Ladies and gentlemen, I call this meeting to order.
Welcome to meeting number 33 of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Industry and Technology.
Pursuant to the order of reference of Wednesday, June 1, the committee is meeting to study Bill , an act respecting the building of a green economy in the Prairies.
Today's meeting is taking place in a hybrid format pursuant to the House order of Thursday, June 23.
Committee members who are in the room and would like to speak should raise their hands. Those who are participating via Zoom should use the “Raise Hand” feature.
This is our first meeting of the season, and I'm delighted to see you again.
I'm also very happy to receive the hon. Jim Carr.
Without further ado, I will now give the floor to Mr. Carr.
I want to start by saying that it's a pleasure to appear in front of you because I have learned, especially over the last number of months, that parliamentary committees are the pulse, the heartbeat, of Parliament. I honour the work that you do.
You may think that it's odd to discuss the future of the Prairies. I'm going to start in 1901.
We have spent the last number of weeks mourning the loss of a monarch, but very few people will know that, on the day that Queen Victoria died, Winston Churchill was in Winnipeg. He looked out the window towards the west. He said, in correspondence with his mother that day in January of 1901, that someday this land would feed the world. Little did he know that it wouldn't just be what we grow. It wouldn't just be the food supply that's so essential for all of us, but that a bushel of canola might be as powerful as a barrel of oil.
It is this sense of promise, of discovery, of building an economy from the ground up, that has distinguished the contribution of prairie Canada to the national economy and the international demands that we are meeting all of the time.
It's a very special part of the country, not only for me because I was born and raised there, but for people who appreciate this relationship between natural resources that have fuelled economic development in the region and the intellectual firepower that's a part of it.
I've always thought that stereotypes were dangerous because they are barriers to progress. If you say the word Alberta or Saskatchewan, you may get a stereotype that comes to your mind, but I bet you it's not Michael Houghton. Michael Houghton is a Nobel Prize laureate who works at the University of Alberta. He was given the Nobel Prize for his discovery of vaccines and hepatitis C.
I would prefer, if people think of stereotypes in Alberta, that they think of Nobel laureates rather than whatever else they may have in their mind. It's a tribute to the diversity and the intellectual firepower of the prairie economy.
I won the lottery in appearing in front of you today. Now I know why, when somebody wins the lottery, there are all kinds of people who want to talk to them about the best use of their proceeds. When it became apparent that I was lucky enough to be able to appear in front of you, people had all kinds of ideas of how I should use this slot.
I did have an idea of my own, and it was to build on the work that we had done across the prairie through the lens of how we can align the interests of governments, the private sector, academic institutions and the working class in order to give ourselves a better chance to move this file ahead.
Look at the diversity of what we're dealing with here. It's the natural resource of the production of energy in all of its forms. It's agriculture and value-added agriculture. It's the life sciences. It's how we manage water across our region. The only thing that gets in our way, really, are the limits of our imagination and the barriers that we erect for ourselves.
That's what this bill is all about. It's to reduce those barriers by mandating, by requiring ministers of the federal government to report back to Parliament about the framework that they have constructed in order to better align those policies. This is not a jurisdictional grab to maybe pre-empt some questions. This is within the federal jurisdiction, the federal government reaching out to counterparts in the provinces, the municipalities, the unions and NGOs, because we all have a stake in writing the next chapter of prairie economic history.
I don't think the template in this bill is exclusively regional. I think, if it becomes Canadian law—and I hope it will—it will be an example for other regions of the country whose inhabitants feel as passionately about their region as I feel about mine. I see this as a promise—as a possibility of working not at loggerheads or in opposition, motivated either by ideology or special interest, but in alignment around the common interest. This bill, I think, is a modest expression of what is possible.
When I was first asked by people what I thought the influence of this bill might be, my answer was, “Somewhere between absolutely zero to changing the way we do business as a nation.” We'll see where the truth lies, but I'm betting it will be somewhere in between.
The first step is agreeing that this framework will have to be reported back to Parliament within a reasonable period of time. That framework will drive the future chapters we will write together as prairie folk and as Canadians. It says we're not going to leave partnerships to chance. We're not going to leave them to the ambitions of any one government, any level of government, or any one industry or union. Its aspiration is to align the interests of all of us.
It's not pie in the sky. It's pragmatic, because what we seek to do is create wealth. We spend a lot of time in our country talking about how we are going to distribute wealth. That is a primary function of the public sector and it's important that we have rigorous debates about it. Where is the wealth coming from? Who's creating the wealth? How do we create the conditions where that wealth can be created sustainably, with an eye on trends that will drive future public policy and investment decisions? That's what we seek to achieve.
