House of Commons Hansard #103 of the 36th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was transportation.

Topics

Samuel De Champlain Day Act
Private Members' Business

7:10 p.m.

Ottawa—Vanier
Ontario

Liberal

Mauril Bélanger Parliamentary Secretary to Minister of Canadian Heritage

Mr. Speaker, it is often said that Canada is a young nation. But our heritage and our development as a society can also be measured by criteria that go back much further than our 133 years of official existence as a country.

Indeed our ability to truly understand and appreciate who we are is enhanced when viewed in a much broader context.

The Canada of today has been shaped by events and people whose importance and contributions we must not allow to be forgotten or diminished by the passage of time.

So let us take a brief look at this important explorer. For over 40 years of his life, between the time of his first visit to Canada in 1603 and his death on Christmas Day, in 1635, in the settlement at Quebec, Samuel de Champlain devoted himself to building what would become a strong and vibrant French colony in North America.

Samuel de Champlain's courage and perseverance in pursuing his dream left a legacy that we should preserve and celebrate. That is the underlying purpose of the bill before the House today.

Bill C-428, an act establishing Samuel de Champlain Day, calls on the government to pay tribute to this great Canadian explorer each year on June 26, beginning in 2004.

According to some, this date is an extremely important one in our nation's history because it is recognized, at least by some historians, as the 400th anniversary of the establishment of the first French colony on St. Croix Island, in Acadia, on the border of New Brunswick, in the Bay of Fundy. Marking the 400th anniversary of the founding of this community is quite an occasion.

Champlain, who was a geographer on the de Monts expedition, which landed in Acadia in 1604, was looking for a location for a permanent French colony. With Mr. de Monts, Champlain chose this island at the mouth of the St. Croix River, because of its central location and its accessible and sheltered harbour.

His interest in this region in southern Acadia also had to do with his primary concern, which was to find a passage to reach China's riches. The west facing slopes of the Atlantic coast in the area made Champlain believe that such a passage might exist. As we now know, Champlain was going to be disappointed in his quest for the East's wealth, but very pleased with his discovery of Canada's riches.

As some members mentioned, the first winter in New France for Champlain and the members of the new settlement was terrible. Of the 79 men that accompanied him, 35 died of scurvy. This was definitely not a promising start, but these difficult beginnings eventually led to a lively and solid French presence in the New World.

Champlain spent three consecutive winters in the Bay of Fundy. During his stay, he explored the region between the Isle of St. Croix and the settlement of Port-Royal, now Annapolis, in Nova Scotia. He also ventured south as far as Cape Cod.

For Champlain, the second voyage in New France was soon followed by a third one. The highlight of this trip occurred on July 3, 1608, when the great explorer founded a small colony in Quebec—a colony that slowly grew to become the very heart of the French language and culture in North America.

Samuel de Champlain had done great things as early as the summer of 1608, but many of his trips and discoveries would come later. One year after founding Quebec, he travelled with the Hurons, the Algonquins and the Montagnais to explore the area, including the lake south of Montreal which now bears his name.

Married to Hélène Boullé during a brief trip to France, in 1610, Champlain returned to Canada less than a year later, continuing his exploration of the St. Lawrence and opening a trading post in Mont-Royal. Those who have visited Place Royale in the historic old port of Montreal have been struck by the spirit of one of its first European visitors, Samuel de Champlain.

In 1613, Champlain left the island across from the port of Montreal, Île Sainte-Hélène, which he had named in honour of his wife, and began to explore the sites familiar to generations of Canadians who have visited Parliament Hill, the Gatineau River, the Rideau River and the Chaudière Falls.

Subsequently, Champlain would extend his travels as far westward as Lake Huron in 1615 and southward along the Trent River to the Bay of Quinte crossing Lake Ontario to portions of what is now New York State.

I would be remiss not to mention Explorer's Point Park in my hometown of Mattawa which was dedicated to the memory of Samuel de Champlain, and the Samuel de Champlain Provincial Park a few kilometres up the Mattawa River between Mattawa and North Bay.

Honoured for his accomplishments, Champlain was entrusted with the overall direction of political affairs in New France. The explorer's considerable talents and stamina had already been tested by his arduous journeys, hostile encounters and struggles against the harsh Canadian climate.

The task of colonizing this new outpost of the French empire proved equally challenging for Champlain. He understood the need to encourage and foster human settlement, agriculture and commerce if these new territories were to remain under the flag of France. While dealing with the challenges posed by his various political enemies at home, his repeated trips between new and old France gave him the opportunity to encourage settlers to join him in building a new society on the shores of the St. Lawrence River.

In 1629, Quebec fell to the English forces. The colony surrendered, and Champlain was taken to England as a prisoner. Four years later, following the signing of a peace treaty, he returned to Quebec with the title of commander and remained there until his death in 1635.

All told, Samuel de Champlain made more than a dozen crossings between Europe and the new world, changing both the map of the known world and the course of history.

Champlain might be surprised to know that almost four centuries after the founding of the first French settlement on St. Croix Island his name and legacy enjoy an honoured place in the history of our nation. Today a country called Canada flies neither the flag of France nor England but proudly celebrates the heritage of both these founding cultures.

Through his remarkable achievements Samuel de Champlain helped to secure the presence of the French language and culture in North America. In very real terms Champlain helped define who we are. At the dawn of this century and millennium, Canada is a modern outward looking nation that recognizes and celebrates the contributions of cultures from every corner of the world. Anchoring this vision of openness and accommodation is our official recognition of not one but two official languages.

Samuel de Champlain was a key contributor to Canada's evolution. Because of our history based on two of the great languages of the world, we are a society that easily communicates and interacts with a great number of other nations.

