Evidence of meeting #5 for Environment and Sustainable Development in the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was warawa.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

10:15 a.m.

Conservative

Stephen Woodworth Kitchener Centre, ON

Thank you very much.

Actually, strictly speaking, we haven't reached any decisions here today at all, except to refer matters through to the steering committee, so I don't think it's quite right to characterize what's been now proposed as in any way not in accord with anything that's already been decided.

Apart from that, it seems to me that no one has disputed that there is an immediate statutory obligation to review the SARA. Whether it comes now or whether we wait for a request from Parliament, nobody has disputed that it has to be done and that it's an immediate obligation. Consequently, I think it's quite appropriate that we get that done and out of the way.

In the meantime, we've got dozens of other suggestions about what we'll do for the rest of our time between now and June. As Mr. Warawa points out, it could take a while to even get that agenda figured out. In the meantime, we can at least do something constructive with SARA.

10:15 a.m.

Liberal

The Vice-Chair Francis Scarpaleggia

Mr. Bigras.

10:15 a.m.

Bloc

Bernard Bigras Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

I understand what Mr. Woodworth is saying, but the situation is not such at the moment that the committee needs to pass such a motion in order to move forward. I repeat that as regards the review of the act—and this will appear in the minutes—the Bloc has said that it supported this. Agreement was reached among the whips. Under these circumstances, I see no need for the committee to pass a motion of this type. There is no point in doing that.

Mr. Chair, we must be cautious. The House will invite the committee to look into this matter. The committee has certain responsibilities, but it is preferable to wait for references from the House, and that should happen within the next few hours.

10:15 a.m.

Liberal

The Vice-Chair Francis Scarpaleggia

Thank you, Mr. Bigras.

Mr. McGuinty.

10:15 a.m.

Liberal

David McGuinty Ottawa South, ON

Mr. Chairman, Ms. Duncan has raised an important point. I think the government has to go back and do its homework. It should come to the committee and explain to it what is forthcoming in terms of mandatory reviews, a legislated review for SARA, other reviews under other international conventions, and some work on the Sustainable Development Act. I think Mr. Woodworth is correct in saying, if we find it's only a question of a nominal assessment of what stage the reporting is at, let's hear it.

There is a whole series of reportables, a whole series of deliverables that are mandatory and that compel the government to do things. Unfortunately, the government doesn't seem to know what they are. It's their job.

Mr. Warawa, with all due respect—through you, Mr. Chair, to Mr. Warawa—it's your job, as a parliamentary secretary, to know what exactly is forthcoming here and to present it and roll it out, so that we as a committee can spend taxpayers' dollars and time wisely by addressing issues that are sequential, by addressing issues that are mandated.

Your own government had a motion here a month ago saying you wanted to make sure we dealt with government business first. I agree. What is the government business—not only in terms of what is legislated as mandatory work by this committee, but what are you actually doing as a government in terms of legislation?

We're all seeing ghosts right now, apparently, around amendments to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. We don't know what's going on; you don't seem to know what's going on; I don't know whether you know what's going on, Mr. Chair. Before asking for a motion on compelling one piece of work over another, Mr. Warawa, all objective observers would probably agree that it would be important for you to lay out for this committee, on behalf of the Government of Canada and the people of Canada, what it is you have to do, what it is we have to do, what it is Ms. Duncan is addressing here concerning international conventions and requirements and responsibilities.

I think that would be useful before foreclosing on a work plan that is 22 meetings long, which is a lot of time. How is it possible to go forward even to the subcommittee next week, Mr. Chair, if we don't have a clear indication of what is forthcoming? I ask the question objectively. How are we supposed to do this?

10:20 a.m.

Liberal

The Vice-Chair Francis Scarpaleggia

Thank you, Mr. McGuinty.

I'd like to make a point at this juncture.

We have a very questionable situation whereby we have whips working on something. We're not sure whether your motion is technically out of order, given that the order should come from the House.

That being said, I think if we're going to work together as a committee, going forward—and we have a lot of work to do, and I think fundamentally we all want to do a good job as parliamentarians, putting aside our partisan interests—we have to work with a measure of good faith.

I don't know how many of you recall this, but at the last meeting I said I didn't mind chairing the committee while Mr. Bezan was away, as long as we're not taking votes that would sidetrack or preclude—or foreclose, as Mr. McGuinty said—the progress of the study on water and oil sands, which was first adopted at committee back in March.

I'm getting a sense, with all due respect—maybe this isn't your intention, and I don't want to prejudge it—that we're being railroaded into something to avoid something else. It may not be the case, but I remember that at the last meeting I said, “Mr. Bezan, I'll take the chair of the committee while you're away, but not if it's going to basically deny me a vote on an item of business that I have proposed.” There's that, plus the fact that there's a lot of confusion around whether this motion is out of order, what the whips are going to do.

I think this is really a plea for cooperation. Maybe we could strike from the motion that we have to start Tuesday, because when we say we have to start Tuesday, I'm getting the sense that we're basically shoving any other business off the table.

That's just my comment. Mr. Warawa. You can take issue with it.

The floor is to Mr. Calkins right now.

February 24th, 2009 / 10:20 a.m.

Conservative

Blaine Calkins Wetaskiwin, AB

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

To address some of the concerns you have, I get the sense from being here today that we're putting the cart before the horse on a lot of issues, because what this committee seems to be doing today is advising the subcommittee on what to report back to this committee. So it seems a little bit odd from that perspective.

