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Track Robert

Your Say


Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word is environmental.

Conservative MP for Dauphin—Swan River—Neepawa (Manitoba)

Won his last election, in 2015, with 46% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Act April 10th, 2017

Mr. Speaker, as I said in this speech and many other speeches, the critics of what we did as a government never talk about the environment. The environment improved under our Conservative government. The map shows that sulphur dioxide went down and nitrous oxide went down. Canada was considered as having the second-best water quality in the world in 2010 by the United Nations. The sockeye salmon run in 2014 in the Fraser River was a record in history. Even I am not crass enough to take credit for that, but it happened.

During the review of the Fisheries Act, we asked witnesses who were dead set against what we did with the Fisheries Act what changes in the fish population they could see as a result of the changes we made and whether they could give us some specific examples. They could not.

Focusing on process often takes away from real environmental improvements, such as putting waste water treatment plants near paper mills. That is what real environmentalism is and that is what environmental debates should be about. They should be about creating a clean and healthy environment.

Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Act April 10th, 2017

Mr. Speaker, I take issue very strongly with the member's view that there was no consultation on the changes Conservatives made. Very conveniently, the NDP always forgets about farmers, municipalities, and rural communities. There were extensive consultations with farm communities and rural municipalities on the Fisheries Act. To a person and to an organization, all of those groups very strongly supported the changes Conservatives made to that particular act, and similarly with the Navigable Waters Protection Act.

In terms of whether an individual was not happy with the consultation process, I would like to see any consultation process in which 100% of the groups and people were happy with the process or the outcome.

Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Act April 10th, 2017

Mr. Speaker, I am not sure there was a question.

Again, I am still firmly convinced that it would introduce uncertainty into the resource development review process. If I look at provinces like Manitoba, where the mining engine is starting to get revved up, I see that Manitoba has a very good regulatory process. We will see what happens in the Yukon, because the proof is in the pudding.

Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Act April 10th, 2017

Mr. Speaker, I apologize.

The relevance is that the investment climate in our country is critical and the environmental processes that govern the development and implementation of projects are very important. That is why we made changes to the act via Bill S-6. We put time limits on the review process. I know the environmental industry wants no time limits on the review process. I made the point. It is absolutely true that all projects these days are built with the finest environmental technology in place right now. Therefore, to spend an inordinate amount of time reviewing what we already knew was what our government changed in the act.

Regarding this act, we exempted a project from reassessment when an authorization was renewed or amended unless there had been a significant change to the project. Changes always are being made to resource projects. Plants are sometimes refurbished, boilers are changed, and these can be considered as routine maintenance or modifications. If these are subject to endless litigation or process, just when a company is modifying a plant in a manner that is not significant in terms of its environmental performance, that modification should be exempt from a review process. The federal minister still had a role to provide binding policy direction to the board, so the federal government was involved.

The last thing we did under Bill S-6, which was very important, was we gained the ability to delegate the federal minister's powers, duties, or functions under the act to the territorial government.

I spoke earlier, as a person who had actually worked in industry, how the investment climate could be negatively affected by different levels of government coming in and out of the process. We know there is a separation of powers in the environment. Migratory birds, for example, are clearly within the purview of the federal government. Wildlife is provincial, and so on. However, there is a very strong overlap between those, and often a proponent has to repeat exactly the same environmental assessment for two levels of government. That costs money, time, and that kind of regulatory uncertainty has the potential to thwart investment. Make no mistake, capital, in the modern world, is very mobile. Capital looks where it can best be spent, and investors look for regulatory certainty.

I am very pleased that in my home province of Manitoba we finally have a business-friendly, aggressive, Conservative government. The mining industry views Manitoba now as the place in North America to develop mines. Not only do we have high environmental standards, we have a business-friendly government. We have rich mineral resources. Unlike the Liberal government of Ontario and other governments across the country, Manitoba has some of the lowest hydro rates in North America. That is a recipe for success.

Going back to Bill C-17, what it would do is reverse the good work that was done under our government. I would like to move an amendment to the amendment. I move:

That the amendment be amended by adding the following: “and that the committee report back no later than June 19, 2017”.

Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Act April 10th, 2017

Mr. Speaker, I know the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands gets all harried when we talk about math and numbers and so on. This is what is really important.

Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Act April 10th, 2017

Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak to Bill C-17. The background leading to Bill C-17 is as follows. The federal government's role in the management of lands and resources in Yukon was devolved to the Government of Yukon in 2003. The Government of Canada maintains the responsibility for outlining the environmental regulations there. The Yukon Environmental Socio-economic Assessment Board was established under the final agreement.

