Mr. Speaker, it is with some pleasure that I rise to debate Bill C-3 today. I want to underline the fact that it is today because as many Canadians would know, it is also today that the federal government will make its long awaited announcement on the Enbridge northern gateway project at some point this afternoon.
This was a decision and a burden that the Conservative government and the Prime Minister gave to themselves. Previously in Canadian law, any such decisions of this scope and magnitude were handled entirely by the National Energy Board, an organization that was meant to be arm's-length from government and was tasked with promoting energy exports. Some would offer that it might be a challenge or a conflict of interest at times because it is a panel that is tasked with promoting exports and encouraging that to happen, but is also playing the role of watchdog and protecting the public's interests. Sometimes, such as in this case, that has been challenging.
Today by midnight tonight is when the government has to make the decision on Enbridge northern gateway. The government has lost so much faith with the public when it comes to oil spills and the maintenance of the oil industry. My Conservative colleagues can chuckle, but the unfortunate thing is they are entitled to those opinions and not their own facts. The facts state that Canadian public support for transit of oil through pipeline and rail has dropped dramatically since the government took office.
One might ask why that is. I suppose Conservatives, from a particularly cynical line of political thought, thought that they could sort of pull one over on the public, that the public would not notice if the Conservatives since taking office have systematically undermined and downgraded environmental protection laws in Canada, have systematically taken out the major pieces of protection that Canadians have enjoyed for many years rather than enhance them.
Over the last number of weeks we have seen the Conservatives on a pipeline and supertanker charm offensive on both coasts, but particularly on the west coast, where Conservative minister after minister is swooping in to show the public that suddenly they are very concerned with oil spills and with protecting the public. I would argue that it is important to know the government by its actions, not by its words. If we judged the Conservatives by their actions, we would come to a very clear and concise opinion about who they think is really important.
I can say that the oil lobby is particularly thrilled, but Canadians, particularly those living on a pipeline route or under the threat of new or increased supertanker traffic, know the Conservatives are not on their side. This is the government that closed down coast guard bases, bases like Kitsilano that is one of the busiest coast guard bases in the entire country, handling an enormous amount of traffic.
This is the government that scrapped the Navigable Waters Protection Act, an act that had existed for almost a century in Canada. Excuse me, I misspoke, Conservatives did keep some rivers and lakes protected by the Navigable Waters Protection Act, but those are the lakes that exist in cottage country north of Ontario. Those are the lakes and rivers the Conservatives deemed to be important to protect. All of the rest were deemed not so important.
New Democrats have been standing in the House day after day, attempting to reintroduce those lakes into protection, reintroduce those rivers into some form of protection. That is what Canadians want because we are attached to our rivers and lakes. We are a nation of great expanse and imagination. We believe in the idea that Canada as a settled but wild place, a place where people can experience a country that is truly vast and magnificent, also has with it some responsibility to protect those spaces.
The government gutted the Environmental Assessment Act. According to the Auditor General of Canada, assessments in Canada ranged between 3,000 and 5,000 a year. That is 3,000 and 5,000 different projects a year, mines, pipelines, and whatnot, that went through some sort of environmental review. For those who have ever been involved, this is a public hearing where a proponent has to bring evidence and show in testimony and the public gets to ask questions.
The Conservatives have taken those 3,000 to 5,000 assessments a year and reduced them down from what the Auditor General estimates to between 12 and 15 assessments a year. All those other projects, hundreds and thousands of projects, thousands of mines and pipelines will simply not get an environmental review.
The few that do get a review, as we have now seen through new legislation and regulations the Conservatives have introduced, limit the public's ability to go to the hearings and cross-examine the proponents, the oil companies and the mining companies.
The Conservatives have so narrowly defined who matters, it is now being brought up in court, as is so often the case with Conservative legislation and laws. They make them so badly, and so often make them against the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, that Canadians are forced to go to court to protect that charter. The Conservatives spend millions of taxpayers' dollars trying to undermine the charter with these draconian pieces of legislation that take away values and the rights of Canadians, and they lose, time and time again.
It is at the point where the Conservatives cannot even get a judge nominated to the Supreme Court without violating some fundamental piece of our Constitution. It is incredible the hubris. Yet we can understand it with a government that has been too long in power. It grows in arrogance. It grows in the sense of entitlement. We have seen this movie before in Canada. It is lamentable, because the Conservatives came in riding the white knight of accountability, riding the cause and the celebrated idea of having a more open and transparent government. However, according to the Ethics Commissioner, the Privacy Commissioner, and the Parliamentary Budget Officer, all of the watchdogs of Parliament, the government has become, and is, the most secretive in Canadian history. It denies Canadians the basic right to information they have constitutionally protected. This is what the Conservatives have become.
