Oil Tanker Moratorium Bill
1st Session, 42nd Parliament
Volume 150, Issue 261
Tuesday, December 11, 2018
The Honourable George J. Furey, Speaker
Oil Tanker Moratorium Bill
Hon. Dennis Glen Patterson: I rise today to speak to Bill C-48, An Act respecting the regulation of vessels that transport crude oil or persistent oil to or from ports or marine installations located along British Columbia’s north coast. This act, as you know, purports to protect the ecological diversity of northern B.C. by banning tankers with the capacity to carry equal to or greater than 12,500 tonnes or 90,000 barrels of crude and persistent oils.
As the critic for this bill, I have met with stakeholders and listened carefully in this chamber to arguments our honourable colleagues have made so far. I have kept an open mind because, contrary to some beliefs, as a member of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition, I am not anti-environment. In fact, it is quite the opposite. As a senator for Nunavut, I understand the need to protect a diverse and pristine ecosystem that Indigenous peoples rely on for subsistence and commercial fishing. But the approach in the North has been to balance the traditional needs of the people with the economic opportunities provided by the land and resources.
In addition to supporting a balanced approach to economic development and environmental protection, I support the creation of strong policies based on science and facts. The concerns I have with this bill are concerns I’ve also heard reflected in the speeches of other non-Conservative senators in this chamber.
Senator Pratte, for instance, asked:
. . . is a prohibition of tanker activities the best way to achieve that protection? Does it reflect a balance — the balance that the current government is seeking — between environmental protection and economic development?
Senator McCoy later raised the issue of Canada’s constitutional duty to ensure all Canadians have equal access to economic opportunities that would reduce the disparities between communities. She spoke of Canada “. . . as a role model for pluralistic societies that honour the aspirations of many different interests in our society —”.
Colleagues, this is not a partisan issue. This is a good governance issue. I’ve always believed policies should be fair, consistent and balanced based on the expert advice heard at committee and through stakeholder engagement.
Over the past two weeks, I have heard competing advice from First Nations leaders. Last week, I heard compelling testimony from the Coastal First Nations group, whose concerns were eloquently raised by Senator Harder. I met with them, and thanks to Senator Neufeld, I also met with the Nisga’a and other coastal nation leaders last week.
The Nisga’a were compelling. The senior representatives of the first modern-day treaty for Canada, signed in 2000, had this to say: The treaty includes detailed environmental assessment provisions for the entire Nass Valley area. The Nisga’a will never support a project which will jeopardize our good. We need to have a meaningful say. The government has proceeded without any accommodation with the Nisga’a. The modern treaty opened the door to the development of our natural resources, they told us, yet Bill C-48 was introduced without any meaningful dialogue and despite pleas that Bill C-48 should not cover the Nisga’a treaty area.
A 2015 cabinet directive, which set out the process for federal engagement, clearly fell far short of what was expected, they said. Bill C-48 is not based on science. It’s something else, they told us. It is an arbitrary choice of coastline. We have successfully negotiated pipeline rights-of-way over our lands. We have undertaken exploration of whether an export industry on our lands is economically feasible, capitalizing on our proximity to Asia. The economic development door will be slammed shut for North coastal nations.
Today, a group of chiefs representing 200 First Nations and several Indigenous-led professional organizations, including the Indian Resource Council and the Aboriginal Skilled Workers Association, delivered a passionate plea to either stop or amend the bill. We heard of their initiative, the Eagle Spirit pipeline, which hopes to bring economic prosperity and stability to First Nations in B.C. and Alberta, all along the planned route.
I would like to thank Senator Neufeld for organizing this briefing today. It was unfortunate that so few senators were able to attend this morning.
Honourable senators, we have a duty to hear all points of view on this controversial issue. We have a duty to take a balanced approach to issues of environment and the economy.
Calvin Helin, president of Eagle Spirit, described their initiative as follows:
We spent six years designing the highest environmental model in the world. We have a solution where we can take the upgraded bitumen right out of the ground. It can be done in a way that, on 200 million barrels per year, would reduce CO2 emissions by 100 megatons, one seventh of the current standard in Canada.
The process will leave all the heavy metals and most of the CO2 in the ground and minimize the use of water by recycling and recirculation.
We have all of the solutions. If this bill is passed the way it is, this government, which purports to be a reconciliation government, would be forcing the poorest people in the nation to fight this government to overturn this legislation.
