House of Commons Hansard #148 of the 37th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was species.

Topics

Competition Act
Private Members' Business

11:35 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

All those opposed will please say nay.

Competition Act
Private Members' Business

11:35 a.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

Competition Act
Private Members' Business

11:35 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

In my opinion the yeas have it.

Competition Act
Private Members' Business

11:35 a.m.

An hon. member

On division.

Competition Act
Private Members' Business

11:35 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

Accordingly, the bill stands referred to the Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Technology.

(Motion agreed to, bill read the second time and referred to a committee)

Competition Act
Private Members' Business

11:35 a.m.

Liberal

Joe Jordan Leeds—Grenville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I would ask that we suspend the House until 12 p.m., at which time government orders could begin.

Competition Act
Private Members' Business

11:35 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

Is it agreed that at the request of the parliamentary secretary the House stand adjourned until 12 p.m.?

Competition Act
Private Members' Business

11:35 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

(The sitting of the House was suspended at 11.36 a.m.)

The House resumed from February 21 consideration of Bill C-5, an act respecting the protection of wildlife species at risk in Canada, as reported (with amendment) from the committee, and of the motions in Group No. 2.

Species at Risk Act
Government Orders

February 25th, 2002 / noon

Canadian Alliance

Larry Spencer Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre, SK

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to speak to the species at risk bill. We on this side of the House would be in favour of protecting the species, however we find it difficult to agree with some things the government wants to do. Therefore, we must speak in opposition to some of these, even though it is a great attempt to protect some of the species.

The Canadian Alliance submitted an amendment which would require that for a person to be found guilty of a criminal offence, the person must knowingly have done harm to an endangered species. This is not the case with this bill. We are concerned that someone could be charged with a criminal act even though he or she had no criminal intent or if it were an accident.

The bill would make it a criminal act to kill, harm or harass any one of the hundreds of endangered species or to interfere with their critical habit. We have a problem with that. There are problems recognizing all the different species and knowing where they are.

The fines would be very steep, even higher than for some intentional crimes that might be committed. For instance, a corporation could be fined $1 million. An individual could be fined $250,000 and could be imprisoned for up to five years on an indictable offence. However someone could commit such an offence without even knowing it or without intent. The bill does not require intent or reckless behaviour. It puts the burden of proof on people to prove due diligence.

I remember being in a hayfield of my father-in-law a few years ago. This hayfield happened to be next door to a prairie preserve. It was not located in Canada, rather it was located in the United States. As I came around for a second time with the mower, there was this fog of bumblebees. Without knowing it, I had crossed through their home. They were quite irritated about it, and rightly so, and they let me know it. That could have been quite a stinging experience, but I escaped and the bees were fine.

However in that same area there are prairie chickens, which are on the endangered list in Saskatchewan. I could just as easily, without knowing the difference, have mowed through a nest or killed an animal. That could happen in Saskatchewan. We have so many species that could easily be interfered with by a farmer in his normal operations, but to recognize them and know they are there is the big thing.

We expect farmers, ranchers and loggers to recognize these species when in fact some of them are so rarely seen that we have no way of recognizing them. We have the sage grouse, the barn owl, the aurora trout, the Atlantic salmon, the prairie lupine and the American water- willow. Not only do people have to recognize them, but they have to recognize their critical habitat as well. They have to know where they live there. They have to know if they live there part time and what time of the year they might go there or if it is a part of their cycle of life. They do not want to destroy their habitat.

Then I think about right in the middle of the city. I live in the beautiful city of Regina, which is part of the riding of Regina--Lumsden--Lake Centre. We have some endangered species called the peregrine falcon which live on top of some of our high buildings. It is on the list from the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada.

I was just envisioning what would happen if I was driving down the scenic Saskatchewan drive heading back from my riding. Just suppose a peregrine falcon decided that one of those nice white rabbits jumping along the railroad tracks might make a good lunch. It swoops down in front of my vehicle, I run over it or hit it, and accidentally kill a peregrine falcon. As I understand it, I could be charged in that accident for killing the peregrine falcon.

What about a sprague's pipit or the prairie loggerhead shrike? How would I know if I killed one? What if I were driving across my riding to see some of my distant ranchers, and as I drove through the prairies and wheat fields a swift fox ran across the road, only not quite swift enough? What if I struck it and killed or injured it? I would be in the middle of committing a crime.

