Evidence of meeting #9 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 sara.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Cynthia Wright  Acting Assistant Deputy Minister, Environmental Stewardship Branch, Department of the Environment
  • Pardeep Ahluwalia  Director General, Species at Risk Directorate, Department of Fisheries and Oceans
  • Mike Wong  Executive Director, Ecological Integrity Branch, Parks Canada Agency

March 10th, 2009 / 10:20 a.m.

Conservative

Jeff Watson Essex, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you to the officials for appearing here today.

A lot of our colleagues around the table have jumped into a lot of very specific questions, and that probably means they know a lot more than I do about SARA. I'm still studying this thing. In my mind I've sort of separated the review of SARA into two aspects. One is the framework itself, SARA as an act. Is the fundamental architecture of SARA in fact sound? Are only parts of it needing overhaul, or does most or all of it need a fundamental new approach? The second aspect I've separated this into is sort of the policy, the processes, and the results that flow from the framework.

I want to start with the framework itself. I think you've sort of hinted in this direction, but I'm not sure I've heard a conclusive answer from officials. SARA itself as an act, its contents, its prescription as a framework, is it generally speaking fundamentally sound? Should this committee be satisfied that fundamentally it's okay, that there may be certain aspects we should be looking at but not a fundamental rewrite of the legislation? Is that your opinion?

10:20 a.m.

Acting Assistant Deputy Minister, Environmental Stewardship Branch, Department of the Environment

Cynthia Wright

What hopefully the committee has heard from us today is that we've done a lot of work in five years to learn about this act, to learn how to use this act, and to learn how to use this act in the landscape in Canada both jurisdictionally and geographically. We feel that we're well positioned to now start to make significant progress in implementing this act.

10:20 a.m.

Conservative

Jeff Watson Essex, ON

I'm not sure I heard the answer yet. Is the fundamental architecture okay?

10:20 a.m.

Acting Assistant Deputy Minister, Environmental Stewardship Branch, Department of the Environment

Cynthia Wright

If you mean in the general sense of this process—

10:20 a.m.

Conservative

Jeff Watson Essex, ON

What the act lays out. I'm looking for direction as to whether this committee should be looking at a fundamentally different approach to species at risk than the act itself.

Are we looking at a fundamental overhaul of the act, or is it the opinion of officials now, with five years of experience under their belt, that the act itself largely is okay? There may be some specific areas that we should be focusing in on as a committee to sort of.... I don't want to say “tweak” per se; it might be more than a tweak. But were they looking at a select number of areas in which to make improvements to the act so that it allows you to function better in your capacity for carrying out the act? That's more what I'm driving at. Is that a clear question?

10:20 a.m.

Acting Assistant Deputy Minister, Environmental Stewardship Branch, Department of the Environment

Cynthia Wright

I think that would be a fair assessment, especially if one considers that it took roughly ten years, I think, to come up with this architecture of an act. So we are able to function in it. There are criticisms and weaknesses, but we are making progress in those areas.

10:20 a.m.

Conservative

Jeff Watson Essex, ON

Okay. That I think is highly instructive for our process as a committee, then, in terms of your opinion. We'll of course be seeking the same guidance from others who will appear before the committee, as to whether they think the fundamental architecture is sound.

In your opinion, then, where can the architecture be improved? That will give us some guidance as well. I ask the question from my experience on my other committee, the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities, where we're looking at the Navigable Waters Protection Act. That's an act that's over 100 years old, and there's a whole lot more experience, but officials came to us with some suggested amendments and some areas to be looking at based on their experience. As I ask the question about where are some areas that this committee could pursue to improve SARA, will officials be coming forward at some point with suggestions on how to make those improvements in the areas that are trouble spots?

10:20 a.m.

Acting Assistant Deputy Minister, Environmental Stewardship Branch, Department of the Environment

Cynthia Wright

We haven't identified areas where it needs to be improved. A lot can be done within the existing act with clear procedures and practices. So we won't be bringing forward specific areas for improvement.

10:20 a.m.

Conservative

Jeff Watson Essex, ON

Okay. Can you point us in the direction, then, of where the framework itself poses some challenges for you?

10:20 a.m.

Acting Assistant Deputy Minister, Environmental Stewardship Branch, Department of the Environment

Cynthia Wright

I think I have spoken to the listing and how we're managing that. You will hear more from others, but essentially how we're managing the nine-month clock is it starts with when the minister makes his recommendation to the Governor in Council. So where the minister needs more time to respect land claims, we are taking more time before we refer the recommendation to the Governor in Council. That's an example of where members might want to make the act clearer on that.

10:25 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair James Bezan

Thank you; your time has expired.

10:25 a.m.

Conservative

Jeff Watson Essex, ON

Time flies when you're having fun, Mr. Chair.

10:25 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair James Bezan

Mr. Woodworth.

10:25 a.m.

Conservative

Stephen Woodworth Kitchener Centre, ON

Thank you very much.

First of all, I just want to pick up a bit on what Mr. Watson was saying.

I get the sense from you that it took ten years to get this act together and that the first five years have really been working out the kinks, if I could put it that way. And I almost get the sense that your plea is “For goodness sake, now that we've got this system up and running, and we're poised to really put it to use, let's not go back and change the fundamentals”. Am I overstating it, or is that what I should take from your answers?

10:25 a.m.

Acting Assistant Deputy Minister, Environmental Stewardship Branch, Department of the Environment

Cynthia Wright

Mr. Chair, it's as important for us as civil servants to implement the act that Parliament has given us. We feel that we're making good progress toward implementing the act that Parliament has given us.