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Evidence of meeting #36 for Environment and Sustainable Development in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was habitat.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Pamela Zevit  Registered Professional Biologist, Past President, Chair, Practice Advisory and Professional Ethics, Association of Professional Biology
Chloe O'Loughlin  Director, Terrestrial Conservation, British Columbia Chapter, Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society
Brian Riddell  President and Chief Executive Officer, Pacific Salmon Foundation
Jeff Surtees  Chief Executive Officer, Trout Unlimited Canada
Alan Martin  Director, Strategic Initiatives, B.C. Wildlife Federation
Devon Page  Executive Director, Ecojustice Canada
Scott Ellis  Executive Director, Guide Outfitters Association of British Columbia
Linda Nowlan  Director, Pacific Conservation, World Wildlife Fund (Canada)
Neil Fletcher  Education Coordinator, Wetlands, B.C. Wildlife Federation
David Bradbeer  Program Coordinator, Delta Farmland & Wildlife Trust
Jessica Clogg  Executive Director and Senior Counsel, West Coast Environmental Law Association
Damien Joly  Associate Director, Nanaimo, Wildlife Conservation Society of Canada

10:40 a.m.

Linda Nowlan Director, Pacific Conservation, World Wildlife Fund (Canada)

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

WWF Canada appreciates the invitation to appear before your committee.

Our mission is to stop the degradation of the planet's environment and to build a future in which humans live in harmony with nature.

As one of Canada's oldest and largest conservation organizations, with offices in all corners of the country, we're eager to do what we can to make this make this plan a leading example for the world.

Today, as I speak to you, WWF is releasing its eighth Living Planet Report in major capitals and business centres around the world. In fact, it is actually being delivered from space today as I talk to you. That was late-breaking news, not in my written remarks. This is our own state-of-the-world publication, a global accounting index that tracks the state of biodiversity and the human footprint on earth.

This report's clear message is that we are taking more from our planet than our planet is able to give. The findings are that biodiversity has declined by 30% since 1970, while our demand on the planet, our footprint, has more than doubled. If we imagined countries as businesses, Canada ranks as one of the worst-performing capital managers. We have the eighth largest per capita footprint of any country on earth. If every citizen of earth consumed as Canadians do, we'd need 3.5 earths to supply our needs. There is an urgent need for the plan we are discussing today.

In the short time we have, I will outline WWF's top three priorities for the national conservation plan, followed by some more specific recommendations on conservation and implementation priorities.

Our top three recommendations are, number one, to aim high. Our conservation goals should exceed our development goals. Number two is to celebrate Canadians' pride in nature with an innovative public engagement program. Number three is to challenge the private sector to match the government's conservation activities.

Before going into detail about these priorities, l'd just like to say a few words about why we are here and the opportunity we have to create something lasting and meaningful.

It won't come as a surprise to any of you, but we are the envy of the world for our wealth, especially our natural wealth. People around the globe are in awe of what Canadians have at our disposal and for our enjoyment, both out in the wilderness and in cities.

Across the bridge, Vancouver has pledged to be the greenest city in the world by 2020, and has taken major steps to reap the environmental and economic benefits from its greenest city action plan. Canada's national conservation plan should match the ambition in this goal.

Here in B.C. we have amazing natural wonders like the Great Bear Rainforest and Sea on the north coast, where one of the world's last intact temperate rainforests meets some of the planet's last large wild rivers and most productive cold water seas. It is an area of incredible abundance, which I was lucky enough to visit last fall. I was amazed at the experience of walking up streams so choked by salmon that it was hard to navigate. Where would B.C. be without salmon?

The Fraser River, right outside our window, is the greatest salmon-producing river on earth. More than two billion juvenile salmon spend weeks or months in the estuary before beginning their ocean migration.

How can our national conservation plan safeguard this incredible natural wealth? This brings me back to our top three priorities.

First, we need to aim high. We recommend that the federal government's plan for more than 500 development projects representing over $500 billion in new investments in the decade ahead should be matched with an even more ambitious conservation plan. The government is to be congratulated for the huge progress we've made with protected areas on land. We need similar progress in protecting our marine and freshwater environments.

We join with other witnesses you have heard from who have emphasized the need for Canada to meet the international legal commitments, in particular commitments under the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Aichi biodiversity targets. We suggest matching priority outcomes of the plan to the Aichi targets, as the U.K. biodiversity strategy has done.

Second, we recommend that the plan celebrate Canadians' pride in nature with an innovative public engagement program—this century's version of the excitement generated by our centennial celebrations in 1967.

WWF has an intensive focus on public engagement and participation, and we would be pleased to share our experiences. Earth Hour, the largest public involvement event in Canada, is organized by WWF, and is participated in by 10 million Canadians and 100 million people around the world.