What about a sage grouse or the burrowing owl? What if I was out in a field mowing or riding across the pasture in my four-wheel and I came across a burrowing owl quite by accident and killed it? Perhaps I mowed a certain area and only after I finished mowing it I discovered that I killed a burrowing owl? Not only did I kill the borrowing owl but I crushed its burrow. Then where would I be? I would be guilty of more than one crime without even knowing the owl was there.

I would need to recognize the greater prairie chicken, the piping clover, the mountain clover and the sage thresher. I could go on and on if I got the complete list of all those animals, birds, plants, fish and frogs that I would need to recognize so I could protect them or protect myself from accidentally harming them.

We support the goals of protecting endangered species, but we also believe in protecting our honest citizens ensuring they are not susceptible to becoming instant criminals honestly.

I understand there have been 80 plus amendments brought forward to this legislation to improve it. Why are so few of these amendments, which would make such good improvements in such a simple way, continually rejected by the committee or by the government as a whole?

For instance, companies that operate huge areas of oil fields or forestry have to demonstrate due diligence over their operations of hundreds of thousands or millions of hectares. How can they control all the factors on their land? Yet they stand to be arrested if something happens to one of the species there.

The hon. Minister of the Environment has said

It's a legitimate matter for concern. The accident, the unwitting destruction...it is a concern, and we want to give the maximum protection we can to the legitimate and honest person who makes a mistake, who unwittingly does that.

My question is this. Why do we not simply write it into the legislation instead of leaving it up to them to have to prove their innocence in some other way?

The fear and the anger that will come from the general public and the mistrust of the government, will in fact end up harming the habitat and the existence of endangered species rather than helping them. No one wants to see that happen.

I urge the government to pay close attention to the average citizen out there who also needs protection, not just the species that are endangered.

Species at Risk Act
Government Orders

12:10 p.m.

Liberal

Julian Reed Halton, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour for me to participate in the debate however briefly.

I will address in a few words the concerns that my friend across the way has expressed about intent, painting a situation that is not real. The difficulty with which I would like to challenge him is this. If we were to introduce the kind of clause that he would like in the bill, we would find ourselves unable to prosecute virtually anything that takes place. There is a discretionary aspect. I am sure if my friend runs over a burrowing owl with a mower or a peregrine falcon with his car, there will be no chance of him being charged. He can rest easy with that.

I want to ensure that the landowners of Canada, rural Canadians are not forgotten in this debate. A lot of debate that takes place is at the urgings of well meaning urban Canada. Somehow rural Canada is in danger of getting the short end, so I want to speak for the country people in this land. These are the people I have had in mind throughout the entire deliberations of the standing committee. As a committee member I voted against several of the amendments that ultimately passed because I knew they jeopardized our good relations and working partnerships with rural Canadians.

Rural Canadians are the people who are already living the story behind the proposed act. These are the people, when all is said and done, who will make the act work. Critical habitat is often on the land of rural Canadians and we must never forget that. We should not forget that the co-operative approach, especially for rural Canadians, has already yielded success. Their stewardship actions for generations are living proof of their commitment. If we want to stop the destruction and degradation of habitat, we must do it together, not with the heavy hand of the law.

The bill is about co-operation among provinces, territories, private landowners, conservationists, local authorities, aboriginal people, farmers, fishermen, ranchers and voluntary organizations. I supported the standing committee amendment to include the protection of the critical habitat of extirpated species, species that still exist but whose natural habitat is gone, and in addition, aquatic species and migratory birds, protected by the Migratory Birds Convention Act and the critical habitat regime within federal jurisdiction.

The federal government is best placed to offer this protection as it already does this kind of work under the Fisheries Act and Migratory Birds Convention Act. Canadians expect this to be the level of government that helps them protect these species. However I had to vote against other amendments that significantly undermined how we deliver this protection. I voted against the amendment that would require any person to obtain a permit or licence to engage in an activity that may adversely affect any part of the critical habitat of listed species under federal jurisdiction as soon as habitat is identified by scientists in action plans.

The new general prohibition runs contrary to everything for which Bill C-5 stands. It removes government accountability for decisions that may have social and economic impact. It removes the opportunity for Canadians to first try to protect habitat through voluntary stewardship action. It tries to coerce Canadians into compliance and relies on enforcement to protect species. It makes the legislation much more difficult for Canadians to understand because adversely affected critical habitat is a lot less obvious than destroying critical habitat.