Canada's role as a leader in the Francophonie is an important example of this scope and influence. In this major international forum, Canada plays an active role in promoting French language and culture and building ties among the francophone peoples of the world.

This is an achievement that would no doubt bring great satisfaction to Samuel de Champlain.

The approaching 400th anniversary of Champlain's participation in the first French colony on the Isle of St. Croix will provide an opportunity to mark this stage in our life as a nation significantly.

This would be a proud anniversary for Acadians, who can trace their heritage back to these courageous ancestors, for all the people of New Brunswick, the frontier where this modest first colony was built, and for all the people of Canada.

This serves as a reminder that, while our country is considered still relatively young, we are beginning to measure our history in centuries. We can be justly proud of our history and of the famous figures, such as Samuel de Champlain, not to exclude the others, who contributed to the writing of that history.

The spirit of Champlain is a presence for us until today. Not far from this House, visitors to the Museum of Civilization in Hull can see the astrolabe Champlain used to navigate his way through the Ottawa valley four centuries ago.

It is highly unlikely that this great explorer would have expected his lost instrument to someday find a place in a major national institution. It is even less likely that he would have dreamed that the nation he helped found would one day be recognized as one of the best in the world.

Our history teems with examples of women and men whose heroism, leadership, energy and vision have contributed to the growth and development of Canada. Samuel de Champlain is among their number.

Without question we must ensure that Canadians keep alive the memory of this great explorer. We must ensure that his extraordinary efforts to help the French language and culture take firm root in North America are both remembered and celebrated.

During the debate on this motion, it is obvious that the concept on which it is based is worthy of our recognition and appreciation. This concept is of vital importance, and we hope to be able to continue to celebrate our heritage, through either legislative measures or some other means. Building our future together requires us to keep alive the memory of our past, and to honour that past.

Samuel De Champlain Day Act
Private Members' Business

7:20 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Resuming debate, the hon. member for New Brunswick Southwest. I should advise the House that if the hon. member speaks now, he will close the debate. The hon. member will have five minutes for his remarks.

Samuel De Champlain Day Act
Private Members' Business

7:25 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Greg Thompson Charlotte, NB

Mr. Speaker, I will say from the outset that I am a little disappointed in the remarks that were made by the member of the CA, formerly known as the Reform Party. I guess that is what we would expect from that party in terms of recognition. I was extremely disappointed when he termed the bill “an elitist centrist approach”. I cannot believe he would say that. I think he loses the generosity which this bill encompasses. I am very disappointed in his remarks.

Again I am somewhat disappointed by the Bloc. I was told by some people that the members of the Bloc would probably not support the bill simply because they did not invent it. I am very disappointed. It does not exclude anyone who contributed to the establishment of Quebec and those other great explorers and cartographers. This bill simply does not do that.

There are other members who do support it and I am somewhat encouraged by what the government has had to say. The generosity of this place indicates that we should go back to the drawing board and find a way to make this happen, whether it is through the legislative process of a bill or something else. I think this is a Canadian who deserves recognition. I do not think we should get lost in the semantics. Was he Canadian, was Canada a country, et cetera, is all lost in debate. Nobody wants to debate those issues.

We are talking about an individual who very much contributed to what we know as Canada today. It is not at the exclusion of anyone else regardless of who that anyone else might be, whether it is Henry Hudson or Jacques Cartier. That is not the point of the bill. It is simply to give recognition to someone who had a significant contribution to the founding of what is now known as Canada. It is as simple as that.

I take heart from the support I have had in the House. I am sure that with a little re-engineering and ingenuity we can find a way to honour what we consider to be one of Canada's heroes in what we now know as Canada. We will continue the debate on this issue at a later date.

Samuel De Champlain Day Act
Private Members' Business

7:25 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The time provided for the consideration of Private Members' Business has now expired. As the motion has not been designated as a votable item, the order is dropped from the order paper.

Pursuant to the order adopted earlier today, the House will now proceed to the consideration of Government Business No. 11.

Migratory Birds Convention Act
Government Orders

May 30th, 2000 / 7:25 p.m.

Victoria
B.C.

Liberal

David Anderson Minister of the Environment

moved:

That this House take note of the Order amending the Schedule to the Migratory Birds Convention Act to incorporate the Parksville Protocol, which amends the 1916 Migratory Birds Convention, tabled on Thursday, May 18, 2000.

Migratory Birds Convention Act
Government Orders

7:25 p.m.

Burlington
Ontario

Liberal

Paddy Torsney Parliamentary Secretary to Minister of the Environment

Mr. Speaker, amending the migratory birds convention represents the fulfilment of a goal particularly to ensure its conformity with the aboriginal and treaty rights of the aboriginal peoples of Canada. The migratory birds convention is North America's oldest international wildlife conservation pact. Together with the sister treaty between the United States and Mexico, it provides the framework for the management and conservation of migratory birds in North America.

The convention was created to preserve species of migratory birds considered beneficial or harmless to people. Since 1916 Canada and the United States have achieved a remarkable story of conservation success. This act enabled us to end an era of severe overexploitation of migratory birds by market hunters and nest collectors. Today together with Mexico our unique tri-national partnership is continuing to respond to the changing conservation needs of these species.

The conservation of habitat is key to the conservation of species. For migratory species like birds, it is essential that our countries work together to conserve breeding areas in the north, staging and stopover sites along flyways and wintering areas in the south. The North American bird conservation initiative ensures we accomplish that goal.

Let me tell all members of the House that I had the great privilege of being at Last Mountain Lake in Saskatchewan where we have the most amazing flyway. I encourage everyone to take the chance to get out there and see the magnificence of our nature and the great conservation system that is in place.

