Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I would like to correct the record.
When I answered a question from the member for Burnaby—Douglas earlier today in question period, I said that projects would only proceed if they were not safe for Canadians and safe for the environment.
I should have said that projects will only proceed if they are safe for Canadians and safe for the environment.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak on Bill C-5. This is the second day this week that the House has debated legislation that impacts activities in the offshore sector, which, to those of us in Atlantic Canada, like my colleague the member for St. John's East, who just spoke, and the member for Avalon, who asked him a question, is very important. It is very important to our economy and to the people who work in the offshore sector who benefit from that. It is very important that they are safe in the work they do and in travelling to and from the offshore platforms.
The offshore sector can be a dangerous place. I know there are many measures taken to make it as safe as possible, but it is tough work. It can be dangerous work, and we have seen unfortunate proof of that over the years. In fact, there are brave men and women working out there every day performing very challenging work.
Making sure that these people are safe in their workplaces and that they return home to their families must be a priority for all of us. Bill C-5 is a step in the right direction.
However, I hope the government will actually listen to experts on Bill C-22, which we debated on Tuesday, because it did not listen to experts with respect to Bill C-5, which we are discussing today.
When the House was debating second reading of Bill C-5, the member for Burnaby—Douglas asked if I thought the legislation went far enough in addressing the concerns of the Wells royal commission.
I did not, and I do not. One concern I have with Bill C-5 is that it did not adopt recommendation 29 of the Wells commission report, which flowed from a terrible helicopter crash off Newfoundland. That was already discussed a bit this morning.
My hope was that when the bill went to committee there would be consideration given to an amendment to adopt recommendation 29, which called for a separate organization to look at the question of workers' health and safety, an organization solely dedicated to that absolutely vital task.
Commissioner Wells testified at the committee last fall that he “felt that an independent safety authority was the best choice..”. Commissioner Wells went on to add that he did not think everyone would agree with the recommendation. That is reasonable. He included a fallback position, which was to create a separate safety division within the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board. Of course, this legislation would also apply to the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board.
While the fallback position was adopted, in my view it falls short of what is needed. It is yet another missed opportunity by this neo-Conservative government. Unfortunately, Bill C-5 was reported back to the House of Commons with only a few technical amendments which correct inaccurate wording in a number of clauses.
It was also very unfortunate, in my view, that the Conservatives on the committee would not support efforts to provide greater clarity on the word “danger” in the act. That word is particularly important, and the meaning of it is particularly important in this kind of legislation.
Under this legislation, certain terms such as “danger” are not defined in this bill. They remain to be defined by federal regulation on the recommendation of the Minister of Natural Resources and the Minister of Labour, and with the approval of provincial ministers.
In committee, I introduced a proposed amendment calling for consultations with the provinces and key stakeholders on the definition of “dangerous work”, something that we have heard is important. I felt it would coincide with the testimony we heard in committee about the importance of consulting on this question of the word “danger”. That is critical for all parts of the offshore oil and gas industry, and the men and women who work in our offshore.
While this legislation does push the yardsticks and while it is a move in the right direction, it could have been better. It could have been strengthened. It should have been amended. As legislators, that is our job. It is our job not only to examine these carefully, to look for ways to improve them, but also to hear the evidence, hear the experts, and reflect on that expert evidence and testimony and make the appropriate changes. We are not simply here to do whatever the kids in short pants in the Prime Minister's Office tell us or order the Conservatives to do.
We are often asked to strike a careful balance between economic success in the oil and gas sector, the rights of employees and, of course, environmental concerns. Bill C-5 is one of the many tools to achieve this balance, and I believe the Canadian Parliament, including members in the House of Commons, ought to strive to set an example to the rest of the world by clearly indicating that we value human capital at least as much as the wealth we derive from our natural resources. That is why the Liberal Party has supported this bill.
Bill C-5 will effectively solve the issue of jurisdiction surrounding occupational health and safety in Canada's offshore oil and gas industry. It was not clear until now—which became very clear after the terrible helicopter accident off Newfoundland when it was unclear which level of government had responsibility and jurisdiction. This will solve that issue and that is important. That is an important step forward, which has taken over 10 years to realize.
The legislation would also create a streamlined process for rectifying health and safety issues and to assign responsibility. That is important because we do not want to have any doubt about jurisdiction if there is an accident in the offshore. An issue of the utmost importance is our capacity to respond to an accident or spill in the offshore. However, that is a debate for another day, and I hope we will have opportunities to do that.
This legislation is focused on the right to a safe workplace. It is an important right and a right that all Canadians must enjoy. Many of us as Canadians, and certainly those of us as members of Parliament, have a very safe work environment and are very fortunate in the kind of work we do. For the most part, it is indoor work and a lot of it is desk work or standing up work, but it sure is not in conditions some workers across this country face, by any means.
If we think of working outside on a cold day like this, or of the folks in Atlantic Canada—and I look across to my colleagues from New Brunswick and consider our families back home and other families in Atlantic Canada, digging out from a terrible storm and still experiencing terrible wind, some of them without power, and consider the folks from the power companies and snowplow drivers and others out there who are working to get things back to normal—we should feel pretty fortunate to be working in a place like this with the kind of jobs that we have.
Though a safe workplace is not the reality for all Canadians, governments have worked with stakeholder groups in the past to improve conditions faced by Canadians in their places of employment.
That, obviously, is incredibly important work. Bill C-5 is an example of these efforts—in this case, the joint efforts of the provincial and federal levels working together, which does not happen often enough. Indeed, this government is not known for working with provincial governments. However, it is our collective responsibility, whether as a legislative body, employers or employees, or society as a whole, to ensure that the right to a safe work environment is respected.
It is absolutely vital. The conditions for employees on offshore drilling projects should be comparable to those on land-based projects. There is no question that a drilling rig, whether offshore or onshore, can be a very dangerous environment.
I think employees and their families can be confident that what is proposed in Bill C-5, as far as it goes, would improve the health and safety regimes of our offshore oil and gas projects. However, members of my party believe we still need to ensure that the separation of health and safety concerns from those of production and economic viability occur. Justice Wells made that very clear in much more eloquent language than I.
We recognize that these two issues are very different things, but one trumps the other, and health and safety comes first. We need to make sure that, when necessary, those health and safety concerns are paramount, as they ought to be.
Bill C-5 should guarantee that the proposed chief safety officer has powerful methods of inquiry to hold operators to account. A regime of self-regulation, in our view, would be insufficient. I have already said that we do not think the chief safety officer approach is necessarily ideal. There are other things that Commissioner Wells recommended, but since that is what we are going with, let us try to make it as strong as possible.
The chief safety officer must not be influenced in decision-making by concerns of economic viability or by political pressure, which should be obvious. This individual must be a champion of a healthy and safe environment for all employees who work in our offshore oil and gas industry, or in any of those kinds of projects.
Bill C-5 has survived changes in governing parties at both the federal and provincial levels. It has received clear provincial support, and legislatures in both Nova Scotia and in Newfoundland and Labrador have given the bill's mirror legislation assent, in short order. By supporting Bill C-5, we have the opportunity to improve upon legislation that has already met some of the concerns of the provinces.
