House of Commons Hansard #56 of the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was rcmp.

Topics

Health
Oral Questions

3 p.m.

Nunavut
Nunavut

Conservative

Leona Aglukkaq Minister of Health

Mr. Speaker, I know the critical role that nurses play when it comes to our health care system. That is why we have taken action to help retain and recruit nurses through an investment of $4.2 million in March of this year, announced in Manitoba.

I appreciate the suggestions by my hon. colleague. I have instructed my department to carefully review the recommendations from the Canadian Nurses Association, including an update on the baseline study. I can assure the hon. member that our government will continue to take steps to support Canadian nurses.

In recognition of National Nursing Week, I would like to thank nurses and front line health care workers for what they do each and every day.

Taxation
Oral Questions

3 p.m.

Conservative

Greg Rickford Kenora, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am a nurse, so that is great news.

It has been 28 days since the Liberal leader said, “We will have to raise taxes”. He has not denied this statement, he has not retracted his statement, he has not told Canadians which taxes he would raise, how much he would raise them by or who would have to pay.

Could the government please tell Canadians if it believes the Liberal leader has a secret plan to raise taxes?

Taxation
Oral Questions

3 p.m.

Nepean—Carleton
Ontario

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister and to the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs

Mr. Speaker, during his 34 years in the United States and the United Kingdom, the Liberal leader became a very distinguished wordsmith. I commend him for his words and I quote them: “We will have to raise taxes” or “I'm not going to take a GST hike off the table” or “I am a tax-and-spend, Pearsonian, Trudeau Liberal”.

His faculty with words permits him and his sense of honour compels him to explain which taxes he will raise, by how much and who will have to pay.

Environmental Enforcement Act
Government Orders

3:05 p.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Peter Milliken

Before question period the hon. member for Peterborough had the floor for questions and comments arising from his speech. There are about two minutes remaining in the time allotted for questions and comments on the hon. member's speech.

I therefore call for questions or comments.

Environmental Enforcement Act
Government Orders

3:05 p.m.

Liberal

David McGuinty Ottawa South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to go back to where we left off before question period and return to the line of questioning of the parliamentary secretary about the whittling down of environmental assessment standards and the government's environmental enforcement bill.

His answer was that there was so much stimulus money to shovel out the door that it required that environmental assessment be weakened in the country.

Here is the problem. The Federation of Canadian Municipalities, as was referred to by at least one cabinet minister during answers in question period, has already approved $13 billion worth of shovel ready projects that have already been environmentally assessed, including through federal environmental assessment requirements.

How is it possible that there is a need to drop the standards for environmental assessment in order to shove out stimulus money when there are $13 billion of environmentally assessed projects ready to go?

Environmental Enforcement Act
Government Orders

3:05 p.m.

Peterborough
Ontario

Conservative

Dean Del Mastro Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage

Again, Mr. Speaker, for clarification, we are not dropping environmental standards. We are eliminating unnecessary duplication, regulations that are stifling the flow of infrastructure dollars in our country.

The member for Parkdale—High Park stood and said that he wanted money to flow, but he could not really decide how to do it. The Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities stood and said that he was working with the municipalities and the provinces. We are working with them co-operatively. We are coming up with a plan to get money flowing, to create jobs and to create the infrastructure of tomorrow. We are going to get it done as quickly as possible.

We make no apologies for the fact that there is a need for speed, and we are responding to that need.

Environmental Enforcement Act
Government Orders

3:05 p.m.

Liberal

David McGuinty Ottawa South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to pick up precisely where we just left off. This is an important debate about the environmental regime in the country.

I would like first though, to go back and congratulate all of those hundreds of Canadian government officials, the lawyers at Justice Canada, all the witnesses who appeared and brought their wisdom and their experience to bear on this bill, a new environmental enforcement bill for the country.

I would like to pick up on something else I just mentioned to the parliamentary secretary. In response to his claim that the government is not whittling down environmental assessment standards, he said that it is all about the need to streamline. Maybe I could paraphrase for government members who are listening. Maybe what the parliamentary secretary meant to say is that it is all about eliminating red tape, or worse, maybe it is about eliminating green tape.