I know we have most of an hour to engage in debate. I'm really looking forward to that, Mr. Chair. It's a chance for us to think together about the best way we can achieve this common aspiration.
With those few words of introduction, I truly welcome the conversation.
We do that by assessing where we are and where we want to be, and then by aligning the interests of everybody around the table to work together to get there.
The successes are fabulous. The story of the development of prairie Canada from so many perspectives is really a model for the world, I would say. We opened the door to the talent, the creativity and the entrepreneurship from every continent. We have the wisdom and the savvy to find a way to make those people who are so diverse feel at home. In the first place, it was agriculture that drove it and subsequently it was other industries.
If you look at the development of the demographic profile of prairie Canada, you will see a success story that should help inform us as we move forward to debate immigration policy, temporary foreign worker issues and how we relate to the rest of the world. This is an important role for us to play because we have to diversify our trading partners. We're still so dependent on our relationship with the United States. Because of our profile and because Saskatchewan—as an example—is by far the most diverse trading province in Canada, doing business with so many nations around the world, there are lessons there, too.
If you combine a progressive immigration policy with a trade policy that reaches out to those parts of the world where we have not been successful, you have a recipe for very exciting potential.
Thank you, Chair. I will take it up if there's still time.
Jim, it's wonderful to see you. Congratulations on a wonderful PMB. I've been happy to support it so far and I look forward to continuing to support it.
You will remember back to when our government tabled a motion declaring a climate emergency. I listened carefully as we debated that in the House to my prairie colleagues and I listened to all of the debate. We learned from that debate that even though, for many Canadians—even many corporations, including energy corporations—the existential threat is climate change, for a segment of the population, which is concentrated in the Prairies, the existential threat is loss of job, not being able to pay a mortgage or put food on the table. I learned a lot from listening to that.
Now you're here today to convince parliamentarians that there's a better, cleaner and greener way to transition. If your bill passes, government and Parliament will have to work with those residents to win them over and show them a better way.
I wonder if you have any advice for us in that eventuality. How can we bring the people for whom the existential threat is economic along with us in this transition?
Thank you for your bill, Mr. Carr. One senses the influence your career has had on this one, but one also recognizes in it a dream to be realized. I'm disappointed that it's for the Prairies. I'm from a so-called resource region, and mining, forestry and agriculture are particularly important to us. There are a lot of similarities between the Prairie economy and ours.
I feel that a government could even use a bill like this as a blueprint for reforming Canada's and Quebec's economies by building on the strength of the territories. We need to focus more on the royalties that we can give to these places and the economic development tools specific to each of them.
I'm appalled that we're unable to build a normal everyday abattoir in Quebec with help from the federal government. It would make a world of difference to the 100 to 200 beef producers in Abitibi‑Témiscamingue. They have to drive over eight hours and 800 kilometres to have their livestock slaughtered. We know that affects product quality, the environment, etc.
In my opinion, your bill should be more national in scope because it could benefit the whole country. However, the Bloc Québécois supports it because of the solutions it may bring. That could lead to other reforms that could drive economic development across Canada.
I would add with sincerity that one of Bloc Québécois' initiatives would be to have Canada sell the infamous Kinder Morgan pipeline. They said it cost $14 billion, and that figure has now risen to $18 billion or more. The proceeds from that could be used to set up an economic development fund for the Prairies.
Of course, at the Bloc Québécois we'll say that some of our money was used to buy that pipeline but at the same time, if it's resold it might become a driver for economic development that could fund university research, and more specifically green initiatives, as you say. That would be a plausible option for a bill like yours, giving it more depth.
First, how do you see these financing tools? Would it be through banks, insurance companies or federal transfers?
You spoke of working with the provinces and municipalities and financial products, hopefully outside the oil and gas industry, to diversify the economy. How do we do that?
I'm looking for consistency here, and here's the reason. I have a private member's bill, too, Bill , that you voted against. It's been accused by the government side, by some members—not all—of being top-down.
I have, as converse to yours, the City of Windsor's actual explicit endorsement for the bill, including the mayor and all of council unanimously. It's the same with the Town of LaSalle. I have not only just the first nations that are supporting it explicitly. Caldwell First Nation historically used this bill, and my bill, as part of their actual reconciliation process. I also have the Province of Ontario that just passed a motion in the legislature in their first weeks of the House sitting in favour of what's taking place. I have thousands of petitioners. I have almost 10 years in the making of the entire idea for the national urban park. I have Unifor onside, the Windsor and District Labour Council, and I also have the Wildlands League, NGOs, all universally in support of it. The only opposition comes from you and government members.
