Mr. Speaker, again, I am pleased to rise to speak to Bill C-69 on a new impact assessment and environmental assessment process.
I must begin by saying a few words about the approach to adopting this new process. Cloaked in righteousness, the Liberal government set to defending democratic institutions. It sought to give MPs their power and their voice back, respect the work of Parliament, and break from the Conservatives' despicable practice of cutting debates short. The Liberals said they wanted to give MPs time to do their work in order to represent their constituents well.
However, bad habits die hard, and closure has been imposed more than 40 times already. These are what we call time allocation motions that seek to limit the time for debate.
It seems that this bill is important to the Minister of Environment and Climate Change. However, the Liberals imposed closure at every stage. At first reading, at report stage, and now at third reading, they gave parliamentarians a maximum of four or five hours before closing debate. We were promised, hand on heart, that a Liberal government would never do such despicable, undemocratic things. It has now become routine.
My Conservative colleague, who is a member of the Standing Committee on the Environment and Sustainable Development, said that the government was bragging about having collaborated, studied amendments in committee, and listened to the opposition. It also brags about the fact that about 100 amendments were adopted in committee to improve the bill. Congratulations. I just want to point out that 99% of the amendments adopted were Liberal amendments. I have no doubt that that makes things easier.
It is mind-boggling to think that the bill was so poorly drafted and cobbled together, right from the start, that the Liberals were forced to present about 100 amendments in committee to try to patch it up and repair the damage. The bill lacked clarity and was poorly crafted, so it needed a lot of clarifications. That gives you an idea of the process, since government members are almost never required to fix a lousy job from the minister's office.
I would now like to talk about timeframes. It took the government 28 months to come up with a bill for a new environmental impact assessment process. During the campaign, the Liberals said that it was a priority because Canadians lost confidence in the process when it was destroyed and dismantled in the previous Parliament. They claimed that the Conservatives' process turned away from science and that we urgently needed to restore a transparent, valid, and scientific process that people could rely on. It took 28 months to come up with this bill.
During these 28 months, the government continued to sit back and to use the previous Parliament's process, a process that was supposed to be terrible.
What did the government do in the meantime? For one thing, it authorized the expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline, which was Kinder Morgan's priority. How convenient that is for the government. When it wants a project to go ahead, it holds off on establishing a more serious, more credible, more scientific, and more rigorous process. The government used the tool left behind by the Conservatives, a means of fast-tracking and rubber-stamping projects, and was thus able to approve everything and anything.
The Liberals go through the motions of sticking a few bandaids on so it appears different, but they are not fooling anyone. Once again, the government used what it once criticized. This is more proof of the Liberals' hypocrisy.
The Trans Mountain expansion was approved in November 2016. It is now June 2018, and we are once again discussing the new environmental assessment process. Halfway through their mandate, the Liberals still have not passed a bill because they keep dragging their feet, citing consultations. The Liberals had no problem speeding some things through; a more rigorous process would have gotten in their way.
They broke their promise to assess the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion under a new environmental assessment process. While in British Columbia during the election campaign, the Prime Minister swore that the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion would never be assessed under the Conservatives' rules, yet that is exactly what happened. He also promised to change the voting system and institute democratic reform. It seems to be a bad habit of his. When he solemnly swears something, look out because he is about to flip-flop.
We have a new agency that is based on the old environmental assessment agency, but with more powers and a bigger role. It will be above certain commissions, like the National Energy Board, which will become a commission. That is a step in the right direction we had been waiting for, but we are still concerned about the fact that two organizations we have heard little about, which will exist alongside the new impact assessment agency of Canada, will be getting much more authority and a bigger role. I am referring to the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board and the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board.
These two boards are separate, independent assessment committees that are responsible for assessing any drilling that may occur in marine environments, in the oceans, in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, potentially, or off the coast of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador. That troubles us, because the mission of these two boards is to promote offshore oil and gas development. Their job is not to protect the environment, the seabed, ecosystems, or endangered species. It is to promote oil and gas development off the coast of certain provinces.
This flies in the face of everything the government says about how much it cares about the environment and its claims that it is here to protect our oceans, our natural resources, and our ecosystems. In itself, that is a total contradiction. We in the NDP find this really troubling, and I doubt we are the only ones, judging by the spontaneous reaction of the Green Party leader, who is just behind me.
When you tell a story, there is a beginning, a middle, and an end. It is not complicated. That is what kids learn in school. I want to talk about those three stages in the context of Bill C-69. In the beginning, a decision has to be made as to which projects will be submitted to the new agency for assessment, because all of this has to be good for something. If it is decided that the project will not be assessed because it is not worth it, everything in Bill C-69 and everything that was said about public consultations, indigenous consultations, and considering reports from climate change experts—all of that goes out the window.
As things now stand, and the minister confirmed it in her speech, Bill C-69 does not establish a list of projects. It also does not set out any clear, definitive, and verifiable criteria that would allow us to determine which projects require an environmental assessment. There is nothing about that at all.
From the start, there has been a very serious grey area. The agency can arbitrarily decide for itself what it considers to be important or unimportant.
It is all well and good to have a good process, which as we will see is not as good as all that, but if that process is never used, then it does not do anything more to protect us as Canadians, as people who are concerned about the environment, ecosystems, and global warming.