Some of the additional comments I heard which struck me include:
We’ve got to get work for our people. The fishing and forestry industry are dead. We’ve lost our industries. This is a new industry. This is a way to defeat poverty on our reserves. We don’t want to keep begging and borrowing. Why run an industry which is paying for a good part of our social programs in Canada out of the country?
Chief Martin Louie of Nadleh Whut’en added, “We had to ask, ’what can this land do for our children?’ . . . If you look at your children and look at our children, we had no choice. . . This will bring more money for proper housing, money for better roads and better schools. We’re here today to do something for our people.”
We also heard more strong opinions that consultation was sorely lacking on this bill, which has caused so much polarization and discord among coastal Aboriginal peoples. Spokesperson after spokesperson decried the lack of consultation:
If this bill passes, the colonial government will say what’s best. An announcement by a federal minister is not consultation. This does not even amount to note taking. The high standards required by the courts have not been met.
Currently, there is a civil claim in the Supreme Court of B.C. filed by Lax Kw’alaams, represented by their mayor John Helin, on behalf of all nine tribes of Lax Kw’alaams, against the Attorney General of Canada, which claims Lax Kw’alaams was not appropriately consulted and that Canada, through this bill, is infringing upon the nation’s ability to control the use of their traditional lands. The claim is currently being held in abeyance pending the passage of this bill.
After hearing these two markedly disparate views, I wonder whose advice I should heed. The delegation from Coastal First Nations told us they represented the voices of 10,000 First Nations members.
Today, my attention was brought to the fact that there are competing claims surrounding who can speak with authority on behalf of the First Nations along B.C.’s coast. In fact, this matter was considered by the courts once before in the case of the Petronas LNG project. A hereditary leader claimed to speak for the majority, but, according to the decision by Justice Barnes of the Federal Court here in Ottawa, “[The hereditary leader of Lax Kw’alaams] not only failed to produce evidence of community support, but what evidence there is suggests that he is opposed by a substantial number of Gitwilgyoots members. He has also declined to reach out to members of the tribe to ascertain their collective views on the basis that the task would be too difficult.”
How unfortunate it is that this bill has divided Coastal First Nations who have coexisted for millennia. The question remains, who represents the voice of the majority? Who, of the two delegations, is empowered by their people to represent their interests? The best way to answer these complex questions is for the committee considering this bill to travel to the West Coast and hear from those directly impacted. I encourage the committee to do so.
Last week, I also heard from the Coastal First Nations that, in addition to their support for this moratorium, there is a strong desire to focus on fishing and tourism industries instead of opening up the opportunity for oil and gas transportation through the area.
However, honourable senators, these industries pose the same dangers to the environment as oil and gas. Perhaps even more of one due to the difference in safety requirements between tankers and fishing vessels or ferries.
Following the Exxon Valdez disaster of 1989, industry and governments worldwide embarked on the most far-reaching tanker safety initiatives in history. The United States passed the Oil Pollution Act, 1990, which mandated double-hulled construction for new tankers and introduced a phase-out schedule for single-hulled tankers. In 1993, the International Maritime Organization followed suit with its own mandate for the transition to double-hulled tankers.
Double-hull construction is a key innovation that is proven to prevent oil spills even when tankers are involved in major collisions. The IMO estimates that if double-hulled tankers had always been used, approximately 85 per cent of historical spills would have been prevented.
In 1995, Canada integrated the American and international requirements into the Canadian Oil Pollution Prevention Regulations. These regulations required all single-hulled tankers to be phased out by 2026. However, after the wreck of the oil tanker Erika off the coast of France in 1999, the deadline for phasing out single-hulled tankers was brought forward by more than 10 years, to 2015.
Today, every single oil tanker that transits Canadian waters must be double-hulled, making Canada one of 150 countries to institute this requirement. Since the introduction of double-hulled tanker requirements and other advances in tanker safety technology, the volume of tanker accidents worldwide has dropped from 56 per cent of tanker traffic to 1 per cent, according to the Resource Works Society’s report entitled, “Citizen’s Guide to Tanker Safety and Spill Response on British Columbia’s South Coast.”
As a member of the Standing Senate Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources, I was also privileged to travel with committee members to Valdez, Alaska. In our report, Moving Energy Safely: A Study of the Safe Transport of Hydrocarbons by Pipelines, Tankers and Railcars in Canada, we note the impressive spill response capabilities that have evolved since the last major disaster in that region.