It was also the Conservatives who gutted the Fisheries Act, one of the most fundamental pieces of protection of the fisheries in Canada, which has been an historical and important part of our industry and society. It said that companies can now go in and destroy fish habitat, where fish spawn, with no consequence whatsoever, without triggering any kind of assessment or any kind of public hearing.
That is okay under the Conservatives' world view. The private sector dominates all. They have limited liability across a whole series of sectors. What is limited liability? That is when the government comes in with a rule to subsidize and support certain industries. It picks winners and losers. There are certain industries that do not enjoy this favouritism from the government, but the oil industry is one that absolutely does. The Conservatives insert a liability cap on damages in the event of any major accident in which there are significant and serious costs, both for cleanup and to pay damages to those who have lost businesses or their homes. Heaven forbid, under the Conservatives' world view, that the company that causes the pollution, that causes the spill from a pipeline or a tanker, should pay for the cost of damages. The Conservatives use terms like the “polluter pay principle”, but only sometimes and only to a certain amount. That is the Conservatives' view of the world.
Limited liability, this reducing the risk for certain industrial players, causes all sorts of consequences. It is not just the idea that the public has to pay any expenses above. An example is that under certain of these acts, there is a $500-million cap for oil spills. People might say that $500 million is a lot of money, and maybe that is enough. However, the spill from the Exxon Valdez , which happened just north of my riding in northwestern B.C., hit $3.5 billion. Under the Conservative law, who would pay the remainder, the $3 billion or more? That would be the Canadian public.
For the Kalamazoo spill in Michigan, by Enbridge, that happened just a couple of years ago, it is $1.1 billion and counting. They have been at it for three years. They have dredged up the whole bottom of the river, and they are still paying. Under the Conservatives' world view, it would be the public paying for that incompetence by an oil company.
This is not to suggest that these oil companies do not have the resources to pay for this. I did not look at oil prices today, but it is somewhere north of $100, certainly. They are clearing massive profits, historically high profits. These folks can afford to pay for the operations they perform.
The second consequence, aside from the public paying, is that if an industry knows, as the investment industry knew in the United States that there was a certain liability protection they had and that certain banks were “too big to fail”, over time it encourages very bad, risky behaviour. Fundamentally, all of those investors knew that even if this thing went totally wrong, they would not be on the hook.
Imagine going to a casino or the racetrack and the government saying, “No matter what, you cannot lose money today. We will cap it at $50”. Most Canadians would pick a horse that is 100 to one. Why not? They would put $100 on it and put more on the next one, because there would be no way to lose. The only upside would be that we would get to pick long shots, which would encourage risky behaviour.
The companies will not admit to this, but that is human behaviour. Unless they have somehow changed the genetic code in oil companies to make humans into something we are not, if they encourage risky behaviour, over time humans will take those risks. At the end, we will wake up one morning and turn on the CBC news and hear that there was a tragic accident last night and there is oil spilling, as it does; in Enbridge's case, it has been 900 times just in the last decade. It is lamentable, and the homeowners are upset, and ranchers are worried, and fishermen are losing their business. When they do the investigation, it will turn out to be from human error, again. Who will pick up the tab? The companies will, up to a little bit. Everything beyond that will come to the taxpayers of Canada.
If we think of all of the industries in the world we would want to subsidize, the oil industry would not be on the top of the list. It makes an inordinate amount of profit. Gas prices in Canada today are $1.30 to $1.40 a litre. Some say it is doing too fine. It is certainly doing fine enough.
This is the Conservative government that shut down B.C.'s regulatory oil spill response team. The Conservatives cancelled that and fired everyone in charge of oil spill response on the west coast. They wonder why the public raises suspicions. This is a government that has a fund, as Liberal governments had previously, that shippers at one point had to contribute to. That fund has gone up to $400 million, having contributed to it since 1976, and the government is fine with that and believes it is enough money to handle all incidents of all the oil spills in the country, not just one. As I have described, some of these oil spills can be incredibly expensive.
In Bill C-3, the government made some small moves to improve a disastrous situation and make it less disastrous.
When people are in the process of potential rehabilitation for their actions, we want to encourage any small steps they make. Therefore, the NDP at committee encouraged the baby steps being made by the government and made amendments based on the testimony of the witnesses we heard. I know that is radical and may be contrary to the world view of the Conservatives, but we listen to witnesses who come to committee that know more about an issue than MPs do. We take their advice and write it up into nicely worded amendments as changes to a bill, but consistently, time and time again, the Conservatives reject them. One would think that at committee they would offer some alternative or say why they are rejecting them and that they have counter evidence that is better or more informed, but they do not.
All opposition MPs have witnessed it. We have all been there when we have put forward a motion and we stare at five blank Conservative faces across the way. When it is time for the vote, we make our case and say, “This is based on witness so-and-so. This is how it will help this bill and how it will help the Canadian public and protect the public”. The Conservatives just stare at us with nothing going on and vote against it. It happens over and over again.
