Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise and participate in this debate on Bill C-628 and to bring a perspective from the east coast, one of Canada's other two coasts, as the member for Halifax West in Nova Scotia.
The bill calls for a ban on oil tanker traffic from the inland waters of Canada's Pacific north coast, which is a magnificent area that includes the Great Bear Rainforest, many species of wildlife, and runs of salmon. It is a magnificent area that is important to preserve and protect.
Coming from Halifax West as I do, I appreciate the strong desire that people have in British Columbia to protect coasts and coastal communities. I understand the concerns that many have with respect to the potential of supertankers, which are the very large crude carriers, or what are now called “VLCCs”. They carry far more oil than the Exxon Valdez carried when it went aground and leaked so much oil back in 1989. I think it is about eight times as much. People have very great concerns about tankers that huge travelling through such sensitive areas.
As I have said, I come from a coastal community, and we see the snow starting to melt in Nova Scotia. We have had an awful lot of snow this year. As my colleague says, I can dare to dream, but I am looking forward to the summer and kayaking along the coast of Newfoundland if I can get a little time away from the long campaign that we expect to start once the House rises.
I guess there is no surprise when we look at the situation and the position of the current government. First of all, it is difficult to understand why the Conservatives would not support the bill before us, but on the other hand, it should not be a surprise to anyone who has seen how the Conservative government has systematically dismantled so many critical environmental protections during what can only be described as a decade of devastation.
The proposed legislation closely resembles previous bills that have been brought forward to the House a number of times, the contents of which will be familiar to members. Of course, amendments to the Canada Shipping Act are the main focus of the bill before us. While much of this was in earlier legislation, there is one notable difference in Bill C-628, which is the addition of provisions to amend the National Energy Board Act to require the NEB to take into account certain factors before making a recommendation to the minister with regard to the issuance of a pipeline certificate. For example, one element of the bill asks the NEB to ensure that consultations on pipeline projects occur and to report on those consultations in its consideration of a project.
These consultations are more important than ever these days. I think we see today that even when the National Energy Board approves a project, it does not necessarily mean it is going ahead, because there is that question of social licence. One has to have a considerable amount of community support before moving forward with a natural resource project of any size. I think that is why it is so important that we develop greater confidence in the public in terms of the regulatory processes we have in this country as they relate to the approval of those projects and to environmental assessment.
Therefore, when the government has gutted the programs and the assessments in the way it has, it is a great concern. I look forward to discussing this aspect of Bill C-628. Hopefully when it goes to committee, as I hope it will, this aspect will get great discussion there as well.
However, the fact is that the government has undermined public trust around pipeline projects. In fact, I hope we hear more today from Conservative British Columbians, who will really share their views on this topic. I wonder if they will reflect on the fact that eight out of ten British Columbians are in favour of the kind of measures that are being proposed here and are opposed to ships carrying crude oil travelling through the waters we are talking about. That will be interesting.
Maybe they will explain why the government felt the need to change the National Energy Board process to further limit consultation about pipelines or to shorten the National Energy Board regulatory reviews to a maximum time limit of 15 months. The question is how this makes sense—that is, to limit the consultation of Canadians—when they are more engaged than ever before on these issues. Is it not a time to give them more opportunity to have a say?
We are not talking about foreign radicals, as was said by the Minister of Finance, who was or the Minister of Natural Resources at the time. That it is what members opposite want people to believe. In fact, National Energy Board officials testified recently before the natural resources committee, of which I am member, and said that the Canadian energy industry is in the midst of a “perfect storm”.
The NEB noted, in fact, that in March 2010, when the board released its Keystone XL decision, it was to relatively little fanfare, and there were only 29 intervenors in the process. We can contrast that with the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project, which has 400 interveners and more than 1,300 commentators. Then there is the energy east application and the hearings related to that, where there are close to 2,300 application participants. We can see a great deal of public engagement these days, yet the government wants to cut that short.
When more and more Canadians are engaging in the debate about pipelines and pipeline safety, the Conservatives think they should have fewer and fewer opportunities to express their opinions. They are out of sync with Canadians on this, and certainly with British Columbians, as we can see from all the surveys that tell us about concerns British Columbians have on these topics. I think they are out of line.
In my province right now, the roads are in rough shape after the winter we have had. There are lots of potholes, and I am sure that more than one person over the course of this spring is going to have to pay for a wheel alignment to keep his or her vehicle going straight. Canadians are going to want a realignment of the Government of Canada as well, so that it is aligned with their priorities, views, and values, which the government clearly is not.
It makes no sense to cut this process short. That is a big part of the reason that there is so much mistrust of the government these days, and why there is so much mistrust of the processes that I have been talking about. Of course, the Conservatives have fed that mistrust by gutting elements of the Fisheries Act and the Navigable Waters Protection Act in their several omnibus bills, particularly Bill C-38.
As my party's critic for natural resources, I am keenly aware of how important, and at times how highly controversial, the issue of pipelines has become for Canadians. Given the sustained interest on the subject of Bill C-628, the fact that we have had this issue come to us in various forms over the years, including in bills introduced by my colleague from Vancouver Quadra, and coupled with the Conservative government's rollbacks on environment protection in recent years, it is clear that additional study of the concepts raised in Bill C-628 is very much needed and warranted.
Many of my B.C. colleagues, including the sponsor of this legislation, have already spoken about how the bill would impact the west coast and how important it is to residents of northwestern British Columbia. Coming from Atlantic Canada, representing Halifax West, I can assure my friends on all sides that the folks on the east coast share the pride in maritime traditions and have a connection with the ocean similar to that of people in British Columbia.
Nova Scotia, for example, has 20 companies involved in our ocean research in areas like fisheries, aquaculture, offshore oil and gas, maritime security, and shipbuilding. There are many areas in which Atlantic Canadians are connected to our oceans, as British Columbians are. It is important to support this bill and send it to committee for further study.