moved that Bill C-225, 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 pleased to have an opportunity this morning to talk to all my colleagues about Bill C-225, especially since this bill was introduced back in 2018 as Bill C-392 by my party's passionate environmental advocate, the charming member for Repentigny. This Bill C-225 is virtually the same as that one.
I will get into more of the details a little later, but first I would like to point out what the bill might represent. It fits perfectly with my political goals, since it implies more political autonomy for Quebec. Everyone seems to be aware of the path towards self-government that Quebec has taken.
We can go back as far as Jean Lesage's famous slogan “Maîtres chez nous”, when environmental matters were perhaps not as urgent as they are today. As for Lesage, he went even further than that slogan.
I remember the early days of what was known as the Quiet Revolution, when Lesage came up with the wonderful phrase, “the Quebec state as the primary instrument for the collective emancipation of Quebeckers”. That phrase, which is also quite famous, means that what we want, perhaps above all else, is to give political substance to the Quebec nation, and I think this can only be achieved through self-government.
We know that when the federal government takes action in areas of federal legislative jurisdiction, Quebec and the provinces cannot force it to respect their laws. In our Constitution, there is a type of hierarchy and we know that federal legislation subordinates provincial legislation.
In the meantime, federal Parliament can impose strict parameters on governments in the application of the legislation it passes. If federal legislation required compliance with Quebec law and provincial law, the federal government could no longer authorize plans that violate those laws. This circumvention strategy may be the purpose of Bill C-225, which would amend seven federal statutes.
Bill C-225 would amend the Aeronautics Act, which governs airports, and the Fishing and Recreational Harbours Act, which governs wharves and harbours for small watercraft. The bill also amends the National Capital Act, which governs the activities of the National Capital Commission in Ottawa and the Outaouais, and the Broadcasting Act, which governs telecommunications infrastructure, including cellular antennas.
The other laws that this bill amends include the Federal Real Property and Federal Immovables Act, which governs all federal properties; the Canada Marine Act, which, as we all know, governs ports; and the Canada Infrastructure Bank Act, which governs projects carried out through the bank. Such projects currently benefit from a form of federal immunity from provincial laws and municipal bylaws.
By passing Bill C-225, Parliament would force the federal government to ensure that it is respecting provincial laws and municipal bylaws before authorizing an activity or infrastructure project, so I believe that this bill is in keeping with Quebec's pursuit of self-government.
What would the impact of this bill be? If this bill passes, Quebec laws governing environmental protection and land management would apply to the entire province of Quebec. At the beginning of my speech, I mentioned Jean Lesage. In my opinion, this bill would be a way for Quebec to be the master of its own house when it comes to the environment.
The privileges of an airport developer would therefore cease to take precedence over the provisions of the Quebec Act Respecting the Preservation of Agricultural Land and Agricultural Activities or the municipal bylaws. Telecommunications companies would have to come to an agreement with the municipalities and respect the wishes of local residents when putting up their towers and antennas. Major federal infrastructure projects and any other similar projects would be subject to the assessment process of the Bureau d'audiences publiques sur l'environnement du Québec. As a result, these projects would have to be given a certificate of authorization from the Government of Quebec before they could go forward.
Along the same lines, federal government property, including large tracts of the Gatineau urban area that belong to the National Capital Commission, will have to comply with development plans and municipal regulations adopted by local authorities.
In addition to providing better environmental protection and more cohesive land development, the bill will establish legal certainty in areas marked by numerous judicial disputes related to shared jurisdictions. By approving a project that contravenes a provincial law, the federal minister would be contravening a federal law. This would resolve the issue of conflicting jurisdictions once and for all.
We all know the Canadian constitutional context. Constitutionally, Quebec land belongs to Quebeckers. Its occupation, use, development and protection fall primarily under the laws and regulations of Quebec and its municipalities. The British North America Act of 1867, however, distributed legislative powers between the provinces and the federal government, which gives to Ottawa many powers that cover the environment and land.
The British North America Act was signed in 1867, at a time when telecommunications, for example, did not exist. As a result, anything that was not named directly in this legislation now falls under federal jurisdiction. Telecommunications are part of that. Other examples are navigation, wharves and ports. I could also mention public property, such as land and buildings that belong to Ottawa, as well as interprovincial transportation, including transportation infrastructure, such as pipelines.
This topic came up quite often during the last election campaign. Our Conservative colleagues had the unfortunate idea of developing an energy corridor that would have seen a pipeline built across Quebec. Judging by my colleagues' quick reaction and raised eyebrows, I can see that they are not happy about that comment, but this bill could provide a framework for similar excesses at the federal level. This is something that can be discussed later.
The Constitution does not classify environmental protection as a jurisdiction in itself. Either provincial or federal laws will apply, depending on the project. If a project is under the exclusive jurisdiction of the federal government, the provincial laws will only be enforced if they do not prevent Ottawa from exercising its own powers. There are all kinds of examples in our past that demonstrate why this bill is necessary.
