How can we possibly think we understand sustainability while building pipelines?

Elizabeth May

Madam Speaker, I rise tonight to present my thoughts on Bill C-57. I regret very much that we have time allocation on this bill, and even more so the hour of 11 p.m. that is now approaching. This important legislation deserves to be heard in a normal fashion with full debate.

Let me go back to when this bill originated. The Federal Sustainable Development Act was actually passed in the era of a Conservative government, and was one of those rare pieces of legislation that originated with the opposition. It was brought forward by a former Liberal MP, John Godfrey. It was one of his last contributions as a very diligent and thoughtful member of Parliament. He went on to leave Parliament and go back to his old stomping grounds of education.

Sustainable development and aspects of sustainable development had been in Canadian law before. This bill managed to get through Parliament in 2008, and the successor bill that we have before us tonight does improve some elements of sustainable development as originally put forward with a lot of co-operation in this place back in 2008. I was not yet a member of Parliament in that year, but I followed very closely the development of the Federal Sustainable Development Act because it was really a high-water mark for the minority-government years of former Prime Minister Harper, because opposition parties were willing to work together. The opposition parties had a majority, but very rarely used it. In this case, the Federal Sustainable Development Act was brought in. This act could have been improved and strengthened, but there is very little that I would say is wrong with it. I am disappointed that we will repeal the definition of the precautionary principle, but overall the bill will strengthen the application
of sustainable development principles to more parts of the federal government, and I do like the creation of a sustainable development advisory council. The bill has real potential, but I do not think the government plans to do with it what I hope it will do.

Going back to the early 1960s, for decades the Canadian government benefited from well-researched, strong public policy advice from institutions that we no longer have. We used to have, starting in 1963, the Economic Council of Canada. We had as well the Science Council of Canada. In the early 1970s, we had the creation of the Canadian Environmental Advisory Council. In 1993, all three of those agencies were wound up and repealed. That meant we lost the Economic Council of Canada, the Science Council of Canada, and the Canadian Environmental Advisory Council. They were wound up and repealed because in 1993 the federal government brought in the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy. This was our first substantial sustainable development tool. To quote the late Jim MacNeill, a brilliant Canadian diplomat and former deputy minister who really challenged the ideas of sustainable development, one of the core ideas was that “If we change the way we make decisions, we’ll change the kind of decisions we make.”

The idea of the national round table was that by bringing together people from different perspectives, including trade unions, large corporate enterprises, academics, environmentalists, indigenous people, as well as government ministers and agencies and so on, the resulting give and take and shared learning would create decisions that met the challenge of sustainability, because sustainability is not the environment by itself. Sustainability has at least three legs to the stool. They are the environment, and social and economic concerns, but those are within a very clear mandate to ensure that the decisions we take today do not compromise the ability of future generations to make their own decisions and to meet their own needs. In other words, sustainability requires that we think about intergenerational equity.

Here I have to confess that I was a member and vice-chair for quite a while of the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy. Its work was substantial. I do not want to blow my own horn, but a lot of work was done by a lot of people over many years, and I served for only a relatively brief period.

In 2012, under omnibus budget Bill C-38, the national round table was eliminated. No one at that point said that we had better bring back all those other advisory bodies that we had eliminated in 1993 when we created the national round table. There is no longer the Economic Council, no longer the Science Council, no longer the Canadian Environmental Advisory Council, and there is no national round table.

This is the first time something has been created that could meet that need, namely a sustainable development advisory council. It is pretty thin gruel. It could do a lot. The Treasury Board within the act could establish policies or issue directives and could be adequately funding this new agency, which is quite modestly proposed in the act. That said, I certainly hope that the government will realize that we desperately need sound advice on what is sustainable and what is not.

Speaking of what is not sustainable, it includes today’s announcement that the Government of Canada is going to form a crown corporation that will now be the management entity for a pipeline that the federal government proposes to buy with a closing date in August. I can only hope that something goes wrong with this sale because this is monstrous. We are proposing to spend $4.5 billion to buy the assets of what is called the Trans Mountain pipeline, but owned by Kinder Morgan of Houston, Texas.

The Trans Mountain pipeline was built in 1953 by a Canadian company with the goal of bring crude or synthetic crude to Burnaby, British Columbia, where over time they developed four refineries. The Trans Mountain pipeline was all about bringing Canadian crude from Alberta to Canadian refineries in the Lower Mainland for domestic use.

When Kinder Morgan bought the assets of Trans Mountain, which are now more than 60 years old, in its valuation to the National Energy Board, the company put the value of the Trans Mountain assets at $550 million. Those are the assets that today the Minister of Finance announced he would buy at a price of $4.5 billion. That is astonishing. Kinder Morgan has certainly achieved a very rich return on investment without having invested new infrastructure.

