Our crude oil output is forecasted to increase by 1.5 million barrels a day by 2035. If Enbridge’s Line 3, TransCanada’s Keystone XL and the government’s own Trans Mountain all go ahead, we might not need additional pipeline capacity. Admittedly, this is a very optimistic scenario. Besides, three quarters of the new capacity would flow toward the United States, which may not need all this heavy oil in the future. It would be imprudent and short-sighted to refuse to even consider future capacity enhancement. Yet this is precisely what Bill C-48, if it becomes law under its current form, will prevent us from doing, which is to plan for the future.
It would preclude any and every pipeline project, whatever the project, the evolution of the Canadian and international energy markets, the evolution of transportation technologies, and the will of the First Nations concerned. The tanker ban would be permanent and, politically, extremely difficult to repeal.
This is why I opposed Bill C-48 in principle at second reading. After closely following the work of the Standing Senate Committee on Transport and Communications, after speaking with biologists and ship pilots, after discussing the issue with many of you, after listening to Senator Harder’s powerful speech last night, I have not changed my mind. However, in my view, simply defeating Bill C-48 is not a solution. It is not a solution because, first, this would run counter to the government’s election commitments. Second, and more importantly, defeating Bill C-48 would ignore the will of the elected chamber of Parliament and the wishes of the majority of British Columbians and coastal First Nations. Third, defeating the bill would pit the Senate against the House of Commons.
Inevitably, if the Senate plays its legitimate constitutional role, these confrontations will happen. However, before initiating such a clash, we must be convinced that the interests of Canadians will be served by a tug-of-war between Parliament’s two houses.
We should also be confident that the Senate, as an institution, will not come out of this confrontation seriously impaired. I am convinced that these conditions are not met in this instance. This is a situation in which one region of Canada is pitted against another and, understandably, emotions run high. In such a case, I believe that the Senate, the house of regions, the chamber of sober second thought has the duty to attempt to find a compromise that will accommodate, as best as possible, the needs of all provinces concerned with an eye on the national interest, which comprises the reduction of tensions between regions.
In my view, the most promising avenue resides in Senator Sinclair’s amendment. That is, the introduction in Bill C-48, of a joint federal-provincial-Indigenous regional impact assessment for the northern coast of British Columbia, pursuant to the new impact assessment act, Bill C-69, to be followed by a comprehensive parliamentary review.
This approach is worthwhile for a number of reasons. During the Transport Committee meetings, as Senator Sinclair just said, several witnesses regretted the lack of scientific evidence supporting the government’s decision to impose a moratorium on tanker traffic to or from ports located along British Columbia’s north coast. The reality is that Canada is suffering from a serious lack of information on this topic. A regional impact assessment would help with that.
A regional impact assessment, as proposed by Bill C-69, is a large-scale environmental assessment. At the end of that process, Canadians would have complete and reliable data on the rich environment of that region of British Columbia, on the best ways to protect that environment and on the risks and benefits of tanker traffic along that coast. The contemporary energy and economic context would be taken into account, as well as the evolution of species and technologies. The regional impact assessment followed by a more thorough parliamentary review of the legislation would provide hope to oil-producing provinces and companies and workers in this sector that the moratorium will be lifted in the future if the necessary conditions are met.
The regional impact assessment would be jointly conducted by the Government of Canada; the governments of British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan; and the First Nations affected, which would give the process more credibility. I am under no illusions here, but this measure could help ease tensions a bit and open a dialogue so that we can work together to find alternative solutions to protect the environment and ensure the survival of the Canadian oil industry. This could involve, for example, implementing what are known internationally as large-scale marine protected areas. One such example is the Great Barrier Reef area in Australia.
I must point out that witnesses who testified at the Standing Committee on Transport and Communications spoke in favour of reviewing the act after a certain period of time. The Shipping Federation of Canada said the following:
We . . . highly [recommend] that the bill provide for a periodic review of the need for the moratorium itself . . . . [This] review mechanism would provide the government with an important tool for ensuring that the moratorium is based on an appropriate assessment of risks in response to evolving circumstances.
The amendment proposed by Senator Sinclair paves the way to a solution that I believe would be acceptable to a majority of Canadians.
Within six months after the implementation of the moratorium, the Minister of the Environment would be required to launch a federal/provincial/Indigenous regional impact assessment pursuant to section 93 of the new impact assessment act, Bill C-69.
The governments of B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan and the representatives of the Coastal First Nations would be invited to participate in the setting up of this regional assessment.
The terms of reference and the composition of the committee charged with conducting the regional assessment would be negotiated by Ottawa with the three provinces and First Nations of the northern coast.
The regional impact assessment would have to be completed before the beginning of the parliamentary review, which would be required to take it into account.
Importantly, the amendment would also enshrine a non-derogation clause within Bill C-48, protecting Indigenous rights as recognized and affirmed in section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982.
Honourable senators, Canada was built on compromise. Often in our history, agreements achieved have left stakeholders on both sides of an issue dissatisfied and frustrated, but with time Canadians have come to realize that accommodation was the only solution and the only way to make our country work.
Compromise is a give and take between two parties confronted by conflict due to their diverging but legitimate interests. By its very nature, no one is entirely satisfied with a compromise, but a compromise ensures that we move forward collectively.
As many of you have said, Bill C-48 has become a national unity issue. We all know what the solutions to national unity issues are: dialogue, open-mindedness and, yes, compromise.
I’m convinced that amending Bill C-48 to include a joint regional impact assessment followed by a comprehensive parliamentary review is exactly the kind of compromise that will enable our country to move forward. These measures will protect British Columbia’s northern coastal environment and enhance our knowledge of the region’s biological diversity and our understanding of the environmental and economic pros and cons of crude oil transportation along the coast while taking into account rapid developments in markets and technology.
Consequently, future decisions about the moratorium will be based on sound scientific evidence, and future opportunities won’t be shut down forever as they would be if we were to adopt Bill C-48 as it currently stands.
Honourable senators, Canada is both an oil producing country and an environmentally mindful nation. This evidently requires give and take from all parties. Finding a sustainable manner of exploiting and trading our natural resources is essential and in the national interest. In its current form, Bill C-48 ignores this by precluding the enhancement of our export capacities to world oil markets. A better balance must be found.
The Senate is in a unique position to propose such a balanced solution. I believe that a regional assessment mechanism conducted jointly by Canada, oil-producing provinces, impacted provinces and Coastal First Nations does the trick. It protects British Columbia’s northern coast. It provides for future opportunities for oil-producing provinces. It will provide decision makers, and all of us, in fact, with a wealth of information on the biology of the coast, the different alternatives to protect it, the environmental and economic pros and cons of tanker crude oil transportation — considering the present and future state of the oil market — modern shipbuilding techniques and the treacherous navigation conditions in the area.
The motion before us attempts to accommodate the needs and demands of all concerned stakeholders. It is not perfect. It will not make everyone happy, but the amendment is proposed in good faith. It offers a reasonable and pragmatic solution where no solution appeared possible. It offers a compromise: a good compromise and a Canadian compromise.