House of Commons Hansard #113 of the 36th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was pension.

Topics

Species At Risk Act
Government Orders

4:50 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

I am sorry to interrupt, but the hon. member's time is up.

It is my duty, pursuant to Standing Order 38, to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for New Brunswick Southwest, Health; the hon. member for Québec, Parental Leave.

Species At Risk Act
Government Orders

4:50 p.m.

Bloc

Hélène Alarie Louis-Hébert, QC

Madam Speaker, it is both interesting and important for me to be able to speak this afternoon on second reading of Bill C-33, an act respecting the protection of wildlife species at risk in Canada.

I wish to begin by saying that I oppose this bill in its present form and that, moreover, I support the amendment by the Conservative member for Fundy—Royal for a six month hoist, if not a permanent one.

Obviously, this will be very repetitious because we often keep coming back to the same points when we are addressing the same bill. One learns early on in politics, however, that the best way to get a point of view across properly is to say the same thing often, even the simplest of things.

I would like to start with an overview of the situation. At the present time, there are 70,000 known species in Canada and a good number of them apparently are found solely in Canada. So, we have 70,000 species and of that number 340 that are endangered. Obviously there are degrees to this. Some are already gone, some are vanishing, some are more endangered than others. Some can be saved with human intervention.

I imagine that the purpose of Bill C-33 was to allow human intervention, although this bill does not include the necessary resources to satisfy that need.

Would there be some additional protection that might be applicable? Is this bill really going to contribute to improving the protection of our ecosystems and the endangered species that constitute them? Let us have a look at the salient points of the bill.

The preamble is interesting, because it appropriately refers to the importance of protecting Canada's natural heritage and also reminds us of Canada's international commitments, for instance, under the convention on biodiversity, at the Rio summit, in 1992. The government had already examined the issue and was prepared to take some action.

This preamble also says that responsibility for the conservation of wildlife is shared among the various levels of government and that co-operation between them is essential.

In clauses 1 to 6, the purposes of the bill are further specified, as well as the definitions—definitions are always quite important in a bill—that determine what land is involved.

The previous bill, Bill C-65, dealt only with federal land.

In other words, the land was limited to what was part of the federal land, while the present bill goes further and deals with Canada's land in general, whether federal or provincial.

I would also like to remind the House of some other clauses in the bill. For example, in clauses 8 to 13, it says the heritage minister, the fisheries and oceans minister and any competent minister must be consulted before the establishment of committees or the signing of agreements with other levels of government. There is already a lot of people around the table, but the bill does affect several sectors of government operations.

At clauses 14 to 31, the bill provides for the committee on the status of endangered wildlife in Canada, COSEWIC, which will have an official status and, from all appearances, will operate independently.

In other clauses, for example clauses 37 to 73, the bill talks of action plans, of recovery of endangered and threatened species and management plans for species of special concern. These interventions will be carried out in co-operation with the provinces, territories and the management boards, supervised, I imagine by COSEWIC.

I am passing quickly over all the enforcement aspects of the bill, over the infractions and penalties to reach clauses 126, 127 and 128, which provide that the minister will prepare a report, which he will table in the House, on the administration of the act over the previous year. Every five years, an assessment will be tabled as well to enable us to see whether the action plans formulated have had effect or done nothing.

When we look at this, we can see that the bill provides food for thought. Some aspects of it are interesting. Some aspects should be examined, but some of them should go further. However, what we find embarrassing is that this legislation will immediately take precedence over existing provincial legislation, even when the habitats are completely under provincial jurisdiction.

We must remember that endangered species are found solely on provincial territory. The government has ignored this and caps everything off with federal legislation that will take precedence over everything.

Other things made me smile. Clause 2 provides that the minister “may”—not must—“enter into an agreement”. Clause 39 provides that the competent minister must, “to the extent possible”, develop programs. A little further, in clauses 47 and 48, we find again the expression “to the extent possible”.

I do not know which jurist put the words “to the extent possible” in the bill, but that expression leads me to believe that there will be black holes, or grey areas, in that legislation.

The bill does not respect the division of powers, as established under the constitution and interpreted over the years. It squarely interferes with the jurisdictions of the provinces and it excludes the latter from any real and direct input in the process. Existing laws are thus ignored.

We support the protection of endangered species, of species at risk. We support it so much that we have already done something about it in Quebec. What bothers us is the fact that this government is proposing a bill that does not go as far as what we already have. To go backwards has never done any good to anyone.

Indeed, even though the minister supports in theory the notion of shared responsibility between the federal government and the provinces concerning the protection of species, he ignores the division of powers and the provinces' responsibilities regarding habitat management and the protection of species. He ignores existing laws and gives himself very broad powers with regard to the protection of species.

In so doing, the federal government goes against true environmental harmonization between the various levels of government. This bill is too weak and it interferes with our jurisdictions. It must be reviewed. I do not know when, but the later the better, because an incredible amount of work needs to be done.