Our Bill S-6 was intended to make, and did make, the northern regulatory regimes more consistent with those in the south to attract investment and develop economic opportunities. Bill S-6 was a very good bill. It put time limits on the review process. It exempted a project from reassessment when an authorization is renewed or amended, unless there was a significant change to the project. It gave the federal minister the ability to provide binding policy direction to the board, and very importantly, the ability to delegate the federal minister's powers, duties, or functions under the act to the territorial government.

I became a member of Parliament in 2010. For the first term of our government I was on both the fisheries committee and the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development. For most of that time, I was the only member of Parliament of any political party who was on both of those committees. I was very privileged to get a view into our environmental policy-making and I participated fully in many of the changes that we made. Many of the changes that we made improved the environmental process, cleaned up a number of very bad pieces of environmental legislation, improved the potential for economic development, and had absolutely no negative effects on the environment. We amended the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act to remove duplication.

We changed the Navigable Waters Protection Act into the Navigation Protection Act. The Navigable Waters Protection Act was a particularly egregious act. It was a good act when it was written back in the 1800s when Canada depended on water navigation to a very great extent, and blocking navigable waters simply was not an option for our growing economy. However, over the course of decades and years, judicial interpretation of what was a navigable water kept growing smaller until intermittent streams were considered navigable waters. There are those who have a strong interest in stopping economic development. My colleague opposite inadvertently used the phrase “environmental industry”. I think there is an industry that has been developed that is doing very well financially in stopping projects. The old Navigable Waters Protection Act was a particularly bad act because it forced municipalities to spend inordinate amounts of money to build bridges over tiny intermittent water bodies.

We also changed the Fisheries Act quite dramatically. As a fisheries biologist, I was very much involved with the changes to the Fisheries Act.

These examples that I am citing are germane to the topic of the Yukon situation because the regulatory regime of a country is critical to the economic development of that country. Modern projects must be environmentally sound, and indeed they are, and at the same time investment must be encouraged.

Revising the Fisheries Act, 2012, which was our Fisheries Act, was one of the current federal government's platform policies. The fisheries committee had extensive hearings. I am still on the fisheries committee as the vice-chair. We had weeks of hearings where people who were opposed to the changes we made to the act wanted the act to go back to the way it was, the old way, where basically the entire country was considered fish habitat, and the Fisheries Act was able to be used by the environmental industry and environmental lawyers to block, hold up, or otherwise stop economic development.

I have a strange view of the environment. I believe that when we talk about environmental policy, we should actually talk about ecology, nature, landscapes, and water, because presumably that is what it is all about. However, all I hear mostly from environmental advocates these days, especially those on the Liberal left, is process, process, process.

In our Fisheries Act hearings, over and over again we asked this of the ones who were so excited about the changes we made to the act. Since the act was changed in 2012, we asked them if they could point to any fish populations that had been decimated or affected by the changes we had made. Not a person could come up with any examples, but they sure were mad at the process. Their metric for success of an act was how many investigations there were, how many charges there were, and how many processes there were. The fish and the environment actually became an afterthought.

The changes we made in the Yukon Act included putting in time limits, no reassessment unless the project was significantly changed, the federal minister binding policy direction, and delegate the federal minister's powers to the territorial government.

When I was an environmental director at a paper mill, I remember being involved with a change in the direction of our mill. Multiple bodies were regulating the environmental assessment we were doing. We never knew which level of government would step in since it was optional. They would sit in the weeds, we would do the environmental assessment, and we would ask what they thought. They would say that they were not sure, that we should keep doing what we were doing. This kind of uncertainty has a very direct and negative effect on investment. It is great for lawyers, the billable times just keep going up and up. However, with respect to communities, people, livelihoods, it is the worst thing that could happen.

When I was a young biologist in the seventies, and right out of university, one of my very first jobs was being part of the environmental assessment of the Mackenzie Valley pipeline. It was dream job for a kid out of university. I was able to play around with fish, fly around in helicopters, and sample rivers and lakes in remote parts of the Mackenzie Valley. It was an absolutely marvellous experience. This was back in the days of the Berger commission. I remember the team of which I was a part. We sampled every waterway in the Mackenzie Valley, every tributary, all the lakes along the proposed pipeline route. We flew the pipeline route, wrote copious reports, and took a lot of water and fish samples, all the usual kinds of fun stuff that field biologists get to do.

The report was written and the Berger commission was held. At that point, oil and gas prices were not too bad. We had an oil embargo, so there was a certain urgency for Canada to develop our natural resources. The government of Pierre Elliott Trudeau of the day ultimately turned the project down after all that work.

Interestingly, the project was resurrected in the 1990s again. Gas prices were up. I think it was $15 a thousand cubic feet. It was a high price and they wanted to see if we could get the Mackenzie Valley pipeline going again. The proponents for that project in the 1990s had to do exactly the same environmental assessment that we did in the 1970s. Nothing had changed. The rivers and lakes were exactly the same. There had been no development, no economic expansion, nothing, yet what we did in the 1970s was redone all over again for a number of years.

