Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Before I start, I wish to express appreciation on behalf of CHA and all its members for the privilege of participating in this important forum. Protection of species, and particularly the SARA, is important to the environment, to society, and to our industry, and we expect a review will assist in improving this protection.
In addition to Pierre Lundahl and me, in the audience we also have Jacob Irving, the new president of CHA, who just took over last week from Pierre Fortin, our esteemed former president, whom some of you will know.
And we have Janice Walton, of Blake, Cassels & Graydon in Vancouver, who helped us prepare our submission; and Nadine Adm of Hydro-Québec, who was one of the participants in our SARA working group.
As you already have our fairly extensive submission, which we provided about a month ago, and some more recent, briefer notes, I'm not going to waste your time going through all the suggestions in there. I'm going to give a brief summary of the one main issue we were focusing on, which we see as being critical to be dealt with in the short term. And I will provide a little bit of emphasis that's not contained in our submission itself.
But before I do that, I want to say that a lot of people don't have good background on the hydro power situation in Canada. Hydro power today produces over 60% of the electricity in Canada. And contrary to some people's understanding, there is enough potential to develop additional hydro right across the country to triple the amount of hydro power we have. So it's not a resource that has been exhausted. Some of that will not be able to be developed, for environmental or economic reasons, but a very large portion of it could be.
As evidence of that, over $50 billion in planned capital investments are actively being planned at this time. We all think of the oil sands as being a huge area for investment, while here we have $50 billion in renewable hydro.
CHA and its members support the objectives, the principles, and the fundamental structure of SARA. However, there are some key gaps in the current drafting that, first, have contributed to the implementation of SARA being slower than anybody wants and, second, in our case, have created some serious difficulties for hydro power that we believe and understand were not the intention of the original drafters.
Our recommendations would assist in faster implementation of SARA, and it would provide more effective protection for species and a resolution of the most severe difficulties for the hydro power industry. We recognize, to be realistic, that there is a low likelihood of major changes to the SARA legislation, and in our understanding, any major changes would have to come in the future. But we feel some relatively small wording changes can be done that are critical. We are making two priority suggestions that would be relatively easy to draft and are short.
The most important issue for CHA--and you've been hearing that from the other industries as well today--is the authorization of activities at existing and new hydro facilities. For the others it's not hydro, obviously. Despite all the hydro power industry's best efforts, it is not physically possible to guarantee that no incidental harm to aquatic species will ever occur. For this reason, there is a need for a mechanism to authorize the hydro power facility to operate even if incidental impacts occur. However, of course this would have to be under strict conditions designed to avoid impacts or mitigate impacts and assist in species protection.
So we could have a situation whereby an effort at a project or a system is helping the species overall to do better, but with the legislation that's set up now, the concern would be what if you kill one individual member in your facility, rather than the focus being what if you saved or created 100 or 1,000 more members somewhere else. So we think the emphasis in the implementation needs to be different, and our suggestions will help with that.
Currently SARA allows for permits or agreements authorizing incidental harm but as you've already heard, these are limited to only three or five years' duration. This is simply not viable for a hydro power facility that can take up to 10 years to plan and build and is anticipated to be operational for up to 100 years. Without adequate provision for authorization of activities, many hydro power facilities may not be able to operate in compliance with SARA once it is fully implemented. And Eli just explained that. Without the ability to have any degree of certainty over long-term permitting under SARA, some proposed new hydro power facilities may not be able to secure financing because of the uncertainty in the long term, and thus can obviously not proceed.
There are two areas in SARA that the CHA believes can be revised to deal with this problem. The first is the permitting provisions themselves. This is what CEA just discussed, so we won't repeat any of that. We support what they were saying.
Second is provisions in relation to conservation agreements as a stewardship tool to protect species in their habitat and to aid in compliance with SARA. What we're looking for is not a tool to avoid compliance with SARA; we're looking for a tool that would be practical for industry to work with government to make sure we can meet the requirements of species protection. So we're looking for a compliance tool.
SARA allows the minister currently to enter into a section 11 conservation agreement with an organization or person to benefit a species at risk or enhance survival in the wild. However, these conservation agreements do not provide any protection or exemptions from SARA's prohibitions and incidental harm, even though an entity is acting in full compliance with the conservation agreement.
Conservation agreements would allow for management of species in critical habitat, tailored to the needs of the species, the activities of the agreement holders, local communities, and government. The CHA specifically recommends the following: (a) allowing conservation agreements to be authorized for activities specified in the agreement, and that would be in section 11; an d(b) providing exemptions from SARA's prohibitions for entities that enter and comply with conservation agreements. That's a couple of small additions to section 83.
Of course, these conservation agreements would need to be enforceable, and there needs to be assurance of accountability. The agreements could be done in parallel with preparation of recovery strategies, or even before them, and then be reviewed upon completion of the strategy if required. This could assist in speeding up such recovery strategies rather than slowing them down.
These suggestions, as well as the ones contained in our written submission, would enhance application of SARA and protection of species for four reasons. There would be clear means for government and industry staff and other stakeholders to implement SARA. There would be reduced opposition to listing of certain species due to concern over risk of extreme socio-economic impact. So today, with the way SARA is drafted with those gaps, there will be certain species to which there would be a lot of opposition to their being listed, because of the major socio-economic ramifications. But if these gaps were addressed, there wouldn't be that same fear over what will happen if they get listed.
Third, government, industry, and other stakeholders can focus on protection of overall populations of species at risk, rather than a few individuals who might be incidentally harmed.
The fourth is that the current--and you've heard this from CAPP--conservation agreements are a good way to allow an ecological approach to deal with multiple species rather than one species at a time.
Moving forward, CHA has taken initial steps, with others, to work together with other industries to develop a multi-stakeholder proposal. The CHA anticipates that by the fall of 2009, it and the others will have developed a more detailed proposal as to how conservation agreements and permitting could be used as a compliance tool and what changes to SARA are needed to make that happen.
The CHA supports wildlife and ecological conservation and submits recommendations that we believe will enhance, not detract, from SARA's ability to achieve real results in species protection.