I want you to reflect on that, and if you're open I want to find out—what do you think is top-down? It appears that your bill here is a little more top-down than my bill, which actually comes from the community.
Thank you, Chair. It's nice to see you again. I enjoyed working with you on the public safety committee.
Mr. Carr, it's nice to see you again. I did enjoy working both with and against you on natural resource issues during your years as natural resources minister. I also want to recognize your service both in Manitoba and to Canada, and it's nice to see you well and in person.
Far be it from me to be surprised today to agree with an NDP member from Ontario, but I'm just here to speak on behalf of the Alberta constituents I represent. Following up on the point that our colleague from Ontario made and also our Conservative colleague here from Saskatchewan, I think your bill, seven years into the Liberals being in government, is quite a negative commentary on this federal government's track record on negotiating and consulting with prairie provinces. It seems to me that your aspirations and intentions in this legislation, which I know are good, would imply that consultations so far between the various levels of government have been ineffective or lacking.
I guess what I'm curious about is how you sort of reconcile what you clearly have identified as a need for this sort of legislation against a federal government that is, for example, facing lawsuits from all three provincial governments on the carbon tax, on the shipping ban, Bill , the “no more pipeline spills”, and Bill , which will also have major consequences, of course, not just for resources projects but all kinds of other economic development.
On those three issues, the vast majority of prairie representatives who happen to sit federally in the Conservative caucus as well as those prairie provincial representatives say they are among the top threats destroying economic development in their provinces and livelihoods of their citizens and of the people I represent.
It just seems that you are asking for a committee and politicians to create a framework and a mandate, which I presume is going to cost something, to enable a process to occur, which clearly already should be happening, but we are sitting here where we are in reality with the federal government that is being opposed on all kinds of major pieces of legislation and their policy agenda by those very provinces.
We all could look backwards together and determine where we've gone wrong, and we might even agree, but that's not what I want to do. I want to look forward, and I want to take accomplishments where we can find them and parlay them into a bit of a road map, acknowledging that there have been mistakes made and that there are relationships that should have been developed that haven't been developed.
I spent most of two years on the second floor of my house on my little computer traversing the Prairies. Do you know what I found? In spite of all of the noise and all the confusion about political messaging, I found alignment everywhere, including in Alberta. I was surprised by it, not only because of some demographic changes that have occurred over the last number of years, but because the very nature of the way in which we organize ourselves as provinces has changed.
I was surprised that, in the course of the day, I could, through the magic of my Surface Pro and not getting on an airplane, visit cattle ranchers in the morning, talk to the chamber of commerce at lunch and then talk to power producers in the afternoon. I would come out of that day and say that we agreed on four or five things. Why isn't anybody talking about the agreement across unions, industry, academia and government officials, a lot of important conversations with ministers of the Alberta government, as an example on issues that really matter?
This is what is confusing about this initiative. Those provinces, their federal representatives, their provincial representatives and their citizens, by and large, are speaking loud and clear about these consequential aspects of the cornerstone of the Liberal government's policy agenda, and they're being ignored. I guess the Liberals can take up your individual initiative to consult, but if that two-way dynamic and listening to what is being said continues to be ignored, we will gain nothing.
I think the central issue with this bill is that if we need it, it's an indictment of the current government. If the government wants to contend that consultation is already happening, it's not necessary.
Also, about your aim.... In greening the economy—you and I have had this conversation many times—I agree with you wholeheartedly about the stereotypes that are applied to various provinces. You know it's a passion of mine to bust myths about Alberta, which, of course, was the first province to have an environment minister, the first province to set, report and regulate emissions, and the first province to have a major industrial emitter levy targeted to clean tech. The oil and gas industry accounts for 75% of investment in this country for clean tech. Alberta's the biggest hydrogen producer. We are the first province with a 100% renewable energy-powered LRT. We have the largest contiguous green space. We have the oldest commercial wind farm. We have the oldest and largest commercial solar farm.
The reality is that in the province of Alberta, this environmental stewardship and leadership has been happening already because of the public policy agenda of the provincial governments and a thriving private sector fuelled by energy and agriculture, so that money is available to invest in technology. Also, to your point, there's a co-operative development of public policy framework to allow these things to happen, just like when Prime Minister Chrétien worked with Premier Klein to bring in some fiscal policies to unleash the development of in situ oil sands projects.
Here we are now with four pipelines having been killed, because of the regulatory mistakes of the Liberal government, and 18 LNG projects that have gone by the wayside, killing Canada's opportunity to be both self-sufficient and a world-leading provider of LNG across the country.
I see lots of evidence that it's being welcomed.
