Madam Speaker, I am participating in today's debate as the Bloc Québécois's representative on the Special Committee on the Economic Relationship between Canada and the United States, where I am one of the vice-chairs.
Just a few weeks ago, the committee spent a few meetings studying concerns about Line 5 and the potential impact if it were to close. I would venture to say that unanimity ruled. Every single one of the witnesses said the same thing: closure would be catastrophic. However, none of the witnesses were able to put any figures on anything related to jobs at risk in Quebec.
I asked every witness the same question. Have any studies shown that we have reason to fear? None of them had any such studies handy, nor could any of them clarify anything about Michigan's claims. The witnesses' verdict was clear: The governor of the U.S. state was simply wrong. Nobody even suggested or raised the merest hint of even the slightest possibility that everything was perhaps not entirely unfounded.
I want to inform the House that the Bloc Québécois is well aware that a shutdown of Line 5 would have consequences for jobs in Quebec. There is a chance that Line 5, an Enbridge pipeline that supplies a good number of the refineries in Quebec, could be shut down, which raises legitimate concerns that require informed responses.
I want to stress that our position may sound ideological, but it is not. We recognize that Line 5 is not as bad as tanker trucks, for example, which come with their own dangers. We recognize that it is not as bad as shipping oil by rail, and we experienced the hazards of this mode of transportation with the tragedy in Lac-Mégantic, caused by deregulation in the sector by successive federal governments.
I remind members that in 2013, a train filled with oil exploded in the middle of a small town called Lac-Mégantic, killing 47 people and destroying some 40 buildings in a massive fire. Inadequate regulation of the transportation of oil by rail is part and parcel of Canada's economic vision. Ottawa has cut the number of inspectors for rail cars and the railways themselves.
This issue speaks to my constituents because a few years ago, members of an activist group in my riding known as Convoi citoyen, ventured onto the tracks not far from the Saint-Hyacinthe station and took several photos of uncovered wires and tracks that were sitting on wet earth instead of cement. We are not stupid. We know that Line 5 is better and less dangerous than rail transportation.
It is also clear that Line 5 is better than using tanker ships to transport oil. Quebec, and specifically the St. Lawrence, has become a key part of the geopolitics of Canadian oil. Quebec unfortunately has no jurisdiction over the waterways, seaways, railways or airways that cross our territory, other than the ones that exist exclusively in Quebec. Canada is entitled to act as it sees fit, in spite of protests from local communities.
In 2014, the riverside municipalities of Sorel-Tracy and L'Isle-aux-Coudres complained about the fact that the width of the supertankers had increased from 32 to 44 metres, but the municipalities that received them had not been consulted, nor had the emergency plans been adapted. We know that just 5% to 20% of oil spilled in the river can be recovered.
The case of Lac Saint-Pierre, designated an UNESCO world biosphere reserve in 2000, is striking. Pressure to ban the transportation of bitumen on that part of the river has been totally ineffective despite the publication of a study showing that an oil spill would traverse the entire lake in just eight hours.
Again, we are no fools. If we look a little more closely—on paper, to be sure—line 5 is a lesser evil in comparison to trucks, trains and ships.
Unfortunately, we would have liked to hear a more critical point of view on pipelines. The witnesses at committee were unanimous, as were our colleagues. All the federal parties kept referring to “team Canada”. Today I am talking on behalf of “team Quebec”.
The Bloc Québécois is focused on the 21st century economy, or the energy transition.
We applauded the U.S. President's intention to revoke the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline, whose only objective is to create new markets for oil from the oil sands.
Citizens are sharing their concerns with us about the environmental safety of pipelines, particularly with regard to waterways, but also about the potential economic impact of shutting down those pipelines. We are not stupid. We want to keep jobs but not at any price, because we do not want to put our waterways at risk. We also understand the concerns many people have about the gas prices at the pump because the cost of energy and transportation is taking a toll on the wallets of Quebec families, who are already struggling because of everything that has been going on this past year.
