Mr. Nathan Cullen (Skeena—Bulkley Valley, NDP)
Mr. Speaker, I think the time ahead of us is somewhat short. This bill is now under a measure to allow it to proceed at a certain pace. For some, it might seem like a bit of a rush, that this is happening at some accelerated pace, but for those of us who make our homes along the north coast and the northwest of British Columbia, this has been a conversation that has gone on for more than a generation. We have been talking specifically about the transit of oil across the northwest and off the north coast to some other ports for almost 50 years. It has been 47 years.
Going back through some of the history would be important to help colleagues and people watching this debate understand how much this has been studied by Parliament, the National Energy Board, people living in the northwest and industry. I am not sure there is another transit route anywhere in North America that has been looked at so often and so often rejected as a good or potential route to pass oil products through because of some of the inherent risks that make the transit of that oil difficult to do securely.
Fifteen years ago, I started my career in federal politics. One of our objectives in running for office and ultimately achieving success at the polls was to put Skeena back on the map, to have the conversation that we were having between and within our communities as part of a national dialogue, issues about the environment and resource exploitation, about indigenous rights and title, and the obligation of the Crown of this place to do a much better job than we have historically done through our colonial past. Fifteen years ago, when I first rose in Parliament, the issue that we talked about was this. We were talking about attempts to protect the north coast, which by anyone's estimation is deserving of our respect and protection.
In the most recent election in 2015, four of the five major federal parties campaigned on the promise to do exactly what we are doing here today. Of the people sitting in this House of Commons, representing over 12 million Canadian voters, 70% campaigned on this promise throughout that election. Making good on that promise is the least we can do for the people in the northwest, who have again been discussing this for more than a generation.
In 1970, a House of Commons committee first studied this question asking: is this a good idea or not; is there a port to the north of Vancouver that would make good sense to transit oil? That review came up negative.
In 1972, the declaration of a voluntary moratorium, an exclusion zone, was put in place. Also, in 1972, one of my predecessors, Frank Howard, the MP for Skeena, as it was known at the time, passed a unanimous motion confirming that exclusion zone. All parties in the House of Commons at that time understood the importance of this. It was multipartisan. It was not even partisan or bipartisan; it had all parties in agreement.
The federal commission was struck in 1978.
The voluntary agreement with the United States came in 1988, which has been reviewed many times since and confirmed each and every time.
In 2009, Stephen Harper decided to ignore this long-held moratorium. He simply called it a cabinet utterance, which it was. It had never been written down into law. Therefore, as the then prime minister, he said he did not need to abide by it and then opened up the conversation for a proposed project from the company known as Enbridge, which hived off to become Enbridge northern gateway, a subsidiary, which is a neat trick an oil and gas company sometimes does to protect itself. It creates a subsidiary to run a pipeline, which indemnifies it against legal action if ever there was an accident. This is the same company that spilled massive amounts of oil and diluted bitumen into the Kalamazoo River, which cost hundreds of millions of dollars. It is unable to clean up the Kalamazoo, by the way, in Michigan in the States. It is a very shallow, slow-moving, warm river. For anyone familiar with the circumstances of our rivers in British Columbia, particularly northern British Columbia, they are not shallow, slow-moving or warm. Every oil cleanup expert in the world, those based in British Columbia and throughout North America, has described a successful cleanup rate for a diluted bitumen spill on the north coast at less than 7% recovery.
Let me repeat that. What would be deemed as a successful, A-plus cleanup operation in the event of a spill from a pipeline or an oil tanker on the north coast in the waters that we know, is 7% recovery and 93% lost into the environment. As we know, diluted bitumen sinks and causes havoc in a place that relies on our rivers and our oceans for our very sustenance.
The great privilege that I have had for this decade and a half representing the people of the northwest is to come to know in some small way the ancient indigenous cultures that have resided there since time immemorial: the Tsimshian, the Haida, the Heiltsuk, the Nuxalk, the Tahltan, the Gitxsan and Wet'suwet'en, all the way through and to the coast.
The privilege that has been mine is learning from that leadership that the responsibilities of leaders are not simply to care for ourselves in the moment in which we exist, but in all of our best efforts to represent people, to speak on their behalf and to leave the place better than we found it.
In Kitimat, British Columbia, which would have been the terminus for the northern gateway pipeline, it was the Haisla leadership in particular, elected and hereditary leadership together, who spoke with such firmness and declaration. They rejected the idea of bringing diluted bitumen to the north coast and sailing it down the Douglas Channel in super tankers, trying to perform three 90-degree turns before getting into the Hecate Strait near Haida Gwaii, the fourth most dangerous body in the world, in an attempt to move oil safely hundreds and thousands of times over the course of the life of a pipeline. There is no reasonable person who can offer the people I represent the assurance that an accident will not happen.
