Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure and an honour to be able to speak to this bill, but I also do so with great humility.
The principle of Bill C-235 was interesting in the sense that the Government of Canada can act specifically in a regional development fund and that there can be a contribution from regions and territories that take matters into their own hands and provide some sort of support for innovation in their jurisdiction. The principle seemed very appealing to me.
Then again, in committee, we felt that, despite the good will of the sponsor, the member for Winnipeg South Centre, whom I salute, the bill also had a political aim. To me, that is an irritant.
The Bloc Québécois is as much in favour of the principle of the bill as it was when we voted on it at second reading. However, I am now saying that the Bloc Québécois will vote against Bill C-235. This is the position I defended in committee.
Of course, we are in dire need of a plan to accelerate the greening of the Prairie economy, which is currently trapped in the 20th century because it relies far too much on fossil fuels.
As members will recall, the member for Winnipeg South Centre was the minister of natural resources from 2015 to 2018. He knows that this is going to be a huge project and that it will take a monumental effort to muster the necessary resources. In fact, it might have been interesting to see such a bill put forward back then.
We know that an economy based on oil and gas development is not sustainable in the long term and that the prairie provinces will suffer a decline unless they diversify their economy and start going digital. They will have to start soon, but doing it quickly may be just as painful.
The Bloc Québécois agreed with the principle of Bill C‑235, but, as I mentioned, during our study, which included five meetings, 17 witnesses and five briefs, several shortcomings were revealed. The transition to a green economy that Bill C‑235 talks about is essentially a shift to nuclear. Many people saw it as an opportunity to push small modular plants, which would provide the energy required to extract more oil. That shocked me.
In this context, I think that we cannot equate a transition to clean energy with a transition to nuclear energy. Let us not forget that there are still some serious safety issues involved in the management of nuclear waste.
We heard testimony from the governments of the three provinces covered by Bill C‑235, and they basically told us that they did not want it. For me, as a Bloc Québécois member representing the interests of Quebec, this was quite revealing. Perhaps that is what made me change my mind. Why should we impose a bill on other provinces that will dictate to them how they should develop their own land?
To me, the provinces are the real experts. If the federal government wants to contribute financially, great. However, the real question is, who will be in charge of coordination and whose development vision will prevail? In this context, the provinces have made it clear that it is not up to Ottawa to take the lead. They will not allow the federal government to take charge of regional economic development on their territory. They do not want the federal government to be responsible for coordinating the various stakeholders involved, particularly the municipalities, which are under provincial jurisdiction, and the workers, who are also under provincial jurisdiction.
The Bloc Québécois does not feel directly involved because, obviously, we do not have any members from the Prairies. We are limited to Quebec. However, when a province asks that we respect its jurisdiction, we listen. We hope to get the same consideration in return when we ask others to respect the autonomy and jurisdiction of Quebec. It would be nice if the House applied this principle more often: If an issue concerns us, we are interested; if it does not, we can still take an interest in the principle and support it. That is what the Bloc Québécois has done. However, when we examine the bill in depth, we realize that it is flawed. Above all, we want to say that the federal government should refrain from interfering even if it would like to. That is the position that we in the Bloc Québécois will take.
The amendments that the committee adopted and that are in its report are essentially technical changes, such as specifying which department is responsible for what, or semantic changes, such as adding a green veneer to the wording. However, this does not fix the flaws in Bill C‑235, and many people expressed concerns about the bill being somewhat improvised.
With all due respect to the member for Winnipeg South Centre, who I think had a commendable motive in introducing the bill, there are significant challenges in the Prairies. As we know, one Albertan emits as much greenhouse gas as six Quebeckers, on average. A Saskatchewanian emits as much as seven Quebeckers. Transitioning to a green economy will really be a major challenge, but I do not think the answer lies in this bill. That speaks volumes about the magnitude of the challenges facing the provinces.
In regional economic development, there is a concept known as the “intrusive rentier syndrome”. It is what happens when a region has one large employer that pays high wages but is part of a declining industry. That is the challenge. Think of Trans Mountain, for example, which cost us $14 billion and counting, with all the repair costs and so on. I made a suggestion in committee: Is it not time to sell that pipeline and invest the money in the research ecosystem so that solutions can be found in universities for a truly green economic recovery?
There was a certain amount of backlash against the acquisition of the pipeline. People reacted to the idea that the government would own such a big pipeline. The government should not take such a risk with taxpayer money from Quebec and Canada. It would normally be up to the private sector. The greening of the economy requires concrete incentives. The federal government can collaborate on this, but should not be interfering in local co-operation as the bill stipulates. It is a step we are not ready to take.
Of course there were some interesting options: the transportation issue, job creation, job retraining, projects that create natural infrastructure and a clean environment. That is in there, but, as I said, so is nuclear power. That is something I found that to be an irritant. Nuclear power cannot be presented as an option just by naming it. I think there would be some background work to do. I am glad that we were able to hear from the witnesses who came to testify during our study of the bill. They told us that progress has been made, but it remains an extremely risky industry. I am not prepared to take that risk at this time, although it is believed to be a good thing. A lot of good things can be said until a disaster happens. To me, that is very concerning.
I would like to talk about the fiscal policy that encouraged development of the oil industry at the time. There were tax credits on oil exploration and site development, or investment and subsidies to clean up the pollution. It was a public takeover of some of the environmental liabilities. There are some reasons for what happened in the past, but at the same time, they can lead us to solutions now.
Again, we can make a real transition with a better sharing in terms of energy. We know that a hydrogen plant was recently established in Alberta. Some solutions are being put forward. However, I wonder if this hydrogen produced in Alberta will be truly green. It does not make sense to burn oil to produce hydrogen in order not to burn oil in our cars. The issue of economic development in the Prairies is not a simple one. I acknowledge it is a good idea to want to have a greener economy in the Prairies. We will always co-operate when such is the aim, but the Bloc Québécois will oppose Bill C‑235.
To conclude my remarks, I would like to say that the Liberal government has already made many commitments that it has not kept, and its credibility has been damaged. We know, however, that businesses and many citizens have gone to great lengths to make their contribution. The various Quebec governments have acted boldly on the environment for several decades. They have made courageous and ambitious decisions, and Quebec is therefore on the right path to a green economy. The committee study did not show that the provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba have followed comparable and compatible directions. In fact, they voted against the bill. Our hope is that grassroots initiatives in the provinces will be adequately supported for the good of our communities.
The Bloc Québécois has long called for an end to supporting the fossil fuel industry and welcomes any measure aimed at redirecting the money towards businesses—