In essence, it would destroy the co-operative and accountable approach of the bill and replace it with a coercive approach. In the long run this will not work. Laws will not protect species; people will. We must do all we can to help people protect species. We must remember that prohibitions are important as the backbone of legislation.

The first opportunity for all of us to succeed at protecting species and habitat is to work together as active stewards. Let us think outside the box of doing it because the law says so. Species and Canadians deserve our co-operation.

The bill is the third manifestation of legislation that has been in the works off and on for about eight years. On the positive side it has given us the opportunity to look at other legislation. We have found that command and control does not work.

The American legislation is nicely worded, but it has resulted in litigation to such an extent that I am sure the minister is asking himself where he wants to spend his budget. Does he want to spend it on litigation or on programs and recovery processes that will help to restore endangered species?

This is a new direction that the government has taken. I want to reassure those who are bound and determined to follow a command and control approach that there is a five year review clause in the bill that would allow us to look at the legislation and ask: what did we do right and what did we do wrong? How can we clean it up and make it work? Surely, that is a more progressive approach than simply coming down with a hammer on Canadians.

Maybe in five years we could show what Ducks Unlimited have done, what prairie farmers have done and what people in rural Canada have done. Perhaps by that time urban Canada will understand that the majority of endangered species are in the water and not on land. In that respect I want to tell everybody in urban Canada that every time they flush a toilet and every time industrial waste goes into the Great Lakes or water bodies of any kind, they have to bear equal responsibility. We want them to come along with us too.

We should get over the command and control idea and move into a co-operative spirit that will result in a positive future for endangered species.

Species at Risk Act
Government Orders

12:15 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Howard Hilstrom Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Mr. Speaker, I welcome the opportunity to speak to Bill C-5, the species at risk bill. We know it is a flawed bill that will require amendments. There are some 80 amendments right now.

I will begin by emphasizing that I, along with my Canadian Alliance colleagues, fully support increasing protection for endangered species and habitat. However as speakers from the government side have mentioned, the majority of this protection would be happening across the prairies and it would disregard the fact that houses and condominiums are being built across a lot of habitat in southern Ontario.

Does the government not understand that the bill should be applied across Canada? It had better look at some of the urban planning issues in regard to habitat for our wildlife and forget about applying it strictly to what it perceives as marginal prairie land that is the home for many Canadians.

Will the species at risk legislation as it is currently written give Canada's endangered species the support that they need to survive and flourish? Will Canadians who use the land get the necessary backing they need to protect our fragile environment? I do not think so and because of this both people and species at risk are threatened.

The main reason why the bill will fail to achieve its goal is the refusal of the federal Minister of the Environment to create an atmosphere where all stakeholders will work together to protect endangered species. There is a good example of this presently on the Canadian prairies where the Department of Fisheries and Oceans is enforcing what it believes to be fish habitat under section 35(1) of the Fisheries Act.

Years ago there was a man-made drain built to take excess water from some farmland. That drain eventually ended up connecting into Lake Manitoba. There are some minnow type fish species that are on the edge of this man-made drain and that drain cannot be cleaned out because DFO now says this is fish habitat. There is a limited amount of fish spawning in that waterway. DFO is applying this rule because it happens to have water in it for part of the year.

If DFO is an indication of the kind of co-operation between the government and local farmers and producers that is envisioned in the bill it is showing that this co-operation and assistance will not be forthcoming. DFO is now causing a massive resentment on the prairies by municipal officials who are fighting with tough budgets and trying to ensure a viable environment for economic activities of our farmers and ranchers. Ranchers are having massive problems with DFO.

This is the whole point of the legislation and debate. There should be a co-operative effort between landowners and land users. Where there is a necessity of enhancing habitat or taking land out of production, 100% full compensation should be paid to that land user or landowner.

There is a lack of cooperation with individuals and municipal governments and the federal government is also failing to co-operate with the provinces.

The Minister of the Environment claims that his legislation is vastly different from the endangered species law in the United States. This is the U.S. law that prompted the shoot, shovel and shut-up response from many who found endangered species on their property. The U.S. law resulted in great hostility from both landowners infuriated with the loss of their lands and environmentalists exasperated at the slow progress of recovering species. It is an example of what will happen if teamwork is not achieved.