We also know, we clearly know, that we have a legislative responsibility and Marleau and Montpetit basically says that committee shall proceed with legislative responsibilities when they are before the committee. It says here in section 129, “Five years after this section comes into force, a committee of the House of Commons, of the Senate or both Houses of Parliament is to be designated or established for the purpose of reviewing this Act.”

This committee is struck in accordance with its mandate to review matters pertaining to the environment and sustainable development, which is where the Species at Risk Act is.

We know we're five months behind on a legislative review. There has been a lot of speculation from the other side about legislation coming forward to change CEAA and that somehow this legislation is going to be changed outside the context of Parliament. Has something happened in the context of the Parliament of Canada that I am not aware of that allows a law to be changed before going before Parliament? Because that seems to be the allegation being made across the floor.

10:25 a.m.

Liberal

The Vice-Chair Francis Scarpaleggia

Mr. Bigras—

10:25 a.m.

Conservative

Blaine Calkins Wetaskiwin, AB

These are the questions I have. I'm not done, Mr. Chair.

I would ask this. Mr. Jean was here, the member for Fort McMurray—Athabasca, clearly willing to bring forward names of people to discuss your particular motion, Mr. Chair, when you were sitting as the vice-chair. I don't think there is anybody here who is trying to railroad you or railroad your motion. I'd be very interested to go up to Fort McMurray and take a look at what's happening up there. I'm an Albertan. It's of great interest and concern to me, and to my constituents as well. It affects our province. It affects our entire country.

Yes, we have other obligations, international obligations that need to be looked at, but we have a bird in the hand and we're sitting here speculating about birds in the bush. This is an issue that needs to be addressed. This committee has the jurisdiction to study the Species at Risk Act legislation. The precedent has been set in the previous Parliament, where the committee undertook the review of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act.

It makes no sense, because what's going to happen, Mr. Chair—and we talk about this 22-day work frame—if we don't get to work at looking at the Species at Risk Act? I can tell you right now that on Tuesday next week all we're going to do is have the same meeting we had today in response to the report that will be submitted by the subcommittee on agenda and procedure that is held the day before. Then we'll be at the same point in time, where we could actually be doing something constructive on behalf of biodiversity in our country, of species that are at risk in our country, and it's mandated by previous legislation that we review this legislation at this particular point in time.

I am all in favour of moving ahead. It's not a point to be obstinate or to try to railroad this committee. It is something we can do and move forward and do and make this committee do something more productive than sitting around talking about agenda and procedure items and jockeying for that position.

10:25 a.m.

Liberal

The Vice-Chair Francis Scarpaleggia

Mr. Warawa.

10:25 a.m.

Conservative

Mark Warawa Langley, BC

Chair, I want to make it very clear that the government does support a water study. As you pointed out, the last Parliament ended with a look at water and the oil sands, and we look forward to further witnesses coming and further discussion on that.

It has resulted in the motion that I presented two weeks ago. The government recognizes the legislative requirement to do a SARA review. I have found it frustrating that this is not moving forward when we do have a legislative requirement and the government supports this. The whips of the opposition need to get together and support this. It is a legislative requirement.

As I pointed out a number of times today, we have a limited number of meetings, approximately 22 meetings, so I was trying to move the agenda along. But I also want to work collaboratively with our members in this committee.

We have heard concerns that they want to allow the opposition whips to meet with the government whip and agree to move this forward. It's important that this move forward, so I encourage the members here representing the opposition to talk to their whips and tell them to move this forward.

I then will back off and remove this motion, but again, the clock is ticking and we have meetings next week that we need to prepare for. This week, we are meeting today and we are meeting on Thursday, but what are we going to do next week? Monday, we have the steering committee. Tuesday, we'll have a report from the steering committee and we'll be rehashing what we're doing today. So what are we going to do on Thursday? I was proposing that we start SARA. I'm open then to start a water study.

You yourself, or Chair James Bezan, with the clerk, have the witnesses' names. We need to trust the chair, and I would then propose that we plan for Tuesday or Thursday of next week. Likely Tuesday we'll be hearing from the steering committee, so Thursday of next week we can begin the water study, start moving on that and use constructively the limited number of weeks we have. At this point, it seems we're stalled, and I think there is a desire from everybody here that we start moving and start having productive meetings.

10:30 a.m.

Liberal

The Vice-Chair Francis Scarpaleggia

Thank you, Mr. Warawa. I appreciate that.

Mr. McGuinty, and then Mr. Bigras.

10:30 a.m.

Liberal

David McGuinty Ottawa South, ON

I am sorry, Mr. Chair, I didn't understand the import of Mr. Warawa's comments. Could you just recap?

10:30 a.m.

Liberal

The Vice-Chair Francis Scarpaleggia

My understanding is that instead of proposing that we start Tuesday with the review of the Species at Risk Act, on Tuesday we essentially discuss what the steering committee has come up with, approve it, amend it, or whatever; and then, Thursday, we start with the water study.

Obviously we are going to have to get to the Species at Risk Act, especially once the whips have decided when to refer it to us, and so on. So Mr. Warawa essentially is being flexible on this and is suggesting that we all speak to our whips and push them to move this thing along, because he is saying, and I agree, that we all really want to get down to work at this committee.

That is, as I understand it, the synopsis of Mr. Warawa's comments. Is that correct?

10:30 a.m.

Liberal

David McGuinty Ottawa South, ON

So is Mr. Warawa withdrawing his motion?