If we take into account all the elements of employee health and safety, the original offshore accords, and Bill C-5 itself in those bills, this could provide the model for future negotiations between the federal government and other provinces, like Quebec for example, that are looking to develop their oil and gas sectors.
Let me conclude by noting that while Bill C-5 is a step forward, we should recognize that more work needs to be done. Hopefully, we will not have to wait another decade for that to occur.
It is not new to Canadians that our country places great economic importance on the development of natural resources. Forest products, natural gas, hydro electricity, and oil and gas are cornerstones of our export market and contribute immensely to the creation of jobs, which, of course, we believe is very important. We want Canadians to have a good quality of life that comes with jobs and opportunity. However, let us make sure that those resources are developed in a responsible and sustainable way. Let us recognize that occupational health and safety must be paramount.
Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my hon. colleague, the member for Abitibi—Témiscamingue, for graciously sharing her time with me in this important debate about Bill C-22, an act respecting Canada's offshore oil and gas operations that would also enact a nuclear liability and compensation act and make consequential amendments, including repealing the existing Nuclear Liability Act.
I also want to congratulate my colleague, the member for St. John's South—Mount Pearl, for his very forthright and passionate speech on this issue and on the industry in Newfoundland and Labrador, which has been so important to the fiscal position of the province and has provided opportunities for legions of workers, both in the offshore field itself and in engineering and related matters, bringing about great prosperity for Newfoundland and Labrador.
I am pleased to speak to this bill because it is an opportunity to talk about this issue and its importance within the Canadian context.
We hear a lot about western Canada. I went to law school in Alberta. I am very aware of the importance of that industry there and the oil sands, as well, but I think sometimes it overshadows the role that east coast oil and gas plays in total production and its importance to the overall Canadian scene.
We are concerned, of course, as is every country and anyone else aware of the consequences of potential oil and gas spills, both on land and at sea, about the danger of pollution and the danger of a spill that could have a catastrophic effect. We saw that in the most recent Macondo case in the Gulf of Mexico, which had huge consequences for Gulf, for the fishers in the area, for the communities, for the environment, and for all of the sea life affected by this particular spill. As as result, the need to take a close look at the liability regimes has been brought into sharp focus.
We support the bill at second reading. We want it to go to committee. We think that significant improvements have been made here. I do not know if it has been mentioned before, but the words “polluter pay” actually appear in the bill. I think that is the first time they have ever appeared in a bill in Canada. It is something that our leader has spoken about as a basic principle of our party when it comes to sustainable development. One of the hallmarks of sustainable development is that to make it sustainable, it is the polluter that should pay if there are any consequences of its economic activity, and not the public.
Here, we have a significant rise in liability from what has to be considered a ludicrous amount of $30 million, to $1 billion in the case of offshore oil and gas, and generally from $40 million to $1 billion in the case of the Arctic, for no-fault risk.
Some people might say, “Well, if it is not our fault, why should we have to pay at all?”
The reason is that they are the author of the activity they are engaging in to obtain profit and they have to pay the consequences if something goes wrong.
It is not as simple as “no fault” or “your fault”. As a lawyer, I know that deciding who is at fault and what the fault is, is often a very long, tortuous, and expensive process. In case of the kind of activity we are talking about here, we need to know that the initial responsibility rests with the person who causes the damage, that the damage is going to be fixed, and that people who need compensation are going to be compensated. A no-fault system allows that to happen.
The at-fault position is that there is not a limit on liability. The limit, I guess, is the ability of the operator to pay. That also comes into effect and we need to know that people who are engaged in this kind of activity, which is dangerous to the environment and to life and limb, are responsible and capable operators and companies that can actually carry out this work.
I say life and limb; it is often overlooked that the Deepwater Horizon project that blew up and caused this big damage also cost 11 workers their lives in that explosion. It is still a very dangerous activity, as we know from the Ocean Ranger disaster in 1982 and the Cougar helicopter crash recently and another crash a couple of decades ago. It is a dangerous activity that requires serious and responsible actors in the business, and so we would want to make sure that they are responsible for the damage they cause.
The act itself has some significant limitations. I am still puzzling over why one would say we are going to raise the liability from $40 million to $1 billion and then say the minister can waive that requirement. There does not seem to be any particular conditions as to when he or she might do that, and so one wonders why it should be there at all.
I can see the lineup now. Everyone would want an exemption because they would say they cannot really afford that or would not be able to get insurance or not be able to operate. Everything would supposedly come to a standstill if that were enforced. The minister is going to have a lot of people at the doorstep, looking for the exemption.
In the United States, the limit is $12.6 billion. In Denmark, Norway, Switzerland, Australia, and in numerous countries, there is no liability limit. In those countries, Norway and the United States being good examples, this has not prevented the development of robust and successful offshore oil and gas developments. We need to know why Conservatives are asking for that, but we would have a great deal of difficulty supporting that kind of exemption unless they convince someone that it was limited to one or two particular circumstances that may make sense. I do not know what they are. We have not heard the case for that yet.
However, we do see some progress here. The $1 billion, in fact, was an amendment suggested by the NDP in the last Parliament when a piece of legislation was brought forward, never really seriously, because it was left on the order paper for a year before the last election, but $650 million was proposed. The NDP recommended it be put at $1 billion at that time, which of course did not happen and the bill died on the order paper. This is a step forward, but there is a very strong case for unlimited liability and certainly a number more than $1 billion, and that is something to discuss at committee.
When we are talking about oil and gas development and pollution problems, there is the issue of spill response and what the capability is of dealing with an oil spill if it occurs. There is significant concern about that in the Atlantic and the existing regime right now. In fact, in a 2012 report, the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development was critical of the industry and critical of the regulators, both in Nova Scotia and in Newfoundland and Labrador, for not being in a position to take over responsibility for oil spills if they occurred. In the case of Newfoundland, a study started in 2008, just to define and determine what the operator's capability was regarding oil spill containment and activity, has not been completed.
Officials tried to determine what the capability was. They had to review the spill response capability of operators. They said they were going to do it, but they have not done it. They said they were going to do it by March 31, 2013, after five years in the making. As my colleague from St. John's South—Mount Pearl pointed out about a month ago, officials still have not produced that report.
The member for St. John's South—Mount Pearl, the member for Burnaby—Douglas, and I met recently with the C-NLOPB, which promised to have this report out very shortly. We look forward to that. We do need to know that if there is any kind of a spill, the oil companies have the capability to respond to it, to give the public confidence that this industry can be operated in safety and that the environmental concerns are taken into account.
I see that my time is up and I look forward to any questions and comments members may have.
The hon. member will have five minutes for questions and comments when the House resumes debate on this motion.
It being 5:30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on Motion No. 428 under private members' business in the name of the member for Burnaby—Douglas.
Call in the members.
Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to participate in today's debate on Motion No. 428, sponsored by the member for Burnaby—Douglas, which would create a new electronic petitions system. My colleague across the way has a keen interest in the role of Parliament and its members and has examined the experience of other jurisdictions with electronic petitions.
