Honourable senators, I rise today at report stage to speak to the Seventeenth Report of the Standing Committee on Transport and Communications that deals with Bill C-48, the Oil Tanker Moratorium Act.
I am not a regular member of the committee, but I did participate in some of the hearings on this bill and I was also happy to travel to Edmonton and Regina in late April during the committee’s public hearings. As a Senator for British Columbia, one who actually lives in the northern part of the province and outside of the lower mainland, I have taken a keen interest in this bill.
Let the record show that I do not support the bill. It was a bad and careless idea when the Liberal leader made such a promise during a pre-campaign stop in B.C. in June 2015. Four years later, it is still a bad idea.
In my view, the current government gets a gold star for successfully managing to frustrate and alienate Western Canada. The apple certainly didn’t fall far from the tree.
I commend the Transport Committee, its able chair and its members for giving this bill the attention it rightfully deserved. On the surface, this bill is rather straightforward and simple.
But what this bill really is is polarizing and divisive. It has more or less pitted one part of the country against the other, one province against another and one group of First Nations against another. I find it hypocritical and, quite honestly, insulting how the Prime Minister constantly accuses Conservatives across the country, including our federal leader, of engaging in divisive politics.
The Prime Minister brags about bringing people together. In February, at a Liberal fundraising breakfast at a posh downtown Toronto hotel, he predicted that the next election campaign will be negative and divisive but that they, the almighty Liberals, would have to stay positive. He argued that they:
. . . need to make sure that everything we do as a political party, as a government, is focused on bringing people together, not increasing that division, increasing those wedges.
Let me tell you, as a Western Canadian, I think the Prime Minister has done an outstanding job at dividing us. I remember the National Energy Program that his father introduced in 1980. I also remember the results of the 1984 general election, when the Liberals were shown the door and Brian Mulroney’s Progressive Conservative Party won a landslide majority.
If the current Prime Minister continues to divide us and thinks he can conquer us, he has another thing coming in the fall. I hope Canadians will see Bill C-48 and Bill C-69 for what they really are — a blatant attack on our oil and gas industry — and that they will remember that when they head to the polls in the fall.
The divisiveness the Prime Minister has created in our country was also reflected, in some ways, in the committee’s work. As you all know, the vote not to proceed with Bill C-48 was a nail-biter. We had most ISG Senators and a Liberal Senator vote in favour of an unfair tanker ban on the West Coast of Canada, while all Conservative senators voted against the bill.
Alberta Senator Paula Simons was the deciding and final vote that tipped the scales in our favour. And when I say “our favour,” I am not referring to Conservatives. I am referring to Canadians, because this was the right thing to do for Canada.
I thank Senator Simons for standing up for her province — the province where I was born and raised. As she rightfully pointed out on Twitter the evening of the vote in committee:
. . . I was appointed by this prime minister to be independent and to represent Alberta to the best of my abilities. He may not agree with my vote. But I feel I lived up to the trust that he, and you, placed in me.
I appreciate how difficult it may have been for the senator to cast that final and deciding vote against a bill that sought to fulfill a 2015 Liberal election promise. It goes to show you how complicated and multifaceted being a senator really is.
Indeed, we are all appointed to represent our regions, but we are also Canadian senators and, as such, we must always consider the negative or unintended consequences of all legislation on Canada as a whole.
On Twitter, Senator Simons also said:
I looked at the facts and the evidence. I weighed all the passionate and knowledgeable witness testimony. . . . I voted my conscience, knowing I wouldn’t please my critics, on either end of the debate.
Many senators may feel compelled to vote against this report and, ultimately, vote in favour of the tanker ban based solely on the fact that this was a Liberal campaign promise. I appreciate some may argue that Senate convention highly encourages us not to defeat bills that legislate campaign promises or that we should defer to the will of the other place.
Allow me to remind you what Senator Harder wrote in his compelling discussion paper on the constitutional role of the Senate.
He argued that:
What is beyond dispute is that there exists a principle of democratic deference to the government’s election platform that is — appropriately — a determining factor when senators cast a vote. What is also not in question is that, should the Senate defeat a bill implementing a key electoral pledge, the political consequences for the credibility of the institution would be grave. Canadians expect the policies they voted on, and that the House of Commons passed, to be implemented.
Of course, any Government Leader in the Senate, regardless of political stripes, would argue in favour of these basic tenets. It’s their job to advance the government’s agenda in the Senate.
Senator Harder found an ally in our former colleague, Senator Hugh Segal, who recently wrote in The Globe and Mail that the Senate’s role is:
. . . to review legislation, point out flaws, listen to Canadians’ views, recommend changes, append observations and, if needed, provide amendments for consideration by the House of Commons . . .
The Senate, as the unelected body, is expected to defer.
