House of Commons Hansard #162 of the 41st Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was regard.



11 a.m.


The Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

It is my duty to inform the House that a vacancy has occurred in the representation, namely Mr. Thibeault, member for the electoral district of Sudbury, by resignation effective Monday, January 5, 2015.

Pursuant to subsection 25(1)(b) of the Parliament of Canada Act, I have addressed my warrant to the Chief Electoral Officer for the issue of a writ for the election of a member to fill this vacancy.

Message from the Senate

11 a.m.


The Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

I have the honour to inform the House that a message has been received from the Senate informing this House that the Senate has passed the following bill, to which the concurrence of the House is desired: Bill S-7, An Act to amend the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, the Civil Marriage Act and the Criminal Code and to make consequential amendments to other Acts.

The House proceeded to the consideration of Bill C-518, An Act to amend the Members of Parliament Retiring Allowances Act (withdrawal allowance), as reported with amendment from the committee.

Speaker's RulingProtecting Taxpayers and Revoking Pensions of Convicted Politicians ActPrivate Members' Business

11 a.m.


The Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

There are three motions in amendment standing on the notice paper for the report stage of Bill C-518.

Motion No. 3 will not be selected by the Chair as it could have been presented in committee.

Motions Nos. 1 and 2 will be grouped for debate and voted upon according to the voting pattern available at the table.

I will now put Motions Nos. 1 and 2 to the House.

Motions in AmendmentProtecting Taxpayers and Revoking Pensions of Convicted Politicians ActPrivate Members' Business

11:05 a.m.


Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC


Motion No. 1

That Bill C-518, in Clause 2, be amended by replacing lines 12 to 16 on page 1 with the following:

“ceases or has ceased to be a member and who, on or after the day on which this subsection comes into force, is either convicted of an offence under the Criminal Code mentioned in subsection (4) or sentenced to a term of imprisonment of five years or more for an offence under any other Act of Parliament, if the offence arose out of conduct that in whole or in part occurred while the person was a member, a”

Motion No. 2

That Bill C-518, in Clause 3, be amended by replacing lines 20 to 25 on page 3 with the following:

“ceases or has ceased to be a member and who, on or after the day on which this subsection comes into force, is either convicted of an offence under the Criminal Code mentioned in subsection 19(4) or sentenced to a term of imprisonment of five years or more for an offence under any other Act of Parliament, if the offence arose out of conduct that in whole or in part occurred while the person was a member, a withdrawal”

Mr. Speaker, I would like to wish you and all of the members here today a happy new year. We have a lot of work to do in the House of Commons over the coming months. Even though I was sad to leave my friends and family in Burnaby—New Westminster, I am pleased that we are all here to work for the people, for Canadians.

I think that this bill will be of great interest to Canadians. The Conservatives' amendments to this bill will also be of interest to people across the country. I am therefore pleased to rise in the House to deliver the first speech of 2015 and talk about Bill C-518.

As members know, the NDP was in favour of the bill in principle. In fact, when the bill was originally presented, we raised the fact that the former NDP government in Nova Scotia was a pioneer in this regard. It presented legislation in the Nova Scotia legislature that took away the ability of representatives who have been convicted to be able to fall back on a pension, coming out of that conviction. We supported it in principle, and we supported bringing it to committee.

Then, what I can only consider to be the centralized control of the Prime Minister's Office kicked in around this particular bill. That is why we are offering the amendments that have just been proposed by the Speaker. They are amendments that seek to close the loopholes that were opened up in committee. We certainly hope that the Conservative members of Parliament will support the amendments we are bringing forward. We believe that most Canadians support those amendments as well.

When this bill was brought forward, we raised the very clear concerns about loopholes around acts of Parliament that are violated. As we know, when an act of Parliament is violated, it is a serious breach of trust by any member of Parliament. We have seen it particularly in the Senate with Conservative and Liberal senators, but also here in the House of Commons. We can think of the former member Dean Del Mastro, who resigned just before Christmas.

Crimes were committed. In the case of Mr. Del Mastro, he was convicted in court. Crimes were brought about by this particular member of Parliament, and we felt it important that the legislation, Bill C-518, actually reference those criminal violations, which result from a violation of an act of Parliament.

To our surprise, in the heat of the scandal around Mr. Del Mastro, Conservative members at the committee that was given the task of studying Bill C-518 actually put in place an amendment that would simply subtract these types of criminal violations from the overall thrust of the bill. I do not fault the member who proposed the bill for this. I think he is very well meaning in this regard. I have a sense that he believes that the bill should cover every member of Parliament convicted of serious criminal violations including acts of Parliament.

However, at committee, the order came down, as we have seen with other pieces of legislation brought forward by Conservative members. The order came down from the Prime Minister's Office, I can only assume, and it basically subtracted any criminal violation of an act of Parliament from the overall thrust of the bill.

What does that mean? It means that there is the Del Mastro loophole, which is a sizeable loophole in this legislation. If this legislation were passed as is, it would allow the Conservative and Liberal senators the violations that they have committed, as well as violations that we have seen in the case of Dean Del Mastro. Even when it is a serious criminal conviction, the bill, as amended by the Conservatives in committee, would not allow for their retiring allowance to be withdrawn.

What we have is this curious cherry-picking of what offences would and would not be included. That is why we decided to bring forward the two motions, the amendments we have brought forward today. The idea is to assure that any serious violation or criminal conviction that includes violations of acts of Parliament, which are certainly breaches of trust by any member of Parliament as part of our duties to uphold the acts, be considered in withdrawing the retiring allowance.

That is why we are moving these two motions, and we hope the government members will support them.

The motion reads in part as follows: either convicted of an offence under the Criminal Code mentioned in subsection (4)...

This covers offences already included in the bill, as amended by the members of the committee, which has a Conservative majority.

The motion continues:

...or sentenced to a term of imprisonment of five years or more for an offence under any other Act of Parliament....

We would then be able to strip these members of their pensions.

Currently, there is a list that includes certain offences and of course refers to provisions of the Criminal Code. Certain sections are mentioned; however, offences under acts of Parliament, which we are supposed to uphold as MPs, are not included.

Of course, that is why we want to repair the damage done by the Conservative majority on the committee, because some acts were eliminated, which changed the scope of the bill. These amendments would make the bill more just, especially when it comes to serious offences, including those that carry a sentence of five years or more in prison. Such offences should be included in the scope of this bill.

It is just common sense. This is hardly a radical idea. I think the vast majority of Canadians agree with us on this. We are here to support federal laws and the Criminal Code. In both cases, if a serious offence was committed, then it must be dealt with accordingly.

In this situation, that is not the case. The bill refers to a few Criminal Code offences, but not offences under acts of Parliament, such as a violation of the Canada Elections Act.

In the case of former Conservative MP Mr. Del Mastro, it was a serious offence. The bill came before the committee that very week, and it was certainly the time for the Conservative members to send a message. The Conservatives undermined their own bill. We are repairing the damage.

Under the leadership of our very experienced leader of the official opposition, we are ready to take action. In the months to come and this fall, we will repair the damage caused by the Conservative government. That is our plan.

Today we will move motions and propose amendments that make sense, in order to repair the damage caused by the Conservative members of the committee when they removed offences under acts of Parliament and thereby changed the scope of Bill C-518.

Motions in AmendmentProtecting Taxpayers and Revoking Pensions of Convicted Politicians ActPrivate Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

Okanagan—Coquihalla B.C.


Dan Albas ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the President of the Treasury Board

Mr. Speaker, I am happy to be here with all my colleagues.

I am pleased to have this opportunity to speak in support of Bill C-518, an act to amend the Members of Parliament Retiring Allowances Act (withdrawal allowance). This is a laudable bill put forward by an hon. member who is concerned that parliamentarians could break the law and walk away with pension benefits paid by the taxpayers of our country.

All parliamentarians must be held to the highest standards of accountability. They have a duty to protect the integrity of our public institutions, and their actions should be based on integrity, trust and respect for the tax dollars of Canadians. The bill before us today is consistent with these key principles of our democracy, and that is why the government firmly supports it.

Specifically, the bill would disentitle the pension of a senator or a member of Parliament who would be convicted of any offence based on a specific threshold that I will discuss shortly. This would bring an important and welcome change to our system of government.

As it stands, if a parliamentarian retires or resigns prior to being expelled or disqualified from Parliament as a result of him or her committing a crime, the individual is still entitled to a pension. In many circumstances this is unacceptable, particularly when the crime constituted is a serious offence under the Criminal Code. There are many situations where parliamentarians who are convicted of certain offences should not continue to receive a benefit from pension benefits funded by taxpayers.

The bill, as amended, clearly states what the disentitlement threshold would be. It is based on a list of prescribed offences under the Criminal Code, which would apply only if a conviction were rendered on or after the coming into force of this legislation. This includes serious offences such as bribery of an officer, perjury or intimidating Parliament, which all carry a maximum prison sentence of 14 years. It also includes offences such as obstructing justice and theft over $5,000, which carries a maximum prison sentence of 10 years.