I want to emphasize the government's commitment to a strong Parliament. All members know that in 2006, the government's first act after forming government was to pass the Federal Accountability Act, which changed the way Ottawa does business for the better. Thanks to this unprecedented legislation, government accountability has been strengthened, including accountability to Parliament, and the government has further continued to promote democratic reform and open and transparent government.
Let me now turn to Motion No. 428. The first part of the motion would essentially require the procedure and House affairs committee to recommend changes to the Standing Orders and other conventions governing petitions so as to create and implement an electronic petitions system.
The second part of Motion No. 428 would require the committee to consider, among other things, the possibility of a debate in the House outside sitting hours when a petition has reached a certain threshold of signatures.
The motion goes on to state that the committee would have to table its report within 12 months of the motion being adopted. Under the terms of the motion, the committee would be required to include recommended changes to the Standing Orders and other conventions to implement an electronic petitions system. Basically, to summarize, the motion requires that the committee report lead to the implementation of an electronic petitions system for the House.
For the purposes of this debate, it is worth first examining our current paper-based petition system. Our current petition system is set out in Standing Order 36, which is based on principles of representative democracy and the fundamental role of an individual member of Parliament. As evidenced by the 2,000 petitions presented by members in 2012, the system works quite well.
The Standing Order requires that before petitions can be presented, they must be certified correct by the Clerk of Petitions. House rules specify that at least 25 Canadians must sign a petition, using the proper format, including a statement of the grievance, and that it be addressed to the House, the government, a minister, or a member of the House for a response.
It is a matter of routine practice that members table petitions on behalf of constituents, and it is understood that members may not always agree with the views of a specific petition. Following the presentation of the petition, the government must respond within 45 calendar days.
Our current petitions system functions efficiently. The system is transparent. Canadians are able to tune in and watch our proceedings to see what petitions are being presented, or they can view a list of petitions presented in House of Commons Debates or in Journals of the House.
As we debate Motion No. 428, it is useful to examine the experience of other jurisdictions.
Most jurisdictions have a petitions system similar to our current approach and appear to be satisfied with that approach. However, there are some jurisdictions that have recently implemented electronic petitions systems as part of their legislature or as part of the government's operations.
In 2011 the United Kingdom House of Commons authorized electronic petitions. Petitions with at least 100,000 signatures can have a debate in the House or in Westminster Hall, a parallel chamber to the House. To date, these debates have included national issues such as health care and pension increases as well as special interests, such as eliminating welfare benefits for the convicted 2011 London rioters, heart surgery at a local hospital, and the elimination of the badger cull.
I would contend that the experience of the United Kingdom suggests that while electronic petitions can increase the participation of citizens in the petition process, they can also be used by orchestrated special interests to force their agenda onto the parliamentary stage.
Similarly, the We the People electronic petitions system established by the White House in the United States, whereby petitions with at least 100,000 signatures are publicly recognized, has been used to advance topics such as the Star Wars-inspired Death Star and the deportation of a CNN journalist.
Some commentators in the United States have suggested that electronic petitions systems can undermine representative democracy by recognizing or debating divisive or frivolous issues. I would ask members whether they would want to create an electronic petitions system if that were to be the result.
In addition, at a time of fiscal restraint, the creation and implementation of a new electronic petition system, and potentially the addition of extra sitting hours for the House to debate petitions with a high number of signatures, could be quite costly. Further, the need to put in place a process to verify thousands of online signatures could prove to be quite an involved and onerous process. Do members believe that such an additional cost would be prudent at a time of global economic uncertainty and fiscal restraint?
The member for Burnaby—Douglas has said that the electronic petitions would “empower citizens to communicate their concerns with their elected representatives and to have the opportunity to set the agenda for debate in Ottawa”.
As all members know, every day of the year, whether in our ridings or here in Ottawa, Canadians have many options for contacting their individual members of Parliament or the government. Each of us is regularly back in his or her constituency. We all have staff in our constituency offices and in Ottawa to help constituents with questions and detailed requests, including through electronic means such as email and websites. I ask members whether creating an electronic petition system would really enhance our ability to engage and serve our constituents.
As mentioned at the beginning of my speech, Motion No. 428 presupposes a result for the work of the procedures and House affairs committee. By dictating the outcome, Motion No. 428 undermines the principle that committees are masters of their own affairs. It is one thing for the House to instruct the committee to undertake a study, but this motion goes too far and oversteps the principle that committees are masters of their own proceedings. I would ask members whether they want to support a motion that would diminish the independence of a House committee and the ability of members of committees to decide upon and manage their own affairs.
On the surface, the idea of creating an electronic petition system may have some appeal in terms of using new technologies to serve our constituents. However, the experience of other jurisdictions suggests that many countries have decided not to implement an electronic petition system and that such a system could become a popularity contest and be open to abuse by special interests. In addition, the cost of implementing a new electronic petition system is a concern during a time of budget constraints.
Finally, I take issue with the wording of the motion as it undermines the principle of House committees being masters of their own affairs.
For these reasons, I am not prepared to support the motion. However, I note that the procedure and House affairs committee will be examining our rules and procedures, and if its members were to agree, the committee could decide to review the effectiveness of our current petition system and whether changes are needed.
Mr. Speaker, this is an extremely important debate. This is not an academic debate. This is a debate that really strikes at the heart of issues that Canadians are living from coast to coast to coast, and the issue is transportation safety. We have seen over the last few months an unprecedented number of accidents and deaths, and I would attest that there is a growing level of public concern right across this country about the actions of the Conservative government that have led to a deterioration in transportation safety.
We welcome the new minister here. Hopefully this will be a big change, a turning of the page, from what has been a series of profoundly irresponsible actions. The reality is that the Conservative government has to take transportation safety seriously; it has not, and in fact has done the opposite: it has cut back on the fundamental safety systems that Canadians have relied on in the past to protect them.
There are some small baby steps in Bill C-3 that we will of course support. There are some housekeeping items that are long overdue. However, the reality is that the legislation would do nothing to change the fundamental framework that has been put in place by the government and that has put so many Canadians at risk.
I will be speaking later to some of the other modes of transportation safety that have been sadly eroded. We are all aware of the tragic and profoundly sad circumstances that we have seen over the past few months in rail transport safety. We are aware of the increasing number of pipeline spills across the country because of the irresponsibility of the Conservative government. However, I would like to address just for a moment the whole question of marine safety.
For 30 years British Columbians have protected the coast of British Columbia by putting in place a tanker moratorium on the north coast. That is why there has been a good safety record. It is not because of the actions of the current government or the actions of any other government; it is because provincially and federally British Columbians said very strongly that we did not want to see tankers thrown willy-nilly around the coast of British Columbia. That is why British Columbia's coast has been protected.
Now the government is pushing to eliminate that respected moratorium and is pushing a number of projects that undoubtedly will lead to increased tanker traffic on British Columbia's coast if they go through.
The question then is this: what is the government's credibility on issues of marine safety? I would submit to the House that if we look at the record of the government and what it has done over the past couple of years, we see that it has done more harm to the coast of British Columbia, more potential harm to British Columbia's pristine coast and the tens of thousands of jobs that rely on B.C.'s coast being pristine, than any other government in our history.
