Mr. Speaker, thank you very much. I asked for your intervention because I believe this is a very important piece of legislation and it is important for us to understand what the bill is and is not doing.
As I mentioned, the bill expands on the polluter pay principle, a welcome intervention, by imposing liability on operators for losses to non-use value of public resources, but it limits the power to the federal crown to pursue compensation for those impacts, and there is some concern that the National Energy Board would not necessarily seriously pursue compensation.
It expands the National Energy Board's powers to order actions by the companies where there are risks to safety or security of the public, to the company employees, or to the pipelines or abandoned pipelines, and for protection of property or the environment.
However, it may noted that the recently tabled estimates for 2015-16 provide for reductions in the budget of the National Energy Board for the regulation of pipelines contributing to the safety of Canadians and the protection of the environment. So much for the touted equal attention to supporting resource development and environmental protection. No additional resources will be allocated for the ongoing mandate and no additional resources for the added mandate of the NEB for abandoned pipelines.
Natural Resources is also apparently being cut by $320 million across the board, or 12.6% of its budget. Surely, given the potential payouts under Bill C-46, this is not the time to be paying down the deficit on the backs of the communities impacted by spills.
There would be greater confidence in the commitments of the government to address the impact if a contingency fund were set aside. That will become apparent later in the discussion of the bill, as taxpayers may be left holding the bag under this law.
The Canadian Environmental Protection Agency is also forecast to be cut by $13.6 million or 44% of its budget. A significant portion of its budget has previously gone to supporting aboriginal consultation. Many of these pipelines go through first nation lands, which are already designated as these lands or are being claimed.
Given the number of resource projects proposed and the fact that the NEB does not adequately deliver on public participation in decision-making, it is impossible to understand how the government will fulfill its duty to consult indigenous peoples and how any project will obtain the social licence needed to operate.
Yes, we recognize that these budgets may well be supplemented through the supplementary estimates, but it is astounding nonetheless that at the same moment we are debating a bill touted to improve pipeline safety, the government tables estimates providing no increased funds to deliver on the expanded mandate of the National Energy Board, the tribunal, and for the government to address spill compensation, let alone the coverage of spill clean-up costs.
This is troubling on a number of fronts. The scale of potential risks and the potential impact from major increased daily volumes have increased, in particular given the nature of the products proposed to be piped, in other words, diluted bitumen. First, the Enbridge gateway pipeline proposes 525,000 barrels a day. The Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain expansion would add 890,000 barrels a day, and the TransCanada energy east pipeline, if approved, would add 1.1 million barrels a day.
One can only hope that the intent is to retroactively apply these higher liabilities for pipelines already approved prior to the passage of this law. This law should be triggering significantly enhanced inspection and capacity to respond to breaks and spills as well. This is important given the poor record by the National Energy Board and the pipeline operators in detecting pipeline breaks and spills or in seeking compliance.
The majority of pipeline accidents of late in my province of Alberta and in the Northwest Territories have been discovered and reported, by and large, by citizens or aboriginal hunters and trappers out on their lands, not by the National Energy Board or provincial regulatory agencies, or by the companies themselves. For example, there was the incident in Wrigley.
I had an opportunity to see this when attending a Dene gathering in Fort Providence a couple of years ago, where a hunter came to the meeting and revealed that when he was out on the land, he was sitting down by a marsh and suddenly a bear appeared. There did not seem to be anything he could do to make the bear go away. He would scare the bear away and the bear would come back. So he finally decided that he would investigate what was happening with this strange behaviour of the bear. He discovered a major break in a pipeline and a massive spill. That is one example where the operators are simply not detecting, reporting, and apprising the people on the land of accidents.
In addition, in this case, we had to step in and demand support for the first nation community, which was trying to address the impact of this spill. If we had not done that, the National Energy Board would not have stepped forward.
I could go on and on about the incidents with pipelines in Alberta. For example, there was a spill from the Plains Midstream pipeline near Sundre, Alberta, into a river, then into a drinking water reservoir. It was not reported to the impacted landowners.
In April 2011, there was the largest pipeline spill in history, again by Plains Midstream, with 4.5 million litres of oil spilling northeast of Peace River. Again, that was detected by the Dene Tha' First Nation and not the operator. They ended up having to close the local school because of the fumes from the petroleum. The first nation was deeply concerned about the impacts on the waters, fish, birds, and wildlife they relied upon, and concerned about the many abandoned wellsites and pipelines. That, of course, is an example where, if the first nations are not able to seek compensation for impacts on the waters, fish, birds, and wildlife they rely upon in their habitat, it will become an issue if the government does not step up to the plate.
Again, I remind this place of the Wabamun derailment and spill. Yes, it was not a pipeline, but it took a week for the federal agencies to actually come forward and assist the first nations directly impacted by that incident.
What are some of the concerns that have been identified with the bill? There are some additional concerns with respect to many of the reforms in Bill C-46, including expanded powers and new rights.
The reforms themselves are welcome, including expansion to abandoned well sites, expansion of liability, and the increase in the liability to $1 billion. However, there are some concerns with the way the bill as drafted; for example, with the adequacy of the upper limit of $1 billion. We can all recall the Kalamazoo bitumen spill cost $600 million merely to clean up the spill, and that was before any compensation was given to any of the communities or property owners who were impacted.
Ecojustice has stated that the bill would fail to prescribe mechanisms to actually assess the risk, taking into consideration either the type of materials shipped, whether they are more corrosive, for example: the potential for environmental, and, I would add, health, damages; an accident or compliance history; and the age of the line and, I would suggest, also the maintenance record.
