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NEWS: MPs terminate and destroy tar sands and water report

The Canwest News Service reports this morning that, “Federal politicians from the government and opposition benches have mysteriously cancelled an 18-month investigation into oilsands pollution in water and opted to destroy draft copies of their final report, Canwest News Service has learned.”

“The MPs made the decision to terminate their investigation and destroy copies of their report in a meeting behind closed doors on June 17, and they have all declined to provide details on what happened apart from explaining that they failed to reach a consensus.”

“The aborted investigation comes as new questions are being raised about the Harper government’s decision to exempt a primary toxic pollutant found in oilsands tailings ponds from a regulatory agenda. The government is in the process of categorizing industry-produced substances that could either be toxic or harmful, but has excluded naphthenic acid -a toxin from oilsands operations -from the list, and left it off another list of substances that companies are required to track and report.”

On June 16, the Canwest News Service reported that, “Liberal MP Francis Scarpaleggia has accused the Conservative government of blocking the release of an environmental report that highlights the negative impact of the oil sands on Canada’s freshwater supply, even as meetings to discuss the report are supposed to remain closed to the public. Scarpaleggia said the report contains research that suggests the oil sands are contaminating Canada’s freshwater resources, such as the Athabasca River watershed, with toxic substances. It also makes several recommendations to the government on how to improve water protection.”

Scarpaleggia said, “It’s quite obvious that (the Conservatives are) trying to avoid having the committee report on water and oil sands see the light of day. It’s potentially controversial, and it’s something they don’t want to talk about in public. We want to get all this out in the open now and produce a report and table a report, but I think the government strategy is to say: ‘Let’s not let this go forward, because we’re going to have a summer recess soon, and that will scuttle it until the fall, and then who knows? Maybe there’ll be an election in the fall and we won’t have to worry about this. The problem is people will be kept in the dark. It just won’t get on the public’s radar if we don’t issue a report.”

NDP MP Linda Duncan, who also sits on the environment committee, echoed Scarpaleggia’s concerns about timeliness. ‘I’m equally fed up. It’s really critical that this oil sands report get out. It’s my jurisdiction in Alberta, and we need some strong recommendations on federal intervention,’ she said.”

That news report prompted us to issue a Council of Canadians action alert demanding the release of the report (at http://canadians.org/campaignblog/?p=3932), but by the next day MPs had decided to “terminate their investigation and destroy copies of their report.”

What had the committee been studying? As noted in a March 1, 2009 campaign blog:

1. Committee will clarify federal jurisdictional responsibility given water basin spans three provinces and two territories: The National Post reports that, “Scarpaleggia says MPs also need to clarify the federal government’s role as an arbiter in potential disputes among provincial and territorial governments over future water shortages or damages. The water basins span about 20 per cent of Canada’s land mass, spilling across three provinces and two territories: Alberta, British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Northwest Territories and Yukon. The committee aims to ‘put a spotlight’ on federal government responsibility in a jurisdictional jungle that involves some overlap with those governments as well as treaty obligations to First Nations.”

2. Committee will look at federal role in settling interprovincial issues: Scarpaleggia notes, “As climate changes begin to impact on Canada’s water resources and there’s competition for water, there are going to be some interprovincial issues, some cross-border issues within Canada, and I would think the federal government has a responsibility to monitor these issues as a potential arbiter in the future. We want to bring in experts on governance. They’ll tell us what the federal government’s responsibilities would be if there are disagreements among the provinces.”

3. Committee will discuss if tailings ponds leak: Scarpaleggia adds, “There’s a big dispute as to whether the tailing ponds are leaking or not. The industry will say no, they’re not, and the environmentalists say, ‘Well we have evidence that they are.’ So let’s find out what the truth is. They drill around the ponds to see if there’s water seeping through and the industry says the water is not contaminated. But the environmentalists say (they) have evidence that it is. As a legislator, my interest is to find out what the truth is.”

Previous campaign blogs on this committee report are at http://canadians.org/campaignblog/?p=97 and http://canadians.org/campaignblog/?p=475.

The members of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development: James Bezan (Conservative), Bernard Bigras (Bloc Quebecois), David McGuinty (Liberal), Scott Armstrong (Conservative), Christian Ouellet (Bloc Quebecois), Mark Warawa (Conservative), Blaine Calkins (Conservative), Francis Scarpaleggia (Liberal), Jeff Watson (Conservative), Linda Duncan (NDP), Justin Trudeau (Liberal), Stephen Woodworth (Conservative).