House of Commons Hansard #124 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was chair.

Topics

Environment—Main Estimates, 2012-13
Business of Supply
Government Orders

9:45 p.m.

NDP

The Chair Denise Savoie

Resuming debate, the hon. Minister of the Environment.

Environment—Main Estimates, 2012-13
Business of Supply
Government Orders

9:45 p.m.

Thornhill
Ontario

Conservative

Peter Kent Minister of the Environment

Madam Chair, I am pleased to be here this evening to discuss with the committee of the whole this important budget and our commitment to environmental excellence in Canada.

I am accompanied this evening by my deputy minister, Paul Boothe, the chief executive officer of Parks Canada, Alan Latourelle, and the president of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, Elaine Feldman.

Recently I marked my one-year anniversary as Canada's environment minister. I must say that the past year and a half has been challenging, but it has been very rewarding.

As we look forward to the next year, our government is keenly focused on ensuring that our natural resources are developed in an environmental and sustainable manner while maximizing economic growth, competitiveness and the creation of good long-term jobs for Canadians.

As we all know, one of the main duties of Environment Canada is to develop, implement, monitor and enforce science-based environmental standards and regulations across Canada.

This year, we are focusing on simplifying and increasing the efficiency and transparency of our regulatory processes to make them more effective. The department is strongly committed to growing as a world-class regulatory organization, and it will continue to improve its track record of regulatory excellence.

My department has made steady progress in a number of key areas. Working in partnership with Alberta, I announced on February 3 an historic plan for implementing a world-class, comprehensive and transparent environmental monitoring plan in the oil sands. This plan will deliver rigorous scientific data to ensure that the oil sands are developed in an environmentally sustainable manner. My department will monitor water, air and biodiversity, and it will be among the most transparent and most accountable systems of its kind in the world.

Monitoring will be carried out in more places, more frequently, for more substances. For example, by 2015 we will add up to 22 new water sites, 11 new air sites, and over 37 new biodiversity sites. The dedicated scientists in my department have already begun collecting crucial measurements during the spring melt and the ice breakup. Throughout this process, we have been engaging industry, independent scientists, aboriginal peoples and other stakeholders.

Canada is making significant progress in reducing Canada's total greenhouse gas emissions by 17% below 2005 levels by 2020 through a sector-by-sector plan. In fact, federal measures, combined with actions taken by provinces, brought us one-quarter of the way toward our 2020 target a year ago, and we have made significant progress since then. Emissions have declined in almost all sectors, including oil and gas and electricity generation, since 2005. Between 2009 and 2010, our emissions remained virtually steady, despite economic growth of 3.2%.

More progress on reducing our greenhouse gas emissions is forthcoming, following on publication of our final cold-fired electricity regulations in coming weeks and the proposed heavy duty vehicle regulations I recently announced.

All of these proposed regulations will help enhance Canada's position as a world leader in clean energy, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve air quality for all Canadians.

We are now moving forward to develop regulated performance standards for other major emitting industrial sectors. We have already initiated an engagement process with the oil and gas sector and the provinces to enable ongoing consultation on regulatory development. We plan a similar engagement as we move forward to develop regulations for other emissions in intensive industrial sectors.

My department will also continue its efforts to improve air quality by working with provinces, industry and non-governmental organizations to implement the air quality management system. This system is a comprehensive consensus-based approach to reducing air pollutant emissions and improving air quality across Canada, eventually in partnership with the U.S. along the lines of the acid rain treaty.

Furthermore, under the next phase of Canada's chemicals management plan, our department is working with partners to assess and regulate a multitude of chemicals used in thousands of industrial and consumer products.

As part of the action plan for clean water, in 2011 the Government of Canada invested almost $3 million for the cleanup of Lake Simcoe and almost $400,000 for nine new community projects to clean up Lake Winnipeg. Negotiations with the United States to modernize the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement have been successful. The process to amend the agreement is nearing completion.

Significant resources were invested in the Great Lakes for the cleanup of contaminated sites, reduction of harmful algae blooms, waste water infrastructure and science and research.

We are also taking action to protect and conserve Canada's rich and abundant biodiversity. Under our new Plan Saint-Laurent, we are working with Quebec to ensure water quality, to protect ecologically sensitive areas and to conserve the incredible biodiversity of that mighty river. In that regard, the Canada-Quebec agreement on the St. Lawrence was signed and announced in Montreal last November. This new agreement sets out the St. Lawrence action plan up to 2026.

Under budget 2012, $50 million over two years is being provided to support updated application of the Species at Risk Act. This money will support improvements to the program that respond to submissions made during and after the parliamentary review of the act in 2009 and 2010. These changes will deliver greater conservation benefits, reduce the need for direct federal intervention and provide greater certainty for partners.

On the international stage, Canada has played a significant role in advancing work toward a new international climate agreement for the future. The Durban platform for enhanced action took an important step forward by setting out a negotiating mandate for all countries to develop a single new international treaty to include all major emitters to be implemented by 2020. This has been a long-standing objective of our government.