Let us look at the record.
Just in the last few months we have seen the closure of the Kitsilano Coast Guard station. The member for New Westminster—Coquitlam has been a strong advocate on this issue. He has risen in the House of Commons to speak repeatedly on this issue, but he is not the only one. New Democratic MPs from British Columbia have risen repeatedly to speak on this issue. I myself have spoken on it. The member for Vancouver East has spoken on it. The member for Burnaby—Douglas, the member for Newton—North Delta, the member for Surrey North, the member for Vancouver Kingsway, the member for Nanaimo—Cowichan, and the member for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca have all spoken on this issue. We have seen NDP MPs from British Columbia repeatedly raise this issue, the member for New Westminster—Coquitlam being the most forthright.
Despite the fact that parliamentarians have raised this issue, despite the fact that the provincial government raised it, despite the fact that municipalities such as the City of Vancouver have raised it repeatedly, the Conservative government said it was going to close off the Coast Guard station and did not care if people were put at risk.
This is profoundly irresponsible. If it were just perhaps that one Coast Guard station, rather than a pattern, then perhaps we could say there was some justification, but there are a lot of expenses by the Conservative government that I profoundly disagree with. They include flying limousines around the world, the tens of billions of dollars that it wants to throw into an untendered fighter jet contract, a billion dollars for a weekend meeting, $16 glasses of orange juice. Speaking as a former financial administrator, I can say that Conservative financial management is an oxymoron. The government has been absolutely appalling when it comes to financial management. It is beyond comprehension.
Even if the Conservatives could justify the closure of the Coast Guard station, let us look at what else they have closed, which has been a repeated slap in the face to British Columbians and all those concerned with the safety of our coasts and the tens of thousands of jobs in fisheries and tourism that come from having a pristine coast. They also closed the Marine Communications and Traffic Services Centre, which helped to facilitate and ensure safe transportation on the coast. They said we do not need that; let us throw it out.
Then the Conservatives decided to close the B.C. office for emergency oil spill responders. Conservatives will say there is a 1-800 number for an oil spill off the coast of British Columbia. It goes to some desk in Ottawa, but British Columbians need an immediate response. We need to feel safe about our coast, not with a 1-800 number going back to Ottawa that no one ever answers. That is the Conservatives' attempt to provide some damage control.
What else did they do? They actually closed a whole system of environmental emergency programs as well. This has been a systematic pattern of shutting down the safety mechanisms that were present on the coast of British Columbia. What they have done is simply to put British Columbia's whole coast at risk.
The then minister of natural resources decided that he would do a press conference in Vancouver to address the concerns raised by British Columbians throughout the province. It would show British Columbians just how good the Conservative government is at marine safety. He did his press conference. He even brought a rescue ship across the Salish Sea from Victoria. What happened? The rescue ship ran aground.
It just proves the point that we cannot trust Conservatives with the safety of the B.C. coast. However, we can trust New Democrats, and that is what British Columbians will do in 2015. That is for sure.
The Conservatives have shut down all of this. They had a debacle of a press conference that proved our point that transportation safety was being undermined. To date, although we have a new minister who we hope will address all the concerns being raised by British Columbians, we have not seen the fundamental problem being addressed.
When we look at the small steps in Bill C-3 that address in a housekeeping way some of the small things that obviously the Conservatives wanted to bring forward as a package to say they are saving the coast, we remain skeptical, although we certainly support the baby-step measures that are contained in it.
However, let us be clear about what the bottom line is for us. We believe that the Coast Guard closures need to be addressed, and that process can start by reopening the Kitsilano Coast Guard station. It would respond to the concerns raised for British Columbia. We would like the Conservatives to reopen the marine traffic communication centre in Vancouver. That would start to address issues of safety concerns along the coast of British Columbia. We would like them to reopen the B.C. office for emergency oil spills. They can keep their 1-800 line, but let us have people who can respond to oil spills in British Columbia. If they do that, it would start to restore some of the confidence that we have completely lost in the Conservative government.
We proposed all of that. Just a few months ago the official opposition, the NDP, sent a letter to the transport minister and said that we support the tiny steps contained in their legislation. We disagreed with the title of the “safe coasts”. They must be kidding. After all the Conservatives have done, they simply are not guaranteeing safe coasts in any way, shape, or form. We said they should start including these elements in the legislation, and then we would actually have legislation that would help to address public confidence.
That is what we have put forward. The Conservatives have steadfastly refused thus far, but we are going to take this issue into committee and will be offering these kinds of positive amendments on behalf of British Columbians.
We certainly hope that B.C. Conservative MPs will step up to the plate and help support British Columbians, that they will step forward and say, “For goodness sake, there is a fundamental problem here. British Columbians have completely lost confidence in the government on marine safety, so we will address that by voting for the NDP amendment”. That is what we are hoping to see. We can support this on second reading to bring it forward, but let us see some action from the government. Let us see some positive action that actually addresses the concerns that British Columbians are raising.
With Bill C-3, there is no doubt that we see the Conservatives spinning around the northern gateway pipeline. The northern gateway pipeline has been shown, in poll after poll, that 80% of British Columbians reject it. They reject it because they are concerned about destroying the moratorium for tankers on the north coast. They are concerned about the lack of tanker safety. They are concerned about what the impact will be with the potential loss of thousands of jobs in the tourism and fisheries sectors. There are thousands of British Columbians who depend on a pristine coast. They are concerned about all that, and they have raised it repeatedly.
A few weeks ago, my wife and I went to see a movie in Coquitlam, which is next to Burnaby—New Westminster. I am looking at the member for New Westminster—Coquitlam because I want to acknowledge that we are spending some money in his riding. Before the film came on, there was a paid advertisement from Enbridge for the northern gateway pipeline. This was a non-partisan movie crowd. We were all there to see the movie. We were not there as New Democrats, Conservatives, Liberals or people from any other political background. We were British Columbians who were out to see a movie, and Enbridge put on the ad. What was the reaction of the crowd? There were round boos. People were throwing popcorn at the screen. That shows the extent to which British Columbians reject the northern gateway pipeline. There will be 104 full-time, on-site positions created, but thousands of jobs are threatened by the northern gateway pipeline. That is why communities along the right of way, and British Columbians generally, have said no.
For the Conservative government to put forward Bill C-3 today, hoping that somehow that will change British Columbians minds about a project that does not provide any economic or environmental advantage, is simply wrong-headed. In fact, it will do the opposite. It threatens our environment and our economy. For the government to think that Bill C-3 will address those concerns is simply wrong.
British Columbians feel profoundly strong about our coast. Many of us gain our living from the coast. We will not accept a Conservative government that tries to ram through a project when it has so many negative environmental and economic repercussions.
For the Conservatives to think they can ram this project through is simply wrong-headed. I have said this publicly outside the House, and I will say it in the House as well. If the Conservative government tries to ram through the northern gateway pipeline over the objections of first nations, the communities and British Columbians, there will not be a single safe seat for the Conservative Party in British Columbia in the 2015 election. I can guarantee that. British Columbians will say no to the Conservative agenda, and they will say yes to having strong New Democrats representing British Columbia in the House of Commons.