Any parliamentarian affected by the bill would be entitled to only a withdrawal allowance, which is really a refund of his or her own pension contributions minus any retirement allowance already paid plus applicable interest. However, any contributions made by the employer would not be included. In addition, the parliamentarian would no longer be eligible for post-retirement health or dental benefits.

The government has already taken action to ensure that public sector pension plans are sustainable, fair and financially responsible. In 2012, we reformed the pensions of members of Parliament and public servants to make them more broadly consistent with the pension products offered by other jurisdictions, as well as fair relative to those offered in the private sector. As a result, contribution rates for public service employees and MPs will be moving to a fifty-fifty cost sharing model by 2017.

We have vowed to strengthen accountability and transparency in our public institutions, and we have delivered on that.

A major milestone was the implementation of the 2006 Federal Accountability Act and its companion action plan. Through the Federal Accountability Act and action plan, we implemented numerous measures to prevent undemocratic and criminal behaviour from impacting our system of government. For example, we created a new standard of accountability for the financing of political parties. We did that by reducing the maximum annual contribution by individuals to political entities and prohibited unions and corporations from making political contributions.

We banned secret donations to political candidates by prohibiting electoral district associations and parties from transferring money to their candidates from trust funds.

Our government introduced a new Conflict of Interest Act and granted powers to the new Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner to enforce it.

We toughened the Lobbyist Registration Act by introducing stricter rules for lobbying activity and giving a new Commissioner of Lobbying enhanced powers to investigate and enforce them.

We reformed the procurement of government contracts by adding transparency to the process and by appointing an independent procurement ombudsman to provide additional oversight.

We strengthened the Access to Information Act by extending its reach and its scope. As a result, more government institutions than ever before are subject now to the act, including departments and agencies, crown corporations and wholly-owned subsidiaries.

We strengthened the role of the Auditor General by expanding the office's investigative powers, which has helped parliamentarians to hold the government to account.

We strengthened auditing and accountability within departments by clarifying the managerial responsibilities of deputy heads within the framework of ministerial responsibility and by bolstering the internal audit function within departments and crown corporations.

In short, we have strengthened accountability in every corner of the government, from the Prime Minister to parliamentarians and public sector employees, and for all Canadians and businesses that receive government funding.

Canadians work hard, pay their taxes and play by the rules, and they expect accountability from their government. This is why we continue to pursue opportunities and support efforts that promise to make our public institutions more transparent, accountable and ethical. This includes measures such as Bill C-518, which is consistent with the spirit of our landmark Federal Accountability Act and action plan. It applies to members of both the House of Commons and the Senate, because those who make the laws should never be above the law.

This is a bill we can all get behind. We also hope the bill will be another deterrent against criminal behaviour. As my hon. friend who sponsored the bill said so succinctly in debate, the point of the bill is to send the signal to people to not break the rules. If they do not break the rules, the pension will be there for them.

The bill sends a strong message that if anyone breaks the law in our country, there are consequences. It is a very strong bill. More than that, it is consistent with our government's focus on accountability, transparency and protecting taxpayer dollars. It reflects Canadians' sense of honesty, hard work and fair play. That is why we support the legislation. I encourage all members of the House to join with me in voting for the bill.

I also want to thank my hon. colleague again for his excellent work in preparing and putting forward the legislation.

Motions in AmendmentProtecting Taxpayers and Revoking Pensions of Convicted Politicians ActPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.


Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, it is with pleasure that I rise today to speak to Bill C-518, a bill that, in principle, is worthy of support. The ultimate objectives and goals that the bill hopes to achieve are admirable.

Pensions have been a hot topic. I had the opportunity over the break to have a great deal of discussion on pensions. As much as it is nice to see the bill, there is a bigger concern related to pensions, which is real. I would have much preferred to talk about that today.

The member who spoke before me talked a lot about transparency, accountability and ethical behaviour. They are all wonderful things to admire, and I respect what the member attempted to say on that. However, as much as I will support the bill, I would have rather seen the government talk more about other issues related to pensions.

Over the last number of years there has been a huge backlash toward the government's decisions with respect to Canada pension plan, and in particular the OAS, where it saw fit to increase the age of eligibility from 65 to 67. As much as the government wants to spend time dealing with pensions for members of Parliament, I would encourage it to also spend some time, effort and provide more debate toward the issue of pensions generally and recognize that the people who the budgetary measures really hurts are those individuals who depend on those public pensions. That is why it would be a mistake for me to rise in my place and not remind the government how bad it has missed the mark in supporting our seniors at a time in need, at a time in which they look for comfort with respect to their retirement. It was wrong for it to increase the age of retirement from 65 to 67.

With respect to the specifics, the bill would add a clause to the members of Parliament retiring allowance to take into account the situation where a senator or a member of Parliament would be convicted of an offence which arose out of his or her conduct and occurred while the individual was in office. It would do this by using the same mechanism already in place for politicians who have become disqualified from holding office. Currently if MPs or senators are kicked out of parliament, they lose their pensions. If members resign beforehand, they keep their pension. The purpose of this bill, and I sat on the committee, at least in part, has been designed intentionally to remove that loophole.

The issue of parliamentarians receiving pensions and those who have been disqualified to receive pensions because of inappropriate behaviour is nothing new per se. Other provinces have attempted to deal with this issue, some more successfully than others. Alberta and New Brunswick have both attempted to deal with the issue. As has been pointed out, back in 2013 Nova Scotia passed legislation that stripped away pensions.

What I liked about it was that we were provided a specific example where an independent MLA ended up losing his pension after he pleaded guilty to fraud and breach of trust charges arising from an expense scandal. That member had collected tax dollars after filing 10 false claims in 2008 and 2009. For the most part, due to that legislation and as a result of the conviction, the individual in question was not eligible to receive the MLA pension.

Currently the law is fairly clear that if members of Parliament or senators are caught in the same sort of situation and are asked to leave the floor of the House of Commons through a vote, they will in fact lose their pensions. If they choose to take it upon themselves to resign prior to a conviction or to being kicked out of the House, they will in fact continue to be eligible.

Anyone looking at that situation would no doubt come to the conclusion, as I and many others have, that it is just not right. They are trying to escape justice by announcing their retirements to avoid being held accountable for their behaviour and so they can collect publicly financed pensions.

That is at the core. That is the way Bill C-518 was talked about at second reading. There was a need to close that loophole. It is for that reason that I feel comfortable supporting the legislation.

There were issues that came up in committee that raised some concerns with regard to other individuals who might have a bit of an entitlement, potentially, to a pension. An example raised was that of a spouse of a member, who, through divorce, would have had some form of entitlement and consideration.

The answers I found to be somewhat wanting. However, at the end of the day, there have been enough assurances and information brought to the table that I think it is advisable to support the legislation as suggested by the government. At the very least, we should be aware that there are other things we need to take into consideration.

The overriding theme is that as elected officials, we have a responsibility. There is a moral high ground if one is an elected official in a legislative assembly or the House of Commons or if one is appointed to the Senate. These are bodies that review and bring in legislation that ultimately becomes law, and there is a expectation that we will follow the law.

In situations where politicians fall on the other side of the law, there needs to be a consequence. I believe it is appropriate to look at the pensions MLAs or members of Parliament would collect, recognizing that this legislation only applies to members of Parliament and senators.

This is a piece of legislation that would ultimately apply to a very few. If we look at some of the past comments, particularly at the committee stage, we can count on one hand the number of potential offenders over the decades who would have actually been impacted by this legislation.

There has been a great deal of public interest in regard to public trust because of what is happening in the Senate, with Pamela Wallin and Mike Duffy, and with other individuals, such as Dean Del Mastro.

It is necessary to pass this legislation. That is why, when it comes time for a vote, I will be voting in favour.

Motions in AmendmentProtecting Taxpayers and Revoking Pensions of Convicted Politicians ActPrivate Members' Business

11:30 a.m.


Christine Moore NDP Abitibi—Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to this bill.

Like many members of the House, I come from a remote area. Most people in my riding do difficult jobs. They work hard to keep their job so that they can put food on the table. Most of them would not be entitled to severance pay if they lost their jobs. The amounts they would be given are ridiculous compared to what MPs can get if they leave their position.

That being said, the member wanted to introduce a bill to prevent people who have been convicted of an offence from enjoying these privileges. I think that, in an effort to represent Canadians properly, it is very commendable to want to prevent people who have been convicted of an offence from enjoying such privileges.

The bill was examined and amended in committee, and there is now a list of offences to which the bill will apply. Unfortunately, I believe that by proceeding in this way, the member overlooked a number of offences that should result in a loss of severance pay. The law cannot be amended every time a new case arises. That does not make sense. We should have found a way to ensure that most offences are included already. Under the existing bill, we will have to add cases that we did not think of. They will be added later, but they will not be retroactive. This will be a never-ending process.

