The public will soon be able to read a lengthy document Imperial Oil submitted to a parliamentary committee studying the recent tailings leaks at its Kearl oilsands mine in northern Alberta.

A motion by Bloc Québécois MP Monique Pauzé to publicly post witness submissions received by the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development was passed after some debate on Thursday evening.

To date, only one brief submitted by the Athabasca Chipewyan Métis Association is available on the committee’s webpage for the Kearl study.

The environment committee generally publishes all the briefs it receives. But it is not standard practice to upload other documents and additional information MPs often request from witnesses. Pauzé’s motion created a one-time exception to this standard procedure.

“We didn’t receive a ton of documents but there are tables and numbers, and I think it could be interesting for everyone to have access to these documents,” Pauzé said in her motion on May 11. It is not clear exactly how many documents were submitted to the committee, but there is at least one 1,250-page submission from Imperial — which includes technical information, charts, an executive summary and recommendations — that would be made publicly available.

Conservative MP Mike Lake urged the committee to give witnesses who submitted information a courtesy notice that it will be made public and give them the opportunity to request a meeting or speak up if the documents contain some commercially sensitive information. Committee chair Francis Scarpaleggia said Imperial Oil will be notified.

“It’s a good idea to be as transparent as we can,” said Liberal MP Lloyd Longfield in agreement with Pauzé’s proposition.

“During the witness testimony, we heard transparency over and over was an issue here, so I think whatever we have that we can share with the public would be worthwhile,” said Longfield.

There was, however, some debate over the difficulties of translating the 1,250-page technical document submitted by Imperial Oil, in particular the technical tables, into French. It would take a translator a year to translate the entirety of the document, said Scarpaleggia. In response to translation concerns, Pauzé suggested that just the executive summary and recommendations could be translated, not the technical tables, a proposal that was accepted by the committee.

Conservative MP and environment critic Gérard Deltell wondered aloud whether the people who sent in documents understood at the time that they could become public.

“I’m not well placed to understand whether this is confidential information,” Deltell said in French, adding that he’d like to do a file-by-file check to ensure that no personal information will be inadvertently published. Conservative MP Damien Kurek echoed Deltell’s point.

“I do share the concern, just about the integrity of our committee process here in the House, that I don’t know what the expectations were for those who are coming on commercially sensitive information and that sort of thing,” said Kurek.

Scarpaleggia said witnesses should expect documentation supporting their public testimony to also be public. When there is a sensitive issue, the committee can decide to see a witness in-camera, a.k.a., a meeting closed to the public, he said.

“It’s a public study. These are public documents. If it were confidential, we would have said so,” said Pauzé in response to the concerns raised by her Conservative colleagues. “The people from Imperial don’t expect the document that has 1,250 pages to not be made public.”

The Alberta Energy Regulator has not yet sent in any information to the committee because its internal investigation is ongoing, parliamentarians noted. The deadline to submit additional information for the committee’s study has already passed.

By Natasha Bulowski, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on May 15, 2023

This item reprinted with permission from   Canada's National Observer   Ottawa, Ontario

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