Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to address the House this afternoon on Bill S-5, legislation that the government has put forward in the Senate and is now with us in the House. It is a bit of an environmental policy omnibus, as it brings together a number of different kinds of provisions updating various pieces of legislation.
Conservatives are prepared to support this legislation. We think, generally, that the direction of it is positive, that it improves on its absence. Therefore, we are going to be supporting it, but it is also an opportunity to reflect, more broadly, on the government's approach to environmental policy because I think we are seeing, at a macro level, a lot of failures from the government in environmental policy. These are failures in how it acts and how it thinks about the environmental challenges in front of us.
Before I get into particulars, I wanted to propose a framework for thinking about environmental policy. When we debate questions in the House, there are some questions we debate that deal in moral absolutes, questions of absolute right or absolute wrong about how we are acting or how the state might treat a person. In such cases, we do not apply a consequentialist filter to determinations about those things. We say that this sort of action is absolutely unacceptable, regardless of any sort of effort to interpret the consequences in a favourable way. There are issues we deal with that relate to questions of absolute right and wrong, absolute justice and injustice, etc.
There are also questions, though, that we evaluate on consequential grounds, where the thing being done in and of itself is not intrinsically impermissible, unjust or just. Rather, the thing being done, whether it is a good thing or a bad thing, can be assessed in its consequences.
In moral reasoning, there are those who tend to want to apply absolute moral considerations to a broader range of areas, and there are those who want expand the space of areas in which we consider things on a purely consequentialist grounds. Those are important debates, and there are maybe cases at the margins where we ask if this is a scenario where we would apply absolute reasoning or consequentialist reasoning.
For those with a certain kind of view and a perspective on the environment, they take a very absolutist approach. They are the ones to say that one ought not to be producing greenhouse gas emissions, or one ought not to be engaging in certain kinds of industrial production, period, full stop. If it is hurting the planet, therefore it is an absolute wrong, regardless of the immediate consequences. There are those who take that perspective.
My view is, though, that an environmental policy consideration should be viewed through a consequentialist lens, that is whether emissions are justified in a particular case or not, whether emissions should be allowed and what kind of regulation or taxation policy should be applied in particular cases. Those should be evaluated, not through the lens of moral absolutes, but through the lens of consequences. Does allowing emissions in a particular case produce better consequences or not?
Those who take the opposite view and argue for absolutist evaluation on environmental policy, I think, have to explain why we should not consider consequences. Why should we not countenance that producing emissions in certain cases may have better consequences for humanity in general, or for the environment in particular, just because of an absolute opposition they have to producing emissions in a particular case? I do not see any text or basis for saying that there is an absolute moral prohibition on producing greenhouse gas emissions. Therefore, I see this as being a space of consequentialist moral evaluation.
When one is looking at environmental policy through a consequentialist lens, when one is producing greenhouse emissions here, one always has to ask if it is displacing greenhouse gas emissions somewhere else. What are the net effects, in human security, human happiness, economic well-being and the environment? In general, the consequentialist reasoning Conservatives apply is why we are inclined to be very supportive, for instance, of energy development here in Canada, which we see as displacing less clean, and also potentially more negative, from a security perspective, energy being produced in other countries.
We say that expanding the Canadian oil and gas sector, even if it is within a certain narrow geographic band, might increase apparent emissions. However, if it is decreasing global emissions because it is displacing emissions in other cases, or if, in the production of that energy, we are generating new technology that could be used in other parts of the world to have positive effects overall, we are willing to say that, yes, that industrial activity is a net positive so we support it.
In other cases, they might say that Canada's producing more energy is bringing about security improvements in the world. If we are displacing Russian gas being exported to Europe by increasing our production and exporting it to Europe, the consequential impacts would be that Russia would not be able to fuel its war machine by selling gas to Europe so it would not able to continue this war. Russia's being less able to prosecute the war against Ukraine would be good for security, human life and well-being around the world. This is particularly true not only around Ukraine, but also more broadly. It is a positive overall.
Rather than taking an ideological, absolutist approach to environmental policy, we need to take a consequentialist approach to look at the full range of impacts, what the economic, well-being, security and environmental impacts are, and weigh the decision to develop versus the decision to not develop within that larger consequentialist framework.
As I try to understand where different parties are coming from in the House and why they come to different conclusions, I see a philosophical difference on environmental policy between the official opposition, for instance, and some of the other parties in this place. It is not that one group of people is concerned about the environment and the other is not. We are all concerned about the impact of policies on the environment. We all recognize the role that environmental policy plays in contributing to humans' flourishing or not and to human well-being, etc. However, we believe that those evaluations should be done in a consequentialist way, as opposed to this absolute opposition to certain kinds of development and resources, etc.
We hear things from even the government that suggest that it is buying in to this more absolutist way of looking at environmental policy when we have, for instance, repeatedly tried to push the government. We have said it is important to develop our oil and gas sector, for instance, to displace less environmentally friendly sources of energy in other parts of the world. The government members will say that, no, these particular kinds of fuels are the energy of the past and the solution to 20th century instead of the 21st century. Just factually, that is not true. Oil and gas continues to be a very significant part of the global energy mix. Moreover, it shows this kind of attachment to an absolutism with the effort to apply the kind of language of moral absolutes to an area in energy policy where more consequentialist considerations are more appropriate.
I just wanted to put this on the record as a way of thinking about what kinds of differences exist between parties on environmental policy because it is often convenient for us to paint with a broad brush to say that this group of political actors care and this group of political actors do not care. We can have better conversations and more substantive understandings of each other if we try to look behind that to say what is motivating different political actors to come to different conclusions.
Just to summarize, Bill S-5 is a bit of an omnibus bill that covers various kinds of environmental policy changes. It is a bill that most parties in the House support, although there are some with different quibbles. We have a shared concern in the House for the environment and a shared recognition that environmental policy has an impact on human life and human well-being. Moreover, we see the environment as a good in and of itself and not just as a means to other goods. Also, we make those environmental policy considerations through a more consequentialist moral framework, rather than an absolute one, which is more appropriate for the particulars in this case.