House of Commons Hansard #33 of the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was environmental.

Topics

The House resumed from March 23 consideration of the motion that Bill C-9, An Act to amend the Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act, 1992, be read the third time and passed.

Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act, 1992
Government Orders

3:35 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, it gives me pleasure to rise today to speak to this bill. I want to mention the fine work that has been done by all members of the House but in particular by the hon. member for Western Arctic.

The NDP supports the general aim of this bill, which in short, aims to provide made in Canada regulations concerning the transportation and handling of dangerous goods. The New Democrats believe it is important to ensure the safety of the public, workers, and indeed all those involved in the transportation of dangerous goods. Once again, this bill brings to Canada an updated and made in Canada set of regulations to achieve that goal.

I also want to point out the excellent work done by several industry advocates and those knowledgeable about the transportation of dangerous goods, including those in the Teamsters union, who met extensively with members of the House to give their expert views in the area.

In the NDP's view, there is one major and serious flaw with the bill, which is that the bill requires everyone in Canada who handles dangerous goods to obtain a security clearance, the details of which unfortunately are not spelled out in the text of the statute. Instead, the criteria that would go into a security clearance are left undefined and are left to regulations. In other words, these are matters that will not be debated and passed in the House and Parliament. We have no idea what these criteria will be.

In the NDP's respectful view, it means the criteria that go into deciding whether someone in the country obtains a security clearance, which will be necessary for the individual to obtain and maybe retain his or her employment, are left to the discretion of the minister and are subject to change. That leads to a very real concern. The criteria that ultimately will be discerned and applied in the security clearance certificates will violate Canadians' long-standing privacy and constitutional rights.

Because of this flaw, the NDP tried to refer the bill back to committee, to get the committee to work on the matter to improve the bill and put it in a position that would address our party's concerns. Unfortunately, that has not been the will of the House. I want to elaborate on why we think this is such an important feature of an otherwise sound bill.

Prior to being elected, I worked for 16 years with a union that represented many workers involved in the transportation industry, many of whom were involved in the transportation and handling of dangerous goods.

I also did a lot of research on the drive to inculcate security requirements in this field. In particular, I became aware of the security and prosperity partnership process which began in 2005 under the previous Liberal government and championed by then Prime Minister Paul Martin. This process was carried on by Prime Minister Harper, and continues to this day.

Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act, 1992
Government Orders

3:40 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

Order. I would remind the member that he is not to use the given names of members of the House of Commons.

Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act, 1992
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3:40 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, I will gladly strike those references and refer to them as the previous Liberal prime minister and the current Prime Minister.

The SPP essentially comprised executive level and bureaucratic discussions among Canada, the United States and Mexico. These discussions have been conducted outside Parliament and have been conducted in secret. We have found that in these discussions over 300 separate areas of government involvement have been under discussion with a view to harmonizing these standards, things that involve food safety, consumer protection, water. Almost every aspect of our country's sovereignty has been up for discussion in these talks.

One of our concerns is regarding the essence of the matter before the House right now and of which I am speaking, which is, the criteria that go into security clearance for workers. The United States has imposed draconian requirements upon workers in the United States ever since 9/11. Many of these violate long-standing principles of Canadian jurisprudence and law, including our human rights, our rights to privacy and our rights under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

For example, in the United States it is considered lawful and there is legislation to require workers who are not only involved in the transportation and handling of dangerous goods but in all sorts of areas to provide things like biometric information, retinal scans, fingerprints, hand shapes, and DNA samples. They have been asked and, at the risk of losing their jobs, are required to provide invasive information, such as their sexual orientation, the ports of entry when they immigrated, notwithstanding that they may have been citizens for decades, criminal records, marital status, and educational institutions they attended. This information has also been required of their spouses.

In the United States this information is not only required of these workers but they are required to sign forms that authorize the United States to share that information with any other country in the world. In many countries these workers do not have the same protection and many countries do not have the same respect for human rights that Canada has.