For instance, Quebec or a municipality could probably adopt regulations or bylaws allowing cell towers to be painted green. That would be entirely possible, and the courts would accept it. Conversely, any laws or regulations made regarding the location of towers would be struck down, which has happened on several occasions.
What does this actually mean? It means that a provincial government's power to act is significantly reduced by the federal government's power. Just between us, I do not think the colour of a telecommunications tower really matters, but where it is located is critical, and Quebec does not have the power to decide that.
As folks will see, I am a good sport. During the 2015 election campaign, which brought the Liberal Party to power, their party platform promised to ensure that projects have social licence. The term “social licence” is on everyone's lips these days. In 2015, the Liberal Party said that social licence should be a priority for projects to be accepted and authorized.
I take no pleasure in this, but I will quote from the 2015 Liberal Party platform: “While governments grant permits for resource development, only communities can grant permission.” Being a charitable man, I thought to myself, why not support my Liberal colleagues so they can fulfill one of the election promises they made in 2015?
I do so purely out of the goodness of my heart. We in Saguenay—Lac-Saint-Jean are good people. Out of the goodness of my heart, I am willing to do this for my Liberal colleagues.
We live in a democracy. Our laws and regulations are passed by the representatives of the people and reflect a certain social licence. Bill C-225 will help deliver on a Liberal election promise, in a sense.
I gave some examples earlier illustrating how the federal government's prerogative over Quebec's environmental laws can sometimes lead to unfortunate circumstances. We can come back to that.
Over the years, we have adopted several laws, regulations and institutions that have helped us protect our land and ensure its harmonious use. Examples include Quebec's environmental protection legislation, the Act Respecting the Preservation of Agricultural Land and Agricultural Activities, and the Act Respecting Land Use Planning and Development, which governs development plans and zoning regulations, as well as the Government of Quebec's mechanism for ensuring social licence, the BAPE, our bureau of environmental public hearings. However, certain activities and infrastructure are only partly covered by our laws, because they fall under federal jurisdiction. Wharves, harbours, airports and telecommunications infrastructure, as I was saying earlier, are all federal property.
In these cases, even though Quebec laws and municipal bylaws are not completely squeezed out, they can apply only if they do not have a substantive effect on the activity that is the federal government's responsibility. Earlier I was talking about certain cases. In 2010, the Supreme Court ruled that the Act Respecting the Preservation of Agricultural Land and Agricultural Activities could not protect a parcel of agricultural land from a developer who wanted to turn it into an airport.
There was a similar case in 2016, when Rogers appealed to the Supreme Court to strike down Châteauguay's bylaw regulating the proliferation of cell towers. Also in 2016, the Quebec Superior Court ruled that a private business, IMTT-Québec Inc., which was blanketing the Limoilou neighbourhood of Quebec City with red dust, was exempt from Quebec's Environment Quality Act because the business was located on Port of Quebec land, which is under federal jurisdiction. That makes absolutely no sense.
The Alberta company behind the whole energy east saga did not feel that its ridiculous plan to build a pipeline across Quebec had to comply with Quebec laws. This piecemeal enforcement of Quebec's laws and regulations is an affront to democracy. These laws were passed by the Quebec National Assembly, which represents all Quebeckers, and these regulations were duly adopted by the representatives of the people. Furthermore, this arrangement deprives residents of the ability to make decisions about their own land. Earlier I mentioned the famous slogan “Maîtres chez nous”.
Some have pointed out that the bill does not mention municipalities, but they are included indirectly. Constitutionally, there are two levels of government: federal and provincial. Municipalities, which are not part of the constitution, are included by virtue of Government of Quebec legislation.
I am going to pick up the pace here and just say that Bill C-225 has a lot of support. Let me go back to my colleague's Bill C-392, which is essentially a copy of what is before us today. At the time, my colleague from Repentigny had the support of twenty or so municipalities whose bylaws applied to federal projects within their city limits, including airports, ports and telecommunications infrastructure. The City of Gatineau also supported the bill because it wanted the National Capital Commission to stop acting like a separate enclave outside the City's purview. The Union des producteurs agricoles wrote to all Quebec MPs, asking them to support the bill and ensure that the Act Respecting the Preservation of Agricultural Land and Agricultural Activities applies at all times.
Quebec's three major unions also supported the bill, as did the Quebec Environmental Law Centre. The Government of Quebec is constantly lobbying for Quebec's land use and environmental laws to apply to federal projects. When Bill C-69 was before the House, the intergovernmental affairs minister, Jean-Marc Fournier—a confirmed sovereignist, no point in denying it—published an open letter in La Presse seeking an amendment to ensure respect for Quebec's laws and assessment processes. Bill C-225 ensures that.
Lastly, the Quebec National Assembly unanimously adopted 11 resolutions to that effect for various federal projects.
If both my Liberal and Conservative colleagues are serious when they say that they want greater recognition for Quebec, their only option is to accept this bill and vote in favour of it.