Mr. Speaker, it is a great honour to rise, and I wish to salute my colleague from New Westminster—Coquitlam for his excellent speech just now. I wish to avoid repeating some of the fine points he made, but I need to say a couple of things at the outset.
First, this false dichotomy of environment versus the economy, as he explained so eloquently, is simply a relic of the past. It is another example of the Conservatives' effort to divide Canadians, as they have done so effectively using terror as a wedge. They do this on the environment all the time as well. The rhetoric of the $20 billion carbon tax comes to mind, to their everlasting shame. However, that need not be the case at all in a bill like this.
Second, I want to congratulate the government for finally moving forward with something to deal with pipeline liability. It is long overdue. It is something that has been so long called for that the Conservatives have finally woken up and done the right thing.
I wish to say at the outset that I am going to talk about three things in the bill that bear repetition.
The first thing is the enormous amount of discretion given to the cabinet and to the National Energy Board. It looks great to say we are enabling a whole bunch of things to be done. The legal reality on the ground, of course, is very different. It is only if the regulator chooses to go ahead that anything meaningful will happen. I just hope Canadians are not deluded into thinking that somehow things are going to change. They may change—it is an excellent first step—but only if regulators choose to exercise the discretion that has been given to them in the bill so frequently, as I will say. That is what this bill is about.
The second thing that needs to be said is that environmental legislation and liability legislation ultimately have to do with whether there is enforcement. To use a Shakespearean metaphor:
...full of sound and fury,
That is unless and until the bureaucrats make the rules that would be enabled in this bill. Again, it is an enabling statute. If those rules that are made, once made, are not enforced because there are deals between the companies and the regulators and the like, so what? That reality needs to be put front and centre as we debate this enabling legislation.
I also wish to speak about orphan pipelines. I think that bears some discussion. First, this is an effort, no doubt, to increase the public's confidence in the regulation of our pipelines. A recent Harris/Decima poll conducted by the government pointed out that only 27% of Canadians are confident that the Government of Canada is able to respond effectively to a significant oil spill on water; a few more, 32%, think it can do better with oil spills on land. Canadians do not feel confident that pipelines, tankers, and trains that are transporting dangerous goods will do so safely. That is what the polling suggests. When it comes to rail transport, only 29% of Canadians feel confident that it is safe, and only 37% of Canadians believe oil tanker transport is safe; yet 47%, almost half, are confident pipelines can be made to transport oil safely. I say that because we need to talk about the enormous amount of diluted bitumen that is being moved through our waters, across our land on trains, and in pipelines. If Canadians have little or no confidence in those measures, then of course we need to work on that. To the government's credit, this bill is some effort to do so, if anything is effectively done with the powers that would be given.
I wish to say at the outset that this is indeed a good first step, and should therefore be taken in that context.
When the minister was speaking to this bill at first reading, he talked about how the bill would stipulate that companies have a legal obligation to respond to requests that the National Energy Board may make in relation to audits. It is passing strange that companies do not have to do so now, I gather. That is rather disturbing.
It says that the National Energy Board would strive to align federal and provincial pipeline safety zones. That is not good enough. The Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act is an excellent example of co-operative federalism where, for dangerous goods that are moving by trucks or other ways, we have a federal set of regulations inches thick that are incorporated by reference in each of the provinces. We have a one-size-fits-all, coast-to-coast approach for the transportation of dangerous goods. For the minister to say we would strive to align pipeline standards surely is not sufficient.
Speaking of things that are not sufficient, the thing that concerns me the most is this notion of companies remaining responsible for abandoned pipelines in perpetuity. I have some experience with that. After a company has abandoned a pipeline, is long gone, and has had an amalgamation or transfer of ownership, in what practical way is the National Energy Board going to be able to make it continue to be responsible for that abandoned asset?
Some people will be aware of the Britannia Beach mine in British Columbia as they go up to Whistler. It was a copper mine during the First World War. It was a multi-billion dollar liability. There was acid rock drainage seeping into Howe Sound. When the companies were finally hit with a cleanup order by the province under the Environmental Management Act, they had to go back and do forensic accounting to try to find out who the successors in title were to the ancient companies that were the owners of the assets of the mine over time. It took a lot of time and money. Ultimately, they were found.
The problem is that it is very difficult to go after people. To blithely say that there is liability for abandoned pipelines in perpetuity needs more than just mere words. It is a very complicated matter to seek liability.
I said I would be positive about the bill, and I wish to say that the idea of unlimited liability in certain circumstances is an excellent idea. Absolute liability for up to $1 billion, regardless of fault, is an excellent idea. However, what happens after $1 billion? I suppose then that negligence has to be proven in a court of law.
To people listening, $1 billion might sound like an enormous figure, but that is only until we put it into context and understand it. Simply, the Kalamazoo spill in Michigan has already cost $1.2 billion for the cleanup, let alone liability to others. Enbridge owned that pipeline. It wants to bring us another pipeline in our province, called the northern gateway pipeline.
That sum of $1 billion sounds like a lot, and I congratulate the government for the notion of absolute liability, but in context, it may not be adequate. After that, one would have to prove negligence in a court of law. Sometimes, fault and negligence are not easy things to establish.
Another thing in the bill that I think is an excellent idea, and I congratulate the government for it, is providing the government with the ability to recover costs associated with so-called non-use value environmental damages. There is no guidance on what that means, but the Supreme Court of Canada has contemplated that damages to the environment itself and the cost to the environment is worthy of cleanup. That is excellent to find in a Canadian statute, and I congratulate the drafters for putting it in. In the future, I hope that courts will pour meaning into what “environmental damages” might mean.
As I mentioned, the problem with section 48 of the National Energy Board Act as amended for abandoned pipelines is of concern. The NEB would be given the power to take necessary measures when a company does not comply with a particular cleanup order, but only given this power with respect to abandonment and abandoned pipelines. It does not relate to operating pipelines. It is not clear. I suppose in committee we could understand, if the government is open to amendments, whether that could be clarified. I say “open to amendments”, because in my experience, the Conservative government is rarely, if ever, open to amendments, unless they come from its side of the aisle.
The bill is a comprehensive bill. I mentioned some of its deficiencies. I need to say, as I go back to where I started on public confidence, that it was way back in 2011 that the environmental commissioner pointed out that the National Energy Board was failing to fix a number of known problems and ensure that pipelines would be properly maintained. Here we are, and the Conservatives have still not implemented the regulations for proper oversight and inspection from four years ago. Action would be required.
To conclude, it is a nice first step. It is good to see that there are things there, all of which require discretion and enforcement. I hope that, when we get this bill to committee, we can make it better.