Mr. Speaker, I salute you and thank all the staff, especially the interpreters, for continuing to serve us so well.
I am pleased to take part in today's debate on BillC-222, an act to amend the Expropriation Act. The member for Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke tabled this bill, apparently with the goal of promoting the protection of Canadians' private property. The member stated that her intention with this bill was to “remove some uncertainty from the existing legislation as to whether owners can be compensated” and “protect the private property rights of average Canadians” in the event of federal expropriation.
However, the amendments proposed in Bill C-222 do nothing to protect private property. They only result in the uneven application of key legislation and restrict the government's ability to act in the interests of Canadians in certain emergency situations. Consequently, this is a deeply flawed bill for several important reasons that I will explain in the next few minutes.
At the heart of this debate is the issue of expropriation, a rare occurrence indeed, driven by urgent need that takes place only if and when a negotiated process is not feasible.
Although rarely used, expropriation can play a critical role in dealing with emergencies or incidents in areas such as defence, transportation and the environment.
In its current form, the Expropriation Act is an important piece of legislation that details the process the Government of Canada is required to follow when private property must be expropriated to serve the public interest. Under this process, a public hearing must be held if there is an objection to a notice of expropriation.
As it stands, the act contains provisions so that in an emergency, when a delay would be prejudicial to the public interest, the Minister of Public Services and Procurement may step in and set aside certain requirements. As an example, the minister is permitted, in the case of an emergency, to waive the holding of a public hearing to allow the government to move more quickly to expropriate a crucial piece of land or property.
This exemption applies exclusively to pressing cases in which emergency measures are necessary. It could have to do with the urgent need to acquire material or a good, including to ensure the protection of essential transportation infrastructure, or with national security.
The government is cautious and uses due diligence in every aspect of the expropriation process. Nonetheless, the need to act quickly, especially in emergencies, can be a determining factor in the process. If the proposed changes were made to this legislation, it would not be possible to speed up the expropriation process in a pressing manner in case of an emergency.
Having flexibility in the expropriation process is potentially critical to dealing with emergencies when timelines are paramount. We simply cannot accept amendments that hinder the government's ability to act quickly in the interests of Canadians when faced with defence, transportation or environmental emergencies.
Bill C-222 proposes to amend the Expropriation Act to limit the power to exercise the right under subsection 10(11) to forego a public hearing before registering the notice of intention to expropriate lands. It also seeks to limit the power provided for under subsection 19(2) to substitute a period lesser than the waiting period for taking material possession of land or the immovable real right.
However, the hon. member's bill seeks to impose these limits only in specific cases. More specifically, the bill states that subsections 10(11) and 19(2) would not apply in cases where the purpose of expropriation is for “restoring historical natural habitats or addressing, directly or indirectly, climate variability”. Ultimately, these changes create a two-tier system by retaining certain factors, but setting others aside.
When deemed necessary, our government believes all expropriations are deserving of equal treatment regardless of their purpose, whether it is environmental protection or accommodation for public infrastructure. It is counterproductive to establish a tiered system by creating exceptions limiting the minister's ability to act swiftly in cases of real environmental emergencies over others. It just does not make sense.
The government is firmly committed to defending the private property rights of Canadians. We recognize the importance of protecting private property rights by ensuring that the regular procedure is followed pursuant to the existing Expropriation Act, which sets out the rigorous hearing process that must precede any planned expropriation.
Currently, the act allows the minister to waive holding a public hearing if, by reason of special circumstances, the physical possession or use by the Crown is
urgently required and that to order that a public hearing be conducted with respect to it would occasion a delay prejudicial to the public interest
I will now indicate how often a hearing has been waived.
In reality, there has never been an accelerated process where the minister had to use the provisions under the subsections in question of the current act. However, these are important provisions to have if they were required. The member did not provide any compelling argument that would justify curtailing the minister's powers in this manner, and only in certain situations.
It would seem that the only thing the bill and its amendments would truly achieve is to apply new impediments to the Government of Canada's ability to respond to emergency situations and, again, only in certain circumstances. Putting aside those emergency provisions, the Expropriation Act already ensures that property owners are treated fairly and compensated appropriately in situations where expropriation is considered necessary.
The act also clearly indicates how the market value must be determined and paid. I want to point out that Public Services and Procurement Canada has completed just 12 expropriations in the past 30 years. In these cases, the government abided by the act and ensured that property owners were treated fairly and were offered appropriate compensation. There has never been a situation, under the current Expropriation Act, in which the government has waived public hearings related to a proposed expropriation of property for any reason whatsoever.
Bill C-222 is essentially an ineffective solution to a non-existent problem. Simply put, this bill is unnecessary, and Canadians have nothing to gain from it. Expropriation is rare. I repeat that Public Services and Procurement Canada has completed approximately 12 expropriations in the past 30 years, and there has never been a situation, under the current Expropriation Act, in which the government has waived public hearings related to a proposed expropriation of property.
Frankly, our position is that expropriations deemed necessary deserve equal treatment, regardless of their purpose, whether it is environmental protection or accommodation for public infrastructure.
Nevertheless, the bill, as introduced, would simply undermine the government's ability to act in emergencies and provides no added benefit for property owners.
For all of the reasons stated above, our government does not support this bill, and I urge my colleagues to reject it.