BP Oil Spill Fuels Debate in Canada

May 6, 2010 Updated: May 6, 2010

PARLIAMENT HILL, Ottawa—While allegations of illegal lobbying by Rahim Jaffer and accusations over the Afghan detainee controversy were still top priorities during Question Period in the House of Commons this week, opposition parties also challenged the government over what it is doing to ensure an oil spill like the one threatening the coast of Louisiana can never happen in Canada.

NDP leader Jack Layton and others hounded the government over potential changes to the safety standards that they allege could weaken environmental protection, a charge the government says is unfounded.

“Some companies are asking the National Energy Board to postpone its review of safety standards. These companies want more lenient safety requirements. That would be disastrous. Why has the government left the door to this disastrous possibility open?” asked Layton.

John Baird, Minister of Transport, said the government will make no changes that could risk environmental contamination.

“We have strong environmental laws to protect our air, water, and soil. The National Energy Board and this government would only allow any resource extraction projects to go forward if there were strong environmental protections,” he said.

“I want to indicate very directly for the leader of the NDP that this government has no plans and no intention to reduce the environmental standards in this regard.”

Layton said plans to change the jurisdiction of environmental assessments currently being carried out by the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency could weaken environmental protection, a charge Baird denied.

Questions continued with Liberal MP Ujjal Dosanjh accusing the government of planning to raise the moratorium on tanker traffic and drilling off the coast of British Columbia.

“The member for Vancouver South [Dosanjh] should know that the government has no intention of revisiting this issue,” responded Baird.

Layton told reporters on Wednesday that he also had concerns over this issue because of comments from B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell, who Layton says wants to lift the moratorium.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who faced similar questions on Monday, said the situation in the Gulf of Mexico “truly is horrific.”

“It is an environmental catastrophe unlike anything we have seen in quite a long time. The behaviour of the companies in question is completely unacceptable and would be completely unacceptable in this country.”

Layton asked the Prime Minister about a potential BP oil rig in the Beaufort Sea. BP operates the rig that is leaking thousands of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

“BP failed to prevent the worst ecological disaster we have seen since the Exxon Valdez and now it wants to have its way with our Arctic,” he said.

“Will the Prime Minister state clearly here today that there will be no weakening of the environmental standards as requested by BP?”

Harper answered that since coming to office, the government has toughened environmental enforcement in the Arctic.

“We will do no such thing in terms of weakening environmental standards,” he said.

“As we have said before, the National Energy Board is clear. There is no drilling unless the environment is protected and unless workers are protected. That is the bottom line, and this government will not tolerate the kind of situation we see in the Gulf of Mexico.”