Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak today in the House to Bill C-46, the so-called pipeline safety act.
I listened closely to the speeches by the last two speakers in the House, and I hope that we can work together here in the House, but also at the Standing Committee on Natural Resources, on improving this bill and making it stronger and more effective. This is a major issue for the environment, for the industry and for Canada.
I hope this legislation will not suffer the same fate as the legislation that we finally passed through the House last year, which addressed the liability regime in Canada's offshore oil and gas sector. That legislation, Bill C-22, as I mentioned earlier in a question for the minister, was introduced numerous times by the Conservatives only to be left to languish on the order paper for several years. The government seemed to be in no hurry at all to move that forward, for the longest time, so the fact that it seems to be a bit more anxious now is encouraging. When that bill finally moved through the House, the government refused to accept a number of solid amendments that would have improved the bill, made it stronger, and given greater protection for the offshore environment.
I hope it will be a different story for Bill C-46. Perhaps one might say, when I express optimism, that I am feeling hope despite all past evidence to the contrary. However, I remain an eternal optimist.
The Liberal Party recognizes that pipelines are a critical part of our energy sector's infrastructure. We have all seen the consequences of the government's failure to provide the means to get our resources to market. We have all seen what it has meant domestically in Canada for communities and in the international community in terms of how the Conservative government is viewed as a regulator of the environment. It is certainly not seen as a defender of the environment, and it has no credibility when it comes to environmental regulations, which makes it harder to get acceptance, for example, for the Keystone XL pipeline in the U.S. or to sell our resources in the international market and around the world.
Bill C-46 has already drawn a number of comments from members of Parliament and from interested stakeholders and other groups. Some have raised concerns over the potential impact of leaving many of the proposed changes in Bill C-46 to the discretion of cabinet and the National Energy Board, as I was saying earlier. Again I am an eternal optimist, but hopefully the government side will address this issue during debate on the legislation or perhaps in committee.
I am also looking forward to hearing at some point from the leader of the Green Party on this legislation, who according to media reports, sees nothing in the bill that she would oppose. However, she also indicated that she looks forward to a discussion about why her party will always oppose any pipeline shipping diluted bitumen. I certainly look forward to hearing that discussion.
One thing on which there is consensus is the importance of the energy sector to our economy. It is undebatable. The energy sector makes a large direct contribution to jobs and economic growth in this country. That is perhaps one of the reasons we are so aware across Canada of the impact on the oil and gas sector of the recent drop in the price of oil.
Let us look at what generally has been the case in that sector. For instance, we have seen average annual government revenues of $26.6 billion from the oil and gas sector. That pays for a lot of doctors, a lot of schools, and a lot of teachers. It is a significant number, to say the least. Per year, it is $155 billion in the country's GDP and approximately 300,000 jobs. There are indirect impacts in engineering and construction jobs, about $2.5 billion in engineering and research and development in 2010, and $32 billion in annual energy efficiency savings across the economy in 2010. Important research development is happening in the energy sector. This is, without question, an important sector. In my view, this has to be part of the equation when we consider what ought to be the absolute liability limit for pipelines.
Overall, there seems to be a consensus that, while the bill is long overdue, it is a move in the right direction or at least a good first step. I do not think anyone would argue with the fact that we need to strengthen the safety and security of pipelines to ensure that companies operating them take every measure to prevent any spill from happening and of course be held accountable if a spill does occur.
I know the Minister of Natural Resources is fond of pointing out that between 2008 and 2013, 99.9995% of oil transported in federally regulated pipelines moved safely. It is not perfect, but it is certainly a very good record, and our pipeline companies do deserve recognition for this important achievement.
The fact of the matter is that we use petroleum products in our country every day. We could go outside to the nearest street and watch the number of cars that go by. They are not all electric, by any means. Most of them obviously are not. We use it to heat our homes. We use petroleum products in so many ways. We rely on pipelines. They are an important part of our economy and are likely to be for quite a while to come. They play an important role in our society, and it is vitally important that they be run safely. When they are, it is appreciated, and we have to find ways to ensure it is done as well as possible at all times.
However, we also need to look to the future and take every step possible to continue to prevent spills, because they are the last thing we want. We heard about one in Montana a few minutes ago. That is very alarming. We do not want to see the kind of damage that oil can do when it is released to the environment.
We need to put in place proper measures to efficiently and effectively clean up spills and assign appropriate liability to make sure that companies have a really strong incentive to look after those pipelines, to renew them, and to maintain them appropriately. Canada must have the safest pipelines in the world, and we need to ensure that this pipeline safety act is well designed to achieve that goal.
In the bill, the National Energy Board would be given increased regulatory control over the 73,000 km of pipeline that transport more than $100 billion worth of petroleum products across Canada annually. Bill C-46 would build on previous moves to give the NEB the authority to increase the number of pipeline inspections and double the number of yearly safety audits. It does not guarantee the NEB would actually do either of those things, but at least the bill gives it the authority. In that sense, it is a step in the right direction. The worry is the amount of discretion that would be given to cabinet and to the NEB, as I mentioned earlier.
The NEB would also be asked to provide guidance on the best available technologies for pipeline construction and operations. We have seen the measures that set out how the government would work with aboriginal communities and industry to develop a strategy to better integrate aboriginal peoples and pipeline safety operations. That is something those communities are very concerned about, for obvious reasons. This would include planning, monitoring, incident response, and related employment and business opportunities. I hope this is an indication that we will see some progress in this area.