The new Canadian law would suffer from the same failure because the federal government is only paying lip service to ideas of co-operation and compensation.

For example, the fish catches of our inland fishery on Lake Manitoba and Lake Winnipeg have been excellent over the years as a result of the management by Manitoba's natural resources and conservation ministries. DFO is coming in and we have a legitimate reason to be seriously concerned that the great work done with the fish species, their numbers and viability, could well be ruined by action taken by the federal government.

The government has told Canadians it would develop guidelines for compensation after the bill becomes law. The government says to just trust it. Because of many past decisions by Liberal governments that abused farmers and ranchers, they do not trust the government. We must have it in writing in the legislation to ensure that it is clear to everyone including the courts.

Rural Canadians feel as if the Liberal government has painted a target on their backs. The failed Liberal gun control is turning ordinary law abiding Canadians into criminals. The cruelty to animals bill before the House would threaten farmers and ranchers with costly harassment in the courts. The government's rush to support the Kyoto agreement threatens to dramatically push up costs to farmers. These attacks on the rural way of life are combined with the Liberal government's failure to protect farmers who are fighting against foreign subsidies and an ongoing national drought. They are virtually on their own with limited support from the federal government.

The list does not stop. Minister after minister in the government is putting policies and legislation in place that attack rural Canadians. The Liberals do not consider the needs of our agriculture sector and rural Canada when they draft legislation or regulations. For example, did the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans consider the cost to producers when he chose to enforce the habitat regulations on the prairies that protect fish-like common suckers that are breeding in man-made ditches? No he did not.

Last Monday in Stonewall, Manitoba, Mr. Bill Ridgeway told the House of Commons Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food that he lost approximately 25% of his crop for the last three years due to inadequate drainage that was caused by the fisheries regulations. In my own area, where my ranch is, we have lost close to 10,000 acres to flooded land that was farmed, grazed and had hay cut off it for the last 30-40 years. A simple ditch out to Lake Manitoba is all that is required. What is the problem? We cannot get approval or the money.

That is the other thing with this fisheries and oceans business. The problem is that when fisheries and oceans talks about having biologists doing studies and enhancing fish or protecting fish habitats it brings zero dollars. It does not bring one penny to the table. It is left up to the municipalities and the provincial government to do that. There has to be a financial commitment from the federal government if we are going to actually protect species as they should be protected. It cannot be left up to those who are unable to pay.

The federal government is asking a small group of strong Canadians but financially vulnerable Canadians to bear the burden of protecting species at risk. If the development of a fair system of compensation is not guaranteed I am concerned that these environmental frontline soldiers, once friends of nature, will be forced to back away from the species protection bill.

Species at Risk Act
Government Orders

12:25 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak once more at the report stage of Bill C-5, an act respecting the protection of wildlife species at risk in Canada. Today, the debate is on amendment motions in Group No. 2.

The amendments are rather substantial. One hundred and thirty-eight amendments have been moved at the report stage by members of all opposition parties in the House, members of the Bloc Quebecois, well as other political parties.

This being said, I want Quebecers to understand that it was not easy to bring this bill back to the House where it will be voted on. The legislation introduced in the previous parliament was Bill C-33. We have to wonder: when opposition parties move 138 amendments to a bill, there has to be a problem somewhere.

For Quebecers and especially for stakeholders in Quebec whom we are representing, and for the members of the Bloc Quebecois, the very principle of Bill C-5 has been in question. Why? Because Quebec, in the area of species protection, passed the appropriate legislation at the right time. I would like to provide a brief historical overview.

In 1990, the Quebec government passed the act respecting threatened or vulnerable species, the act respecting the conservation and development of wildlife, and fishing regulations. These three legislative measures are designed to protect, among others, wildlife species at risk. So, the Quebec government had already made the effort to create a whole structure to protect wildlife. In this regard, I congratulate wildlife conservation officers who, for decades, have been responsible for implementing these regulations.

So, a protective structure was put in place in Quebec. Why? The question we must ask ourselves as Quebecers is why the federal government is proposing independent or different regulations or legislation. We must ask ourselves this important question, particularly in Quebec, because we took our responsibilities in 1990.

In 1996, there was even a federal-provincial accord, the Accord for the Protection of Species at Risk in Canada. This accord between provincial ministers of the environment and the federal government meant that now, we will have an accord on the protection of species at risk. In 1996, we did not need an act, but that never stopped the federal government.

