Mr. Speaker, I would also like to wish you a very happy retirement. We have all appreciated your time in this House.
I have a lot of worries and questions as I enter this debate on the bill. The pipeline safety bill is a contemporary issue that links transportation and safety.
In recent years, a number of serious incidents all over North America have repeatedly brought this issue to the forefront of many citizens' concerns, including the people of my riding, Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles. For example, many of my constituents have said they are worried about the oil terminal proposed for the port of Cacouna. Pipeline safety and security are under close watch by the Canadian people.
Moreover, this is a crosscutting debate that affects several levels of government, such as municipalities, provinces, territories and other social groups and communities, including first nations.
As I speak today, I hope the government will listen to my fears, take note of my questions so it can answer them, and show its good faith and its openness to dialogue and to the amendments we will be proposing later.
I want to tell the House about three main aspects of this bill: the importance of favouring prevention over reaction; the cap of $1 billion on the polluter pays principle applying to private companies' spills; and the future of our energy resources.
I have a lot to say about the importance of favouring prevention over reaction. After a decade in power, the Conservatives are looking tired, or maybe even lazy. They are tired of having to meet the needs of the population and the middle class and tired of facing criticism. Their masks are beginning to slip, and we can see what lies behind.
The Prime Minister's stubbornness has caused considerable damage to our environment and our economy. Why did he not seize the opportunity afforded by this legislation to be proactive? The Conservatives always seem to be in reaction mode, as if they have to wait for the very worst, for things to hit rock bottom, before they will take action. It should not be that way. Canadians expect better.
There is a total lack of leadership when it comes to pipeline regulation in Canada. However, the real question we need to ask ourselves is this: is that because of laziness or is it because it is in the Conservatives' interest to help oil companies? The statistics, data and testimony about the effects of spills are compelling.
The Conservatives are dragging their heels on this. Pipeline incidents have been happening for a long time now. Maybe they should stop by the Transportation Safety Board of Canada's website a little more often. The website posts monthly statistics on pipeline incidents, and there are incidents every month.
The Conservatives also introduced disturbing new standards for reporting incidents. This is what a Radio-Canada article had to say:
Until July 2014, any spill, no matter how small, had to be reported to the TSB. On July 1, the federal body harmonized its regulations with those of the National Energy Board, the NEB. From now on, only spills of 1.5 cubic metres or more have to be reported.
That means that pipeline-related incidents need to be reported only if they are in excess of 1.5 cubic metres. Our government agencies do not record spills that are smaller than that.
Am I the only one who finds that disturbing? The Conservatives have kept us waiting quite a while when it comes to figuring out who is liable for oil spills resulting from broken pipelines.
I would also like to take this opportunity to emphasize the dire need for more inspections and more monitoring, as well as measures to prevent oil spills. We cannot allow this government's lack of leadership to endanger communities, infrastructure, wildlife and plants.
It is also important to talk about the polluter pays concept.
The NDP has been defending this principle for quite some time. Since the Conservatives are stuck working with us, our ideas seem to have inspired them. Still, it took a tragedy for them to act.
The Lac-Mégantic tragedy served as a lesson for the Conservatives. We cannot allow companies to operate on Canadian soil if they cannot respond appropriately in the event of fault or negligence. However, we must realize that it does not take long to spend $1 billion in the event of a spill. Consider the costs associated with decontamination, compensation, damage to infrastructure, and so on.
A number of experts shared their concerns regarding this $1 billion limit, indicating for instance that a spill in an urban setting could easily cost $5 billion or $10 billion. We have to make sure that polluters pay for the pollution they create, rather than pass the cost on to future generations, namely, our children and grandchildren.
Ian Miron, a lawyer with Ecojustice, has said that no liability regime can truly be considered a polluter pays regime unless and until polluters are made absolutely liable for the full costs of environmental harm.
As for the cap, it will certainly be the taxpayers who end up paying cleanup costs over $1 billion when fault or negligence cannot be proven.
We admit that Bill C-46 does make some important improvements in the liability regime for pipelines in Canada. However, why should the taxpayers have to pay the bill if there is a spill or some other accident?
I am also worried that the bill does not include absolute liability for gas companies and other operators of non-oil pipelines and small oil pipeline companies. Why not? The Conservatives want to do this later, through regulation or a cabinet decision. Why not do it now, while we are having an open, transparent, public debate?
We know that the government likes to work behind closed doors. Too many aspects of this bill are left to the discretion of the National Energy Board and the cabinet. The Conservatives seem to be leaving a lot of leeway for politically motivated decisions and secret agreements between the operators and the National Energy Board, a regulatory body that lacks credibility regarding pipelines.
That is why we are not certain this bill goes far enough to protect the safety of all Canadians.
Finally, with regard to the future of our energy resources, the NDP has a vision of long-term prosperity. The Conservatives are trying to make people believe that a New Democratic government would not be good for the economy, but that is completely wrong.
Canadians have been told for too long that they must choose between the economy and the environment. That is a false choice. We propose a different course that will favour economic growth and protect the environment.
I would like to say something about something that is very close to my heart, and that is the principle of sustainable development. When we talk about sustainable development, we are talking about social licence, environmental protection and economics. If more attention had been paid to social licence, there would not have been so many failed pipeline projects. No one is making the effort to consult people and make sure that Canadians are safe.