If this is just a political exercise, so be it. People can choose to make themselves look ignorant. That is a choice others make. The fact is, this impacts Canadian lives and Canadian industry and uncertainty. I have argued for quite a while, although it may be a slightly counterintuitive position, that for reasons of social licence and the idea of winning over the public, the Conservatives have been no friend of the oil industry. We have seen this just recently.
The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, the main lobby group in Canada for the oil industry, distanced itself from the Conservative position on a whole variety of things, particularly the ads they had been running. When the oil lobby abandons the government and says it would like to not be associated with it, we know that the government has a problem.
The Conservatives like to talk about radicals. That is what radicals look like in action. They so denigrated the faith of the public in government to protect our general and collective interests that the public has said that it no longer grants the government a social licence to operate.
When the Conservatives come out with their announcement this afternoon and give the green light and thumbs up to Enbridge northern gateway, we do not believe that the public will be swayed one bit, because the Conservatives have completely lost their faith. They have forgotten one very fundamental principal in this place, which is that governments can grant permits, but only people can grant permission. The government has forgotten that, and in forgetting that, we see the arrogance and bullying we have seen time and again.
People have raised concerns about the northern gateway pipeline going through northern B.C. It goes right through my home and the homes of the people I represent. The government has suggested that in raising those concerns, those people must be foreign-funded radicals. That is what the minister called them in a letter issued out of the Prime Minister's Office. He said that they must be enemies of the state. That is what they called me, my friends, and my community members for having raised questions about a pipeline that threatens our very way of life.
I do not think that is anti-Canadian. I think it is very Canadian to raise questions, to raise our voices, to stand shoulder to shoulder, first nation with non-first nation, community to community, to say that our voices count in the conversation of Canada, that we will not be marginalized, and that we will not be bullied by a government, any government, of any political stripe.
Conservatives should know this. The Conservatives used to decry the heavy-handed tactics of Ottawa when it comes to energy policy. Some will remember this. How does Ottawa know best for the west? I remember this. Arrogant Liberal governments came in and imposed plans that western Canada did not want, and western Canadians reacted.
Now we see it in the reverse: a pipeline that Canadians on the west coast of British Columbia do not want, at a level of 66% or more. We have 130-plus first nations that have told the government, ”Do not do this thing”. The Union of B.C. Municipalities and the B.C. government have all told the government, “No” and “What part of 'no' do you not understand?”
The government, in a few short hours, is poised to ignore all of that and say that those people must be radicals. They must be enemies of Canada. All those people, two-thirds of the province of British Columbia, the Government of British Columbia, 130 first nations and more, the Union of B.C. Municipalities, and the mayors and councillors of British Columbia must be enemies of Canada. That is the Conservatives' world view, because they have so attached themselves to one bad pipeline. The arrogance has grown so much with the current Prime Minister that he cannot imagine stepping back. He cannot imagine taking a breath and realizing that there may be other things that are more important.
Here is a secondary concern, as if all that were not bad enough. As I was talking to first nation leaders in B.C. over the weekend and again last night, they said that if the Conservatives force this project down the throats of British Columbians against the rights and titles of first nations in B.C., not only will this pipeline never get built, but it will so poison the relationship that is already in a terrible state between first nations and the Government of Canada that other projects, other industries, will also be threatened. The ability to get agreements and deals done in B.C. between industrial players and the first nations of B.C. will be jeopardized.
All that is at stake—the relationship between the crown and an important place like British Columbia, the ability to get other industrial development done, such as liquefied natural gas, mining, and other industrial projects—the government is willing to threaten for the sake of one bad pipeline. That is the equation the Prime Minister is going to make this afternoon. That is the test he is facing as a leader in this country this afternoon.
I lament that he will fail that test. I am saddened by the fact that he will fail this test of leadership because he is unable to see the forest for the trees. He is unable to see past his own belligerence and his own determination to have it his way or the highway. He is going to ram through all of those objections. He somehow thinks that we are going to back down; that the first nations, which have constitutionally protected rights and title in this country, are suddenly going to forgo those rights; that the people in B.C. who voted against this thing two-thirds to one-third are not going to show up at the ballot box in 2015 and kick Conservative MPs out who stand on the wrong side of this issue; and that the Union of B.C. Municipalities and the Government of B.C. are suddenly just going to walk away from their opposition to this pipeline that threatens who we are.
It is a most Canadian response. When threatened at a core level, at a values level, at the ability to raise our kids in a healthy environment and hope for their better future, it is a most Canadian reaction to stand up and resist. It is a most Canadian reaction to say to a government that has grown so arrogant and so content with its privilege and its power, whose members have become so accustomed to those limos that they cannot find a way--