That is very interesting because that is the typical ideological spin that comes from far-right regimes that claim to be in favour of the free action of the free market. They believe their job is to remove impediments from the free market. That has been the mantra and the spin of successive far-right governments.

It certainly was the mantra of the previous Ontario government that led Ontario into almost economic ruin. It would not be surprising for Canadians to conclude that that mantra still resonates inside the current government's cabinet, given that five key ministers in the government were part of the Harris regime which set my home province of Ontario on fire. It was the same mantra we heard then, but here is the problem. There is not a single shred of evidence to substantiate the government's claim that there is a need to whittle down environmental assessment, which is linked to environmental enforcement whether the government likes it or not. There is not a single shred of evidence to link that whittling down of standards to its need and our collective need to invest in stimulus projects across the country. Nothing has been put forward by the government.

The real problem with this is that we have a Minister of the Environment who is trying to put drapes in the window by saying that the Conservatives are going to get tough on environmental crime, which again is part of the ideological spin of a typical far-right regime, while at the same, with his left hand, in the dead of night, without consultation, without parliamentary debate, without it coming to committee, he is actually issuing backgrounders and he is whittling the regulations on environmental assessment that are here for all Canadians to read and know.

It is really important to link these environmental assessment changes to the environmental enforcement bill because the two intersect and they are critical to drive up our environmental standards.

Let us take a look at what the Conservatives are doing here on environmental assessment.

As I mentioned, the Conservatives are bringing in regulatory changes, not through a House of Commons debate and not through a committee debate, but surreptitiously, in the dead of night, they are issuing new regulatory standards which will do the following. Effectively, from now until March 31, 2011, virtually every single project in this country that is subject to a federal environmental assessment that is worth $10 million or less, and $10 million is a very big project in the majority of Canadian municipalities, townships and towns, will no longer be subject to federal environmental assessment.

I understand that Mr. Mulroney is testifying down the hall on another matter. However, I suspect that if he found out that this new regime, this far-right Reform, Republican, Conservative regime was undermining the very environmental assessment that Brian Mulroney brought into this country in 1992, he would be displeased, I am sure. At best, he would be displeased.

The Conservatives are saying that where the sensitive area is protected by the federal government, the total cost for the project must be less than $10 million and measures must be in place to protect the area in order to be excluded. What measures? Set out by whom? By what department? By the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency? By the proponents? By a waste management company? By a municipality? By whom? What measures?

Then the Conservatives proudly herald in their news release that on as many as 2,000 infrastructure projects over two years, that is, 1,000 projects a year, as if they are going to move 1,000 stimulus projects a year through this Parliament, through the government, will no longer need an environmental assessment. They herald this proudly. Ninety per cent of environmental assessments for these types of projects will no longer have to be completed. Two thousand projects over two years will be exempted from the requirement for federal environmental assessment as a result of the government's regulation. Are the Conservatives serious?

It is unbelievable. It is actually more unbelievable because they are heralding this as progress. I am sure Mr. Mulroney, Mr. McMillan and real Progressive Conservative governments would have a lot to say about this.

It goes much further. They actually say that the federal environmental assessment process can be substituted by provincial environmental assessment regimes and processes.

Well, I checked into that too. It turns out that not a single province has an agreement with the federal government to allow for its EA processes to take the place of a federal one. Furthermore, evidence provided by the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency tells us that if we substitute a provincial environmental assessment for a federal one, it is not actually catching all of the requirements under a federal EA regime.

Number one, provinces do not agree with this. Number two, it does not catch all the federal environmental assessment requirements. Number three, there is no agreement with any province anywhere. In fact, in the federal-provincial meeting where this was tangentially mentioned, there was not even a reference to this in the news release. It did not form part of any kind of communiqué. It was nowhere to be seen.

There was no discussion, no agreement, no substitutability and no identical substitutability. Then it goes further. The minister and his government say that the public have to have access to documents and they have to be able to participate if it is a provincial regime. If the provincial environmental assessment regime is kicking in and is substitutable for the federal one, the public must have access to documents and members of the public must be able to participate.

