That, in the opinion of the House, the proposed Port of Gros-Cacouna oil terminal, which will be used for the sole purpose of exporting unprocessed Canadian oil, will have a negative impact on the Canadian economy through the loss of well-paid jobs, will constitute an unacceptable environmental threat to the St. Lawrence ecosystem, including the beluga whale population, and therefore, is not consistent with the principle of sustainable development, and must be rejected.
He said: Mr. Speaker, to begin, I would like to mention that I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for , who will be giving an excellent speech once I have finished.
This debate and this motion are very important. They will showcase the foundation of the NDP's sustainable development plan when it forms the government in 2015. It is very important that we get back to basics and define sustainable development. It is built on three pillars. The first is economic. Of course, development is first economic. We need to determine how a project can benefit the Canadian economy. The Port of Gros-Cacouna project is not economically beneficial. In fact, the economy in this region already relies on ecotourism, fishing and marine resources. An oil spill would be catastrophic for all of those jobs. In addition, this project focuses solely on exporting. There is no opportunity to process the raw material; therefore, there is no possibility to add value or create jobs. That is why this project makes no sense economically.
The second pillar is environmental. The beluga whale, a symbol of Quebec, lives there. The beluga is a symbol not just of Quebec, but of Canada. The beluga is also a threatened species. In 2010, there were about 1,000 belugas, but the latest figures show that in 2012, there were only 880. Protecting the ecosystem and the environment is a very important aspect of sustainable development, but that protection will be impossible in this case.
The third pillar is social acceptance. I will explain why later, but I travelled around the Lower St. Lawrence and across Quebec twice, and there is no social acceptance.
The Conservatives have made a real mess of this file, and my colleagues who have been working on it can talk about that later on. For one thing, the Maurice Lamontagne Institute is in the region, and in 2012, the Conservatives made draconian cuts there. Some two-thirds of the scientists who worked at the institute, in fields such as ecotoxicology, lost their jobs. Environmental science was absolutely eviscerated there.
In addition, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act has been completely watered down. It has been hacked to bits. Right now, this act is a problem because environmental assessments and public consultations are no longer reliable.
That is what prompted my colleagues and me to move motions in committee. We have been concerned about belugas for a long time. As I said, belugas are a threatened species. They fall under the federal government's Species at Risk Act. That means the federal government is required, under its own act, to protect this species and come up with a recovery strategy, but that has not happened. The species is not recovering. On the contrary, from 2010 to 2012, the number of belugas dropped. As we approach 2015, the species is probably even more threatened. In the past few years, many young belugas have washed up on the beach and died. Protecting young belugas is critically important to the recovery of this species.
That is why, in June, I moved a motion in the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development, and my colleague from moved a motion in the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans. We were very concerned about the work that was going on then and we wanted to know if the seismic survey and exploratory drilling work was happening with no regard for species like the beluga and the ecosystem in general off the coast of Cacouna.
We moved this motion in our respective committees. Unfortunately, the Conservatives decided to proceed in camera. I therefore cannot tell you what was discussed during those in camera meetings, but I can tell you that the motions are no longer on the order paper. Members can figure out what happened.
Then, there was a request to conduct exploratory drilling. I went to the Quebec Superior Court to hear the injunction application filed by the Centre québécois du droit de l'environnement and other environmentalists who are very concerned about the environment in that area. I listened to the arguments made by the lawyers for the Centre québécois de droit de l'environnement. The Conservatives' actions on this issue are truly shameful.
First, the Government of Quebec asked for clarification so that it could respond to the concerns about the protection of the ecosystem raised in response to TransCanada's request for authorization to conduct exploratory drilling off the coast of Gros-Cacouna. The Conservatives did not bother to respond through Fisheries and Oceans Canada. Then, rather than answering the questions they were asked, they said that they would send a letter. They did not send a scientific opinion. In the letter, they said that everything was going well, that people should trust them and that the project could go forward. We know what happened next: the Quebec Superior Court granted the injunction. Right now, no exploratory drilling can be done because of the injunction. TransCanada can no longer move forward with that request.
The Liberal leader visited the Lower St. Lawrence region and said that drilling and seismic testing could be done and that he supported the oil port project in Gros-Cacouna, without knowing what was happening and that the project was not backed by scientific evidence.
An hon. member: He did not know that?
Mr. François Choquette: No, Mr. Speaker, he did not. It is truly shameful.
The member for even told him that he was disappointed that the was refusing to share scientific information. That came from the September 29, 2014, Hansard. The Liberals do not seem to be on the same page. In fact, it seems that the Liberal leader is not familiar with the basic principles of sustainable development. The member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville had to set him straight.
I hope that the Liberals will set the Liberal leader straight, explain the basic principles of sustainable development to him and vote in favour of our motion since it is based on those basic principles, namely, environmentally sustainable economic development and the social acceptance of the surrounding community.
We moved this motion for all of these reasons, and we are asking the Conservatives to stand with us. They need to understand that they cannot build an oil port in that location without going against their own species at risk legislation, and the project is not good for the economy either.
I hope the government will one day realize that the words “environment” and “economic development” are not mutually exclusive.
This proves that the Conservatives do not take environmental protection seriously. They do not understand what sustainable development is.
When the NDP forms the government, we will ensure that Canada has not only a sustainable development strategy but also legislation in this area. In fact, my hon. colleague from has introduced a bill on sustainable development, and we will continue in that direction.
The principle of protecting sustainable development—in other words, the right to clean air, clean water and clean soil—will be written into the charter. We will fulfill these promises once the NDP forms the government.
I would also like to draw attention to what the Liberals are doing in this area. The NDP is the only party that has a clear position on sustainable development and the Port of Gros-Cacouna.
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure and privilege to engage in this debate. I thank my colleague, the member for , for his remarks on our motion regarding the proposed Port of Gros-Cacouna oil terminal. It is something about which we are very troubled on this side.
Let me first acknowledge my colleagues, the member for , the member for , and the member for , for the incredible work they have been doing on this issue.
The Port of Gros-Cacouna and the St. Lawrence are extremely sensitive ecosystems, not to mention the extraordinary danger we would be putting the beluga whale under, a mammal that is covered under the Species at Risk Act.
I want to spend a few minutes talking about why it is we are so concerned about what the government is doing. Just this week the Commissioner for the Environment and Sustainable Development released a report that confirmed our fears, which have been increasing over the past 3.5 years, that the Conservative government only seems interested in minimalizing the federal government's involvement in environmental assessments. Time after time, it is doing everything it can to ensure that proper assessments are not being done, assessments in terms of the environment, whether it be for the transportation of oil or other forms of development. The government is neglecting its responsibility and trying to turn over responsibility to the proponents in many cases. What it fails to realize is that, by conducting proper environmental assessments, not only would it protect the environment but it would also be good for the economy.
Surely, in this day and age, we have to recognize that we must commit to ensuring that we deal with the environment. We must begin to address the question of climate change that is right there in front of all of us in real terms. It needs to be addressed. If we do not deal with these issues, then we are turning our backs on the economy; we are turning our backs on the sustainability of our country and, frankly, of our world.
In that respect, on this side the New Democrats believe in two particular principles. One is that proper community consultations need to be done so that not only do the communities on the ground get involved and understand what the impacts are but also the government authorities understand how the communities feel, how the people in those communities that would be most directly affected feel. Also, environmental assessments are the bedrock of sustainable development.
The government has told us not to worry: it is not that far along, and there is no need to be concerned. Let me remind members that it was just in March of this year that TransCanada submitted a project description to the National Energy Board for the energy east pipeline, which includes the proposal to export unprocessed oil at the Port of Gros-Cacouna. We know that an official application for the entire project is expected in the coming weeks.
Our concern stems from what we learned time and again, whether it is from the commissioner of the environment or whether it is with respect to coast guard capacity to deal with problems that may arise: the government is just simply not ready.
A decision was reached recently in this regard by the court. In September 2014, a decision forced TransCanada to stop all work in Cacouna because it was revealed that the Conservative government had shunned all collaboration with the Government of Quebec. Maybe the parliamentary secretary would explain that. The judge in this case was concerned about the fact that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans had refused for some reason to share with its provincial counterparts the results of studies it had conducted. Quebec asked to see the scientific advice on several occasions, but the Conservatives failed to make this information available.
The Conservatives refused to hear what specialized marine mammal scientists have had to say. They refused to hold special fisheries and oceans committee meetings to discuss the issue. My colleagues mentioned earlier that there were special motions brought before the fisheries and oceans committee and the environment committee to try to deal with this issue. We understood that the Government of Quebec was not able to get at this information, but its members thought, as responsible members of Parliament for this particular area of Quebec, they could perhaps use their role as members of Parliament with participation on the various standing committees to try to bring officials before our committee to ask them those questions, try to get at that information.
Those motions went into private, in-camera meetings. We do not know what was discussed in those in-camera meetings, except to say that no information has been shared with members of this House on this particular matter, and the issue has disappeared from the agendas of those particular committees.
I also cite the issue of marine protected areas. The government signed on to a UN commitment to achieve 10% protection of our coastline by the year 2020. Here we are in 2014 and we are at less than 1%. That is important in this regard because of the marine protected area initiative safeguarding the area around the Saguenay-St. Laurence Marine Park. The government has failed to more forward on that.
This particular initiative aimed, first and foremost, to protect the St. Lawrence belugas' full range of habitat, but we found out that the Canada-Quebec committee looking into the establishment of this marine park area has never even met. How can the Conservatives claim to be protecting beluga whale habitat when they are clearly, at every opportunity, torpedoing the area's marine conservation projects?
The Conservatives are not up to the task. They are not doing what needs to be done to protect our environment, to ensure that the species at risk that are covered by legislation are in fact protected. They are not doing the work that ensures a principle in which we believe is maintained and strengthened, and that is the principle of sustainable development.
At every opportunity, the Conservatives have been passing up on opportunities to protect our environment, as they are hell-bent to develop our natural resources in a way that, frankly, puts our ecosystem at risk.
That is why my colleagues and I will be standing in the House to debate this issue throughout the day: because we believe it is another example of how the government has fallen short, another example of why we need to elect a party to form a government that is actually committed to sustainable development.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to be able to participate in this debate today. I hope we will get some clarity as we go throughout the rest of the day.
Let me begin with a summary of my thoughts.
Our government is committed to responsible resource development. DFO's mandate is to ensure that when proponents want to implement projects, specific criteria for the protection and recovery of species at risk, such as the beluga whale, are respected. I can assure everyone in the House that our government remains committed to the protection of species at risk and that DFO takes this responsibility seriously.
In addition to the measures under the Species at Risk Act, commercial, recreational, and aboriginal fisheries are protected under the Fisheries Act. This means that areas that support such fisheries are protected against serious harm, which includes protection of habitat and protection against the death of fish.
TransCanada Pipeline's proposed energy east project includes the construction and operation of a shipping terminal near the port of Gros-Cacouna, Quebec. The project involves the conversion of an existing pipeline and the construction of new pipeline sections to transport oil from Alberta and Saskatchewan to eastern Canada. The project includes the construction and operation of two shipping terminals, one in Cacouna, Quebec, and the other in Saint John, New Brunswick.
