Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise and speak today to a bill that addresses the concerns of many of my constituents in Laval—Les Îles, Bill C-46, An Act to amend the National Energy Board Act and the Canada Oil and Gas Operations Act. Although this bill is a first step toward a true polluter pays regime for Canadian oil companies—which is what the NDP wants—this is something the government should have done a long time ago.
The bill also amends the statutory liability regime for federally regulated pipelines in Canada. Bill C-46 includes absolute liability for all pipelines regulated by the National Energy Board. That means that oil companies will be liable for costs and damage, irrespective of fault, up to $1 billion for major pipelines, that is, pipelines with the capacity to transport at least 250,000 barrels of oil per day. That is definitely an improvement over existing laws. However, there are significant improvements to be made to this bill and grey areas that we feel need to be clarified, as is always the case with this government.
First of all, the bill before us does not include absolute liability, which I mentioned earlier, for natural gas companies and other operators of non-oil pipelines or for small oil pipeline companies. Under this bill, that will be determined by future regulations or by cabinet.
I am honoured to be a member of the Standing Joint Committee for the Scrutiny of Regulations. My colleagues on the committee, including the members for Honoré-Mercier and Beauharnois—Salaberry, would be able to talk about how extremely slowly this government, like the Liberal governments before it, deals with certain regulations. The committee regularly scrutinizes regulations from 1980 and 1990. Believe it or not, we recently dealt with a regulation that has been pending since 1976. I am therefore very suspicious of this government's ability to manage a matter of such great importance and to act efficiently and quickly when it comes to regulations.
The Conservative government has a reputation for being slow to respond to urgent situations, unless they are politically advantageous and can be used to appease its political base, as we have seen many times, including with Bill C-2 and more recently with Bill C-51. Since the Conservative base does not consider defending the environment to be sexy, this government has taken years to act—and it has not done nearly enough, if you ask us—in order to solve the problem of liability in the event of an oil spill if a pipeline breaks.
Ian Miron, a lawyer with Ecojustice, sees the $1 billion liability limit as insufficient. According to him, no liability regime can truly be considered a polluter pays regime unless and until polluters are made absolutely liable for the full costs of environmental harm. While the $1 billion limit may be considered an important first step for some companies, just look at what happened in the case of the Kalamazoo River spill in Michigan. Cleanup costs can quickly add up to $1 billion in the case of a major spill, and that does not even include compensation for damage.
The bill for the Enbridge spill in the Kalamazoo river is $1.2 billion. That does not include any damages or losses. In that type of case, we realize that the liability limit set at $1 billion is hardly enough and that the taxpayer will likely have to cover the rest of the bill yet again.
It is therefore quite understandable why so many people from Laval in my riding and my colleagues in the region are so concerned about Enbridge wanting to go through the area. The consultation process is flawed and does not include any consultation or fulsome discussion with the public and various stakeholders. There is just as much concern over the idea that in the event of a spill, the companies' liability is limited.
I already hear my colleagues opposite saying that we are anti-oil and anti-pipeline. That is pure rhetoric. The NDP wants responsible and sustainable development. There is no doubt that the natural resources we have in Canada are a real boon.
The energy sector is an essential driver of our economy. However, our vision for enhancing these resources and creating wealth and prosperity must not come at the expense of the social and environmental sustainability of our economy. For far too long, the Liberals and the Conservatives have been telling Canadians that they must choose between the environment and the economy. That is not true. They do not have to choose.
A new vision is needed for the future of our energy resources. The NDP has such a vision, and it is based on three key principles. The first is sustainability. We must ensure that polluters pay for the pollution they create instead of leaving those financial and environmental costs to future generations.
The second is partnership. We must ensure that our communities, provinces and first nations all benefit from resource development and that we create value-added jobs for the middle class here in Canada.
The third is long-term prosperity. We need real long-term prosperity, not just meaningless words from the Conservatives. We need prosperity to leverage Canada’s natural wealth to invest in modern, clean energy technology that will keep Canada on the cutting edge of energy development and ensure affordable rates into the future.
Bill C-46 is a step in the right direction when it comes to companies' financial liability. It is important to note that the bill also has some serious shortcomings, which I mentioned earlier and which we truly hope that the government will consider and fix in committee, in the spirit of collegiality. One particular shortcoming is the exclusion of gas companies from the absolute liability process. These companies are absolved in the current version of the bill.
However, it is even more important that in the future—at third reading, we hope—the bill include provisions that are nowhere to be found in this version of the bill. This includes, for example, the need for oil and gas companies to hold extensive consultations with communities, like my own community of Laval. This would ensure that the public can have its say and that the company that wants to put a pipeline through a particular area is accountable to the public in the region with respect to the security of the facilities and environmental standards.
Unfortunately, under this government, the environmental assessment process has been literally gutted, as have so many other environmental regulations since 2011. We are still holding out hope that the Conservatives will finally listen to reason and that they will listen to the people who have concerns, as we are doing in the NDP.
In conclusion, the bill before us today is an extremely important one. It is crucial for all of us, no matter the party, to do things the right way. Over the past four years, this government has rushed vitally important bills through the House, without meaningful debate and without being open to amendments that would improve bills or even address potential flaws.
Unfortunately, Bill C-51 is very representative of this reality. Therefore, I hope that Bill C-46 will mark a new way of doing things for this government, because as parliamentarians we must work in the interest of those who elected us, not in the interest of those who contribute to the Conservatives' campaign fund.