In July 2013, committee members visited Valdez and met the U.S. Coast Guard, first responders and the tanker operator in the region. Committee members were most impressed by the extensive spill prevention, preparedness and response programs in the region. The region is supported by the Ship Escort/Response Vessel System, SERVS, which was created after the Exxon Valdez accident to prevent oil spills and provide oil spill response and preparedness capabilities. SERVS maintains a readiness to respond to a nearly 41,000-ton oil spill within 72 hours.
My goodness, we were even told that every ship’s captain is tested for alcohol and drugs before a vessel sails. It’s a most impressive regime.
Exxon Valdez is an old story. It would never happen today. I would suggest it’s irresponsible to raise the spectre of Exxon Valdez in 2018. What is relevant to this debate about tanker safety in Canadian waters is that no comparable infrastructure or spill response capabilities exist in B.C.’s north coast. In fact, it was a recommendation of our Standing Senate Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources, in our report on the safe transportation of oil and gas, to increase the spill preparedness and response capacity to meet the unique needs of each of Canada’s regions.
Why have we not done that? Sure, the north coast is a pristine environment. Why has the much-touted Oceans Protection Plan left out the north B.C. coast? This is something I think everyone, including all First Nations, can agree: Canada should be investing to provide industry-funded oil spill response capabilities on all our coasts. That is what we need, not a bill which will continue to allow close to 300 U.S. tanker vessels to pass just outside the so-called exclusion area. Not a bill which will allow all kinds of smaller vessels without double hulls, not requiring pilots, with significant fossil fuel cargoes to continue to sail in these waters.
Fishing vessels and cruise ships do not have the same double-hull requirements that tankers do. According to the Senate report:
Tankers are not permitted to move through Canadian harbours or designated waterways without a professional pilot (in some cases two pilots are required) who have extensive knowledge of the local navigation route, including currents, subsurface features and marine infrastructure. Local pilots board tankers to guide them to their destinations safely.
These are not the same pilotage requirements set out for fishing vessels, tug boats and community resupply ships.
Additionally, according to Transport Canada’s Port State Control Annual Report 2011, there were 1,033 vessel inspections; 35 per cent or 358 of which were tankers. Among the total of 34 vessels detained, only two were tankers.
Some honourable senators may ask, is it fair to compare the potential damage of a tug boat to an oil tanker? I would draw the attention of my colleagues to a recent spill off B.C.’s northern coast that was discussed during my meetings with Coastal First Nations. There were 110,000 litres of diesel fuel spilled by an American barge in October 2016. This spill has reportedly led to the destruction of the clam fishery in Heiltsuk Nation and led to an average loss of $200,000 per year for the last three years. Bill C-48 will not prevent accidents like this from happening in future.
A tanker ban is not the answer to the environmental protection of the region. What in fact would be a better use of resources would be to spend some of the $1.5 billion Oceans Protection Plan funding announced on November 7, 2016, on increasing the spill preparedness off B.C.’s northern coast.
Increased spill preparedness, colleagues, should also be driven by the fact that today, 8.6 billion gallons of oil flow from the Port of Valdez to the lower 48; 245 tankers passed off the coast of B.C. in 2017, and 287 tankers are expected to have passed by in 2018, just outside the current voluntary exclusion zone. Whether or not we approve this ban, the reality is that we have a lack of spill response and preparedness capabilities on the north coast. This is a big problem. This is what we need to address.
Speaking of the Americans, the Asian market is very hungry for oil. The Energy Committee has heard that the world demand for oil will continue to grow for many decades ahead, whether we like it or not — that the Eagle Spirit proponents have signed a memorandum of understanding out of desperation with the town of Hyder, Alaska, to ship Canadian oil under a U.S. flag from that port. This will be a $1 billion port creating 500 to 750 high-paying jobs if it goes ahead.
We should be keeping those jobs in Canada. The Governor of Alaska and senior Alaskan politicians have rolled out the red carpet for this initiative. Why should we have to put critical infrastructure in the hands of the U.S.? Why, the Eagle Spirit proponents asked us, should we run an industry that is paying a good part for social programs in Canada out of the country?
Other senators may be wondering if there are unique environmental characteristics in the region that justify a tanker ban, as Senator Harder advocated.
I encourage all senators to read the risk assessment conducted on behalf of Transport Canada in 2014. This report entitled Risk Assessment for Marine Spills in Canadian Waters, studied all marine shipping zones in Canada. Scientists involved in writing the report divided Canada’s marine environment into 77 separate zones and calculated a score for each called the Environmental Sensitivity Index. This calculation incorporated three components: biological, the sensitivity level of natural resources that are affected by an oil spill; physical, the degree of difficulty involved in the coastal cleanup operations; and human, direct commercial losses caused by a spill in addition to the evaluation of the damage caused to social resources.
