Mps storm out of meeting on energy sharing

Kelly Patterson

May 11, 2007

 

The Ottawa Citizen (A3), The Edmonton Journal (A6) & the Montreal Gazette (A12)

 

Amid heated charges of a coverup, Tory MPs on Thursday abruptly shut down parliamentary hearings on a controversial plan to further integrate Canada and the U.S.

 

The firestorm erupted within minutes of testimony by University of Alberta professor Gordon Laxer that Canadians will be left "to freeze in the dark" if the government forges ahead with plans to integrate energy supplies across North America.

 

He was testifying on behalf of the Alberta-based Parkland Institute about concerns with the Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP), a 2005 accord by the U.S., Canada and Mexico to streamline economic and security rules across the continent.

 

The deal, which calls North American "energy security" a priority, commits Canada to ensuring American energy supplies even though Canada itself -- unlike most industrialized nations -- has no national plan or reserves to protect its own supplies, he argued.

 

At that point, Tory MP Leon Benoit, chair of the Commons Standing Committee on International Trade which was holding the SPP hearings, ordered Laxer to halt his testimony, saying it was not relevant.

 

Opposition MPs called for, and won, a vote to overrule Benoit's ruling.

 

Benoit then threw down his pen, declaring, "This meeting is adjourned," and stormed out, followed by three of the panel's four Conservative members.

 

The remaining members voted to finish the meeting, with the Liberal vice-chair presiding.

 

Benoit's actions are virtually unprecedented, observers say; at press time, parliamentary procedure experts still hadn't figured out whether he had the right to adjourn the meeting unilaterally. Benoit did not respond to calls for comment.

 

It's "reckless and irresponsible" of the government not to discuss protecting Canada's energy supply, says Laxer.

 

Atlantic Canada and Quebec already have to import 90 per cent of their supply -- 45 per cent of it from potentially unstable sources such as Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Algeria, Laxer said.

 

Meanwhile, Canada is exporting 63 per cent of its oil and 56 per cent of its gas production, mostly to the U.S., he says.

 

"It's shocking the extent to which the Conservative party will go to cover up information about the SPP," says NDP MP Peter Julian, who also sits on the committee.

 

Other MPs raised concerns about recently revealed plans under the SPP to raise Canadian limits on pesticide residues to match American rules.

Questions were also raised about whether the effort will open the door to bulk water exports.

 

Representatives from the departments of Industry and International Trade defended the SPP as an effort to protect Canadian jobs in a competitive global market, without sacrificing standards. They denied charges SPP negotiations have been secretive, saying civil-society groups are welcome to offer their input, and referred MPs to the government website.

 

 

[What follows is the official Hansard transcript of the parliamentary session}

 

39th PARLIAMENT, 1st SESSION

Standing Committee on International Trade

 

Thursday, May 10, 2007

The Chair (Mr. Leon Benoit (Vegreville—Wainwright, CPC))

      

The Chair:

    Thanks, Mr. Maloney.

 

    Is there consensus around the table that we do that? Okay, then we will go ahead with that.

 

    We'll go right to the witnesses now so that we get the maximum amount of time possible with them. For this hour, from the Parkland Institute, we have Gordon Laxer, director; from Common Frontiers we have Corina Crawley and John Foster. Each group will have a maximum of eight minutes for a presentation. We'll begin with Mr. Laxer.

 

Dr. Gordon Laxer (Director, Parkland Institute):

    Thank you for inviting me.

 

    Parkland Institute is an Alberta-wide research network at the University of Alberta in Edmonton. We're supported by over 600 individuals and dozens of progressive organizations. Parkland conducts research and education for the public good. My remarks are on energy and climate change implications of the SPP.

 

    I don't understand why Canada is discussing helping to ensure American energy security when Canada has no energy policy and neither plans nor enough pipelines to get oil to eastern Canadians during an international supply crisis. Canada is the most vulnerable member of the International Energy Agency—the IEA—yet recklessly exports a higher and higher share of oil and gas to the U.S. This locks Canada into a higher share under NAFTA's proportionality clause. Instead of guaranteeing the U.S. energy security, how about a Canadian SPP, a secure petroleum plan for Canada?

