ocean, and then go on to, one presumes, China and the rest of Asia.
I specifically note China in this proposal, simply because the Chinese government has funded a large sum of the $100 million Enbridge has been using to promote its project. It is not an equity stake. It is just money given by the state-owned oil enterprise in China to promote a Canadian pipeline project. One wonders what the motivations are for companies, especially those state-owned by the Chinese government, to offer it up. It may be an administration that some admire, but others of us have some questions for it.
It seems to me that the aspect of this project that is worrisome to many of the people I represent, and this has been going on for a number of years, is the complete lack of social licence the company has been able to attain. That is, in part, aided, if I may use that term for such a scenario, by the Minister of Natural Resources, who has suggested that anyone who has concerns or questions about this project must be, in his words, a radical and a foreign-funded enemy of the state.
For a federal minister and a government to use such heated, overblown rhetoric, such offensive and abusive language, is obviously a desperate attempt to try to push a project that has failed time and time again to gain the social licence of the people who are along the route. It demonstrates a government that simply sees the Canadians who live along the proposed pipeline route, or who may be impacted by an oil spill from the supertankers implicated by the project, as simply in the way. They are seen not as citizens, not as people in the communities taking the most risk, but as a bothersome quotient for the government to simply bully and have removed.
Bill C-3 has some aspects that we, in the small measures that are made here, support. They deal particularly with liability for oil spills. The liability regime in Canada to this point has been incredibly weak. It is much weaker than the regime that exists in the United States and certainly is dramatically weaker than that which exists in Europe and many of our other trading partners.
If we look at the oil tanker accidents around the world, proving causal liability is one of the more difficult levels to attain in a court of law. Even when that is done, under Canadian law as it exists right now, the amount of damages the company is on the hook for is minimal.
The Canadian taxpayer is meant to pay the rest, and not just for the costs incurred in the actual emergency in deploying of the coast guard and other emergency services. For the eventual damages that would be awarded or given to the public, the companies are still restricted in their liability exposure. Who picks up the rest of the damages for the impact on fishing communities and other economies that are trying to exist? Never mind just the economic impact. There are the straight up environmental impacts. We see even in this bill an extension of the liability, but certainly nothing that would move toward full responsibility.
The companies themselves, Enbridge and others, which ship oil, have declared, perhaps to their credit, that they cannot guarantee that there will not be spills. The reason they cannot is that they have spilled so many times in the past.
There was a relatively recent incident in Michigan, near where your home riding is, Mr. Speaker, in Kalamazoo River, in which bitumen being shipped by Enbridge leaked out of a pipe. The Environmental Protection Agency in the United States, which conducted the review afterward, showed that the company was “the Keystone Kops”. The spill had been noted and the emergency lights went off in Calgary. They were shut down on three separate occasions while the spill into this river continued to exist. It is a relatively small river, by British Columbia standards, and it is very slow-moving and warm, conditions that would be more ideal, if there is such a thing in terms of cleaning up an oil spill. Still, the company desperately struggled to attain anything close to a cleanup.
We now know from British Columbia's assessment and from the Auditor General of Canada, concerning the ability to clean up oil in the marine environment, that success would be deemed somewhere around the 5% rate. If there were a major oil spill, the company's expectations and those of the Government of Canada and the Government of British Columbia for the amount of oil that would actually be recovered would be about 5% at best, because of the conditions that exist on B.C.'s north coast. It is recognized by anyone who has ever lived there or visited that we have a somewhat precarious set of environments in which it is difficult to gather back oil, particularly bitumen, which is the notion of many of the projects that the Conservative government is promoting.
This is the government's Wild West energy plan: to ship as much raw bitumen and material out of the oil sands as is humanly possible, thereby forgoing all of the economic benefits that would come with actually upgrading the oil, at least to a state where it would look like a more conventional oil that we have traditionally seen, and then upgrading again and refining that oil into products that consumers would actually use. These would be gas, diesel, and the rest of the products that come out of a refinery.
The challenge for us is that, on the environmental front, the Conservative government has been an obvious failure. The meetings going on right now in Poland with respect to climate change have Canada ahead of such environmental luminaries as Saudi Arabia, Iran and a third country, which escapes me. We are down in the pariah list when it comes to dealing with the impacts of carbon. There are very few behind us, and there are many, much poorer, countries ahead of us that are doing more to deal with climate change than the Conservative government has.
The government has completely abandoned even its own weakened targets, which is amazing. The Prime Minister's Office has to prepare better speaking notes for the new Minister of the Environment because on her way to Poland to these UN climate talks, she said that Canada is a leading voice for climate change and that it is doing its job. However, Environment Canada now says we will miss by a mile even the weak and very watered down targets that the government has set for Canada. We will be way above even those weak commitments we made to the global community.
