moved that Bill C-392, An Act to amend the Aeronautics Act, the Fishing and Recreational Harbours Act and other Acts (application of provincial law), be read the second time and referred to the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities.
Mr. Speaker, I am very proud to rise in the House today. Being able to introduce a bill and debate it is a significant moment for a legislator. Bill C-392 will give me a sense of accomplishment, and members will soon see why.
This bill will ensure that no one will be above our laws. It will help ensure better protection for our environment and farmlands, and it will allow for much more harmonious land use and development. Bill C-392 amends eight federal acts to impose constraints on the ministers responsible for enforcing these acts. This bill deals with legislation regulating pipelines, harbours, docks, airports, telecommunications infrastructure, and all property that enjoys federal immunity, including land managed by the National Capital Commission.
Once this bill is passed, the federal government will no longer be able to authorize an activity or infrastructure project that would violate provincial laws or municipal bylaws on environmental protection and land development. In theory, Quebec belongs to Quebeckers. For the most part, the protection of our territory and environment is governed by Quebec law.
Moreover, Quebec is a pioneer in this area. It has had environmental legislation on the books for almost half a century. It may not be perfect, but it is the best in North America. The same applies to land development. There is a series of laws and regulations to ensure that it is as harmonious as possible at both the provincial and municipal levels.
To ensure Quebeckers’ needs are taken into account, there is a series of consultation mechanisms, for example the Bureau d’audiences publiques sur l’environnement, and municipal referendums. In short, we have adopted a series of laws and mechanisms to protect our environment, ensure harmonious land development and guarantee that projects have social licence. The same is true of every province.
However, when it comes to projects under federal jurisdiction, none of this applies. For all intents and purposes, the federal government is above provincial law. Quebec laws and municipal by-laws continue to apply, but only insofar as they do not affect activities under federal jurisdiction.
Consider a hypothetical pipeline project. We might demand that the pipe be painted green, blue, black or yellow. That does not cost much or bother anyone. However, we could not impose major constraints or demand costly detours, much less refuse to give our consent for the project. Only the federal government can make these decisions, despite our laws and regardless of the will of my people.
Since I was elected about two years ago, there have been too many federal projects that have caused discontent because we have no say in their implementation. It is as if we were no longer at home at home.
Here are some examples: consider the Act Respecting the Preservation of Agricultural Land and Agricultural Activities, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. We tend to forget, because Quebec has a huge territory, but our farmland is extremely valuable. Only 2% of Quebec’s total land mass is made up of good farmland. When it is contaminated and paved over, it is lost forever. It is lost to posterity.
For 40 years now, developers in Quebec have been prevented from destroying our farmland. They must appear before the Commission de protection du territoire agricole and obtain authorization before building anything in a green zone.
However, in 2010, the Supreme Court ruled that the act did not apply to the construction of aerodromes on protected farmland. Since aeronautics is under federal jurisdiction, these contractors are above provincial law. As a result, since the last election, an airport was built in an agricultural area in Saint-Cuthbert, in the riding of Berthier—Maskinongé. There is another one in Neuville, an aerodrome built smack dab in the middle of a cornfield in the riding of Portneuf—Jacques-Cartier. In both cases, the construction violated provincial law, the Union des producteurs agricoles protested, the municipalities protested, and the Quebec government and the National Assembly protested. No one wanted them, but the federal government gave the go-ahead anyway.
The same thing happened in Mascouche, in my esteemed colleague’s riding of Montcalm. In the case of Mascouche, the bill breaches three laws; not one or two laws, but three laws. It breaches agricultural zoning provisions, municipal zoning provisions and the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, because it is in a protected wooded area. My colleague from Montcalm spoke many times in the House on the issue, but that did not matter to the government. It blindly authorized the construction, and the whole thing is now before the courts.
Let us look at other examples. In the case of land development, municipalities are on the front lines. Developing a territory home to thousands of people and sharing it harmoniously in order to avoid conflict is a delicate affair. That is what city planning and zoning regulations are for. Land use planning can only be done at the local level by people who live in the territory in question. After all, it is their territory, their home. Of course, the federal government does not care. It grants businesses under its jurisdiction the same immunity it enjoys from our laws.