There is no provision in the bill specifying what the National Energy Board is supposed to consider, or the tribunal once it is established.
Second, concerns have also been raised about bankruptcy implications. There is a concern that the polluter pay provisions may be superseded in the case of bankruptcy of a pipeline owner or operator, as bankruptcy law prevails. That is something that merits discussion at committee.
Third, there is concern with the level of discretion vested in the National Energy Board and in the tribunal. There appears to be a discretionary, potentially politically influenced, process. For example, the company must first be designated before the tribunal may review.
It is also not clear whether there would be a permanent tribunal and whether its members would simply sit around, waiting for a pipeline to be designated, or a company designated, or whether it would only step forward at the time that there is an incident and compensation claims are required.
This would also only occur in a situation where the cabinet, in its discretion, has determined, on the recommendation of a minister, that a company does not have sufficient resources to pay costs or clean-up, or the company has failed to comply with an NEB order.
The National Energy Board could then directly reimburse for the impacts or the costs incurred, and the payment could be directed from a pooled fund. The costs could be recovered as a debt, but that is unlikely from a bankruptcy.
The tribunals would be established only, as I said, where a company is designated; in other words, for each incident, not permanently designated.
Proposed subsection 48.18(2) is a little confusing. It states that the Governor in Council, in other words, the cabinet, could only establish a tribunal if it is in the public interest, somehow factoring in the extent of the compensable damage. It is unclear if the concern is with too small a claim or a very large one.
The tribunal would be granted total discretion in how to notify the public. It has been suggested by a number of parties who have participated in other tribunals that there should be clear guidance on who is actually supposed to notify the public that they can seek a claim for damages and how they would go about doing that.
There is also the query of why only the appointment of retired judges. In many cases in these tribunals, it is perhaps more appropriate to appoint people with a technical background who understand pipelines, the impacts and so forth.
The reason this issue has been raised is because the staffing and expertise for the tribunal is at the discretion of the National Energy Board. However, there is no certainty that there will be some form of secretariat with the appropriate expertise to assist the tribunal in its determinations.
It is encouraging that the cabinet may make regulations authorizing the tribunal to award fees, travel and other costs for claimants to present their case. However, that will be by regulation, and it is not clear what the timeline is on the issuance of those regulations to set the guidance.
It is noted that the regulations could fix a maximum compensation, but we do know what factors that is based on, as mentioned earlier. Perhaps it would be a good idea to actually provide criteria for calculating the costs of the impacts.
The imposition of fees, levies and charges for payouts can be drawn from the consolidated revenue fund. However, there is the issue and concern of how seriously the funds will be pursued from the operator or whether there will be reliance on public funds.
The National Energy Board would be empowered to issue regulation-setting rates, but there is no mention of consultation with either the pipeline operators or the public on how it will set those rates for the levies and fees. It will be important for the National Energy Board to report regularly on its efforts to recover the debts incurred or spill cleanup for compensation. However, there is no mention in the bill to that effect.
Regarding cost advances to file claims, it is unclear if the law would allow for the payment of advanced funds to address or cleanup a spill, or if it would also allow for advances to people who would seek compensation to hire lawyers, experts and so forth, which is very important in procedures before a tribunal.
Increasing concerns are being expressed within communities and first nations with the approach to regulating pipelines arising from failed spill prevention, failed detection, failed response to spills and the failure of the National Energy Board or other government agencies to require pipeline proponents to disclose their emergency and spill response plans for public review and scrutiny.
This certainly has arisen in the review of the Kinder Morgan proposed trans mountain pipeline expansion. People along that line are very concerned that they are not getting access to the emergency spill response plan.
The same is the case with the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation with a review of a pipeline in Alberta. It eventually pulled away from an Energy Board review because it was denied access to that emergency spill response plan for a pipeline and then given less than 24 hours to review the document.
The Alexis First Nation in Alberta has also been demanding greater access to information on the spill from breaches of mines.
The preference of Canadians is the prevention of harm to their communities, the environment, and not mere compensation after the fact. As the expression goes, “Mieux vaut prévenir que guérir ”.
The improved measures provided under Bill C-46 will be welcomed and will offer succour to those impacted by major spills. However, that is unlikely to be sufficient to restore trust in the government or in the National Energy Board in the wake of denied access to potentially impacted communities and first nations of emergency spill response plans, the downgrading of federal environmental and fisheries laws, and the diminished opportunity for public first nations to participate in pipeline reviews.
Frankly, in the National Energy Board and provincial energy reviews, there have been many concerns raised. I gave the example of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, which is extremely disturbed that the pipeline will go through its traditional lands, not having access to major documents.
The change to the National Energy Board intervener rules would limit participation. I gave the example of where the previous minister of Natural Resources dubbed “interveners” in the review of pipelines as “radical groups” who “hijack our regulatory system to achieve their radical ideological agenda”, merely because they sought to intervene to raise concerns with pipeline projects.
Concerns have been expressed by the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development in his 2011 report regarding the long-standing failure by Transport Canada and the National Energy Board to ensure compliance or corrective action, and the failure of the NEB to review emergency procedures of 39% of regulated companies. Absent of increased resources, there is little confidence this will be addressed in a timely manner.
Yes, Canadians recognize that they rely on fossil fuels for use, benefit from revenues from sale and export, and that pipelines are needed to transport the fuel. However, it is reasonable for Canadians to expect their government to regulate the sector in a manner that ensures the protection of their health and environment.