We shouldn't underestimate the capacity of leaders in that industry to lead the way. They are sensitive in detail that you and I wouldn't run into to the movement of capital flows internationally. They know how to anticipate markets. They can read the changing sentiment in the public policy environment, in the political environment and in the funding environment, so what do you do? You take advantage of that expertise and spirit, and you work with it. I know that there are all kinds of examples of where that's happening right now.
I have.... It's not just faith: I think it's interest that the established industries know what their balance sheets are going to look like in a year. They speculate on what they will look like in five years. They're in the business of anticipating trends, and their livelihoods depend on it. They also have the capacity to invest in their instinct and in their assessment of on-the-ground realities in their world, so what do you do? You don't set them up as opponents. You embrace them as allies. That, really, if I had to give a bottom line to this bill, is “let's embrace our allies”.
It's a great idea. I would hope, given what I've just said about the importance of agriculture as the essence of what we're trying to accomplish here in the naming of the minister.... That is exactly the kind of idea that I don't think has had a full airing. So many of these issues have had no airing, and this is a chance to pump a little bit of air into that tire and for people to be accountable for it. I don't want to diminish the importance of reporting back to you. As a parliamentarian, I know that if I have a deadline and that deadline means that I have to have my ducks in a row to talk to a parliamentary committee or the whole of Parliament, I'm going to take it seriously. I have to take it seriously, and I should.
The difference between what Shannon has talked about as a seven-year legacy...is that now we're compelled. If this becomes law, there is a mandate and a compulsion to do the things that she wants done.
By the way, in the middle part of your intervention, when you reviewed all of the accomplishments within Alberta towards a sustainable energy future, I was just nodding my head. Why can't we do more of that? Why can't those accomplishments become better known?
That's what we're doing. Rather than bemoan the fact that these kinds of things ought to be acted upon, let's agree and get a move on, and then know that within 18 months or 12 months, if you agree with this possible amendment, there's going to be an accounting—and there should be.
I have not asked the premiers to support the bill. Presumably, they will be right at the top of the list of the implicated ministers if this should become law.
Let me make a comment that might surprise you. You know, I spent all those months traversing the Prairies, however virtually, and I was asked to explain why we do so badly—we the Liberal Party—in prairie Canada. It's a source of constant frustration to me personally, as a prairie dweller, as someone who's lived in the region all my life, representing both a provincial constituency in Manitoba and a federal one in Parliament. I offer the same kind of common-sense analysis that anybody else would. We've failed continuously in aligning our political interests to the real interests of prairie folk. It's demonstrable. Just look at the results. Look at the numbers. I'm not going to try to sugar-coat the results. They're real. I'm delighted that we won a couple of seats in Alberta, on a partisan note, but we didn't win any in Saskatchewan.
It keeps me up at night. The only way you can penetrate that kind of dislocation is by opening your ears and by advancing policy suggestions that are important to the daily lives of people who live in these provinces. Show up and be there, and be there often, with both ears wide open. Clearly we have not done that, and we've paid the political price time and time again.
I hope we can change that. I'm not here to make any partisan commentary whatsoever. I'm here to look at the interests of the people who live in these provinces and try to better align our policies to make their lives more fruitful.
It doesn't imply more regulation. It may imply less. That would be presupposing that the consultation process will yield this result. It doesn't seek to do that. It just says—I think and hope in pretty simple terms—that these partnerships don't necessarily happen on their own.
A single minister, industry or union may have the motivation or ambition to accomplish this set of goals. However, unless we find a way to rationalize, consolidate and pull out of all the special interests—to find a common, public interest—I don't think we can perform the kind of work I envision as the best possible implication of this bill. As I said to Mr. Masse a while ago, the range of impact is from zero to changing the way we do business as a country; and, as I said to the Bloc member Monsieur Lemire, it's equally applicable to other regions.
This is not just an aspirational Pollyanna exercise, by the way. It's pragmatic, because the results ought to be good jobs for our people. What stakeholder, at any level of government or in the private sector, would disagree with that?
That concludes our final round of questions.
Mr. Carr, I'd like to thank you very much for appearing before the committee today. I'd also like to congratulate you on your private member's bill. It will now continue on its path.
This isn't the first time I've heard you talk about the Prairies with such passion, intelligence and enthusiasm. It's always a pleasure to hear you speak. You inspire us to do the same in other regions of Canada, as someone said at the meeting.
Thank you very much.
Before I let everyone go and adjourn this meeting, we have a notice of motion of which, I think, all parties are aware. It reads as follows:
That the clerk of the committee be authorized to grant access to the committee's digital binder to the offices of the whips of each recognized party.
Do I have unanimous consent for this motion?
(Motion agreed to)
The Chair: Perfect. Thank you very much.
This meeting is adjourned.