It's a symbolic activity, to show a commitment to climate change action. Earth Hour asks you to turn off your lights, to switch off, for one hour each March.

We're now building on public recognition of Earth Hour to reach more substantive conservation goals. The committee members have noted the importance of reaching people who live in cities as part of the NCP. The WWF network will continue Earth Hour's positive momentum through the Earth Hour city challenge, a new initiative that highlights and rewards city governments that are prepared to make substantial long-term efforts to combat climate change—an integral part of any national conservation plan.

Third, we invite the government to challenge the private sector to be a full participant in the plan. One example we're proud to highlight is from one of our corporate partners. By the end of 2013, Loblaw, Canada's largest purchaser of seafood, has made a globally leading commitment to source 100% of all the wild and farmed fish sold in its stores across Canada from sustainable sources. We're collaborating on this with Loblaw, as well as with other scientists, science advisors, government agencies, and seafood vendors.

Those are our top three priorities for the plan. We've prepared a written brief that addresses the purpose, goals, and guiding principles for the NCP, which I will leave with you.

In the time remaining, I will talk about conservation and implementation priorities for the plan.

WWF recommends that the plan include bold steps on water, climate, and people, including actions to protect the Great Bear Sea, the marine counterpart to the Great Bear Rainforest. This region generates $104.3 million in revenue and provides 2,200 long-term jobs.

We recommend recovering the Grand Banks ecosystem, including Atlantic cod productivity.

We recommend maintaining natural flow regimes in selected large wild rivers in every basin across Canada. The federal government has the constitutional responsibility to protect fish and their habitat, and that includes the rivers, streams, and wetlands on which they depend. The Fisheries Act sets a vital national standard for protecting fish habitat. The proposed changes to this act, which would dilute this national standard, are of grave concern to us and many others. They are not compatible with a national conservation plan.

We also recommend priorities for establishing the last ice area in Canada's far north and a Canadian energy strategy.

Our implementation priorities are to complete Canada's protected area networks, both terrestrial and marine. We recommend establishing recovery programs for every species listed in the Species at Risk Act as soon as possible. This includes all the freshwater and marine fish that have lagged behind terrestrial species in being given the legal protection they need.

Species at risk need their critical habitat protected. As my colleague just explained in detail, if we want healthy salmon populations we need to protect salmon habitat. The Species at Risk Act is the tool we use to keep species healthy across the country. We urge you to strengthen this act as part of the national conservation plan.

Another implementation priority is to protect natural flow, and the federal Fisheries Act is a key tool to conserve, protect, and restore rivers across Canada.

Our final implementation priority is to support credible globally recognized marketplace certification systems, such as the Marine Stewardship Council for fishing, which helps to secure natural capital while maintaining Canadian business market share internationally.

In closing I'd like to tell you about the WWF gift to the earth program. A gift to the earth is a public celebration by WWF of a conservation action, which is both a demonstration of environmental leadership and a globally significant contribution to the protection of the living world.

We awarded WWF's gift to the earth to Parks Canada, in 2011—congratulations, Parks Canada—and in 2007, we made the gift to the earth award to the architects of the Great Bear Rainforest agreement. We were very happy to celebrate that event with leaders from the federal and provincial governments, first nations, and other stakeholders.

We'd like to be back before this committee in five years with a new WWF gift to the earth, for your contributions arising from this plan. We stand ready to work collaboratively with government and industry to put an ambitious national conservation plan into action.

Once again, I thank you for giving me the opportunity to share our views with you.

10:50 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Mark Warawa

Thank you so much. I will introduce the members of our committee who are with us today. It's a fraction of the committee that normally meets two times a week for two hours.

We have Hedy Fry, with the Liberal Party, and we have Monsieur Pilon and Monsieur Choquette, who are with the official opposition party, the NDP.

To my right are Mr. Lunney, from the area of Nanaimo, Mr. Toet from Manitoba, and me, Mark Warawa.

The first round of questioning will be seven minutes.

We will begin with Mr. Lunney.

10:50 a.m.

Conservative

James Lunney Conservative Nanaimo—Alberni, BC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I welcome the witnesses to our session today. I appreciate the presentations you have taken time to prepare as well as the valuable time you are taking to be here to provide input to the committee and our work.

I wanted to just start with the B.C. Wildlife Federation. You have 40,000 members. You've been going quite a while in British Columbia. You've engaged a lot of people. Your members are all interested in the environment, but they also include groups that are hunters, anglers, and others, I understand.

May 15th, 2012 / 10:55 a.m.

Neil Fletcher Education Coordinator, Wetlands, B.C. Wildlife Federation

That's correct.

10:55 a.m.