It is important to make the distinction between the Keystone XL pipeline and Enbridge Line 5. While Keystone XL seeks to further develop the oil sands, Line 5 was built in 1953 and essentially carries light crude oil and natural gas liquids to refineries in Quebec. It passes through the United States, mainly the much-talked-about State of Michigan.
Line 5 was approved under U.S. State Department regulations and not by presidential permit as was Keystone XL. Line 5 is protected by the 1977 Agreement between the Government Of Canada and the Government of the United States Of America Concerning Transit Pipelines. Therefore, there are still legal avenues to be explored.
We should also ask ourselves whether the repercussions of a potential shutdown would be as catastrophic as we are hearing for the price of gas at the pumps for Quebeckers. We know that Quebec refineries also have other possible market supply sources and that the shutdown would be problematic primarily for Ontario. We are aware of that.
However, we should remember that Newfoundland and Labrador is Canada's third-largest producer. If Enbridge's Line 5 is shut down, it would still be possible to consider Canadian supply from that region. For example, if people wanted a nearby source, one inside Canada's border, Newfoundland and Labrador could be a source of supply.
Let us move on to environmental safety. As I mentioned earlier, during our study, each and every witness we heard told us that the State of Michigan was way off base every step of the way. No one was willing to consider that the concerns were legitimate, and yet, we know there was a leak in 2010 that resulted in an oil spill in the Kalamazoo River, in southern Michigan. It seems to me that we can also understand that Michigan is worried about the risk pipelines pose to waterways. At the time, the people from Enbridge said not to worry, that they would really strengthen their safety measures. That is fine. In that case, the burden of proof lies with them to show that real measures were taken.
I think everyone agrees that every accident is one too many, and each is a collective failure to protect ecosystems. Because Line 5 has had leaks, perhaps the idea of retrofitting it should not be excluded. Perhaps the status quo is untenable. Unfortunately, we are not hearing anyone in this place speak about this possibility.
We must now come at the oil issue another way because Canada, as we know, has the third-biggest oil reserve in the world. According to official statistics, it has 172 billion barrels of extractable oil, of which 166 billion are in the Alberta oil sands. Canada is ranked fourth in global production and fourth in global oil exports.
I certainly recognize that, when we talk about transition, it does not mean that we should celebrate and hope to wake up tomorrow morning with no more oil. It is not that simple. That is the very definition of transition. However, we need to have a plan.
Let us agree, however, as scientists do, that 80% of oil must stay in the ground if we want to take an environmentally responsible approach. Furthermore, 96% of Canada's oil comes from the oil sands, which means that only a very small amount does not come from that source. Oil from the oil sands is among the most polluting in the world. The Natural Resources Canada website touts the technological advances that are leading to less greenhouse gases per barrel. That is also the argument put forward by the Montreal Economic Institute.
It is true that the oil industry has been rapidly evolving. Just 50 years ago, offshore drilling was done by humans. Today, robots are doing the job. Nevertheless, from an environmental standpoint, between 1990 and 2018, greenhouse gas emissions from tar sands development have increased by 456%.
Exclusive dependence on this one source of energy is also a major economic problem. Historically, this phenomenon has been referred to as Dutch disease, which is the structural dismantling of the manufacturing sector and possible ensuing deindustrialization resulting from a strong commodities export sector. The development of natural resources is therefore closely related to the decline in the manufacturing industry of the country in question. Does that remind my colleagues of anything? It makes me think about the loss of over 100,000 jobs related to the increase in the Canadian dollar as a result of the increase in oil exports.
The term “Dutch disease” was coined in the 1960s when the Netherlands had a major increase in revenue following the discovery of natural gas deposits. The country's currency appreciated, which made the export of non-gas products less competitive. Dutch disease serves as a necessary reminder that a country must not depend solely on its commodities sector.
