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Motion - Committee to Study the Cumulative Impacts of Resource Extraction and Development

Hon. Mary Jane McCallum, pursuant to notice of February 5, 2020, moved:

That the Standing Senate Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources be authorized to examine and report on the cumulative impacts of resource extraction and development, and their effects on environmental, economic and social considerations, when and if the committee is formed; and

That the committee submit its final report no later than December 31, 2020.

Hon. Mary Jane McCallum: Honourable senators, I rise today to speak to the motion 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 of 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.

Colleagues, 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. This can be seen through talks of WEXIT, as well as the tangible divide and disconnect 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 and 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 good as those points of view are largely shaped from our connections to the regions that we represent and the people that we serve. It is these points of view — those that 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 that 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 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 at how resource extraction and development have impacted rural and northern communities, my interest naturally being those communities and peoples largely in Manitoba.

Through my decades of work as a health care professional within these rural and remote communities, I have always been aware of the impacts of resource extraction and development on these areas and their 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 only 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 that face serious health issues related to land, water and air degradation, and that 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 either 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 in company policy.

Then there are concerns that relate to logistics. When there is an influx of workers into a community, this puts a strain on local resources and infrastructure, which are forced to operate beyond their capacity. This is exacerbated by the shadow population, a subset of the community’s population, people who 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.

For me, however, these concerns are 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 presence of orphan wells, including the soaring future costs Albertans will have to incur in order to reclaim and restore these sites.

Honourable senators, through 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 Park and Wilderness Society in their paper entitled Finding Common Ground, which states on 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 the GHG accounting methodologies which may not fully capture the emission reduction potential of such solutions.

Despite this collective Indigenous perspective, colleagues, I genuinely hope to obtain a balance wherein all concerned groups receive equal consideration through this proposed study. I rely on your voices and input to help us achieve that.

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 for that bill in the Senate represented industry. By contrast, 13% of lobbyists represented environmental groups and only 4% represented the Indigenous perspective. Moreover, this 4% was accomplished by one very determined community, Fox Lake Cree Nation in Manitoba.

The reason behind this discrepancy in representation is fairly straightforward: Industry has a greater capacity, in both infrastructure and funds, to mobilize their voices in terms of efficiently getting their message out to Ottawa. They have every right to do so. Many Indigenous communities don’t have the required capital to travel here with relative ease, but they should be able to have their voices heard equally.

Colleagues, 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 concerns and opinions on this issue, as I expect each of you do as well.

I would note 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 the balance of senators’ opinions, as well as witnesses heard through committee on this study, will allow us to paint a fulsome picture for all Canadians of 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 otherwise be inclined to acknowledge. Through a balanced final report and any recommendations that may flow from it, my ultimate hope would be for a resulting balance, equity and understanding in public policy moving forward.

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

Colleagues, we are now in the rare situation where our Order Paper is relatively barren and our committees, by virtue of dissolution, will be a tabula rasa when they are reconstituted. Rather than have 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 upon 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. If we, who are here to represent our regions and the people within them, will not undertake a balanced and thorough study on this subject matter, 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.

Some Hon. Senators: Hear, hear.

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