Mr. Speaker, I do not very often do late shows but this matter is of such great significance that I decided it was important to raise the matter again in this place.
On November 2 of last year, I raised a question with the government about the rapidly escalating costs for the cleanup of abandoned wells and mine sites. As the federal government regulates bankruptcy, I called on the government to act on demands made by the Government of Alberta and others to amend the federal bankruptcy and creditor laws to give higher priority to environmental cleanup and put an end to the downloading of these costs to Canadians.
The Alberta regulator had argued in the case of Redwater that the trustee was obligated to remediate disclaimed wells in Alberta before distributing any funds to creditors. The number of abandoned wells in my province of Alberta alone and the liability for cleanup has escalated to an estimated 80,000 wells and tens of billions in liability. The estimated cost to reclaim oil sands mine tailings is somewhere between $47 billion and $100 billion. If an oil sands company went bankrupt, a significant cost of the cleanup would fall to taxpayers.
The then parliamentary secretary for natural resources responded by saying Canadian resources must be developed in a sustainable way so that economic growth and environmental protection go hand in hand. How often we hear that.
He then, as has become the government's common refrain, passed the buck to the provinces, saying they are the ones responsible for managing their own environmental liabilities and the federal role is simply to share best practices. An amazing response considering bankruptcy law is federal. He shared that his government did commit $30 million in budget 2017, when the cost, according to some people, is $260 billion, in support of Alberta's efforts to advance the reclamation of orphan wells.
In January of this year, the Supreme Court of Canada issued its decision on the Redwater case. That case involved a dispute over who under bankruptcy law should be given priority of claim for an abandoned oil or gas well. Should priority be given to banks to recover their investment or should a higher priority in claim go to the provinces who have issued orders for cleanup? The Alberta courts sided with the creditors, in other words, the banks.
However, the Supreme Court of Canada overturned this decision and held that Alberta's environmental regulatory regime can coexist alongside the scheme of distribution under bankruptcy law. The court stated that bankruptcy is not a licence to ignore rules and the company has remedial obligations that are not claims provable in bankruptcy. It held that a trustee does not have the power to walk away from environmental liabilities.
Of equal concern is the government's response to questions posed by my colleagues to the effect that the government says it plans to assess potential impacts of the court ruling on Canada's marketplace framework and the Canadian economy. There was no mention of ensuring bankruptcy laws put environmental protection first.
My further questions this evening include the following: What actions has the government taken to assess any potential federal environmental liabilities for the following activities, and as a result of this court ruling, has it initiated any review of the potential issues or any gaps in federal laws regarding abandoned mines, wells or other operations on federal lands or on lands subject to a transfer agreement, including in the Northwest Territories and Yukon, or on Indian reserves or traditional lands? Is the government reviewing abandoned offshore wells where there is joint federal-provincial regulatory authorities? Finally, has the federal government established orphan well funds similar to the provinces for these facilities?