Mr. Speaker, it is a great pleasure for me to speak in the debate on this bill.
As most of my colleagues have said, this bill is important because it is a further step toward applying the polluter pays principle, and I sincerely believe it is fundamentally essential, considering the unbridled increase in the development of various oil and gas resources in Canada and the potential consequences of that. We are aware of all the debates and reactions that oil and gas development and transportation by a variety of methods, including pipelines, give rise to among the general public. It is really important to move forward and take at least this step in the best way possible.
Like all my colleagues in the New Democratic Party—I have not heard any dissenting voices on this issue—I support this bill at second reading, both because of its basic principle and because it contains some really positive elements. However, our support is of course conditional on the fact that we must be able to consider the bill in depth at the committee stage and that ultimately we can look at what is good, what has to be improved and what improvements can be made, in the hopes that the debate can be as broad and as deep as possible.
Moreover, I am taking this opportunity to say that I welcome the fact that the bill is not currently the subject of a time allocation motion. I do not know if that will happen. I may well be in dangerous waters just by bringing it up. I hope I am not giving my Conservative colleagues any ideas about moving a time allocation motion, but it is quite significant. It is also important that we have a very comprehensive debate on this bill and especially that we listen to the views from all parts of Canada. We represent very diverse populations that are sometimes spread over huge areas. As my colleague mentioned earlier, he represents a riding whose vast size is beyond all measure in comparison with the riding that I represent, which is much smaller and very urban. However, in view of some of the pipeline routes, my urban riding is likely to be very deeply affected if there were an accident.
The thing that is really important about the polluter pays principle is that it makes it possible to use an encouraging approach, that is, prevention, which relies on companies’ best practices. Companies wishing to build and operate a pipeline will go much further with their safety measures, doubling or tripling their monitoring and taking containment measures to ensure that they prevent spills as much as possible. If ever there were a spill, they would take steps to keep damage to a minimum.
As some of our colleagues have stressed, deplorable accidents have happened; just a few years ago there was a well-publicized accident along the Kalamazoo River, which was deeply contaminated following a large-scale spill. According to the findings of an investigation, the spill is worrying because of the way in which these types of pipelines are operated. At the end of the day, a company that provides minimum services in order to carry a crude or refined product has too little control and too few teams close by in order to ensure that when something goes wrong with the pipeline, it is identified and then corrective measures are taken as quickly as possible.
This is far from being useful because obviously we can develop our natural resources in a responsible manner.
We can do this without sacrificing environmental sustainability and social acceptability. I am talking about these concepts precisely because environmental development and economic development are two elements that are far from being incompatible. We have discussed, among other things, the idea of having a value-added product, for example, refining crude oil and offering derived products. Furthermore, we might well develop some expertise, which is also value-added and can be exported, not to mention using it here in Canada, in a way that creates high-quality jobs, in order to prevent accidents and reduce the risks and the footprint of the facilities that are already operating.
After discussing environmental sustainability, the other very important aspect is social acceptability, and especially participating in the partnership that can be created with the communities directly or indirectly affected by the movement of equipment, for instance, in the case of a pipeline that goes through a community or at the very least passes close to it. This is of course very demanding. Everybody realizes it. However, it is an essential practice because if the people’s voices are heard and they are convinced that their concerns will be taken into consideration, it is much easier to gain their co-operation in reaching a solution or a result that will preclude unilaterally imposed measures. In fact, imposing measures unilaterally could well lead to fractious disputes and perhaps even to certain excesses. We cannot blame people for this. When people feel that their safety and the safety of their families is under direct threat, how can anyone criticize them for reacting strongly, for making demands, for challenging or wanting to block the project? Some parts of our country are currently going through this situation with projects that are up in the air, under consideration or being developed.
Once we have satisfied these questions of environmental sustainability and social licence, we will be able to ensure real long-term prosperity and, most of all, prosperity that is shared among all segments of society, with everyone's involvement. That is why it is very important for this bill to be thoroughly examined in committee and for the committee to hear a broad range of witnesses. I do not mean only expert witnesses, but also witnesses from civil society and the communities near pipelines and existing facilities. That will help us understand how some of the more controversial aspects of this bill need to be improved.
Of course, one of the aspects I want to touch on is the $1 billion cap on liability when no fault or negligence is proven. This may seem like a very large amount; a billion dollars is an enormous sum. Still, would it be enough for a community like Quebec City, which includes my riding of Beauport—Limoilou, if there were a pipeline project with the potential to affect major sources of drinking water for hundreds of thousands of people? Those sources include the St. Lawrence River and a number of large lakes and rivers. What would happen if they were seriously affected over months or years? Losses would go far beyond that level, even if no fault were proven, the company was not liable and it was truly an accident.
Beyond Beauport—Limoilou and Quebec City, what meaning would that level of liability have if natural environments were permanently soiled?
It is possible to do the simple accounting, but it is essential for companies to realize that their liability must be absolute and that they must take every precaution to avoid accidents.