Kinder Morgan wanted to build a new pipeline, but I think it has lost interest in it. That is why it kidnapped its own project and said that if we did not have a solution by May 31, it would walk away. Clearly for political reasons, primarily for the impact in Alberta, the federal government decided that anything was preferable to having Kinder Morgan walk away, so it has done something astonishing. It is planning to spend $4.5 billion to buy the existing assets of the old pipeline and to take on, as yet undescribed by the Minister of Finance, but said by Kinder Morgan to be a $7.4 billion project to build the expansion. The government is taking on a project that has not yet cleared its conditions with the National Energy Board and is still before the courts in 15 different court cases for violation of indigenous rights, and is doing so with a completely scandalously inadequate environmental review before the National Energy Board within which evidence was put forward by Kinder Morgan and at which no interven
ors were allowed to cross-examine.

We now find ourselves asking if the government understands sustainable development, because overarching all of this is the most fundamental and pressing question, what about the climate crisis? How can we possibly claim that Canada understands the pressing imperative of the transition away from fossil fuels, whether in 10, 20, or 30 years? We need to make plans. How can we understand the imperative of avoiding the kind of disaster that deprives not hypothetical future generations but our own children, children alive today that we tuck in at night? How can we possibly think we understand sustainability while building pipelines?

Ed Fast – Member for Abbotsford

Madam Speaker, my colleague quite rightly referred to the fact that the original sustainable development act was actually a collaboration within this very House, but in a previous Parliament. It was a minority government and it produced an act that all members in this House could support, one that reflected the appropriate balance between our social objectives, our environmental objectives, and our economic imperatives. Then that went on to result in a study that took place at the environment committee.

We studied the act as it had been implemented over a number of years. We found a number of shortcomings. We suggested improvements. Some of those improvements were actually incorporated into the bill we have before us, Bill C-57.

However, at the end of the day, the proof is in the pudding. If a government does not want to apply the lens of sustainability, it will not, and quite frankly, I have serious reservations about the ability of the Liberal government to understand what sustainability means.

My colleague referenced that. She asked if the government actually understands sustainability. She referred to the Kinder Morgan sale, the purchase by the government of that pipeline, as a clear indicator that the government does not understand sustainability.

I would ask her if she has any other examples of the government failing to understand the true notion of sustainability.

Elizabeth May

Madam Speaker, certainly there are many. As a matter of fact, every time I hear the minister say that the environment and the economy go hand in hand, increasingly I have that image of Thelma and Louise just at the last frame of the film. The environment and the economy go hand in hand when one chooses to do things for the economy that benefit the environment, but when one chooses to do things that are in conflict, then one is living in a world of trying to hold opposing notions together at the same time, otherwise known as cognitive dissonance.

A specific example is approving two LNG projects that will drive up greenhouse gases in B.C., Petronas LNG and Woodfibre LNG. Another was the approval of Site C, a project that did not receive an environmental assessment clean bill of health, and if they had gone back and looked at that review, they would not have approved it. There have been numerous occasions on which the decision-making went against what I had expected from a government that claims to understand sustainability.

I do applaud the effort to put in place a carbon price, but the government has not removed fossil fuel subsidies, and, as anyone can see, it is spending billions of dollars. At this point it is committed to at least $15 billion on this project. It is doing the opposite of ending fossil fuel subsidies. It is inventing new ones.

Ed Fast

Madam Speaker, the hon. member mentioned intergenerational equity, which is something that now has been incorporated into sustainability. I would ask her to perhaps expand on what that means to her, and how intergenerational equity will benefit future generations of Canadians.

Carol Hughes – Assistant Deputy Speaker

The hon. member for Saanich—Gulf Islands has just a little over a minute to respond.

Elizabeth May

Madam Speaker, the essence of sustainability, in many ways, goes back to the concept that comes to us from the Iroquois Confederacy of making decisions on to the seventh generation when we think about what we are doing, and today we are thinking long term. Our economic theories tend to discount the future, and it is hard for us to think about what it means to future generations because they are not right here in front of us.

At a minimum—and this goes back to the Brundtland commission report, “Our Common Future”—the idea was that the decisions we make today should meet our own needs, while at the same time ensuring that we do not compromise the ability of future generations to meet their needs.

The kinds of things that exemplify sustainability, for instance, are projects that ensure we are replanting as many trees as possible, or ensuring that we do everything we can to suck carbon out of the atmosphere by replanting the mangrove forest of the planet. We have removed about a third of the mangrove forest.

We are doing everything we can to get fossil fuels out of our electricity system. Decarbonizing electricity is a key goal. One of the things we could do, if we are throwing around $4.5 billion, is to use it to build an east-west electricity grid to green up our electricity sector.