There is a problem with that. First, the Minister of the Environment allowed amendments to the Navigable Waters Protection Act to be inserted into a budget implementation bill as one of nine poison bills because he knew he could not get them through the front door of Parliament. What is really going on here is under the Navigable Waters Protection Act the minister is given unfettered discretion to decide whether environmental assessments should or should not occur. There is no conditionality attached around the public having to have access to documents. There is no conditionality here about the public having to participate. What is it going to be? There is absolutely no coherence in these changes that are being brought here for the environmental assessment regime in Canada, and it links directly to this question of environmental enforcement.

What the government gives with its right hand, it is taking away with its left. It is taking away with a left hand that is incoherent in between the EA changes and the Navigable Waters Protection Act.

The Conservatives say that they are going to consider a comprehensive reform of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act by 2011. I am not sure what that means. They go on to say, as I said earlier, it is 2,000 infrastructure projects that will no longer be caught. That could apply to all kinds of wonderful projects. Let me give Canadians an opportunity to understand exactly what kinds of projects will no longer be environmentally assessed by these federal Reform Conservatives.

For example, on modifying a municipal or community building for energy efficiency, an environmental assessment is not required. On modifying a municipal or community building, an EA is not required. On putting in public transit under $10 million, and supporting structures, an environmental assessment not required. On modifying a municipal or community facility for collecting, processing, diverting, treating or disposing of solid waste, an environmental assessment is not required. Imagine that, for the vast majority of landfills in Canada worth $10 million or less as projects, no more environmental assessments are required.

It goes on. If it has to deal with, for example, setting up residential, institutional or other accommodations, no environmental assessment is required. For meeting rooms, hotels and related facilities, no environmental assessment is required. For hospitals and emergency facilities, no environmental assessment is needed. For schools, universities, colleges, banks, financial services and information facilities, no environmental assessment is needed. For cultural, heritage, artistic, tourism facilities and services, no environmental assessment is required. For setting up an ecotourism system or a waste management system worth less than $10 million, no environmental assessment is needed.

For municipal parking garages worth less than $10 million, no environmental assessment is required. No environmental assessment is required for artistic, cultural and sporting facilities, and the list goes on and on. But it gets worse. Public transit facilities are no longer subject to an environmental assessment, as long as the facility is more than 250 metres away from an environmentally sensitive area. No environmental assessment is needed for a $10 million public transit addition, for example, in a small city or municipality in Canada. If we are installing, operating, expanding or modifying a rapid transit bus system, as long as it is not closer than 250 metres to an environmentally sensitive area, no environmental assessment is required. If we are modifying or expanding a public transit or railway system, no environmental assessment is needed. It goes on and on.

It is very unfortunate. It is something that we intend to continue raising here on behalf of all Canadians and on behalf of all cities and municipalities, and all proponents of projects. We know there is a link between enhanced enforcement, and a link between environmental assessment and standards that will drive up our competitiveness in this international carbon constrained marketplace that we are hurtling toward at breakneck speed.

My second theme today has to deal with how the commissioner's report applies to the question of environmental enforcement. It is a very fascinating read. Canadians should read it on the website. They should examine it. They should take a look at what has been going on for three and a half years on environmental enforcement on the climate change side and on the fish habitat side.

Let us turn to climate change first. That is a fascinating read. It tells us exactly what we have been saying for three and a half years to the government with respect to its third, second and first climate change plans. First of all, the environment commissioner and the Auditor General of Canada said that Environment Canada could not demonstrate that the emission reductions expected were based on an adequate rationale. The climate change plans overstate the reductions deliberately. They overstate the reductions that can be expected from the government's own plan.

I am wondering if that means the government is ignorant of its own potential targets. Is it ignorant with respect to whether the plan can achieve those targets, or is it deliberately misleading Canadians by saying we are going to achieve more reductions than we actually can?

This is linked to environmental enforcement. If we are not going to be environmentally enforcing the most important and pressing concern of the century, if not the millennia, which is the climate change crisis, what would it apply to? The Conservatives cannot provide a rationale. They are overstating the reductions. The third point the Auditor General's office is making is that the Conservatives' plans are not transparent. They do not disclose how they expect reductions in greenhouse gas emissions to be affected by future economic conditions.