Conservative

James Lunney Conservative Nanaimo—Alberni, BC

You're donating over 300,000 hours per year to stewardship activities. We saw some of that work yesterday. Partnerships of people who have an interest in the environment are engaged in local habitat restoration and in all these discussions—hours and hours of discussion. Sometimes getting projects to move ahead takes a lot of work and planning, but nothing actually happens without involvement on the ground. I wanted to just acknowledge organizations that have taken such an interest and that actually get people on the ground working to improve the environment.

You've raised some interesting points in your presentation.

You're talking about the program of training. I believe that was in your presentation. You were talking about having trained 100 to 150 people, and they're doing about 40 projects. So you put them through a training program to understand how to do some work. They are doing about 40 projects focused on wetlands. Could you expand a little bit on what that particular activity is all about?

10:55 a.m.

Education Coordinator, Wetlands, B.C. Wildlife Federation

Neil Fletcher

Sure.

I am the coordinator for the wetlands education program. We run wetland-keeper workshops as well as a wetlands institute, which is a seven-day intensive workshop where we train community members from all walks of life. They include people who are doing stewardship work at a watershed level, first nations, and just keen volunteers who want to come out and learn more about wetlands stewardship. We provide them the resources and trainers to better implement projects on the ground.

10:55 a.m.

Conservative

James Lunney Conservative Nanaimo—Alberni, BC

Do you bring them to a central location in Vancouver here, or do you move around the province, where other people are?

10:55 a.m.

Education Coordinator, Wetlands, B.C. Wildlife Federation

Neil Fletcher

We move around the province.

10:55 a.m.

Conservative

James Lunney Conservative Nanaimo—Alberni, BC

How many programs like this, the seven-day program, would you do?

10:55 a.m.

Education Coordinator, Wetlands, B.C. Wildlife Federation

Neil Fletcher

We do roughly five to six workshops a year. They attract about 20 to 30 participants per workshop.

10:55 a.m.

Conservative

James Lunney Conservative Nanaimo—Alberni, BC

That's commendable.

We're hearing from witnesses that it's important to conserve. It's important to connect, as in wildlife corridors, and to restore habitat. We saw a lot of that yesterday and how important that is. One of our objectives is to connect people to the outdoors. Increasingly, where we have urbanization, we have urban populations and some young people growing up without a connection. They're connected in other ways, through electronic and social media and so on, but connecting to wildlife and outdoor activities, turning over a rock to understand what's under there, and just engaging with nature.... It's a concern to us. It is not only our young people but also many new Canadians. We're welcoming a quarter million people around the world who haven't necessarily grown up with the kind of interaction many Canadians have enjoyed with parks and so on.

I'll start with you, but maybe Guide Outfitters and others who are involved in actually working with people on the ground engaged in the environment would like to connect. Do you have ideas on how we can engage new Canadians and young people in these types of activities?

10:55 a.m.

Education Coordinator, Wetlands, B.C. Wildlife Federation

Neil Fletcher

Well, from our own experience, we run a Wild Kidz camp in the summer in two locations in the province. These are free camps that we provide with financial support from various funders. About 20 to 25 children will attend these camps. A lot of them have little to no experience outdoors. It's a five-day retreat for them, basically, and they get hands-on experience fishing, hiking, and doing nature activities.

10:55 a.m.

Conservative

James Lunney Conservative Nanaimo—Alberni, BC

Is there one particular area you're doing these camps, or is it around the province in different areas?

10:55 a.m.

Education Coordinator, Wetlands, B.C. Wildlife Federation

Neil Fletcher

It's around the province.

10:55 a.m.

Conservative

James Lunney Conservative Nanaimo—Alberni, BC

Great.

10:55 a.m.

Director, Strategic Initiatives, B.C. Wildlife Federation

Alan Martin

There's one further comment I'd like to make. A surcharge on hunting and guiding and trapping fees goes into the Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation. That agency supports a program called Project WILD, which is delivered in the schools, both primary and secondary, and focuses on connecting students in various school districts with the outdoors. It provides grants to schools to get people out and involved in either interpretive or enhancement projects.

I think the funding of these types of programs in schools, particularly in B.C. but probably elsewhere in Canada, is a barrier to, first, connecting all schoolchildren with the outdoors and providing them with information and education on the importance of the natural environment, and second, what they can do as individuals to lessen the impact on that.

11 a.m.

Conservative

James Lunney Conservative Nanaimo—Alberni, BC

Can you tell us when that program started and how widespread it is?

11 a.m.

Director, Strategic Initiatives, B.C. Wildlife Federation

Alan Martin

It started at least seven years ago. It has certainly been enhanced over the last year, but I will get you the detailed information on that.

11 a.m.