With only a few minutes left, I want to touch on the other concerns that have been raised by Canadians across this country in regard to transportation safety. I am the energy and natural resources critic. My work as a former refinery worker is part of what I bring to that job. I have been in situations where, with an oxygen tank, I was cleaning out the oil drums at the Shelburn refinery in Burnaby, British Columbia. The reality is, I have a very healthy respect for the impact of petroleum products. They are very dangerous and they have to be handled carefully. I do not see the same due regard for safety being applied by Conservatives.
We see that in terms of pipeline safety. We have seen a clear deterioration in pipeline safety over the last few years on the Conservatives' watch. We have seen this in the number of pipeline spills, which have increased exponentially, by almost 200% over the last few years. That should bring cause to concern for any government that is concerned about safety measures. We are talking about marine safety, and the government is bringing forward very small baby steps. The concerns about pipeline safety are now front and centre, yet the government is doing nothing to address them.
This is a substance that we have to be very careful with. It kills. It destroys. There has to be a very strong and reinforced investigation and inspection process. We have to make sure, at all times, that we have the best safety equipment possible. That has not been the case with pipelines. It has not been the case with any sort of oil spill response. In fact, an audit that came at the beginning of the summer found that in 83% of the cases, oil spill response equipment is out of date. We see a situation where there is “a number of significant deficiencies in the program's preparedness capability”.
Whether we are talking about marine safety or pipeline safety, very serious concerns have been raised by Canadians. We are all aware of what has transpired over the last few months. There was the profoundly saddening tragedy in Lac-Mégantic. We have just seen the tragedy in Alberta. There have been various communities in the last few months that have been impacted in terms of rail transportation safety. I am not just talking about Gainford and Lac-Mégantic; I am talking about Sexsmith, Brampton, Calgary, Landis, Ottawa, Lloydminster, Gogama, Wanup, Okotoks and Jansen. We are talking about communities that have been impacted just in the last few months by the lack of serious regard for safety in the transportation sector.
These are unprecedented accidents that we have seen, and they are multiplying. We are seeing a government that simply does not have the due regard for safety that is required of any responsible government.
I have asked before, and I will ask the new Minister of Transport, that the Conservatives reverse all of the cuts, the irresponsible actions and the gutting of safety in the transportation sector. Whether we were talking about marine safety, pipeline safety or rail safety, they are all linked.
The official opposition has brought forward very constructive ideas. The NDP has said that there are things we could do now. Our transport critic, the member for Trinity—Spadina, brought forward a whole series of recommendations after the appalling tragedy in Lac-Mégantic. The government has not implemented them. We have brought forward a whole series of recommendations on marine safety. The government has refused to implement them. We have raised concerns about the lack of pipeline safety. The government has refused to act.
We are doing this on behalf of the populations of Canada. We are doing it on behalf of all of the communities that are suffering from the lack of due diligence and responsibility by the Conservative government. We have never seen a government that has been so reckless and irresponsible with our nation's public safety. We have seen an increase in the number of fatalities and incidents in a whole series of sectors.
Canadians want to see a change from the government. They want it to be responsible with the public's safety. If the government chooses to continue its reckless path, not only is it saddening and a tragedy, it also means that in 2015 New Democrats will be stepping forward with a safety agenda that we believe Canadians will support.
We ask the Conservatives to do the right thing. If they do not, we will. That rendezvous is in 2015.
Mr. Speaker, Motion No. 428, sponsored by our colleague, the member for Burnaby—Douglas, requests that the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs be instructed to recommend changes to the standing orders and other conventions governing petitions so as to establish an electronic petition system.
However, the motion only invites this committee to consider different kinds of electronic petition systems and conventions and to report its findings to the House within 12 months. Therefore, I do not understand what my colleague just said. We are not limiting or infringing on the authority of the committee. If we accept the motion, we are only doing the job the House should do, to bring an idea that is accepted in many parties, and my party has suggested this many times, and propose to have a study on the idea.
The Liberal caucus supports the motion and commends the member who brought it forward. We support it because we agree with the principle of electronic petitions and because the hon. member for Burnaby—Douglas had the wisdom not to ask the House to adopt this measure before it was carefully examined in committee out of respect for the role of the committee and the House.
In theory, any well-thought-out measure that uses new technologies to connect Canadians with their MPs is a good thing. For centuries, the rights of a free people have included the right to send petitions to government. Let us modernize that right by taking into account today's technological possibilities. According to the Parliament of Canada's existing rules, Canadians can send petitions to their MPs. If the petition has at least 25 signatures, the MP can present it in the House of Commons. The government is then required to respond within 45 days.
Motion No. 428 adds another more modern way of presenting a petition to the House to this traditional one. The hon. member for Burnaby—Douglas is proposing that the content of any certified electronic petition that has a minimum number of signatures—he is suggesting that it be between 50,000 and 100,000—and is sponsored by at least five MPs be debated in the House of Commons. The debate would not result in a vote as such, but it would still encourage members to delve deeper into the subject or issue raised by the petition.
The underlying principle is good, but the details are still important. The committee should therefore give them serious consideration.
For example, it should consider the number of signatures required. What is the optimal number to avoid frivolous petitions? Why should electronic petitions trigger a take note debate, while traditional petitions generate a legal requirement for a government response? These debates would be time consuming for the House, so it is all the more important not to load its schedule with frivolous petitions.
The motion puts the onus on a minimum of five MPs to be the guardians of the seriousness of the petition. That sounds good to me, but it is assumed that they will refuse to table frivolous petitions. We need to be sure of that because we need to be honest with ourselves. Many MPs table any petitions they receive from their constituents, even if they do not necessarily support the views expressed by the petitions or do not believe the petition is very relevant.
An MP who believes any petition should be tabled is unlikely to be a good judge of what is and is not frivolous. It would also be good to ask that these fine MPs do not come from the same party, although if one day we have a House with only two parties, the government and the opposition, this idea could be dangerous because then the government could veto any petition not good for it.
The committee would also be wise to look at the experience of other parliaments and governments that are already accepting electronic petitions, including the National Assembly of Quebec.
The Quebec national assembly allows for electronic petitions to be submitted to an MNA who forwards them to the national assembly's secretary general who in turn decides if it is in order or not. If it is in order, the secretary general puts the petition online on the assembly's website. The secretary general also decides how long it will remain online to collect signatures, with a minimum of one week and a maximum of three months.
In the United Kingdom, the originator of a petition must register it with a particular department. This acts as a check against frivolous petitions. The petition is then online for up to one year. If it reaches 100,000 electronic signatures, it becomes eligible for debate on the floor of the House of Commons. The backbench business committee is responsible for scheduling any debates on e-petitions. The committee will not allow debate on any petition that deals with a matter before the courts or any topic that has recently been debated in the House.
In the United States, whitehouse.gov recently opened a new petitions site named "We the People", which allows Americans aged 13 years older to create any signed petitions online. There are two thresholds for the petitions to cross. Once a petition reaches 150 signatures within 30 days, it becomes publicly searchable on the website. If the petition reaches 100,000 signatures within 30 days, the White House will generate an official response.
