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Bill S-5, Tailings ponds

Hon. Mary Jane McCallum: Honourable senators, my question is for the Government Representative in the Senate. Senator Gold, I would like to ask a question about Bill S-5, An Act to amend the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999. My question is specifically with regard to tailings ponds in the Athabasca oil sands region where the dams have reached holding capacity.

The oil sands operators have accumulated very large volumes of tailings water with no proposal for their effective treatment or management. I recently had a meeting with Minister Guilbeault’s staff on this matter, and they were unable to directly answer my question on this issue.

Would you please clarify whether the harmful chemicals in the tailings ponds are considered and listed on the schedule in Bill S-5, and under what part? If these chemicals are not currently being considered under CEPA, what legislation would be most appropriate to address the issue of tailings ponds?

I will also say that I do not believe the answer is the Fisheries Act, as that would not consider the harmful and cumulative health impacts of tailings ponds on the land, the animals and on the people who have had to deal with this issue since 1995, the Athabasca region First Nations. Thank you.

Hon. Marc Gold (Government Representative in the Senate): Thank you for the question and for the faith you have in me to actually be able to answer this better than the minister with whom you have had a meeting, as I understand. I’ll do my best to at least provide some context to the issue.

The government is working collectively with Indigenous peoples, industry, the provinces and stakeholders to ensure that we protect the environment as we consider strict regulations on anything released from the oil sands tailings ponds. I am advised that the government is working to develop strict requirements for treated water to be clean, just as the government has for sectors like mining and the pulp and paper industry. This collaborative work continues, or aims to continue, throughout the regulation process, which is estimated to continue to 2025 and will support a healthy economy and a healthy environment for decades and generations to come.


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