I have explained this index to give context to the following quote from the report:
Environmental Sensitivity Index results indicate that the zones of highest potential impact were located in the Estuary and the Gulf of St. Lawrence as well as in the southern coast of British Columbia, including Vancouver Island.
At the risk of stating the obvious, neither of these areas is located in the Bill C-48 moratorium zone.
In closing, the scientific evidence is clear. There is no evidence-based case for imposing an oil tanker moratorium anywhere in Canada. And the case for imposing one in the Bill C-48 area is even weaker than in other areas of the country, where navigation and environmental risks are higher.
In the industry’s safety record is a model for others to follow. Every large spill in recent memory in Canada was caused by a different industry. On the West Coast, the most recent large oil spill was from the MV Marathassa, a bulk grain carrier. The worst oil spill in the West Coast’s history was the result of a passenger ferry shipwreck, the Queen of the North in 2006. Even if Bill C-48 had been in place, neither of those incidents would have been prevented.
I hope these concerns are thoroughly examined and addressed by committee, including on the West Coast, in their study of this bill, because as it stands now, I cannot support this legislation. Thank you.
Hon. David Tkachuk: I have a question. Senator Patterson, at the meeting we had this morning with a number of the Indian leaders, there were also steel and pipe unions who participated. Could you inform the Senate how many members those unions represented?
Senator Patterson: Yes, thank you for the question. Indeed, I did neglect to mention that there were three trade unions represented at the briefing this morning who are experts at building pipelines and anxious for work as they see opportunities dwindling in this great country of huge natural resource potential.
The three unions at the table told us that they represented 330,000 members. Thank you for the question.
Canada Petroleum Resources Act
Hon. Dennis Glen Patterson: Honourable senators, I rise today to speak to Bill C-55, An Act to amend the Oceans Act and the Canada Petroleum Resources Act. This bill would enable the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans to create Marine Protected Areas, or MPAs, as well as enable the creation of interim MPAs pending a five-year review of the proposed area.
I’ve always taken my duty to represent the voices of my region in this hallowed chamber seriously. As such, one of my main concerns regarding this bill stems from concerns raised by the Government of Nunavut, the GN, and northerners.
In several letters sent to the federal government by the GN, both former Premier Peter Taptuna and current Premier Joe Savikataaq expressed concerns about the unilateral powers that would be granted to the Government of Canada in this bill. Namely, the GN is concerned with provisions in the bill that would give the Government of Canada the right to:
Designate areas for marine protection without our consent in waters within or adjacent to Nunavut that we may consider for other purposes;
Remove geographical areas from development that are currently subject to discussion at the devolution negotiation table; and.
Prohibit access to petroleum resources without a provision for compensation for loss in opportunity for Nunavummiut.
Premier Taptuna’s July 25, 2017 letter reminded Prime Minister Trudeau that:
In the wake of the December 20, 2016 Canada-U.S. joint leadership statement all three territorial governments publicly expressed their deep disappointment with the unilateral decision made, without prior consultation, to impose a moratorium on new offshore petroleum licensing in the Canadian Arctic . . . .
During our meeting in Iqaluit earlier this year you assured me that further unilateral decisions of this importance would not happen. I am deeply concerned that this is not the case. The federal government is currently reviewing the Canada Petroleum Resources Act (CPRA), creating Marine Protected Areas and removing potential areas of jurisdictional authority from the Government of Nunavut prior to the conclusion of devolution negotiations.
The last line is of particular significance, colleagues, because the lands and resources devolution negotiation protocol specifically mentions and acknowledges the GN’s position “that a devolution agreement should make no distinction between resource management regimes onshore and in the seabed in and adjacent to Marine Areas.” This protocol was signed in 2008 and continues to govern negotiations to this day.
Like any responsible government, the Government of Nunavut has developed strategies for the future development and prosperity of the territory. Cognizant that 85 per cent of Nunavummiut are Inuit, and operating on the Inuit principles of environmental stewardship, those strategies also include areas of interest for future conservation initiatives. This is why the co-development of MPAs is so important and why the granting of co-decision authority to adjacent jurisdictions to a proposed MPA is necessary.
Premier Savikataaq’s most recent letter, sent on November 27, 2018, to the attention of Senator Manning as chair of the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans, clearly states that:
The GN highly values marine wildlife and believes that conservation and economic development are both important and have a role to play for the benefit of future generations. The GN is insisting that it be part of the process from the start.
