House of Commons Hansard #225 of the 35th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was development.

Topics

Recognition Of Same Sex Spouses
Private Members' Business

11:45 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Kilger)

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

Recognition Of Same Sex Spouses
Private Members' Business

11:45 a.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

Recognition Of Same Sex Spouses
Private Members' Business

11:45 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Kilger)

All those opposed will please say nay.

Recognition Of Same Sex Spouses
Private Members' Business

11:45 a.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

Recognition Of Same Sex Spouses
Private Members' Business

11:45 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Kilger)

In my opinion the nays have it.

And more than five members having risen:

Recognition Of Same Sex Spouses
Private Members' Business

11:45 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Kilger)

Call in the members.

Before the taking of the vote:

Recognition Of Same Sex Spouses
Private Members' Business

Noon

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Kilger)

As is the practice, the recorded vote will be taken row by row, beginning with the mover. I will then ask the other members supporting the motion on the same side of the House as the mover to kindly rise. Next, the votes of those supporting the motion on the opposite side of the House will be recorded. The votes of those opposing the motion will be recorded in the same order.

Recognition Of Same Sex Spouses
Private Members' Business

12:10 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Kilger)

I declare the motion lost.

Points Of Order
Private Members' Business

12:10 p.m.

Lethbridge
Alberta

Reform

Ray Speaker Lethbridge

Mr. Speaker, I have a point of order under citation 501 of Beauchesne's sixth edition and a ruling of the Speaker last June with regard to the wearing of exhibits in the House. I would like to challenge that the member for Halifax is wearing an exhibit which I do not think is proper in this assembly.

Points Of Order
Private Members' Business

12:10 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Kilger)

I thank the member for Lethbridge for his intervention. Perhaps I might seek the counsel of the table officers for a moment, please.

The member for Lethbridge raises an issue following a ruling made by the Speaker on an issue as we drew near to the summer recess period. I would hope, as an occupant of this same chair, to maintain the consistency of the ruling of the Speaker at that time.

I must state unequivocally that I did not personally view the exhibit, be it a lapel button or otherwise. However, if in fact it drew the attention of a member or others we would hope and call upon members on both sides of the House to be mindful of the ruling of the Speaker in June regarding exhibits, lapel pins, et cetera. The Chair will endeavour to maintain a consistent interpretation of that ruling throughout this session.

I thank the member for Lethbridge for his intervention. I regret I cannot act differently. As I said, I did not personally view this exhibit. I trust that this intervention will remind us all of the ruling in June, that we will be respectful of that ruling and adhere to the intervention of the Speaker.

I thank the member for Lethbridge for his intervention.

Points Of Order
Private Members' Business

12:15 p.m.

Kingston and the Islands
Ontario

Liberal

Peter Milliken Parliamentary Secretary to Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, a point of order.

I believe you will find unanimous consent to have the following motion put to the House without the usual notice and that it be disposed of without debate.

I move:

That the membership of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs be modified as follows: Arseneault, Guy; Beaumier, Colleen; Boudria, Don; Catterall, Marlene; Duceppe, Gilles; Frazer, Jack; Langlois, François; Laurin, René; Malhi, Gurbax Singh; McWhinney, Edward; Milliken, Peter; Parrish, Carolyn; Ringma, Bob; Speaker, Ray.

And that the associate members of the said committee be as follows: Bélanger, Mauril; Bellehumeur, Michel; Bertrand, Robert; Brushett, Dianne; Cowling, Marlene; Epp, Ken; Gauthier, Michel; Grey, Deborah; Jordan, Jim; Leroux, Gaston; Pickard, Jerry; Plamondon, Louis; Solomon, John and Williams, John.

Points Of Order
Private Members' Business

12:15 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Kilger)

The House has heard the terms of the motion. Is there unanimous consent?

Points Of Order
Private Members' Business

12:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Auditor General Act
Government Orders

12:15 p.m.

