Mr. Speaker, thank you for allowing me to speak on Bill S-15.
I first want to stress the fact that despite the importance of the debate and the exchanges on the subject, the Conservative government has again imposed a limit on debate. Consequently, there is once again an undemocratic short-circuiting of the customary parliamentary process.
That said, as stated, Bill S-15 amends the Canada National Parks Act and the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Resources Accord Implementation Act and makes consequential amendments to the Canada Shipping Act, 2001.
In more concrete terms, this initiative from the Senate would designate Sable Island as Canada’s 43rd national park. Quite obviously, we are delighted at the move to protect this unique place, which has stirred our imaginations with its beauty, its history and the ecological heritage it represents.
The bill includes a number of measures. First, drilling less than one nautical mile from the island, or on the surface of the island, would be strictly prohibited. This would make it possible to protect the visible areas from any petroleum development. Of course, this would be an important step in preserving the integrity of the area and the ecosystem that is part of it.
On the other hand, it is important to emphasize that exploration activities would be tolerated, provided they had little impact on the ecosystem of the island. Moreover, this partial prohibition would not include seismic testing, which can have an environmental impact on the area.
In that connection, we note that unfortunately, the concept of impact is not formally defined in the bill. This will be one of the factors to be explored in committee. However, the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board should consult Parks Canada on the conduct of such exploration activities. This is important, because it would ensure collegial management of the space occupied by Sable Island and maximize its protection.
In the same vein, while surface drilling will be prohibited, underground drilling would be allowed. This would clearly constitute a first for a national park. Consequently, we shall have to know exactly how this significant aspect of the bill will be overseen. While the technology is not fully developed in this area, the fact remains that we will be confronting that aspect sooner or later.
Another element found in Bill S-15 is the installation of landing platforms for helicopters used to evacuate offshore workers. We applaud this inclusion, as we value the safety and security of all our people. The spirit that guides these measures takes us one step in the right direction in order to protect that jewel, Sable Island.
Let us remember that this ecosystem harbours many unusual species of flora and fauna, some of them unique to Sable Island. They include the 250 wild horses, the seals that reproduce there and the many bird colonies.
In 1977 the government had already recognized the ecological importance of Sable Island and designated it a migratory bird sanctuary. As a result, the unique ecological heritage of this area is well known and our duty as parliamentarians is to work to protect it.
Naturally, like many environmentalists, the NDP agrees with the principles expressed in Bill S-15. We are in favour of protecting Sable Island in all its facets and establishing boundaries for the human activities that take place there.
Certainly, there are several aspects of this legislation that should be studied in committee. It will be essential to consider the concepts of exploration and impact we find in the bill. What will be considered a low impact? How much petroleum exploration activity will we allow on the island? What will the relationship be between the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board and Parks Canada? What will we do if a petroleum deposit is discovered beneath Sable Island?
It will also be important to consider the possibility of exploration using seismic testing. These are questions that must be asked by the parliamentarians who are members of the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development.
In short, the work done in the committee will determine the future success and survival of this national park. Moreover, we believe that we must be in constant contact with the various stakeholders involved in the current legislative process. They include the Nova Scotia provincial government, the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, the Ecology Action Centre, the Green Horse Society and the Friends of Sable Island Society.
This is a serious matter. We must ensure that all stakeholders work together with parliamentarians to complete this project and set up a national park that will meet ecological and environmental objectives.
That said, the Conservatives are trying to present Bill S-15 as environmental good news. It was true, although certain reservations have been expressed about the creation of this national park. However, that does not diminish the fact that ever since it came to power the government has done all it could to eliminate, weaken and stall environmental measures.
The fact that Canada withdrew from Kyoto clearly showed that the Conservatives had abdicated their environmental responsibilities. Then they cut back considerably on environmental assessments, which must be done for companies' projects and routine activities. This is clearly having a significant impact on various practices, and it will have serious effects on our ecosystem. What is worse, the Conservatives deny that there is a problem with the environment or that climate change exists, which seriously taints the creation of Sable Island national park.
The NDP, on the other hand, has done everything it can to promote environmental values. We remain the only credible political party the public can trust to protect ecosystems and ensure that sustainable development is at the heart of everything we do.
That will be the basis for our work on Bill S-15. We will support the bill at second reading, so that it can be sent to committee. However, we will do everything we can to limit potential and foreseeable environmental abuses. We will be listening to stakeholders and will do what we can to develop the best bill possible for the creation of Sable Island national park.
I am now prepared to take questions from my colleagues.