Since 1996, it has been trying to impose an act that would supersede all provincial legislation. This is where the problem lies. The federal government is once again telling us “We will create a double safety net. In Quebec, you have your own provincial laws, your safety net, but we will have a federal act that will create a second safety net”. I am sorry, but back home it is not a double safety net: it is overlapping in jurisdictions.

If the federal government felt that certain species transiting in Quebec on their international journeys are lesser known in our province and are thus at risk, it would have been so simple to ask the Quebec government to include them in its regulations on the protection of species at risk. Quebec has never refused to amend its list of protected species. It would have been so simple to ask the Quebec government to make changes to its regulations to include certain species.

This is not what the federal government chose to do. It decided to enact legislation that even provides for the creation of federal officers. In Quebec, we already have wildlife conservation officers who do some wonderful work, given their limited resources and the financial resources of the Quebec government.

Instead of negotiating an accord with the province and investing funds to upgrade the network for wildlife protection, instead of granting certain sums and new budgets to wildlife conservation officers in Quebec, the federal government chose to create positions for federal officers.

I repeat for all Quebecers who are listening that this is a double safety net; we call that duplication, we call that spending twice for the same thing. In order to improve the wildlife protection network, it would have been much simpler to give some additional amounts to the existing wildlife protection officers. That would have increased their effectiveness, they might have worked less overtime in high activity periods and might have recruited more help. No; instead, the federal government chose to create an independent network.

It is hard for Bloc Quebecois representatives not to propose a series of amendments to this bill. Naturally, we know these amendments will be rejected systematically by the Liberal majority, but it is good to have the opportunity to discuss this legislation once again. We think the issue was clearly defined in the federal-provincial accord, the Accord for the Protection of Species at Risk in Canada.

Today, the government is proposing a bill on the protection of wildlife species at risk in Canada. The difference with the accord are probably the words wildlife and Canada. The government could very well have changed the accord by saying that it was the Accord for the protection of Species at Risk in Canada. All the provincial ministers of environment would have signed the new accord with the federal government.

The government could have had an accord on new budgets to be allocated to monitoring, instead of creating an independent network of federal officers. The government would have helped Quebec's conservation officers by increasing their salary, which would have allowed them to do a better job. Once again, I want to say that they are doing a great job. At some periods of the year, they have to work many extra hours because of limited budgets. However, the federal government has decided to create an independent network of federal officers. This is what we will have in the near future.

Moreover, we will have a duplication of legislation and new regulations that will force users once again to respect not only the Loi sur la conservation or the Loi sur la mise en valeur de la faune, which are in effect in Quebec, but also to abide by the new federal regulations.

We are being told that this is a double safety net, but it is not a double safety net for users. This is another instance of overlap and duplication. We already have wildlife conservation officers, and Quebec already enforces its own legislation.

As concerns the accord signed by the Quebec government in 1996, it could have been improved, and joint action by both governments was possible. It could also have been a good opportunity to set up a real compensation plan—even though it did not happen and it was even criticized by the Liberal majority—for crucial habitats of endangered species. If a property is affected, the owner would be entitled to decent compensation thanks to a sizable fund. This bill does not provide for any compensation fund.

The only interesting thing for landowners in Quebec and Canada would have been compensation for their land, if it contained a crucial habitat for the protection of an endangered species. We needed a real compensation plan to compensate any loss to landowners. If an owner is prohibited from using his land, he should get adequate compensation.

But it was not to be. In this case, just like in health care and education, the federal government will not pay. It passes legislation and sets standards, and it wants all Quebecers and Canadians to abide by them, but it never gives any money to improve wildlife protection or compensate landowners who could incur losses.

Species at Risk Act
Government Orders

12:35 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Roy H. Bailey Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Mr. Speaker, I will begin the debate by focusing on one item: We need co-operation and not confrontation with the provinces, farmers and ranchers. However in light of past examples demonstrated by the House I have great fears. On Thursday afternoon last week I addressed a group of people who had selected a topic for me called “Regulating agriculture: can farmers cope?” In each instance farmers were not properly dealt with but had to cope with regulations imposed from the top down.