For example, in Nova Scotia, the law applies to offences with a maximum sentence of five years in prison. That encompasses a large majority of offences. The list that we have contains several provisions, but I do not see anything about members who commit sexual assault or sexual harassment when participating in events in the course of their duties, for example. I believe that most Canadians would oppose the fact that someone who has to resign, either because that person was found guilty of such an offence or because people did not support him or her in the election, is entitled to a withdrawal allowance. That does not make any sense. When an exhaustive list of provisions is set out, there is always the risk that an important one will be forgotten.

Furthermore, in committee, we asked to add offences under certain laws, for example the Canada Elections Act, the Income Tax Act and the Parliament of Canada Act. Unfortunately, that was rejected.

In the case of the Canada Elections Act, MPs—we cannot speak for senators—can say that they are here because of the provisions of the act. It determines that we can sit as members of Parliament and that we have the right to rise in the House of Commons to speak. It directly governs our role as parliamentarians and it was excluded from the bill. Everyone at home realizes that doing that makes absolutely no sense. Everyone is wondering why we did that. It makes no sense.

More specifically, we see that a Conservative MP, Dean Del Mastro, resigned because he was found guilty of violating the Elections Act and winning his seat illegally. He should not even have sat as an MP because he obtained his seat fraudulently. However, he will be entitled to his severance and pension. That makes absolutely no sense, and I believe that all Canadians are offended. They will be even more offended when they realize that the Conservatives amended the bill, which was well-intentioned, so that it cannot apply to this member.

In addition, this measure is not retroactive. I understand that we cannot go back 50 years, but there are some very recent cases. When the member in question resigned, I was sitting close to him. I still remember this incident, which is still fresh in Canadians' minds. In this case, we heard that it was not serious.

Mr. Penashue, a minister who also violated the Elections Act and who chose to resign, was not re-elected. However, he still retains all of his privileges. Those are two examples of Conservative members who, conveniently, would not be subject to sanctions under the bill. For a member who spoke about the importance of standing up for taxpayers, I think he has missed the mark.

There are a number of other laws. With the Income Tax Act, for example, the government keeps going on and on about combatting tax evasion. However, the government is apparently not prepared to crack down on a member who spoke in favour of this measure in the House and who was evading taxes himself. That makes absolutely no sense. How can Canadians have faith in their parliamentarians when they see these parliamentarians giving preferential treatment to others who are caught cheating? This attitude is what causes people to lose faith in politics and to lose their trust in us. It is very unfortunate.

It is high time we put an end to the hypocrisy and recognized the importance of being as inclusive as possible in our approach to a bill like this one, an idea like this one. We also have to be flexible because things are not always black or white. However, by creating this exclusive list, we could end up missing the mark. I am sure that, sooner or later, even the Conservatives will end up regretting the fact that their own exclusive list will prevent them from punishing an MP who has broken the law. They will realize that they messed up when they had a chance to get behind a real bill that would have applied to everyone.

When it comes to fraud, the Conservatives are not the only ones with problems. The Senate has issues with that too. Liberal senator Mac Harb, who fraudulently claimed $50,000 for living expenses and travel, resigned but is still getting his allowances. The worst part is that senators do not face any consequences. A senator cannot even lose the next election. Those found guilty of fraud simply apologize publicly and keep all of their allowances.

Contrast that with the people who regularly show up at my office because they are having problems with employment insurance and their tax returns. The Canada Revenue Agency tells them to reimburse a certain amount, so they do, even though they did not knowingly make those mistakes and their situations involve sums that might mean a lot to ordinary people but are insignificant compared to the kind of money we are talking about today. For parliamentarians who break the law, it all depends: if they are on the government side, the government can massage a bill so it does not apply to them. That is hypocrisy.

People will of course understand why I am voting against the bill. It was a good idea, but because of what the Conservatives did in committee, they are missing an opportunity to prove that they are willing to fight crime, even when it is committed by former colleagues.

If the Conservatives are prepared to do some real work, the NDP is willing to accept a bill that actually deals with all offences. Right now, however, this is really just a sham bill that will apply only to certain cases. The amendments made in committee were a serious mistake.

Motions in AmendmentProtecting Taxpayers and Revoking Pensions of Convicted Politicians ActPrivate Members' Business

11:40 a.m.


Hoang Mai NDP Brossard—La Prairie, QC

Mr. Speaker, first of all, since this is my first speech of the year, I would like to begin by wishing you and all my colleagues of the House and everyone at home all the best for 2015. We in the NDP have been anxiously awaiting 2015 for some time now; as everyone knows, this is an election year.

This year is particularly important to us, because it is time to do some housecleaning. We need to repair the damage caused by previous governments, both Conservative and Liberal. Furthermore, it is unfortunate that we have to start off the new year talking about scandals and about MPs and senators who have broken the law.

Bill C-518 amends the Members of Parliament Retiring Allowances Act. In principle, we support the objective of taking retirement pensions and payments away from senators or members of the House of Commons who are found guilty of certain Criminal Code offences.

The scope of the bill was changed in committee. I will elaborate on that later. In fact, I want to say from the outset that the principle is good. Every Canadian who is watching us or follows politics has had enough of the scandals and are sick of hearing about Mike Duffy, for example, who committed fraud, or Dean Del Mastro, who was convicted of violating the Canada Elections Act. Then there are the Conservative and Liberal senators; my colleague mentioned Mac Harb. Let us not forget the sponsorship scandal that is still dogging the Liberals.

People have had it with all this corruption, this approach, the same old politics. That is why we support this desire to tackle the problem. It really is not right for a convicted person to be entitled to a pension or benefits. The bill includes a balanced provision whereby a convicted person could nonetheless collect the equivalent of his or her contributions to the pension plan with interest. Even if a person is convicted, they are still owed a certain amount. The problem is this government's approach.

As for last session's scandals, and most recently those involving the Conservatives, we see that the Conservatives used their majority on the committee to protect one of their own. After throwing Dean Del Mastro under the bus, they nevertheless protected his pension. The Conservative members had an exhaustive and specific list of offences and they made sure that Dean Del Mastro would get his pension. I find it deplorable that they massaged a bill, which was basically a good bill, to protect one of their own. That is completely unacceptable, especially when we know that the person in question was found guilty of violating the Canada Elections Act.

Indeed, the NDP's objective, which it continues to work towards by moving amendments and motions, is to expand the scope of the bill and to eliminate this gaping loophole that is protecting a Conservative member. This law must be enforced in an impartial and honest manner.

I will give other examples. What was initially proposed, and what we are calling for, was that federal legislation such as the Income Tax Act, the Parliament of Canada Act and all laws concerning the federal government be included in the scope of the bill.

Unfortunately, the Conservatives rejected the amendments we moved in committee, which only fuels cynicism. We have a bill with good intentions, that is, to punish those who commit fraud and violate the law. However, out of pure partisanship, the Conservatives—who, as we know, also have a majority in committee—decided to amend the bill to protect one of their own. That is completely unacceptable.

Furthermore, why were Income Tax Act offences not included? When I was the official opposition's national revenue critic, we moved a motion, which was studied by the Standing Committee on Finance, to combat tax havens and tax evasion. After negotiations, I managed to convince my Conservative and Liberal colleagues to tackle this issue, which is why we studied it in committee.

Unfortunately, the Conservatives' refusal to include Income Tax Act offences clearly shows their bad intentions. They agree to a study, but they refuse to punish tax evaders. I hope that this will change and that they will understand that this does not help them, even though they want to protect their friends. In this case, we are talking about Dean Del Mastro, but there are others. The Liberals did not take action when they were in power, and now the Conservatives are not doing anything either, even though they claim to be acting.

That is why I look forward to having an experienced leader in 2015 who will move things forward and fix the mess caused by Conservative and Liberal governments.

To come back to the bill, why does the government not want to go after those who break our laws? I am asking this question to my colleagues opposite. Why did they limit the scope of this bill, whose underlying principle was good, simply to protect one of their own? This will create loopholes for other fraudsters, who will be able to take advantage of the fact that offences under the Income Tax Act have been excluded from the bill.

That is rather surprising. Let us not forget that the Conservative government is the first government in the history of Canada to have been found guilty of contempt of Parliament. Clearly, this government wants to protect its friends and its MPs who break its own laws.

This brings us back to the matter of accountability. Senators are included in this bill. Everyone knows about the Mike Duffy, Mac Harb and Pamela Wallin scandals. These senators were appointed by this government, with the exception of Mac Harb, who was appointed by the Liberals. The NDP's position is clear: these senators do not belong in our democracy. The NDP believes that the outdated institution that is the Senate should be abolished, and we are going to make that happen.

In this case, why do the Conservatives want to protect one of their own, who has been found criminally responsible, by amending an bill that was commendable in principle and had the support of the opposition? We now have a watered-down bill, and this confirms what we have been saying all along: the government is once again letting senators and MPs get away with fraud.

If the government wants to be accountable and do something about this cynicism, which often arises as a result of the politicians themselves, why would it do such a thing? It is unacceptable. I hope that my colleagues opposite will consider and support our amendments.

Motions in AmendmentProtecting Taxpayers and Revoking Pensions of Convicted Politicians ActPrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.