The Exxon Valdez spill of 1989 was just north of us. To this day, we can go on the shorelines where the Exxon Valdez went down and where it spilled. All we have to do is dig half a foot into the gravel banks and the water that fills back in comes with an oil sheen that is detectable as spillage from the Exxon Valdez so many years ago.
Most Canadians approach these questions in a relatively straightforward way: What are the risks versus the benefits, not just to us as a community but to us as a province and a nation? The risks that are entertained in trying to move diluted bitumen and any oil product off the north coast in super tankers that are not designed for our waters through very narrow and treacherous passageways so far outweigh any imagined benefits that it is a no-brainer.
I can remember a letter that was issued by the then natural resources minister. I do not know if colleagues remember. It was directed by the prime minister's office, we found out later. It said that those who are opposed to northern gateway are enemies of the state and foreign-funded radicals. That is what they called us. Not only was that an incredibly offensive and ignorant thing to say about fellow Canadians from the prime minister's office and his minister, but it ended up having the reverse effect in the place I represent.
What the former Harper government had not learned was that sometimes those people who are concerned about the environment and worried about oil spilling into our oceans and into our rivers are not all wearing Birkenstocks. They are not all fully paid members of Greenpeace. In fact, in the place I live, some of the most conservative people I know take that word “conservative” seriously, to mean they want to be able to take their kids fishing and to the out of doors. I need to respect that place in order to have that privilege and for them to have that privilege for their children. The former government accused us of being radicals, of being foreign-funded stooges to some great, grand conspiracy theory, which continues on today, unfortunately, for law-abiding, proper-thinking Canadians who are simply saying they want a voice in this conversation and that the government has to listen to them.
It was so shameful for any government of any political persuasion to stoop to those tactics, and it had the opposite effect. People where I live, those from the right, the left, the middle and outside all of our conventional thinking said, “How dare you” to the former government. In fact, it may have in part contributed to the Conservatives' eventual downfall; that the arrogance and the bullying represented in that attitude toward citizens whom we seek to represent backfired completely and exposed that government to something else.
To former colleagues and current provincial premiers who are waving the national unity flag, one way to not do national unity is by threatening and bullying other Canadians. We do not bring this country together by yelling at each other. We do not represent the best interests of Canada when we talk to another province in a disrespectful and offensive way. Unfortunately, what we are seeing out of some of our provinces is to suggest to British Columbia, the place that I call home, “How dare you stand up for things you believe in? How dare you represent your views politically and socially?” We can see what is coming out of Edmonton these days, and it will not have the effect that I suppose they are hoping for.
To my friends and family in Alberta, whom I have spoken to many times over these long years, and we have been campaigning and talking about this for a long time: We absolutely understand the fear that is exhibited, particularly by those who are involved in the oil industry, because they have had a hard go. Oil went up to extremely high prices, $140 a barrel, money was easily made through hard work and focus, and then, steadily, prices collapsed. The economy of Alberta, in particular, and of Saskatchewan as well, are very reliant on that particular economy. They fell on incredibly hard times, and things got more and more tight and desperate. It felt as if the world was lined up against them. However, no one is controlling oil prices, last I checked, effectively. Not the current government and not past governments. This is a cycle that we have seen many times.
In the face of this, we are also collectively challenged with what we are seeing in our world. The predictions and thoughts we were getting in the 1980s and 1990s about the impacts of climate change were that forest fires would become more intense and broader, that floods and storm events would no longer be single-century events but many times over many years, and that we are seeing the impacts and the weather pattern changes that are directly attributable to dangerous climate change. Albertans know this. We saw the floods in Calgary. We saw the fires in Fort McMurray, and we saw them in my region as well.
I sat down with a forest firefighter just last season, which was another record and devastating year. For those who have ever experienced or been in proximity to an out-of-control forest fire, it is devastating. It is so shaking to our very understanding of home and security when we see the full rage and power of Mother Nature in effect. However, I was sitting across the lunch table from a firefighter who had blackened eyes and was completely covered in soot. He had just got off the line. He has been fighting fires for 30 years. I asked, “How are you doing?” He said, “It's different”. This guy is to the right of Attila the Hun and way out there in terms of his conservative views on the world and so I asked, “How is it different?” He said, “The impacts of climate. I'm watching it”. I said, “You're putting me on.” He replied, “Absolutely not. It's the way the fires are behaving; the way the things are conducting themselves is not the way that we know.”