We are relying on sound science. We are identifying bird conservation priorities, expanding traditional partnerships and working on a co-operative basis, particularly with landowners and users, to conserve birds and their habitats. The foundation of this effort is the international migratory bird treaties.

The need to amend the convention has long been recognized, but previous efforts were not successful. The protocol to amend the migratory birds convention is the product of extensive consultations in Canada and the United States that began early in the last decade. The protocol was negotiated and signed in 1995 and was formally ratified by Canada and the United States in 1999. Its entry into force is an important event.

At their core, the convention amendments are migratory bird conservation amendments. They make more explicit the conservation principles underlying the management of these continentally shared species.

The protocol itself represents the first ever amendments to the convention and sends a compelling message that we cherish the richness of our shared migratory bird species and their critical habitats, that we respect the diverse cultural traditions and the subsistence way of life of our aboriginal peoples, and that we understand the imperative to expand and strengthen our partnerships for responsible conservation and stewardship of migratory birds.

Among its amendments the protocol removes inconsistencies between the 1916 migratory birds convention and aboriginal and treaty rights protected under section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982 by recognizing that aboriginal and treaty rights to harvest migratory birds may exist. It opens year-round hunting privileges to qualified non-aboriginal residents of Canada's northern communities who depend on a subsistence lifestyle where relevant aboriginal agreements permit the activity. It permits an earlier opening date for the fall hunting season in northern Canada, allowing more equitable access for qualified northern residents. It recognizes the traditional harvest of murres in Newfoundland and Labrador, an activity not recognized in the convention which was signed more than three decades before Newfoundland joined Canada in Confederation.

The need to amend the migratory birds convention has existed since the convention was first drafted and was heightened with the Constitution Act, 1982. It must acknowledge the customs, traditions and rights of Canada's aboriginal peoples.

The protocol accommodates traditional and customary hunting patterns that were not part of the 1916 treaty and brings provisions into line with Canada's constitutional obligations to our aboriginal peoples.

The migratory birds convention prohibits hunting migratory game birds from March 10 to September 1 and all other migratory birds year-round. Migratory birds have left large areas of Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut by mid-September and in these areas they generally do not return before March 10. As a consequence, much of the traditional harvest of migratory birds in the territories has taken place, and continues to take place, during the closed season portion of the year, especially in the spring.

Aboriginal and subsistence hunters in Canada want to hunt within the law when they take what is often the first meat that is available in the spring. It is an important part of their food supply. Aboriginal and subsistence hunters want to participate in managing the birds they share in common.

Active participation by aboriginal hunters and co-management councils will help make sure that these important changes to the convention are successful both legally and practically, leading to substantive improvements in the conservation of waterfowl and other migratory birds. The protocol before the House will do this. It provides a platform to involve aboriginal people in the management of these species. It will improve efforts to conserve migratory birds by allowing sound scientific data and traditional and local knowledge to be collected on the spring harvest.

Included in the amendments is the authority for Canada to manage the hunt of murres by the people of Newfoundland and Labrador. This issue was in need of being addressed since Newfoundland joined Confederation in 1949.

Amending the convention has heightened the ability of Canada and the United States to manage for sustainable use the migratory bird populations of North America. It contributes to our government's “Gathering Strength” initiative aimed at renewing our relationship with our aboriginal peoples.

May I offer my congratulations and the congratulations I am sure of the entire House to the team members responsible for bringing this important initiative to fruition. It is a crucial step toward protecting wildlife species and their habitats across North America and in acknowledging the customs, traditions and rights of Canada's aboriginal peoples.

Migratory Birds Convention Act
Government Orders

7:35 p.m.

Reform

John Duncan Vancouver Island North, BC

Mr. Speaker, I have looked at the Migratory Birds Convention Act and the amendments thereto, and I have boiled it down to three main messages that I would like to deliver tonight.

The first is, basically, that this take note debate tonight and the lack of a ratification process in Canada points out the inadequacies of our Canadian parliamentary practices and our system very clearly. Here we have a bilateral agreement with the United States and essentially this agreement comes into play when the U.S. ratifies it through its senate and then through presidential signature. In our case we do not have any checks or balances.

The second major message is that there is another bilateral treaty on migratory birds in North America. It is not the one between Canada and the U.S., it is the one between the U.S. and Mexico. That migratory birds convention treaty will have some ramifications on the Canada-U.S. treaty. I think we ought to recognize that and talk about it a bit.

The third message that I have is that the language which Canada has chosen to use in dealing with a very important amendment to the migratory birds convention, which is a schedule to the Migratory Birds Convention Act, that deals with aboriginal issues uses open ended language that will lead to open ended issues. It requires better clarity and better language in order to avoid creating the problems that will derive because, once again, Canada chooses to use a waffle in the language. It is very apparent when we read the U.S. legislation that enables the amendment that applies to indigenous peoples' issues in Alaska that they have done everything they can to narrowly define their terminology, and we have done everything we can to do just the opposite. Those are my three main messages.

The migratory birds convention was ratified by the U.S. and Canada in 1916. The parliamentary secretary described quite well why that came about. There were many vanishing species of birds as a consequence of things that were happening at the time. It is a pioneering document. It was an important international treaty. The main thing it did was to control the hunting of migratory birds, primarily by prohibiting hunting during closed seasons.

The other treaty I referred to between Mexico and the U.S. came along 20 years later, in 1936. The Canada-U.S. model was there to act as a prototype.

Since the inception of the migratory birds convention there have been problems in the U.S. and Canada where the act or the convention has not corresponded with the traditional hunting of birds by aboriginal or indigenous peoples and aboriginal people have been charged under the Migratory Birds Convention Act. This has been an ongoing conflict.