Conservative

James Lunney Conservative Nanaimo—Alberni, BC

Okay. Thank you.

In your presentation, you talked about the consultation process. I thought it was of interest the way you very succinctly summed it up: a national process for the plan; regional consultation for the delivery; and in terms of action, engaging the communities and first nations in consultation for action.

So we need a national process in consulting, which we're working through, but in terms of delivery, we actually have to do consultation locally, as Canada's ecosystems are so varied and different. Then, for implementation, if we don't engage the population there are some serious challenges. I just wondered if you wanted to expand on that concept, because you very succinctly summed it up.

I would also just throw this out. Budget 2007 had $225 million for partnerships with organizations like yours, Nature Trust and Ducks Unlimited. When you're talking about a way forward, is that the kind of plan that would be helpful?

11 a.m.

Director, Strategic Initiatives, B.C. Wildlife Federation

Alan Martin

I think it depends on what issues you're dealing with, at what level. I think we need, as Mr. Page and others have said, a national plan that is clear in terms of the outcomes we want from a national plan. But there is a diversity of interests in habitats across the province, so let's not get too caught up on what the regional differences and priorities are. If you fly in at a too-low level of altitude, you're going to start talking details when those are really regional issues in terms of implementation.

In terms of delivery, I think if you deliver at a landscape level with communities, first nations, and organizations that have an interest in there, you're going to be much more effective. So—

11 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Mark Warawa

Time has expired, unfortunately.

The next questioner is Monsieur Choquette, for seven minutes.

11 a.m.

NDP

François Choquette NDP Drummond, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you very much to the witnesses for being here today.

My first question is for Devon Page.

We have a lot of questions about the national conservation plan. For example, question 5 aims to determine the NCP implementation priorities. We see that this would take strong national legislation, as you mentioned. But currently, the budget implementation bill unfortunately weakens certain environmental laws, including the provisions of the Fisheries Act dealing with habitat protection and environmental assessments.

I would like to know what your recommendations would be for strong legislation, to include them in the national conservation plan.

11 a.m.

Executive Director, Ecojustice Canada

Devon Page

Up until about seven or eight years ago the federal government was undertaking a review of environmental protection laws that concluded that our current federal protection regime for the environment was too weak. In terms of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act and the Fisheries Act, concurrent reviews were proceeding, which sought to extensively strengthen those two laws.

For example with the Fisheries Act, two preceding bills might have made it to the final orders but were lost in prorogation or it might have been before that. In any event a lot of work was done on what those laws would look like if they were going to meet current and future needs in terms of ensuring sustainable protection of the environment. If the committee wants anything in depth on that, since we participated in all those committee hearings, we'd be happy to provide the committee with the process.

The only two other comments I would make are, that in terms of laws to protect the environment, Canada is largely in a state of infancy. One example is in 1973 the United States passed the Endangered Species Act; we passed ours in 2002. The development of the laws also reflects being in a state of infancy in terms of understanding the relationship between us and the environment. All I would do is recommend to the committee to look elsewhere for examples of what forms a basis for strong laws to protect the environment.

In particular, Europe is light years ahead of us, and even the United States has measures in a lot of ways. We're now seeing a commitment to sustainability in more progressive jurisdictions that's captured throughout all components of the law. Its manifestation is so much more science-oriented and thoughtful, when it comes to its application on the ground.

11:05 a.m.

NDP

François Choquette NDP Drummond, QC

I would like to ask another question about the involvement of private companies in the national conservation plan. A lot has been said about education and awareness. I remain convinced that these are very important aspects, as the Conservatives mentioned. On my side, it is funding and the importance accorded to science that poses a problem. Unfortunately, Parks Canada has experienced budget cuts, which resulted in reduced park access. There have also been cuts to science, when we should be investing in that area.

Should the private sector be more compelled to participate financially? Yesterday, for example, we visited a site that had been devastated by a logging company. It was the population that restored it. Should we not instead make sure that the companies restore the sites after they have used them?

11:05 a.m.

Executive Director, Ecojustice Canada

Devon Page

The answer is yes.

One of the shortcomings of Canadian environmental protection laws is that we fail to incorporate the cost or the harm associated with the activity. What that means for private companies that act on the ground is that the water is free, the air is free, and the land is largely free. Sure, there are royalty schemes, but in no way are any current royalty schemes developed to incorporate the risk posed to the environment and the cost to society of the degradation that occurs. Again, fairly straightforward models are being developed and applied in the United States and other jurisdictions, which incorporate the cost to society in terms of development and require the private actor to pay. This is after the fact that we'd like to see a more proactive approach taken to progressive laws on the ground. One example is in other jurisdictions they apply the “polluter pays principle” to ensure that those who profit from activities that harm the environment pay for the consequences.