With the cancellation of the Energy East pipeline by its proponent still fresh in the minds of many Canadians, it was natural that an appearance by Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr in the Senate would prompt a lot of questions. It did not disappoint. Senator Larry Smith led off, wondering about the “evaporation” of energy projects in Canada while the Americans continued to ramp up their own projects. Carr disputed that there was an evaporation, and spoke about the approval of three projects that would create 27,000 jobs and that while they recognized the need to reform the regulatory process, they were approving more projects than they were rejecting. On a supplemental, Smith asked what could be done to better advance Canadian energy security through things like pipelines, and Carr disputed a bit with how it was worded, and noted that the government has certain responsibilities, and upon seeing some shaking heads across the aisle, Carr laid out conditions that have changed since the Energy East pipeline was first proposed, including the price of oil and new approved pipelines including Keystone XL.
Senator Plett was up next, laying out the case for apparent government having neglected the Churchill railway and the government stepping in on an attempted sale of the railway to a First Nations consortium, but Carr was having none of Plett’s allegations and laid out the obligations that Omnitrax agreed to that the government was holding them to.
Senator Day was up for the Senate Liberals, asking about Energy East and now its demise affects New Brunswick, and drew particular attention to the National Energy Board’s changed criteria. Carr first of all reminded him that the NEB is independent and quasi-judicial and it wasn’t for the government to dictate terms to them, and what they decided to review were outside of the principles that the government had outlined, which were what Cabinet would have assessed the recommendations on.
Senator McPhedran was up next, asking about recommendations to reforming the NEB, and the role of engaging Indigenous Canadians as part of it. Carr reminded her that there were four distinct areas of inquiry, and said that the government was putting all of their recommendations into a single coherent vision of reform, and that Indigenous involvement was part of a three-pillar strategy that would include the latest Supreme Court of Canada jurisprudence around meaningful consultations and accommodation where appropriate. Carr noted the Indigenous oversight group put into place for the Trans Mountain pipeline, and now those terms of reference were co-developed with those communities.
Senator Bovey returned to the issue of Churchill and railway service there, and Carr noted that they are preparing for the possibility that the line won’t be repaired before winter, so they are working with the province to mitigate the situation with fuel and food subsidies. He also noted that thanks to climate change, the shipping season is longer, and it also affects the road bed under the railroad, and they need to look at the role of Churchill as part of their Arctic strategy.
Senator Neufeld worried that other manufacturing projects by Ford or Bombardier would not go ahead if they had to undergo the same upstream and downstream emission reviews that Energy East had to, but Carr noted that they wouldn’t agree on why Energy East was terminated, but he noted the summit held in Winnipeg a week ago about the future of Canada’s energy mix, with the consensus that the oil and gas sector would still be a part of that mix going forward.
Senator MacDonald also asked about Energy East, and asked a leading question about evaluating the upstream and downstream emissions from oil arriving from Saudi Arabia. Carr disputed with his question, and noted that the government didn’t change the rules — the NEB changed the scope of their review, before asking if they were asking that they wanted the Saudi Arabian standards of review in Canada, before reiterating their objectives.
Senator Massicotte asked about the strategy for environmental reviews, concerned that it would be a series of one-off considerations, but Carr disputed that characterisation, and waxed poetic about the hopes for a national energy strategy and the series of conversations that would lead to it.
Senator Griffin asked about climate change adaptation funding, and Carr noted the conversations with the provinces but would look further at the specific issues she raised.
Senator Christmas returned to Energy East, and how much of it had to do with their engagements with East Coast First Nations, but Carr noted that it wasn’t a question he could answer, but noted the court decisions around Indigenous engagement with other pipelines, such as Northern Gateway and how the government was taking those lessons.
Overall, it was nice to see a bit of a punchier debate than we get in the Commons, where Carr would more clearly dispute the framing of questions and would provide answers of just the right length – long enough to give actual details, but not rambling and veering off into anecdotes like some other ministers do. It does give the sense that Carr is one of the more competent ministers of the government, despite this being his first term as an MP, and that he does seem to enjoy some of this back-and-forth that’s much easier to do in the Senate than in Commons QP.
Sartorially speaking, snaps go out to Senator Michael MacDonald for a tailored navy suit with a white shirt and maroon tie, and to Senator Judith Seidman for a black top with a fitted black leather jacket. Style citations go out to Senator Rose-May Poirier for a grey and hot pink leopard print smock top, and to Senator Don Plett for a dark grey suit with a light grey shirt and a maroon tie with a gold crosshatch pattern.