We would be the first ones to agree that amending the migratory birds convention, because it is an international treaty, is politically and procedurally difficult. Therefore, there have been no amendments to date.

Since at least the 1975 James Bay and northern Quebec agreement the federal government has been promising the aboriginal peoples that there would be amendments. In 1990 the Canadian Wildlife Service began meetings with governments, non-governmental organizations and aboriginal people. Finally, in December of 1995 this led to the U.S. and Canada signing a protocol to amend the migratory birds convention to allow traditional hunting by aboriginal people.

In 1997 the U.S. senate gave its advice and consent. That is what the U.S. senate is for. It is the elected senate. The President of the United States finally signed the protocol to allow its implementation in late 1999.

On the Canadian side we had the Minister of Canadian Heritage. I am not sure in what capacity she signed that document in 1995.

Migratory Birds Convention Act
Government Orders

7:40 p.m.

Liberal

Paddy Torsney Burlington, ON

She was then Minister of the Environment.

Migratory Birds Convention Act
Government Orders

7:40 p.m.

Reform

John Duncan Vancouver Island North, BC

The Minister of the Environment. In our system there is no check or balance whatsoever. In our system that constitutes ratification.

I have a basic fundamental problem with that, as does the opposition. However, that is the way it is. Our signature meant nothing until 1999 because it was not ratified by the other party. Now that it has been ratified by the other party, our signature is taken for granted. That is a fine way to do business. I am being facetious, of course.

The protocol entered into forced when the instruments of ratification were exchanged on October 7, 1999.

In 1997 a protocol on changes to the Mexico-U.S. migratory birds convention was also consented to by the U.S. senate. That has happened along the same timeframe.

What we are debating tonight is basically an amendment to the old 1916 migratory birds convention, which is a schedule or an appendix to the Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994. That is what we are talking about.

Ours is called the Migratory Birds Convention Act. The American legislation is similar but different. I think theirs is called the migratory birds conservation act, for example. There certainly are major differences in how they deal with aboriginal peoples in our case or indigenous peoples in their case.

The new regulations include a whole new section, section 4, which basically talks about harvesting by aboriginal peoples. It says that migratory birds and their eggs “may be harvested throughout the year by aboriginal peoples of Canada having aboriginal or treaty rights”.

It further states that inedible byproducts may be sold but the birds and eggs so taken shall be offered for barter, exchange, trade or sale only within or between aboriginal communities as provided for in the relevant treaties, land claims agreements, self-government agreements or co-management agreements made with the aboriginal peoples of Canada.

That is one of the proposed sections in our amendment to the Migratory Birds Convention Act. I just want to point out that the old language did not use the term aboriginal. The old language, which is still in the regulations, does not talk about aboriginals. It talks about Indians and defines the word as having the same meaning as in the Indian Act. It talks about Inuk and defines it as meaning a person who is a direct descendant of a person who is or was of the race of aborigines commonly referred to as Eskimos and possesses at least one-quarter Inuk blood.

I am very familiar with the Indian Act. I am very familiar with all the definitions surrounding the terms Indian, Inuk, Inuit, Metis and several others. I was unaware until today that Canadian documentation anywhere referred to blood quotient, but indeed I find it in the regulations attached to the Migratory Birds Convention Act when it talks about Inuk. I was quite surprised to see that. It tends to be an American convention or way of doing things. I had not seen it in Canadian statutes or regulations at any time before. It was a bit of a surprise.

At least we have a pretty clear definition in the regulations. Where we have a problem now is that this new amendment states that migratory birds “may be harvested throughout the year by aboriginal peoples of Canada having aboriginal or treaty rights”.

That was probably imported from the constitution because similar language is used in section 35. However, if one wanted to define aboriginal it is simply not there. I looked. It is not defined anywhere in the act or the regulations. Neither are aboriginal rights defined. We all know what a treaty is. It either is or is not, but aboriginal rights are not defined either. This is totally open ended and I will relate some the ways it is open ended.

We may have one definition in Canada but we cannot constrain this agreement to Canada alone. This is a bilateral agreement. Let us talk about the Nisga'a treaty which we debated at some length in this place. It said that Nisga'a citizens had the right to trade or barter among themselves or with other aboriginal people any migratory birds harvested under this agreement.

I went to the glossary in the Nisga'a agreement. There is no glossary in the Nisga'a agreement. I went to the definitions. There are definitions in the Nisga'a agreement but they do not cover that part of the alphabet or do not cover aboriginal, aboriginal rights or aboriginal people. None of those words were defined. The only thing relied upon in the Nisga'a agreement once again is the Indian Act definition of Indian. That is how the Nisga'a define themselves in terms of whether or not they are eligible to become Nisga'a citizens. That does not help.

Why am I expressing a concern? One of my concerns is who are other aboriginal people. Are they confined to Canada? Are they confined to British Columbia in this case or are they not? Is it confined to status Indians and Inuit? Is it confined to status or non-status Inuit? Is it confined to status or non-status Metis and Inuit?

This is not good enough. Let us look at the American language and the following terminology:

The protocol establishes eligibility for the indigenous inhabitants of Alaska. Indigenous inhabitants are defined as permanent residents of a village within a subsistence harvest area, regardless of race. Subsistence harvest areas are established to include most village areas within the Alaska peninsula, Kodiak archipelago, the Aleutian Islands and areas north and west of the Alaska range. Areas that would generally not qualify include the Anchorage, Matinooska, Susitnu and Fairbanks North Star Burrows, the Quini peninsula roaded area, the Gulf of Alaska roaded area and southeast Alaska. Exceptions to these areas can made through a deliberative process which includes the management bodies established by the service.