Take the following oddity, for example. The bill states that if the project is deemed to be a major project, it will fall under the responsibility of the new assessment agency. If it is deemed minor, then it can be reviewed by a commission, such as the National Energy Board. What is the difference between major and minor? There is nothing in the bill about that, so we do not know.
There are things like the steam-based oil sands development technology called “in situ”, which has been completely left out of the scope of the bill and any new environmental assessment. The government says it will not look at it even though it is an increasingly common technology that could have serious impacts. Those impacts could be relatively minor, but for the people living in the indigenous community or the town involved, it does not necessarily take a thousand-litre spill or a huge amount of pollution to jeopardize their health, pollute their environment, or cause a public health issue.
There is no clear explanation for why in situ bitumen extraction was excluded. Knowing what gets assessed and what does not is just the beginning. There are a lot of vague and arbitrary elements. There is very little clarity, and that is what worries us. That is the first problem.
The second problem is with the middle part, the public consultations, the dialogue with indigenous communities, and the appointment of review panels to do the scientific environmental assessment.
Consultations are another novelty of the Liberal process, and on that topic, assessment timeframes are being shortened. Depending on the size of the project, they will drop from 365 days to 300 days. That means that we will lose 65 assessment days. For major projects, the process will drop from 720 days to 600 days, for a loss of 120 days. This Liberal decision was taken in direct response to the demands from investors and private companies.
The decision worried many environmental, indigenous, and citizen groups. They do not understand, if we want a credible, serious process we can trust, why the government is adopting an attitude where it seems to want to expedite things as quickly as possible and satisfy the desires and needs of the industry first and foremost.
The Liberal government is also saying that first nations will have a greater role to play in the assessment process. Connect the dots to what I just said. If we greatly shorten the timeframes of a project and process, it is rather unlikely that there will be enough time to conduct extensive consultations with first nations. Again, they say one thing, but in fact there is a good chance that nothing will come of it or that the process will be flawed or absolutely incomplete.
That is what we know about the duration, the timeframe of the process.
The second aspect is the appointment of these experts we have been talking about to the panels that will carry out these ostensibly scientific, environmental impact assessments. There are many groups, including the Quebec Environmental Law Centre, that are concerned about the fact that the Liberal plan has no mechanisms to ensure that these will not be partisan appointments, that Liberals will not appoint their cronies, and that panel members will not be prone to making recommendations or a report that merely reflects what the government wanted from the start.
It is a simple process that is already in place in other jurisdictions. I am thinking of BAPE in Quebec, which is well regarded and credible, and has this type of mechanism. Here, we get the feeling that the Liberal government would allow the appointment of people who will not really care or who will listen to what the government says and wants.
It is really not that surprising. If I have time, I will come back to Kinder Morgan and the absolutely ridiculous purchase made recently.
While public consultations were being held on the Trans Mountain expansion, while first nations were being told that they were being listened to, that it was important, that they really wanted to hear their perspective, it became apparent that a decision had already been made. The government was already looking for excuses and reasons to legally say that the decision was made and that it would be approved.
Phony consultations were held very recently, and I believe that people should be concerned about the possibility of these partisan appointments to the expert panel.
After the beginning and the middle, we get to the end. Let us say the project has been assessed. Let us say the consultations lasted long enough and were sufficiently credible, although perhaps a bit limited. Let us say the experts really were independent, they did their job diligently, and they prepared a report with recommendations based on science, social licence, the impact on climate change, our ecosystems, and so on. After all that, it is completely up to the minister if he or she wants to dismiss all the recommendations of the impact assessment agency. All of that good work, even if it is perfect—and we already have some misgivings about that—could very well be taken and tossed into the trash, and the project could be deemed in the national interest and approved.
The national interest is being tossed around a lot these days. It can be made to mean pretty much anything. A majority government can simply declare something to be in the national interest since it knows that it can force it through the House either way, and everyone else will have to deal with it. I think it would be in the national interest to listen to experts, scientists, Canadians, and first nations. When the minister of the day has all of this discretionary power, the process can become arbitrary. Say that you like the current Liberal government, and that you trust its environment minister. That is fine, and I am sure there are people out there who feel that way, but once a bill passes, it will not change with every cabinet shuffle, with every federal election, or with every change in government. Things could turn pretty quickly under someone who has a different style or vision of development. I am really being very kind to the sitting minister, who has the instincts of an industry minister rather than those of an environment and climate change minister. Incidentally, anyone claiming to champion environmental protection and the fight against climate change should not go out and buy a 65-year-old pipeline that is already leaking everywhere.
I would like our Liberal colleagues to take out their 2015 electoral platform and show me the part where they told voters they wanted a pipeline so badly that they were prepared to spend billions of taxpayer dollars to buy one if necessary and that Canadians would have to assume all the risks associated with such a project. Let us be clear, Kinder Morgan deemed the project was too high risk. The current Prime Minister even acknowledged that no private company wanted to take on these risks because legal challenges have been filed by British Columbia and many of its first nations.
There are difficulties and challenges with respect to our international commitments under the Paris Agreement and our greenhouse gas reduction targets. The project simply does not make sense. We will be spending at least $12 billion on infrastructure that might be worthless in 25 or 30 years. On top of taking a huge financial hit, we will have invested in the energy source and jobs of the past, when we could have been investing in renewable energy. Those types of investments create six to eight times more jobs. The Prime Minister would have become a leader with a vision for the environment and for sustainable development. Sadly, that will never happen.