Speeches | Speech to the Canadian Common Ground Alliance convention

14 November 2013

I want to thank you very much for inviting me to your convention. Any Senator invited anywhere these days is pathetically grateful. I want you to know that I live in Edmonton.

I am going to start my remarks with a very provocative statement. No, not something about climate change, or pipeline leaks, or Keystone XL or something partisan. I am going to start by saying: That the Senate actually does great work. No, really. It is filled with really smart and accomplished people who take their work very seriously, care deeply about this country and bring, among other things, decades of experience, business acumen and wisdom to their deliberations.

The Senate affects public policy in many ways:

- All legislation, including every budget bill, has to be passed by the Senate. It all goes through three readings and committee just as it does in the House of Commons. We seldom defeat government legislation, but historically, we have frequently amended it and sent it back to the House of Commons where a significant number of those amendments have been accepted.

- Senators sit in their respective national caucuses along with MPs and get to speak as any member does.

- The Senate is less partisan than the House of Commons and can be more collaborative. You see this in action particularly in the work of the committees where there is a great effort made to be sure that reports are based upon consensus.

- Senators take on issues that might not have a real political payoff and which would be less interesting therefore to an elected MP, like one call/call before you dig.

- The Senate does remarkable, often breakthrough, special studies in committee, like the hydro carbon transportation study the Senate Committee on Energy and the Environment released this summer which included a discussion of and recommendation on one call/call before you dig.

In fact, that's why I am here, to talk about the work of Common Ground, call before you dig and how that work converges with the work of the Senate Standing Committee on Energy and the Environment - and how the latter came to know about and report on the former.

The Energy Committee is an excellent committee that is very non-partisan, works hard to get consensus decisions and takes on big issues. During this study, members included two former Premiers of the NWT, a former Minister of Energy in the Campbell BC government, a former in-house counsel to the Irvings, a major Montreal developer, a former board member on Cameco, and me. 

It was 4 years ago that we started a three year study of energy strategy in Canada entitled "Now or Never." We interviewed 250 witnesses and travelled to the West coast, Alberta, Quebec, the East coast, Saskatchewan and Manitoba and Ontario.

It drew two major conclusions:

1. That Canada has one international market for oil and gas, the US, and it may well be self-sufficient in both of those commodities in the not too distance future. So, we need to get our product to other markets; and

2. We have learned from Keystone and Gateway that there is this thing called "social license" that we have to factor into the process of getting the go ahead with energy projects - and it will hinge on the general public's appreciation of not just jobs and economics, but on their faith that these projects and this industry are safe and pay regard to the environment.

And, actually that sentiment is really good for what you are trying to do with the Common Ground Alliance. I'll get to that.

Out of that study came an understanding that people were becoming increasingly concerned about the danger of spills and the safety of hydrocarbon transportation. And it was that that compelled us to do the study that we just finished in August, about a 10 month study. We interviewed over 50 witnesses, visited the West and East coasts, Calgary, Sarnia, Washington State and Alaska.

We learned and concluded all kinds of things.

Most notable was the observation by the CEO of a pipeline company that the controversy over these pipelines really blind-sided the industry that had never been seen to be a big part of the environmental issues and had flown under the radar.

They became a target perhaps because of the concern with offshore spills spilling over as it were to onshore pipeline spills and this in turn being critical to earning social license. But who really knows.

It might also be that people have broader policy environmental concerns but nowhere appropriate to talk about them so they focus only on the project review process which is really not about policy. We need some other venues for policy discussion but that is for another day.

We also came up with a number of very significant recommendations.

In two completely independent places the question of one call came up out of the blue and surprised us. In meetings in Calgary and in Sarnia, industry officials mentioned the problem and the new Ontario legislation. They mentioned the difficulty of even getting that through and the surprising observation that this legislation has not been in place across the country, that call before you dig programs such as they are have not been consistent across the country and there were no penalties for infractions.

I found this to be so interesting and surprising. So, my office followed up with Jim Tweedie, head of the Canadian Common Ground Alliance to see what might be done. Based on that discussion, I raised this matter with the Chair and members of the committee and suggested that we call witnesses on this issue and include something in our report on hydrocarbon safety which we did and released this summer.

Here is what we learned and said:

1. That this problem costs a lot of money to industry;

2. That at least in Ontario, someone about to dig would have to make 13 calls;

3. That it involves danger to the public;

4. That compiling data on location and accidents or incidents is problematic;

5. That given the safety and economic incentives for getting this right, the problem needs to be addressed as quickly as possible;

6. That there is an effort, reflected here in this convention, and in the Common Ground effort generally to do something about the problem. Ontario is a great first step;

7. That one call does not require taxpayer money.

Solving this is not easy, particularly given that if the Ontario approach bears replication, then parallel legislation is required in many jurisdictions.

1. This involves at least 11 jurisdictions, 10 provinces and the feds, and, depending upon the level of territorial independence, maybe some of the territories. 

2. This makes it very difficult to move quickly. It is not that people do not want to legislate; it is because it all takes time and requires capturing the attention of so many jurisdictions to make it a priority. This makes it very difficult to solve the problem of consistency in any way other than one jurisdiction at a time. That is time consuming and cumbersome.

It is compounded as well because municipalities are involved too and many different industries and infrastructure owners, as well as many different interests who dig.

3. The solution lies in leadership. Where from?

Recommendation:

While it is only part of the issue, the federal government could provide leadership to speed the process up:

                a. The NEB certainly has an interest in this.

                b. The federal Minister of Natural Resources, or some other Minister for that matter, Environment for example, could call their counterparts in the provinces together to get their attention and speed the process forward. They could put their weight behind Common Ground in the process.

                c. A full court press could be put on by significant business leaders in each province to get the attention of the political leaders there to do this. CEPA would be very influential in this.

In that regard, I called the Premier's office in Alberta in the late spring and talked to her senior Policy Advisor/ Principal Secretary who seemed to find the idea interesting.

I will finish by referring back to my point about social license. As that idea of "social license" looms large in the energy industry today, and I think Premier Allison Redford gets it, it has implications for the interest that might be generated in doing something about one call/call before you dig. It is important to send messages to the public that everything that can be done to promote safety and prevent spills is being done. People get one call: it is easy to understand, will increase safety and does not require tax-payer money.

I am reminded of the experience of the Forestry Industry. Confronted by overwhelming resistance to their products in Europe in particular, they regrouped and made fundamental changes to their practices and relationship with environmental groups. They are now an industry which views change differently, has created before unimagined products from the trees they formerly used for just wood and pulp, and created "treaties" with environmental groups.

Getting one call going across the country is a good idea, the right idea, and a great way to contribute in a new way to the process of earning social license to build pipeline projects.  Now is a great time to be calling on politicians; hopefully only one call to each energy minister will be necessary to move this along as fast as possible.

Thanks for having me here to talk with you.

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