Madam Speaker, I rise tonight to present my thoughts on Bill C-57. I regret very much that we have time allocation on this bill, and even more so the hour of 11 p.m. that is now approaching. This important legislation deserves to be heard in a normal fashion with full debate.
Let me go back to when this bill originated. The Federal Sustainable Development Act was actually passed in the era of a Conservative government, and was one of those rare pieces of legislation that originated with the opposition. It was brought forward by a former Liberal MP, John Godfrey. It was one of his last contributions as a very diligent and thoughtful member of Parliament. He went on to leave Parliament and go back to his old stomping grounds of education.
Sustainable development and aspects of sustainable development had been in Canadian law before. This bill managed to get through Parliament in 2008, and the successor bill that we have before us tonight does improve some elements of sustainable development as originally put forward with a lot of co-operation in this place back in 2008. I was not yet a member of Parliament in that year, but I followed very closely the development of the Federal Sustainable Development Act because it was really a high-water mark for the minority-government years of former Prime Minister Harper, because opposition parties were willing to work together. The opposition parties had a majority, but very rarely used it. In this case, the Federal Sustainable Development Act was brought in. This act could have been improved and strengthened, but there is very little that I would say is wrong with it. I am disappointed that we will repeal the definition of the precautionary principle, but overall the bill will strengthen the application of sustainable development principles to more parts of the federal government, and I do like the creation of a sustainable development advisory council. The bill has real potential, but I do not think the government plans to do with it what I hope it will do.
Going back to the early 1960s, for decades the Canadian government benefited from well-researched, strong public policy advice from institutions that we no longer have. We used to have, starting in 1963, the Economic Council of Canada. We had as well the Science Council of Canada. In the early 1970s, we had the creation of the Canadian Environmental Advisory Council. In 1993, all three of those agencies were wound up and repealed. That meant we lost the Economic Council of Canada, the Science Council of Canada, and the Canadian Environmental Advisory Council. They were wound up and repealed because in 1993 the federal government brought in the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy. This was our first substantial sustainable development tool. To quote the late Jim MacNeill, a brilliant Canadian diplomat and former deputy minister who really challenged the ideas of sustainable development, one of the core ideas was that “If we change the way we make decisions, we'll change the kind of decisions we make.”
The idea of the national round table was that by bringing together people from different perspectives, including trade unions, large corporate enterprises, academics, environmentalists, indigenous people, as well as government ministers and agencies and so on, the resulting give and take and shared learning would create decisions that met the challenge of sustainability, because sustainability is not the environment by itself. Sustainability has at least three legs to the stool. They are the environment, and social and economic concerns, but those are within a very clear mandate to ensure that the decisions we take today do not compromise the ability of future generations to make their own decisions and to meet their own needs. In other words, sustainability requires that we think about intergenerational equity.
Here I have to confess that I was a member and vice-chair for quite a while of the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy. Its work was substantial. I do not want to blow my own horn, but a lot of work was done by a lot of people over many years, and I served for only a relatively brief period.
In 2012, under omnibus budget Bill C-38, the national round table was eliminated. No one at that point said that we had better bring back all those other advisory bodies that we had eliminated in 1993 when we created the national round table. There is no longer the Economic Council, no longer the Science Council, no longer the Canadian Environmental Advisory Council, and there is no national round table.
This is the first time something has been created that could meet that need, namely a sustainable development advisory council. It is pretty thin gruel. It could do a lot. The Treasury Board within the act could establish policies or issue directives and could be adequately funding this new agency, which is quite modestly proposed in the act. That said, I certainly hope that the government will realize that we desperately need sound advice on what is sustainable and what is not.
Speaking of what is not sustainable, it includes today's announcement that the Government of Canada is going to form a crown corporation that will now be the management entity for a pipeline that the federal government proposes to buy with a closing date in August. I can only hope that something goes wrong with this sale because this is monstrous. We are proposing to spend $4.5 billion to buy the assets of what is called the Trans Mountain pipeline, but owned by Kinder Morgan of Houston, Texas.
The Trans Mountain pipeline was built in 1953 by a Canadian company with the goal of bring crude or synthetic crude to Burnaby, British Columbia, where over time they developed four refineries. The Trans Mountain pipeline was all about bringing Canadian crude from Alberta to Canadian refineries in the Lower Mainland for domestic use.
When Kinder Morgan bought the assets of Trans Mountain, which are now more than 60 years old, in its valuation to the National Energy Board, the company put the value of the Trans Mountain assets at $550 million. Those are the assets that today the Minister of Finance announced he would buy at a price of $4.5 billion. That is astonishing. Kinder Morgan has certainly achieved a very rich return on investment without having invested new infrastructure.
Kinder Morgan wanted to build a new pipeline, but I think it has lost interest in it. That is why it kidnapped its own project and said that if we did not have a solution by May 31, it would walk away. Clearly for political reasons, primarily for the impact in Alberta, the federal government decided that anything was preferable to having Kinder Morgan walk away, so it has done something astonishing. It is planning to spend $4.5 billion to buy the existing assets of the old pipeline and to take on, as yet undescribed by the Minister of Finance, but said by Kinder Morgan to be a $7.4 billion project to build the expansion. The government is taking on a project that has not yet cleared its conditions with the National Energy Board and is still before the courts in 15 different court cases for violation of indigenous rights, and is doing so with a completely scandalously inadequate environmental review before the National Energy Board within which evidence was put forward by Kinder Morgan and at which no intervenors were allowed to cross-examine.
We now find ourselves asking if the government understands sustainable development, because overarching all of this is the most fundamental and pressing question, what about the climate crisis? How can we possibly claim that Canada understands the pressing imperative of the transition away from fossil fuels, whether in 10, 20, or 30 years? We need to make plans. How can we understand the imperative of avoiding the kind of disaster that deprives not hypothetical future generations but our own children, children alive today that we tuck in at night? How can we possibly think we understand sustainability while building pipelines?