It is well known that the area around Cacouna is at certain times of the year inhabited by beluga whales.
I should mention at this time that I will be splitting my time with the hon. member for .
The project application has not yet been filed with the National Energy Board. TransCanada has not submitted a proposal for review, contrary to what my NDP colleagues have said. Therefore, complete details of the proposed development at Cacouna are not available.
Although the National Energy Board will be responsible for conducting the environmental assessment, DFO will intervene in the National Energy Board hearing process and will review the project and provide advice with respect to our mandate in accordance with well-established processes that rely on scientific information. In conducting the review, DFO will assess the project under both the Fisheries Act and the Species at Risk Act.
Under the Fisheries Act, experts will assess whether the project is likely to result in harm to fish and subsequently determine if potential harm can be alleviated with appropriate avoidance, mitigation, or offsetting measures. This is a robust process to ensure the ongoing productivity and sustainability of Canada's commercial, recreational, and aboriginal fisheries.
Under the Species at Risk Act, DFO will assess whether, first, all reasonable alternatives to the activity that would reduce the impact on the species have been considered and the best solution has been adopted; second, whether all feasible measures will be taken to minimize the impact of the activity on a species or its critical habitat; and third, whether the activity will not jeopardize the survival or recovery of the species.
As we are all aware, and as I have already said, the St. Lawrence estuary beluga whale is a species at risk, and all efforts should be made to avoid impacts on the species.
It is for this reason that DFO has been actively engaged since the early stages of this project. DFO has provided information with respect to the requirements of the Fisheries Act and the Species at Risk Act to the proponent and has shared existing scientific reports and analyses with the Province of Quebec.
The proposed TransCanada energy east project is currently in the exploratory phase. In preparation for the proposed terminal at Cacouna, TransCanada submitted a proposal to Fisheries and Oceans Canada to conduct seismic testing and exploration drilling in order to define the geological structure of the proposed terminal site.
The department reviewed the proposal to determine whether it would adversely impact listed aquatic species at risk and whether it was likely to cause serious harm to fish, which is prohibited under the Fisheries Act. Again, the proposal was reviewed in accordance with well-established science-based processes.
Following the review, a Species at Risk Act permit was issued for the seismic survey project, but the survey was limited to a less sensitive time when beluga whales were less likely to be present. The permit required that the seismic testing be completed by April 30 of this year, which has been done.
Following the review of the proposed exploratory drilling project, DFO officials provided a letter back to TransCanada that included measures to avoid potential impacts on the St. Lawrence beluga. Measures included the presence of a marine mammal observer, ongoing monitoring of beluga presence, and the creation of a protection zone around the work site such that if belugas were observed within 500 metres of the work, then work would stop.
DFO advised the proponent that provided these mitigation measures were incorporated into TransCanada's plans, DFO was of the view that the exploratory drilling would not result in serious harm to fish, nor would it contravene the Species at Risk Act. This determination was based on a wealth of existing knowledge and scientific information.
The project proponent committed to avoiding impacts to the species by undertaking activities during less sensitive periods as well as by implementing mitigation measures during drilling to ensure that the St. Lawrence beluga whale is protected.
The Province of Quebec issued two authorizations for the exploratory drilling. In reaching its decision, the province relied on the same scientific information used by DFO.
As an example, on September 17, as per the protocol, drilling operations were shut down because of beluga presence in the area. In fact, this was exactly how it was supposed to work.
Since that time, on September 23 the Superior Court of Quebec issued an interlocutory injunction halting the drilling until October 15, 2014. However, let me be clear that the impact of that decision would not change anything concerning DFO's advice. This decision was entirely related to Quebec provincial laws and a provincial review and authorization process. I remain confident in the expertise of DFO staff and the review process that was followed at the federal level.
Throughout the upcoming review process, DFO will continue to be actively engaged in the environmental assessment to ensure the protection of the St. Lawrence beluga whale.
To demonstrate the thoroughness of our project reviews, I will highlight some of the steps implemented by DFO.
Upon receiving a project for review, DFO officials review the project in accordance with the requirements of the Fisheries Act and the Species At Risk Act. These reviews rely on the best available scientific information.
Officials review the information provided to determine whether additional information is needed to make a determination on whether serious harm to fish is likely and whether there are potential impacts to species at risk that must be considered. To ensure a complete analysis, consultation with other experts in the department, including our scientists, is performed.
If it is determined that the project is not likely to result in serious harm or to require a Species at Risk Act permit, the biologist notifies the proponent through a letter of advice, which may include measures to mitigate potential impacts to fish and fish habitat, including species at risk. If this determination cannot immediately be made, the biologist has discussions with the proponent on appropriate mitigation and offsetting to determine whether an authorization can in fact be issued.
For the review of the energy east project, including the proposed project activities at Cacouna, the National Energy Board review process will involve a hearing. DFO will have intervenor status at the hearing and will provide expertise to the process related to the department's mandate. This includes expertise with respect to marine mammals such as the St. Lawrence beluga.
Let me conclude by saying again that projects do not move forward unless they are safe for the environment and safe for Canadians.
Mr. Speaker, it is a real pleasure to rise in debate on this motion today.
It is very clear that Canada is blessed to be home to an abundant array of natural resources. Without question, our government is committed to protecting Canada's diverse marine ecosystems and to the conservation of the species contained in those ecosystems.
I want to talk about that further, because one level of government cannot do that alone. We have to collaborate with other levels of government, with all three levels of government in this great country, quite frankly. There is no good in the opposition getting up to make wild accusations that somehow one project that has been very closely monitored is going to destroy an entire species or an entire ecosystem.
I would just like to bring up the fact that some 3,000 ships pass through this ecosystem every year. I would suspect that if the NDP were to get its way, it would want to shut down all that shipping, every last ship that goes through the belugas' ecosystem, which is a large and substantial ecosystem.
Let us talk about reasonable and responsible development and how we go about that.
We are honoured, as the government, to have the responsibility to be stewards of these resources, to protect them, to enjoy them, and to benefit from them. The Species at Risk Act, SARA, is a key component, given the many variables to consider in effectively protecting aquatic species in our waters and in helping them to recover.
The Species at Risk Act is one of the federal government's key conservation tools. Given the variety and the geographic distribution of protected species, the Species at Risk Act has the potential to involve many Canadians, from commercial fishers and the aquaculture industry to recreational fishers and individuals.
The act supports biodiversity and the long-term sustainability of Canada's aquatic species and fisheries: commercial, aboriginal, and recreational. We know that healthy fish stocks and aquatic systems are the key to stable and prosperous fisheries.
The purpose of the act is to prevent threatened wildlife from becoming extinct and to provide for their recovery. Fisheries and Oceans Canada, along with Environment Canada and Parks Canada, are responsible for the implementation of the Species at Risk Act. The has primary responsibility for its administration and is the responsible minister for all species on federal lands as well as migratory birds. The is the minister responsible for aquatic species other than those found in areas administered by Parks Canada.
The Species at Risk Act establishes a process for conducting scientific assessments of the status of individual wildlife and aquatic species.
The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, COSEWIC, is a non-government committee of scientific experts that identifies and assesses wildlife and aquatic species at risk in Canada. The committee undertakes assessments of wildlife and aquatic species on an annual basis.
On receiving these assessments, the Governor in Council must make a decision as to whether a species will be included on schedule 1 of the Species at Risk Act. When it is decided to list a species under the Species at Risk Act as extirpated, endangered, or threatened, recovery strategies and action plans are prepared. Recovery strategies identify threats to the species and its habitat. These strategies also identify critical habitat to the extent possible and set population and distribution objectives for the species.
I say that to let all Canadians know that there is a process, and the process is adhered to and followed by every department of the government.
Action plans outline the steps to be taken to meet the objectives in any recovery strategy. For species listed as a special concern, the act requires the preparation of a management plan, including measures to be taken for the species' conservation.
These are just some of the steps DFO takes to protect these species. On top of that, they have a duty to consult with various stakeholders on designated species, to provide advice to the on whether the species should be listed for legal protection under SARA, and to work with affected stakeholders to develop recovery strategies and action plans for species protected under SARA.
On top of that, they have a responsibility to conduct additional scientific research on the impact of fisheries and other activities on listed species and their habitat; to update fisheries management plans, where applicable, to include new conservation measures; and to develop a compliance plan. When they develop a compliance plan, they base that on sound scientific research and stakeholder conversations.
The Species at Risk Act emphasizes, as I mentioned earlier in my speech, co-operation and stewardship of the species at risk. No single government or entity can recover species at risk by itself. In particular, co-operation between the federal departments and agencies is required. The Species at Risk Act also emphasizes co-operation with the provincial and territorial partners, aboriginal organizations, landowners, resource users, and Canadians in general.
From our perspective, there can be no success without the work of everyone involved. The scope, scale, and importance of this process demands a collaborate effort. A key component in the government's collaboration and consultation with Canadians is the SARA public registry. The public registry is a key source of news, information, and documents related to species at risk in Canada.
What this does not mean is that we stop all development in this country every single time there is an issue. I have just explained that there is a very thorough process. We allow the process to take place, listen to the scientific advice that is given by all the stakeholders, and then make a decision based on science. That is exactly what the Government of Canada, with the advice of the Department of the Environment and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, does.
We recognize the importance of shared stewardship and taking action at a local level to recover species. Our investments ensure that Canadians can take steps to protect the habitats of species at risk.
With respect to the St. Lawrence beluga whale, this government has been active in support of the recovery of this species. In March 2012, a recovery strategy for the species was finalized. The recovery strategy was developed in close collaboration with our partners, which included marine mammal experts, representatives of the Government of Quebec, Parks Canada, and other interested stakeholders.
We realize that aquatic ecosystems need a wide variety of species to remain robust and productive and to provide economic benefits to Canadians. The greater the variety of species within an ecosystem, the more able it is to withstand threats and pressures. The more simple an ecosystem is, the more vulnerable it will be to degradation, loss of species, and loss of productivity.
Species such the beluga whale are essential components of the aquatic ecosystem and provide significant benefits to coastal communities and to Canadians. Recovery efforts can take time, but significant progress is being made, and species are being recovered. The Pacific humpback whale is a recent example of this. Its status has improved from “threatened” to “special concern”. We are confident that more success is forthcoming in the future.
In closing, I again ask for continued collaboration across all levels of government and with all Canadians. Our government will continue to provide leadership in the conservation and protection of Canada's aquatic systems and in the recovery of aquatic species at risk.
Finally, we have a motion here. The motion was brought in good faith, but we have to listen to what the proponent of the motion is actually saying. What I am hearing is that there should be no development, no interaction, in this area whatsoever. We have very clear guidelines and limitations on what industry and ship traffic can do in the area. Those are sound, reasonable, and responsible regulations that control shipping traffic in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. The alternative the member seems to be proposing is simply to stop all traffic and all development in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and to simply do nothing.
Mr. Speaker, the motion moved by our NDP colleague, the hon. member for , calls on this House to speak out against the Gros-Cacouna oil terminal project. This motion is premature since a comprehensive environmental assessment of the project has not been done yet.