We have invested and continue to invest $1.2 billion in fast-start financing to help developing countries address global climate change. Canada is also working with international partners to reduce short-lived climate pollutants such as black carbon and methane.

There has been much talk—and great exaggeration, misrepresentation and few factual references—about the changes to environmental assessments under the responsible resource development initiative. My colleagues will speak to this matter in detail later in the debate, but let me just say that our government takes environmental protection very seriously. We are amending outdated and inefficient elements of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act in order to modernize the environmental assessment processes and strengthen enforcement provisions.

For the first time, for example, federal inspectors will have authority to examine whether conditions in an environmental assessment decision statement are actually met. When passed, Bill C-38 would allow for monetary penalties that range from $100,000 to $400,000 for non-compliance. These are real penalties meant to ensure compliance and to safeguard Canadians. They complement the much greater stiffening of regulations under CEPA a year ago.

Environment Canada has also focused its resources to address areas of highest concern to Canadians, such as severe weather. I announced investments to strengthen weather monitoring infrastructure, ensuring Canadians continued access to world-class weather, water and climate monitoring data, and we will continue to provide Canadians with a comprehensive national weather, water and climate monitoring system.

I must say that I am very proud of the accomplishments and dedication of this government vis-à-vis the environment. We are serving Canadians every day and protecting Canada for years to come. Our government's economic action plan is creating jobs and growth for Canadians now and in the future.

In conclusion, I take this opportunity to thank members present on both sides of the House for their interest in the work of my department and I welcome their questions throughout the evening.

Environment—Main Estimates, 2012-13
Business of Supply
Government Orders

9:55 p.m.

Vaughan
Ontario

Conservative

Julian Fantino Associate Minister of National Defence

Madam Chair, as you will know, the war of 1812-1814 was a defining moment in Canadian history and contributed a sense of pride and identity to the growing national consciousness. The memory of the struggle and the heroic sacrifices made in defence of the country would help lay the foundation for Confederation in 1867 and for the development of Canada as we know it today.

Through the collective efforts of a diverse population of anglophone, francophone and aboriginal peoples of Canada, together with military forces from Great Britain, successive American invasions of Canada were turned back.

As proud as I am of today's men and women who serve in the Canadian Forces, I am equally proud of those who have gone before us.

Could the minister please outline for the House and for all Canadians some of the special events that Parks Canada is involved in that will mark this historic anniversary?

Environment—Main Estimates, 2012-13
Business of Supply
Government Orders

9:55 p.m.

Conservative

Peter Kent Thornhill, ON

It is an excellent question, Madam Chair, and I thank my colleague from the neighbouring riding of Vaughan.

Let me assure the House and all Canadians that knowledgeable Parks Canada staff will captivate all ages and interests with fascinating stories, an authentic sense of place and interactive and experimental programs that I believe will ignite the imagination and engage the senses.

In many cases, partnerships with local aboriginal peoples will bring representatives of these groups into events and programs to tell their own stories first-hand.

Through Canada's economic action plan, Parks Canada has invested more than $16 million at many of our War of 1812 national historic sites. As a result, we have made improvements to visitor infrastructure, updated our exhibits and rehabilitated our historic resources.

Now, thanks to a $9.4 million share of the government's 1812 commemoration fund, Parks Canada is rolling out programming under all three pillars of the commemoration. There will be a television docudrama series. There will be a graphic novel and web based initiatives, including social media and other news media, all appealing to young Canadians.

The 200th anniversary will also be widely commemorated in the United States. This activity will include binational awareness through the celebration period.

Environment—Main Estimates, 2012-13
Business of Supply
Government Orders

9:55 p.m.

Conservative

Julian Fantino Vaughan, ON

Madam Chair, as a former police officer, I am especially interested in questions of enforcement.

Could the minister please inform the House about the importance of the role played by Canada's officers who enforce our environmental legislation?

Environment—Main Estimates, 2012-13
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10 p.m.

Conservative

Peter Kent Thornhill, ON

Again, this is a particularly relevant question from my colleague, Madam Chair, and I am proud to say that this government has a strong record of investing in environmental enforcement and achieving results. Our government has made significant investments in enforcement. The government permanently increased resources to enforcement by $21 million annually to ensure we have the officers, the equipment, the forensic science and the tools to do the job.

Today there are 50% more enforcement officers than there were just five years ago. They are stationed in offices across the country. They are working in the field to detect and take action against those who violate our environmental legislation.

Every day, these dedicated men and women gather intelligence, they conduct inspections and they build investigations against polluters, poachers and smugglers. The goal of officers is to stop environmental crime and, where possible, to bring offenders back into compliance. They have a range of tools to help them do so.

Environment—Main Estimates, 2012-13
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10 p.m.

Liberal

Kirsty Duncan Etobicoke North, ON

Madam Chair, the repeal of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act would affect regulatory decision-making and the risk of project-specific and cumulative environmental impacts.

Could the minister tell us what analysis has been undertaken to assess the costs of liabilities that would arise under the new assessment process, how they compare to the costs of liabilities under the old assessment process and whether he will table said analysis?