However, let us look at some of the key provisions in Bill C-46. Previous speakers have noted that there would be at least the $1 billion absolute or no-fault liability limit. In other words, in a case where there is negligence or fault shown, the liability would be in fact unlimited. However, no-fault or absolute liability applies when that negligence or fault is not shown. It means that no matter what they have done, if the product is a deleterious product that could be toxic, we would hold them accountable when there is a release of it, whether or not it can be proven they were negligent. That is an important measure because it is a valuable product and it produces important revenues for the industry, so we have to hold them to account appropriately. We are talking here about an unintended or uncontrolled release of oil, gas, or other petroleum product from a pipeline.
Absolute liability applies to companies operating major oil pipelines; that is to say, those with capacity to transport at least 250,000 barrels per day of oil. Lesser amounts—so smaller pipelines—will be prescribed by regulation for companies that operate smaller pipelines.
It should be noted that Bill C-46 confirms that the liability of the companies operating pipelines would remain unlimited if the spill is the result of negligence. Companies would be required to maintain the financial resources to pay the amount of liability that applies to them and must make sure that the resources are readily accessible to ensure rapid response to any spill situation. They would be required, as stated in the bill, to have the materials and equipment necessary nearby in order to deal with a spill. I hope the NEB would enforce that.
Under the bill, the NEB would have the authority to take control of an incident response if a company were unable or unwilling to do so and to order reimbursement of any level of government, whether it be an aboriginal governing body or a federal-provincial-municipal government or an individual, for cleanup costs. That is a positive measure. Again, would be left to the discretion of the NEB, and that discretion is a concern.
If the NEB takes control of an incident response, the government may also establish a claims tribunal. Again, it is “may establish”. We do not know that the government will do this; we hope it would. It may also establish a claims tribunal to streamline claims for compensation for those affected by the spill. This could be a good measure, depending on how the government used its discretion in implementing this.
While the government would provide the resources to take control of an incident and set up a claims tribunal, it would have the authority to recover the costs from the individual or the company. That is a good thing.
The bill would also ensure that companies are liable for their pipelines until they are removed from the ground, and the National Energy Board would be authorized to make sure companies are responsible for the maintenance of their abandoned pipelines. Clearly these and other measures in Bill C-46 signify a much-needed overhaul of the liability regime for federally regulated pipelines.
The no-fault liability, the additional authorities given to the NEB, and measures around abandoned pipelines are welcome, and the Liberal Party will support sending the legislation for further study at committee. I expect that the process will lead to amendments at committee that strengthen this legislation. I hope we will be surprised to find that the government will actually adopt such amendments, because our past experience has been that this is not the case.
For instance, groups like Ecojustice have already noted that the effectiveness of the changes proposed in Bill C-46 would be left largely to the discretion of the National Energy Board and the government. I think this is an issue we will hear more about when the bill goes to committee for further study.
To wrap up, as I said earlier, I was a bit surprised to be debating Bill C-46 on the first day of the House coming back after the holiday recess and given the fact that this legislation was only introduced on December 8, 2014. Perhaps the haste with which the government is proceeding has more to do with trying to restore public confidence in pipelines after it has completely bungled the file so often.
As my colleague from Papineau has said, when it comes to pipelines, the Prime Minister and the government are all hat and no cattle. This is a government that has failed to effectively protect the interests of the oil and gas sector or the environment. Of course, the oil and gas sector needs pipelines to get its product to offshore markets and other markets domestically in North America in the safest manner possible. I suspect members would all agree that, in terms of transportation of petroleum products, a pipeline is safer than a truck or a train.
Look at the government's record. It has botched the handling of the Keystone XL project. It bungled the northern gateway. It has orphaned energy east. Let us not forget that this is a government that has swallowed itself whole with regard to its attitude toward the energy sector. It was not very long ago that the government and the Prime Minister were constantly boasting about how Canada was a petro-state. The Prime Minister boasted that we are an emerging energy superpower to anyone who would listen. As a result of his fixation with the oil and gas industry, his party became dismissive of the importance of other sectors.
Of course, that was when the price of oil was in the $100 a barrel range, and perhaps it will be there again in six months or a year. Who knows when? However, now that the price of oil has fallen dramatically, the Prime Minister and his minions have adopted a new mantra to try to cover their incompetence and their failed economic strategy to put all their eggs in one basket.
Today they are telling Canadians that the energy sector is just a small percentage of Canada's GDP and that the economy as a whole is strong. They should tell that to the workers who are experiencing downsizing these days.
Some voters might believe the empty rhetoric, if there were not obvious signs of panic and chaos within cabinet ranks. We have a finance minister who one day says that his economic forecast remains on target and the very next day says that he is forced to delay the budget for several more months because of severe economic uncertainty. How do those two things equate? How do they go together? Clearly, the finance minister is hiding his budget, for obvious reasons.
I hope the natural resources minister is not hiding the real reason he is moving so quickly on Bill C-46. I hope the government is serious about pipeline safety, when it comes to Bill C-46, and is not just trying to cover up its ineptness and incompetence. I guess we will find out when we see its response to our efforts to enhance and strengthen this legislation to make sure that Canada has the safest pipeline infrastructure in the world. I hope that means the government will allow us to hear what experts have to say about what the limit ought to be and how this bill ought to be amended to be improved. After all, Canadians deserve nothing less.