Mr. Speaker, I normally say what a pleasure it is for me to rise in debate on a specific piece of legislation before the House. That is the case because I enjoy talking about public policy. However, I would be remiss if I did not comment on why we are debating Bill C-55 today.
In fact, I feel bad for our table officers, our parliamentary clerks, and everyone trying to support debate in the House, because it has been a bit sporadic over the last number of days, for one simple reason. That is the fact that the government, which ran on slogans of accountability and transparency, has been desperate to not provide those two things to the opposition with respect to the Atwal India affair.
I have been speaking for some time, so I think my colleagues will see that I am ready for the debate. However, we would not be debating Bill C-55 at all today were the government willing to be accountable, with the same level of disclosure that was provided to the media, be that classified or non-classified, which is very hard to determine after today's question period. MPs should be entitled to that same thing.
In a ruling earlier today, Mr. Speaker, you confirmed that MPs, collectively and individually, are entitled to hear from Mr. Jean, but there needs to be an order of Parliament to facilitate that appearance. Normally, a committee would call on him to provide testimony to appear. However, when the government uses its majority to block Mr. Jean, to block the ability of Parliament to exercise that order, it is stifling debate, covering up the Atwal affair. Whatever they want to call it, the government cannot suggest that it is not violating our right to get to the heart of the matter, based on the fact that it is using its majority to quash proper scrutiny of the major diplomatic incident.
I say that at the outset, because I want Canadians following this debate, both in our gallery and at home, to recognize that we are debating Bill C-55, an act to amend the Oceans Act and the Canada Petroleum Resources Act, because the government is desperate to keep the national security adviser, Daniel Jean, from answering a few simple questions and providing the same level of information he provided journalists.
What I find curious about today's question period is that the Prime Minister and the Minister of Public Safety suggested that none of the information he gave is classified, yet a member of the press gallery, during question period, confirmed that the national security adviser said that certain pieces of information could not be shared publicly. They could not write about it. That would suggest the contrary. This is like an onion. Every level we peel away is another layer, and our eyes are watering with tears for the lack of accountability of the government, to keep with that analogy.
Getting to the heart of the matter on Bill C-55, what may look to Canadians like sort of an update of an act, I am going to suggest, is the creeping edge of ideological Liberal policy and ideology creeping into the science of our oceans and our economic relationships with companies that invest capital to develop resources offshore. I will speak to that in a moment.
Overall, the bill is suggested as empowering and clarifying how the minister can establish marine protected spaces and provide a national network of those. That has been done before, but I would suggest, with this bill, that the government takes a very ideological turn.
The bill contains new powers for enforcement officers and new offences for ships and operators that violate nationally protected marine areas. What is also contained in the bill is where the government is really going with this. It would provide the ability to cancel interests, be they economic or others, in a marine area and to compensate for them. Petrological investigation and development, I think, is what is meant by that. Already the government is signalling that it intends to basically pull back on some of the offshore licences many companies have.
I would suggest that members from Atlantic Canada ask some questions. They are already suffering greatly from the Prime Minister's move to try and increase the regulation that led to the cancellation of energy east. I know my friend from Saint John has watched that closely.
The Liberals are already hurting the energy industry in Atlantic Canada, and now, have they consulted with Nova Scotia and Newfoundland? We have provincial-federal boards to regulate the offshore. There is the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board, and there is one that was created for Newfoundland and Labrador.
I would add that all of the work with respect to allowing provinces to be net beneficiaries of their offshore petroleum wealth, much like the onshore in Alberta, Saskatchewan, and even in Ontario, Petrolia, Ontario, at one point, all of that security for those Atlantic provinces was provided by Conservative governments, which do not try to chase away investment from the energy industry. They try to make sure Canada benefits to the full extent that our royalty regimes will allow, and to make sure that areas like Saint John, New Brunswick, Halifax, Nova Scotia, and St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador benefit from employment and secondary and tertiary benefits from the offshore. It was the governments of Brian Mulroney and Stephen Harper that provided that.