Why is that important? It is important because the government now, as we move to deal with the NDP's bill on climate change, Bill C-311, is demanding that it be costed. The Conservatives are saying that private members' bills now must be costed. The problem is that they have not costed their own plan. That is what the commissioner is telling us. How can we move to environmentally enforce a plan that the Conservatives themselves have not costed?

“It has no system”, the Auditor General goes on to say, “for reporting the actual emission reductions achieved from the measures in the annual climate change plan that this party, this official opposition, forced on the government to hold it accountable through the Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act”.

The real kicker, and the really problematic part of the commissioner's report today is the following. I need to read this to be absolutely accurate. It states, “However, in the plans prepared to date”, the report says, “the department has not explained why expected emission reductions can be estimated in advance”--as the Conservatives keep telling us, for example, about 20% cuts by 2020, using intensity targets--“but the actual reductions cannot be measured after the fact for individual measures”. Something needs to give here in terms of environmental enforcement.

On the climate change front, we have heard enough now to conclude, Canadians must conclude, the commissioner is telling them to conclude and the Auditor General is telling them to conclude, that the climate change plan being put forward by the government is a fraud. Every time we raise questions about it, only one response is given by the ministers and the Prime Minister, which is that they are dialoguing with the American administration, as if it started in 2009.

We know that the energy dialogue was launched between Canada, the United States and Mexico in 2001. In 2006, when the government was elected, it wiped the slate clean because everything that came before was bad in Conservative speak and everything that came after was good. Therefore, it cancelled five years of dialogue and rebooted it in 2009 as an announcement when President Obama was here. However, Canadians will not be fooled. They know this is not a climate change plan.

I now turn to the question of environmental enforcement when it comes to protecting our fish habitat. Fish habitat, one might say, is not too important and maybe it is something that is tangential but not quite. The commercial fishing sector in 2005 generated $2.2 billion in economic activity and it employed more than 80,000 people in fishing and fish processing activities. More than 3.2 million Canadians participate in recreational fishing which contributed in 2005 some $7.5 billion to Canada's economy.

Now that we know the context in which we are talking here, the magnitude of the economic opportunities, let us talk about what is happening with environmental enforcement here.

First, the conclusion is that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans is not cooperating in any meaningful way with Environment Canada.

Second, with respect to the state of fish habitat in our freshwaters, our lakes and our rivers, we have no idea whatsoever about the current state of Canada's fish habitat. We have no measurement and no data. We have nothing. Now one would assume, given the magnitude of that economic opportunity inherent in our freshwater fisheries and in recreational fishing, leaving aside the huge costs associated, for example, with a collapse like the cod fishery, that the government would be investing more in science, more in tracking and more in monitoring. However, not quite. We found out today that the government's budget is cutting scientific and monitoring support for the very habitats we should be looking to first, quantify, and second, move to manage because we cannot manage that which we do not measure.

On that note, I would conclude by imploring the government, now that it has delivered up an environmental enforcement bill that began under a previous Liberal regime and amends nine acts, which were brought in by previous Liberal governments, to make a decision on what it wants to do. It needs to make coherent the environmental assessment regime, which is weakening, the environmental enforcement regime, which we are working collectively on to strengthen, and decide whether we are going in one direction or in two directions. This dichotomy cannot stand and I ask the government to turn its attention to making the entire system more coherent.

Environmental Enforcement Act
Government Orders

3:25 p.m.

NDP

Nathan Cullen Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague raised a point that I would like to take up with him. Bill C-16 deals with the enforcement of essentially many environmental laws in Canada, the government's ability to apply fines, what those fines will be and the nature of them. The government needs these tools to enforce and apply its own laws, which is what some laws are guided by and how they are presented.

On the environmental side of things, my colleague mentioned the bill we proposed on climate change. Today, the Auditor General dealt with Bill C-288, a bill out of the previous Parliament. We now have Bill C-311, and the two are meant to join together and take us through the Kyoto period into what is now being called the Copenhagen round of climate change.

However, around all of these laws and prescriptions that we are giving to the government and to the economy around climate change and, in this case, the pollution of greenhouse gases, if the government is unwilling to enforce its own laws and apply the penalties that are contained within those laws, acts and measures, is it not up to conscientious, thoughtful members in this place to find a way to force the government to abide by its own laws? Are there any clauses in Bill C-16 that we can encourage and augment? It is a principle of Canadian democracy that we pass laws in this place and then the government enforces them. Have we lost it all with the government? Does it have any credibility left when it comes to the environment or climate change?