However, what is troubling is that the Conservative government is not showing any signs that it is interested in moving ahead with a comprehensive environmental assessment. That is unacceptable and must be condemned. That is what I hope to do on behalf of the Liberal caucus in the 20 minutes I have been given. First, what is this project?
TransCanada's energy east pipeline project is a planned 4,600-kilometre crude oil pipeline, which would run west to east from Alberta to existing refineries in new terminals in Quebec and New Brunswick. The marine terminals would be used to export oil to international markets. The Cacouna terminal area near Rivière-du-Loup on the St. Lawrence River is one of the project's potential marine terminals.
TransCanada has not yet submitted the energy east project to the National Energy Board for review and approval, and thus the project has yet to receive an environmental assessment. That is why we cannot rule on this project now. We do not yet have the environmental assessment.
However, as part of an eventual National Energy Board application, TransCanada is conducting exploratory work around the feasibility of developing a port in Cacouna. To do this, TransCanada filed an application with the federal government and with the Quebec environment ministry, which issued a permit allowing the company to drill into the seabed in order to decide where to place the terminal.
On September 23, 2014, Quebec's Superior Court granted a temporary injunction to stop seismic surveys in Cacouna until October 15. The court found that the province never had the information required to assess whether or not the belugas would be put at risk, because the environmental science division of the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans withheld scientific information.
Those are the facts.
The first observation is that Canada needs new infrastructure to move our energy resources to domestic and global markets. The second observation is that these projects must earn the trust of local communities and cannot ignore the implications for coastal economies and for the environment.
That is why we Liberals are deeply concerned that the Conservative government deliberately withheld the information needed to assess the impact of the explorations being conducted at Cacouna. This is yet another example of the Conservative government preventing scientists and evidence from informing decision-making on project development.
In that respect, the Quebec Superior Court ruling is damning for the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans. I want to share with you the main thrust of the Quebec Superior Court ruling. Last spring, TransCanada began conducting geophysical surveys in Cacouna. Before the permit was granted, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans consulted with its beluga experts, including Ms. Lesage, Mr. Hammil, Mr. Cyr, Mr. Gosselin, Mr. McQuinn and Mr. Simard. There were at least six experts.
Their verdict was that the work could not be carried out after the spring, because summer and fall are critical to the birth and nursing of belugas. However, in May and July, Fisheries and Oceans Canada issued an opinion and a permit without consulting the previously mentioned scientists regarding the second phase of work, the drilling that was supposed to take place in the summer and fall during the critical period for the birth and nursing of belugas.
Why are they no longer experts all of a sudden? They are experts in the spring, but not in the summer and fall. No, the minister no longer consults with these experts. Perhaps she was afraid of their recommendations. Instead, the minister is satisfied to issue an opinion in favour of summer and fall drilling, drafted by Alain Kemp, who is not an expert on belugas. That is the sad truth. That is what is happening in the department, and we must denounce it today.
The Department of Fisheries and Oceans then sent a letter in favour of drilling to the Quebec ministry of sustainable development, the environment and the fight against climate change. This letter was not signed by an expert, but by the director of sciences, Yves de Lafontaine, an administrator who knows nothing about belugas.
However, Robert Michaud, an independent scientist—and unquestionably one of the best experts on the St. Lawrence belugas in Canada, if not in the world—prepared an affidavit basically saying that the opinion of Fisheries and Oceans Canada does not meet the legislative requirements in terms of having the best scientific information available, and that the operations will certainly harm the belugas.
Has the minister seen the affidavit of one of our best experts, Robert Michaud? Has my colleague seen it? Why did he not talk about it in his speech?
Ms. Jean, who was responsible for the file at the Quebec ministry of sustainable development, the environment and the fight against climate change, was faced with conflicting advice. Knowing that under Quebec and Canadian law a permit can be issued only on the basis of the best scientific advice, she asked, virtually begged, for a scientific opinion from Fisheries and Oceans Canada several times. She has been unfairly judged in the last little while. However, this was not her fault as she did everything she could.
She was not satisfied with the advice from Mr. Kemp or the letter from Mr. Yves de Lafontaine, and rightly so, because he is not a beluga expert but an administrator. Ms. Jean never got what she asked for from the department. Why did the minister not facilitate the exchange of scientific information between governments, which is a good practice of federalism essential to the common good?
I will quote article 88 of the Quebec Superior Court ruling:
[The Department of Fisheries and Oceans] is withholding the requested scientific information.
Let us be honest, no scientific advice was provided. The ruling then says:
It did not respond to...questions asked by the [Quebec ministry]....It simply reiterated information that the [Quebec] minister already had and that was cause for concern, but provided no additional explanation.
Quebec already had the bundle of documents my colleague mentioned, and that was not what it was asking. The Fisheries and Oceans experts had the information, but the minister refused to let them talk. She muzzled them and did not consult them.
Too bad for the belugas and too bad for the project. That is how the Conservatives do things, and that is why we have to be very worried about their approach. That is not good federalism, good environmental policy or good economic policy.
In a last-ditch attempt, Ms. Jean called Dr. Véronique Lesage, an expert on marine mammals at Fisheries and Oceans Canada, directly and more than once. The record of their conversation is in the court documents. It shows that Ms. Lesage was not consulted by her department, even though she is an expert. It also shows that she referred Ms. Jean to her superiors and she said that Mr. Michaud's affidavit was accurate. In other words, the best scientific information was consistent with Mr. Michaud's opinion, which contradicted the opinion of Fisheries and Oceans Canada drafted by Mr. Kemp, who is not an expert on belugas. This opinion supported drilling in the fall.
Quebec then issued a permit, which the judge suspended by means of an injunction. The judge was of the opinion that the process was dubious, since Fisheries and Oceans Canada had not issued any scientific advice from which to proceed.
None of this would have happened if the federal minister had listened to her scientists and shared that information, in the spirit of federalism, with the Government of Quebec.
By doing what she did, she hurt the environment and showed how little she cares about the survival of the iconic beluga. The minister weakened the credibility of the assessment and consultation process, which is essential to moving forward with the project.
Does the minister at least realize that the St. Lawrence beluga has been a threatened species for more than 20 years, pursuant to the Species at Risk Act? According to this act, a scientific committee must be formed and a recovery strategy must be drafted. This strategy must identify the critical habitat to be fully protected.
Does the minister realize that all of this was done and that the revised strategy was completed nearly three years ago? The sector in which TransCanada/energy east wants to build its port is in a critical habitat, deemed to be essential to the survival of the beluga species.
For the recovery strategy and critical habitat to work, the has to acknowledge receipt of the strategy, recognize it and recognize the critical habitat defined in the strategy. For the past three years, however, the Minister of the Environment has not acknowledged receipt of a single document concerning any marine mammal species at risk in Canada forwarded by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. Why?
Why has she not acknowledged receipt and recognized the importance of protecting belugas off the coast of Cacouna? What is going on? What is the government trying to protect at the expense of sustainable development here? Why all the secrets? Why refuse to take action? Why the lack of transparency that is having such a detrimental effect on sustainable development? Why refuse to listen to scientists?
It is not surprising that in her latest report released this week, the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development concluded that under the Conservatives, environmental assessments have lacked clarity and transparency.
To conclude, the Liberals have been consistent in calling for stronger environmental protections and in pushing for a more substantive project review process. That is what our leader, the MP for , is determined to deliver for the sake of our environment and our economy: sound, sustainable development for all Canadians.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to inform you that I will share my time with my colleague from .
I have the honour to rise in the House to speak to the motion I put forward today. We are all very concerned—I say “we” because Cacouna is in the riding I have the honour to represent—because this problematic Cacouna oil terminal initiative is taking place in our community. I am doubly concerned about the issue because I am on the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans, where we tried to act in response to the Conservative government's behaviour. I will talk about that later.
I will quickly read the motion before us because I will organize my next five or six minutes around the main points of the motion.
That, in the opinion of the House, the proposed Port of Gros-Cacouna oil terminal, which will be used for the sole purpose of exporting unprocessed Canadian oil, will have a negative impact on the Canadian economy through the loss of well-paid jobs, will constitute an unacceptable environmental threat to the St. Lawrence ecosystem, including the beluga whale population, and therefore, is not consistent with the principle of sustainable development, and must be rejected.
The first thing that is mentioned in the motion is the notion of an “oil terminal”. What exactly does the oil terminal planned for Cacouna consist of?
The oil terminal is a facility that will have the ability to dock two Suezmax tankers at the same time and load them with oil. That will not happen right in the port. There are plans to build a jetty about 500, 700 or 800 metres out into the river. A sort of second dock will be built there, almost in the middle of the river, where these huge oil tankers with the capacity to carry over 700,00 barrels in transshipments will be able to dock.
The pipeline itself will be able to carry 1.1 million barrels. TransCanada therefore wants to build a port that can hold 75% of the pipeline's capacity, and that oil would be used exclusively for export.
That is why the motion indicates that this project could have a negative impact on the Canadian economy. The more oil sands crude that is not processed in the country, the more our economic activity is focused on the good of a single industry. That puts pressure on the Canadian dollar. Pressure on the Canadian dollar is bad for the manufacturing industry, particularly in Ontario and Quebec. Approximately 400,000 well-paid jobs have been lost in the manufacturing industry in less than six or seven years. The unemployment rate is still relatively decent, but many of those who lost their jobs found precarious part-time jobs and no longer have access to good jobs in the manufacturing industry. Building a pipeline only to export 75% of its contents from a single transit point, a single terminal, is not in keeping with the principles of sustainable development.
Another aspect of the motion deals with the threat to the ecosystem. One issue is the beluga whales. I will come back to that later when I talk about the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans and everything that happened, particularly at the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. However, what members need to know is that there are also four other types of endangered marine mammals that regularly visit that zone. This project therefore poses a rather serious threat.
Another very important aspect is that the Baie de l'Isle-Verte National Wildlife Area is just a few kilometres east of the project. Reliable experts, even the most pragmatic, who are not predicting that we will have one major tanker accident and oil spill every other week, say that eventually there will be at least a few minor spills during transshipments
The thing is, if there are even minor spills at low tide during the transshipments, as every study confirms, the Isle-Verte marsh, which is the last of the great saltwater marshes of the southern St. Lawrence, would be completely swamped by diesel, oil or whatever else might be lost during the oil transfer in a matter of two or three hours. That leaves less than three hours to respond.
This is a serious problem. What is more, we cannot bury our heads in the sand. There is no technique for responding in the event of a spill, minor or otherwise, on a frozen surface. The river is covered in six inches to two feet of ice during several months of the year. The oil will freeze in the ice. There is no technique for cleaning up the ice on the St. Lawrence. It is huge.
When the ice breaks up and melts, these large chunks of oil will stick to everything in the river all the way to the Magdalen Islands. There is no response technique to handle a spill on the ice. However, there is ice on our river. If we add on the wind and the current it becomes impossible to manage the slightest spill. Hon. members will agree that these are serious threats to our ecosystem.
Last of all, the motion states that the project is not consistent with the principle of sustainable development. It is estimated that the Port of Cacouna will create about 20 unskilled jobs. The proponent was asked about this during a number of interviews and was unable to say otherwise.