In addition to the jurisdictional authority concerns that this bill raises, I am worried about the potential gaps in the “science-based” approach being touted by this government.
With the rise in global temperatures, the world’s oceans are getting warmer. As this happens, huge stocks of fish, particularly shrimp and other cold-water marine life, are migrating further and further north. This could mean that large swaths of the Arctic Ocean could potentially be made into an MPA, only to find that several years down the road it had become a prime area for fishing. The process given under clause 6 of the bill for reversing the decision is cumbersome and lengthy. The time required for the Governor-in-Council to reverse the exclusion of certain economic activities in that zone, including fishing, could very well rob Nunavut fisheries — all of which are Inuit-owned — of thousands of potential dollars in commercial fishing revenue.
It is important to remember that due to the relatively nascent fishing industry in the North, many areas have not yet been explored for their fishing potential. The closure of potential prime areas would only put Nunavut’s fishermen at more of a disadvantage.
Recently, the Nunavut Fisheries Association called for full Inuit access to resources in the waters adjacent to Nunavut, where currently other jurisdictions, including Newfoundland and Nova Scotia, continue to fish, having been granted rights prior to the territory’s creation in 1999.
The Northern Coalition, a federally incorporated non-profit organization representing Indigenous-owned firms throughout Nunavut, Nunavik, Nunatsiavut and southern Labrador, in their December 3, 2017 brief to the committee in the other place, stated:
It is important to consider the consequences if resources are not available to conduct the necessary science work within the five-year period in which the Minister must move forward with a permanent MPA. Related to this concern is the application of the Precautionary Principle wherein the Minister and Cabinet “do not use lack of scientific certainty regarding risks posed by activities” as a reason to postpone or refrain from exercising their powers or performing their duties and functions to make regulations for interim or permanent MPAs. This implies that an interim protection MPA will become permanent, even if the necessary science work has not been completed.
I agree that this application of the precautionary principle is at odds with the government’s stated position of science-based decision making.
Another issue raised by the Northern Coalition is one that I have spoken about in the past at length, namely, the concept of regional proportionality.
The brief reads:
In discussing the Marine Conservation Target (MCT) initiative with DFO earlier this year, NC members have noted that regional sharing (proportionality) of the 5 and 10% conservation targets for 2017 and 2020 may not be balanced. Given the planned establishment of large MPAs under the Oceans Act and the recently announced Lancaster Sound initiative of Parks Canada, together with the proposed MCTs for Baffin Bay, Davis Strait, Hatton Basin, Hopedale Saddle and Hawke Channel, the cumulative Conservation Targets proposed for the Eastern Arctic and Labrador Sea region (all areas adjacent to Northern Coalition members) are expected to contribute well over 50% of Canada’s 2020 commitment to protect 10% of its marine environment.
Honourable colleagues, I represent a territory, not a province, and this is just what we feared from the federal government. Acting like a colonial government, setting aside vast areas of ocean for protection, without the involvement of the duly elected Government of Nunavut, undermines the negotiations that are underway to discuss devolution of management of natural resources in Nunavut, including the offshore. Don’t forget: we’re a territory, not a province. We don’t have ownership and management of our natural resources onshore and offshore.
All this is happening because the federal government has the constitutional authority. In fact, our constitution, the Nunavut Act, is an act of the federal Parliament, so they can act unilaterally in Nunavut, and are doing so with this bill — seeking authority to take unilateral action it would never dare to do on a provincial coast.
Nunavut is the vehicle for Canada to meet UN targets for conservation and preservation. It is preposterous that this should be done without the involvement of the territorial government, which is, as we speak, engaged in good-faith negotiations on the transfer of federal jurisdiction over natural resources to the Government of Nunavut.
I was encouraged that Canada has recently agreed to engage with the Northwest Territories on managing the N.W.T. offshore. Having already completed their devolution agreements, the Governments of the Northwest Territories and the Yukon, as well as representatives of the Inuvialuit settlement area, have finally found a place at the table. In October of this year, Minister LeBlanc committed to negotiating a new oil and gas co-management and revenue-sharing agreement for the Beaufort Sea’s oil and gas resources. This is a welcome response to Premier McLeod’s red alert about Canada having unilaterally imposed a moratorium on oil and gas development in the North without even a modicum of consultation with territorial governments or territorial Indigenous leaders.
In his announcement, Minister LeBlanc stated:
. . . our partners were very clear: they want to be involved in the management of Arctic offshore oil and gas resources, and they want to see economic prosperity and jobs that will benefit Indigenous peoples and all Northerners in the future without affecting the health of their environment.
