Mr. Speaker, the motion moved by our NDP colleague, the hon. member for Drummond, calls on this House to speak out against the Gros-Cacouna oil terminal project. This motion is premature since a comprehensive environmental assessment of the project has not been done yet.
However, what is troubling is that the Conservative government is not showing any signs that it is interested in moving ahead with a comprehensive environmental assessment. That is unacceptable and must be condemned. That is what I hope to do on behalf of the Liberal caucus in the 20 minutes I have been given. First, what is this project?
TransCanada's energy east pipeline project is a planned 4,600-kilometre crude oil pipeline, which would run west to east from Alberta to existing refineries in new terminals in Quebec and New Brunswick. The marine terminals would be used to export oil to international markets. The Cacouna terminal area near Rivière-du-Loup on the St. Lawrence River is one of the project's potential marine terminals.
TransCanada has not yet submitted the energy east project to the National Energy Board for review and approval, and thus the project has yet to receive an environmental assessment. That is why we cannot rule on this project now. We do not yet have the environmental assessment.
However, as part of an eventual National Energy Board application, TransCanada is conducting exploratory work around the feasibility of developing a port in Cacouna. To do this, TransCanada filed an application with the federal government and with the Quebec environment ministry, which issued a permit allowing the company to drill into the seabed in order to decide where to place the terminal.
On September 23, 2014, Quebec's Superior Court granted a temporary injunction to stop seismic surveys in Cacouna until October 15. The court found that the province never had the information required to assess whether or not the belugas would be put at risk, because the environmental science division of the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans withheld scientific information.
Those are the facts.
The first observation is that Canada needs new infrastructure to move our energy resources to domestic and global markets. The second observation is that these projects must earn the trust of local communities and cannot ignore the implications for coastal economies and for the environment.
That is why we Liberals are deeply concerned that the Conservative government deliberately withheld the information needed to assess the impact of the explorations being conducted at Cacouna. This is yet another example of the Conservative government preventing scientists and evidence from informing decision-making on project development.
In that respect, the Quebec Superior Court ruling is damning for the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans. I want to share with you the main thrust of the Quebec Superior Court ruling. Last spring, TransCanada began conducting geophysical surveys in Cacouna. Before the permit was granted, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans consulted with its beluga experts, including Ms. Lesage, Mr. Hammil, Mr. Cyr, Mr. Gosselin, Mr. McQuinn and Mr. Simard. There were at least six experts.
Their verdict was that the work could not be carried out after the spring, because summer and fall are critical to the birth and nursing of belugas. However, in May and July, Fisheries and Oceans Canada issued an opinion and a permit without consulting the previously mentioned scientists regarding the second phase of work, the drilling that was supposed to take place in the summer and fall during the critical period for the birth and nursing of belugas.
Why are they no longer experts all of a sudden? They are experts in the spring, but not in the summer and fall. No, the minister no longer consults with these experts. Perhaps she was afraid of their recommendations. Instead, the minister is satisfied to issue an opinion in favour of summer and fall drilling, drafted by Alain Kemp, who is not an expert on belugas. That is the sad truth. That is what is happening in the department, and we must denounce it today.
The Department of Fisheries and Oceans then sent a letter in favour of drilling to the Quebec ministry of sustainable development, the environment and the fight against climate change. This letter was not signed by an expert, but by the director of sciences, Yves de Lafontaine, an administrator who knows nothing about belugas.
However, Robert Michaud, an independent scientist—and unquestionably one of the best experts on the St. Lawrence belugas in Canada, if not in the world—prepared an affidavit basically saying that the opinion of Fisheries and Oceans Canada does not meet the legislative requirements in terms of having the best scientific information available, and that the operations will certainly harm the belugas.
Has the minister seen the affidavit of one of our best experts, Robert Michaud? Has my colleague seen it? Why did he not talk about it in his speech?