However, the activities at this port would endanger several species of marine mammals. The presence of these marine mammals attracts tourists. Many Europeans and others come to observe them. The direct spinoffs for eastern Quebec amount to over $160 million a year. Thus, we have to consider 20 or so unskilled jobs created for an activity that will threaten direct spinoffs of $160 million in the medium and long term.
When discussing sustainable development, we should not be confronted with such scenarios. On the contrary, we are supposed to ensure that we create value-added jobs with minimal risk to the environment. We should be putting sustainable development first. In the case of the Port of Cacouna, the more we delve into the issue, the more difficult it is to conclude that this project will result in sustainable development.
I would like to talk about the Fisheries and Oceans Canada fiasco. I am a member of the committee, and starting last May, I could see that there was a certain tendency. We made a relatively simple request to meet the department's experts so they could explain to us how they were going to assess the preliminary work. However, we were never able to obtain a shred of evidence from a science branch expert. I told myself that something unacceptable was happening.
The Superior Court demonstrated that the provincial government's biologist repeatedly requested the opinions of experts in the science branch. Unfortunately, the Conservative administration prevented the real marine mammal experts from expressing their opinions on drilling. Instead, the government produced a sort of mathematical calculation in two days that only looks at the distance required to avoid killing the belugas.
The calculation on the habitat and how to ensure the survival of the species at risk was not included in what was sent. The document was not even signed by a marine mammal expert. Mr. Kemp has no specific knowledge in this area. It is absolutely absurd. A Superior Court judge upheld an injunction. Could there be any stronger demonstration?
Locally, this government's series of administrative boondoggles on the issue now stands at seven or eight. About a year ago, Transport Canada pressed to have the port transferred to TransCanada Pipelines right away and without consulting the major stakeholders. That has not happened yet, because many people back home questioned that action. Why did they want to do it all wrong and in 30 days? I thought it was another administrative boondoggle in the making. However, I do not blame the proponent as much as this government's administration, which is completely partisan and obsessed with the oil sector.
I previously talked about the refusals in committee. The muzzling of scientists is now demonstrated by the decision of the Quebec Superior Court. They decided to eliminate a proposed marine protected area, which had been 15 years in the making. What bad judgment. Coincidentally, this proposed protected area included Cacouna.
The list of administrative boondoggles shows that by its very nature, the project cannot achieve sustainable development objectives. In addition, when the Conservatives are in charge, the situation takes on alarming proportions. We cannot let them do this.
Mr. Speaker, I would first like to congratulate my colleagues, the hon. members for and , for their hard work on this issue. It is a great example of the outstanding work accomplished by members who are engaged in and committed to real consultations in their communities. It is impressive, and I am proud to work with them.
I will start by picking up on some of the criticism that we have heard from the Conservatives about our motion today. They are trying to tell us that two plus two equals zero, and that zero is zero environmental protection.
The NDP has been really clear. Our leader, who was minister of environment in Quebec, is a man with an incredible environmental record. He gets economy. He gets it full well. He has talked, and so have we all, very clearly about the fact that New Democrats are in favour of the movement of Canada's energy from west to east.
There are certain lenses that need to be applied there. Why would we be in favour of that? First of all, we are in favour of it for energy security. Let us look at this through the lens of energy security. Right now on the east coast, we are importing oil while we are exporting bitumen. It does not make sense that we are an importing and exporting nation of the same product. Let us look at it through the lens of domestic energy security needs.
Let us look at it through the concept of Canadian jobs. We will not support projects like Keystone XL that will export our jobs to the U.S. We would like to see value added happening here, creating jobs here in Canada. We have unmet refining capacity in Montreal and Saint John, for example. We have the ability to do upgrading here in Canada. Why would we not seize on those opportunities? That is the second lens, Canadian jobs.
The third lens is, of course, environmental protection, making sure we have robust environmental legislation for any big energy project, including pipelines, including terminals like this one. When we have that environmental protection in place, we know that any project is going to meet a certain standard. We can feel comfortable with that standard. We can know that this is a project that has met certain tests, stringent tests, and that can go forward.
Unfortunately, we do not have that sense anymore. We do not have that social licence when it comes to big energy projects, because we have seen a lot of our environmental regulations gutted and, in the case of the Environmental Assessment Act, actually repealed. It was not tinkered with; it was actually taken off the books, with a new and inadequate, I would argue, piece of legislation put in its place.
All of our thinking about west-east has to be with those lenses applied. Here we have a situation where we are not talking about that pipeline. We are talking about a terminal that fails every possible test.
If an energy company were thinking about creating a terminal for the export of raw bitumen—and, first of all, we would not have our value-added criterion met—where would it put it? It might think about putting it in a beluga nursery, possibly picking the worst spot in Canada.
The St. Lawrence River is a delicate ecosystem. It is an iconic river, but it is also one of the most biologically diverse marine environments in the country. In addition to it being biologically diverse, we see a species at risk. The beluga whales are there.
This is a nursery for the baby belugas. All of us in English Canada know that song by Raffi, Baby Beluga. This is where the baby belugas are, baby belugas in the deep blue sea. This is where they are. This is where they are being calved and raised.
It is incredible to me that a company would think that this is an appropriate place to put an oil terminal that would export raw bitumen and not create those value-added jobs and not consider energy security for Canadians.
It fails on so many levels that there has actually been an injunction issued by the Superior Court of Quebec. It halted exploratory drilling, proving that the Conservatives have failed to provide scientific answers from Fisheries and Oceans Canada to the Quebec government.
When looking into the belugas and the impacts of not just drilling but a potential terminal here, I actually went to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans website and looked at what it is saying about belugas. It is a species at risk, but maybe I was missing something here. Maybe there is some kind of exception, to threaten them in some cases. I was looking for answers. This is from DFO's own website, and it talks about the threats to the beluga. It says:
Hunting is certainly the main cause of the dramatic declines in beluga populations. However, contributing factors could include alterations to habitats—such as damming of rivers—and possibly noise pollution caused by ships and pleasure craft. The boats might interfere with the belugas’ echo-location method of hunting.
As well, dredging, shipping, industrial activity and environmental pollution have degraded the quality of the water in which the beluga lives. This could also lead to a decline in food supply.
Shipping, noise, industrial activity, and pollution are all potentials in this spot. It is mind-boggling that anybody thought this was a good idea.
Here is a really interesting part. DFO actually has a section titled “What can you do?” We realize it is not just about government; it is about each and every one of us taking responsibility and doing what we can to help. Listen to what our government department suggests that we do.
Beluga whales will get the protection they need only if all Canadians work together to reduce threats. Find out more about beluga whales and be aware of man-made threats. Do your best ....
I am laughing because I cannot even believe this is the advice, when we are looking at this terminal being built. It says:
Do your best to reduce these threats wherever possible to better protect the whales' critical habitat. Get involved with the habitat stewardship program for species at risk or another conservation organization.
We should take that advice, and that is why my colleagues from and have come up with this opposition day motion. They have taken to heart the advice from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, and they have put forward this motion.
Where is the hook here for the federal government? What are we asking? Is this just a statement saying we would oppose this kind of terminal? There actually is a role for the federal government here because, once a species is listed under the Species at Risk Act, it becomes illegal to kill, harass, capture, or harm it in any way. Critical habitats are also protected from destruction. The act requires that recovery strategies, action plans, and management plans be developed for all species.
That is not happening here. Again I go back to the fact that the Conservatives need to take advice from DFO when it comes to this project. The federal government can step in if a province is failing to protect a species in its habitat, but it also has an obligation to act. Our federal government has been taken to court several times for failing to put in plans to protect species at risk; notably sage grouse in western Canada, where I think there are 12 sage grouse left in all of Alberta. The government has failed to protect species in the past, and it is failing now. The Conservatives need to take the advice of their own government department and they need to act.
It is not often that we get to quote Raffi Cavoukian, better known as Raffi. He is a singer-songwriter who focuses on social and environmental causes. My generation and folks younger than I grew up with Raffi, and he actually calls us “beluga grads”. That comes from his Baby Beluga
song. He calls us “beluga grads”, and he wants us to change the world. Raffi is saying to us:
Baby Beluga in the deep blue sea
Swim so wild and you swim so free
Heaven above and the sea below
And a little white whale on the go
As Raffi says, we need to act. We need to protect this endangered species and stop putting our blinders on when it comes to how environment and economy can work together.
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for .
It is a pleasure to rise today to speak to the motion put forward by my colleague across the floor.
In my comments today I want to focus on a particular part of the member's motion. The member talked about how the proposal will constitute an unacceptable environmental threat. I want to talk about what our government has done to mitigate any of the concerns that might come from the environmental threats that the member talked about.
Our government, in support of a world-class tanker safety system, has announced $31 million over five years for the Canadian Coast Guard to establish an incident command system, which is commonly referred to as an ICS, across the Canadian Coast Guard. This forms a crucial part of the world-class tanker safety system initiative by offering standardized on-scene, all-hazard management methodology, which is designed to ensure the effective command, control and coordination of response efforts to all maritime incidents.
Implementation of the incident command system will increase the Canadian Coast Guard's ability to work collaboratively with other emergency responders who currently use this system. Therefore, it will allow multiple stakeholders to participate in important decision-making processes simultaneously and also for effective planning and response initiatives in order to address all marine pollution and all hazard incidents in a predictable and structured fashion.
By 2018 the incident command system will be fully implemented, strengthening the existing response regime. Simply put, the Canadian Coast Guard and its partners will be better positioned to respond to oil spill events and other marine emergency incidents in co-operation with key partners and other departments and agencies in a timely and effective manner. The incident command system is another example of how Canada's world-class tanker safety system is being strengthened to protect Canadians and our environment.
Fisheries and Oceans Canada, including the Canadian Coast Guard, is pleased to have the opportunity to partner with Transport Canada, Environment Canada and Natural Resources Canada on a suite of important initiatives that are being implemented to support our world-class tanker safety system.
Under Canada's marine pollution preparedness and response regime, the polluter is responsible for cleaning up and paying for its own marine spills. Private sector response organizations play an important role by maintaining effective response plans and an inventory of equipment to respond to spills from ships in Canadian waters south of 60.
In May 2014 the government announced the implementation of area response planning, which will provide a new and improved method for preparing and responding to marine oil pollution incidents.
Area response planning is a new and dynamic risk-based model that allows for spill preparedness and responses to be tailored to the level and types of risk in a given region based on certain factors such as marine conditions, environmental sensitivities, tanker size, and traffic levels.
This new and improved response planning approach will replace the current regime where private sector response organizations are mandated to maintain the same response capacity across Canada. Our government is seizing an opportunity to ensure the appropriate frameworks and safeguards are in place and enhanced to protect our environment now and for generations to come.
This new area response planning process will be piloted in four initial areas: the southern portion of British Columbia; Saint John and the Bay of Fundy in New Brunswick; Port Hawkesbury in Nova Scotia; and the St. Lawrence Seaway from Quebec City to Anticosti Island, Quebec.