Those of us who have been following the SPP talks for the last three years are very concerned that Canada has tacitly agreed to follow the standards set by the United States in these areas. Because the criteria that will go into the granting of a security clearance are not specified in the legislation, we have grave concerns that these criteria will drop to those invasive standards that have been imposed by the United States.

One might ask what the difference is, that this is about the transportation and handling of dangerous goods, and people who have to cross the border into the United States should be subject to these standards. Here is where there is a major problem. It may be justifiable for these standards to be imposed on workers who transport dangerous goods across the border. That may be reasonable, but it is not reasonable to impose those standards on workers who never leave this country, those workers who work in warehouses and storage facilities in the body of our country. For them to be subjected to the extraterritorial application of American law when they may choose never to leave our country is wrong. It leads to concerns about people's democratic rights where Canadian citizens are subjected essentially to American-made requirements when they have no democratic right or means to influence those standards.

There have been cases where workers in the United States have lost their jobs when they decided to enforce their privacy rights, or they have lost their jobs when some aspect of the information that they have provided has caused concern.

If this were to happen in Canada, if someone were denied a security clearance certificate, how would the individual be able to challenge that?

In this case, we in the New Democratic Party are concerned. Canadian workers should have their right to privacy and their human rights respected.

We do not, in any manner, dispute the requirement to impose standards that ensure Canadians are safe and that the transportation of dangerous goods is conducted by people to protect the safety of the public. However, I would point out that there has not been one instance, not one in this country, where anybody who has transported goods in the transportation industry has been charged with any offence.

It is a great price to pay for Canadian workers to subject collectively the potential loss of their civil liberties when there has not been demonstrated in even one instance across this land, a need for same.

We must jealously and sedulously guard our civil rights at all times. It is easy in a time of peace to stand up for those rights, but it is harder when we are under threat. It becomes even more incumbent upon us as parliamentarians, I would respectfully submit, to stand up for those civil rights, those rights that our forefathers have fought for and that people are currently fighting for across this globe, to make sure that our rights are protected at all times and are only deprived of those rights for good and sufficient reason.

The bill would be an excellent bill, were it to include in the legislation, now debated in the House for all parliamentarians to see, the criteria Canadian workers would have to satisfy in order to get security clearance. Unfortunately, once again, the bill does not have that measure, and therefore, we are unable to support the bill because of that one aspect.

I would encourage and implore the members opposite who have done fine work on the bill, in many aspects, to look at this section. I am sure it is not their intent to violate the privacy and civil rights of Canadian workers, but they should be vigilant to ensure that the bill does not have that effect, even inadvertently.

I want to congratulate the fine work of my colleague from Western Arctic who has been such a strong supporter and protector of Canadian workers, and vigilant in making sure that their rights are taken into account, so that we can ensure not only the safety of dangerous goods in this country, and the transportation and storing of same, but also the civil and privacy rights of Canadian workers.

Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act, 1992
Government Orders

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

Resuming debate. Is the House ready for the question?

Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act, 1992
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3:45 p.m.

Some hon. members

Question.

Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act, 1992
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3:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

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

Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act, 1992
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3:45 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.

Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act, 1992
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3:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

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

Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act, 1992
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3:45 p.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act, 1992
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3:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

All those opposed will please say nay.

Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act, 1992
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3:45 p.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act, 1992
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3:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

In my opinion the yeas have it.

And five or more members having risen:

Call in the members.

And the bells having rung:

Accordingly, the vote is deferred.

The House resumed from March 23 consideration of the motion that Bill C-16, An Act to amend certain Acts that relate to the environment and to enact provisions respecting the enforcement of certain Acts that relate to the environment, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Environmental Enforcement Act
Government Orders

3:45 p.m.

Bloc

Bernard Bigras Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak today on Bill C-16.

This bill was introduced by the government on March 4, 2009. It is what I would term an omnibus bill, because it amends a number of environmental statutes. It runs to close to 190 pages and beefs up the enforcement, fines, penalty and sentencing provisions relating to offences against an environmental act. Nine pieces of legislation are amended, including the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (1999), the Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994, the Wild Animal and Plant Protection and Regulation of International and Interprovincial Trade Act, the Antarctic Environmental Protection Act, the International River Improvements Act, the Canada National Parks Act and the National Marine Conservation Areas Act.