Ms. Jean, who was responsible for the file at the Quebec ministry of sustainable development, the environment and the fight against climate change, was faced with conflicting advice. Knowing that under Quebec and Canadian law a permit can be issued only on the basis of the best scientific advice, she asked, virtually begged, for a scientific opinion from Fisheries and Oceans Canada several times. She has been unfairly judged in the last little while. However, this was not her fault as she did everything she could.
She was not satisfied with the advice from Mr. Kemp or the letter from Mr. Yves de Lafontaine, and rightly so, because he is not a beluga expert but an administrator. Ms. Jean never got what she asked for from the department. Why did the minister not facilitate the exchange of scientific information between governments, which is a good practice of federalism essential to the common good?
I will quote article 88 of the Quebec Superior Court ruling:
[The Department of Fisheries and Oceans] is withholding the requested scientific information.
Let us be honest, no scientific advice was provided. The ruling then says:
It did not respond to...questions asked by the [Quebec ministry]....It simply reiterated information that the [Quebec] minister already had and that was cause for concern, but provided no additional explanation.
Quebec already had the bundle of documents my colleague mentioned, and that was not what it was asking. The Fisheries and Oceans experts had the information, but the minister refused to let them talk. She muzzled them and did not consult them.
Too bad for the belugas and too bad for the project. That is how the Conservatives do things, and that is why we have to be very worried about their approach. That is not good federalism, good environmental policy or good economic policy.
In a last-ditch attempt, Ms. Jean called Dr. Véronique Lesage, an expert on marine mammals at Fisheries and Oceans Canada, directly and more than once. The record of their conversation is in the court documents. It shows that Ms. Lesage was not consulted by her department, even though she is an expert. It also shows that she referred Ms. Jean to her superiors and she said that Mr. Michaud's affidavit was accurate. In other words, the best scientific information was consistent with Mr. Michaud's opinion, which contradicted the opinion of Fisheries and Oceans Canada drafted by Mr. Kemp, who is not an expert on belugas. This opinion supported drilling in the fall.
Quebec then issued a permit, which the judge suspended by means of an injunction. The judge was of the opinion that the process was dubious, since Fisheries and Oceans Canada had not issued any scientific advice from which to proceed.
None of this would have happened if the federal minister had listened to her scientists and shared that information, in the spirit of federalism, with the Government of Quebec.
By doing what she did, she hurt the environment and showed how little she cares about the survival of the iconic beluga. The minister weakened the credibility of the assessment and consultation process, which is essential to moving forward with the project.
Does the minister at least realize that the St. Lawrence beluga has been a threatened species for more than 20 years, pursuant to the Species at Risk Act? According to this act, a scientific committee must be formed and a recovery strategy must be drafted. This strategy must identify the critical habitat to be fully protected.
Does the minister realize that all of this was done and that the revised strategy was completed nearly three years ago? The sector in which TransCanada/energy east wants to build its port is in a critical habitat, deemed to be essential to the survival of the beluga species.
For the recovery strategy and critical habitat to work, the Minister of the Environment has to acknowledge receipt of the strategy, recognize it and recognize the critical habitat defined in the strategy. For the past three years, however, the Minister of the Environment has not acknowledged receipt of a single document concerning any marine mammal species at risk in Canada forwarded by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. Why?
Why has she not acknowledged receipt and recognized the importance of protecting belugas off the coast of Cacouna? What is going on? What is the government trying to protect at the expense of sustainable development here? Why all the secrets? Why refuse to take action? Why the lack of transparency that is having such a detrimental effect on sustainable development? Why refuse to listen to scientists?
It is not surprising that in her latest report released this week, the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development concluded that under the Conservatives, environmental assessments have lacked clarity and transparency.
To conclude, the Liberals have been consistent in calling for stronger environmental protections and in pushing for a more substantive project review process. That is what our leader, the MP for Papineau, is determined to deliver for the sake of our environment and our economy: sound, sustainable development for all Canadians.