Hamilton East
Ontario

Liberal

Sheila Copps Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Environment

moved that Bill C-83, an act to amend the Auditor General Act be now be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, today with the proposed amendments to the Auditor General Act, I believe the government is making profound changes in the way it does business in order to make sure that it's environmental agenda is integrated with Canada's economic agenda.

Today we are also fulfilling a major election commitment of the Prime Minister and the Liberal Party. In the red book we said:

Sustainable development, integrating economic with environmental goals fits in the Liberal tradition of social investment and sound economic policy. Preventive environmental care is the foundation of the Liberal approach to sustainable development.

We also said:

It is past time for the federal government across all departments to act on this understanding by adopting economic and environmental agendas that converge.

Since assuming office we have tried to be guided by this belief. Our approach has been to integrate economic, social, environmental and foreign policies.

I believe we are serious about promoting sustainable development. We are serious about the greening of government. We are serious about getting the federal government's act together on environmental issues. We want to be held accountable for our environmental actions and our environmental planning.

We are serious about these things because Canadians want a healthy country in which we and our children can work to achieve our aspirations.

One vital aspect of our approach is to ensure that the environment and sustainable development form an integral part of the decision-making process in all federal government departments.

We are therefore talking about decisions on new policy, new programs and new regulations or legislation and on existing texts. We are also talking about decisions concerning departmental management of buildings, facilities and operations.

Proposals for amendments to the Auditor General Act now before the House will result in much of the integration we are aiming for. They form a key part of the government's response last fall to the initial report by the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development, entitled the "commissioner of environment and sustainable development".

Under the enlightened leadership of the hon. member for Davenport and with the support of all the members, the report gave careful consideration to the government's commitment in the red book to establishing an environmental function equivalent to that of the auditor general. The committee felt that, while it is vital to audit existing government documents, it is even more important to ensure that environmental considerations are a fundamental consideration in all departmental planning.

The committee called for greater environmental auditing of government policies, programs and legislation. It felt that the government must report to Parliament and to the public on the progress it makes in achieving its objectives.

The committee advocated the idea that the government go beyond simply an environmental auditor and instead establish a commissioner of environment and sustainable development. In these proposed amendments to the Auditor General Act the government will establish a commissioner and I hope meet the objectives of the committee's report.

The amendments do contain one departure from the committee's report and that is to create the commissioner of environment and sustainable development not as a separate position but within the existing framework of the office of the auditor general as recommended in the minority report. This is not in any way to be seen as a retreat from our red book pledge. Indeed I believe it will prove to be an effective way of achieving our promise.

The office of the auditor general has clout. When the auditor general speaks, departments of government listen. It is indepen-

dent from government, it is well respected and it has the expertise, as we saw recently in its initial assessments of environmental auditing of the government.

For all these reasons I believe it can greatly enhance the government's auditing of its environmental performance. There is another advantage to this innovation. Within the work of the auditor general, issues of environment and sustainable development must be directly integrated into economic considerations. This kind of integration is what sustainable development must be about. It is not a separate vertical approach but rather a horizontal approach which must de facto involve every department of government.

What then is the substance of these amendments to the Auditor General Act that I am proposing today?

[Translation]

First, as I mentioned, these amendments establish the role of the commissioner of the environment and of the office of sustainable development within the office of the auditor general, as the official opposition has proposed. The commissioner would report directly to the auditor general and would work with him to evaluate the government's implementation of sustainable development policies and practices. The commissioner and the auditor general would also work together in reporting to the House of Commons on the government's practices in matters of ecology and sustainable development.

No matter who the auditor general is, the amendments bind the office of the auditor general and the commissioner for sustainable development to encourage consideration of environment and sustainable development in all official duties. They do that by explicitly incorporating sustainable development and environment into the Auditor General Act. They do it by requiring the auditor general to take environmental effect into account when preparing all reports to the House of Commons.

For the first time an independent commissioner has a mandate and responsibility to follow up and report on what the government is doing or failing to do in meeting its environmental commitments. I must say entre parenthèses that one of the first departments the office of the commissioner will be looking at is my department, the Department of the Environment. We welcome the opportunity of independent public review because we believe it will accelerate the integration of the two key objectives of sustainable development and their integration into the economy.