 

    While rising Canadian oil exports help wean America off Middle Eastern oil, Canada is shirking responsibility to Canadians. Rising Canadian exports are perversely leading to greater Middle Eastern imports to Canada. We import about 40% of our oil—850,000 barrels per day—to meet 90% of Atlantic Canada's and Quebec's needs and 40% of Ontario's. A rising share of those imports to Canada comes from OPEC countries and a declining share comes from the North Sea. So the rising share is from Algeria, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq. How secure is that?

 

    Many eastern Canadians heat their homes with oil. Yet we have no plan to send domestic supplies to them. Why not? In which NAFTA country are the citizens most likely to freeze in the dark?

 

    The National Energy Board's mandate is to promote safety and security in the Canadian public interest. Yet they wrote me on April 12, saying, “Unfortunately, the NEB has not undertaken any studies on security of supply.” This is shocking. I asked the NEB whether Canada is considering setting up a strategic petroleum reserve under its membership in the IEA. The NEB replied that Canada “was specifically exempted from establishing a reserve, on the grounds that Canada is a net exporting country, whereas the other members are net importers”.

 

    The IEA was set up, if you remember, by industrial countries in 1974 to counter OPEC's boycotting power. The 24 members must maintain emergency oil reserves equivalent to 90 days of net imports. Only net exporters are exempt from this. Canada shares this status with three other members. Britain and Denmark have been net exporters, but they have strategic reserves because they're members of the European Union. This leaves Norway and Canada. Norway doesn't need a reserve.

 

The Chair:

    Excuse me, Mr. Laxer. I don't very often interrupt someone making a presentation, but could you connect your presentation with the topic today, which is the study of Canada–U.S. trade and investment issues and the security and prosperity partnership? As long as the connection is made, that's fine.

 

Dr. Gordon Laxer:

    I'm talking about security for Canadians. We're talking about a security partnership. Are Canadians part of security? I'm talking about security for Canadians. Is that not relevant?

 

Mr. Peter Julian:

    A point of order, Mr. Chairman.

 

The Chair:

    Just a minute, Mr. Julian.

 

    You still haven't, in my judgment, made a connection to the topic today, which is the security and prosperity partnership of North America. We're not talking about energy security as such. So if you could make that connection as soon as you can in your presentation, Mr. Laxer, I'd appreciate that.

 

Mr. Peter Julian:

    A point of order, Mr. Chairman.

 

The Chair:

    Yes, Mr. Julian, I heard you. If you'd be a bit patient, please, I'd acknowledge you.

 

Mr. Peter Julian:

    He's making a very direct connection. Please don't interrupt him.

 

The Chair:

    Mr. Julian, wait until I'm finished, please. I was just pointing out, Mr. Julian, that I had recognized that you had a point of order, and I was making a statement. I was just asking you to wait until I completed that statement. Now you may go ahead with your point of order.

 

Mr. Peter Julian:

    Please allow the witness to continue, Mr. Chair.

 

The Chair:

    I don't think that's a point of order, Mr. Julian.

 

Dr. Gordon Laxer:

    I'm talking about security of energy supply for Canadians. If we're talking about security, then I think that's relevant.

 

The Chair:

    Mr. Laxer, if you are here to discuss the energy security of Canadians, then you are off topic of the study.

 

Dr. Gordon Laxer:

    I don't see that.

 

The Chair:

    We are here specifically to talk about the security and prosperity partnership of North America.

 

 Dr. Gordon Laxer:

    Isn't it part of North America?

 

The Chair:

    Mr. Laxer, please wait until I'm finished.

 

Dr. Gordon Laxer:

    I'm sorry.

 

The Chair:

    If you make a connection to that, then I'm delighted to hear your comments, Mr. Laxer, but if you're here to talk about energy security as a general topic, without making that connection, then you're off topic for today. So I would respectfully just ask you to make your presentation on topic.

 

Dr. Gordon Laxer:

   I'm talking about energy security for Canadians, and I think we're part of North America.

 

The Chair:

    I'll let you go ahead, Mr. Laxer, and I'll judge whether I think you make the connection to the topic of today or not.

 

    Go ahead, please.

 

Dr. Gordon Laxer:

    Canada does not have a strategic petroleum reserve. Norway doesn't have one either, but it doesn't need one because it supplies its own citizens sensibly before it exports surpluses.