But what about Nunavut? That’s great for the Northwest Territories and Yukon. This bill would leave the Government of Nunavut in the dark — or should I say in the cold — over the establishment of marine conservation areas and impede the territory’s ability to negotiate similar agreements upon the conclusion of their devolution negotiations.
Nunavut is 85 per cent Inuit. The Inuit are marine people who have survived for millennia based on a marine economy. Inuit have established sovereignty for Canada in the Arctic. They successfully campaigned for the establishment of a new territory alongside the settlement of the Nunavut land claim. This and every Nunavut government works closely with the Inuit on implementation of their land claim agreement but is also responsible for delivering public services and programs on behalf of all citizens of Nunavut, including dealing with the impacts of development or the impacts of a lack of development.
Nunavut cannot be expected to break the cycle of dependency on Canada if it is not given the opportunity to benefit from its vast natural resources. Last year — and we’re not proud of this — Canadian transfer payments made up a staggering 89 per cent of the territorial budget. This is not sustainable or preferable. We need to be passing legislation that empowers the territory as opposed to giving more powers to the federal government to act unilaterally.
Finally, honourable senators, since first reading the bill, I was disturbed to read that under clause 5, the minister would have the power to:
. . .exempt from the prohibition in paragraph (b) or (c) . . . any activity referred to in those paragraphs in the marine protected area by a foreign national, an entity incorporated or formed by or under the laws of a country other than Canada, a foreign ship or a foreign state.
The North Water Polynya, an area of ecological diversity and a major source of subsistence fishing for local Inuit, has been the dumping ground of hydrazine-fuelled Russian rockets for some time. Senators who were in this chamber in 2016 may remember my appeals to the government and questions posed to the government leader in an attempt to stop this practice.
Under this bill, we are making it possible for the government to continue to allow Russian-made rocket debris — toxic rocket debris — to land in and pollute our waters but making it difficult for Canadians to benefit from the natural resource potential and cutting one Canadian jurisdiction out of the decision-making process.
Colleagues, rest assured that after this bill goes to committee for study, I will continue to push for the changes outlined in the Government of Nunavut’s submission and will continue to fight for Nunavut’s commercial fishing industry and the meaningful involvement of the Nunavut government in managing its natural resources onshore and offshore on Canada’s longest coastline. Only when these concerns are collaboratively addressed could I contemplate supporting this bill.
The United Church of Canada Act
Private Bill to Amend—Third Reading
Hon. Dennis Glen Patterson: Honourable senators, I wish to speak as well at the third reading of Bill S-1003, An Act to amend The United Church of Canada Act.
As I said in speaking to this bill at second reading, the bill is needed because the United Church of Canada has changed significantly since it was created by an act of Parliament in 1924, which transferred properties and united the three main evangelical Protestant denominations in Canada — Congregationalists, Methodists and Presbyterians — to form the largest Christian denomination in Canada after the Catholic Church. Following union, the United Church rose to a peak membership of over 1 million people by 1964.
Today, the United Church, like other churches, is facing the challenges of the ebb and flow of demographics, an aging society and growing secularism.
The governance structure that was created at the time was designed when financial and volunteer resources were more available. The church itself has undergone a very democratic process over several years to restructure its governance to allow the church to focus more of its precious resources on its global and community work and promoting its faith.
The traditional courts of the church have been reduced from four to three councils. The bill shrinks the size of the church’s national General Council from 68 voting and corresponding members to a more manageable 18 members in total. A new way of dealing with personnel matters has been established — an Office of Vocation — rather than relying on volunteers at the presbytery level, and there is now more clarity for the source of church funds and their uses for administration and governance, and the mission and service work.
The United Church held extensive consultations, which resulted in overwhelming support from presbyteries and pastoral charges for these major changes.
Honourable senators, it is a historic anomaly which requires that the United Church of Canada must seek approval of Parliament to modernize and restructure itself. This may be a surprising matter for us to deal with, but I would respectfully say it should not be our place to judge what the church has done to fully consult its members in making the changes that are before us in this bill.
I believe we must respect the work that has been done by the United Church to restructure and modernize itself. We have heard that this process of restructuring was exhaustive and democratic, so let us not stand in the way of this important Canadian institution, the United Church of Canada, to modernize its governance structures and better deploy its resources to continue to do its good work.
I should mention that I understand the bill is time-sensitive to resolve this issue during the current year.
For all these reasons, I recommend passage of this bill on third reading. Thank you.