Environmental Enforcement Act
Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

David McGuinty Ottawa South, ON

Mr. Speaker, in the last Parliament, we struck a special legislative committee to deal with the government's then proposed clean air act. Three opposition parties came together and worked long and feverishly. We invested wholly and greatly in improving that framework act. It was renamed the clean air and climate change act. We ended up internalizing a previous plan released by the official opposition called the carbon budget for Canada, in which we proposed the cap and trade system, pricing carbon gradually, a green investment bank and so on and so forth. It became the architecture. My colleague will recall that because he sat with me through long hours of sittings to ensure this was right for the country.

What did the Prime Minister do when he was backed into a corner? He did the same thing he did just months ago. He prorogued Parliament. He pulled the plug. He used the ultimate tool to stop the work of the House of Commons in order to block a comprehensive response to the climate change challenge. I have no confidence left in the government's serious willingness to move forward on this issue.

Environmental Enforcement Act
Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, it would be a shame to let the member get off without having a full opportunity to elaborate on some of the important issues of the day. Canadians are probably still a little confused about where we are going now. We know what the problem was in the past. It was the government. However, the member did refer to cap and trade and he knows that is an approach that the Americans have favoured. I think it would be important to advise the House and Canadians exactly how this approach would help us to address the climate change issue, specifically clarifying what base one would be using to determine the progress of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Environmental Enforcement Act
Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

Liberal

David McGuinty Ottawa South, ON

Mr. Speaker, our leader has been perfectly clear about how to proceed forward now given the three years and seven months, roughly, that we have lost through three plans and three ministers in three years. The only thing we hear on the climate change file is, “We are talking about it” and, “We are waiting for instructions from Washington”.

The cap and trade system is a system whereby we put a price on the right to emit greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Our 760 large polluters are asked to pay for that privilege, to emit into the atmosphere. It is a market mechanism. It is a very efficient tool to use to price carbon emissions, greenhouse gas emissions, and reduce them over time.

It is what the Americans will be doing and it is what a number of other jurisdictions are examining. However, we need to ensure, using 1990 as the baseline year, unlike 2005 or 2006, as proposed by the government, that it is in line with the international community of 174 countries that have ratified the Kyoto treaty and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. We are all using 1990 as the baseline year. The only two or three exceptions would be the Canadian government and, because of the lost eight years under the republican administration of Mr. Bush, now, I believe, President Obama is using 2005, but that is also under negotiation.

Environmental Enforcement Act
Government Orders

3:30 p.m.

Bloc

Bernard Bigras Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-16. The least that can be said is that this bill is a lengthy one. It amends a number of environmental statutes and it has been anticipated for a very long time. When it comes to environmental protection, be it the Migratory Birds Act, the Fisheries Act or the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, we have too often seen Canadian legislation that gives polluters a break.

Canada does have environmental legislation, but when we look more specifically at the regulatory regime associated with each act, in terms of fines and penalties, we realize that for some companies it may unfortunately be to their advantage to pollute. The penalties and fines are so low that it is worth it to break the laws enacted by Parliament. That is what was perverse in the regulatory regimes that we were presented with up to now.

The truth of this can be seen in the fact that in February 2009 a company like Syncrude in Alberta could discharge toxic substances into the tailings ponds used in oil sands production, with the result that nearly 500 ducks were killed. What was the consequence for Syncrude? It was sentenced to a maximum fine of $800,000 or a maximum of six months’ imprisonment.

We know these companies that make profits that might be described as colossal. An $800,000 fine is not much to pay to keep exploiting the oil sands. And so we saw companies polluting our environment with impunity, telling themselves it was better to keep going and pay the fines than to lose some of their profits. This is not acceptable in a regulatory regime when we want to send business a message. The polluter-pay principle must be applied, not the polluter-paid principle.