I am convinced that every member in the House could tell stories about problems with cell towers being built wherever telecommunications companies please. These companies are above provincial law, above the will of the people, and they certainly are not afraid to take advantage of it. Some cities have tried to pass by-laws to try to straighten things out, but the courts have struck them down one after the other. That is what happened in Terrebonne, Châteauguay and Gatineau. Montreal withdrew its own by-law because, during public consultations, the companies even threatened to sue the city. Industry Canada sent a brief to tell the city to back down.
I could mention the Port of Quebec. IMTT set up shop there, polluting the Limoilou and Saint-Roch neighbourhoods, in the ridings of Beauport—Limoilou and Québec. Residents began mobilizing because of the red dust that settled on their balconies, window sills and outdoor play areas. Among other things, the dust contained nickel, iron, copper and zinc. Did the federal government listen to them? Not at all, because Ottawa is far removed from the real world. At the end of the day, the Quebec government intervened, but it was met with arrogance from the federal government and the businesses it protects under the mantle of its power.
When inspectors from the Quebec ministry for sustainable development, the environment, and the fight against climate change wanted to visit the facilities, the port authorities told them that they had no business there, because the port is under federal jurisdiction. When the Quebec government served a statement of offence under its Environment Quality Act, the company sent it packing. The worst part is that the Quebec Superior Court ruled in favour of the company. The company can flout our laws and poison our urban neighbourhoods as much as it wants. It is above the law.
I have not even mentioned the energy east pipeline, that would have crossed 800 waterways in Quebec without our being able to do a thing about it. These 800 waterways are a source of drinking water for five million Quebeckers. TransCanada consistently refused to apply for a Quebec certificate of authorization, submit to BAPE hearings or comply with Quebec law. If the project had not been abandoned by the company, we would have seen monster protests, and I guarantee that I would have been among the protestors. There would also have been an endless legal battle between the Government of Quebec and the federal government, which systematically sides with companies against Canadians. The government should not be imposing projects on Canadians without their consent.
That is what is happening now in British Columbia, a taste of what will happen if the government tries to revive the energy east pipeline project. We need to settle this now, before it leads to a social and political crisis, which is precisely what will happen if the energy east pipeline project is revived.
I could talk about the federal government’s properties. Cities develop plans, rule on the maximum height of buildings and make an effort to preserve green areas so that the city can breathe. That is what land development is all about.
However, Ottawa can barge in and build anything anywhere, with no regard for local residents or the bylaws adopted by local elected officials. For example, the City of Gatineau has often ended up at daggers drawn with the National Capital Commission. Recently, someone was telling me about the fact that the government constantly nibbles away at Ottawa's Greenbelt whenever it builds new federal offices. That is how things go with projects under federal jurisdiction. There is no shortage of problems, from disregard for locals and legal uncertainty to court battles and unenforceable municipal bylaws.
This bill will fix all of that by introducing legal certainty into areas under perpetual litigation. Since there will be an act of Parliament to explain why proponents' projects were turned down, they will no longer be able to challenge the applicability of our laws. True, the bill will take discretionary powers away from the government, but only to give them back to the people. Furthermore, this would fulfill one of the Liberals' campaign promises that they seem to have forgotten once they got a taste of power. I would just like to remind them that they said the following:
While governments grant permits for resource development, only communities can grant permission.
Indeed, before the election, the Liberals promised that they would not issue permits for projects that were not approved by the province or municipality. That is precisely what the bill will force them to do. Given that projects will have to concurrently comply with federal laws, provincial laws, and municipal by-laws, the highest standard will apply. It is important to have fairly high standards for the environment.
We live in a democracy. Our laws, our regulations, and our consultation mechanisms reflect a certain social consensus. In principle, Quebec agrees with this bill. The Government of Quebec believes that its environmental and land use planning laws must apply at all times. The National Assembly has stated this unanimously several times.
Municipalities are very unhappy that Ottawa constantly circumvents them. The Union des producteurs agricoles wants Ottawa to comply with the law that protects Quebec land. Environmental groups want the highest standards to apply.
While the government insists on exercising its authority on all matters, we want to return control of the land to those who live there. That way we could to a greater extent be masters in our own house, as Jean Lesage used to say. That is Bill C-392 in a nutshell, and that is why I am very proud to introduce it today.
In closing, I would be remiss if I did not thank legislative counsel of the House, especially Nathalie Caron and Isabelle D'Souza, because preparing an omnibus bill that amends several laws and has almost constitutional impacts on a very tight deadline was quite the challenge and they rose to the occasion brilliantly. Hats off to them.