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Motion 12 - ENEV Committee Study on the Cumulative Impacts of Resource Extraction and Development

Honourable senators, once again I rise today to speak to Motion No. 12, which constitutes an order of reference for the Standing Senate Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources.

As is indicated in the motion itself, I would like this committee to undertake a study on the cumulative impacts of resource extraction and development, and their effects on environmental, economic and social considerations.

My interest in studying this matter in depth came from this committee’s previous study of the highly contentious Bill C-69, known as the environmental Impact Assessment Act.

Through the months-long study of this bill during the last Parliament, we were able to hear — in a highly limited way — from various stakeholders and community members of the impacts of resource extraction and development. This included both the benefits as well as the negatives. However, as the focus of this committee study was the legislation at hand, the discussion remained highly technical and limited to the scope of that specific bill. As such, it is my hope that the committee would now use the time before us to study and report on the larger issue at play, which is the concept of the impacts resulting from resource extraction and development.

Honourable senators, as a result of Bill C-69, there are many Canadians across the country who feel we have reached a breaking point as a nation. We saw it through talks of Wexit and Saskatchewan wanting to be a nation. This divide and this disconnect is likely still felt between the West and the rest of Canada. With this societal issue boiling over, I feel it is up to us as senators to take an unencumbered, neutral look at this massive issue to try to make sense of it all.

I am aware, as is everyone here, that it is virtually impossible to go into the study of such a contentious subject matter without any personal bias or prior-held individual points of view. On the contrary, I think these are a good thing, as those points of view are largely shaped from our connections to the regions we are from and the people we serve. It is these points of view, those which are reflective of the people of Canada, that are required to give voice and, in turn, understanding through sober second thought to this complex issue which continues to fester as an open sore, wounding the unity of our great country.

I believe in the importance of full transparency, openness and honesty when giving my thoughts on any issue before the Senate, whether in committee or the chamber itself. As such, I will quickly highlight where it is I am coming from on this matter.

From the perspective of my region and the people I serve, this study would allow a closer look to be taken as to how resource extraction and development have impacted rural and northern communities — my interest naturally being those Indigenous communities and peoples throughout Canada and largely in Manitoba.

Through my decades of work as a health care professional within the rural and remote communities in Manitoba, I have always been aware of the impacts that resource extraction and development have had in these areas and the people. Much of the work I have done in my time as a senator to date has touched on this issue as well, either directly or indirectly.

In my role as a senator, I have had the chance to visit many communities that are facing fallout from resource extraction and development in their areas. The communities I have visited and continue to work with are not just located in Manitoba but are found across the country.

Without getting into the nitty-gritty, I have heard from and seen communities from coast to coast who face serious health issues related to land, water and air degradation, who face health concerns from the toxins released during extraction and development that inevitably make their way into our ecosystems.

There are communities that have documented high levels of rare cancers due to their proximity to the oil sands, uranium mines and pulp mills. These include cancers of the blood and lymphatic system, biliary tract cancers and soft tissue cancers. There are sustenance concerns as the surrounding flora and fauna are killed off or forced to relocate.

There are physical safety concerns due to the influx of workers and the creation of man camps. There is an undeniable correlation between the presence of these man camps and an increase in violence, sexual assault, prostitution, sex trafficking, alcohol and drug addiction and blatant racism and sexism of some workers as well as company policies.

Then there are concerns that relate to logistics. As an influx of workers come into a community, they strain the local resources and infrastructure, which are then forced to operate beyond their capacity. This is further exacerbated by the shadow population, a subset of the community’s population who had left in search of work but now return en masse to gain employment through this new opportunity. This means the already inadequate health and social services most Indigenous communities receive plummet to further levels of inequity.

However, for me, these concerns are also balanced in part by the issues I have heard and would like to address from the people of Alberta, who have serious and valid concerns about yo-yoing employment rates and the continuing presence of orphan wells, including the soaring cost Albertans will have to incur to reclaim and restore the remaining sites.

