Mr. Speaker, it is with great pleasure that I take part in today's debate on Bill C-5, the Species at Risk Act.
We are coming to the end of a long and difficult process during which, as the Canadian Alliance member pointed out, we reached a high level of consensus in committee. Unfortunately, the government across the way is acting in an arrogant and provocative manner and, in some ways, is not respecting the existing situation in Canada with respect to protection of species.
I am particularly pleased at the final remarks made by my Canadian Alliance colleague, because I am going to use them as the lead-in to my presentation. In my speech today opposing Bill C-5, I will be relying on two basic premises.
First, I will be basing my analysis on the 1996 accord on the protection of endangered species in Canada. This accord was based on co-operation and collaboration between governments in order to protect endangered species in Canada, as well as on complementarity.
I will cite two guiding principles for the protection of endangered species, by which the accord set out a new framework for co-operation—note that word co-operation—between the federal, provincial and territorial governments.
The first consists in creating a council of ministers, which will decide on the directions to follow, report on progress made and resolve disputes. The second principle—and this one is important—is part of the 1996 accord. Under this principle, governments agree to introduce regulations and complementary programs in order to guarantee that endangered species are protected throughout Canada.
I would emphasize the use of the word co-operation in the accord signed by the federal government, wherein it committed to introducing protective legislation in parliament. I would also emphasize the use of the word complementarity. Complementarity means that our governments will work together in their respective jurisdictions with respect for what others are doing.
However, this is not what we find in the bill, even as amended in committee, and even on the basis of the amendments we passed yesterday in the House of Commons.
The first thing I notice about this bill is that it ignores this accord and its provisions with respect to co-operation, collaboration and complementary policies.
The second is that we on this side of the House believe that habitat protection is a provincial responsibility. This has been the case throughout the study, both in committee and in the House, at all stages of the analysis of this bill, and this has guided us in our desire to improve the bill we are still dealing with here today. The reason we believe this is that it is part of the legitimate demands that have been made over the years by the various governments of Quebec.
I will remind hon. members that, on October 2, 1996, when the 1996 accord for the protection of species at risk was signed, the Quebec Minister of the Environment said the following:
We cannot remain indifferent to the fact that this agreement opens the door to overlap between the future federal legislation—
At that time, he was not referring to Bill C-5, since the bill we are addressing now did not exist at that time. Continuing:
—and the act that has been in force since 1989, an act that works well and has already proven useful.
In 1996, the Quebec environment minister said:
We risk creating more red tape instead of dedicating ourselves to what really matters to us: the fate of endangered species.
This was his assessment of the 1996 accord. Judging by the debate we are now having in this House, his forecast was right. As my colleague from the Canadian Alliance has said, the federal government has not respected its intentions and commitments as set out in the 1996 accord, which emphasizes co-operation, collaboration and complementarity between federal, provincial and territorial legislation and regulations.
Here we are faced with a bill that does not foster co-operation, but will instead provide the tools to a heavy handed government that believes that coercion is more effective than co-operation to ensure protection. We reject this premise, this approach and the federal government's model.
In connection with my statement that the second principle for analysis of this bill ought to be based on our belief that habitat protection is a provincial responsibility, I will quote another Quebec environment minister. On February 23, 1997, when Bill C-65 was introduced, the bill that has now become C-5, he said:
The new version of the bill ignores the situation in Quebec and the recommendations already made by other provinces to preserve species. This bill proposes nothing less than dual federal jurisdiction over the management of species found in Quebec and in the other provinces.
He added the following:
The government would grab jurisdiction over the habitats of the species that are already under its jurisdiction, such as aquatic species and migratory birds, although responsibility for habitats is already under provincial jurisdiction.
Over the past three, four or five years, the Quebec government has been saying that habitat protection is under provincial jurisdiction. However, under Bill C-5, the government opposite is assuming the power to take action on Quebec's territory. The government opposite does have a jurisdiction. It has full power and authority over crown land. It has full legitimacy to act on these lands, under the migratory birds convention.
However, it refuses to act and, instead of taking measures on federal land, it prefers to be more proactive on provincial land than on its own land. For example, there are no conservation officers in some national wildlife reserves. This fact was condemned by the environmental commissioner. This a glaring example. Some national reserves are recognized as heritage areas under the Ramsar convention and are being left unprotected by the federal government, which, with this bill, will be able, through a double safety net, to interfere in provincial jurisdictions.