It is pretty definitive. There is a lot of clarity. Is this important? I believe it is.

First, the primary goal of the whole treaty process is conservation. Conservation is achieved most successfully when it is rules based and everyone knows what the rules are and to whom the rules apply.

Second, we are now at the point where what was clearly aboriginal harvest for domestic use has been expanded by the amendment and by the terms of the Nisga'a agreement. It is clearly a new direction to include the sale or possible commercial exploitation of migratory birds.

Any sale of migratory birds will be in accordance with federal and provincial laws of general application and with any Nisga'a law in respect of the sale of migratory birds harvested under the agreement. Nisga'a citizens have the right to sell inedible byproducts including down of migratory birds harvested under the agreement. It does not even constrain that by saying they have that right to sell only to other aboriginals.

Given that we do not have a high level of historical exploitation, I am suggesting that this could lead in that direction. We ought to be concerned about the clarity of the language and the clarity of the language is simply not good enough.

I will go back a bit to the second major point I want to talk about. The Canada-U.S. treaty is impacted by the Mexico-U.S. treaty on migratory birds. We could look at that plus the fact that we want the agreement to deal with conservation of species. We also want the agreement to allow for the fact that some species listed under the migratory birds convention have become pests since 1916 or even since 1985.

Snow geese are one example. The nesting grounds in the Arctic were getting beat up. They were taking a major hit. It took quite an effort by the federal government to come up with a way to get around the constraints of the migratory birds convention and allow a targeted hunt of snow geese to prevent the habitat destruction.

We currently have a similar situation in the middle part of our country and the middle part of the U.S. I spoke with a congressman from Minnesota last week who said they have the same problem there with cormorants. Cormorants are a listed species. I understand one of the reasons has everything to do with the reverence attached to blackbirds by the people of Mexico. That kind of got translated into the Canada-U.S. agreement.

We should be able to deal much more quickly with that issue than we have done up till now. Cormorants are major fish eaters. They are cleaning out lake habitats in the spring and summer in the prairies and in the mid-west. They are becoming very much a pest. We need to do something in that regard.

Those are the points that I wanted to make. I very much want to say that I think we all agree with the intent of the migratory birds convention. It is the role of the opposition to point out some inadequacies. We have some shortcomings here. We have some inadequacies in the way we have handled this issue. Because these agreements are so difficult to amend, when we do it we should do it right. We should clarify our language very precisely. That simply has not happened.

I hope we do better next time. Who knows when the next time will be? There is no doubt that an agreement which dates back to 1916 has basically stood the test till now.

Probably it will not be that long again until the next episode, simply because the world is changing and we are much more attuned to the environment that surrounds us. There is a degree of management that has to happen. Species do require some management from time to time.

We look forward to seeing some productive changes to the Migratory Birds Convention Act in the future.

Migratory Birds Convention Act
Government Orders

8 p.m.

Bloc

Jocelyne Girard-Bujold Jonquière, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to the order in council introduced on May 18 to amend the schedule to the Migratory Birds Convention Act so as to include the Parksville protocol, which amends the 1916 Migratory Bird Convention.

The government's proposal is merely intended to inform us about the change which will be made to this legislation. Members are not required to comment in any way on this legislative amendment.

Like the member for Beauharnois—Salaberry, I find this situation unacceptable because I feel it is essential to debate the issue of migratory birds today. I cannot but deplore the fact that the House of Commons is not permitted to take a stand with respect to international treaties, such as the biosafety protocol, which Canada did not sign, despite its fine promises in Montreal last winter.

The biosafety protocol is based on the concept of prior agreement reached with all the facts on the table, so that countries will consider the harmful effects that a genetically modified organism could have on their biodiversity before importing it and introducing it into the environment.

I am dismayed to note that the right to ratify international agreements is limited to the executive arm, which is peculiar to the British parliamentary regime on which our system is based.

It should be noted that the situation is very different in the United States, where the separation of the legislative, executive and judicial arms proposed by the French philosopher Montesquieu is followed to the letter.

I will now address Bill C-214 introduced by the member for Beauharnois—Salaberry, which would correct this situation. Under this bill, the Canadian government could not negotiate or conclude a treaty without first consulting provincial governments and the House of Commons.

As well, Bill C-214 would not in any way limit the royal prerogative of provincial governments to negotiate and sign treaties in an area under provincial jurisdiction. Bill C-214 would mean that Canada could not ratify any important treaty without the members of this House having first approved that treaty by resolution.

The case before us today is the order-in-council amending the schedule to the Migratory Birds Convention Act, which constitutes an important treaty because its implementation has, among other things, brought about the enactment of a federal statute. Why then does this government not want to consult members of parliament on this?

Just as was the case for MOX, it is obstinately forging ahead without consulting parliamentarians or the population, despite the recommendations of the Seaborn report, which stated as follows, in subsection 6.2.1.1 that the public must accept the plan for importing and stocking nuclear wastes before it is implemented.

I believe that, when Canada plans to ratify a treaty, this must not be done unless the Minister of Foreign Affairs has first tabled the treaty in the House of Commons, with an explanatory memorandum concerning the subject matter and the effects of the treaty, not later than twenty-one sitting days before it is to be ratified.

Thus, Canada should not ratify a treaty amending a treaty that it has ratified, as is the case today, unless it has notified us with an order making it possible to include in its federal legislation the amendments to the international agreement that has already been in place for some time. The Minister of Foreign Affairs should also have first tabled it in the House of Commons, not later than twenty-one sitting days before the amending treaty is to be ratified, with a note explaining the contents and effects of the treaty.

There is one very important point still to be mentioned. The intent of this bill is to fill a democratic gap resulting from the lack of real participation by the House of Commons and its members in all stages of the conclusion of international treaties.

