Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to be able to debate Bill C-46 today.
I am delighted because for once, this is a bill that has some good elements. Also, we cannot deny that oil transportation is a major issue and among those that most concern the public. People are worried and they have reason to be.
The figures given here speak for themselves and reiterate what I have heard before in many conversations. The public’s confidence in the methods of oil transportation is very low: 71% of people believe that rail transport is dangerous. After what happened again in Gogoma on the weekend, that opinion may become more entrenched.
In addition, 63% of Canadians believe that shipping oil by sea is too risky. Quebeckers are terrified at the idea that a tanker might capsize in the St. Lawrence. An incident like that would cause widespread and irreparable harm to Quebec, since the river is such a unique and fragile environment, and of such crucial importance to us all. Pipelines are seen by the public as the least dangerous method, with 47% support.
Overall, nobody is really happy. People fear the worst. They are right to be worried, if we consider that the consequences of an accident are catastrophic and irreversible. The number of barrels of oil per day that travel by pipeline is enormous. When we talk about huge figures like billions of barrels a day, it is to be expected that the idea of a spill would immediately take on incomprehensible and terrifying dimensions.
Canada is first and foremost a country with natural resources that can be exploited. This has always been the source of our well-being and our affluence. The diversity of our common resources positions Canada and its provinces on a number of economic fronts at the same time. It is also the source of our tremendous technical knowledge, built over decades in response to the needs associated with resource development, for which we are internationally renowned.
In short, we are blessed with incredible good fortune, and that fortune belongs to all Canadians. This is our real national treasure. However, while it is certainly a blessing, that treasure sometimes looks like a curse. Tragic events have happened in the past. The risks of inadequate regulation of the oil shipment methods are clear. The Lac Mégantic disaster is so serious and so clearly connected with the federal government’s complacency that I am surprised at how lax the legislative initiatives are.
In fact, the public has little faith in the government when it comes to its ability or desire to regulate the energy sector. If not the government, who should do it? The industry itself? Of course not. What we are seeing is a very serious legitimacy deficit. Canadians do not believe that the Government of Canada is going to protect them, or wants to protect them. That hurts.
I believe the people of Canada are entitled to expect that members of Parliament will make not just good decisions about pipelines, but the best possible decisions. All of us here have a duty to think about public safety, the sustainability of resource development and the resilience of the environment. Development of our natural resources that is responsible and scientific, the Conservatives’ favourite adjective, is what will guarantee our survival as an affluent society. Of course, we have to assume that everyone here wants our society to survive and does not imagine that the world is going to end next week with the second coming of the Saviour. That remains to be seen, however.
I am well aware that we must not expect too much. The government has now taken a step toward a polluter pays scheme, which is encouraging. Holding the industry accountable is essential. It comes a quarter-century late and it was not very difficult to put forward, but we will take what we can get.
Bill C-46 introduces absolute liability for all pipelines overseen by the National Energy Board. This is a good initiative and it is the reason behind our support. Absolute liability in the case of fault or negligence means that the operator will have unlimited liability.
In the case of any other incident, the operator is liable up to a maximum of $1 billion. By taking that approach, the government is clearly thinking only of physical damage and the repair costs that may be incurred. This initiative seems to be valid, but there are two points in Bill C-46 that are still vague. It is important that the public know that they might easily have to make a financial contribution in the event of a disaster.
First, if the case could not be made for negligence or fault, the government might have to absorb the costs. In addition, if the costs incurred exceed $1 billion, we will have to pay anything above that amount. In some cases, the bill adds up very quickly and can easily exceed that limit. As several of my colleagues have done already, I would also like to refer to the accident caused by Enbridge in Kalamazoo, Michigan, which has cost nearly $1.2 billion.
Second, as we suspected, environmental damage is not really part of the calculation.
In the end, the potential irreparable damage to the very fabric of our country, which is priceless, will not be worth it.
What the government is counting on can be easily explained: considering Canada's size, the government hopes that accidents will happen in the middle of nowhere, where environmental oversight has already been eliminated by budget cuts, and that the public will quickly forget contamination of the hinterland. Out of sight, out of mind.
Although this may be an ideological government, it certainly is not a sentimental one. Bill C-46 strengthens some of the powers of the National Energy Board to ensure that the transport of oil by pipeline meets certain standards and that the public is protected. However, the operator will still have a say and the bill leaves room for backroom arrangements. Ultimately, cabinet will decide whether there should be sanctions.
If the operator does not comply with the NEB orders, the board will not have the powers needed to take action, unless it is dealing with an abandoned pipeline. We will all agree that an empty pipeline is rather safe.
I would like to reassure those who thought that the Conservatives had suddenly discovered the merits of environmentalism. Bill C-46 is all about the economy. Accidents are expensive and it is unfair for the public to pay for the negligence of corporations. Naturally, we agree.
Because the “teeth” that Bill C-46 gives the National Energy Board are merely molars, if the government does not see fit to crack down on an operator, the only thing the board can do is chew on its reprimands.
The government began reviewing its liability regimes for oil and natural gas development last year. Bill C-46 is a first step that we find acceptable even though we would like the regulation to go much further. We want to protect the environment because we believe that the ecosystem is non-negotiable. Other countries do this and are more prosperous than we are.
The government refused to consider it and brought forward legislation that might not even serve the purpose if evidence of fault is lacking or if the government decides to act in favour of the operator.
Is it any surprise that public confidence is so low under the circumstances?
In addition, as we might have expected, this bill did not involve in-depth consultation with the members of Confederation or first nations. This is yet another example of the omniscience we see so regularly in the Langevin Block.
I am fascinated by the Prime Minister's telescopic vision, his effortless ability to see and understand everything across the country. That sense of direction is amazing—superhuman, even. The only thing the Prime Minister needs to complete his image is a central Asian republic.
At the end of the day, what people want is strict, guaranteed regulations. People want pipelines to be extra safe—no loopholes, no risky measures—as well as responsible, environmentally sound and sustainable management.
What Canadians want is for us to act like adults, not teenagers.
I can therefore guarantee that the best environment minister Quebec has ever had will not accept any “ifs” and “maybes” when he considers approving pipelines once he becomes prime minister of Canada.