As one can imagine, transitioning to an area response planning approach is a significant undertaking. This is why we are focusing significant effort on the planning process to ensure the pilot projects successfully demonstrate the future of our world-class tanker safety system.
The Canadian Coast Guard and our federal colleagues acknowledge that we cannot develop the area response plans alone. To this end, beginning in 2015, a series of engagement activities will be planned to ensure stakeholders' views are reflected in the process.
The Canadian Coast Guard is the lead federal agency in developing the local area response plans, using a collaborative approach to involve aboriginal communities, other levels of government, and a broad range of local stakeholders.
Safety is the top priority of the Canadian Coast Guard. In fact, Canada has one of the most advanced and comprehensive search and rescue systems in the world and is regularly consulted by other countries seeking advice and training on how to establish and maintain a system as effective and efficient as ours. The Canadian system is made up of multiple layers that provide an effective response capacity to any search and rescue incident within Canada and our surrounding waters.
The Canadian Coast Guard and National Defence are the principal pillars of the federal system. They provide the primary response to aeronautical and maritime emergencies with specialized equipment and highly trained professionals who remain ready to respond to incidents 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year.
The Canadian Coast Guard continues to maintain a maritime rescue sub-centre in Quebec City which provides bilingual search and rescue coordination services for mariners in distress. The search and rescue system can be activated by the professional search and rescue coordinators at any of the three joint rescue coordination centres in Canada. These search and rescue coordinators are highly trained and can coordinate additional response capacity from other government resources, the highly committed volunteers of the Canadian Coast Guard Auxiliary, the Civil Air Search and Rescue Association, and commercial vessels and aircraft in the vicinity of mariners in distress.
The final but no less important piece of the search and rescue system is the multitude of plans and exercises that ensure that all the layers of Canada's search and rescue regime are ready to respond effectively and efficiently to real-life distress situations. The federal government continues to invest in the assets and the modernizing of systems to ensure the ongoing high level of service that Canadians expect and deserve. Billions of dollars have been invested in new Coast Guard, naval, and air force assets that will not only ensure the present level of service but also improve our capacity and capabilities to respond to incidents anywhere in Canada well into the future.
Finally, the federal search and rescue system regularly reviews and re-evaluates Canada's capacity and capability in relation to the risk. This entails working closely with our provincial and private partners to ensure that our plans are up to date and as comprehensive as possible to serve and protect all mariners in Canadian waters.
In closing, the Government of Canada will continue to support the brave men and women of the Canadian Coast Guard by equipping them with the resources required to protect Canadians and our environment.
It is exactly because of initiatives like these that I cannot support the motion brought forward by my colleague today.
Mr. Speaker, our government relies on the scientific expertise of our fisheries biologists and researchers to ensure the effective management, sustainable development, and protection of our aquatic resources.
Our government has ensured that funding to science has remained consistent in recent years. DFO has made a number of important investments, such as refurbishment of over a dozen laboratories, construction of three science vessels for the Coast Guard, mapping of the continental shelf for Canada's UNCLOS submission, support to commercial fishing in the Arctic, research to support a sustainable aquaculture sector, and research on oil spill behaviour and effects.
I would be remiss if I did not mention one of my favourite programs, the recreational fisheries conservation partnerships program, which provides $25 million to work with local communities to improve, protect, and enhance fisheries habitat. The funds will be expended on some 400 fisheries conservation projects across the country, surely a remarkable achievement.
Our government is committed to making sure this science is accessible to Canadians and that our record is solid. For example, over the past two years, DFO scientists participated in more than 600 media interviews in addition to approximately 1,000 science-based media inquiries in writing. That is some muzzling.
As well, DFO issues approximately 300 publications each year, documenting science advice and government research for the management of Canada's fisheries and oceans, and our government will continue to make decisions based on the best science available and ensure that it is accessible to Canadians.
A key component of DFO's science program is the peer review process. This is a fundamental principle that allows scientists to thoroughly challenge and validate scientific information and associated conclusions.
At DFO there is a rigorous peer review process in place. DFO's Canadian Science Advisory Secretariat coordinates the peer review of all scientific advice for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. This process is transparent, as all of DFO's science advice is published to its website and made publicly available to Canadians.
DFO is well aware of the importance of the St. Lawrence beluga, most notably for the tourism and whale-watching industries.
Belugas in Canadian waters have been grouped into seven populations, and six of them live in the Arctic. I should note that in my home province of Manitoba, every summer thousands of belugas gather in the Churchill River. I would recommend to members, if they have the opportunity, to go and see this remarkable natural sight. The remaining beluga population lives in the St. Lawrence Estuary.
The beluga is a typical cold-water marine mammal. It has a long life expectancy, bears young at an older age, and produces relatively few young. An adult beluga can weigh up to 1,900 kilograms and grow to between 2.5 and 4.5 metres in length.
The beluga whale is a predator. Its diet consists of many species of fish and invertebrates. In the St. Lawrence estuary, there are a number of key species available to it as prey, including Atlantic herring, sand lance, squid, capelin, Atlantic cod, hake, and redfish.
Our government has done and will continue to do considerable work on the beluga whale and on the St. Lawrence population in particular. For example, fisheries researchers do regular monitoring and assessment of this population. As recently as the fall of 2013, DFO scientists have been reviewing the status of the population. To continue work on studying this population, DFO conducted a population survey in the summer of 2014, and the results will be available in 2015. This information will allow DFO scientists to track any possible trends in population growth or decline.
When a population assessment is completed, DFO scientists also look at the various factors that may affect the population. These factors include food availability and environmental conditions.
This is clearly a complex ecosystem, which is why DFO scientists are working on important research questions to increase our knowledge of this species. DFO has also supported a long-term necropsy program for beluga whales conducted by the University of Montreal. This information will allow DFO to better understand the cause of any beluga mortality, and any results will be considered in future DFO science advice.
Conscious of the importance of achieving recovery objectives for the St. Lawrence beluga and conscious that a growing and healthy population is key to the species' recovery, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans initiated a research project to investigate the birth rate in wild female beluga. To support management decisions, DFO scientists analyze the most recent data available and, to the best of their ability, aim to provide the best available science advice, using their data and the data of others, while at the same time factoring in uncertainty.
Over the years, DFO scientists have produced dozens of scientific publications on the St. Lawrence beluga covering all aspects of its biology, such as its distribution, abundance, population trends, diet, key habitat use, cause of mortality, recovery potential, and many more. In addition, DFO scientists, as well as many researchers from other federal departments and academia, have added and continue to add to our knowledge of the St. Lawrence ecosystem and factors affecting it. This information is accessible and used by DFO when providing advice related to the beluga whale.
Our government is focused on taking real action to protect beluga whales. Last spring, based on DFO's expert advice, strict conditions and mitigation measures were given to TransCanada to adhere to in order to undertake exploratory drilling and seismic testing.
Such conditions included a requirement for an exclusion zone of 500 metres, meaning that all work was required to stop if a whale was observed in this area. Beyond 500 metres, the sound level is too low to cause harm to marine mammals.
Another important condition with regard to seismic work was to cease operations by April 30, before the whales return to the area.
We have been clear that we are focused on ensuring that projects are safe for Canadians and the environment. Based on the expert science advice available, our government set strict conditions for work and ensured they were followed. The science work done at DFO on the beluga whale is substantial, and our government is confident in the quality and value of this work. The work is transparent and available to all Canadians, either in publications and science journals or on the DFO website.
Today I have demonstrated the critical role that expert transparent advice has with our government when it comes to the management of fisheries. This expert science is the backbone of all management decisions taken. DFO will continue to add to Canada's understanding of the St. Lawrence beluga population and the factors affecting it in order to ensure that this species continues to thrive for the enjoyment of future generations of Canadians.
Mr. Speaker, I will share my time with the member for .
I would like to begin by commenting on what our esteemed Conservative Party colleague, the member for , said. Frankly, I do not think that he gets the NDP point of view at all.
He is trying to convince us that DFO is doing its job and being perfectly transparent about the situation. However, the recent ruling regarding the port of Cacouna gives us good reason to doubt that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans is stepping up.
This is an excerpt from paragraph 106 of that ruling:
They completely hid the fact that nobody from TransCanada or DFO's science branch answered their perfectly legitimate questions about whether carrying out the work on the dates proposed by the proponent could cause a significant disturbance or have a significant impact on marine mammals, and if so, what additional mitigation measures would help to reduce the disturbance or limit the impact to acceptable levels.
That is from the court's ruling, and I put a lot more faith in that than in the Conservative government.
Let us go on to paragraph 108:
...the evidence shows that Mr. de Lafontaine's letter does not constitute scientific advice from DFO's science branch; even the Attorney General of Canada said so;
Their own lawyers are telling us that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans did not do its job.
I hope the Conservatives will begin to understand that transparency is needed, because we cannot live with a government as secretive as this one. They would have us believe that they will do everything, that everything will be fine and that there is nothing to worry about. They will hide the project and perhaps reveal it one day, much like they did with the text of the European free trade agreement. They want us to wait months and months, while they try to hide everything that could be done, and once they have their talking points ready, they present us with a project as a done deal.
I am sorry, but the laws of Canada require the right of oversight. According to Fisheries and Oceans Canada criteria, we must proceed based on the precautionary principle. That is not the case here. Once again, the government is going ahead at all costs, regardless of the consequences.
I would like to come back to something that is put very well in the motion, and that is that the Port of Gros-Cacouna project must be rejected. This is clear when we look at the court ruling and what the experts have said. Those experts unfortunately do not work for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans; the DFO experts were muzzled. Nevertheless, people find other ways to have their say.
I want to acknowledge the very fine work done by the member for and his commitment. He worked tirelessly for months to highlight the bill's shortcomings and to find out what the people in his region were thinking. Consulting Canadians is absolutely crucial. We need to take the time to ensure that projects comply with the rules. That is not the case here.
Let us look at some figures to understand the scope of this project. At this time, in eastern Canada, approximately 585 million barrels of petroleum products are transported by sea on the Atlantic Ocean every year. For the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the St. Lawrence estuary, it is about 178 million barrels a year, and those numbers are from 2011. The Port of Gros-Cacouna project could easily add another one million barrels a day.
What is more, another project is being proposed for the Belledune region, not far from my riding. In that case, we are talking about another 400 million barrels a day. The amount of oil that will transit through the Gulf of St. Lawrence is expected to triple in the next three years, but no real studies have been done to determine whether this can be done without harming the environment and the existing natural resources.
In my region, the two major industries are fishing and tourism.
By all accounts, if ever there is a spill involving all these millions of barrels of oil in my region, we can forget about developing our natural resources.
I would like the Conservatives to understand that oil is not the only natural resource. Back home, we depend on the forestry industry and the fishery. I would also like to point out that even the belugas are a natural resource. Indeed, thanks to them, the tourism industry generates roughly $160 million a year.
There are so many industries in the region that we must proceed with caution. I do not understand why the Conservatives fail to see that we must take this one step at a time and respect all the regions and all the industries.
People back home are very worried. They are talking about the oil that will be shipped by the seaway, which will jeopardize the fishery and tourism, and they are talking about the vast quantities of oil that will be shipped by railway. Unfortunately, the Conservatives do not want to invest in that railway, but that is another story.