For that reason, we supported Bill C-16 in principle when it was introduced. We worked with all of the opposition parties and with the government to make some improvements, and we listened to the witnesses. When the bill was considered in committee, we realized that some witnesses had not been consulted by the government. We can agree or disagree with certain industries. I am thinking, for example, of people in the shipping industry, who told us they had not been consulted before Bill C-16 was introduced. That is totally unacceptable.

The government has a number of consultation mechanisms. It has advisory committees. This is a bill that the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development is asking for. This change in the regulatory regime has been called for by the environment committee since 1998. For over 11 years, parliamentarians, in committee, have been asking the government to amend the penalty and fine regimes because they were unacceptable. For 11 years, the government could have consulted industry, and it did not so. That is somewhat disappointing.

That is why the parliamentary committee decided to invite both the Shipping Federation of Canada and the workers affected by the legislative changes. As I said, these were essential changes requested by the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development back in 1998 in a report called “Enforcing Canada’s Pollution Laws: the Public Interest Must Come First”. Back in 1998, as I remember, during the 36th Parliament, the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development made 24 recommendations to the government, including four that I will repeat: first, that the minister should develop and publish a comprehensive enforcement and compliance policy with the act; second, that the minister should undertake a comprehensive review of the regulations—and revise them if necessary—to ensure that they are adequate, up-to-date and enforceable; third, that the minister should take the necessary steps to have certain offences designated for the purposes of the ticketing provisions under the Contraventions Act; and fourth, that more resources should be assigned to the proper enforcement of environmental legislation.

These four groups of recommendations were at the heart of the 24 recommendations of the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development regarding the enforcement of the law. That is the reality in Canada.

I was first elected in 1997 and have seen a number of pieces of legislation passed in this House, including the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, the Species at Risk Act, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, and all the rest of the environmental legislation. In actual fact, though, this legislation is not enforced. As a result, one of the committee’s recommendations in 1999 was that more resources be assigned to the proper enforcement of environmental legislation.

It is no use having the best environmental legislation, the best Canadian Environmental Protection Act, if there are no authorities with the power to enforce it, nor the resources to do so. Despite the existing legislation, the result is a complete mess on the environmental level.

That is why our regulatory regime had to be modernized. Penalties had to be increased considerably to avoid tragedies like the one I described with Syncrude, which had charges laid against it in February 2009. We should also remember the Exxon Valdez catastrophe that happened 20 years ago in the north. That kind of thing must never happen again because the people responsible got off very lightly, not only to the detriment of the ecosystem but also of the economic development of these regions. In order to avoid situations like that, we need to be very strict and increase the penalties. However, our environment cannot be protected with just a law and order approach.

We cannot simply increase our fines and prison terms. We also have to change our ways of doing things. We have to be able to say to companies like Syncrude that if they do not install nets to protect ducks, they will be subject to increased fines of something like $4 million, as provided under the new regime in Bill C-16.

We must make people realize that the decisions we make with respect to production and consumption have enormous consequences.

Let us look at the oil sands development. It is a good example. It is not only a contravention of the Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994, but also a contravention of the legislation we have passed here in this House.

The Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development has demonstrated this to us today. Bill C-288, which was introduced in this Parliament by the hon. member for Honoré-Mercier, was passed at first and second reading and amended in parliamentary committee. Then it received royal assent. It requires the government to report annually in compliance with its obligations under the Kyoto protocol. But the government has not honoured its commitments.

The example of oil sands development is not just a violation of the Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994, which is being amended today, it is also a violation of the Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act, for which we are still awaiting a regulatory framework from the government.

When this bill was introduced, we expected the government to announce something about Canada’s environmental compliance with respect to climate change. We expected the government to move from a regulatory framework on climate change to actual legislation on climate change, as Quebec has announced today.

Quebec has introduced a bill to comply with its climate change obligations by setting a cap on greenhouse gas emissions, and to fall in line with what U.S. President Obama is about to do by setting an environmental cap and trade, capping greenhouse gas emissions and creating the structure and framework for a carbon market that can reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.

Meanwhile, today in this House, we are debating whether we are going to increase the fines from $800,000 to $4 million for those who decide not to install a net near a settling pond at the oil sands sites.

Eleven years after the report of the environment committee was submitted, we are still thinking about what we should do under existing environmental legislation, whereas in Quebec and the United States they are debating laws on climate change.