Robert Chisholm NDP Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have a few moments to rise on the first day the House is back for the 2015 winter session. Some have suggested that it may be our last session. As a few people in my riding have said to me, it is about time that we have a chance to get rid of these rascals and replace them with an NDP government and make some real changes for Canadians. In the meantime, we still have to deal with some of the legislation that is before us to try to correct some of the egregious errors the current government has made and to try to make sure that the concerns of my constituents in Dartmouth—Cole Harbour are properly represented.

I certainly recognize the intent of Bill C-518. Canadians have completely lost patience with public officials breaking the law and the public trust and expect government to do something about it. Unfortunately, Bill C-518 in this regard simply does not meet the standard that I think the sponsor of the bill might have expected it to.

Nova Scotia, as a result of a spending scandal back in 2010, has introduced a similar bill that would go further. It deals with a couple of the issues that we have raised before in both committee and here in debate. One issue in particular is the whole question of retroactivity, to make sure that MPs and senators are not able to duck out when they feel they are going to be okay doing so, even though it is pretty clear, whether a conviction has gone through or not, that they have in fact broken the law and public trust.

Other parts of the bill in Nova Scotia would ensure that a former spouse or spouse of the public official in question would be entitled to the amount of the pension that he or she would normally have been entitled to. Likewise, the government would still have the right to garnishee the pension if there were amounts owing to it. I think members would agree that these are two extremely important provisions as they relate to the question of balance and fairness.

Constituents of mine in Dartmouth—Cole Harbour have seen the Province of Nova Scotia move forward in this regard to put an end to public officials breaking the law and public trust and still being able to benefit from pensions and other entitlements they may have enjoyed as the result of holding that particular office. The Government of Nova Scotia was successful in doing that. The people of Dartmouth—Cole Harbour applaud the intention of the bill before us and want to see it go through. They want to see us move forward in this area, and we have had some discussions with them about our concerns with the bill.

We want to see a bill like this pass, but we are concerned about the weaknesses we have already identified. Therefore, we have presented a couple of amendments to the bill.

We say to the government that if it is truly serious about making sure that this legislation would do what the government says it would, there are two particular problems. The first is that it basically wrote out the fact that former MP Dean Del Mastro would have been covered by this legislation. The government rewrote the bill so that he would, in fact, be absolved, that the bill would not touch him. That is wrong, and I think Canadians recognize that it should not be the case.

The second thing is that, with this bill, rather than setting the terms of what should be required, the government has listed a number of different laws that would need to be broken. It is cherry-picking what laws specifically need to be broken for this bill to apply. It has also exempted such legislation as the Canada Elections Act, specifically. What we have said in our motion, to make it very clear, is that it is wrong for the government to be picking and choosing the laws. Experts have told us this. We need to make sure that the provision in this is sufficiently clear that it deals with the issue of breaking the law and breaking public trust.

The amendment is really important. It says:

ceases or has ceased to be a member and who, on or after the day on which this subsection comes into force, is either convicted of an offence under the Criminal Code mentioned in subsection (4) or sentenced to a term of imprisonment of five years or more for an offence under any other Act of Parliament, if the offence arose out of conduct that in whole or in part occurred while the person was a member...

It says “any” act of Parliament. This idea that members can break the elections act, as former MP Dean Del Mastro did, and get away with it just does not make sense. I have heard that from my constituents. If we are serious about bringing in laws that will end this practice and hold officials accountable for doing this, we need to deal with that.

The second thing is the whole issue of retroactivity. We are suggesting that we add in the following:

ceases or has ceased to be a member and who, on or after the day on which this subsection comes into force, is either convicted of an offence under the Criminal Code mentioned in subsection 19(4) or sentenced to a term of imprisonment of five years or more for an offence under any other Act of Parliament, if the offence arose out of conduct that in whole or in part occurred while the person was a member...

My message to the government is that the people of Dartmouth—Cole Harbour support the intention of Bill C-518, but they are saying let us not pretend and agree to accept legislation that pretends do something but then really does not. It would excuse some members of the government benches, for example, or the Senate, at the same time that the government is trying to say that it will deal with the whole question of ethics and integrity in government and hold people to account.

I have indicated to my constituents that if that is the intention, and if the government recognizes this principle and our amendments to this bill, maybe we will get to a point where we are able to pass a bill that does what it sets out to do. That is the message that my constituents have asked me to bring here to the House. I hope the government is listening.

I hope we can do something to actually make this bill work to hold public office holders accountable who have broken the law and the public trust.

Motions in AmendmentProtecting Taxpayers and Revoking Pensions of Convicted Politicians ActPrivate Members' Business



The Deputy Speaker NDP Joe Comartin

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired, and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.

Questions on the Order PaperPrivilegePrivate Members' Business



Lysane Blanchette-Lamothe NDP Pierrefonds—Dollard, QC

Mr. Speaker, I rise this afternoon on a question of privilege related to written Question No. 393, which I submitted to the order paper on March 27, 2014; the government's response to the question on May 14, 2014; and a document containing correspondence among officials at Citizenship and Immigration Canada on the preparation of the response to my question, a document that I obtained through the Access to Information Act.

I believe that the government's interference in the preparation of the answer to my written question has impeded me in the performance of my parliamentary functions and is, therefore, a breach of my parliamentary privilege.

Mr. Speaker, I would ask you to review three pieces of evidence as you consider my request: first, the question that I submitted to the government; second, the government's answer to my question; and third, the documents that I obtained through the Access to Information Act. These documents contain correspondence among officials at Citizenship and Immigration Canada concerning my written Question No. 393.

I will not read my written question, but I will say that it was about average wait times and the budget and human resources that the department allocated from 2005 to 2014 to processing visa, immigration and private sponsorship of refugee applications. It was broken down into several sub-questions, as is typically the case with written questions.

In response to my sub-questions about average wait times for visa, immigration and private sponsorship of refugee applications, I received the following non-answer for all three:

Adequately responding to this question would require extensive, detailed research of CIC records, and this work is not feasible within the prescribed timeline. Although some of the above data are available, many other data points would take longer to extract because of the structure of the department's information systems. After the data extraction process, the report would then have to be reviewed in its entirety to ensure the quality of the data. Given that the question also deals with data covering a period of nine years, a complete and accurate response to this question is not feasible within the prescribed timeline for the reasons outlined above.

After submitting an access to information request, I learned that this was not the response that officials from the department planned to submit to my question. Indeed, the exchange of emails I obtained shows that departmental officials were working on answering my written question.

In an email dated May 1, 2014, an official from the department explained that, given the quantity of information requested, it would take about two weeks to prepare the response. She said that it would take a little longer, but it was entirely doable.

An email dated the next day, May 2, 2014, ordered the officials who were working on the question to stop their work because:

“[the office of the minister] has come back to advise the [office of the assistant deputy minister for operations] that we will use the same response we provided to Q-359.”

The government's response to Question No. 359 was a non-answer.

Questions of privilege concerning written questions have been raised repeatedly in the House. Every time, the Speaker has ruled that it is not the role of the Chair to determine whether the contents of documents tabled in the House are accurate.

I understand the principle. However, it is not the nature of the response here that is problematic, but rather the fact that the minister's office obstructed the work of officials in his own department. The minister's office interfered in the work of government officials in order to prevent them from producing a satisfactory response to my written question.

I believe that such an obstruction constitutes a prima facie breach of privilege.

House of Commons Procedure and Practice, second edition, states on page 517, the purpose of written questions as follows:

...written questions are placed after notice on the Order Paper with the intent of seeking from the Ministry detailed, lengthy or technical information relating to “public affairs”.

In chapter 7 of her November 2004 report, entitled “Process for Responding to Parliamentary Order Paper Questions”, the Auditor General wrote:

The right to seek information from the Ministry of the day and the right to hold that Ministry accountable are recognized as two of the fundamental principles of parliamentary government.

Written questions are one of the tools that elected representatives can use on behalf of Canadians to fulfill their fundamental duty of holding the government to account. The government cannot interfere in the preparation of the responses. It must allow its public officials to do their job.

House of Commons Procedure and Practice, second edition, at page 109, states that:

In order to find a prima facie breach of privilege, the Speaker must be satisfied that there is evidence to support the Member's claim that he or she has been impeded in the performance of his or her parliamentary functions and that the matter is directly related to a proceeding in Parliament.

The Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs also stated the following in its 2005 report:

The bar to establish a breach of privilege is necessarily a high one, and, in the case of an individual member, it must be closely related to his or her parliamentary activities.

Therefore, Mr. Speaker, I would like to show how the minister's interference in the preparation of the answer to my written question impeded my ability to carry out my parliamentary duties.

Last February and May, the House studied Bill C-24, An Act to amend the Citizenship Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, at second reading stage. In June, the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration, of which I am a member, also carried out a study of the same subject. We can see that there is a direct link between the minister's obstruction and parliamentary proceedings.