With the increase in intensity of storms and natural disasters that are hitting, we know that these costs are real. We know the impacts of climate change that were predicted by climate scientists. We have said time and time again that we would see more dangerous impacts and more dangerous effects. We have yet to properly deal with and realize the impacts of a rising sea in the world and the impacts on those coastal communities on the Vancouver Lower Mainland, on our east coast and in the far north.
We know that these impacts are real and we know that these impacts are expensive. These impacts are destabilizing, and we have a government that refuses to even follow its own weak targets and projections. It then says to the industry and to the broader Canadian public that Canada is doing its part. That is hogwash. The government knows it. No one believes its spin. The fact is that it is more dangerous than just the typical lies and half truths we get from government, because this one has real generational impact.
On this particular bill, the government has gone to some half measures. The member for Burnaby—New Westminster attempted to expand the scope, because if we want to deal with certainty and the public interest when it comes to shipping oil or raw bitumen through tankers, we need to deal with the full scale of interests, bring liability rates up to the proper level that would be even a medium global standard and deal with the impacts of the cuts that the same government has made to our ability to deal with oil spills: the cuts to the Canadian Coast Guard; the shutting down of the Kitsilano base; the shutting down of the oil spill response centre in British Columbia.
Here is an ironic moment. We have a government that is out shelling for industry, pushing every pipeline it can find and saying we are going to have the best standards in the world, yet at the same time presenting a budget that we vote against, which shuts down the B.C. oil spill response centre, the very thing that is meant to reassure the public in the event of an accident, which is somewhat inevitable in the oil industry. The very centre that is charged with dealing with an oil spill response is the very centre that these guys thought they should shut down, and then say to the public, “Never mind, never worry”. It is a fact that the public paid attention to.
There was the shutting down of the Kitsilano Coast Guard base, one of the busiest in the country, thereby increasing dramatically the response times for people in distress on the water when accidents occur. We have very heavy traffic around Vancouver, not just with tankers and cargo ships but with ferries and personal pleasure craft. However, with an increasingly busy marine environment, these guys said that shutting down the Coast Guard base was a good idea. Meanwhile, they have billions and billions to spend on pet projects and tax incentives, which do not work, for companies that are already in the massive profit range, so taken in full, it is no wonder that Canadians, particularly British Columbians, have lost complete faith in the current government's intention or its ability to deal with the impacts of heavy industry development.
The Conservatives have proposed their pipelines and they insult any Canadian who happens to have questions or concerns, which I think are natural. As Canadians, it is not only our right but our duty to hold government to account, which is what New Democrats do here as the official opposition to the government each and every day.
When we talk about defending our coasts, we are actually talking about defending Canadian values, such as the right to speech without being bullied by government and ministers of the crown and the right of first nation people to be duly consulted and accommodated, but the Conservative government treats that as an afterthought. When did constitutional requirements become an afterthought for the federal government of Canada?
First nations have had to go to court time and time again. There are various cases, many of them emanating from the first nations of northern British Columbia, such as the Haida case, the Delgamuukw case with the Wet’suwet’en and the Gitksan and many other cases that followed, to prove what we all know: first nations have rights and title to the land.
However, when it comes to the tanker traffic and the pipelines that are proposed, first nations are treated as if they were some sort of “special interest group”, as the current government calls them. They are not a special interest group. They are a group that is at the heart of this conversation, but they are treated with such disrespect.
The other day, I asked a first nation leader what specific things the federal government could do to help first nation communities across Canada. He asked me to please ask the Conservatives to stop suing them, because it is costing them millions upon millions of dollars in litigation to prove something that has been proven time and time again: that there is a duty owed to the first nations by the federal government to consult and accommodate. That is not up for debate. It is not up for some token that can be traded back and forth.
The government whip, who represents Vancouver Island North and deals with many first nations across Vancouver Island, knows that these responsibilities cannot simply be dismissed; or because there is some industrial imperative or some oil lobby that the government is cozying up to, it pushes those rights and titles out of the way. That is a fallacy and, ironically enough, it creates an enormous amount of uncertainty for the oil and gas sector, the industry to which the government spends so much of its time pandering.
The same Conservative government has sowed the seeds of doubt with the Canadian public by stripping away basic environmental protections, like the Navigable Waters Protection Act. The Environmental Assessment Act has been weakened. Previously, the federal government enacted somewhere between 3,000 and 4,000 environmental assessments a year. The Auditor General of Canada now tells us that those assessments will be reduced down to between 12 and 15 per year, under the Conservative government's stripping away of protections.