I will tell the House an even bigger fish story than the one the hon. member for Selkirk--Interlake told. Early one morning last summer the fax machine buzzed. The fax was from the Rural Municipality of Scott, about 20 miles northwest of Weyburn on the flat Soo Lines. The fax said the municipality was having trouble with the DFO. I thought wait a minute, not the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. I phoned and they told me to get up there. They had built a ditch years ago to help drain the land which drops about one to two feet every mile and finally makes up the headwaters to the Souris River. If any water runs down there this year it could probably be bailed out with a scoop.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans did a study on the possibility of fish moving upstream. The rural municipality of Scott was billed $42,000 for the study. In the bill DFO says we should trust them. We talk about visible and invisible minorities. The prairies would be the invisible minority. They are being billed $42,000. The size of the fish or anything that looks like fish would not be enough to supply bait for the people downstream.

We need co-operation. I am sure the rural municipality would have co-operated but that is not the whole story. It was left with a bunch of regulations governing what it could do along the side of the ditch now and in the future.

We cannot preserve and protect endangered species without looking at the natural environment. The farmers south of Guelph told me on Thursday they could not cope with the provincial regulations. What about on the prairies? What about prairie towns such as the one I where was born? A creek goes through the town. It is called Long Creek. The creek makes its way to the southeast and ends up at the Boundary Dam in Estevan. If all the land 40 feet from the creek were declared habitat for endangered species about 20 to 30 farmers and ranchers would be cut off from the water supply for their cattle.

We must go through these things in a co-operative way. They cannot come from the top down.

I would like to read this:

The government must do more for property owners, farmers and others who feel their livelihoods or prosperity may be affected. It must not simply say “trust us”. It must stipulate that a commitment to protecting endangered species would be cost effective and respect the economic interests of Canadians.

I could quote many others that I am really concerned about. We know that we cannot protect endangered species without protecting their habitats. The two go together. One can think historically about the passenger pigeons. Two things happened. They were good shooting as they were big birds, flew slowly and were easy prey to knock down. When settlement came and people settled the land, they destroyed the trees which provided the pigeons with habitat and food.

If we are going to set aside land for habitat for the endangered species, we must enter into agreements with the people involved.

Voluntary agreements, recovering strategies, action plans and management plans for the preservation of endangered species and their habitats are important. We on this side of the House, and certainly those on the environment committee, respect that. Clearly co-operative agreements between the government and the landowners are the best way, and I might say they are the only way, to do just that.

The bill was written to allow the minister to enter into agreements with governments, environmental organizations and wildlife management boards, but it does not, I repeat it does not, specify the possibility of agreements with landowners and others who have an interest in the land. That is wrong. It is the wrong way to go. If we can enter into co-operative agreements with industry and the big players, we can also enter into co-operative agreements with those who are not such big players.

We presented an amendment that the minister had to give 30 days public notice. We would be in big trouble with a “trust us” approach. I have seen too many things happen on the prairies before my very eyes. There are so many things that I do not think we cannot proceed on the basis of “trust us”.

There is a rapid demographic change. The number of rural people is going down, including in Ontario. We are going to become the endangered species pretty soon. Not too far from where I live, in Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota, a huge chunk of land has been protected for all time. They had to or it would have been completely destroyed.

In southwest Saskatchewan where my colleague from Cypress Hills--Grasslands comes from, Grasslands National Park has been established. Without any consultation, no grazing has been allowed. That has caused a real problem because the prairie land was meant to be grazed. As a result, most of the runoff does not penetrate the sides of the hills, which is necessary. Further, the deer and the antelope always grazed after others that had already grazed the land. They are having a tough time pawing away at the long grass which lays straight down.

I want to underline the following statement. Is it fair to convict people of a serious criminal offence when they may have had no idea that they were even coming close to committing one? We have to have a lot of co-operation. We made changes at committee. They have been slashed and I am disappointed. We cannot support the bill as it is right now.

Species at Risk Act
Government Orders

12:45 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Vic Toews Provencher, MB

Mr. Speaker, I rise today in favour of the amendments put forward by my colleagues on the issues of federal-provincial jurisdiction and criminal intent. The hon. member for Lanark--Carleton, the hon. member for Lethbridge and the hon. member for Red Deer have moved amendments to address these issues.

I want to continue the theme raised by the member for Souris--Moose Mountain. If the past record of the federal government and its environmental efforts are any indication, this bill is a disaster waiting to happen.