If we talk about railways and rail safety, we should start by examining all exports flowing through eastern Canada, because the Conservatives want oil to flow through the Keystone XL pipeline.
The Keystone XL pipeline is a very important project that the Americans have very little appetite for, to the point that the U.S. president seems to want to block it. However, the energy east pipeline is even more important than Keystone XL. We must therefore take the time to get the facts right about all aspects of these projects. We should not accept the first proposed port, such as Cacouna. Why is an oil project of this magnitude not subject to a real study and real due diligence? That was not the case for the project proposed by the Conservatives, the project that TransCanada proposed. The time has come for the Conservatives to be more transparent.
The Conservatives say that we cannot debate today a project that has not been submitted to the National Energy Board. Quite frankly, they should perhaps equip themselves with better tools. Members will recall that, two years ago, with Bill , the Conservatives thought it was a good idea to ignore many of the precautionary principles that apply to the fishing industry and the oil industry. We should have left the triggers in the law. Today, the Conservatives are saying that there was no trigger and the study was not carried out. Had Bill not changed environmental laws, I suspect that today there would have to be a study done by the appropriate bodies. Today, that is the responsibility of the National Energy Board. This is rather illogical given that this board is responsible for the smooth transportation of energy. On the one hand, it will promote energy transportation and, on the other, it is supposed to be our watchdog in that regard.
The Canada-Newfoundland Offshore Petroleum Board is very uncomfortable with this mandate, which consists of being both watchdog and proponent. It is very difficult to wear both hats at the same time.
I hope the Conservatives will take the opportunity to examine Canada's energy industry as a whole to consider new ways of investing in other types of energy. It is about time they invested in green energy. I would like this government to study that option. In my region, we have invested a great deal in wind energy. It is very cost-effective and very green. It is a sustainable and renewable form of energy that contributes very little to greenhouse gas emissions.
I hope the Conservative government will take note of today's motion, take a step back and take the time to reflect on the kind of Canada we all want. Its proposal is not consistent with the Canada I want to live in.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to this debate on the excellent motion moved by my colleague from . I want to thank him for making it possible for us to have this debate in the House. This is a very important debate, because the bill on the Gros-Cacouna oil terminal is a controversial one. Quebeckers and Canadians who have an interest in the project have a lot of questions and concerns.
We have been trying to get answers from the government all along, without success, of course. The government refuses to share the scientific information and is desperately trying to hide the facts. Furthermore, we cannot even have a meaningful debate in this House.
For months, the NDP has been trying to get information and answers from the government about the potential environmental impact of the drilling and the geophysics work that was going on until the Superior Court of Quebec issued an injunction and put an end to that work.
My colleagues have asked a number of questions in the House, and motions were moved in the Standing Committee on the Environment and Sustainable Development and in the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans, in order to force the government to consider the concerns of scientists and Quebeckers.
However, we always get the same old rhetoric and never get a real answer. The government does not seem in any way concerned that scientists are being muzzled and that there is no good information out there that would give us a real idea of the impact this project would have.
Even after the Superior Court of Quebec issued an injunction, the Conservatives refused to admit that they had made a mistake by not sending the information requested by the Government of Quebec. Furthermore, they refuse to provide the information that was requested. The battle continues.
Frankly, I think this government's attitude is deplorable. It claims to want co-operative federalism and claims to want to work with provincial and territorial premiers. That is not what we are seeing here. Honestly, co-operation and collaboration are nowhere to be seen in most files managed by the government. In a democracy like ours, that is really unfortunate.
When it comes to developing our natural resources, we must always keep in mind that any development must be based on the principles of sustainable development. These basic principles should be applied to every natural resource project in the country. There again, this does not seem to be of any concern to the government, which is very unfortunate.
The Cacouna oil terminal project aims to export crude oil. We will be exporting our raw natural resources abroad so that other governments and people can benefit from them. There are no plans to process or refine those resources here at home. We are potentially exporting many value-added jobs while jeopardizing a significant part of the economy in and around Cacouna, including the tourism and fishing industries. All of that would be jeopardized simply to promote the interests of the oil industry, that great friend of the Conservatives.
I do not understand that attitude. The Conservatives constantly claim to be champions of the economy, but have they genuinely looked at the project before us and its implications? What are the real benefits for the Canadian economy? I do not see any and neither do my NDP colleagues. I would be very surprised if the Conservatives were able to present any relevant or worthwhile arguments proving the economic viability and necessity of this project.
The Port of Gros-Cacouna, where they plan to build the oil terminal, is one of the worst spots on the St. Lawrence to do it. The St. Lawrence River is teeming with marine biodiversity. There are all sorts of species of marine mammals. Many people talk about the beluga because it is a true emblem of the river. Unfortunately, the beluga's numbers are declining. The survival of this species is in jeopardy. That does not seem to affect the Conservatives, but Quebeckers are very concerned about what will happen to this marine mammal. The animal is familiar to us all because each of us has had the opportunity to admire it at one time or another.
When I was younger, I had an opportunity to go and see the beluga whales in Tadoussac with my parents. This is a trip that many families in Quebec and elsewhere have probably taken to enjoy the natural resources the river has to offer.
Perhaps, quite simply, the Conservatives are ready to put all of this in danger because they are being pressured by their friends in the oil sector. There is no guarantee of any substantial benefits for the Canadian economy. People currently want to build an oil terminal in the very spot where female belugas give birth. There are only about 880 belugas left, and they want to make it even more difficult for the species to reproduce. The government does not care and continues to ignore the warnings from the experts we hear from regularly, the ones not connected with Fisheries and Oceans Canada, at least, who testify regularly to warn the government about the dangers of this initiative for a threatened species like the beluga whales.
Ten baby belugas have already been found dead this year. Unfortunately, their carcasses washed up on the banks. We know that the species is affected by noise. Developing the Cacouna oil terminal means years of drilling and dynamiting. We know that this will affect the beluga population. With that information in mind, I do not see how we can, in good conscience, move forward with a project like this. The government's attitude is completely unacceptable. It is closing its eyes and ignoring the scientific evidence that has been presented to it many times; it is even trying to hide that information from the Government of Quebec and Canadians.
I regularly hear the Conservatives criticize us for not attending the submission of the final project to the National Energy Board. Personally, I am wondering how a private company can get this government's approval for exploratory drilling before an environmental assessment worthy of its name could be completed or before the final project itself was submitted to the National Energy Board. I would like my Conservative colleagues to think about this. They have not considered all the data, either, or if they have, they quickly shelved it because it did not suit them.
I am especially disappointed in the Liberal Party's position on this. Just a month ago the Liberal Party leader said that we must move forward with the oil terminal project in Cacouna. Move forward. Earlier today, we heard the hon. member for try to interpret the member for 's comments and convince us that he did not really say what he said. Canadians are not fools. They know where they stand with the Liberal Party. They know full well that they cannot trust the Liberals to protect the St. Lawrence and the belugas. I think that is really too bad.
However, I am very proud of the work that was accomplished by all my colleagues on the ground, the members of the region. I will not name their ridings, since the riding names in that region are rather long. A number of my colleagues met with various stakeholders and organized information sessions to ensure that municipal representatives and local residents could have good information that was neutral. They invited academics to inform the public about this issue. We can all agree that neither the government nor the company behind the project will try to provide neutral and objective information to Canadians.
Obviously, the proposal to set up an oil terminal in an ecosystem as fragile and invaluable as the St. Lawrence River, especially in an area that is so vital to marine mammals such as belugas, is totally unacceptable. The principles of sustainable development are being thrown out the window. The NDP simply cannot sign off on some project that includes plans to build an oil terminal in Cacouna. Protecting the environment and the interests of Quebeckers is more important to us than anything else.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with my colleague, the member for .
I appreciate this opportunity to provide the House with an overview of the role our government plays in ensuring the ongoing sustainability of our waterways and oceans, while facilitating the responsible resource development that is creating jobs in communities across this great country.
Fisheries and Oceans Canada is committed to safeguarding Canada's healthy and productive aquatic ecosystems, which provide sustainable resources to Canadians. DFO's programs and policies contribute to the conservation, protection and sustainability of Canada's aquatic resources. DFO's efforts are guided by three important pieces of legislation, the Oceans Act, the Fisheries Act and the Species at Risk Act, which together give us the tools we need for effective management of our oceans and inland waters.
This effective stewardship is important to Canadians. Our country is blessed with an abundant supply of natural aquatic resources contributing to the social, environmental and economic well-being of Canadians. By sustaining productive ecosystems, our government is focused on supporting commercial, recreational and aboriginal fishing, thereby helping to maintain economic prosperity for current and future generations.
Under the Oceans Act, we manage Canada's three oceans and the largest coastline in the world. Under the act, we are protecting ecologically and biologically important resources through marine protected areas.
Working together with governments and stakeholders, Canada has adopted an integrated approach to managing ocean activities. Integrated oceans management is a modern approach to managing Canada's ocean resources. It is a collaborative way of making decisions on how Canada's marine resources can best be developed and protected. This approach manages activities to ensure a healthy marine environment and takes into account all ocean users.
In 2012, our government made important changes to the Fisheries Act to ensure the productivity and long-term sustainability of our fisheries, an industry that supports millions of jobs and contributed over $10 billion to the Canadian economy in 2010. Today, this revised legislation is yielding real results. The fisheries protection provisions of the act provide new tools to better protect Canada's commercial, recreational and aboriginal fisheries and the ecosystem that supports them. These fisheries are the backbone of many rural and coastal communities.
Our changes make penalties tougher to punish those who actually break the law by causing serious harm to fisheries, and require individuals to report violations. In addition, we will now be able to identify ecologically significant areas that require additional protection.
In short, the fisheries protection program better positions Canada to regulate real threats to fish and the habitats that support Canada's recreational, commercial and aboriginal fisheries.
DFO continues to work with its provincial, municipal, industrial and various other stakeholder partners to do their part where it is best suited to do so. This approach is based on clear concepts that are well rooted in science. Our government is committed to focusing on protection of fisheries and their habitat, while managing routine, everyday activities that are known to affect the productivity of Canada's fisheries.
Under the third legislation, the Species at Risk Act, DFO works with partners to monitor the status of aquatic species at risk to prevent further declines in their numbers and set conservation objectives based on the best available science.
Given the variety and geographic distribution of protected species, the Species at Risk Act has the potential to involve many Canadians. Under SARA, Fisheries and Oceans Canada produces recovery strategies and action plans for aquatic species listed as “endangered” or “threatened”.
These recovery strategies and action plans detail the specific steps that need to be taken to protect identified species. Fisheries and Oceans Canada is determined to work with the communities and people in these areas to ensure that strategies and plans are practical, effective and in keeping with the sound fisheries management approach.
DFO also works with provinces, territories and other partners to prevent aquatic invasive species from entering Canada's waterways, where they can cause harm to natural ecosystems in lakes, rivers and oceans and pose significant threats to Canadian fisheries. Invasive species can radically alter habitat, rendering it inhospitable for native species.