We know that the blaze of publicity that attends each auditor general's report of financial failings has caused governments in the past to move and to take a different path. We can expect an impact at least as great for reports of environmental shortcomings and that publicity or the urge to avoid it should be a powerful spur to government action, a spur in more ways than one.

At times this may make things uncomfortable for us in government. It may make things uncomfortable for us as ministers and as members of the government but we are prepared and welcome that discomfort if the end is better government for Canadians. Better integration of sustainable development is a key factor in making decisions.

Imagine if we had taken into account sustainable development many years ago when we were making decisions about how to allocate quota of the cod stock. Look at the price we pay today for the thousands of fishermen who do not have fish to catch simply because we did not develop sustainable fisheries, not only domestically but internationally.

I had the privilege recently of participating in an environmental trade mission to the Far East. In discussions several governments were very interested in the concept of the commissioner for sustainable development. They understand, as we understand, the times when a department of the environment is the only department responsible for sustainable development are gone. We need integration through the highest levels of government. I believe the influence of the office of the auditor general and the new commissioner for sustainable development and the environment will be able to deliver that cross-cutting analysis of all government policy.

The scope of the amendments goes beyond a mere institutionalizing of procedures for monitoring and reporting on government activities.

More directly, these amendments require all federal departments to take environmental action. They go further than the red book's commitment in that they vigorously promote sustainable development through government activities.

Under the Act as amended, each department has two years to prepare a strategy for sustainable development, to be presented in the House of Commons by the minister responsible. The strategy must be results oriented. It should include the department's objectives and a plan of action to attain those objectives.

In effect this legislation will make every minister a minister for sustainable development. For example, the industry minister will be responsible for the portfolio and also for ensuring the Department of Industry operates in an environmentally sound way. The same is true for the foreign affairs minister, the transport minister and all of our colleagues.

This is a step forward in making sustainable development more than a concept. The departmental strategies will assist the auditor general and the commissioner in not only monitoring government for preparation of their reports to Parliament but they will also serve as benchmarks by which the commissioner and the auditor general can assess each government department's performance in making that shift to sustainable development.

By the way, the auditor general and the stakeholders have already indicated the need for such benchmarks. We need to show where progress is being made and if not, why not. This is not a one shot affair to be undertaken with fanfare and then quickly forgotten. Every three years each department must update its sustainable development strategy and its minister must table the update in Parliament.

Thanks to these amendments, Canadians will be able to play their part by ensuring that the government is responsive to expectations with respect to the environment. The Auditor General will have the authority to receive petitions from the public about environmental matters and forward them to the appropriate minister.

The number and purpose of petitions received by ministers and the status of these files will be monitored, and the commissioner will report on the results obtained to the House of Commons.

The amendments also require the commissioner to report every year to the House of Commons on behalf of the auditor general. These reports can focus on anything related to sustainable development, whatever the commissioner feels important enough to bring to the attention of the House. In particular, the commissioner's annual report will show how far governments and departments have gone in meeting the objectives and expectations they have established in their strategies.

However, the annual report will not be the only report to the House of Commons on our environmental performance.

These amendments will ensure that environmental observations continue to be included in the auditor general's report as well. That is important because the auditor general's reports are more general in scope and they will include considerations of effectiveness and the environment. One of the commissioner's duties will be to assist the auditor general in preparing aspects of those reports referring to the environment and sustainable development.

We are wasting no time in moving on our obligations under the Auditor General Act because we are committed to thinking green and ensuring that green government is a central component of the decisions we make as a society. Our action plan accelerating the shift to green practices in government can be reflected in the work of Environment Canada. That plan has five points: green procurement policies that emphasize reduction, reuse, and purchase of environmentally sound products; managing the department's car fleets to reduce emissions by 30 per cent within the next five years; making zero waste a target in our offices; improving energy efficiency and conserving water specifically by auditing the use of water in all Environment Canada buildings.