In short, we must carefully determine the terms and conditions of an appropriate e-petitioning system. The underlying principle is good because it gives Canadians a new way to make their opinions known at a time when they are dealing with the most closed and secretive government in our country's history. The government's failure to support this motion only serves as yet another example of that.
The Conservative government has been excessively secretive, opaque and dismissive of the rights to information. Indeed, the government has repeatedly refused to provide Canadians with details of its spending plans, even regarding huge spending items such as the F-35. It refused to give the former parliamentary budget officer the information to which he was entitled under the Parliament of Canada Act.
Scientists and other government experts, who are funded by taxpayers, are no longer allowed to speak freely and publicly about their work, which is important for all Canadians. This censorship has recently been extended to government archivists who are now prevented from speaking at conferences.
Access to information has never been so thwarted. It takes longer and longer for Canadians to receive responses to their ATIP requests when they are not simply denied. More often than not, those responses are heavily censored. Ten years ago, 66% of ATIPs were answered in 30 days. Now it is only 55%. The commissioner, Suzanne Legault, has said that budget cuts in departments seem to be slowing down response times and that systematic and unacceptable delays are eroding Canadians' right to know.
The governing party is forcing committees to sit in camera, out of sight of the public, for important debates. The government is making improper use of omnibus budget bills to alter acts of Parliament that have little to do with the budget and so on.
In conclusion, Motion No. 428 must be examined in committee, not just because it is a worthwhile initiative that seeks to establish a new way for Canadians to communicate with Parliament, but also because we have a government that is far too distant and secretive.
When faced with a government that builds new barriers between itself and the people, we must give the people new tools to break down those barriers.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to start off by saying that I have only 10 minutes. Given the many criticisms we have levied at the Conservatives for their incompetence on fiscal and budgetary matters and their inability to run a modern economy, I do not think 10 minutes will be enough. However, I know that my colleagues in the NDP caucus will be speaking to this as well, and we will be speaking as long as we can, because there are a variety of issues that need to be raised.
I would like to start by putting on the floor a fact the Minister of Finance is well aware of. The fiscal period returns filed with the Department of Finance, which is surely not a hotbed of social democrats, have been saying for 20 years running that the best governments for balancing budgets and paying down debt are NDP governments. The Minister of Finance knows this. He would never stand up and praise the NDP. However, he knows full well that the NDP is best at balancing budgets.
NDP governments are simply better than Conservative governments. I will not even talk about Liberal governments, because they are in last place. The reality is that we run a better health care system, pay more attention to the environment, do more for working families, and most importantly, are actually better at balancing budgets than the Conservatives are. That is why I think in 2015 we will see the first federal NDP federal government in Canadian history.
Talking about balancing budgets is one thing, but let us talk about the economic record of the government. We have had some Conservatives today stand up. They love to say that they have created hundreds of thousands of low-cost jobs for temporary foreign workers. That is the only thing they can point to as far progress and any sort of success for the Conservative government.
We think that is wrong-headed. The economic direction of the country should actually be to look at building high-paying jobs for Canadians. It is a different approach. However, when we look at the Conservatives' record, they have lost half a million well-paying, family-sustaining jobs in the manufacturing sector. Then they deposit a budget, which we are discussing tonight, Bill C-60, which, according to a legitimate, independent, impartial judge, the parliamentary budget officer, would cost Canadians 67,000 jobs.
The Conservatives are laughing at that. They are saying, “So what?” Ordinary working families actually care that the Conservatives have been so inept as to lose 67,000 jobs through their budgetary incompetence.
When we talk about the loss of high-paying, family-sustaining jobs in the manufacturing sector, something the Conservatives do not seem to understand, they reply that they are creating well-paying jobs in the Canadian Senate.
I think it is fair to say that on this side of the House, we do not even think the Senate should continue to exist. Like most Canadians, we believe that the Senate should be abolished and that the $100 million we put into it to bloat the expense claims of Conservative senators could better serve by providing support for working families in this country. That is what an NDP government would do, of course.
On other budgetary priorities of the Conservative government, we have had some very eloquent speeches tonight from the member for Manicouagan and the member for Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, who talked about the crisis we are seeing in northern housing. Yet Conservatives want to put money into the F-35s, even though the initial budgetary proposal of $9 billion bloated to $20 billion then $30 billion and now $40 billion-plus. No one knows on this side of the House how much this will eventually cost Canadians. There is not a single Conservative who is able to give us a precise number.
However, it is not just that. It is the Conservatives' other record.
The Conservatives have inflated the advertising budget in just one ministry by 7,000%. There is a 7,000% increase in advertising for Natural Resources Canada. It is as if they are opening their wallets, which actually belong to the Canadian taxpayers, and throwing money on the floor. It does not seem to matter when they are running ads. As the member for Ottawa Centre said so eloquently, it is for programs that do not even exist. They are just running and throwing money left, right and centre.
The Prime Minister flew at a cost of over $1 million to have his limousine over in India. We have seen Conservative cabinet ministers going from four-star hotels, because that was not good enough for them, into five-star hotels. It is simply unacceptable.
Conservative fiscal management is an oxymoron. What we have is Conservatives simply betraying their voters. This is what I hear most often. It is Conservative voters, people who voted Conservative in the last election, who tell me that they did not vote for this. They did not vote for the corruption, scandals and fiscal mismanagement. They did not vote to lose jobs. They did not vote for a threefold increase in temporary foreign workers when job training programs in Canada are going unfunded. They did not vote for all of that.
A time of reckoning is coming soon. Canadians are very upset at how the government has betrayed the commitments they ran on.
I want to say one more thing about the whole approach on the economy. We think it is just wrong-headed. We see what the Conservative government is doing putting all of its emphasis on exporting raw resources—raw bitumen, raw minerals and raw logs. When the Conservatives send raw materials out of the country, they are actually exporting Canadian jobs. They should not be proud of that. They should be ashamed of exporting Canadian jobs.
What we say is that we need the value-added here. In my riding of Burnaby—New Westminster, after the softwood sellout was signed by the Conservatives, 2,000 full-time family-sustaining jobs were lost. Three plants went down. Canfor, Interfor and Western Forest Products went within weeks of the signature on that softwood sellout. Those jobs can only be re-established if we have a government that is determined to bring value-added manufacturing back to Canada.
Look at the green energy sector. There is a revolution happening worldwide. We are talking about $2 trillion in investments over the next decade and five million jobs worldwide in clean energy and renewable energy sources, but the Conservatives are saying, no. What they are going to do is continue to subsidize the very profitable oil and gas sectors by over $1 billion a year.
On this side of the House, we think that is wrong. On this side of the House, we actually think that we are seeing these countries, as the member for Burnaby—Douglas mentioned, investing in innovation, research and development and green jobs, and that is the future path Canada should be taking.
More and more Canadians believe in that vision as well. We are seeing more and more Canadians looking forward to 2015 when they can get this wrong-headed approach out and actually look with hope and inspiration to future prosperity in this country.