We were somewhat surprised when the government introduced this omnibus bill on March 4. What we were expecting from them was not an omnibus bill beefing up the enforcement, penalties and fines relating to offences against the environmental acts, but rather a regulatory framework such as the government had announced with great pomp and circumstance in 1997. Here on Parliament Hill, people were expecting an announcement from the government about regulations and legislation on climate change, an act that would make Canada a contributor to the international efforts to reduce greenhouse gases, particularly as we are leading up to the important conference on climate change to be held in Copenhagen in December 2009. Everyone was expecting the government to come up with a response to this regulatory framework that has been promised since 2007, particularly with a new administration in place south of the border, one that has made a commitment to come to the conference on climate change with legislation aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Also, given the rumours that were circulating in recent weeks, we would have expected the government to announce changes to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act in order to exempt certain projects from Canadian environmental assessment. However, no climate change bill was introduced. The regulations that were presented to us were hastily introduced last Friday, in a document that was not even published in the Canada Gazette for consultation for 30 days, which is normally what happens. No, instead the government used the fast tracking approach to pass regulations directly by cabinet order.

All this at a time when this government prides itself on balancing economic and environmental concerns. It is extremely disappointing to see that the government refuses to honour the formal commitment made by the Minister of the Environment just a few months ago in Poznan, Poland. There, in front of the entire international community, this government said that an economic crisis should not hamper Canadian and international efforts to protect the environment. Furthermore, I would remind this House what the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, said. He told the international community that one crisis is not an excuse for failing to take action on another crisis. The fact is, measures to fight climate change, or the absence thereof, demonstrate that this government has chosen to favour accelerated economic development, to the detriment of protecting the environment.

This flies in the face of an international principle recognized in Rio in the early 1990s: sustainable development. What has this government done instead? It has decided to go the old “law and order” route by upping the penalties for those who commit environmental offences and bringing in tougher sentences for those who violate the nine environmental acts.

How? A thorough study of the bill reveals that the government has decided to create a new fine structure and add it to each of the nine acts to set different fines for individuals, corporations, and ships.

Under the new structure, minimum fines would be stipulated for serious offences, and maximum fines would be increased. Fines would be doubled for subsequent offences. The bill would also direct all fines to the environmental damages fund so they may be used to repair the harm done by offences.

Can environmental catastrophes be avoided by increasing fines, sanctions and penalties? Wealthy companies will just end up buying pollution rights because of the government's new structure.

For example, in one particular sector, the oil sands in the west, as recently as February 2009—not so very long ago—Syncrude was charged under the federal Migratory Birds Convention Act and subject to a $300,000 fine or a maximum prison term of six months for dumping toxic substances into tailing ponds used in oil sands exploitation north of Fort McMurray.

This practice is common in Canada's oil industry, particularly in oil sands operations. As a result, 500 ducks died, and the company was formally charged under federal legislation and provincial legislation in Alberta.

Even if the government increases fines for super-rich companies that make hundreds of millions of dollars a year, what is to stop them from buying pollution rights thanks to the new structure?

The government needs to understand that increasing fines and penalties will not fix the problem. Structural changes to the industry are needed. We have to stop giving tax breaks that help polluting industries.

On the one hand, tax advantages are being given to the tar sands industry via a system of accelerated capital cost allowances. Our tax dollars—we cannot call these subsidies because they are clearly the tax dollars of the people of Quebec and Canada—are subsidizing the operations of a polluting industry. On the other hand, fines are being increased.

Penalties need not necessarily be increased; what is needed instead is to engage in an industrial repositioning so that Canada will be responding to the call by the United Nations to be part of the “green new deal”, which recommends that nations reinvest in sectors of activity that will contribute to repositioning the global economy at a time when an economic stimulus is needed. Rather than continuing to subsidize the oil and gas industry and to provide it with tax incentives, what we need is to follow the example of the economic stimulus program presented by our neighbours to the south. The incentive plan that President Obama has presented includes six times more investment per capita in energy efficiency and renewable energies. That is the example to follow.