As time went on, the price of natural gas declined dramatically and the project became uneconomical. Delay and uncertainty kill projects. Now we have no Mackenzie Valley pipeline and we have 15 or 20 communities that are in dire economic straits. We know how to build pipelines safely. They are all built in an environmentally sound way. It is because they are so good that when a spill actually occurs, then it is a big event because it is an extremely rare event.

There is a fundamental misunderstanding of modern economic development, especially resource projects. All projects are built with state-of-the-art environmental technology. The implication when one goes into an environmental review process is we either do this review process or the environment will be destroyed, which is complete and utter nonsense.

Again, in my own experience managing a waste water treatment plant at a paper mill, doing environmental assessments in the oil sands, and many years of experience doing environmental assessments across the country, working with companies, working with engineers and designers, I can absolutely guarantee that state-of-the-art environmental technology is built into every project before any shovel goes in the ground. Scrubbers are put on smokestacks, waste water treatment plants are designed for, and the technology for environmental improvement is increasing all the time.

One can look at the miracle of Inco. Thirty or 40 years ago there was a moonscape around that town because of acid rain emissions from the mill. The mill has been cleaned up and the landscape around Sudbury has come back. I have been there and seen it. This is what advanced industrial capitalist free market societies do. We get richer and we do a better job environmentally, and the process is ongoing and continuing.

The other thing about environmental policy is that it is very important to measure environmental results.

There was a great philosopher, Pythagoras, who said that all was math. What I see in environmental policy-making is that nobody measures anything. We have this faith, and I use the term advisedly, that what we want to do is good for the world because, “I am a good person and I want to save the world, therefore what I do is good”. We do not do the hard-nosed measurements to zero in on what the environmental problems may be, measuring the state of the earth, measuring fish populations, water quality, and so on, and then focusing our efforts on where environmental programs will actually make a difference. For example, wetland loss is very serious in the country, yet we only have halfhearted measures to preserve wetlands.

Again, I go back to the process and I go back to what we, as the previous government, did to streamline the process and remove duplication. Hearings and meetings by themselves rarely result in environmental improvement. Spending $25 million putting a waste water treatment plant at a paper mill will improve the environment. That is how I look at environmental policy, and that is how it should be looked at across the country.

When we were going through the process of the Fisheries Act, as I mentioned earlier, there were critics of what we did under the Fisheries Act. Their metric as to what the 2012 changes to the Fisheries Act did was how many authorizations, how many charges resulted from the 2012 act, whereas our main concern, obviously, was the health of the fish.

Fisheries and Oceans April 6th, 2017

Mr. Speaker, fish harvesters attending the Gulf Groundfish Advisory Committee in Moncton expressed their frustration and disbelief over the Liberals' inaction in protecting groundfish stocks by controlling the grey seal population. Despite scientists confirming that grey seals are responsible for declining fish populations, the minister has failed to take action.

Given the importance of the fishery to communities in rural Atlantic Canada, especially in light of the drastic reductions in the shrimp quota, will the minister commit to using a portion of the new Atlantic fisheries fund to address growing seal populations that are preventing the recovery of commercially valuable fish stocks?

The Budget April 3rd, 2017

Mr. Speaker, my colleague talks about his love for rural Canada, but one thing I did not catch in his speech was the value of the hunting, angling, and outfitting industry in rural Canada. The Liberal member for Long Range Mountains owned a number of fishing and hunting lodges in Newfoundland.

The reason I start with this preamble is that the recently announced Firearms Advisory Committee by the Minister of Public Safety does not have a single representative from the tourism, hunting and outfitting industry in it, one of the most significant industries in rural Canada. It is a travesty that the Firearms Advisory Committee has a number of anti-firearms representatives on it, and not a single representative, as I said, from the outfitting industry or the hunting and angling community.

Could the member comment on the discrepancy in the makeup of the Firearms Advisory Committee, which obviously is designed to further restrict hunters, farmers, sport shooters, and especially the outfitting industry in rural Canada?

Petitions March 6th, 2017

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to present a petition signed by over 60 of my constituents, which emphasizes the importance of regional, local, and community broadcast programming, and asks the government to enable a network of community-operated media centres not served by public or private media. Furthermore, the petitioners request that all Canadian residents have access to multi-platform media skills training and content distribution in the digital economy.

Business of Supply February 23rd, 2017

Madam Speaker, the number of ducks that were killed in that incident was 500. A fall flight to North America is 48 million ducks. Therefore, let us put it in perspective.

It is very important that we address real and measurable environmental issues. I know some members will pooh-pooh the issue of birds. The Minister of Environment and Climate Change should engage the Migratory Birds Convention Act and have a really good look at the effects of alternate energy on some of our most vulnerable and endangered species. She is not doing that.