Many associations, such as the Canadian Pulp and Paper Association and the mining associations, which cover large areas, huge forests, as well as wetlands, know the pressure that such a bill can bring if guidelines are not clearly established. In the bill before us, they are not.

We all know that after the act come regulations, but we also understand the concerns of these large companies, because they occupy huge areas in all provinces of Canada, including Quebec.

I have mentioned some of the weaknesses of this bill. I wanted to avoid mentioning all the environmentalists who have doubts in this regard.

In Quebec, we have often acted reasonably. In the case of migratory birds—and this is a good example, because migratory birds come under federal jurisdiction—Quebec, in co-operation with private organizations and the federal government has, for decades now, done an exemplary job of managing these wetlands and migratory birds.

We are therefore able to co-operate, but we really want to call the shots in an area we are already handling fairly well. Nothing is perfect, I admit, but, as I say, we are handling it “fairly well”.

In conclusion, I wish to thank the member for Jonquière and congratulate her on the great job she has done for the environment.

Species At Risk Act
Government Orders

5 p.m.

Bloc

Monique Guay Laurentides, QC

Madam Speaker, I was the Bloc Quebecois environment critic for several years in the last parliament. My colleague has now taken over. I was among those who fought Bill C-65 and I will briefly tell you why.

At the time, Bill C-65 was introduced with haste because the Rio summit was to be held a few months later. Canada wanted to look good at that summit, and the government was rushing to introduce environmental bills so it would look good on the international scene, which is not a bad idea as such, but which can be very harmful to the environment.

The government cannot introduce a bill just like that. The first thing to consider when dealing with environmental issues is that the environment department should not be used for partisan purposes. The environment should be excluded from any form of partisanship, yet partisanship could be felt at the environment committee. This is not how it should be, however.

This issue is used for partisan purposes when it really should not. The environment should be a matter of concern to all parties and to all Canadians, and everybody should be willing to do their share.

Quebec has proved it. We have legislation to protect species at risk. We are willing to work with the federal government, but it should not stick its nose in our business and tell us what to do with our species at risk. We are already looking after things. We want to do it in harmony, but that is not what we are seeing in this bill. This is the same bill which has been brought back one more time. The problems are the same, and this bill will never solve the issue of species at risk.

I advise my colleagues to examine this bill very carefully. This is just the second reading stage. Major amendments must be made to this bill to meet the needs that exist both at the federal and provincial levels, and even at the international level. We cannot simply say that this kind of bill will solve the whole problem with regard to the environment. It is not true.

Species At Risk Act
Government Orders

5:05 p.m.

Bloc

Hélène Alarie Louis-Hébert, QC

Madam Speaker, I agree wholeheartedly with my colleague's comments, since she has referred to the legislation Quebec has enacted, that is the act respecting threatened or vulnerable species, the fisheries act and the act respecting the conservation and development of wildlife.

I also agree with my colleague that not all environmental issues are transborder issues. They are issues that are constrained by the limits we impose through other laws and policies. We need a great deal of harmonization and co-operation to get things done.

We should be wise enough to examine what is being done, and what is being done well. Quebec is not the only place where things are done well. Other provinces too have worked very hard to protect wetland habitats. What is being done right should be our starting point, and then we should develop our bill, instead of taking the top down approach.

Species At Risk Act
Government Orders

5:05 p.m.

Liberal

Clifford Lincoln Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to point out to my colleague from Laurentides that the Rio summit took place in 1992 and Bill C-65 came along at least five years later, but that is just an aside.

I agree that there must be no politics where the environment is concerned. In fact, the hon. member for Jonquière will acknowledge that, when the Environment Act was revised recently, members of all parties voted together, I do not know how many times.

What I wanted to point out was that we on this side of the House find that in this bill the federal government is not making use of its own jurisdiction. That is what I criticized yesterday. In fact, quite the opposite. Instead of infringing on provincial jurisdictions, we are not doing enough in our own area for migratory birds, for habitats and for transborder species.

I would also like to ask the hon. member for Louis-Hébert, for whom I have a great deal of respect and esteem, whether she was aware that I am the one who introduced the Quebec legislation on endangered species, so I am very very familiar with it. Under the Quebec legislation, when a species was listed as endangered, the habitat was automatically protected. What was done recently was that, at the request of Hydro-Québec, in a case on which I can provide my hon. colleague the details later, cabinet recently passed an order in council separating the list of habitats, making—

Species At Risk Act
Government Orders

5:05 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

I am truly sorry to have to interrupt the hon. member for Lac-Saint-Louis, but the hon. member for Louis-Hébert has the floor.

Species At Risk Act
Government Orders

5:05 p.m.

Bloc

Hélène Alarie Louis-Hébert, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague for his comment. We always learn something new with this hon. member. I am grateful to him for introducing this legislation, which I hope will be applied in the best possible way in Quebec.

Species At Risk Act
Government Orders

5:05 p.m.

