Skeena-Bulkley MP Nathan Cullen and NDP leader Thomas Mulcair during Mulcair’s northwest visit on Aug. 22.

MP’s energy policy bill crafted for next election

Drawing from northwest experiences, Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP Nathan Cullen says he wants to "raise the bar" on energy policy

A peek at how a national energy policy might be shaped should the NDP ever be elected to power in Ottawa is expected this fall thanks to Skeena-Bulkley Valley NDP MP Nathan Cullen.

He’s planning to introduce a private member’s bill outlining NDP plans to ban supertankers off the north coast, encourage the construction of oil refineries and other value-added projects across Canada, and provide people with a greater say in deciding if large scale energy and resource projects should go ahead.

Private member’s bills historically have little chance of passing but Cullen, the NDP finance critic in the House of Commons, says it’s time to “raise the bar” on energy policy leading up to the next election just over a year from now.

Although now the official opposition, the NDP is in third place behind the governing Conservatives and the Liberals in opinion polls.

Some have criticized the plan, Cullen admits, a plan which he says works mostly through the National Energy Board Act, particularly in the area of encouraging petroleum refineries.

“It really did stir up a lot of controversy,” Cullen said of the reaction. “Some folks seem to have come to the conclusion that under this kind of legislation [Enbridge’s Northern Gateway oil pipeline project] would be allowed, and it wouldn’t.”

He did acknowledge that a pipeline would be needed to transport refined products, if those products were refined in the interior of the country, to either the west coast or east coast for export, but was quick to point to safeguards contained in the proposed bill like the supertanker ban and greater community control over resource projects.

“A raw rip and ship economy runs against basic Canadian values,” Cullen said.

Giving preference to projects with a “value-added component” would help fix this, he said.

“The [private member’s] bill looks at the basic DNA of energy in Canada and lays out some of the rules, strengthens some of the rules for communities,” he said. “It raises the bar and whether it’s someone proposing a pipeline east or west or a refinery at one place or another, the fact remains that we need much stronger legislation in Canada, and that’s what this is.”

Part of the legislation’s aim is to take the northwest experience – First Nations, conservationists, industry all trying to live together and come to an agreement on how to use the land – and use that as a blueprint for other Canadian communities to draw from.

“I want to stand up for the region and I also want to take some of the lessons we’ve learned and apply them,” Cullen said.

“This is all borne out of the very bad experience many people had dealing with Northern Gateway … Virtually unanimous opposition meant almost nothing to the panel because they’re not obligated under law to listen to public opinion, so that we want to change,” he said, of the National Energy Board’s Joint Review Panel which ultimately recommended the federal government approve the pipeline project, subject to 209 conditions.

Cullen believes companies will welcome this legislation because it will solidify some of the ideas around “social licence”, a term many use to describe approval of projects based on broad public approval.

“Government can issue the permits but people give the permission,” Cullen said. “I want to codify that. I want to put that into law so that the public voice is strong and those that lose that public support aren’t able to bulldoze their way through.”

Cullen stressed that not only will his suggested legislation benefit industry, but it will ensure that “other communities don’t have to face the same battle, the same struggle” that those opposed to Northern Gateway in northwest B.C. faced.

The NDP MP is planning on lobbying residents of Conservative-held ridings in hopes of persuading their MPs to agree with him.

“We’re going to take a very intimate approach, I’m going to visit their ridings … to say that there’s essentially two choices – if you agree with what I’m proposing, try to get your MP to agree,” Cullen said. “And if you can’t change their mind, then change the MP.”