But the approach the federal government has chosen instead is to increase fines for major polluters, while at the same time continuing to fund them. Basically, the big winner in the end is that industry, which Canada is helping out. The big losers are Canada's ecosystems and its taxpayers.

It is somewhat distressing as well that we are holding this debate today, 20 years after an event that led to a real human drama: the wreck of the Exxon Valdez. Twenty years ago, in 1989, a ship whose hull was breached spilled more than 80,000 barrels of oil into the northern waters off Alaska.

We realize today that penalties and fines are not the way to avoid this kind of environmental damage. We are also aware that environmental damage also creates human dramas, from the experience of the northern communities around Alaska after that oil spill 20 years ago.

Some might say it is time to forget something that happened 20 years ago. But we must not forget it. Why not? Because if there was a very slim chance of such a thing happening 20 years ago, and yet it did, the risk will be greater in a few years, particularly with the development of this northwestern corridor. This northwest passage from Europe to Asia will see far more traffic, given the climate changes that are opening up a new passage to the north. As a result, the fragile ecosystems of the Arctic, pristine as they are today, will be at increasing risk in the years to come.

Some people believe that the Exxon Valdez disaster that took place 20 years ago could not happen again. But the truth is that the risk of such a disaster is greater than ever. The Government of Canada wants to extend its sovereignty in the north by extending the 200-mile limit, with these navigable waters and environmental legislation enforcement zones. I have nothing against that, but at the same time, what does this government really want? It wants to make sure that Canadian companies that want to can develop the huge global reserves of natural resources in that extended area. What does that mean for the north? It means that there will be more and more marine activity, more and more oil exploration and development and greater risks to our northern ecosystems.

Will heavier sentences and fines reduce these risks? Penalties are not a bad thing, but we have to work on prevention. We have to make sure that this area of the north can be protected. We have to make sure that the wildlife in our ecosystems can be protected.

That brings us to the sort of enforcement we want to see put in place here in Canada. It is all well and good to want to change the fine structure, but the current laws must be enforced.

I have been a member of this House since 1997, and I have seen a number of environmental laws enacted in Canada, including the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act and the Species at Risk Act. But the fact is that we lack the resources to enforce these acts. We can give officers more power, but there are very few officers on the ground to enforce the law.

Let us look at the enforcement record in Canada. Officials with the Department of the Environment admitted that, on average, they had laid three to 14 charges and obtained one to five convictions a year since 2000 and that the maximum fine of $1 million provided by law had been imposed only once in 20 years. We are not the ones saying that.

What does that mean? We can increase fines, but if the maximum fine has been imposed only once in 20 years, there is a good chance the system and the new structure will not be enforced in Canada.

Naturally we support the bill and are not opposed to it. However, it does not provide a structural solution to environmental issues here in Canada. What was required, as I mentioned earlier, was the tabling of long overdue regulations on climate change. We must establish greenhouse gas emissions ceilings that will make it possible to set up a true carbon market that we hope to have in future. Canada must go to Copenhagen in a few months with climate change legislation that establishes 1990 as the reference year for green house gas emissions reductions. This country must acknowledge that we must limit the temperature increase to 2oC above pre-industrial levels. That is what scientists are telling us.

To reach this objective, we must put in place absolute targets resulting in a reduction of between 25% and 40% of green house gas emissions from 1990 levels, by 2020. But wait. The government has decided to use 2005 as the reference year instead, ignoring all efforts made since 1990 and setting the counter to zero in Canada. In 2006, Quebec firms had managed to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 10% from 1990 levels.

What does that mean? It means that we are establishing a system that will ignore all past efforts and the increase in greenhouse gases in Canada generated by the Canadian oil industry. We must not adopt a polluter-paid approach; we must have a polluter-pay approach.

Therefore, we will support the bill before us even though it is clearly inadequate. We would really have liked a climate change bill that introduced structural changes for industrial commitments. That is how we will truly protect our ecosystems.