We parliamentarians do not have a very high trust rating with the public. According to a poll taken in 1995 for the magazine L'Actualité , 4% of the population had full confidence in us. This poll stopped me in my tracks. At the time, I was not a member of parliament, but I was political assistant to the late member for Jonquière, André Caron, and I could not imagine such a thing.

The situation before us today does not improve our image with the public. I would hope that the bill of my colleague, the member for Beauharnois—Salaberry, will be passed thus correcting the current situation.

One thing is sure. The government could have arranged for the provinces and the House of Commons to have a say on this piece of legislation. We must not forget that the federal government asked the provinces to decide on the coming into force of the free trade agreement with the United States in the 1980s. Doing the same with the order amending the schedule to the Migratory Birds Convention Act would not have set a precedent.

Now that I have concluded these few introductory remarks, I will focus more specifically on the government's motion.

At the beginning of the century, in 1916, Canada and the United States recognized the need to protect certain common species of migratory birds. They signed an international agreement to protect those migratory birds considered useful or harmless to humanity. For almost 80 years, the 1916 Migratory Bird Convention provided the framework for the conservation of populations of migratory birds common to both the United States and Canada.

In 1994, the Canadian parliament introduced the Migratory Bird Convention Act, paving the way for tougher legislation to better protect migratory species. This legislation is administered by the Department of the Environment's Canadian Wildlife Service in co-operation with the governments of the provinces and territories. In fact, the provinces are responsible for enforcing the legislation. It is the provinces who are in a position to keep an eye on the public.

Through the enforcement and administration of this legislation in Quebec, the Government of Quebec was able, in April 1996, to hand out an initial important sentence in a case where the former owner of an outfitting operation was fined for using bait to hunt ducks, which is contrary to the regulations under the Migratory Bird Convention. Quebec is thus doing its job under the legislation.

However, certain species seen as harmful at the beginning of the century, and subsequently left unprotected, are now recognized as important to the environment and to our ecosystems.

Similarly, the guidelines set down at the beginning of the century are no longer completely consistent with today's reality. Increasingly, there is agreement that effective protection of species is not possible if we do not take into account all the factors that affect them, such as their habitats. Close and ongoing co-operation is essential between the various levels of government involved.

I will, if I may, quote from the report by the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development tabled this morning in the House, which says, and I quote “—the shared nature of environmental jurisdiction requires close co-operation between federal, provincial and territorial governments”.

It is sad to see this increasingly centralizing attitude on the part of government members regarding environmental issues. Instead of working with the provinces, the federal government ignores their specificity and comes up with new programs or acts that encroach on their jurisdictions.

Migratory birds know no borders. Therefore, it is important to legislate at the international level. The protection of migratory species comes under federal jurisdiction, while the protection of their habitats is a provincial responsibility. This is why it is important to have sound agreements between the provinces and also adequate provincial laws. We do not question that reality, but we have a right to expect that much from the federal government.

Still, as I said before, what upsets me about the Migratory Birds Convention Act is not the need for international agreements on the protection of migratory birds, but the way the negotiation, signing and ratification of international agreements are conducted in Canada. That approach is seriously flawed.

We feel as though we are back in the 19th century, when it was common to sign bilateral agreements, including mutual defence agreements, in absolute secrecy. How can parliamentarians fulfil their responsibilities if the executive branch does not allow them to do so?

I remind members of the executive branch that they do not enjoy more public legitimacy than I do. They were elected, just like me, as parliamentarians and, if they hold a cabinet post, it is simply because the Prime Minister decided so, not because they were mandated by the public. But the public should be aware of our frustration as parliamentarians when we cannot express our support for or opposition to a treaty ratified by the executive branch. The public might wonder, and rightly so, what we are doing here. What is the point of going to the polls if members of parliament only enjoy limited power?

All these questions remain unanswered with the government's proposal before us.

Migratory Birds Convention Act
Government Orders

8:15 p.m.

NDP

Rick Laliberte Churchill River, SK

Mr. Speaker, I want to start off by saying that the migratory birds convention in North America has a history dating back to 1916. The amendments that are taking place today are probably long overdue in terms of the relationship this country and the nation to the south of us called the United States have with aboriginal people. It would be more clearly rectified on the rights and the privileges that the indigenous populations have here in this country and this continent.

We sit in the House of Commons. The original protocol was signed in 1916 and was between the United Kingdom and the United States of America, which brings us back to recognize that Canada at the time was a colony of Britain. Under these perspectives I draw to the attention of the House that the indigenous and aboriginal peoples of this country should have been dearly respected right from the creation of this country as opposed to being marginalized by an Indian Act, by the crown defining who is an aboriginal person, who is an Indian child, or who is an Indian mother. All these terminologies are a grave mistake. To correct and update the migratory birds convention to May 30, 2000 is what we are debating in the House today.

I would like to draw to the attention of the hon. member who spoke on behalf of the opposition that we do not share some of these views. The views may change in light of respecting one's place and one's rights, Canada being a country which is part of North America. I wanted to jump up and say something at one point in time here.

We are dealing with the migratory birds convention and luckily so. Ducks may fly high enough that we do not get them all when we are harvesting or hunting, but we should have had a migratory bison convention. The buffalo were wreaked to the point of extinction on this continent for the mere purpose of marginalizing the dependency of aboriginal people. It is truly a travesty in our history.

Bison should still be roaming free on the prairies and plains but we did not have regulatory systems. There were no regulatory systems because they wanted to make the indigenous population dependent on the newcomers and their new foods. An independent nation or an independent people would be a lot freer to negotiate their way into this constitution or to any other constitution.