In fact, during the study of Bill C-24, the government said several times that it wanted to eliminate the backlog of applications and shorten processing times for immigration applications to less than one year by 2015-16. To that end, the government intended to eliminate certain intermediaries in the citizenship process.

Nevertheless, we know that backlogs of these types of applications have doubled in seven years, while processing times have doubled in four years, going from 15 months in 2009 to 31 months at the end of the 2013-14 fiscal year. It was very important for me, as a member of Parliament, to gain a better understanding of the delays these applicants are facing, and this includes getting a clear picture of the number of applications as well as the budget allocated to processing these applications, in order to thoroughly study Bill C-24 and to better understand it.

It is becoming increasingly clear that the processing delays impose financial and psychological burdens on the families that are waiting for an answer. Bill C-24 imposed additional waiting periods on thousands of permanent residents who wanted to join the Canadian family and who were preparing to submit their application. If I had gotten a proper response to my written question, I would have had a much more accurate picture of the scope of the problem, and I would have been in a better position to make alternative suggestions to cut processing delays and backlogs.

The 21st edition of Erskine May describes contempt as:

...any act or omission which obstructs or impedes either House of Parliament in the performance of its functions, or which obstructs or impedes any member or officer of such House in the discharge of his duty, or which has a tendency, directly or indirectly, to produce such results may be treated as a contempt even though there is no precedent of the offence.

In light of the points I just made, I think it is clear that the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration's obstruction in the preparation of the response to my written question, Question No. 393, constitutes contempt and a breach of my privileges as a member of Parliament, which impeded by ability to discharge my parliamentary duties.

To make it easier for you, Mr. Speaker, I am submitting copies of written Question No. 393, the government's response and the document I obtained through the Access to Information Act. Mr. Speaker, if you find that there was a prima facie breach of my privileges as a member of Parliament, I will be prepared to move an appropriate motion at that time.

Questions on the Order PaperPrivilegePrivate Members' Business

12:10 p.m.


Dean Allison Conservative Niagara West—Glanbrook, ON

Mr. Speaker, with regard to the member's question of privilege, the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration will get back to the House in due course.

Questions on the Order PaperPrivilegePrivate Members' Business

12:10 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Joe Comartin

We will await the minister's reply, and then the Speaker will deliver his ruling.

Pipeline Safety ActGovernment Orders

January 26th, 2015 / 12:15 p.m.

Kenora Ontario


Greg Rickford ConservativeMinister of Natural Resources and Minister for the Federal Economic Development Initiative for Northern Ontario

moved that Bill C-46, An Act to amend the National Energy Board Act and the Canada Oil and Gas Operations Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege and an honour for me to serve the constituents of the great Kenora riding and to proceed with the debate on pipeline safety.

One of our country's greatest success stories is Canada's extraordinary ability to develop our natural resources through the use of new technology and innovation. Whether we are unlocking the incredible energy potential of the oil sands, mining uranium to generate nuclear power, or developing our vast hydroelectric power resources, Canada's energy industries continue to rise to the occasion.

As Canada's production of energy resources grows, we have an opportunity to export more of our energy products to international markets with growing demand. The choice is simple: build the energy infrastructure to reach these markets, or leave these products in the ground.

Expanding our energy trade in not merely a priority for our government, it is an imperative. We recognize that for this opportunity to be realized, we must ensure that the public is confident in the safety of our infrastructure.

Through our responsible resource development plan, our government strengthened environmental protection, enhanced aboriginal consultation, and provided predictable timelines for regulatory review. This included bringing forward regulations that ensure that companies, not taxpayers, are responsible in the event of an incident.

There are over 73,000 km of federally regulated pipelines that criss-cross our country. They deliver oil, natural gas, and petroleum products from coast to coast to coast and beyond our borders. These energy products heat our homes and our workplaces. They power factories and farms. They fuel cars, buses, trains, and planes. They transport us across town, across the country, and around the world.

More specifically, in 2013, Canada produced over 3.5 million barrels of oil and 13.7 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day. The vast majority of it, over $100 billion worth, was shipped by pipeline.

While the economics themselves tell a compelling story, we have been clear that if projects are to proceed, they must be proven safe for Canadians and safe for the environment. In fact, more than 99.999% of petroleum products, going through more than 72,000 km of federally regulated pipeline between 2008 and 2013, was transported safely. Much of the credit for this solid track record rests with our stringent regulatory requirements and the excellent work of the National Energy Board.

Companies operating pipelines must anticipate, prevent and manage potentially dangerous situations associated with their pipelines. They must develop programs to address safety issues, deal with emergency situations, manage the integrity of the pipelines, educate the public and protect the environment.

The National Energy Board reviews and audits all of these measures. Although the pipeline safety record is impressive, our ultimate goal is zero incidents. That is the purpose of this bill. The pipeline safety act seeks to further improve Canada's record by modernizing the National Energy Board Act.

This legislation would send a clear signal. Our government would be fulfilling our commitment in the Speech from the Throne to have a world-class safety system that enshrined the polluter pays principle in law.

We are determined to reduce risks to public and environmental health and safety as we capitalize on Canada's energy wealth to create jobs and prosperity for Canadians. This ongoing commitment to safety and environmental protection is part of our plan for responsible resource development. The plan is a continuous process of finding new and better ways to improve our world-class regulatory system.

This legislation represents the next step in our continued process of strengthening Canada's pipeline safety system. It would build on previous pipeline safety measures that gave the National Energy Board new authority to levy administrative monetary penalties and to increase the number of NEB inspections and audits. The pipeline safety act would go even further. In other words, we would build on that 99.999% safety record for more than 72,000 kilometres of federally regulated pipelines.

Our objective here is to ensure that we have a world-class, in fact, elements of it world-leading, pipeline safety system. It would be built on three pillars: one, prevention; two, preparedness and response; and three, liability and compensation.

The pipeline safety act would deliver on our pledge to enhance efforts to ensure that aboriginal peoples are engaged in all aspects of pipeline safety operations.

Let me explain each of these improvements in greater detail.

First, we will look at the preventive measures. In order to develop our resources responsibly, we need to do everything we can to prevent incidents from occurring. We will be asking the National Energy Board to provide direction on using the best technologies available for building and operating pipelines. Technologies continue to improve, and the government is committed to ensuring that every project is environmentally sustainable.

As an additional preventive measure, the act sets out the National Energy Board's powers related to audits and inspections. It stipulates that companies have a legal obligation to respond to any requests the board may have in relation to such audits. To protect pipelines from accidental damage, the National Energy Board will strive to align federal and provincial pipeline safety zones.

Companies must inform the authorities and obtain approval before digging or building in the safety zones. This safety measure will prevent damage to pipelines.

We will also take action in terms of preparedness and response measures. We are strengthening requirements, particularly financial requirements, to ensure that companies are able to deal with an incident, if necessary.

The pipeline safety act enshrines the polluter pays principle. The bill requires companies operating pipelines to hold a minimum level of financial resources for responding to oil spills, set at $1 billion for companies operating major oil pipelines. The companies must demonstrate their financial capacity and a portion of those financial resources must be readily accessible to ensure rapid response to any incident.

The bill includes other measures. It gives the National Energy Board the authority to take control of incident response and cleanup in exceptional circumstances. This means that the government will provide financial security to ensure that the NEB has the necessary resources to pay for the cleanup costs. If a company is unable to pay damages to those affected, the government may establish a pipeline claims tribunal to streamline the complaints process.

In both cases, the legislation expands the NEB'S authority to recover costs from the companies if it is called to respond. Canadians can rest assured that every incident will be dealt with properly and that taxpayers will be protected.

I want to emphasize the government's commitment to working with aboriginal communities. Together with communities and the industry, we will develop a strategy to increase aboriginal participation in pipeline safety measures.

I also want to emphasize the government's pledge to work with aboriginal people in a way that protects the local environment and respects ancestral treaty rights.

The third key area or pillar covered by the legislation is liability and compensation. In this regard, we are world class, if not world leading. Building on companies' unlimited liability when they are at fault or negligent, this legislation would implement no-fault or absolute liability for all companies operating pipelines. For major oil pipelines, the figure would be $1 billion. What this would mean is that pipeline companies would be responsible for damages, regardless of what happened, who caused it, or how an incident arose. This is a standard that would leave no doubt.

The pipeline safety act would provide government with the ability to pursue pipeline operators for the costs of environmental damages. The legislation would also give the NEB authority to order reimbursement of spill cleanup costs incurred by governments or individuals. Companies would bear the full cost of cleanup and compensation.

Also of significance, the legislation would ensure that companies would remain responsible for their abandoned pipelines in perpetuity. In the event of an incident, operators would cover all costs and damages related to their pipelines, even if they were no longer in use. This would reassure landowners that they would never be in a position where a pipeline would become their responsibility.

As well, the act would expand the board's authority to recover its own costs for stepping in and taking charge if industry failed to adequately respond to an incident. Again, operators would be held financially accountable for costs and damages.

Tally up these amendments and the message is clear. The Government of Canada will ensure that Canada's pipeline safety system is world class, that first nations are involved in pipeline safety operations, and that taxpayers are protected.