This is mind-boggling. The government wants to establish an arrogant, pretentious and enforcement-based system that goes against the principles to which the provinces made a commitment in 1996.
If Quebec had not been proactive regarding the protection of habitats and species at risk, I could understand why the federal government would want to pass such a bill.
However, when we look at the situation in Quebec, this is not the case. I remind the House that Quebec, at every opportunity it has been given to respect international commitments made by Canada, has said it would do so. Allow me to mention three of four of these conventions: the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals and last, but not least, the 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity. This convention required governments to develop and maintain the legislative and regulatory provisions required for the protection of threatened species and populations.
The Government of Quebec, a few months after June 1992, had an order passed in the national assembly establishing that it would comply with the Convention on Biological Diversity.
Quebec's desire to protect biodiversity is not only demonstrated by its compliance with conventions negotiated or ratified by the Government of Canada, but it is by the legislation it has passed. Not only is this desire demonstrated by its compliance with the Convention on Biological Diversity, but also by the fact that it took measures one year before the international consensus on this issue led to an international commitment.
Well before the Rio convention of 1992, Quebec passed its own legislation on endangered species. Back in 1989, the Government of Quebec had developed the tools and means to protect endangered species, with its act respecting threatened species, its act respecting the conservation of wildlife, and fishing regulations. Yet more than 12 years later, the federal government has still not even passed legislation to protect endangered species on crown lands under its jurisdiction, and just a few months remain before the earth summit in Johannesburg, ten years after Rio.
It is incomprehensible that a government, ten years after Rio, still has no federal convention and legislation to protect species at risk, and that a province like Quebec already had measures in place back in 1989. Today, the federal government would like to tell Quebec how to protect species at risk on Quebec's land. This bad faith runs counter to the principles of co-operation and collaboration. We are starting to think that the government would rather adopt a enforcement-based policy and model in Canada, which we do not need in Quebec.
Quebec has passed regulations and legislation to protect endangered species. This is the Quebec model for the protection of species, which is based on legislation passed 12 years ago. Of course, I would agree that the legislation is not perfect. But it existed 12 years before the legislation we are now considering. Legislation is made to be changed and improved. Regulatory changes can be made quickly. We know the process here in the House. The regulations are regularly amended in Quebec to improve the measures for the protection of species.
What does this legislation do in Quebec? It identifies species through an advisory committee composed of scientists. This committee has identified over 90 mammals, over 19 plants, over 330 birds, over 16 reptiles and over 198 fish in Quebec.
By means of this legislation passed 12 years ago, the Quebec model has made it possible to identify plants and animals. It also allows us to designate these species through legislation.
Twelve years ago, Quebec introduced a model for the introduction of recovery plans for endangered or threatened species.
Twelve years ago, Quebec was talking about recovery plans, which this House is just debating today. Why is that? How can a government tell a province what to do when we incorporated the principles of recovery plans in legislation passed 12 years ago. And yet the House of Commons is just now debating them? These are recovery plans provided for in the legislation.
There is also a system for enforcing the legislation. It is not enough just to pass laws. For years, Quebec has had within its jurisdiction wildlife protection officers, who are authorized to enforce its wildlife protection legislation.
Today the federal government wants to adopt a system involving enforcement by federal agents. We need to have this explained to us. What protocols for application and agreements are going to be adopted? There will be two police forces. If the federal government decides that, within Quebec, game reserves that fall under provincial jurisdiction, that is Quebec parks, species are not being properly protected, it can send its federal agents out on lands administered by the Government of Quebec.
This is an intrusion. This is not merely overlap, but direct intrusion into Quebec jurisdiction. There will be federal police with the ability to intervene on Quebec land, be it the Portneuf game sanctuary or a provincial park. I can assure hon. members that we will never accept this. Never. That is not what we committed to in 1996.
We committed to working in complementarity, in co-operation and in collaboration. There is no way an agent of the federal authority is coming onto our land. Coming onto private land is one thing, but when it comes to Quebec's game reserves under Quebec government administration, by SEPAC, the Société des établissements de plein air du Québec, there are limits.
As well, we equipped ourselves with a system of penalties for violators of Quebec's endangered species legislation. Not only do we have a statute and a regulatory process, we also have a strategy on biological diversity.