At this time in the year 2000, we now have a government that is willing to negotiate on behalf of the aboriginal people of this country, to negotiate with another country a rightful place for harvesting for food and sustenance, and down to protect ourselves from the winter cold. Down comforters are probably the best way to fight off the winter cold no matter where we live.

The snow goose and the cormorant are two contentious issues. I have never heard that the U.S. and Mexico migratory birds convention deals with cormorants as a recognized black duck. I call them Daffy Ducks because that is what they look like when they fly by. They do wreak havoc in the fishing population in our northern lakes and northern states.

The culling of the snow goose may have been too reactionary. I believe a proper harvest could have been planned without being detrimental to its habitat as was highlighted.

There is a need for an international convention and that is what this is. The protocol that was negotiated after some public consultations brought forward three provisions: to provide year-round access to migratory birds for food by qualified non-aboriginal residents of northern Canada living in a subsistent lifestyle; to allow for earlier opening of the fall hunting seasons for residents of the northern territories; to enable partnerships to be developed for migratory bird conservation and provide a mechanism for input by aboriginal communities into the continental management regime for migratory birds.

These are the major components of the protocol. A specific convention in this protocol states to be aware that changes to the convention are required to ensure conformity with the aboriginal and treaty rights of aboriginal peoples of Canada. As I mentioned, this is a long overdue amendment. It can be found in subsection 4, “In the case of Canada, subject to existing aboriginal treaty rights of aboriginal peoples of Canada under section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982, and the regulatory and conservation regimes defined in the relevant treaties, land claim agreements, self-government agreements and co-management agreements with aboriginal peoples of Canada”.

All this language is required today because there has been an evolution of different terminologies, different arrangements and also court decisions. I would also like to challenge the present environment minister to have a legal grasp of some of the recent decisions being made and to acquire an up to date knowledge on the matters of aboriginal rights and treaty rights that have been brought down by supreme courts and lower courts.

The other point I would like to raise is the signature at the bottom of the protocol. As we all know, in 1995 the then Minister of the Environment signed this protocol. We also have a history of some other protocols and agreements that the government has signed, one of them being on MMT. The hon. former Minister of the Environment had signed this agreement recognizing the international concern of MMT and banning the interprovincial trade of MMT as an additive in this country. Now the government has reversed its perspective on MMT. It has signed off, paying off the MMT Ethyl Corporation and has now sanctioned MMT as a fuel additive.

I would just like to stay on the record of the government for the time being. There might be differing opinions of our minister or some international criticisms that come his way. I just want to share this one with the House.

Recently an esteemed environmental guest visited our country. Robert Kennedy Jr. was here on the Hill speaking on issues of concern. He is an internationally respected and recognized conservationist. Upon reflection our minister stated that Mr. Kennedy should have perhaps thought about politicking and failed to understand the constitutional division of Ottawa's powers.

Our environment minister had high hopes of improving the environmental standards and the reputation of Canada. I say to the House that a lot of improvement is required in the present government.

The current federal government has had a lengthy record since 1993 of signing protocols and then not following through with its international commitments. This has been an embarrassment to Canada's once noble and honourable reputation on the international environment stage.

This government's limited effort to meet our limited protocol requirements is proven by the increase in our targets and our lack of hitting these targets.

There is also the government's refusal to sign the Basel convention side bar agreement to ban toxic waste shipments to the developing world.

There is the government's continual refusal to appoint a new ambassador for the environment, who plays a major leadership role in negotiating international protocols. The new ambassador of the environment should be named immediately.

That role is needed now for a protocol such as the precautionary principle. It was needed in the POPs protocol at a recent meeting in Bonn, Germany. The persistent organic pollutants treaty is an international United Nations protocol yet Canada neglected to follow its Rio protocol to which we are all signatories. Domestic law has included the precautionary principle but it is rarely followed in our country. The list continues.

We welcome this protocol to the Migratory Birds Convention Act. It is a much needed amendment to bring us to the point of recognizing aboriginal rights in dealing with migratory birds. But do we believe in our hearts that the government can ensure the commitments and timetables can be met?

There are commitments here that our country would stand by protecting the habitat. If pollutants have infiltrated the migratory birds' habitats, would our country uphold these obligations to stop polluting the habitats? The government has not recognized and has not been able to enforce the adequate habitat protection commitment. It is weak.

It is also highlighted in terms of the new legislation being debated in Canada now, the endangered species legislation. If the Americans are listening, we do not have an endangered species act in this country. Many Americans may be surprised to hear this since they have had theirs for many decades.

Our American neighbours would be more surprised to learn that specific recommendations of endangered species listings would be political as opposed to scientific decisions. If an endangered migratory bird flew from a rock on federal land and landed on a field outside federal land, it could be shot. These issues have to be resolved here in this country and by a government that has the will and the resources to enforce these protocols and regulations and the protocols we have with other nations.

With regard to an issue that is dear to our community, I just came back from my constituency. Many residents back home, my father included, for years have harvested duck eggs. Little did we know it was illegal. He is a Metis person and all his life he has been illegally harvesting eggs.

Birds are a good source of nutrition. Ducks are usually saved in the spring because they provide young ones. Nowadays a lot of hunters will not select a duck arriving in the spring because it comes from polluted areas down south. They prefer a cleaner duck that has been hatched and is ready to fly south in the fall.

The Migratory Birds Convention Act is certainly a much needed protocol between two countries to save the species. At this time this amendment has corrected the wrong by our country in overlooking aboriginal rights to harvest migratory birds, giving special preference to northern locations where the hunting and harvesting seasons might be different from those in the south.