The oil and gas sector is vitally important to the lives and livelihoods of Canadians, contributing 7.5% of our country's gross domestic product. Canada sold $117 billion in energy products to the world in 2013. That is more than one-quarter, 27%, to be precise, of our country's merchandise exports.

While we have an enormous endowment of petroleum resources, we have only one significant export customer. One hundred per cent of our natural gas exports and 97% of our oil exports currently go to the United States. This relationship has served both countries well and will continue to do so in the future.

However, it is clear that Canada will need to find new markets as Canadian and United States' oil and gas production grows. There are incredible market opportunities, particularly in Asia and Europe. In Asia's case, the International Energy Agency forecasts that by 2035, the world will need one-third more energy than is being consumed today. The rise of China and India, among other emerging nations in that part of the world, is propelling the bulk of that demand.

Although we are making progress toward developing alternative and renewable energy sources, according to the International Energy Agency, by 2035, fossil fuels will still be meeting three-quarters of global demand.

Canada's energy sector can contribute more to our economy and global energy security, but only if we build the pipelines to transport energy to markets, including the domestic market.

Our country needs to develop a new energy infrastructure to diversify its markets and seize this unprecedented opportunity. This is critical if we want Canada's energy sector to prosper and stimulate our economy in the future.

The economic benefits for Canadians would be enormous. According to the International Monetary Fund, building new energy infrastructure would boost Canada's GDP by an additional 2%. That is equivalent to $1,000 for every man, woman, and child in the country.

First nations communities are especially well positioned to benefit from responsible energy development. Many of the existing or proposed energy resources and infrastructure projects are located proximal to their communities, and over the next decade, hundreds of major resource projects worth more than $675 billion are planned or currently under way.

As technology evolves, Canada's oil sand reserves could double to over 300 billion barrels to become the largest reserve in the world, leading to an even greater opportunity in the future for Canada.

Likewise, Canada's marketable natural gas resources are estimated to be up to 1,300 trillion cubic feet. These are incredible reserves. That is not only enough to meet our domestic demands for over 200 years at current production rates, but to meet the burgeoning demand from markets like Europe and Asia over the medium term. That is before we have even considered offshore gas reserves and new discoveries potentially revealed or realized through fracking.

According to the Conference Board of Canada, between 2012 and 2035, the natural gas industry could invest over $386 billion in Canada, almost half of it in British Columbia.

As global energy markets change, Canada also needs to change in order to unlock this potential. Other countries are moving quickly to capture growing energy markets in places like China and India. We cannot lag behind if we want to continue to make the most of our energy resources.

We have a world-class and, in some cases, unique regulatory system to monitor this sector. This legislation further strengthens the regulatory system. It sends a message to Canadians and international clients that pipeline safety is paramount to Canada.

If we continue to innovate in the technology sector and remain committed to working constructively with aboriginal groups and protecting the environment, we will then have all the elements needed to ensure Canada's place as a world leader in responsible energy development.

Furthermore, the government is committed to ensuring that Canada's pipeline safety system is a world-class system that Canadians can trust. We will not be satisfied with a system that is almost perfect; we want absolute excellence.

The legislation we are debating today builds on our world-class safety regime, but the job is never done. We will continuously examine the pipeline safety system to better protect Canadians and the environment. We are striving for zero incidents. We will get there by maximizing advances in technology and innovation.

We can take inspiration from Sir Henry Royce, the English engineer and car designer who co-founded Rolls Royce Company. He built a dynasty in his quest for perfection. His motto was “Strive for perfection in everything you do. Take the best that exists and make it better.” That remains our goal and our focus as we continue to develop and transport Canada's natural resources responsibly.

Pipeline Safety ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.


Chris Charlton NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to the minister's speech, and those of us on this side of the House would say that indeed it is long overdue that we bring in an updated liability regime for pipelines. As the minister well knows, Canadians are profoundly worried about pipeline safety.

As a general comment, I would say that it is good that we are finally dealing with this bill. One might wonder why we are dealing with this matter now when we had the opportunity to update other liability regimes earlier in this Parliament, such as the nuclear liability regime and offshore oil and gas, but nonetheless here we are. I would suggest, though, that it might be a bit early to celebrate, because as we know, with this government the devil is always in the details.

In fact, when we look at this bill more closely, one of the things that becomes very apparent is that much in the legislation is left to the discretion of both the National Energy Board and the Governor in Council, which means that we cannot really be certain that the government is acting with any kind of real commitment to improving pipeline safety.

I will explain why I am worried about that. There is a briefing note posted online from McCarthy Tétrault to its clients about what this bill may mean, and those clients are pipeline companies.

It talks about the new responsibilities that companies may now have to comply with. Here is the final sentence in that brief:

Accordingly, pipeline companies should consider their safety and financial ensure they meet legislated requirements once the Bill’s amendments are brought into force.

It makes one wonder what companies are doing now. Do they not care about safety now, if this is the advice they are receiving from their lawyers? I would want Canadians to know that there is absolute certainty about what this bill is going to do, about how we are going to improve pipeline safety and how we are going to improve the liability regime, because Canadians need to be able to trust that pipeline companies are not going to put their lives and their environment in danger.

Pipeline Safety ActGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.


Greg Rickford Conservative Kenora, ON

Mr. Speaker, first of all I want to say to the member for Hamilton Mountain that it has been a privilege to work with her in her capacity as critic. I understand this may be the last debate that she has on natural resources-related files, and I appreciated the opportunity to work with her.

That was more of a comment than a question per se, but I will take this opportunity to speak to part of it with respect to liability.

What we have done with this measure, this piece of legislation today, is obviously to align it to the extent possible with other liability compensation regimes that we have in other key areas of the national resource portfolio, and in addition to that, to have liability and compensation specifically in marine, rail, and pipeline transport look and feel much the same.

This is not just for the benefit of industry and investor confidence; it is to assure the public that as a matter of confidence we are doing the right thing in a streamlined, efficient, and effective manner to give Canadians that ultimate confidence that in any regard, the energy transport system and the infrastructure required to support it are world class, and in particular are world-leading in areas of liability and compensation.

Pipeline Safety ActGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.


Geoff Regan Liberal Halifax West, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to see this bill come forward. As my hon. colleague from Hamilton Mountain said, it is a step in a positive direction and it is needed.

Considering that the bill was just introduced on December 8, it is good but surprising to see it up for debate, considering that the previous bill on absolute liability concerning offshore oil and gas, Bill C-22, was introduced numerous times over several years but left to languish on the order paper. I am interested in what the hurry is in this case, but I am still pleased. The difference is stark, but it is good to have it come forward.

The minister talked about public confidence. That seems to me to be the test, because that is a huge concern right now for the public and for the industry. The petroleum sector is concerned that when they try to put forward projects, they have difficulty in obtaining public confidence when the public does not have confidence in the government or in the NEB as environment regulators.

In leaving so much discretion to cabinet and to the NEB, how does the minister expect to overcome this challenge and to create any greater confidence in the public so that some of these projects might go forward?

Pipeline Safety ActGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.


Greg Rickford Conservative Kenora, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am relieved to hear the member from the Liberal Party talk about pipeline safety and offshore opportunity, particularly with respect to safety, liability, and compensation, as an exercise in public confidence. That would be an important term that is markedly different from what the leader of his party is using.

That said, we have already positioned the NEB with considerably more powers with respect to audits and inspections. As well, the penalties for non-compliance have increased significantly. That has put us in a great position when it comes to this piece of legislation.

The National Energy Board, through a number of measures, will ensure timely, effective, and transparent operations. To modernize the damage prevention regime, these changes will ensure clear roles and responsibilities within the NEB and implement mandatory timelines for committee hearings and decisions as well as any Governor in Council decisions that would be made.

I am pleased that the tone of this debate is pointed toward this being a positive step forward with respect to public safety and public confidence. Moving pipeline safety to the forefront is the centrepiece for establishing everyone's frame of reference with respect to how committed this government is to ensuring we have world-class, if not world-leading, pipeline safety for this country.

Pipeline Safety ActGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.

Calgary Centre-North Alberta


Michelle Rempel ConservativeMinister of State (Western Economic Diversification)

Mr. Speaker, in earlier questions in this debate, the comment came up as to what companies are doing with respect to safety right now. I would like to put to the House that the current safety record for Canadian pipeline operators is a 99.999% effectiveness rate, which puts us as best-practice leaders internationally for the safe transport of energy products. Companies do this through planning, construction, and operation, as well as through emergency response.

With respect to what companies are doing right now, I would ask the minister to comment on something like C-FER Technologies in Alberta, which has a jointly funded operation to look at new technologies in all four phases of safety planning and with which we are a partner.

I would like the minister to comment on the $1 billion liability limit, as I believe that number will be questioned in further debate. I was hoping that he could speak to the acceptability of that number based on international best practice, and to the difference in liability coverage between when companies are found to be at fault and when they are found not to be at fault, and why this particular number was selected.