We have already had some major successes. At Environment Canada headquarters in Quebec City, in Sainte-Foy for instance, water consumption dropped by 9.6 million litres annually following implementation of effective ways to save water. This is a good indication of the economic potential of sustainable development.

In Hamilton-Wentworth at the Canada Centre for Inland Waters, which is in the city of Burlington, energy efficiency improvements are lowering carbon dioxide emissions by 5,900 tonnes. That is the equivalent per year to the emissions from 1,500 cars. That means we are saving enough energy to heat 525 homes a year.

Another example is the new guidebook entitled "A Guide to Green Government", which is signed by the Prime Minister and all cabinet ministers, to help federal departments make sustainable development their business. It will serve as ground breaking information for the commissioner when she or he reports on the success departments are having in integrating sustainable development practices. They already have "A Guide to Green Government" signed by the Prime Minister of Canada because he believes that sustainable development is a responsibility we all share. It is a responsibility shared by Canadians.

When governments prepare our strategies we must act in an open and transparent way. We must include groups with expertise, like the national round table on the environment and the economy.

Another example illustrates the fact that we take our responsibilities seriously. The Minister of Finance and I received a report from a multiparty task force that was asked to identify obstacles to sound environmental practices as well as effective ways to use economic instruments.

In the last budget, the government followed the short-term recommendations of the task force, and we hope it will do more in

the long term. The response will establish how the government intends to go about using these economic instruments and to develop government policies that are environmentally sound.

A final example of our commitment is the proclamation of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act last January. I believe the legislation will ensure that environment is formally integrated into the project planning process of government. Through the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency we are already working hard to make sure that environmental assessments of new government policies and programs are done well.

These are important measures to establish a framework.

For years, governments have been talking about sustainable development. We have stated our commitment to this principle, but it has not been easy to ensure compliance.

That is why environmental groups have been asking for a governmental monitoring function and for independent reporting that would focus on the government's environmental activities. They saw this as a way to force governments to keep their word. And just as persistently, our predecessors in government have steadfastly refused to take this route.

We are convinced that these initiatives will have far reaching effects within government and within society. I hope and believe they will move government and the country forward on the path from talking about sustainability to actually delivering in terms of government policies and programs. That is something Canadians can be grateful for today.

I want to particularly thank the parliamentary committee under the chairmanship of the hon. member for Davenport and also the members of the opposition who brought constructive suggestions to the table. I think all Canadians understand that whatever one's political stripe, when it comes to the environment we should be working on behalf of the whole country. Certainly we saw that co-operation in the work of the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development. If we can carry on like that in government, we will be doing okay.

Auditor General Act
Government Orders

12:35 p.m.

Bloc

Monique Guay Laurentides, QC

Mr. Speaker, here we are back in the House after an exceptional summer during which many things happened.

First of all, in Quebec, under the Parti Quebecois government-in partnership with our party, the Bloc Quebecois, and the ADQ, the Action démocratique du Québec, with the support of many partners from all sectors of society, and in accordance with the strong wishes of a majority of Quebecers-all of us in Quebec are moving toward the referendum, which, I am increasingly convinced, will give us a country, Quebec, in a few weeks. This is what happened in Quebec over the summer. Winds of change have been blowing and are getting stronger every day.

The Prime Minister of Canada, who says he is distinct-and I fully concur with him-mentioned that the coming referendum debate would be fun. With the winds of change getting stronger, the fun expected by our distinct federalist Prime Minister will become serious and I am sure that he will not find it so funny on October 30.

Other events have commanded my attention this past summer. As a result of a labour dispute, workers at Ogilvie Mills in Montreal have been on strike for more than a year. This is the only labour dispute in Quebec that is specifically due to the use of scabs, which is allowed by the Canada Labour Code. Yet, the Minister of Labour, our national aunt, a first class switch-hitter and former critic of the federal government, promised several times that she would resolve this intolerable situation. The leader of the No side in Quebec continues to say no to these Quebec workers.

Another major issue that is of particular concern to me is the raising of the Irving Whale. I would first like to draw a parallel between this issue and the bill before us today, in the hope that creating the position of Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development will help us avoid a similar mess. Let us hope that the federal commissioner can get involved in such federal matters in order to alert decision makers and, if necessary, stop or reverse decisions like the one to raise the Irving Whale.