I was proud to learn all about that at Atlantic Canada's finest law school, Dalhousie Law School, where we studied that approach to the offshore.
Bill C-55 already indicates that the Liberals are going to be pulling a lot of these economic rights back. The members from Atlantic Canada should already be worried about the government's move to ensure energy east did not happen, and about the war on small business, which I know my friend from Saint John watched very closely, because he publicly criticized his government on that. There is a war on job creation in Atlantic Canada, and I see Bill C-55 as the latest arsenal in the Liberal government's attempt to stymie the ability for Atlantic Canada to benefit from its offshore resources.
There is a number of other measures in the bill. Interestingly, it excludes first nations organizations that may have agreements as part of a land claims treaty. If the Liberals really are doing this in the public interest, I wonder why there would be that exclusion. I think our first nations would want to know they were being consulted on part of the decision related to marine integrity.
Finally, there are obvious exemptions for search and rescue, scientific research, and damage response that would allow first responders and others to go into marine protected spaces. It is the odd time I get to speak in the House about my own experience in that regard. When I was with the Sea King 423 squadron in Atlantic Canada, we deployed with our Atlantic navy. We went out into these economic exclusive zones, to the fisheries patrol in the Grand Banks and the Flemish Cap. My crew and I landed on Hibernia, hundreds of nautical miles from St. John's, because we had to train and prepare for evacuations and responses to tragedy. Newfoundland and Labrador knows that from the sad Ocean Ranger tragedy.
Developing a resource and the jobs related to the offshore has its risks. I have seen that first hand, but from living in Atlantic Canada and serving in that role, I have also seen first hand how the economic activity in, for example St. John's and the outports along the Avalon, benefits from this resource development. Bill C-55 is the plan to stop that, to pull back licences and the ability for these resources to be developed responsibly.
I think we are debating this now because of the cover-up in the Atwal affair, but I am hoping that shining a light on Bill C-55 allows some of the Atlantic caucus to speak up to the Prime Minister and say, “Enough is enough, Mr. Prime Minister. We're already going to see jobs at risk and the energy industry impacted by your cancellation of energy east because of the burdens you have put on Trans Canada and other operators. Now, with this, are you forecasting more cuts in offshore oil and gas exploration?”
I hope our friends, particularly my friend from Saint John, asked those tough questions at caucus, because Bill C-55 seems to signal that.
The ideological underpinnings here that really concern me can be found in proposed sections 35 and 35.1 of the act, because it appears to integrate directly the precautionary principle into the legislation, and that should cause some debate. Those sections basically say that we cannot use scientific uncertainty regarding risks, marine health, and that sort of thing, as a reason to be cautious with respect to regulation, or to phase in or to not have regulation until there is scientific certainty.
The precautionary principle, which clearly some ideological adherents in the Liberal Party want to push forward, is that before the science is even clear, let us regulate and remove activity. That is what that says. Some call it the “better safe than sorry” philosophy, but actually it is not, because acting before we have the science will have unintended risks, especially, and learned scholars have written about this, when it comes to economic activity. We would hurt economic activity, because we would be leaning in favour of stopping something before the science was even clear.
As a Conservative MP who had the pleasure of being in government for a short time, including in cabinet—and now we are on our way back there, but we are on this side—one thing I remember clearly at the time was the current Prime Minister's love for such expressions as the Liberals were for “evidence-based decision-making”, that they were going to be a “science-led government”, that they were going to unshackle science. Well, here in the bill, it should concern Canadians that the Liberals are actually saying that they are not going to wait for the science at all. They are going to regulate. They are going to stop development. They are going to stop technological improvement that could address some of the issues at play before the science is confirmed.
People have written on how the precautionary principle, if it is mandated, will lead to economic disruption and stifle technological innovation. We would not have actually assessed the situation properly, and so we are going to run into unintended risks, because we are leaning forward without a proper assessment of the science.