NDP

Dennis Gruending Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar, SK

Madam Speaker, it is my pleasure to speak to the amendment to Bill C-33. The amendment was put forth by our colleague the member for Fundy—Royal. I want to state at the outset that I support the member's amendment.

I previously spoke on the main bill so I do not intend to go into the detail I did at that time. I will summarize what I had to say a number of weeks ago about Bill C-33, an act respecting the protection of wildlife species at risk in Canada.

I indicated that although the Minister of the Environment says the bill will do the job, it is weak in the protection of species at risk and their habitats. I may have previously mentioned that the bill makes it discretionary to protect species at risk even on government lands. Government lands account for a small percentage of the total land mass in Canada. The bill is weak in that sense. It also does not protect migratory birds and birds do not know borders so we have to do better than that.

The bill invites political consideration and lobbying as I and other members have said. The minister has chosen to allow a group of scientists under COSEWIC to continue to list species at risk, but at the end of the day, the determination of what will be considered as species at risk will be made by the federal cabinet. There has been widespread criticism of that because it does invite lobbying.

A company which maybe is endangering a whale through mining or some other activity could now go to the cabinet and try to prevent that species from being listed. I just use that as an example, but it is clear in that sense that the bill allows far too much ministerial discretion.

The bill also fails to include compensation provisions for workers and communities affected economically by action plans to rescue species at risk. I am thinking of people working in the forest. If it is decided that a patch of forest has to be saved, then of course we would support a patch of forest being saved, but what about the people who work in that patch of forest?

I want to very briefly indicate the NDP policy on this. I did not do that the last time I spoke on the bill. Our policy is clear on what such a law should do. This one really does not come close.

The policy was carefully thought out and debated at our last New Democratic Party federal convention. We passed a resolution at our 19th biennial convention which said that the New Democratic Party supports comprehensive federal endangered species legislation developed in co-operation with other governments which includes the benefits of traditional aboriginal knowledge as well and ensures, first, identification and listing of species at risk by an independent committee of scientists, wherein scientific evidence is the primary consideration and not political interpretation of this evidence. As I have said, the bill gives the minister far too much discretion.

Second, the NDP convention called for comprehensive nationwide natural habitat protection, including protection for species that range or migrate over Canada's domestic and international borders. I have already referred to that.

Third, the NDP convention called for legislation which would include stakeholders in the development of species recovery plans, provision of adequate support to those whose livelihood is disrupted by a species recovery plan, and provision for just transition to workers and communities by any recovery plan.

That is a very thorough, well thought out resolution about species at risk legislation. I know the government does not always come to the NDP for advice, but had it done so, we would have a better piece of legislation before us than what we have now.

When I first spoke to the legislation, it was very shortly after the bill was introduced. I was going by my own party's response, again based on our resolution in convention and the homework we had done. It has now been some time since the legislation was introduced and perhaps it is worthwhile to spend a minute or two looking at what people are saying about it. Let us call this a focus group for the minister for lack of a better term.

The Hamilton Spectator of Tuesday, May 2 stated:

In its current form, the proposed Canadian Species at Risk Act will serve as little more than a token document, of little benefit to those species truly at risk in our country.

On the day following the tabling of the legislation in the House, Stewart Elgie of the Sierra Legal Defence Fund had this to say:

We are very disappointed. This bill will do little to ensure that endangered species and their habitat are protected—it leaves everything up to political discretion.

Kevin Scott, director of the Vancouver based Defenders of Wildlife, said:

The legislation, as we have reviewed it, is in my opinion an international embarrassment.

An international embarrassment, that is how it is being described.

Sarah Dover of the Canadian Endangered Species Campaign said:

I do not think this environment minister...has been given the political capital in the cabinet room to affect serious change.

People are quite critical of this legislation. That includes some former supreme court justices.

Species At Risk Act
Government Orders

5:10 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

I am afraid that I have to interrupt the hon. member since it is 5.15 p.m.

The House resumed from June 12 consideration of the motion that Bill C-37, an act to amend the Parliament of Canada Act and the Members of Parliament Retiring Allowances Act, be read a second time and referred to committee of the whole.

Parliament Of Canada Act
Government Orders

5:10 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

Pursuant to order made on Monday, June 12, 2000, the House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred division on the motion for second reading of Bill C-37.

Call in the members.

(The House divided on the motion, which was agreed to on the following division:)

Division No. 1355
Government Orders

June 13th, 2000 / 5:50 p.m.

The Speaker

I declare the motion carried.

(Bill read the second time)

The House resumed from June 7 consideration of the motion and of the amendment.

International Circumpolar Community
Private Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

The Speaker

The House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on Motion No. 237 under Private Members' Business. The question is on the amendment.

(The House divided on the amendment, which was negatived on the following division:)

Division No. 1356
Private Members' Business

6 p.m.

The Speaker

I declare the amendment lost.

The next question is on the main motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?