This salvage operation, which was scheduled for the month of August, could be described as a total fiasco. In fact, not only the operation itself but the whole matter is a dismal failure. Everything, from the decision making to the environmental assessment, the awarding of the contract and the job itself, was done in an incompetent and irresponsible fashion. The first one to blame for this fiasco is the Minister of the Environment who, for reasons I would describe as very partisan, took serious decisions without proper thought. The minister's partisanship on this issue is obvious. Just think back to the announcement she made in this House, saying something like: "Twenty five years have passed since the barge sank, and nothing has been done. But I, just 90 days after coming into office, made the right decision".

We now have proof that the minister's decision was in fact a botched job. The barge is still lying on the bottom of the Gulf, more than $12 million was spent-taxpayers' money of course, the procedure selected is increasingly questioned, and a Federal Court

judge even requested that she redo her homework as far as environmental assessments regarding PCBs are concerned.

Her botched and dicey decision could have caused irreparable damage to the environment. This partisan political game she has played is inexcusable.

This threat that hung over the Gulf of St. Lawrence throughout the month of August was a matter of continual concern for those directly involved.

Speaking of those directly involved, the hon. member for Bonaventure-Îles-de-la-Madeleine has been conspicuously reserved over the summer with his dear constituents who, all summer long, were completely shattered by this decision to lift the ship in that manner.

The media actually covered the operations, that they questioned on many occasions. The work was conducted haphazardly and without any degree of certainty. In a nutshell, it smacked of amateurism, and that had many people worried.

I certainly hope that the commissioner of the environment and sustainable development, whose position Bill C-83 seeks to establish, will have a say in this kind of decisions, which directly threaten the environment. The commissioner will be in a position to monitor the whole decision making process.

In the case of the Irving Whale , the process followed was seriously flawed, thus preventing an appropriate decision, that is the best possible one. Indeed, the process followed regarding the Irving Whale was flawed in several ways.

At the end of 1992, two studies commissioned by the Coast Guard and by the Department of the Environment recommended pumping the cargo out of the sunken wreck. Marex and CEF both concluded that was the safest technique.

However, the government ignored the recommendations made in studies which it commissioned. Instead, the Minister of the Environment relied on a third study commissioned by an independent organization, the Ship-source Oil Pollution Fund, which recommended lifting the barge without emptying it and moving it to a safe place before pumping the oil out.

It should be noted that this study conducted by London's Murray Fenton firm used the two above-mentioned studies as its main references. How could this third firm go against the findings of the other two if it used their studies as its basic reference? At that stage, the process was very twisted to say the least. All this does not seem very logical.

What we can figure out however, is the logic relating to the costs of the operation. In spite of the reassuring words of the minister, it is clear that the costs of the operation unduly influenced the decision making process. Indeed, the government chose the least expensive solution. Bloc Quebecois members and environmental groups have always said that the government should first pump the oil out of the barge.

Public hearings and consultations were held following the minister's decision, but the whole process was obviously a sham. Surely, the commissioner of the environment will be able to take a close look at such decisions.

Then we found out that PCBs were present in the wreck. The government says "What a surprise-we did not know." Yet page 3 of chapter I of the Marex report submitted to the government in December 1992 states that the capacity of the heaters "was transmitted to the cargo via a heating fluid (Monsanto MGS 295S) and heating coils in each tank". Thus the presence of PCBs was already mentioned in the 1992 documents.

So, in June 1995, another environmental assessment and consultations were carried out, this time not only fabricated but hastily fabricated at that. The outcome: a federal court judge issues a stop order and makes the Minister of the Environment do her homework all over again, this time conforming to her own department's statutes and regulations. That is something else, Mr. Speaker. What a blow to the pride of our Minister of the Environment, who had boasted only a few months earlier that she had settled the whole thing.

So the work was stopped by an injunction, work that had been delayed continuously and had already used up its budget. They say that it would cost between $150 000 and $180 000 a day to go on with the project.