Now, with the bill before us, many in the oil industry are seeking certainty. It is a common refrain: “We want certainty. We just want to be able to know what the landscape is”. I will offer this to those interested in certainty: We want certainty too.
For millennia, the people of the north coast have relied upon the oceans and rivers for our economy, our basic social fabric and the sustenance that builds the incredible cultures that we now celebrate and enjoy across the globe. The certainty that we require is that these moratoriums that were voluntary, that were utterances from the government, will no longer be uncertain; they will be certain, and that is what the bill would do. However, the bill would also bring certainty to the industry, because last I checked, and someone can correct me, there is no one knocking on the door to try to build a diluted bitumen pipeline to the north coast, because the risks so far outweigh the benefits. It is because the political and social environment of the northwest is so connected to the land, so connected to the oceans and the rivers, that the viability of anyone proposing to build a big old diluted bitumen pipeline and put all of that in supertankers with some faint promise to get it off to overseas markets is not a reality. So let us create that certainty.
I mentioned in a question earlier in the debate that I worked alongside Jim Prentice, who has left us, while he was environment minister for the former government. Jim had come to the north coast, unlike many people who speak with some sort of authority as to how the north coast works.
Jim came many times. He saw the splendour and the grandeur. He worked with us on bringing forward the Great Bear Rainforest initiative. It had started under a previous Liberal government but had never come to completion. I worked with Rona Ambrose and John Baird. It was all these folks who had not exactly hugged a tree every day, but who understood the importance of this part of the world. We funded that initiative, protecting the largest tract of temperate rainforest in the world, and protecting it in such a way that includes the people who live there. We did not draw a line on a map around people, saying that the local communities were not important. We included them in the creation of a global leading conservation effort.
We bought back some, and some companies just simply forgave the permits they had to drill for oil and gas in the Hecate Strait, a preposterous notion for anyone who has ever been across the Hecate Strait. It is incredibly shallow, prone to storms, and has some of the strongest winds in the world. It is a place that so relies on the ocean being intact for the survival of the people there.
It was through a Conservative, and I got in a lot of trouble for it. Some people said, “How dare you work with Conservatives to get something done?” There was a headline in the Toronto Star, claiming I had sold out. People wonder sometimes why we lose faith in politics. Something good was done, and I did not care who did it. I did not care who got the credit for it. I just cared that it got done. It was something people in the region wanted. It was through the Conservative government that we did it.
This is a strange, circular moment for me. When we came into this place, we were fighting to protect the north coast. As this parliamentary session winds down and my colleagues turn their eyes toward the next election, those who are re-offering, I think sometimes life offers us a little bit of a bookend to a story, that where one starts ends up being where one finishes.
For the people I represent, who have been engaged in this battle, indigenous and non-indigenous, right and left, rural and urban, for more than 40 years, to see this bill come to pass as one of the last acts of this Parliament, in which there have been disappointments, failures and mistakes as there always are, they can look to this piece of legislation, know that it is in fact founded in science, know that it is in fact founded in deep and profound consultations that have gone on for decades, and know for a fact that what we are doing as a Parliament here today is good.
What we are doing here as colleagues, as parliamentarians, who are called to serve, and in our best ways represent the people of this great country, is something right. There will be those who think it is wrong. I would invite them to come to the place where I live. I would invite them to see this place and meet the people who rely on this place for their very survival.
Allow me to end with this. I was in Bella Coola in Bella Bella, Heiltsuk and Nuxalk territory just last week. It was in the Heiltsuk territory where the Nathan E. Stewart went down. It is a relatively small, segregated barge. The world-class oil spill response that this country has claimed to have for 20 years was unable to handle a relatively small spill that took place on the clam beds and areas where salmon spawned, vital to the Heiltsuk Nation.
That experience was traumatizing for people there. It was traumatizing because they had been warning the federal government for many years that the clean-up for spills was insufficient, our navigational responses were insufficient, and what they were trying to protect was so precious to them. They could not go anywhere else. This was their home, this was where their ancestors were buried.
In watching the response, the brave response from that community, and knowing the risks posed by a much larger and more devastating spill, the least we can do is listen. Politicians are not always great at that. We like to talk. I have been talking for a bit here.
We have had many failures in this place. Parliament has failed rural people and indigenous people more often than not. Every once in a while, we can do something right and we can do something good. Passing this bill, enshrining what has existed for many decades into law, will be doing something right, and I believe doing our jobs on behalf of all Canadians.
Topic: Government Orders
Subtopic: Oil Tanker Moratorium Act