As far back as 1996, the Government of Quebec adopted a strategy on biological diversity. This strategy already set out the major objectives for the development of protected areas.
Its first objective was to increase the ecological knowledge necessary for the creation of a network to maintain quality and for the protection of vulnerable or threatened components of natural biodiversity.
Second, to establish and maintain a comprehensive and representative network of the protected areas necessary for the preservation of biological diversity.
Third, to strengthen the network of managed conservation areas so as to ensure the protection of biological diversity over a greater area.
So, we have not only laws and regulations, but also a strategy on biological diversity. We do not even stop there. We do not just have a strategy adopted in 1996. Just recently, Quebec has earmarked funds for its implementation.
I would simply like to remind members of the House that on January 24, 2002—only a few months ago—the Government of Quebec reached an agreement with a private organization in order to support a national network of protected areas on private lands. Conservation de la nature Québec and the Government of Quebec will spend $5 million over two years to acquire private lands with endangered species in the regions of the St. Lawrence River valley, the Outaouais, the Appalaches and the Gaspé Peninsula.
The agreement will provide for the acquisition of approximately 100 square kilometres, protecting some 150 different habitat.
So, Quebec is fulfilling its responsibilities when it comes to habitat protection. The investment made in January will allow for the protection of more than 150 different habitats, as I said. So we have legislation, we have regulations and we have a strategy. The Quebec model is very different.
Why are we opposed to today's bill? Are we opposed to federal legislation to protect endangered species? Absolutely not. Canada has no choice. Canada is even dragging its feet with respect to its international commitments. It is only because of its international commitments that it has no choice but to pass the Species at Risk Act.
But we think that it should be protecting species on crown lands and federal lands, in accordance with instruments such as the migratory birds convention. It should be protecting endangered species in Canada's national parks, and in national wildlife reserves. According to the recent report by the environmental commissioner, there is not enough funding to protect ecosystems in Canada's eight national wildlife reserves in Quebec and the ten in Ontario, and many habitats and species are threatened. One could even ask oneself just how proactive the federal government is when it comes to species on federal lands.
What we need is legislation that will apply to federal lands but respect Quebec's legislation to protect species on its own lands. That is why we are opposed to the double safety net in the bill. This is a ruse by the federal government to exceed its jurisdiction and to once again increase its presence in the provinces, but without sponsorships. Perhaps there will be sponsorships as well, but that is another debate.
In this debate, the government and the minister talk about co-operation, collaboration and complementarity, while we talk about duplication, overlap and interference.
The Bloc Quebecois' opposition is rooted in Quebec's traditional demands regarding the environment. We are defending the legislation passed by the National Assembly of Quebec. We are defending the Quebec model for the protection of endangered species and habitats. We are defending a law passed by the government of Robert Bourassa. We are defending a law passed by the members of a Liberal government in Quebec. It was not a separatist, sovereignist government but a nationalist government in Quebec City, whose members included the following members now sitting in this House: the member for Lac-Saint-Louis, the member for Westmount, who is the President of the Treasury Board, the member for Bonaventure--Gaspé--Îles-de-la-Madeleine--Pabok, the member for Beauharnois--Salaberry, the member for Anjou--Rivière-des-Prairies, and the member for Verdun--Saint-Henri--Saint-Paul—Pointe Saint-Charles.
Today, we are defending Quebec's traditional demands. Our opposition to Bill C-5 is as strong as the one expressed by the then Quebec minister of the environment, Pierre Paradis, when the federal government wanted to force down Quebec's throat its Canadian model for environmental assessment.
I see the hon. member for Lac-Saint-Louis. He will remember that the then Quebec minister of the environment got really upset when the federal government wanted to pass the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. Quebec dissociated itself from this process.
Today, the members of this House who supported the Quebec act would agree to adopt a bill that will set aside the Quebec legislation. I just do not understand.
In politics, consistency is one of the most fundamental criteria used by the public to judge politicians. Our opposition reflects the desire expressed in 1989 by the national assembly. Regardless of which the government passed the act at the time, we will defend our point of view, as did Pierre Paradis when he opposed the Canadian environmental assessment process. We will do so for species at risk and for Bill C-19, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, because we believe that we must protect species in Canada.
This is firm but considered support, based on the 1996 principles of co-operation, collaboration and complementarity.