And while all this flagrant bungling was going on, those in charge of the Coast Guard and Environment Canada were telling us "No problem. This is a well-oiled operation." Never were words so well chosen, for the whole danger of this controversial operation lay in its "well-oiled" nature.

We are continuing to follow this issue very closely and are anxious to see what the minister's next steps will be. I have drawn a parallel between this issue and Bill C-83, an act to amend the Auditor General Act, since the purpose of that bill is to create a commissioner of the environment responsible for overseeing situations like that of the Irving Whale .

It gives me pleasure to intervene, because this bill arises from the dissenting opinion expressed by the Bloc Quebecois in the May 1995 report of the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development on the commissioner of the environment and sustainable development.

As a result of the committee's work on this subject, the Bloc members proposed three essential criteria in the creation of the position of environmental auditor. They are as follows. First, it is the government's responsibility to establish the policies and the auditor's to examine them. Second, we must avoid creating more

organizations with similar mandates. Third, economic and environmental elements must be intrinsically linked.

These criteria gave rise to our party's proposal that the mandate of the auditor general of the environment be given to the office of the auditor general along with the resources it requires to effectively carry out its role.

That is what we proposed at the time. Our proposal was influenced in large measure by the testimony given by the auditor general, Denis Desautels. In testifying before the committee, Mr. Desautels indicated that his office performed the audit duties that would constitute the prime responsibilities of an auditor general of the environment. In other words, the auditor general indicated that he was already involved in environment issues and that he spent $4.5 million on them annually.

He also felt that his office could take on full responsibility for examining environmental and sustainable development matters with an additional appropriation of $4.5 million-making a total of $9 million. The route proposed by the auditor general struck us as the most sensible, simple and effective one to take. The Bloc Quebecois therefore proposed this route, and with Bill C-83 the government confirmed that we were right.

Most committee members were in favour of increasing structures. The Liberal and Reform members advocated, at one and the same time, a new body to be known as the office of the commissioner for the environment and sustainable development and the retention of the auditor general's duties in this area. Liberals and Reformers recommended an office of the environment and of sustainable development, with a budget of $5 million and staff of 30 professional and 15 support employees.

Also as mentioned in recommendation No. 17 of the report, they wanted to congratulate the auditor general on his initiatives on the environment and urge him to keep up the good work. The committee also recommended amending the Auditor General Act so he would have the appropriate instruments to do his job.

Liberals and Reform Party members on the committee were in favour of a new, specific structure, while maintaining and enhancing another structure with the same responsibilities. This would have been inconsistent, inefficient and very costly. Fortunately, the Bloc made its own proposals, and the Liberal minister listened to us, instead of acting on the recommendations of her own members which would have created duplication and overlap within the federal government.

I am glad that the Bloc and the auditor general opted for a common sense approach in this matter.

I think the Liberals and Reform Party members on the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development do not have a clue what common sense means and what the environmental facts are, and I am referring to problems out there that must be dealt with quickly and effectively.

Another instance of this lack of realism on the part of Liberal and Reform members on the committee could be seen in the report on the quinquennial review of the CEPA, the Canadian Environmental Protection Act.

Liberals and Reform Party members were convinced that it was absolutely necessary to further centralize authority in Ottawa in order to protect the environment. In this report, members opposite and next to us raised several considerations to justify increased centralization of authority in environmental matters. They referred to the growing globalization of environmental problems, the issue of national interest, the increasing importance of international trade and an ecosystem based approach as so many reasons for suggesting that the federal government expand its role and take full responsibility for environmental protection.

With these proposals the committee, in its report on the CEPA-by the way, the Bloc did not agree with the report-ignored the fact that the provinces already had most of the responsibility in this area. The committee, minus the Bloc, takes its cues from the government. They speak the same language, the language of centralization. The federal government wants more power, steadily encroaching on areas that, either directly or indirectly, come under provincial jurisdiction.