The Fisheries Act has been completely gutted. It was one of our foundational acts to protect what was considered an important economic generator for the country, as this habitat can be impacted by industrial development. The fish habitat was important to maintain our fisheries. There was no more important act in the Canadian law and jurisprudence, because it had been relied upon time and time again to hold industry to some level of account and make sure the projects it built did not leave massive legacies.
Last year, as my friend for Yukon would know, we Canadian taxpayers spent somewhere in the order of $150 million to clean up old abandoned orphaned mines that were leaking into the environment. That was $150 million just last year for no noticeable economic benefit. We had legislation in place at the time those mines were built, in the 1950s, 60s and 70s, that did not properly protect the environment; so we have learned that if we have the wrong guidelines for industry, most of industry will attempt to hold things to a higher standard than the government calls for, but some will not. Some will cut corners.
If a government allows them to do it, as the government does, the legacies will last for generations to come. The acid leaching of some of these mines is incredibly damaging to things we care about, like drinking water, like fisheries. We have a government that refuses to remember the lessons that were so hard learned and continue to be so expensive.
We come to this bill, Bill C-3, which is a small attempt of the government. We can see how much interest the government has in speaking to this bill. In the last Parliament, before the government killed the legislation, it had one speaker at second reading and made a few passing comments, and that was it. This is supposed to be a priority for the government. It makes no argument, no support for the legislation.
I do not know if there are going to be government speakers today. I look forward to hearing what Conservatives actually think and maybe to hearing it address some of the concerns of Canadians that exist regarding the legislation: that the scope is so narrow that it does not expand a full and proper liability; that it does not address all the other aspects of shipping oil by water, which exist and are realities and create uncertainty for industry.
If the public does not have confidence in the process, which it does not with the government running the show, then how will industry gain that social licence it so desperately needs, to actually create those jobs that the government is so keen to talk about?
We are all for promoting the resource sector. We have to do it under guidelines that promote the very best, not encourage the very worst. We see the government, time and time again, stripping away environmental protections, dismissing first nations' obligations, not holding and creating proper liability regimes; so that this creates no certainty for industry. This creates no confidence among the public.
Coming from a resource part of the world, I deal with many industries, which seek this social licence and community support for their projects. Their investors seek that same support. This has bottom-line impacts. Ask Enbridge how it is going, with the fake ads about shipping oil and how incredibly safe it is, when we know the facts are otherwise. The Conservatives simply cannot outspend the public will or cover over a bunch of lies with a bunch of ads in between hockey games and pretend that will somehow gain the social licence and support.
Enbridge has a partner in the government, which continually lowers the bar, waters down what few regulations we have to protect the environment, and then pretends we still have world-class standards. How can that be true? The government members will repeat it today, if they bother to speak at all, and say we have world-class standards. If they just spent the last six or seven years destroying aspects of environmental legislation, watering down and gutting the Fisheries Act, cutting Coast Guard funding, cutting funding to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, removing things and protections that Canadians relied upon, they still cannot have world-class, leading standards. That is simply not true.
Conservatives cannot have it both ways. If they cut all those protections for Canadians, then clearly they have not maintained any sense of having the basic understanding of what it is to develop industry.
Industry needs a couple of things. It needs a fair set of rules. It needs consistent application of those rules. It needs an investment climate that allows for investors to feel confidence in these major investments, because none of these projects that are entertained in this kind of bill are small. They start at a few billion dollars and go up from there, and they last a certain amount of time.
The Enbridge northern gateway predicts it would be around for 45 or 50 years, give or take. Under that regime, it would also have about 12,000 supertanker sailings through some of the more treacherous waters known around the world. There would be 12,000 sailings with weak protection and minimal ability to clean up in the event of a spill, as has been reported by the federal Auditor General and has been reported by a study by the British Columbia government. These are not the wild-eyed, wide-eyed environmentalists that Conservatives always like to point at.
We know for a fact that, time and time again, the government in its pandering to one small interest group, the oil sector, has actually weakened the argument for the oil sector's ability to actually promote projects. It has weakened the ability of industry to have the confidence of the Canadian public, which it needs to build the projects it wishes to build.
Why not take a step back for a moment and listen to some of the critics rather than trying to insult and bully them? Why not step back for a moment and develop a national strategy for our energy, as the Premier of Alberta and many other premiers across the country have asked for?
Industry has asked for it and the Canadian public has asked for it, yet the government sits on its hands and pretends that photo ops and spin are going to get the job done, along with bills that go only halfway. New Democrats will support the bill and try to improve the bill. We will allow Parliament to do its work and hear from witnesses and experts who know a lot more about this than anybody sitting over there.
Again, the government has a missed opportunity. It could do so much more both for industry and the public, and a failure on the government's part will do nothing for the Canadian economy and certainly nothing for the Canadian environment.