At this time, I congratulate the former Minister of the Environment for boldly negotiating an issue that is really needed at this time. I also caution some of the hon. members who have raised a concern about specific rights, privileges and definitions. This continually requires a whole new will from the government and the House to find a rightful place for the indigenous and aboriginal peoples in the government, this parliament and the legislatures of this country.

I believe there is a time and place for that, and it is certainly a welcome opportunity to see these amendments come before the House.

Migratory Birds Convention Act
Government Orders

8:30 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

John Herron Fundy Royal, NB

Mr. Speaker, as a blue heron it gives me great pride to participate in the debate this evening concerning migratory birds.

It will come as a surprise to no one that what we are talking about this evening is an act about protecting and maintaining the populations of birds of a migratory nature between Canada and the United States. This is an environmental initiative and I know, being the knowledgeable man that you are, Mr. Speaker, that it comes as no surprise whatsoever that this environmental initiative was brought forward by the Conservative Party of Sir Robert Borden when he was the prime minister of this country.

In the true essence of the word conservative, he was a conservationist of the finest kind before we even thought about having an environment minister. It was because of that kind of leadership that was brought forth by perhaps one of Canada's greatest prime ministers that his legacy remains and the act remains on which we are having the opportunity to speak in this place this evening.

This convention was a response to a drastic decline in migratory bird populations in the early 1900s. The legislation was the first legislative effort designed to regulate hunting, prevent trafficking and control the uses of migratory birds through permits. It also created migratory bird sanctuaries that were intended to control and manage areas important for the protection of migratory birds.

Behind the legislative framework between the United States and Canada, I would like to take this opportunity to point out the many private citizens who reside in the United States and indeed within the borders of this great country, Canada, who have taken it upon themselves to maintain wetlands for migratory species. The organization I am speaking about, which I am quite sure members are familiar with, is Ducks Unlimited. I have witnessed the preservation activities of the DU groups in the wetlands of Fundy—Royal and throughout Atlantic Canada. More money is raised for the preservation of wetlands on a per capita basis for Ducks Unlimited in Atlantic Canada than in any other region in North America. That initiative is fundamentally critical because, from a wetlands and waterfowl perspective, Atlantic Canada is one of the most critical migratory habitats that exists.

However, weaknesses in the convention such as the lack of protection of habitat led to the call for strong endangered species legislation. We now are debating the initiative brought forth by the government known as the species at risk act, Bill C-33, which is intended to help maintain the biodiversity legacy that we wish to leave to future generations. My primary analysis of the bill is that it dovetails with the Migratory Birds Convention Act quite importantly. The issue we are concerned about primarily is the fact that the species at risk act is perhaps too discretionary in nature.

Our first objection to Bill C-33 is that the very listing of whether a species is at risk is a matter of political choice and not merely that of science.

Clearly the Progressive Conservative Party understands that the listing of a species, and the habitat restoration perspective, is that we must take into account social and economic implications as well.

Migratory Birds Convention Act
Government Orders

8:35 p.m.

Liberal

Paddy Torsney Burlington, ON

Let's talk about the Migratory Birds Convention Act.

Migratory Birds Convention Act
Government Orders

8:35 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

John Herron Fundy Royal, NB

The parliamentary secretary, once in a while, gets a little concerned when we criticize a particular piece of legislation that is part of the framework. The Migratory Birds Convention Act and the species at risk bill are critical pieces of legislation in the overall framework. We only have to refer to the position paper of the Minister of the Environment released at the Calgary zoo. He referenced that act when he brought forth his species at risk bill.

It is indeed very relevant to speak about both pieces of legislation, and I am sure there have been other speakers who have referenced both pieces of legislation this evening.

Our concern is that there are not enough financial incentives, not enough carrots, and there is too much emphasis on sticks. The carrots are needed to help the stewards of this land. The best stewards of this land for quite some time have been the farmers and the woodlot owners. They have been the best stewards at maintaining species at risk.

Whether it is a migratory bird which is of concern or whether it is another species, it is critical that we have legislation that works.

I cite this example to illustrate my point. Because the burrowing owl is not deemed to be a migratory bird, it does not have the same protection as a bird that might be migratory in nature, such as a blue heron.

It is fundamental for us to maintain the biodiversity of the country and for us to have strong species at risk legislation as well.

Since the parliamentary secretary is listening so intently, I want to reiterate where this species at risk legislation is at fault. Listing is a matter of political choice, not of science. The protection of habitat is discretionary.

Habitat loss represents 80% of the reason a species becomes at risk in the first place. The species at risk bill does not necessarily make habitat protection mandatory for a listed species. That is part and parcel of why this bill, if it becomes an act, would not work. It does not have the financial levers or incentives to help the stewards of our land, our farmers and woodlot owners, to maintain those good practices which are required to protect species that are endangered in Canada, whether they are migratory in nature or whether they are a species maintained within our own borders.

I think it was healthy to have a chance to speak about this pioneering piece of legislation, which was founded long before we ever thought we would have a Department of the Environment.

The Conservative government of Sir Robert Borden recognized the fact that it was imperative that we conserve the biodiversity of the country. The fact that we are speaking about that Conservative prime minister's legacy in the House is indeed a pleasure. I reiterate that we need to have a species at risk act which is strong and effective, which does not penalize our farmers and woodlot owners, so that it will complement, dovetail and support the initiatives that first began in 1916, which we are discussing here tonight.

On that note and on this take note debate I want to thank the House sincerely for the opportunity to participate in this mandatory review. I wish you all the best this evening, Mr. Speaker, at this late hour. I would like to extend an invitation for you to attend our Tory Tuesday activities in West Block after you finish your activities here.

Migratory Birds Convention Act
Government Orders

8:40 p.m.

Liberal

Paddy Torsney Burlington, ON

Was that for me too?