Pipeline Safety ActGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.


Greg Rickford Conservative Kenora, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for that question, particularly with respect to her work in western economic diversification and the support this government is giving for certain companies to advance pipeline security, monitoring, and safety.

There is a reference to best available technology in this legislation. Through our support, these companies from Quebec City and across the country through to Alberta are working on exciting new technologies that will give a key frame of reference for all companies in the business of creating pipelines and energy infrastructure to focus on and take the safety element even further.

With respect to liability, there are two key points here. Pipeline companies remain fully liable when they are found to be at fault or negligent. This is referred to in insurance nomenclature as unlimited liability. What builds on that and what is terrific about the pipeline safety act, which on all accounts has been well received by stakeholders, is the absolute $1 billion liability, which means that no matter what the problem source or whose fault it is, the pipeline company would be responsible to pay up to $1 billion.

An analysis of historical data demonstrates that this level of absolute liability is world-class, world-leading coverage. Comparisons to countries around the world tell us that we are at the forefront and assure Canadians and our prospective customers in new markets that energy infrastructure is important to us and that our liability and compensations lead the world.

Pipeline Safety ActGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.


Chris Charlton NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, since this is the first sitting day of the 2015 calendar year, I begin by wishing you, Mr. Speaker, and all of my colleagues in the House a belated happy new year.

I do not know how I got lucky enough to be the first New Democrat to give a speech on a government bill in this chamber this year, but I am certain that there is a short straw with my name on it somewhere in the opposition lobby. Anyway, let us launch right into it.

The bill before us today is Bill C-46, An Act to amend the National Energy Board Act and the Canada Oil and Gas Operations Act. Perhaps it will help people to stop from nodding off if I explain at the outset that despite its unimaginative title, the bill really purports to improve pipeline safety in our country.

That is where we find the yardstick for whether my NDP colleagues and I will ultimately be able to support the bill. Does Bill C-46 actually improve pipeline safety, or is it a rhetorical exercise to provide the government cover in what is, after all, an election year? I will spend the next 20 minutes or so in this House trying to answer that single and most germane question.

I will begin by providing a bit of context first. There is no doubt that Canada's natural resources are a tremendous blessing and that our energy sector is the motor of the Canadian economy. It is imperative that we capitalize on those unique advantages. For New Democrats, that means that we have to leverage them by creating high quality middle-class jobs, by harnessing the full potential of Canada's natural gifts, and by maximizing the benefit of development for all Canadians. That development is vital to our economy and our country.

However, the reality is that resource development can only move forward if development is done sustainably. If we are going to seize the opportunities ahead, if we are going to leverage our resources to create wealth and prosperity for generations to come, then we will have to rise to meet new challenges and adapt to the new reality of the new century, and that requires a new vision, a vision that my NDP colleagues and I have been promoting tirelessly, not just for months, but for years now.

Our vision is one that promotes economic growth without sacrificing social or environmental sustainability, one that looks to the future instead of clinging to the past, and one that creates lasting prosperity instead of feeding endless cycles of boom and bust. To that end, our vision is based on three key principles: sustainability, to make sure that polluters pay for the pollution they create instead of leaving those costs to the next generation; partnership, to make sure that communities, provinces, and first nations all benefit from resource development and that we create value-added, middle-class jobs here in Canada; and most important, long-term prosperity that leverages our natural national resource wealth to invest in modern, clean energy technology that will keep Canada on the cutting edge of energy development and ensure there are affordable energy rates into the future.

For far too long, Canadians have been told they have to choose between our economy and our environment, but that is a false choice. It is an approach that is stuck in the past. A little less than two years ago, government documents revealed the very real economic costs of the environmental cleanup of the Giant Mine at Great Slave Lake. They have doubled from initial estimates, ballooning to nearly a billion dollars.

This is a vast industrial waste site bordering on the second deepest freshwater lake in the world, a Canadian treasure, and yet for more than half of the last century, it was contaminated with no regard for the costs it would impose on our children and grandchildren.

Communities from coast to coast to coast have made their voices clear. We will not let that happen again. However, despite this mess, the Conservative government is continuing down the same short-sighted path. It is dismantling every major piece of environmental protection and hurting Canada's economic development at the very same time.

Past generations can perhaps be excused for the way they treated places like Great Slave Lake, but our generation has no excuse. The fact is, in the 21st century, a social licence is every bit as important as a regulatory licence, if not more. In this day and age, any development model that relies on degrading our environment, on putting public safety at risk, or on exploiting our resources without benefiting our communities is no model at all.

Canadians understand only too well the long-term consequences of the Conservative government's attacks on our environmental laws, and they are reacting because those attacks are sabotaging resource development and ultimately our economy as a whole.

In big cities and in small towns, development projects are meeting increasing resistance. The northern gateway, Kinder Morgan, and energy east pipelines are but three of the most recent examples.

Why should Canadians not be worried? They see the Conservative government gutting environmental assessments, they see dangerous pipeline spills on the rise, and they worry whether their communities will be next.

A recent Harris/Decima poll conducted for the government made it clear that only 27% of Canadians are confident that the Government of Canada is able to respond effectively to a significant oil spill on water. The number is only slightly higher, at 32%, for oil spills on land. Similarly, a significant proportion of Canadians do not feel confident that pipelines, tankers, and trains are transporting dangerous goods safely. When it comes to rail transport, only 29% of Canadians feel confident that it is safe. Only 37% of Canadians believe oil tanker transport is safe, while 47% of Canadians are confident that pipelines can safely transport oil.

Clearly, that is not a vote of confidence in the Conservatives' handling of this critical file.

It is equally clear that Canadians share the belief of New Democrats that we must take steps to ensure that we are developing and transporting our resources in a safe and secure way; that we have to implement effective oil spill prevention measures; that we have to increase inspections in oversight; and that we have to push for expanded liability so that we are giving teeth to the polluter pays principle.

When it comes to oil transport, with the huge expansion in production and transportation of crude oil, we need enhanced safety protection. This is common sense, no matter what the method of transport.

Public safety and environmental protection must be the highest priorities if we are to develop our natural resources sustainably.

That brings us back to the heart of the bill that is before us today. Would Bill C-46 implement a true polluter pays regime in Canada, and would the bill go far enough to obviate Canadians' legitimate concerns when it comes to pipeline safety?

Let us look at what the bill purports to do.

Unfortunately, in the time allotted to me here today, it is only possible to do that in the broadest of terms. However, I am hopeful that we will be able to undertake the detailed clause-by-clause scrutiny the bill merits at the committee stage of the legislative process.

At its most general, the purpose of Bill C-46, would be to improve Canada's pipeline liability regime.

It would be part of the government's larger review of the distinct liability regimes that govern different aspects of Canada's oil and gas development. Here, members will recall that last year Bill C-22 dealt with liabilities related to offshore drilling and potential spills in both Arctic and Atlantic waters. As well, over the course of last year, the government began consultations on the liability regime governing rail transport, as it sought to do damage control in the wake of Lac-Mégantic. Now, we have yet a third piece before us dealing with the liability regime governing Canadian pipelines.

Here is what Bill C-46, would do.

It would reinforce the polluter pays principle.

It would confirm that the liability of pipeline companies is unlimited if an unintended or uncontrolled release of oil, gas, or any other commodity is a result of fault or negligence.

It would establish the limit of liability, without proof of fault or negligence, at no less than $1 billion for companies that operate pipelines with capacity to transport at least 250,000 barrels per day and an amount prescribed by regulation for companies that operate any other pipelines.

It would require that pipeline companies maintain the financial resources necessary to pay the amount of the limit of liability that would apply to them.

The bill would authorize the National Energy Board to order any company that operates a pipeline from which an unintended or uncontrolled release occurs to reimburse government institutions for the costs incurred in taking any action in relation to the release.

It would require that pipeline companies remain responsible for their abandoned pipelines.

It would authorize the NEB to order pipeline companies to maintain funds to pay for the abandonment of their pipelines.

It would authorize the Governor in Council to authorize the NEB to take, in certain circumstances, any action the NEB considers necessary in relation to an unintended or uncontrolled release.

It would also allow the Governor in Council to establish a pipeline claims tribunal to examine and adjudicate claims for compensation for damage caused by an unintended or uncontrolled release from a pipeline.

Many of these changes are long overdue, and I would be less than honest if I did not acknowledge that they appear to be a step in the right direction.

However, it is also true that, once again, the Conservatives are late to the game. New Democrats have been waiting for the government to fix oil spill liability for quite some time. As always, with the current government, the devil is in the details.

Let us take a closer look at the some of the pluses and minuses of what has been presented to us in this bill.

On the upside, the fact that polluters will be absolutely liable for harm caused by a pipeline spill is obviously a good thing. What it means is that any company operating a pipeline will be liable in the event of a spill even if it has not been negligent and has not broken any laws. Moreover, companies must have enough financial resources to cover in full the absolute liability limit. For companies whose pipelines have the capacity to move at least 250,000 barrels per day, that limit will be $1 billion once this bill passes. That monetary amount may be increased by the government in the future, but the bill would prohibit cabinet from lowering it. That too is a good thing.

