Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for Victoria.
I am pleased to rise in the House today to speak to Bill C-46, An Act to amend the National Energy Board Act and the Canada Oil and Gas Operations Act.
I will begin by stating that Canada's natural resources are a tremendous asset and the energy sector is a critical component of our economy. From oil, gas, trees, fish to mining, the New Democrats recognize the vital role that natural resources play in the Canadian economy.
However, unlike the Conservatives and the Liberals, the NDP has presented a clear vision which leverages our natural capital to create wealth and prosperity, while maintaining a high level of social, cultural and environmental integrity. The New Democrat vision for resource extraction focuses on three key principles of sustainable development.
The first principle is environmental integrity. It requires us to ensure that polluters pay for environmental impacts they create instead of passing those costs on to future generations.
The second principle is partnerships. It requires that government ensure that communities, provinces, territories and first nations benefit from resource development and that we create value-added middle class jobs right here in Canada.
The final principle is long-term prosperity. It focuses on leveraging Canada's natural wealth to invest in modern, clean energy technology that will keep Canada on the cutting edge of energy development and ensure affordable rates into the future.
For far too long, Canadians have been told that they have to choose between the economy and our environment. That is a false choice. It is an approach that is stuck in the past. In articulating our balanced approach, the New Democrats believe that our natural resources must be developed sustainably. Polluters must pay for the damage they cause. This is common sense and is fair.
While natural resources are undoubtedly a central component of the Canadian economy, only Canada's New Democrats recognize the need to move away from our overreliance on fossil fuels and have a vision for development that promotes economic prosperity and job creation that goes hand-in-hand with social, economic and environmental responsibility.
For most residents of B.C.'s Lower Mainland, like those in my riding of New Westminster—Coquitlam and Port Moody, having government approach natural resource development through a collaborative approach, with the principles of sustainability at its core, is a necessary precondition for their support of resource projects.
While the Liberals and the Conservatives have been happy to rubberstamp pipeline projects, the New Democrats believe that major resource projects must be judged on their merits. That means projects must be subjected to a rigorous and robust environmental assessment process. Assessment criteria must include an impact assessment of our emissions and climate change impacts on Canadian jobs and on national and regional energy security.
Public consultations must be credible and democratic, not shallow, limited or paper-based. Projects must honour the legal obligations of our duty to consult first nations. Clearly, such rigour has been absent in the review of the northern gateway and Kinder Morgan proposals in British Columbia, and the same flawed process is now being applied to the energy east pipeline.
Despite the divisive pipeline politics that the Conservative government has created, Bill C-46 is a much needed and long overdue first step toward a polluter pays regime for pipelines in Canada. Although the bill can be seen more as an initial step than a giant leap forward, the fact that polluters will be absolutely liable for harm caused by a pipeline spill is a step in the right direction.
Once passed, Bill C-46 will ensure 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. For companies whose pipelines have the capacity to move at least 250,000 barrels per day, that limit will be up to $1 billion. That monetary amount can be increased by the government in the future, but the bill would prohibit cabinet from lowering it. That too is a good thing.
Despite the purported goal of implementing the polluter pays principle, Canadians may still be at risk as the limit in Bill C-46 places a liability of $1 billion when there is no proof of fault or negligence. This means that taxpayers may still be on the hook for oil spills costing more than that.
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 cost of an accident, such as the Enbridge 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, and still damages remain today.
While not a pipeline spill, I think of my home province of British Columbia and the disastrous Mount Polley mine spill that happened last August as an example of how a breach of a tailings pond can have a major environmental consequence, which may not be immediately apparent. With Mount Polley, which many say is the worst environmental disaster in British Columbia's history, the extent of the damage is predicted to remain unknown for years, even decades, as toxins can slowly accumulate in the environment, from lake bottom, to fish and wildlife, to people. This underscores that the $1 billion threshold might not be high enough, given the ambiguous cleanup times often associated with these types of disasters.
Finally, Bill C-46 would actually take 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 liability, the government, and therefore Canadian taxpayers, may still be on the hook for oil spills. This is just plain wrong and highly unfair.
If the government is so convinced that pipelines operate within a mature industry, then the industry is one that can and must pay for itself. Instead, the fact that the bill would not completely enshrine the polluter pays principle, means Conservatives are giving yet another handout to their friends in the oil patch by making taxpayers liable for oil spill risks.
I support imposing liability for oil spills on pipeline operators. However, ultimately, it remains imperative that we prevent oil spills from happening in the first place instead of concentrating solely on who is responsible for the cleanup.
To that end, we need better regulation and oversight. The New Democrats are committed to rebuilding a robust environmental assessment process to undo the damage done by the Conservative government.
The New Democrats understand the need to move away from our overreliance on fossil fuels and have a vision for development that promotes economic prosperity and job creation, hand in hand with social and environmental responsibility. However, until modern society can curb its dependence on fossil fuels, ensuring the utmost precautions are in place to prevent environmental degradation caused by spills, including imposing a financial liability on the operators of these pipelines, is vital.
As we have witnessed, a failure to properly regulate the natural resource sector can have a disastrous consequence for natural habitats and the environment in which we live. I will relay the impact of a spill that happened in a neighbouring community of mine.
Kinder Morgan was ordered by the courts to pay a mere $150,000 for a 224,000 litre spill of albian heavy synthetic crude oil into Burnaby's Westridge neighbourhood and Burrard Inlet, which my riding is connected to and shares. Nearly 78,000 litres poured into Burrard Inlet, impacting 1,700 kilometres of shoreline. Following that spill, Kinder Morgan spent almost $15 million in remediation costs and millions more for personal property damage. Imagine this pipeline twinned and the amount of tanker traffic in the Inlet doubling or tripling.
Residents along this pipeline are hugely concerned about an oil spill that would impact their property, neighbourhood, community and, indeed, the surrounding environment. Many people are concerned, and we need to address these issues. As I said, the bill is a step in the right direction, but it does not go far enough.