A government study on how to create a fair, equitable energy transition has been a “waste of time,” say two MPs on the committee responsible for the report.
Bloc Québécois MP Mario Simard and NDP MP Charlie Angus took issue with the standing committee on natural resources Monday evening after they discovered why several of their parties’ witnesses were not selected to testify.
Angus said he asked to hear from Indigenous Clean Energy, the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, the Office of the Wet'suwet'en, the Just Transition Centre, the Labor Leading on Climate Initiative, the Workers Action Centre and Oil Change International, among others.
“Without having the voices that are key on this, this report is a joke,” Angus told the committee. “I can't sign off on a report at this point.”
The comments came during the second to last meeting on the study after committee members heard from witnesses representing the First Nations Major Projects Coalition, Indian Resource Council Inc., National Coalition of Chiefs and the Métis Settlements General Council. This witness list “heavily favoured pro-oil interests,” Angus told Canada’s National Observer.
The committee aims to table a report on the study before June 17 so the federal government will consider its findings when creating just transition legislation, as the Liberals promised in 2019.
At the outset of the meeting, Angus and Simard voiced concern that key witnesses they requested were not called to testify.
At the end of the meeting, committee chair John Aldag said the panel tried to make decisions about who would testify “proportional to the seats on the committee.” Committee members requested a total of 159 witnesses, he explained, but there were only eight to 12 sessions allocated for the study.
By the time the final session closes today, the Liberals will have had 16 witnesses come before the committee, followed by 11 for the Conservatives, four for the Bloc Québécois and three for the NDP, said Aldag.
Early this week, @CharlieAngusNDP told the natural resources committee he "can't sign off on a report” on creating a fair energy transition because key witnesses weren't heard. Angus and @mariosimardbq declared the study a "waste of time."
“What I've seen from you and this committee is real bad faith,” Angus fired back. “You've never ever, ever told us that you are going to try and limit our input based on an arbitrary decision around seat allocation.”
He says this “major decision” prevents the NDP’s witnesses from being heard and “will certainly favour the government” and the Conservatives.
“If that's how we're going to move forward, then we're going to play a lot more hardball with this committee from a New Democrat perspective,” said Angus. “Things you expect that are going to be easy to get through are not going to get through based on the kind of bad faith that I've witnessed here ...”
Aldag noted that not all witnesses on the list accepted an invitation to participate and not everyone was available. In an effort to hear from everyone on the list, Aldag said witnesses unable to attend the sessions have been invited to submit a 10-page brief.
Throughout the study, votes in the House of Commons have run longer than expected and a meeting with ministers was cancelled, placing additional strain on the already tight and “extremely ambitious” timeline, said Aldag.
Angus requested the presence of Indigenous Climate Action and the Union of B.C. First Nations Chiefs and both were scheduled to testify but couldn’t because of delays.
Grand Chief Stewart Phillip was invited to speak to the committee on a witness panel on May 4, Ellena Neel, communications manager for the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs told Canada’s National Observer in an emailed statement. “There were significant delays starting the meeting due to a vote so (he) was unable to appear on that day,” her statement reads. That same day, representatives from Indigenous Climate Action were supposed to testify, but were also unable to do so because of the vote.
Deciding witnesses based on seat allocation in the House is a waste of the committee’s time, said Angus.
“Whenever I've been on a committee, if we had a lot of witnesses, we sat down and said, ‘What are our priorities?' We weren't given that opportunity,” he said.
Simard stopped short of calling the decision bad faith but said the study does not represent witnesses from Quebec because the committee didn’t hear from them.
Because the scope of the study is so broad and there were issues with witness selection, Simard said it feels like “it's been a bit of a waste of time.”
For future studies, Simard proposed setting clear rules on how the witness list works and discussing which themes and witnesses to prioritize in a subcommittee to make the process more efficient and the study clearer.
“I'm not trying to criticize my Conservative colleagues, but to advance the idea that there could be clean oil is one thing, but to taint the entire study that talks about the just transition with a list of witnesses that held that position … I don't think that that benefits the public and I think that's why we should be talking about it in subcommittees,” said Simard.
Today, Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson and Labour Minister Seamus O’Regan are scheduled to be present for the first hour of the last session, followed by witnesses from the Canadian Critical Minerals and Materials Alliance and the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, among others.
Natasha Bulowski / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada’s National Observer