The bill would also give the NEB new tools to recoup cleanup costs from polluters, and in certain circumstances it even gives the board the power to recover costs from the industry as a whole, not just from the individual polluter.

Finally on the plus side, the bill would make polluters liable for environmental damages. Members will recall that we spent a lot of time when scrutinizing of Bill C-22 on the need to make polluters responsible for environmental damages or losses of non-use value of public resources. It is as important now as it was then to ensure that liability is not just restricted to the environment's commercial value. Bill C-46 sets out to do that and is an important first step in catching up with U.S. oil spill regulation, which is much more developed with respect to the recognition of environmental damages.

However, as a thoughtful analysis by Ian Miron at Ecojustice makes clear, there is an overall lack of certainty in Bill C-46 that may well undermine what would otherwise be this positive first step. Specifically, Mr. Miron points out three things. First, and perhaps most crucially, Bill C-46 does not impose unlimited absolute liability on polluters. No liability regime can truly be called a polluter pays regime unless and until polluters are made absolutely liable for the full costs of environmental harm.

While the $1 billion limit for some companies may be a big improvement over the status quo, it still would not completely cover the cleanup costs of an accident such as Enbridge's Kalamazoo River spill in Michigan. According to recent estimates, that spill, the largest in U.S. history, cost more than $1.2 billion to clean up, not including compensation for damages.

Moreover, Bill C-46 actually takes a step backward by eliminating the government's ability to recover cleanup costs for a pipeline spill under the Fisheries Act, which applies in certain circumstances to make a polluter absolutely liable without limit. In the absence of such unlimited absolute liability, the government and, therefore, Canadians may still be on the hook for spills, and that, frankly, is wrong. If the government is so convinced that pipelines are a mature industry, then the industry is one that can and must pay for itself. Instead, the fact that this bill does not completely enshrine the polluter pays principle means that the Conservatives are giving just one more handout to its friends in the oil patch by making taxpayers liable for oil spill risks.

In that regard, it is also worth pointing out that the bill is completely silent on identifying absolute liability limits for smaller oil pipeline companies, or for gas and other non-oil pipeline companies. While such limits may be set by cabinet down the road, it begs the question of why the government would not do so now. Is volumetrics the only criterion the government has used to assess the potential magnitude of damages from a spill? I hope that in the course of our deliberations the Conservatives will give us an answer to that rather pressing question.

This leads to my final broad criticism of the bill. Just as the absolute liability limits are discretionary for all but the big pipeline companies, many other aspects of the new liability regime are as well. While the bill would create several new tools that could enhance the NEB's ability to recoup cleanup costs from a polluter, the NEB or the cabinet get to decide whether or not they will be implemented. As Ecojustice thus rightly points out, BillC-46 leaves considerable leeway for politically motivated decisions and backroom arrangements between operators and the NEB, a regulator that lacks credibility on the pipeline front.

In fact, this may be a good time to say yet again that the NEB needs a fundamental overhaul. While the Liberals and Conservatives have generally been happy simply to rubberstamp pipeline projects, my NDP colleagues and I firmly believe that major resource projects must be judged on their merits. That means that the NEB has to subject proposals to a rigorous and robust environmental assessment process. Assessment criteria must include the impact of each individual project on our emissions and climate change commitments, on Canadian jobs, and on national and regional energy security. Public consultations must be credible and democratic, not shallow, limited, or by paper only, and projects must honour our legal obligations to first nations.

Clearly, such rigour was absent in the NEB review of both Enbridge's northern gateway and Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain expansion, and the same flawed process is now being applied to TransCanada's energy east plans as well. No wonder Canadians are worried about these pipelines snaking their way through backyards.

Northern gateway has the capacity to move 525,000 barrels per day, 890,000 barrels per day for Kinder Morgan and a staggering 1.1 billion barrels per day for energy east. The potential for disaster is huge, which brings me to the last point I want to raise in wrapping up my participation in today's debate.

While the new liability regime deals with protecting Canadians from the cost of cleaning up an oil spill, my NDP colleagues and I believe the best way to protect Canadians is to ensure such spills do not happen in the first place. Measuring risk correctly and assigning liability may be one tool in the kit to encourage industry to improve its safety practices and therefore reduce the likelihood of catastrophic accidents. However, it is only one tool of many and nothing else is being done. Where is the concrete action to fix the broken environmental assessment process that the Conservatives have dismantled? Where is the much-needed legislation that would bring in better regulation and oversight?

As far back as 2011, the environment commissioned highlighted that the National Energy Board was failing to ensure that known problems were being fixed and that pipelines were being properly maintained. We have a world-class labour force that is ready and eager to do that work. However, without companies making commitments to pipeline safety, Canadians can be forgiven for wondering not whether an oil spill will happen but when.

Canada's natural resources are a tremendous blessing and managed properly and sustainably they can be important drivers for our economy. This is particularly true of the energy sector. However, instead of guiding our energy policy in the best interest of Canadian jobs, the environment and the economy, the Conservative government is gutting assessments and reviews, and failing to address the valid concerns of Canadians. That is such a narrow-minded and counterproductive approach. Social licence, the consent of Canadians for the development of Canada's resources, is crucial to the success of any project. However, instead of working to achieve such consent, the government's intransigence is actually undermining the support for companies in the pipeline sector by exacerbating opposition to energy development right across the country.

There is a better way, and the New Democrats have been championing it for years. It is based on sustainable development. Governments must look at environmental, social and economic impacts before going forward with any development project. That way we can prevent devastating environmental damage, while ensuring that Canadians benefit from Canada's natural bounty of resources. It is the right thing to do, and it finally would allow us to move beyond the all too convenient Conservative canard that Canadians must choose between the economy and the environment. Nothing could be further from the truth.

With the right kind of leadership, Canadians will finally be able to have their cake and eat it too, and that is the kind of leadership the NDP will provide when it forms government, under the experienced leadership of the member for Outremont, later on this year. That will make this a happy new year indeed.

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1 p.m.


Royal Galipeau Conservative Ottawa—Orléans, ON

Mr. Speaker, before I begin, I would like to wish you and all members of the House a very happy new year.

I listened carefully to the comments delivered by the hon. member. As of today, she has been a thoughtful and considerate representative for her district for 3,291 days, and I congratulate her.

The gist of the message I heard today is that the member is basically against pipelines, but she is for manufacturing, and in her district they manufacture pipelines. I would like the member to make an equalization between those two arguments.

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1 p.m.


Chris Charlton NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have not quite counted my presence in the House in days. I guess I have not had enough time to do that, but I do appreciate the numerical count. I thank the member, and I appreciate the good wishes.

With respect to the question being put about whether I support pipelines or manufacturing, it is a little like asking if I support the environment or the economy. It is a false choice. Of course I support manufacturing, and at no point in my speech did I say that I did not support pipelines. It would have been naive to say that we heat our homes with gas, but that we do not need gas pipelines. Nowhere in my speech did I make any such statement.

What I did say was that Canadians needed to have confidence that pipelines were safe, and that the Conservative government and its latest bill would not, on the face of it, provide Canadians with enough certainty that there would not be any pipeline spills. As the member will recall from my speech, I also said that we had a world-class workforce. That labour force, when it is constructing pipelines, is doing the very best that it can with the money and the mandate given to it by pipeline companies.

All I said in my speech was that Canadians deserved certainty. We have to implement the polluter pays principle. We have to develop our resources in a sustainable way. That includes the transport of those resources, of which pipelines are a significant part in Canada.

I would be willing to debate the manufacturing sector next. I would welcome that debate in the House, and perhaps we could do that. Perhaps the member would like to introduce a private members' bill so we could once again debate U.S. Steel, for example, a topic on which the Conservative government has been absolutely silent.

The future of U.S. Steel is obviously a huge issue in my hometown of Hamilton. Thousands of pensioners are concerned about their future. They have been waiting for the government to stand in the House and comment on the manufacturing sector, to bring forward a manufacturing sector strategy, and to take real action on the retirement security of Canadians.

I look forward to that debate.

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1:05 p.m.


Geoff Regan Liberal Halifax West, NS

Mr. Speaker, I think it is correct that the member for Hamilton Mountain has announced that she will not be running in the next election. I would like to congratulate her. It is a pleasure to work with her on the Standing Committee on Natural Resources. I know there is a new critic for natural resources, but I hope she will stay on the committee until the end of this session.

I would also like to congratulate her on the professionalism with which she conducts herself as a member of Parliament, from what I have seen, at all times. I do not want to go too far as she might change her mind and run again, and I would not want to read about my comments in an election brochure at some point.

Let me ask her a question about the absolute liability of $1 billion that the government has proposed. It is curious that is a round number. The government really has not told us what the considerations and criteria were in its calculations which found that this number was the correct one.

In the view of the NDP, what should be the limit on absolute liability and what considerations should be included in that calculation?