 

    Western Canada can't supply all of eastern Canadian needs because NAFTA reserves Canadian oil for American security of supply. Canada now exports 63% of our oil and 56% of our natural gas. Those shares are currently locked in place by NAFTA's proportionality clause, which requires us not to reduce recent export proportions. Mexico refused proportionality; it applies only to Canada.

 

    As well, we don't have the east-west pipelines to fully meet eastern needs. Instead, five export pipelines are planned.

 

    Although we have more than enough oil to meet Canadian needs, Canada is the most exposed of all IEA members. Meanwhile, the United States is doubling its petroleum reserve.

 

    Nor does Canada have a natural gas plan. At last summer's G-8 meetings, Canada began negotiations to send Russian gas to Quebec. It's very risky; Russia recently cut gas exports to Ukraine and Byelorussia for political reasons.

 

The Chair:

    Mr. Laxer, I'm going to cut off your presentation. I certainly welcome your answering questions, as long as they're on topic.

 

    You have a point of order, Mr. André? Go ahead.

 

Mr. Guy André [Translation]:

    I have a point of order, Mr. Chairman. Mr. Laxer is talking about oil as a source of energy. One of the priorities of the North American Security and Prosperity Partnership is energy security. He started giving us some explanations about the accessibility of oil reserves. I think energy security is related to the theme of the North American Security and Prosperity Partnership, Mr. Chairman. I think Mr. Laxer is really talking about the subject on our agenda today. If you are not interested in that, Mr. Chairman, you can forget that.

 

[English]

 

The Chair:

    Mr. André, I've considered that. We are not here today to discuss energy security as such. We are here to discuss North American or Canada-U.S. trade and investment issues and the security and prosperity partnership of North America. The witness, even after I've given him an opportunity to do so, has not made the connection between his topic and, specifically, the security and prosperity partnership of North America.

 

[Translation]

 

Mr. Guy André:

    But one of the priorities is energy security, Mr. Chairman.

 

[English]

 

The Chair:

    I have ruled on that, Mr. André.

 

Mr. Peter Julian:

    A point of order.

 

The Chair:

    I will, as I say, go on to the next witnesses and allow them to make their presentation.

 

    Mr. Julian, you have a point of order.

 

Mr. Peter Julian:

    I challenge your decision, Mr. Chair. This is absurd.

   

An hon. member:

    The challenge is absurd?

 

Mr. Peter Julian:

    This is absurd.

 

The Chair:

    Mr. Julian, of course, you are free to do that. I certainly will go ahead with a vote, if you'd like to do that. But I'm somewhat concerned that some members of the committee are putting aside the rules of committee a little too often—just putting them aside and instead trying to make a decision outside the rules of the committee, quite frankly. Of course, the committee is the master of its destiny, and you can do that, Mr. Julian.

 

    I will ask the question—and it's a non-debatable motion—shall the decision of the chair be sustained?

 

    We will go to a vote.

 

Mr. Ron Cannan:

    Can you just clarify the decision of the chair that you won't let the witness speak?

 

The Chair:

    The decision of the chair was that the witness, Mr. Laxer, is off topic. The comments he is making are not relevant to the subject on the agenda under the orders of the day.

 

Mr. Ron Cannan:

    But he's still able to answer questions?

 

The Chair:

    I have also ruled that I will allow him to answer questions, as long as those questions are on topic. That's my ruling, and Mr. Julian has challenged it, so I will—without debate—go to the question. Shall the decision of the chair be sustained?

 

    (Ruling of the chair overturned)

 

The Chair:

    The meeting is adjourned.

 

An hon. member:

    What?

 

An hon. member:

    Who is the vice-chair of the committee?

 

    [Proceedings continue in camera] Gordon Laxer finished his testimony.

 

     At the committee’s official meeting of Tuesday, May 15, 2007, the committee agreed that the testimony provided et the unofficial meeting of Thursday, May 10, 2007, held from 12:18 p.m. to 1:05 p.m. in Room 701, La Promenade Building, attended by certain members of the Standing Committee on International Trade, be appended to the evidence of the official portion of the committee’s meeting held pursuant to Standing Order 108(2), on the consideration of Canada-U-S trade and investment issues and the Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America.

 

[What follows is the pdf of a letter from Leon Benoit to Gordon Laxer 9 months later after a report written by Laxer "Freezing in the Dark" was reported on the first page of Montreal's Le Devoir]