He goes on to say:
Killing a government bill that was part of an election platform that elected a majority government, and which was passed in the House with multiparty support, is simply not in the Senate’s job description — not as long as Canada is a parliamentary democracy, premised on the British model, as specified in our very Constitution.
I don’t disagree with the overarching principles that both Senator Harder and former Senator Segal defend. However, it would be foolish ever to suggest that the Senate does not have the authority or powers to defeat a government bill. If we, as senators, believe this bill is wrong, then I believe we, as senators, have a responsibility to vote against it. As defenders of our minorities and regional interests, it is incumbent upon us to do so.
As Senator McCoy eloquently reminded us in her The Globe and Mail op-ed last week, the Senate is there to protect regional interests. As she said:
It’s exceedingly rare for the Senate to veto bills that have been passed by the House of Commons, but Bill C-48 is the kind of extraordinary circumstance that requires the Senate to step up and fulfill its role as a regional counterbalance.
In his discussion paper, Senator Harder further addressed the general principle of democratic deference with respect to clearly outlined election platform promises. He used Bill C-45, the cannabis legislation, as an example, arguing that the principles of legalization, taxation and regulation, as defined in the act, should be left intact by the Senate, even though some senators have serious reservations about them. He continued:
However, the Senate nonetheless has an important role to play in the review of Bill C-45 and in bringing forward amendments that would improve upon the current version of the bill. The concerns of senators should inform that work.
But what happens when the government has clearly indicated that they are not open to amendments?
As Senators know, there were many discussions in committee and among senators on all sides about proposing some amendments to make this bill better, if that is even possible. It was made clear when Minister Garneau appeared before the committee on March 20 that he was not willing to entertain a Senate amendment allowing for a northern corridor exception to the moratorium that would allow for a terminal on the most northern part of the coast.
Two months later, on May 14, the minister appeared before the committee again and said, point-blank, in response to a question from Senator Black (Alberta), that he would not entertain any amendment that would allow the carriage of oil products on water from Prince Rupert or Kitimat in a specific corridor to the open Pacific.
As the minister said, allowing a corridor would be like:
. . . having a cafe where you have no smoking but you allow one table in the middle to do that.
While this analogy is cute and makes for a great media sound bite, I reject it wholeheartedly. As a legislator with some 28 years of experience in the provincial and federal levels of government, I know full well — and you all know — that acts of Parliament often have exceptions in their provisions for various reasons. The minister knows that too. Not everything is always black and white.
I don’t care whether or not this was a campaign promise or that the Liberals were elected with a majority on the premise of this commitment, or even if it was passed by the elected house. This is a discriminatory piece legislation and as a senator for B.C., I will not support it.
I think it would be foolish for senators to base their vote on that argument. Even the ruling Liberals have turned a blind eye to many of their campaign promises. Whatever happened to running modest deficits of less than $10 billion and returning to a balanced budget in 2019-20? Certainly lived up to that. What about ending first-past-the-post voting system? Certainly lived up to that. What about ending the practice of using omnibus bills to reduce scrutiny of the legislative measures? And what about modernizing the National Energy Board and ending the practice of having federal ministers interfere in the environmental assessment process? All great promises. Promises made, not kept.
We all know what happened to that last promise. The Liberals are not modernizing the NEB. Instead, they are destroying it completely with Bill C-69 and creating a brand new entity. Of course, as most senators are aware, Bill C-69 did nothing to end the practice of having federal ministers interfere in the environmental assessment process. Thankfully, we tried to fix that with our suite of amendments on this bill in committee.
If the government doesn’t even take its own election promises seriously then why should we bend the knee to the ruling Liberals if we know the bill is misguided?
The committee did some outstanding work in hearing from expert witnesses on both sides of issue, and I think the government would be wise to accept the committee’s recommendation. Based on the testimony I have heard in committee and transcripts I reviewed, an oil tanker moratorium on the West Coast is simply unjustified. Quite honestly, when you think about it, this sends a message to all Canadians that Bill C-69 and its new impact assessment agency is unable to properly assess projects.
The government has so little faith in the new agency that it has taken the arbitrary and discriminatory step of proposing a bill banning oil tankers on the West Coast. Why would you not allow a proposed pipeline or an oil tanker marine terminal a fair shot at undergoing an impact assessment? This seems completely unfair to me.
I want to conclude with one last quote from Senator Harder:
While election promises should — in principle — be passed by the appointed Senate once approved by the House of Commons, one could reasonably maintain that certain rare cases should not be sheltered by such a convention given key features of the Senate’s core mission as a safety valve against potential excesses of majority rule.
Bill C-48 is excessive, it is unwarranted and, quite frankly, a deliberate assault on Western Canada which is why I will vote in favour of the committee’s report and urge all senators to do so. This is one of those rare cases where we need to flex our parliamentary muscle and say, “No.”