Of Oil Spills and Black Holes
Update 2 (March 19, 2013): I was recently asked to discuss this issue with the Blacklock’s Reporter Digest, you can read my comments from that interview here.
Update (March 1, 2013): After I posted this blog, issuing a press release as well as facebook and twitter messages in advance of last Thursday’s Natural Resource Committee meeting, the Conservative committee chair and the parliamentary secretary (an MP who acts as the Minister’s representative on the committee), in a surprising move, decided to allow me to present my motion briefly, in public, at the beginning of the meeting. My motion was voted down with all Conservative MPs against, and all Opposition MPs for. After the committee meeting, I approached the parliamentary secretary (David Anderson) who said that, in the future, he would be willing to allow brief public presentations and votes on motions at the beginning of meetings. Did the effort to publicize secret in camera meetings make a difference? I hope so, though we’ll never know for sure. I plan to continue to present motions that I think will be important and useful for the committee to consider.
As the world was reminded during the disastrous BP Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, drilling for oil in deep ocean waters is a risky business. Canadians rightfully expect their governments to take all necessary steps to make such drilling as safe as possible, and to be fully prepared for any accidents.
Canada’s oil and natural gas exploration and drilling off the Atlantic coast are regulated by two Offshore Petroleum Boards, one representing Newfoundland and Labrador and one representing Nova Scotia. Both are joint federal-provincial bodies.
I was alarmed to learn that the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, in his report to Parliament earlier this month, said that the Offshore Petroleum Boards are not adequately prepared to deal with a major oil spill off the Atlantic coast. Specifically, the Commissioner cited poorly coordinated plans, unresolved jurisdictional issues, inadequate testing and insufficient oil spill response tools.
In my capacity as the permanent Liberal Party member of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Natural Resources and the Liberal Critic for Natural Resources, I have put on notice and will soon be tabling a motion to invite officials of the two Offshore Petroleum Boards to appear before the Committee to tell us how they will respond to the Commissioner’s report, and to have the Committee report its findings to the House by June 2013.
Will the Conservative and NDP members of the Natural Resources Committee support my motion? Or will my motion disappear into the black hole of a secret (a.k.a. “in camera”) committee meeting, its consideration never to be part of the public record? The conduct of conducting most committee business meetings (and all committee business meetings of the Natural Resources Committee) in secret to discuss and vote on motions has become the norm under the majority government elected in 2011. In that case Canadians will never know why the committee chose or did not choose to work on a particular topic and who was responsible for that decision. Motions from opposition MPs are usually voted down by the Conservative majority and may never even be publicly tabled. Once the committee goes into a secret “in camera” session, no MPs in attendance are allowed to discuss the proceedings afterwards.
This is why I’ve posted this blog.
I believe that my motion is proper, timely and relevant. I will try to convince Conservative members of the committee why it is in their interests as well as the national interest to support my motion and I fervently hope it will pass. But if my motion is voted down in another secret meeting, I want my constituents to know exactly what I tried to do on this important issue. I can only tell you in advance, not after the fact.
To comment on this blog, please leave your remarks on my facebook posting: https://www.facebook.com/home.php#!/TedHsuMP/posts/137063353137396
On Feb. 14, I gave notice to the clerk of the Committee on Natural Resources for the following motion:
That, pursuant to Standing Order 108(2), given the concerns raised in the 2012 Fall Report of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, the Committee further study the issues raised in Chapter 1; that the respective Chairs and officials of the two Atlantic offshore petroleum boards (Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board and Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board) be invited to appear before the Committee, and that the Committee report its findings to the House by June 2013.