Canada's economic development centres on the extraction of raw materials. That is a paradigm that has existed since the beginning of the Canadian experience, when the Canadian colony specialized in bulk commodities, agricultural products and extractible materials for export. These products do not require a lot of processing and their market is mainly centred around international trade.
Canada's history has been shaped by the search for products that already have a market, by the state, and by capital to extract those products. Basically, it was the easy way to pay Canadian workers and import the goods consumers needed. Canada's economic growth was therefore closely linked to demand in the industrialized countries with which it did business.
Political life in Canada has been heavily influenced by our reliance on exports because political power and wealth are concentrated in the hands of the elite who, historically, combined the two. Geographical realities also explain all this, of course. The state has had to supply capital that the business world did not have the means to provide.
However, focusing on exporting raw materials has a significant influence on public policy. To keep the country competitive, politicians have had to provide infrastructure and adjust their environmental and health regulations.
Exploiting these resources did not require particularly sophisticated technological expertise if they were not being processed in any significant way, though. Essentially, Canada was just an outpost used to supply raw materials for use in processing industries in ways that supported the economic development of the industrialized nations and Canadian companies involved.
The expectation was that the supply of resources dedicated to supporting these exports would continue expanding forever. It was an infinite growth model. The railway, which is what led to the creation of Canada in the first place, had to be paid for by transporting resources, and that helped stall the exploration of new technological opportunities. Ultimately, the system ended up reinforcing our reliance on unprocessed materials. It was a vicious cycle. Increased reliance on raw material exports created a need for greater investment in transportation infrastructure, and that meant less money available for other economic sectors.
This system underpinned colonial history, but the Canadian economy has diversified and become more complex since then. It cannot be summed up as Quebec's forests, Saskatchewan's farms, Ontario's mines or Alberta's oil, of course. Markets have changed, new opportunities have been found, and people have flocked to the cities. However, it is clear that Canada is staying true to that spirit by consistently opting to specialize in natural resources in order to compete worldwide.
Western Canada has focused all its efforts on oil extraction, neglecting the necessary diversification of its economy. To get back to Dutch disease, the consequences could be even greater if the oil sector also goes through some difficulties, like the depletion of its reserves or fluctuations in the price per barrel.
The impact on Canada's economic future is considerable. We are paying for it today with the COVID-19 crisis, as well as the oil crisis, the price of the unwavering support that Ottawa, the banks and the pension funds provide to the oil sector. Pension funds like the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec have increased their investments in the sector. Canadians' and Quebeckers' pensions have therefore been jeopardized by being dependent on oil fluctuations. However, oil investments by foreign companies have declined steadily over the last four years, meaning there are very few royalties to be had.
Shale oil, for example, is a very bad development opportunity, and yet Canada cannot seem to escape it. One of Canada's biggest disappointments is that in the global marketplace, in the midst of this great geopolitical struggle, Canada is ultimately a minor player with basically no influence. It is easy to see the problems that could arise from stubbornly putting all the eggs in one basket, especially when that basket refers to a deregulated and fluctuating energy sector.
It is really tough to get out of oil, though. When the price is high, investments pour in. The renewable energy sector is looking to grow, but the money is just not going there because investments continue to pour in for oil. Conversely, when the price is low, investments will be minimal, almost non-existent, but consumers, whether individuals or companies, will rush to the pump, so there is no money left for renewable energy. I could say it is a lose-lose situation for anyone thinking about a real transition. This is where political will is needed. It is imperative and urgent that we make the transition. Crises come with serious repercussions, but they can also bring great opportunity.
The energy transition that many have been calling for and talking about for quite some time needs to begin with decisive action. We must put an end to Canada's oil dependency. In the meantime, demanding a safe supply of oil can no longer be a luxury. In other words, Line 5 is the lesser evil compared to other modes of transportation that are more dangerous. However, we must not depend on it. We also need to look very closely at the real environmental considerations that can be linked to safety and that are entirely legitimate. They must not be dismissed out of hand, as Canada's federal politicians seem to be doing.