Canada has 20% of the world's fresh water and one of the longest coastlines, thereby placing it at high risk from invasive species. Our government committed to fighting the spread of invasive species and remediating the impact of the species already in Canada. Communities from coast to coast rely on fishing, which must be protected from invasive species.
Our government is working to prevent new introductions through research, monitoring and the development of regulations. The most effective approach to dealing with these invasive species involves managing the pathways through which invasive species enter and spread through Canadian waters. For aquatic species, these pathways are shipping, recreational and commercial boating, the use of live bait, unauthorized introductions, and canals and water diversions.
DFO incorporates environmental, economic and social factors in decision making regarding invasive species. DFO is committed to working co-operatively with all stakeholders and using science-based techniques to assess and manage the risk of aquatic invasive species.
Prevention of harmful new invasions is a key priority as it is the most cost effective way to deal with the problem. Once species are established, the task becomes far more complex and costly.
Our government is taking action. For example, DFO works closely with the Province of Ontario and our American partners on the issue of Asian carp. Our government is investing $17.5 million over five years on prevention, early warning, rapid response and management activities.
Just as our efforts to contain aquatic invasive species will rely on scientific research, strong fishery science remains the backbone of every fish management decision we make as a government. We will continue to protect our ecosystems and fisheries through modern and scientifically-based methods.
Fisheries and Oceans Canada conducts research to learn how to prevent, mitigate or adapt to a broad range of impacts on Canada's aquatic ecosystems. This research informs planning for activities such as shipping, energy development and mining projects in Canada's north. DFO's fishery officers monitor and enforce compliance with federal legislation and regulations designed to protect Canada's aquatic ecosystems and the fisheries they sustain, and the Coast Guard responds to all reports of marine pollution incidents in Canadian waters.
Our government's actions and decisions are based on sound science, research and engagement with stakeholders from across Canada to ensure long-term benefits for all Canadians.
Our government is focused on the responsible management of Canada's underwater resources and ecosystems. We have taken real action to protect the environment and create jobs in coastal communities, and we will continue to do so.
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to rise in the House today to speak to this issue and set the record straight on a number of these issues.
I would like to thank my colleague the member for for her excellent speech and her excellent answers to the questions. Her riding of Sarnia—Lambton and my riding of Wetaskiwin share many commonalities, including great petrochemical refineries and those kinds of installations, as well as the oil and gas sector and all of the well-paying jobs that this part of the economy supports.
I am glad to be here to set the record straight on this important matter, raised by the member for . As most members know, Canada possesses one of the largest and most diverse energy supplies in the world. As an Albertan, I know this. Canada is the world's fifth-largest producer of natural gas, with technically recoverable resources estimated to be up to 1.5 trillion cubic feet. Canada is also punching above its weight when it comes to clean energy. It is the third-largest producer of hydroelectricity and the second-largest producer of uranium in the world.
However, of all our assets, perhaps none is more important to Canada than its vast oil reserves. Canada is the world's fifth-largest producer of oil, with the world's third-largest proven reserves. There are 173 billion barrels, of which 167 are in Alberta's oil sands. That is not the best news. As technology evolves, Canada's oil sands reserves could nearly double to over 300 billion barrels to become the largest oil reserve in the world.
As members know, natural resources are a huge part of Canada's economy. When we take direct and indirect impacts into account, the natural resource sector represents approximately 20% of Canada's gross domestic product, and energy resources are a huge part of that equation. Canada's oil sands are creating jobs and wealth right across the country. This strategic resource has attracted more than $215 billion in capital investment and, of that, about $175 billion is in the last 10 years alone.
While Canada's endowment of petroleum resources is immense, we have only one major customer, which is the United States. In fact, Canada currently exports nearly 100% of its natural gas and oil exports to our friends and neighbours south of the border.
The United States is now becoming awash in energy resources, and it is poised to become a net energy exporter itself. New energy discoveries have reshaped domestic production in the U.S., driving down the demands for Canadian energy resources. That is something that we just did not fathom here a few years ago.
While Canada will continue to be a key supplier to the U.S., there is a strategic imperative for our country to access new and growing markets. The growing demand for oil and gas and other resources in new markets such as China and India represent a once-in-a-generation opportunity for Canada.
The International Energy Agency now predicts that by the year 2035, the world will need a third more energy than is currently being consumed today. Non-OECD economies are forecast to account for over 90% of that energy demand growth, with China and India alone accounting for 49%. The world will need more oil and natural gas to drive global economic growth. It will raise living standards and lift millions out of poverty in these countries, and Canada is a safe and responsible supplier of energy.
Right now, the opportunities for growth are unlike anything we have seen in our history. According to analysis by Natural Resources Canada, there are hundreds of major resource projects currently under way or planned in Canada over the next 10 years. These projects represent a total investment of up to $675 billion. Our government wants to ensure that every dollar of that potential is realized.
Expansion and diversification of our energy markets, both within Canada and globally, is a top priority for the Government of Canada. The Conservatives recognize that without the infrastructure needed to move our energy products to tidewater, our oil will be stranded. That is why we need to build pipelines going west, south, and east.
The numbers tell the story. In 2012, 82% of crude oil delivered to Atlantic Canada refineries and 93% of crude oil delivered to Quebec refineries was imported from countries like Saudi Arabia, Algeria, and Angola. Our government welcomes, in principle, the prospect of transporting Canadian crude to consumers and refineries in eastern Canada and, ultimately, to new markets abroad. Perhaps most importantly, it would make our country less reliant on foreign oil.
Our government has been clear that projects can only proceed if they are safe for Canadians and safe for the environment. That is precisely what responsible resource development is all about. It sends a clear signal that the Government of Canada is determined to protect public safety and the health of the environment based on sound science and world-class standards.
Looking at our record, we see we have instituted strict rules and regulations governing the development and shipment of products like oil and gas. All federal pipeline projects are subject to an independent and rigorous environmental assessment by the National Energy Board. We have also given the National Energy Board the necessary resources to increase annual inspections of pipelines by 50%. The board is also doubling the number of annual comprehensive safety audits to identify pipeline issues before incidents even occur.
Equally important, the National Energy Board now has the authority to impose substantial financial penalties on companies that do not comply with safety and environmental regulations. It can levy fines of up to $100,000 a day for as long as the infractions go unaddressed. However, we are not stopping there. We have announced plans to give the National Energy Board even greater authority, so we can strengthen incident prevention, preparedness, and response and liability and compensation.
Here is the bottom line. As I said, our government will only allow energy projects to proceed if they are proven safe for Canadians and for the environment. With our plan for responsible resource development, we have increased our protection of the environment and streamlined regulatory reviews. We have enhanced pipeline and tanker safety, and we are working to reach new markets for Canadian energy projects.
Therefore, subject to regulatory approval, our government supports energy infrastructure projects that will create jobs and generate economic growth in Canada now and for decades to come.
Mr. Speaker, I would be remiss if I did not say how pleased I am to speak on this issue, as I represent the beautiful riding of Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, which is about 15 minutes up the road from Cacouna. The issue is therefore very important to me. I will be sharing my time with the member for .
I would like to thank the member for , who introduced this motion, as well as the member for, with whom I have had the pleasure of working on this issue, because it has been of great concern to our two ridings for a number of months already. We have worked diligently to find out what is involved in the project and learn about the economic and environmental issues associated with the Cacouna terminal.
All of this work has been carried out with the people of the area. We have communicated with the people, the media, the businesses concerned and environmental groups. Both of us have held eight information sessions on the energy east project, some of which dealt specifically with the Gros-Cacouna terminal.
The reason why I fully support the motion is that there will be environmental consequences that could be extremely serious, although I would not necessarily claim there will be extremely serious damage.
As everyone has been saying since this morning, the project is in an area that is a nursery for belugas in the St. Lawrence, a species that is at risk in this area. The work that has been done, beginning with the seismic surveys, has been subject to environmental assessments. Despite what government members are saying, there have been no proper studies or scientific opinions on the drilling activities. I will come back to this later.
Why do we believe the belugas’ nursery and habitat are being unduly threatened? It is because we are well aware that the St. Lawrence Seaway is open to merchant shipping. Ships of this size, that will be travelling along a very tricky route through the Seaway, have drafts that have never before been seen in the St. Lawrence, particularly in this area.
For instance, Aframax tankers have a draft of 14 meters and the Suezmax vessels have a draft of 16 meters. Already, this should be ringing environmental alarm bells. Indeed, alarm bells have already been sounded by a number of beluga whale experts.
The issue of ballast waters must also be considered. These kinds of supertankers have to be empty when they enter the St. Lawrence to be able to take on cargo, so they fill their hulls with water at their point of departure. These ballast waters may be from southeast Asia or the Indian Ocean, we do not know. Ballast waters are used to weigh the ship down so it can sail more safely. Under Canadian law, these waters must be discharged before the ship enters the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the St. Lawrence estuary. However, for financial reasons, companies discharge ballast waters while continuing to sail and the ships can never fully get rid of the ballast.
That means that, year in and year out, a good 5,000 to 10,000 tonnes of the total of 60,000 tonnes of ballast water remain on these ships. The water is discharged at the port of arrival, along with any invasive species it may contain. The trip is repeated a number of times per week, per month and per year. There is a cumulative effect and it poses a threat to the St. Lawrence ecosystem.
I am going to talk about the possibility of an oil spill, not because I want to sound alarmist, but because it is a serious issue. Even in the case of small spills or leaks, our response capabilities are limited by factors that are not so much human as natural. They include the strength of currents and tides, which reduce the timeframe within which effective action is possible. Furthermore, I am just talking about the summer and fall, when the weather is good.
In winter, the situation is worse. A number of scientists and experts on the St. Lawrence have estimated that, for technical reasons, our response capability would be virtually zero in the case of a spill or a leak in the St. Lawrence in the winter. For these reasons, the port of Cacouna is not the right port to choose for exporting crude bitumen. Ice cover forms quite early in the year in the St. Lawrence and it melts quite late the following year. For that reason, it is a very risky port. We opposed the Northern Gateway project because of the environmental risks, but also because of the geography of the area in question. The same thing applies here.
We probably would not be here if the government had done its science homework. I have heard a number of debates in the House about the muzzling of scientists and about the confusion spread by the , the , and government members with regard to scientific opinions. What must be understood, and I mentioned it earlier, is that when it comes to the seismic surveys that were carried out last spring, the seismic surveys that did in fact have an impact on the beluga habitat, Fisheries and Oceans Canada did its work by asking the department’s science branch to prepare a scientific opinion. The result was a 20-page scientific opinion drafted by six scientists who are experts on the beluga as an endangered species and on the St. Lawrence River. The work was carried out properly and the report indicated that there were risks but that they could be mitigated if certain conditions were met.
