MASSE IN THE HOUSE: C-46 An Act to amend the National Energy Board Act and the Canada Oil and Gas Operations Act

    Mr. Brian Masse (Windsor West, NDP): Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today on this important bill to have the polluter pays principle apply to some of the government's legislation, which has been long sought after in this chamber. Therefore, Bill C-46, an act to amend the National Energy Board Act and the Canada Oil and Gas Operations Act, will be receiving our support to send it to committee.

     There are some issues with this bill. It is lacklustre in some components, whether that be with respect to the clarity of the National Energy Board's oversight and its role in this or liability. We have talked a bit about that today. However, the significant achilles heel of the bill is the determination of the cleanup costs for companies that reach the $1 billion liability limit. That might sound like a lot of money on the surface, but in reality we have had spills which have cost more than $1 billion in terms of cleanup. I will speak to one in my area. Although it is an American example, our energy is integrated and it happened in a river that is connected to the Great Lakes tributary system. It affected the largest clean water supply which is important not only with respect to the environment and water consumption for individuals but also to the general economy as we have ships that service all of the Great Lakes right out to the oceans, as well as tourism worth hundreds of millions of dollars with respect to the ecosystem. To give some perspective to the size of the spill, there was over 800,000 U.S. gallons of oil that escaped into the Kalamazoo River from a 30-inch pipeline. It got into the water system and required $1.2 billion U.S. to clean up. Given the value of our dollar today, that would be much higher than it was at the time. However, the reality is that it affected us.

    To give those who are listening to the debate today an idea, a lot of effort and public money was spent to clean up the Great Lakes and other ecosystems. Therefore, it is not just about the damage and the problems that are caused at the moment a spill occurs, it is also about undermining all of the public investment that has been done to try to restore some of our ecosystems because we have treated them poorly so many times.

    Most recently, we were able to celebrate the release of the sturgeon back into the Kalamazoo area, which is important to both the ecosystem and tourism sectors. A lot of hard work has been done to improve the terms and conditions by which we can use those and we have turned a negative into an asset. Therefore, when a spill takes place we cannot think of it in the context of that one moment, that one spill and that one time. When we look at the spills we have had across the country, there has also been legacy costs due to other related effects on the community, whether with respect to loss of use of the water resources or the land. Canadians have been quite clear and have consistently shown poll after poll that they do not have any confidence with respect to companies being able to clean up and contain oil spills affecting land and in particular water. A few years back we saw some more modest spills which had shown up unexpectedly in the Detroit River when people found oil washing up on the shore. The company had no idea there was a spill.

    Ironically, at one point in time if companies were fined for an oil spill or received a corporate fine or penalty they could claim it as a tax deduction. I am proud that in 2004 or 2006 the New Democrats fought to get that law changed so that they could no longer write-off the costs of polluting. Not only did the polluter not pay, it was rewarded because it was a business-related expense at the time. That can no longer happen and is a step forward.

    However, we are still left with some problems related to this bill. As I have noted, Canadians do not have confidence in the cleanup. Part of the problem that we have with the bill is that the National Energy Board's ability to act and investigate would not be sufficient.

     I would point to the poor track record of the Conservative government, but it is important that we did some see some action related to the horrible incident in Lac Mégantic. For some time now, we have been warning about some of the problems in the self-regulation that the government has.

    I was on the transport committee when we tabled a report on rail safety in this chamber. I cannot say what was done when we went in-camera, but I can say that the report did not have a dissenting opinion put with it. That was odd, because there were things that were clearly missing in the report that we tabled. There was the Wilson report, done prior to that, which talked about the safety management systems, and how at CN and CP, there was a culture of fear.

    With the self-regulating body, are people going to feel strong and confident enough to go forward and challenge some of the industries that clearly have the ear of the Conservative government? This is a concern that I have with the National Energy Board. As we move to the self-regulation aspect, having seen cuts to the regulatory oversight, is that going to be enough? I do not think that it will be. That is what causes me major concern about this bill. It is the liability and accountability.

    I would like to conclude with this. Regarding Canadians, as I mentioned, in terms of their confidence in cleaning up oil spill, only 27% of Canadians are confident that the Government of Canada is able to respond effectively to a significant oil spill on water. That is significant. That lack of confidence from Canadians would be felt from coast to coast to coast and on our inland operations that we get our freshwater supplies from.

    We will move this to committee, but we will be asking significant questions to try to figure out where and why the $1 billion cap is on this, and why taxpayers should be on the hook for negligence.

    Mr. Brian Masse: Mr. Speaker, we have been very clear. Generally speaking, our position on natural resources is that we should be in control of them, appropriately managing them, and making sure that when we use them, it is done with the polluter pays principle and that it is sustainable. That is how we believe Canada's natural are best suited for use.

Mr. Brian Masse: Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for the question. It is a point I had written down but never did bring up in my comments.

    This is a very important point, because we would be limiting the window in which damages can be claimed, when that should be open. When the damages take place, the polluter should actually pay for it, whether it is discovered sooner or later, which should not be a factor when we look at this.

    It could take years to determine the source point of environmental damage and leakage. It may not be as obvious as the Kalamazoo River. It could be a longer-term problem with a pipeline which could basically be absolved from a process. Again, it is similar to that of setting $1 billion for damages. Why are we setting these caps with arbitrary numbers?

     What we should be doing is making sure that the funding is going to be there, and that one gets the proper insurance and pays for it. Second, no matter when the damage takes place, the company is responsible.

Mr. Brian Masse: Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for raising in greater detail what took place in Michigan, because I think it is important.

    I think this really applies to the fact of, coming from that area, how much work has been done over the years to try to clean up the Great Lakes and the tributary systems that feed the Great Lakes. It has been a real challenge. We have all heard the stories of the Hudson River in New York being on fire and a series of things, but we have had a series of other problems in the Michigan area as well.

     There has been a lot of public investment, not so much on the Canadian site but on the American side, because we share this treasured resource. When we have a spill like this from the negligence of Enbridge, it undermines all the other taxpayer-funded initiatives that we have been doing to try to make it a better place to live.