When I was first elected in my riding, constituent after constituent and municipality after municipality in southeast Manitoba told me that the biggest threat to agriculture in that area was the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. I could not believe it. Fisheries and oceans is destroying drainage. Agricultural land is being destroyed. Costs are being added to the municipalities.

The reeve of the RM of Morris told me about the construction of the dyke around the town of Rosenort, a very progressive, hard working community in the flood plain in the Red River Valley. Doing an environmental assessment and looking at fish habitat in the middle of the plain added an extra $200,000 to the study. I thought it was an isolated example. Constituent after constituent and municipality after municipality tell of the heavy-handed approach of the federal government in working with the province and the municipalities.

Last weekend I was in Kola, Manitoba which is in the Brandon--Souris constituency. It borders my colleague's riding of Souris--Moose Mountain. One can imagine how dry it is in these areas. Again I was told by constituents in the Kola area that the biggest threat to agriculture is the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. There is no co-operation with local authorities. It is destroying agriculture.

Along with the heavy-handed unco-operative approach of the department and the federal government in general, now there is this endangered species bill, and what do we see? We see a clear rejection in the bill of one of the most important legal principles in a just and democratic society. That is the requirement that there be mens rea or a guilty mind before one can be convicted of a criminal offence. Not only should the culpable person have to have physically committed the act, but there must have been an appropriate degree of criminal intent. That is fundamental to our system of justice.

Bill C-5 as it stands today provides for various offences in which there is a very low level of mens rea, certainly not the level of mens rea necessary or consistent with a free and democratic society. This makes many of the landowners and farmers in my riding very nervous.

There are hundreds of species at risk and it is not always easy to recognize them. Not only do farmers and landowners bear the financial burden of expropriation without compensation as the bill now allows, but they could face expensive, cumbersome criminal prosecutions. Indeed they could even be put at risk to private prosecutions. Farmers and landowners are having a very difficult time. They do not need this kind of heavy-handed legislation to address what is admittedly a serious and significant problem.

The bill makes criminals out of very inadvertent acts. We want to prohibit the possession of certain species, the destruction of certain species, the selling or trading of certain species. However, there should be no criminal consequence for individuals who were inadvertently involved.

If someone were to buy tea in a health food store and that tea contained an ingredient on the list, he or she could be liable under the bill for a criminal charge. The mens rea convention exists in order to ensure that unintended consequences of normal human activity are not made criminal. If my colleagues agree with me that plowing or buying tea or picking a common flower should not be criminal acts unless there is the appropriate criminal intent, then all of us agree that these clauses should be amended to include words such as “knowingly” or “wilfully”.

Consider the lack of mens rea required and the sentences available. Courts may impose fines up to $250,000 for an individual and $1 million for a corporation. Many of these corporations are family farms so the money always comes out of the same pocket.

We as the Parliament of Canada must seriously contemplate the wording of the legislation before imposing this type of harsh, punitive legislation on the people of Canada.

I would also like to briefly comment on the jurisdictional matters in respect to Bill C-5. I have alluded to the very apparent lack of co-operation by the federal government and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans in particular with municipal and provincial authorities.

As it stands today, where a province does not have endangered species legislation or does not have adequate legislation according to the federal government, the bill provides the federal environment minister with the power to impose this law on that province. It is important to remember that whether or not provincial laws are inadequate is a unilateral determination by the environment minister.

The environment is a shared constitutional responsibility. This heavy-handed approach to relations will not protect endangered species. It will hasten the destruction of these species by continued legal wrangling.

It is for this reason my colleagues have recommended deleting the provisions that assign this unilateral power to the minister. We have added an amendment which provides that the minister may make a recommendation to apply the federal law to the province or the territory if a territorial or provincial minister has requested that the recommendation be made. These amendments remove the unilateral power to impose federal law onto provincial jurisdiction. The federal endangered species act would still apply to federal lands and to aquatic species or migratory birds.

I cannot stress enough the co-operation that is necessary with landowners, resource owners and municipal and provincial governments. Imposing federal laws on provinces that will only create legal and other battles is not in the best interests of endangered species. Unless we work together, this legislation will fail. If the government decides to work with the provinces and property owners, not only will property owners and resource users benefit, but it will be in the best interests of endangered species.

I urge all members to support these amendments so we can move ahead on this matter.