There is one last thing I wanted to mention. I come from a riding where the vast majority of my constituents are new Canadians. They have seen how mean-spirited Conservatives are when it comes to gutting the family reunification program and increasing costs for visitor visas. The families I represent, who want to come for funerals, weddings or the birth of a new child in the family, are stopped by Conservative incompetence in the immigration file. In fact, we have never had a time when it was tougher for families to get together just to visit.
However, we see in Bill C-60 that the Conservatives actually want a blank cheque from new Canadians for visitor visas for their families in their countries of origin when they come from India, China or the Philippines. When they come to Canada, the Conservatives are slapping them in the face and saying that now they are going to pay more. Not only are the Conservatives going to reject their applications; they are going to pay more for visitor visas and for student visas. When their family members want to come and visit them in Canada, they are going to have to pay more. As we know, in most cases, they are rejected.
That shows the height of disrespect for new Canadians in this country. On this side of the House, in the NDP caucus, we believe that new Canadians are first-class Canadians too. They deserve to have their family members come and visit them for these important family occasions and not be attacked by these mean-spirited Conservative taxes they impose for visitor visas, student visas and the like.
We believe that new Canadians should be treated with respect. What a concept.
For that and many other reasons, we are going to be voting against this mean-spirited budget, against the financial incompetence of the government and against the attacks that it is putting against Canadian families.
Before we resume debate, it is my duty, pursuant to Standing Order 38, to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Random—Burin—St. George's, Ethics; and the hon. member for Burnaby—Douglas, Science and Technology.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak on the motion from my hon. colleague for Burnaby—Douglas. I want to thank him for introducing such an important motion.
On this side of the House, we fully understand the importance of having proper research and science in place in order to produce the best public policies for the benefit of all Canadians. Unfortunately, we have a government that does not believe in science. In fact, it is worse than that. We have a government that has launched an attack on science in this country. It has closed or cut funding to some of the best scientific research centres in Canada and has muzzled our scientists. This is absolutely unacceptable. Canadians have the right to know the results of our scientific research that is funded by tax dollars. However, we have seen many federal department crack down on what their scientists are allowed to say in public.
We know DFO's new communication policy: Crack down hard on scientists. All interview requests are now forwarded to the minister's office, and they are routinely denied. This is truly hard to believe.
Within the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, many research centres have been negatively affected by the Conservative government. This department is in constant need of more science dollars for the survival of our many economically important fisheries throughout the country and for the survival of our oceans, lakes and rivers.
However, rather than ensure proper science funding for DFO, the Conservative government has slashed funding for many of its important research stations. These stations include the Institute of Ocean Sciences, the Freshwater Institute, the Kluane Lake Research Station, the Maurice Lamontagne Institute, the Gulf Fisheries Centre, the Bedford Institute of Oceanography, the St. Andrews Biological Station and the Experimental Lakes Area, one of the most important research areas in the country. This is only for DFO. Many more harmful scientific cuts have been made in other federal departments and programs.
The closure I want to focus on, and the one that I believe is perhaps the best example of the government's shameful attack on science, is the Experimental Lakes Area, or the ELA.
The ELA is one of the world's most renowned facilities for freshwater research. It is one of a kind and has produced a lot of critical information and policy over the last 40 years. Last spring, the government announced that it would be ending the operation of the ELA. Later the government stated that it would try to find a new operator by March 31, 2013.
This facility is located in northwestern Ontario. It includes 58 small lakes and is managed through a joint agreement between the Canadian and Ontario governments. It is truly a living natural laboratory for freshwater research, and it is the only place in Canada where whole-lake ecosystem research can take place. In fact, it is the only place in the world where this type of research can take place.
The ELA has been critical in developing evidence-based environmental policy, regulations and legislation, including regulations to control phosphorus in the Great Lakes. ELA research led to Canada becoming the first country to ban phosphorus from laundry detergents. Other research led to legislation to curb acid rain production and demonstrated that reducing mercury emissions from burning fossil fuels will rapidly lower mercury levels in fish. Ongoing research evaluates nitrogen removal from municipal waste water and the effects many household products could have on our freshwater.
Information produced at the ELA is also used by researchers across the country and around the world to investigate how climate change will affect Canada's aquatic resources. Research at the ELA also provides the scientific evidence required to manage commercial and recreational fisheries.
The fact that we can now conduct responsible monitoring in the oil sands is a direct result of invaluable research done at the ELA.
First nations chiefs in Ontario and Manitoba have called upon the Conservative government to reverse its decision to terminate the ELA. Four former regional director generals of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans have spoken out against this closure. Liberal members of Parliament have been actively fighting the closure and are working with the Coalition to Save ELA.
Last October I introduced a motion for the fisheries committee to study the ELA, the research done at the facility, its impacts on public policy and the potential consequences of closing, remediating or transferring the ELA to a third party. I know that my colleague from Etobicoke North did the same in the environment committee.
The ELA costs the federal government $2 million or less to operate per year. In fact, we are hearing that the ELA could keep going for as little as $600,000. However, closing the facility entirely could cost up to $50 million. The government is now saying that the cost of closing the facility could be as low as $8 million, but we well know that it is going to be a lot of millions. Either way, it seems that the priorities of the government are severely misguided. For the cost of shutting down the ELA, the government could keep it open, and Canadians, in fact the entire world, could benefit from its research for years to come, perhaps even decades to come. However, the government would rather close up shop than keep this scientific research alive.
In fact, even though March 31 of this year was the date given for the government to find a new operator, we now know that the destruction of the buildings on the site has already begun. It was also reported that scientists have been told to remove their belongings in preparation for the demolition of the site. There were rumours that the International Institute for Sustainable Development, the IISD, the Winnipeg-based United Nations think tank, was the only group known to be discussing the possible takeover of the facility. The IISD was not aware of the destruction that was taking place at the ELA. This brings into serious doubt that the government is sincere that it will actually transfer the facility to a new operator.
It is certainly my fear, and the fear of all members on this side of the House, that it is not its intention at all. It is my fear that the research produced by the ELA does not go along with the government's agenda, and it has decided to shut it down, no matter what it costs. Canadians will be the ones who bear the cost of the closure of this facility, not only for the millions of dollars it would take to shut the facility down and clean up the site but also for the loss of all the possible research and policy the ELA could have produced for decades into the future.
For a country like ours, where nature is such an iconic symbol, to lose one of our most important natural research facilities is beyond belief. It is a black eye on the country, along with many other policies of the government. It has severely damaged our reputation on the international stage. The government repeatedly says that it is closing the ELA because it no longer fits the core mandate of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. I find this excuse completely unacceptable.
I hope that government members will look at what is, in fact, taking place: the destruction of the scientific community across Canada, the muzzling of scientists, and their making sure that we do not have the best possible scientific advice to put policy in place for this country. Again, I urge government members across the way to take a look at this, support this very important motion and save the scientific work that is so important for fisheries and other aspects across this country.
Order. The hon. member for Burnaby—Douglas.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to inform you that I will be sharing my time with the member for Burnaby—Douglas.
Today I rise once again to speak about the Investment Canada Act and once again I am disappointed that I have to rise and speak to the problems that have still not been addressed.