We are now in the drilling stage. Drilling was delayed because of the issue of the provincial permit. TransCanada made the decision following threats of an injunction. Then, exploratory drilling began in the fall. Obviously, Fisheries and Oceans Canada should have provided a scientific opinion for the drilling that would also take place, or was supposed to take place, during a period when belugas are found in that part of the river. However, instead of relying on the same approaches and the same scientists whose expertise it knew and who had provided entirely competent advice on seismic surveys, Fisheries and Oceans Canada decided to rely on a single biologist who was not from the departments's science branch, who is not a beluga specialist, and who provided a scientific opinion that, instead of taking up 20 pages like the opinion for the seismic surveys, took up only two. Furthermore, this scientific opinion provided by a single biologist covered a period when drilling was not even going to take place. Drilling was supposed to occur this fall. The scientific opinion, or what the government likes to call a scientific opinion, covered the period from May 19 to August 21, 2014. It is outdated. However, that is what the department put forward as a scientific opinion. Contrary to what the government says and to what the various members say in their speeches or in answer to questions, the Superior Court decision regarding the injunction requested by the Quebec centre of environmental law focused on the government's refusal to provide a true scientific opinion.
I do not want to spend all of my time on this point because I know I do not have much time left. However, paragraph 53 says the following:
...Mr. Kemp, contrary to the request regarding seismic work, did not see fit to forward the question to the science branch of his department.
That led the judge to note the following in paragraph 106 of her ruling—and this has already been quoted but the members of the government would do well to listen closely:
...the fact that nobody from TransCanada or DFO's science branch answered their perfectly legitimate questions about whether carrying out the work on the dates proposed by the proponent could cause a significant disturbance or have a significant impact on marine mammals...
Fisheries and Oceans Canada did not respond to this question. The department did not do its homework and is at the centre of this fiasco, which is embodied in the injunction granted by the Superior Court.
I will conclude by saying that, clearly, we are in favour of this motion. However, that does not mean that we are opposed to the project itself. The project could well continue without the Port of Gros-Cacouna. We will determine that once the project is tabled.
This is an extremely important issue for us. We did our homework; we did our research. We have looked at the economy and the environment. There is no doubt among those of us on this side of the House that the government is primarily responsible for this fiasco. We are also certain that we need to say no to making the port of Cacouna an oil terminal.
Mr. Speaker, any development project must first meet the basic criteria of sustainable development. I find it very funny, very odd and pathetic, to hear the government and the Liberal Party members telling us that they do not understand the distinction between “being open to a project” and “being in favour of a project”. We are open to the project, provided that it meets the basic criteria of sustainable development. That is the question.
Today, I would like to speak to all Canadians, but mainly to the women and men in my riding who have approached me with concerns about the Cacouna oil port project. I am concerned to see that the federal government is refusing—yes, refusing—to face up to its responsibility to protect the complex ecosystem of the St. Lawrence River.
The riding of Montmorency—Charlevoix—Haute-Côte-Nord has the enormous privilege of being adjacent to some of the most magnificent and most biologically diverse areas of the river that is a symbol of our nation.
As I said earlier in the House, whether we are talking about the Charlevoix World Biosphere Reserve, the Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park or the Group for Research and Education on Marine Mammals, our region can pride itself on having world-renowned organizations that are associated with the wonders of the river.
Those institutions are not only a formidable asset to the environment and to our region, they are also an essential engine for the development of our tourism industry. That is why protecting this ecosystem is particularly important to me. Everyone who has grown up or who lives near the river cannot help but want it to be protected and conserved for future generations. Unfortunately, the Conservative government seems to be abdicating its responsibilities when it comes to the environment, and this leaves many people in our region with serious concerns and a number of unanswered questions.
An hon. member: Rightly so.
Mr. Jonathan Tremblay: Yes, Mr. Speaker, rightly so.
Recently, much ink has been spilled over the contentious and worrisome drilling activities in Cacouna that have nonetheless been authorized by the federal and provincial governments. I would like to go back a bit, to shed some light on the government’s inaction when it comes to the environment.
I recall, last fall, the closing of the key positions at the Maurice Lamontagne Institute, a research laboratory studying belugas. I also recall that the evaded questions, thus showing his intention of continuing his attacks on scientists, the very people who make it possible to monitor the situation of belugas and other marine mammals that are threatened.
We all understand that the government was laying the groundwork for going ahead with the Gros-Cacouna port project: less money for scientific research, less data about the marine mammal population and less data about the ecosystem, and so fewer obstacles along the way to carrying out the project.
We also asked the Minister of the Environment to stop playing hide and seek, and release the scientific opinions about offshore activities at Cacouna, which, I would recall, is not only the very centre of the beluga habitat, but also the breeding ground for that threatened species. That was refused. Although we did get an emergency meeting, the chair of the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans insisted that the meeting be held in camera. There is every reason to believe that the government is trying to hide something.
Moreover, it is inconceivable that the would answer in the House that to obtain scientific data, we need only use Google. I am sincerely sorry for all Canadians that a minister would give this kind of answer in the House. Does that mean that the minister and her officials rely on Google to learn about this issue?
It is amusing to note that the scientific opinion we can find through a Google search is the same official scientific opinion as the one that was sent to the Quebec minister of the environment.
The title of an article in the Journal de Québec on October 1 speaks volumes: “A scientific opinion invented” by the department.
The article deals with the Quebec Superior Court decision about stopping the drilling until October 15.
It says that in the opinion of the Superior Court judge, the letter from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans—we are talking about a letter and not a scientific opinion—that was sent to the Government of Quebec on August 8 provides no scientific opinion.
If everything is on Google, as the claims, why hold all these meetings behind closed doors? Why hide something so important?
Unlike the , I strongly believe that it is our duty as elected members of Parliament to ensure that the government makes decisions in the best interests of the public. The response from the is further proof of the lack of transparency of this government. It is the government's responsibility to protect belugas, a threatened species in the St. Lawrence. As responsible elected officials, it is our duty to protect this species.
This summer, Richard Nadeau, the regional director general of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, assured us in an article in Le Devoir on July 26 that the federal government planned on protecting the St. Lawrence estuary and that the mandate of the Canada-Quebec working group, created more than 15 years ago, had not been changed. The purpose of creating a marine protected area is to protect the habitat of marine mammals present in that area. You might say that is reassuring. I am not reassured.
A press release issued devastating news last week. On September 26, we learned that the Quebec chapter of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society had submitted an access to information request for information on the work done by the Canada-Quebec working group I just mentioned, and was told that no documents existed.
The following is part of the minister's response to the society:
No document was provided regarding the working group...This is a federal-provincial group that was recently reactivated after several years of inactivity. It has not yet examined the issue of the St. Lawrence Estuary area of interest.
This surprising answer means not only that the group did not conduct a study of the area to be protected, but also that the group does not even really exist. It exists, but it is an empty shell, as Patrick Nadeau, the administrative director of CPAWS Quebec, said. All I can figure is that this working group is a kind of phantom group that comes to haunt us for a few days around Halloween.
Despite all of these facts proving how irresponsible the government is when it comes to the environment, we still dared to hope that the might intervene, but no, he signed off on it anyway. This week he refused to meet with a special envoy from France to talk about the fight against climate change in preparation for the next major international climate change summit, further proof that the environment is simply not a priority for this government.
Everyone knows this; there is nothing new here. We all know that anything that has to do with the environment is not a priority for this government, except when the environment hurts fossil fuels, of course.
As a final point, I would like to commend the efforts of the community groups in my riding that have joined with me in calling on the government to put an end to these drilling activities for the sake of future generations.
I would also like to commend the efforts of the men and women of Cacouna who are watching this closely. Bravo. I am on their side. I also want to thank the people in my riding who shared their concerns with me regarding the Port of Gros-Cacouna oil project. I share their concerns.
That is why we put together a team of volunteers to circulate some petitions to stop this project. On October 18, we will be in Charlevoix and on the upper north shore, going door to door to collect signatures. All work on this project must stop.
I will be very proud to come back to the House with those petitions calling on the government to stop all work in Cacouna. In the meantime, I wish to thank the hon. member for , who, through his motion, has given me the opportunity to share my constituents' concerns. I would also like to thank the hon. member for , who has been trying from the beginning to get some answers and get some studies done on the Gros-Cacouna project.
There is no doubt that the Port of Gros-Cacouna, which will be used for the sole purpose of exporting unprocessed Canadian oil, will have a negative impact on the Canadian economy through the loss of well-paid jobs. It will constitute an environmental threat to the St. Lawrence ecosystem, including the beluga whale population, and therefore it is not consistent with the principle of sustainable development and must be rejected.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to say that I will be sharing my time today with the hard-working member for .
It is an honour for me to have the opportunity to participate in the debate on this motion about the proposal to block the development of the port of Gros-Cacouna marine terminal which was put forward by my colleague from the riding of .
I will begin by saying that the real outcome of this motion, if it is adopted, would be to bolster efforts to shut down Canada's oil resource industry by preventing Canadian oil from reaching any global market. Those listening at home need to understand that the port terminal which the NDP proposes to block is a key element of the effort to bring Canadian oil to markets in eastern North America and beyond. It could even help deliver energy to our allies in eastern Europe, who currently have to rely on, and be dependent upon, supplies from an ever more aggressive and expansionist Russia.
The energy east pipeline is a complex project aimed at constructing and operating a 4,600 kilometre pipeline from Alberta to the east coast, and it includes the construction of terminals at Gros-Cacouna, Quebec and Saint John, New Brunswick.
Why would anyone seek to prevent Canadian energy resources from going to willing markets as the NDP is always trying to do? I will give the member for enough credit to assume that he knows full well that energy markets are at least North America wide, and that there is already a glut of refining capacity. He is intelligent enough to know that spending literally billions of dollars on unneeded refining capacity would be just throwing Canadian and Quebec taxpayer dollars down a very deep hole.
I am aware of the concerns raised by the member for , especially concerning the impact of this terminal on the Saint Lawrence ecosystem generally and upon the beluga whale population in particular.
Today I want to reassure my hon. colleague that the Government of Canada is very committed to protecting the safety and security of all Canadians and of the environment.
A number of federal and provincial responsibilities have already been called into action as a result of the proposed Gros-Cacouna marine terminal, including those of the National Energy Board, Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Transport Canada and Environment Canada, to name only a few.
For example, Fisheries and Oceans Canada is well on top of this issue and has already conducted a detailed scientific study of the impact of the necessary geophysical surveys on the Saint Lawrence beluga. It concluded that the risk of physical harm from these activities is low, and that any habitat deterioration from them will be temporary, if they are subject to strict scientifically determined conditions.
Also, once submitted by the proponent, the proposed energy east pipeline project will be assessed by the National Energy Board, which is the responsible authority. As members may know, that organization is an independent federal agency established as long ago as 1959.
Under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012, and the National Energy Board Act, the National Energy Board will ensure that the appropriate environmental assessments are conducted for any project under its jurisdiction, including this one.
When that application has been made, Environment Canada will also participate in the review process. It will carry out a science-based review of the project, including environmental emergency preparedness and response, oil spill prevention. migratory birds, wetlands, and wildlife species at risk, and air quality.
Through this environmental assessment and hearing process, mitigation measures will be identified to reduce any risk whatsoever. For example, an important part of Environment Canada's review will be dedicated to modelling the very remote risk of spills and predicting the potential fate of any oil spill that might remotely originate from this project under a full range of conditions. This will be used to assess any impacts from a spill and to develop contingency and response plans to minimize such impacts. The Canadian Coast Guard will be the lead agency for ship-source spill response.