Quebec and other provinces like Manitoba, which produced one of the first plans for fighting climate change, the American states and the American administration have understood that when we fight climate change, we are tackling a number of environmental issues; we are tackling the importance of adopting renewable energy; we are making sure that we have greater energy efficiency in our homes and in industry; we are protecting ecosystems; and we are protecting our water resources.

If Canada adopted climate change legislation, our energy production would very probably no longer be the same. We would no longer have to count on oil sands production and exploitation as an energy source in Canada. If we did not have to do that, we would not be talking today about whether we should increase fines under the Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994, to $4 million from $800,000.

We would not be asking how we can protect our water quality in Canada, because we would have decided to use renewable energy. We would be using that resource to produce energy rather than using it to extract oil in the west. We would be using wind to produce energy. We would be using our natural resources intelligently, not just to produce energy, but also to create an economic force in North America. That is what the American administration has understood and what the Conservative government has failed to understand.

Our energy policy and economic policy are still in the stone age. We still believe that fossil fuel is where the energy revolution in Canada lies, when it really lies somewhere else altogether. We have moved from a coal revolution to an oil revolution, and tomorrow it will be a renewable energy revolution. That is where we are going, but the government is instead deciding to invest in the oil industry and provide billions of dollars in tax incentives to an industry that is exploiting a resource that does nothing but create environmental externalities and that puts Canada in the stone age of economic development.

That is totally unacceptable. It is not the path that Quebec has decided to follow. Quebec has decided to invest in renewable energy and focus on energy efficiency. If we are not capable of connecting the east and west to fight climate change, Quebec will make the connection between north and south, if need be. If Canada does not understand that energy for the future means developing renewable energy, if Canada does not understand that this calls for a cap and trade system, if Canada is not prepared to understand that we need a carbon exchange, we will do business with the American states, because they will understand that in budgetary terms and in fiscal terms, that is the direction the future is taking us.

When we compare the Prime Minister’s budget to the budget presented by the Obama administration, we realize that Canada is investing only one sixth as much per capita in energy efficiency and renewable energy as our neighbours to the south. Is this acceptable, when we know that every dollar invested in fighting climate change creates jobs? This is so well known that the UN has invited United Nations member countries to adopt what is called a Green New Deal. If we are to have an economic recovery, we have to inject massive amounts of money into our economy to create green jobs. And all this time, the government is bringing in budgets that give the oil industry tax incentives and help to increase greenhouse gas emissions.

Today, we are debating a bill that increases environmental penalties when we should be debating legislation and a bill on climate change. That is what we expect and we hope to have it before the climate change conference to be held in Copenhagen next December.

Environmental Enforcement Act
Government Orders

3:50 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the member's very thoughtful and excellent presentation. I like his comments about an east-west power grid, something that we would sure like to have out of Manitoba and our hydro system.

Bill C-16 deals with strengthening the penalties, but there is no rationale for the minimum and maximum penalties that are indicated in the bill. In fact, what it does is it usurps the authority of the courts by prescribing the minimum penalty and the maximum penalty.

We should have a situation where the courts have some leeway to make higher penalties. For example, the maximum penalty is increased to $6 million, but that seems very minimal if we look at a case like the Exxon Valdez or other situations like that. Clearly, this would be a very small and a very limited penalty to have in a case of a huge spill like that. There should not be a maximum. It should be left to the courts to make a decision.

In the bigger picture, could the member comment on the long-promised strengthening standards and regulations for air pollutants, toxins and greenhouse gases? Then I will proceed with another question.

Environmental Enforcement Act
Government Orders

3:55 p.m.

Bloc

Bernard Bigras Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is still possible to have recourse to the courts. That possibility is included in Bill C-16. There is the concept of strict liability, which is not the same as presumption of guilt.

The company must demonstrate that it took all reasonable care and attempted to take corrective steps before the offence was committed. There have been a number of Supreme Court rulings in this area to which we can refer. I am thinking, for instance, of the Wholesale Travel Group case which demonstrated that, in the case of strict liability, the burden of proof was different for the prosecution and for the accused. The company always has that leeway if it can prove due diligence.

That is one of the provisions of this bill.