This encroachment by the federal government obviously leads to legislative and regulatory duplication which has the effect of setting back and undermining environmental protection. This duplication also causes some reluctance and apprehension among developers who no longer know where they stand. It is not very good for the economy. And this while members opposite keep talking about the economy and creating jobs.

With its increasing propensity for minding the business of the provinces the government is hardly stimulating the economy. In fact, it makes things increasingly difficult for its beloved economy. This is very disturbing. And it is very disturbing for an economy that is supposed to produce all those jobs promised by the Liberals and for the environment, which is in dire need of being protected and renewed.

Is there a way out of this extreme centralist approach? No, not unless we take matters into our own hands as we are about to do in Quebec on October 30. Federalism as such is centralizing, and I would say very much so. This excessive centralization and the manifold duplications it generates means established businesses have to work harder in order to be heard by both levels of government, face double the paper work and are obliged to meet the requirements of two levels of government.

One convincing example of the federal government's duplication involves the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, which came in effect last January. Environmental assessment had been, until then, essentially a matter of provincial jurisdiction, had it not? The federal government's unilateral action turned the rules of the game completely around. We in Quebec have been doing environmental assessments for more than 15 years. We have developed an expertise and have established a reputation. With its legislation, the federal government wrecked everything. Worse yet, the federal government did not incorporate any of the amendments proposed by Quebec or any of the other provinces.

The repercussions of this affront to Quebec and the other provinces on the CCME, the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment, were significant. While the federal minister was inviting her provincial counterparts to discuss harmonization, the events of January 1995 cooled things off considerably.

According to some sources, the climate between the minister and her counterparts remains unsettled. The federal minister would appear to be acting in a somewhat cavalier fashion by showing little concern for the provinces or for the environment. But what do you expect, Mr. Speaker, the minister is much more a political creature than an environmentalist. She is also much more of a federalist at all cost, a vehement centralist, than a decentralist.

Her partisan instincts lead her to unacceptable behaviour that raises a lot of concerns about the environment. She will certainly not effectively manage the environment by treading on the backs of the provinces-quite the contrary. The provinces, and Quebec in particular, have a considerable lead in this area. The minister should respect this and stop meddling in areas of jurisdiction already occupied, and well occupied at that, by the provinces.

If the new Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development looks carefully at the federal government's intrusion into areas of provincial jurisdiction, I am sure that he will focus on how overlap and duplication is detrimental to sound management of the environment.

To get back to this bill, the minister proposes to amend the role of the auditor general by giving him the specific mandate to look into matters related to the environment and sustainable development. As I said earlier and as he himself pointed out during hearings, the auditor general has already opened the door by setting aside $4.5 million a year for this purpose.

The bill provides for the appointment by the auditor general of a senior officer to be called the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, who will perform this specific task.

One of the commissioner's duties will be to submit an annual report to the House of Commons on behalf of the auditor general. This report will deal mainly with two things: first, the extent to which departments have met the objectives and implemented their plans concerning the environment and sustainable development; and second, a record of the petitions received and their status.

What is new in this bill is that it requires the new commissioner to do two things: one, to ensure that category I departments table a sustainable development strategy within two years after this bill comes into force; two, to open a door by allowing citizens wishing to be heard to file petitions calling for action on the environment and sustainable development.

These two initiatives seem worthwhile in principle. In reality, however, one may wonder how much actual impact they will have.

Let us have a closer look at this new opportunity for people to file petitions with the commissioner.

This is a very simple procedure. The petition must be filed within the specified deadline; certified copies must be sent to those directly concerned; finally, the department responsible must provide a response. The procedure will be implemented without problems.

What I question though is the effectiveness of such petitions. Is this bill merely and stupidly putting in place a mechanism by which petitions can be tabled or will it really enable the people to have an say and to effect change?

In light of what is achieved through the petitions we table in this House, allow me to doubt their ability to effect any changes. The government's will to respond by taking swift action is seriously lacking. Petitions are given only trivial answers, based on facts, statistics or results and in no way sway the government or compel it to do anything. Petitions are not taken seriously by the government.