Why am I so disappointed? Two years ago the House unanimously supported an NDP motion calling to improve the Investment Canada Act to make the net benefit test more transparent, to give communities affected by foreign takeovers the chance to have their voices heard. I know that only too well because many of the comments we have heard today from both sides of the House relate to Vale with the takeover of Inco and Xstrata with the takeover of Falconbridge that happened in my riding. None of those voices was heard.
I am also disappointed because if the government had fulfilled its commitment, we would not be debating this issue again, but instead, the Conservatives ignored the legitimate concerns of Canadians. Last Friday's announcement by the Prime Minister makes it all too clear the Investment Canada Act needs to be fixed. Although I am disappointed that we again have to debate this issue, I am a proud member of this party, the only party that puts the interests of Canadians first, especially on this issue.
I feel like I am quoting a Katy Perry song, Last Friday Night. Every time the Conservatives make an announcement relating to the Investment Canada Act, it happens on Friday night. The song talks about doing shots on table tops. I do not know what the Conservatives are doing, but they are making decisions that are affecting Canadians and it is not doing any of them any justice. Inconsistent messaging is coming from the Conservatives.
Nexen and Progress takeovers are both done using existing rules and the Conservatives have all said these existing rules are broken. In the announcement the Prime Minister admitted that the old rules did not work and that moving forward, takeovers by state-owned enterprises would unlikely be approved. If the old rules do not work, why are we approving the sell-off of assets under them? It has been two years since the motion to rewrite them and Conservatives did nothing. The new rules were written in secret by the PMO and still fail Canadians.
There has been no clarification of the net benefit test, no public consultations with impacted Canadians, no mandatory disclosure of guarantees, nothing to approve reciprocity of Canadian investors abroad, no consideration of the strategic importance of an asset and rules still say that the SOEs can buy Canadian assets in exceptional circumstances. What does exceptional circumstances mean? We need that clarified.
We have a broken ICA review process system and a broken promise to fix it. Instead, on a Friday night Conservatives merely tinkered with the process that everyone agreed was broken. In 2010, the Conservative government unanimously supported our motion calling for clearer net benefit tests and a more transparent investment review process, including mandatory public hearings with affected communities, public disclosure of all conditions attached to approval of a takeover along with the enforceable penalties for non-compliance, clarifying that the goal of the act was to encourage foreign investment that would bring new capital in technology and create jobs rather than simply seeking control of strategic Canadian resources.
Both the Prime Minister and then industry minister in the early 2000s promised two years ago to clarify the meaning of net benefit in the act.
I can speak specifically about why we need some clear guidelines when it comes to the Investment Canada Act. As I mentioned at the start of my speech, in 2006 Inco and Falconbridge were both taken over by Vale and Xstrata. When Inco was taken over by Xstrata, there were vague promises of no job losses. There was no way to hold the company to account after the takeover was completed.
For a year, while a strike raged in my community, we on this side stood in the House asked the government to help us clarify what was in the act and understand why so many jobs were lost in our communities when we had a guarantee that there would be no job losses for the first three years. All the job losses happened within that time frame, but the government did nothing. The government said that it could not provide the information as it was confidential. While I respect that it is confidential, it should not be that way. That is why New Democrats have been calling for changes to the Investment Canada Act to make it more transparent, so communities affected by takeovers have the opportunity to hear what the promises and guarantees will be and so members can discuss it and be prepared.
The other side is asking New Democrats to name one thing we support. Essar Steel in Sault Ste. Marie has done a good job of being a foreign company that is investing in its community. We are talking about what is going on with the Investment Canada Act that is broken and that the government is refusing to fix.
There is also the FIPA, the Canada-China Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement. Once this comes into effect, it will make the Prime Minister's comments on SOEs taking over Canadian assets moot. The FIPA says that once a Chinese company is established in Canada, it must receive national treatment, meaning it is to be treated the same way that the government treats Canadian companies. This means that the CNOOC Nexen deal will be treated as a domestic firm for further acquisitions. Even limiting protections of the Investment Canada Act will now be lost. All of this is moot. If we are allowing the FIPA to move forward, then who is to say that all of this is going to happen? If the government tries to block CNOOC from further acquisitions, it could face lawsuits in the millions of dollars or billions of dollars filed with secret international tribunals so Canadians will never know the real costs.
Not only does FIPA sell out Canadians but it does so without any reciprocal benefits for Canadian companies that want to purchase Chinese assets. Grandfathers in China's opaque and uncatalogued regulatory rules go into this treaty and the Prime Minister's commitment to ensuring access to China for Canadian investors now rings hollow.
It is not just the NDP that was calling for a lot of these changes to a broken act that needs fixing. We have all talked about the Calgary Chamber of Commerce. We all share the NDP's concern that the rules leave Canadians in the dark. Even foreign investors do not understand how the Conservatives are making their decisions.
We were told of the framework only after submission, and we were quite surprised....We wish we knew what the new framework will be. At this point, the whole industry has no clue.
That was said on November 29 by the chief executive of Petronas.
In summation, the system is a mess. Canadians are in the dark. Foreign investors are in the dark. As the system stands, all the power for deciding if a foreign takeover is approved or not lies in the hands of the Prime Minister. That is not how the system should work in a parliamentary democracy. There should be clear rules that everyone can understand, with benchmarks that we can properly judge every potential acquisition. The NDP can be trusted to put such a system in place. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the government.
Mr. Speaker, I want to build on the comments by my colleague for Burnaby—Douglas.
There is an outstanding hypocrisy associated with the bill. The Conservatives have this innocuous apple pie, motherhood kind of a bill that would give leave to some poor family whose child might be kidnapped. However, on the other hand, they have declared war on labour and the left with this unmitigated assault on trade union freedoms in Bill C-377.
The Conservatives have declared war on the Rand formula which gave us labour peace during the entire post war era for the last 50 years. Those guys want to declare war on labour and the left and yet they want us to think that they are all warm and fuzzy, motherhood and apple pie because they will give two weeks leave to somebody whose child is kidnapped.
The hon. member for Burnaby—Douglas will have 15 minutes remaining for his speech when the House resumes debate on the question and, of course, the usual 10 minutes for questions and comments.
It being 5:55 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.
Order. Before I recognize the hon. member for Burnaby—Douglas, I will let him know that we will need to interrupt him at about five minutes to the hour, this being the end of time allocated for government orders this afternoon.
Resuming debate, the hon. member for Burnaby—Douglas.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to stand and speak to the motion. I want to congratulate my friend and colleague from Wascana for putting this motion forward and giving us an opportunity speak to it.
I have to admit that I have been both surprised and pleased with some of the comments that have come forward in the debate thus far. To have my friend from Burnaby—Douglas actually commend the member for Wascana, I was pleased and surprised with that one. I was almost as surprised as was when I listened to the parliamentary secretary from the government side address the House and not hear the words, “$21 billion job-killing carbon tax”. I am sure she is in the woodshed behind the PMO now for not having taken the opportunity to throw that one out there.
The electoral district of Burnaby--Douglas (British Columbia) has a population of 112,119 with 82,291 registered voters and 205 polling divisions.
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