Honourable senators, within this study I see value in providing an understanding of the policy and technical barriers that exist in applying nature-based climate solutions to many of these substantial issues. These barriers are highlighted by the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society in the paper entitled Finding Common Ground, which states at page 6:

These barriers include: a lack of policies that recognize, and hold responsible, the main players responsible for ecosystem emissions; the challenges policymakers encounter in considering nature-based solutions as mitigation options; and shortcomings in GHG accounting methodologies which may not fully capture the emission reduction potential of such solutions.

Honourable senators, despite this Indigenous collective perspective, I genuinely hope to obtain a balance wherein all concerned groups receive equal consideration through this proposed study. This is why I rely on your voices and inputs to help us achieve that through this committee study. For my part, I would like to ensure that the voices of Indigenous peoples, environmental groups and industry are heard equally.

As a reference to why I am stressing this point, I would like to highlight the numbers surrounding lobbyists on the aforementioned environmental Bill C-69. It has been reported that over 80% of lobbyists in the Senate on that bill represented industry. By contrast, 13% of lobbyists represented environmental groups and only 4% represented the Indigenous perspective. Moreover, this 4% was accomplished by just one very determined community, Fox Lake Cree Nation in my home province of Manitoba.

The reason behind this discrepancy in representation is fairly straightforward. Industry simply has a greater capacity in both infrastructure and funds to mobilize their voices in efficiently getting their message out to Ottawa. They have every right to do so. However, many Indigenous communities do not have the capital required to travel here with such relative ease, but they should also have the ability to have their voices heard equally.

Honourable senators, it is with this in mind that I am hopeful that balance, neutrality and mutual respect will rule when considering this order of reference. As I have indicated, I have my concerns and opinions on this issue. I would expect each of you do as well. I would like it noted that I welcome and respect your concerns and insights, whether they echo mine or whether they are reflective of the other side of the coin. It is my hope that this balance — both in the opinion of senators as well as witnesses heard by committee on this study — will allow us to paint a fulsome picture for all Canadians on the current climate surrounding this contentious issue.

Further, my hope is for a final report that will be fully reflective of all points of view. This will allow all Canadians to see their voices in this report as well as the differing opinions that they might not be inclined to acknowledge otherwise. With a balanced final report and any recommendations that flow from it, my final hope would be for a resulting balance, equity and understanding in public policy moving forward. Furthermore, I believe that this study could also help to inform the upcoming review that is due to be taken on Bill C-69.

Honourable senators, the final matter I would like to address is the question of why I am putting this order of reference forward now before the committee itself is reconstituted. I would like to allay any concerns on this by saying my rationale is purely in taking a pragmatic approach. As we have all experienced in our time as senators, when a committee gets rolling with government legislation, it can turn into a runaway train very quickly. One day you get referred a government bill and four months later Parliament is set to adjourn just as that same bill finally clears your committee. This often leaves in its wake the skeletons of private members’ bills and orders of reference that were left behind so that the government legislation could take priority, as it should.

Colleagues, we are in a rare situation right now where our Order Paper is relatively barren and our committees, not reconstituted yet, will be a tabula rasa when they are reconstituted. Rather than have that precious time wasted with cancelled meetings and empty agendas, I believe we should embrace the gift of time and have this order of reference ready and waiting to act on should the committee be re-formed. It is my belief that an issue of such critical importance and of such consequence to our country today is deserving of study and debate by the many minds in this chamber. As we continue to see, problems dealing with natural resources and land remain the top issue between Indigenous and non-Indigenous groups and people, resulting in confrontation and fraught relationships.

If we, who are here to be representative of our regions and the people within them, will not undertake a balanced and thorough study on this matter, then tell me who will.

It is said that if you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together. It is with this thought that I appeal to all senators to choose to go far with sober second thought, and to go together on this issue of national importance. Thank you.

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