Evidence of meeting #74 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 alberta.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Terry Quinney  Provincial Manager, Fish and Wildlife Services, Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters
Cliff Wallis  Vice-President, Alberta Wilderness Association
Luc Robitaille  Chair, Holcim Canada Inc., Canadian Business and Biodiversity Council
Reginald Melanson  Executive Director, Canadian Business and Biodiversity Council

9:15 a.m.

Conservative

Robert Sopuck Conservative Dauphin—Swan River—Marquette, MB

Mr. Robitaille, give me a precise definition of biodiversity.

9:15 a.m.

Chair, Holcim Canada Inc., Canadian Business and Biodiversity Council

Luc Robitaille

For our company it means managing the various species, the diversity of species that are present within the boundaries of our site and also the variety within each of the species. It also goes beyond that and goes into the protection of different habitats that these species depend on.

9:15 a.m.

Conservative

Robert Sopuck Conservative Dauphin—Swan River—Marquette, MB

That's not quite the question I asked. When we talk about biodiversity targets, for example, what is actually meant by the term “biodiversity”; not how you manage for it, but how do you define it?

9:15 a.m.

Chair, Holcim Canada Inc., Canadian Business and Biodiversity Council

Luc Robitaille

For me it's the diversity of species and the diversity within species that are present.

9:15 a.m.

Conservative

Robert Sopuck Conservative Dauphin—Swan River—Marquette, MB

The problem is that's a circular argument, but we'll come back to that.

9:15 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Harold Albrecht

Mr. Sopuck, your time is up.

We will move now to Ms. Leslie for seven minutes.

9:20 a.m.

NDP

Megan Leslie NDP Halifax, NS

Thanks very much, Mr. Speaker.

Thank you to all of our witnesses. This is proving to be very helpful.

Mr. Quinney, I'd like to start with you. You talked about fish and wildlife habitat becoming a national issue. You'd like to see it as a national issue and in some respects, I certainly agree with that. I think that anglers and hunters are known nationally as good stewards of the environment and of these wild spaces, and it makes sense, because you're really at the front lines. You're seeing, seasonally, the changes that happen from season to season. You're out there in those spaces so you can see, over time, the changes that are taking place.

I think about the impacts of some recent legislative changes to our ability to protect wildlife habitat as you pointed out. I think, in particular, about changes to the Navigable Waters Protection Act, and changes to the protection of fish habitat. I remember when you were at committee testifying about navigable waters, and you said that changes to the act could dramatically alter the ability of Canadians to continue using thousands.... Sorry, I don't know if it was you. I'm going to retract that. It was a witness from the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters.

Was it you?

9:20 a.m.

Provincial Manager, Fish and Wildlife Services, Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters

Dr. Terry Quinney

I'm certainly pleased to comment, whether it was that exact quote or not—

9:20 a.m.

NDP

Megan Leslie NDP Halifax, NS

Sure, okay, I just didn't want to put words in your mouth.

May 7th, 2013 / 9:20 a.m.

Provincial Manager, Fish and Wildlife Services, Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters

Dr. Terry Quinney

I've commented on the navigable waters act before so—

9:20 a.m.

NDP

Megan Leslie NDP Halifax, NS

Sorry, I'll continue. I just didn't want to get anything wrong there.

So it would dramatically alter the ability of Canadians to continue using thousands of miles of waterways currently protected under the act. When I think about the Navigable Waters Protection Act.... I mean literally somebody could build a dam and turn a waterway into a terrestrial habitat. That actually is something that could happen under this act. So I wonder if you could comment on the impact, a loss that might occur from these changes, loss of wild spaces, changes to our ability to conserve habitat, through these recent changes.

9:20 a.m.

Provincial Manager, Fish and Wildlife Services, Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters

Dr. Terry Quinney

Thanks for the question because I think, at least in my mind, there's been considerable confusion across this country with reference to changes to the Navigable Waters Protection Act. My understanding of the act, and I've been with the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters for approximately 25 years now, is that act is not an environmental protection piece of legislation. It was specifically targeted to protect rights of navigation and therefore access. As a result, organizations like ours—the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters—have been very supportive of this Canadian right to navigate our waters. In other words, our ability to access habitats, our ability to go to places to go fishing and hunting can be directly related to our continued ability to navigate public waters. Therefore we want to see that right to access maintained.

On the environmental protection pieces of legislation, there are other examples of that. You referred to, for example, recent changes to the federal Fisheries Act. We've been working, I believe, quite cooperatively with the federal government based on the commitment to enhance recreational, commercial, and aboriginal fisheries. We've been working to improve what was the status quo. To be frank, the status quo in Ontario had not been working. We needed improvements and we're encouraged that the federal government has given that commitment to work with us to improve the status quo.

9:20 a.m.

NDP

Megan Leslie NDP Halifax, NS

That's great, thanks. I appreciate your answer.

Mr. Wallis, I have a question for you about prairie farm rehabilitation. With this transfer of PFRA lands, my understanding is that there isn't actually a transition plan in place yet. So do you think that this is a transfer that should happen now or do you think there should be a delay until we can make sure that we come up with a way to value the conservation through talking to governments, pasture patrons, key stakeholders? Would you support a delay in that?