Environment—Main Estimates, 2012-13
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10 p.m.

Conservative

Peter Kent Thornhill, ON

Madam Chair, I will correct my hon. colleague. What we are doing is strengthening and contemporizing the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. It is an act that our government has been reviewing for some time now. Legislative changes with regard to CEAA were brought into effect in June 2010. They have worked.

What we have in the legislation before the House now, in Bill C-38, is to improve on those original fixes to strengthen environmental protection while at the same time eliminating duplication and providing firm and efficient timelines.

Environment—Main Estimates, 2012-13
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10 p.m.

Liberal

Kirsty Duncan Etobicoke North, ON

Madam Chair, we get no answer on liabilities. I have asked very specifically about the liabilities, how they compare and whether he will be tabling that.

Last week Environment Canada released its report on plans and priorities, signed by the minister. I will quote from the report:

Skills: Due to transition alignment challenges, the Department risks being unable to stay current with advances in science and technology. ...knowledge required to support programs and internal services could pose difficulties.

Environment Canada is a science-based department. The above passage suggests the government is doing Environment Canada serious damage.

The minister has previously misled Canadians by saying there would be no compromise of programs. Given the recognition that there is a problem at Environment Canada, what new funds has the environment minister specifically allocated to bring his department up to date with advances in science and technology in order to protect the environment, the health and safety of Canadians and evidence-based decision-making?

Environment—Main Estimates, 2012-13
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10 p.m.

Conservative

Peter Kent Thornhill, ON

Madam Chair, again I will correct my hon. colleague. Part of the objective of the report on plans and priorities is to outline potential risks in the year ahead. She did quote one paragraph rather accurately, but like the original news story, which she is using as the basis for her question, she does not quote the subsequent paragraphs where we outline in great detail exactly the measures we will take to mitigate those risks and strengthen and encourage the scientific vitality of my department.

Environment—Main Estimates, 2012-13
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10 p.m.

Liberal

Kirsty Duncan Etobicoke North, ON

Madam Chair, given that there is recognition that there is a problem at Environment Canada, I asked what new funds the minister would give to correct this.

The monitoring of atmospherically transported chemicals is required under the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement between the United States and Canada. In response to the agreement, Canada and the United States formed the Integrated Atmospheric Deposition Network, or IADN.

Could the minister tell us what the cuts are to IADN in terms of personnel and money and, most important, whether the Canadian contribution to IADN will continue and if Canada will be able to maintain its commitment to the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement?

Environment—Main Estimates, 2012-13
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:05 p.m.

Conservative

Peter Kent Thornhill, ON

Madam Chair, I would again quibble with the preamble in my colleague's question. However, with regard to the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, the good news is that in the very near future we will be announcing renewal of that treaty and an updating with regard to all the areas of mutual concern between our two countries. That involves water, air and biodiversity on both sides of our shared boundary.

Again, I urge patience on my colleague for just a few short weeks until the final details of that renewed treaty will be made public.

Environment—Main Estimates, 2012-13
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:05 p.m.

Liberal

Kirsty Duncan Etobicoke North, ON

Madam Chair, the minister is not answering my questions. I asked whether the Canadian contribution to IADN will continue and if Canada will be able to maintain its commitment to the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement.

This past week the Environment Commissioner reported what we have known for a very long time; namely, that the government is not on track to make its 2020 emissions targets. The government has no comprehensive climate change plan. It has weakened its own greenhouse gas emissions targets by an astonishing 90%. It could only get a third of the way to reaching its very weak target, and the government has spent over $9 billion to achieve very little for Canadian taxpayers.

When will the minister deliver the plans and regulations for the six remaining sectors and particularly for one of the most important sectors, the oil and gas industry, as the oil sands are the fastest growing source of emissions in Canada?

Environment—Main Estimates, 2012-13
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:05 p.m.

Conservative

Peter Kent Thornhill, ON

Madam Chair, again to my colleague's preamble, Canada will fulfill all its obligations under the existing Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement and I urge her to wait patiently for details on the updated agreement.

With regard to our sectoral regulatory approach to greenhouse gases, again my colleague makes no reference to the latest greenhouse gas inventory report, which we brought out a month ago. It shows that emissions are down in virtually every sector, including oil and gas, for a variety of reasons.

My colleagues on the other side often like to compare Canada to Australia. Our per capita greenhouse gas emissions today are at the lowest level since 1990 and below Australia's equivalent.

Environment—Main Estimates, 2012-13
Business of Supply
Government Orders

10:05 p.m.

Liberal

Kirsty Duncan Etobicoke North, ON

Madam Chair, the reason the greenhouse gas emissions are down is that courageous provincial leaders have taken action.

Environment Canada's measurement stations and analysis for ozone trends are a gold standard in the northern latitudes, which are highly vulnerable to stratospheric ozone depletion. Canadian observations were essential to the discovery of last year's Arctic two million square kilometre ozone hole.

Will the minister specify how many of the 10 ozonesonde stations will be supported under the new budget? How many scientists will be supported for management and analysis relating to each of the networks?