Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to energy-related issues. When we talk about the energy sector, it is very important to talk about value-added production, something we have lost sight of for years now in Canada with regard to natural resource development.
We always want to take part in substantive debates in the House, and that is why I will be proposing an amendment to this motion at the end of my speech.
I think I am one of a few members of Parliament in the House who has actually been knee deep in oil. I used to be a worker at the Shellburn refinery in Burnaby, British Columbia. It is one of the refineries that has closed across the country.
I remember the first time we had a briefing from the safety supervisor. The safety supervisor said two things: to never, ever go into the tanks alone, to always go in with a partner. This was the tank farm adjacent to the Shellburn refinery. The second piece of strong advice, in fact a mandatory requirement to follow, was to alway check safety equipment before going into the tanks, ensuring oxygen tanks were full, the regulator was working, and the mask was not broken. Those are all important things.
The safety supervisor was putting so much emphasis on that because we had to respect oil as a substance and the impacts. The reality was, for any workers going into those tanks, if our safety equipment malfunctioned, we would be dead within seconds. We know when we look at the energy sector around the world that safety regulations have to be very carefully followed. We have to respect the substance, both for the economic potential and the danger it imposes if it is mishandled. Having those safety regulations in place is something about which we feel very strongly.
At the same time, when we are talking about energy projects, we need to ensure the process is credible. That is really the fundamental question we are talking about today. The question of how we evaluate major resource projects to ensure our environment is protected and companies are able to obtain social licence is absolutely critical. The hard reality is that after a decade of Conservative government, that ended last October thankfully, Canadians have simply lost faith in the federal environmental review process. At the same time, pipeline projects have not moved ahead.
It is the Conservative members right next to me, the very sponsors of this motion, who are responsible for that lack of action. Those are the Conservatives who, when in government, systematically dismantled laws protecting our air, land, and water, burying these attacks in budget bills, gutting the Navigable Waters Protection Act, the Environmental Assessment Act, the Fisheries Act, and the National Energy Board Act. We all remember these various modifications.
It was the Conservatives who placed arbitrary limits on public consultation, shutting Canadians out of the project review process. We were having National Energy Board hearings in my city of Burnaby, British Columbia where the large meeting hall was completely empty because the public was banned from participating in the process.
It was the Conservatives who actually injected more politics into the review process by giving cabinet the ability to overrule National Energy Board decisions. We have seen the impact of these changes with thousands of Canadians being denied the right to participate in pipeline reviews, growing public unrest, and mounting legal battles.
What is the result? In western Canada, where I come from, we have an expression. I was born and bred in British Columbia but my mother was born in Alberta. My brother lived in Manitoba for some time. Of course, as New Democrats, our spiritual home is Saskatchewan, with the first social democratic government in North America, under Tommy Douglas. That expression encompasses the approach of the Conservatives on energy, and that is, “All hat and no cattle”. What we have seen under the Conservatives, simply, despite their protestations to the contrary, is not a single kilometre of new pipeline constructed with the entire process taking place under the Conservatives. What we have seen is 28 court challenges to the National Energy Board or Governor in Council decisions in the last two years alone. Therefore, the Conservatives did create jobs in the energy sector and they were for lawyers.
I have no objection to that, but the reality is that when we look at the overall results, and I did listen carefully to my colleague from Portage—Lisgar, who talked about a number of projects for which the process had already started before the Conservatives came to power, the one project approval they have tried to hang their hat on is a pipeline reversal, which is not new pipelines.
The Conservatives on energy have been all hat and no cattle. Instead of speeding up the pipeline review process, the changes the Conservatives brought in broke public trust and meant that the projects ultimately did not move ahead. There was no social licence. In fact, the Conservatives damaged the process so badly, and my colleague from Edmonton--Strathcona spoke to this earlier, that the environment commissioner was forced to sound the alarm that companies' emergency plans are out of date, board oversight is full of holes, and the public does not have access to information about pipeline safety.
Perhaps most troubling, the commissioner found that the National Energy Board is not even verifying whether pipeline companies are living up to approval conditions. In the same way that safety has to be manifest and followed, such as the safety regulations at the refinery that I worked at, pipeline companies need to live up to their approval conditions.
This report comes five years after yet another damning audit that found many of the same problems. The Conservatives have left our pipeline review process in shambles, and thankfully, last October, Canadians clearly rejected their approach. That is why it is particularly inappropriate for the Conservatives today to try to use the House of Commons to get around the need for a credible, thorough, and open National Energy Board review process. They are the architects of the very problem we are discussing today.