9:20 a.m.

Vice-President, Alberta Wilderness Association

Cliff Wallis

Certainly a go-slow approach. I don't think there was any investigation into the value of those lands and how they're going to be protected. But obviously the people of Saskatchewan are speaking up and I think this process may be slowing down. There are two pieces. There is some federal land involved, the Govenlock pasture. That's the one we're saying is in former sage grouse range. It should stay in federal ownership and should be managed as a natural wildlife area. In our perspective with the current pasture patrons, and the like, things can continue on in Govenlock, but we need to refocus the effort there.

For the other ones that were provincial lands but were leased, again before you give them up, make sure that there are safeguards in place to ensure those biodiversity values that many of those pastures had will be conserved. That hasn't been done. We've gone through a similar process in Alberta with public land sales where there was no public input, no evaluation, and it's had negative consequences for biodiversity. So again we need to review all federal lands and before PFRA gets rid of theirs, we need to review those.

9:25 a.m.

NDP

Megan Leslie NDP Halifax, NS

So there are lessons to be learned from that experience in Alberta.

9:25 a.m.

Vice-President, Alberta Wilderness Association

9:25 a.m.

NDP

Megan Leslie NDP Halifax, NS

I assume I have a bit more time.

Mr. Wallis, I'm going to continue with you. What are your thoughts on voluntary versus prescribed approaches to environmental conservation?

9:25 a.m.

Vice-President, Alberta Wilderness Association

Cliff Wallis

There have been a number of studies on this. They're both important, but as I think I mentioned earlier, there are area-sensitive species, such as woodland caribou and sage grouse, that absolutely need areas that are off limits to industrial development. These are large areas. It's the one area of conservation where governments have failed in their land use policies and failed to act.

The best management practice, if you wish, is no industrial development, no industrial-scale harvest, in their ranges. The oil and gas industry in Alberta tried for decades with the caribou. I sat on the Alberta Caribou Committee advising the deputy minister in Alberta on caribou, and they just came to the conclusion that none of those best management practices were working. We needed areas set aside.

It's not that governments can't do it. I worked on the Hay-Zama, for example, working with oil and gas, the first nations, and the government. They're out of there by 2017. They made a decision. They made a commitment. We had a process. It wasn't government-led, but it was government-facilitated, and the neighbourhood, if you wish, came to the conclusion that oil and gas was not compatible with saving that wetland complex. Oil and gas was allowed to produce in the less sensitive areas, but only up to a certain point, and then they're gone.

We need to be looking at similar things for such species as sage grouse and caribou. As I say, best management practices are only part of the puzzle, not all of it.

9:25 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Harold Albrecht

Thank you, Ms. Leslie.

We'll move now to Mr. Storseth, for seven minutes.

9:25 a.m.

Conservative

Brian Storseth Conservative Westlock—St. Paul, AB

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

Mr. Wallis, I'd like to continue with you. Your organization has been doing this since 1965. You're one of the oldest in Alberta in that regard. Can you tell me about some of the key successes your organization has had in that time?

9:25 a.m.

Vice-President, Alberta Wilderness Association

Cliff Wallis

In southeastern Alberta there's the Milk River canyon, the Milk River natural area, and the Kennedy Coulee ecological reserve. We co-manage that site with the local ranching community, the local county, and the fish and game association.

We've done probably the longest-standing biodiversity research in that area. We have an ongoing monitoring program. We contract out the grazing. It's all self-funding. That's the nice part about it. Government facilitates, but they're not the ones pushing. We actually have the largest recreation lease, if you wish, on that piece to manage that area on behalf of the government.

9:25 a.m.

Conservative

Brian Storseth Conservative Westlock—St. Paul, AB

That's the provincial government.

9:25 a.m.

Vice-President, Alberta Wilderness Association

Cliff Wallis

That's the provincial government there, yes.

Up in northwestern Alberta, in the Hay-Zama complex, it's an area we've worked on since the mid-1990s with the Dene Tha' First Nation, the oil and gas industry, the Alberta government, and groups like Ducks Unlimited.

The very first thing we did was re-regulate the complex so that oil and gas was done in a much better way. Then we eventually created a wildland park and we determined areas that were too sensitive to allow oil and gas to continue. Oil and gas got out of there very quickly, and then designated an area where they could keep producing, get the economic benefits, and then get out of there in a very coordinated reclamation way. As I said, they'll be out of there by 2017.

9:25 a.m.

Conservative

Brian Storseth Conservative Westlock—St. Paul, AB

In your experience in southern Alberta, which, as I understand from my research, has been tremendously successful, what level of government have you been working with and that you find best to work with to achieve these successes?

9:30 a.m.

Vice-President, Alberta Wilderness Association

Cliff Wallis

Well, I think the participation of all levels of government is important, but I think the most important thing for long-term success is getting the local community onside. That means putting our baggage at the door and trying to figure out what our end goal is.

We often agree on the end goal, but different people have different ways of getting there. I've learned that I want to change the trajectory and get towards that end goal. That's the most important thing. If you get the local people onside, you have the county government onside and you have the provincial government onside. The federal government is usually happy to see how things have gone on.