Liberal members of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development today released the Liberal report from the committee’s study of the impact of oil sands development on Canada’s freshwater.
The study was launched over two and a half years ago on a motion from Lac-Saint-Louis Member of Parliament Francis Scarpaleggia, Chair of the National Liberal Water Caucus. The study is part of the larger Liberal focus on developing a national water vision for Canada. Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff has committed the next Liberal government to creating and implementing a national water strategy.
The Liberal report maintains there is ample evidence that oil-sands development is impacting negatively on the Athabasca River watershed, despite the oft-repeated and steadfast view of both industry and governments that any perceived contamination of the river is from natural sources.
Expert testimony before the committee also revealed that the current approach to managing the flow of the Athabasca River is more the product of bureaucratic compromise that of science-based policy-making. This approach to managing industry water-takings from the Athabasca generally fails to consider past trends in river-flow as well as the expected impacts of climate change on water levels in the river.
Finally, the Liberal report concludes that the federal government has devolved and diluted its responsibilities for monitoring and managing oil-sands industry impacts on freshwater. As the Liberal report states: “In the final analysis, the story of the oil sands’ relationship to water is very much a tale of denial by interested parties—private-sector and governmental—of the potential negative consequences the industry might be having on a vital Canadian resource, of parsimony and foot-dragging in funding research into the oil sands industry’s possible watershed impacts, and of long-standing abdication of federal leadership in an area—the protection of fish-bearing waters—that is rightfully Ottawa’s under the Constitution’s division of powers.”
During the course of its study, the committee received testimony from Canada’s most renowned water scientists, including: Dr. David Schindler, Dr. Jim Bruce, Dr. William Donahue, Dr. Mary Griffiths and Dr. Alfonso Rivera. The committee also heard from industry and First Nations representatives, the Deputy Premier of the Northwest Territories, the Honourable Michael Miltenberger, as well as from environmental groups such as the World Wildlife Fund, the Pembina Institute, and Ecojustice. In addition to its hearings in Ottawa, the committee held meetings in Edmonton, Calgary, and Fort Chipewyan as well as conducted a tour of the Fort McMurray oil sands.