Now, it is clear that Canadians voted for change on this issue. The Liberals on the campaign trail told Canadians that they thought the Conservatives' process was broken, and I agree with them. In fact, we have been saying it for a long time already. For the last decade, New Democrats were sounding the alarm that the Conservatives were dismantling our environmental laws, while the Liberals were standing by and letting those omnibus budget bills pass.
As we saw during the campaign, some of this could be about where they are getting their advice. Everyone will recall the incident involving a certain Dan Gagnier, Liberal Party campaign co-chair, trusted adviser to the Prime Minister, who also happened to be working for pipeline company TransCanada, advising them on how to lobby the incoming Liberal government. That certainly was not the high standard of ethical behaviour Canadians expect.
Nevertheless, by the time the campaign rolled around, even the Liberals were saying that the environmental review process was broken, so broken that it had to be redone. The Prime Minister came to my province, to Esquimalt, British Columbia, on August 20 of last year, and when asked if his National Energy Board overhaul would apply to Kinder Morgan, he said, “Yes, yes, it applies to existing projects, existing pipelines as well”. He also said: “we're going to change the government and that process has to be redone”.
The government did change, but the rest of that sentence has not come true. This promise to British Columbians was repeated by the new Liberal member for Burnaby North—Seymour and by the member for North Vancouver, who is the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Environment and Climate Change. He said that the Kinder Morgan process would have to satisfy a new, rigorous review, but instead, yesterday, the government rolled out a vague and ad hoc addition to the existing Conservative review process. It is just putting window dressing on top of what is a profoundly unstructured review process that does not lead to social licence.
Unfortunately, we just heard comments now from the Minister of Natural Resources, though he gave a good speech, saying that ultimately, what is going through is the former Conservative government's review process rather than the new review process the Liberals committed to to British Columbians and all Canadians in the campaign.
It should also be said that yesterday's presentation was done so quickly that the documents were not even available in both official languages, which illustrates how hastily and poorly things were done.
The announcement yesterday does not change any laws. Reviews will go ahead under existing Conservative legislation.
This interim process will simply be layered on top of the Conservatives' broken process, and it comes with a whole host of unanswered questions.
How will this process determine what is an unacceptable climate impact?
How will the long-term GHG impacts of the products being transported be accounted for?
How does the government expect to fulfill its obligation to meaningfully consult first nations in such a short time frame?
What does the system look like, and what happens to the feedback and commentary from first nations?
Why is there no funding available for general public consultation?
What about projects that fall outside the current limited scope of any NEB reviews? How will they receive a meaningful examination?
How can this process possibly repair the damage the Conservatives have done when it does not address the gutting of the Navigable Waters Protection Act or the removal of fish habitat protection.
How can this be real change when cabinet can still, behind closed doors, overturn a “no” decision from the National Energy Board?
Canadians and industry deserve answers, and they deserve a government that lives up to the promises it made during the campaign for a truly new process.
I want to be clear. Demanding a robust, credible process means much more likelihood of leading, eventually, to a “yes”.
Canada's natural resources are a tremendous gift, and managed properly and sustainably, are important drivers of our economy. The energy sector employs millions of Canadians and contributes greatly to our national and regional economies. I know this personally, first hand.
We all agree that it is important to get Canadian resources to market. Properly managed, a west-east project could mean better prices for producers, improved energy security, and help creating the value-added jobs we need and the value-added jobs we have lost. However, we need to ensure that any potential project is evaluated in a way that protects the environment and builds public confidence that we are getting it right.
These conversations do not need to be divisive. Strong environmental assessments and meaningful community consultations are the bedrock of sustainable development. It is ultimately the responsibility of government to ensure that this conversation brings Canadians together around solutions. In this, the Prime Minister should be looking to the work that Alberta premier Rachel Notley has done: a game-changing climate change agreement bringing together environmentalists, industry, and first nations; a phase-out of coal pollution in plants by 2030; a GHG cap on oil sands emissions; and a ramp-up of investment in renewable energy, green infrastructure, and public transit.
This is a powerful example of what can happen when discussions are focused on solutions, not rhetoric. This motion, unfortunately, fails that test.
For New Democrats, the bottom line is this. We need a review process with integrity that brings credibility and public confidence to the examination of proposed projects.
That is why I would like to move the following amendment to the motion by the member for Portage—Lisgar. It is seconded by my very distinguished colleague from Edmonton Strathcona: that the motion be amended by deleting all the words after the words “New Brunswick; and” and substituting the following: “d) express its view that pipeline reviews must be credible, thorough, open, and free from political interference”.