The good thing, the way environmental legislation already reads, is that it generally will regulate where there is science, and it does not have to be absolutely certain. Legislation generally in Canada, the United States, and other countries has been able to regulate in a way that is minimally intrusive, particularly while the science is uncertain. I am not just making this up. These are sections that the Liberals are inserting into two acts of Parliament that already exist. I do not think the Liberals could suggest that there is no regulation of the environment in our oceans. They are acknowledging that the Oceans Act and the Canada Petroleum Resources Act exist to do this, but they are going further by inserting this ideological approach to governing. This should concern people, especially my friends in Atlantic Canada who would like the Liberal government, for a change, to lean in favour of jobs. However, the Liberals lean in favour of stopping investment.
Members do not have to just take my word for it. We remember the famous and mildly embarrassing speech the Prime Minister gave introducing President Obama in this chamber, the hallowed ground where once Winston Churchill gave his “some chicken, some neck” speech. The Prime Minister introduced the president of the United States by saying that the Press Gallery and Canadians were going to witness a bromance in action, or “dude-plomacy” as he termed it. I wanted to crawl under the table at that moment I was so embarrassed by our Prime Minister.
What did President Obama's chief official from the office of information and regulatory affairs say about inserting the precautionary principle in legislation? He said, “The precautionary principle, for all its rhetorical appeal, is deeply incoherent.” He acknowledges that it is policy on the fly, so that people could feel good, without clear science.
We have the ability to have science, in terms of the impact of resource development, how to mitigate that. We have science with respect to fisheries, marine life. Why would we not consult the science?
The Liberals are inserting into legislation the ability for government to ignore the science and stop first. Stop and ask questions later. I think, particularly in Atlantic Canada, that should concern a number of people.
There has been criticism of this approach because it is inserting ideological value judgments in place of sound public policy supported by science. The interesting thing is so many of the Liberal candidates, and I am sure the members listening to my speech, probably repeated that “evidence-based decision-making” line. That was one of the Liberals' top hits from the election campaign. Where is that now?
By incorporating the precautionary principle into legislation, the Liberals are saying that they are making a value judgment—their value judgment—rather than consulting the science. That should concern people. I hope people see that in Bill C-55. They might think it is innocuous.
This is ideological creep of the Liberal government. We see it everywhere. I have said that this is a government that, in NAFTA negotiations, did not mention the auto industry or other core sectors of the economy. It said the priorities were going to be indigenous issues, environmental issues, and a number of things that are not even contained in the rules of origin, the market access provisions of a trade agreement. I termed that at the time as “virtue signalling”.
Liberals will say, “Here are our values. Who cares what the science is? Who cares what the trade agreement says? We only want to speak to a certain number of voters.” They are willing to change legislation and prioritize trade negotiations, all to support their voter base.
For a party that was constantly using the refrain “evidence-based decision-making” and “a science-based government”, Canadians should be concerned. This ideological approach we are seeing in this legislation is part of the Liberals' overall virtue signalling. “Damn the science. Let us stop development now. Let us have the ability to cancel interests in the offshore in here, and move on.”
The Liberals are not worried about the science. They are not worried about the impact on local economies in the St. John's area, and in the Saint John area, where our refinery is. There is no concern about some of the offshore support vessels throughout Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, and what a value that is to the regional economy.
People in Atlantic Canada should be saying, “Wait a minute. We have a science-based approach to our offshore.” I still remember the famous case of John Crosbie putting a cod moratorium down, almost getting lynched but saying that the science said we had to do this because the stocks were dwindling, and we were going to do it. It was a science-based, tough decision.
Here we have the Liberal government basically saying, “We are not concerned with the science. We are going to lean forward. We cannot stop what we want to do because of the lack of scientific certainty.” This is an ideological wedge the Liberals have placed in this bill, and I think they are going to put it into others.
I have raised concerns that people in Atlantic Canada should have. I will conclude by asking the government to take that provision in sections 35 and 35.1 out, and to return to its old rhetoric about being focused on evidence-based decision-making. Stop the virtue signalling. Stop the ideological creep. Stop preventing areas of the country from properly and effectively benefiting from their onshore or offshore wealth, because thousands of families are paying the price for this Liberal ideology.