What will become of petitions to the commissioner of the environment? They will have the same fate as the rest of the petitions tabled in this place, since they will be answered by the same departments. There is no doubt that the government should be forced to pay greater attention to this means of applying pressure that the taxpayers have. Greater merit should be recognized to petitions.

I can remember the petition I tabled in this House regarding the Irving Whale . On September 23, 1994, petitioners from the Magdalen Islands asked that leaks be stopped and that further public, and particularly more transparent, hearings be held on this issue. To no avail. The barge continued to leak and is still leaking as we speak, but no further hearings were held.

The Minister of Transport's answer was flat and did not take into account the concerns expressed by the people. Petitions are useless since governments pay little attention to such demands.

This is highly regrettable and it aggrieves the people. On the other hand, while not signing any petitions, lobbies are paid much more attention to by ministers. The Liberals opposite are particularly lax in that area. Recent decisions clearly show that lobbyist and minister go hand in hand, while petitions amount to nothing.

This concludes my remarks on the petition aspect of the bill. Let us now turn to the other key element, namely the development and tabling of sustainable development strategies by the departments.

I immediately wonder about the two year time limit for tabling these strategies. What will the commissioner do during those two years, since his job is to make inquiries and monitor the implementation of departmental action plans and report annually on the extent to which objectives were met? What is the commissioner going to do for two years? This measure means that, to all intents of purposes, he or she will have nothing to audit for three years, assuming that the initial report will be on the first year the strategies are implemented.

Let us now examine these sustainable development strategies. First of all, it needs to be pointed out that they replace the green plan, that famous green plan which held such promise, but has passed on after years of neglect by the government.

We in the Bloc see this new federal government approach as another serious threat of encroachment and intrusion into provincial areas of jurisdiction. This concept of sustainable development which the federal departments are to develop concretely into plans raises some legitimate concerns. Does not sustainable development concern resources, an area of provincial jurisdiction?

Recent federal government actions, including the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, as well as the Liberals' ultracentralist intent in the report on the CEPA, are clear evidence to us of this tendency to interfere.

The federal government, under the guise of ecologizing the operations of each department, is actually implementing an overall result-oriented sustainable development strategy. On first view, one might believe this to be an initiative with exclusively federal effects, but when the description and orientations of this initiative are examined, it can be seen that it will be able to influence all of the provincial governments directly.

This initiative goes much further. By introducing sustainable development, each department has an opportunity to take responsibility for certain areas under federal jurisdiction. To achieve the desired results, the federal government has identified certain objectives for sustainable development which it intends to promote. For instance, it wants to ensure that the development of renewable and non-renewable resources, many of which, I may remind you, are exclusively under provincial jurisdiction, is sustainable.

Even if the provinces play a major role in achieving these objectives, the federal government has clearly indicated that it will emphasize communications and consultations with individuals and the private sector. It has only hinted at the possibility of joint management agreements with the provinces and aboriginal communities.

This approach, including implementation of the concept of sustainable development and an emphasis on relations with individuals and the private sector, may be seen as a threat to the provinces. A very subtle threat, which nevertheless reveals the cavalier approach of a federal government that uses this diversion to satisfy its hunger for centralism. In fact, the federal government increasingly resorts to this kind of strategy to get around the provinces and encroach on a number of areas.

As far as the environment is concerned, this approach is both unfortunate and dangerous. The federal government's record is not outstanding in this respect, and centralism does not tend to produce quick results where they are needed. We must not forget that the environment is out there, not in the offices of Ottawa's bureaucrats.

We think that before making any claims that they can do a better job, federal departments should start by complying with provincial legislation. The environment is one area where the provinces played a very active role well before the federal government did so. In fact, the Constitution confers on them a role that is more important than that of the federal government which, over the years, has used and abused its spending power in provincial jurisdictions. Ever since the federal government broke this delicate balance in the middle of the eighties, the result has been overlapping jurisdictions, conflicting objectives and costly duplication.

Fortunately, in Quebec, on October 30, Quebecers will decide to make their own country. Our environment will no longer be at the mercy of the federal government and will be able to breath easier.