Evidence of meeting #46 for Environment and Sustainable Development in the 41st Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was habitat.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Julie Gelfand  Commissioner, Office of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development
Robert McLean  Executive Director, Canadian Wildlife Service, Environmental Stewardship Branch, Department of the Environment
James McKenzie  Principal, Office of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development
Kevin Cash  Director General, Wildlife and Landscape Science, Science and Technology Branch, Department of the Environment

9:50 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Harold Albrecht

Okay, thank you very much.

We'll move now to Mrs. Ambler, for five minutes, please.

March 10th, 2015 / 9:50 a.m.

Conservative

Stella Ambler Conservative Mississauga South, ON

Thank you to all of you for being here today and giving us all of this very valuable information for our study.

I'd like to emphasize the national wetland conservation fund, because it's been such a boon to my riding of Mississauga South, and the local impact is massive. The Prime Minister announced last year, I think it was in May 2014, that we would invest in a national conservation plan to the tune of $252 million. Sometimes with the big announcements and big numbers, we don't realize what an impact on quality of life it will have on local communities and neighbourhoods, in particular, the wetland conservation fund that you mentioned. I guess one-fifth of that, $50 million, was for restoration of wetlands, which has affected my community positively, I think.

Thank you for mentioning Credit Valley Conservation. I work with them often, and they do a fantastic job in our area in Mississauga and throughout the Peel region on these kinds of programs. I believe they just celebrated their 60th anniversary of operating there.

I know that the wetland conservation program has invested $250,000 in the Rattray Marsh in Mississauga South, but I'm wondering if you could tell us a bit about some of the other programs in which that fund has invested during the first year.

9:55 a.m.

Executive Director, Canadian Wildlife Service, Environmental Stewardship Branch, Department of the Environment

Robert McLean

There are a few other projects I didn't mention previously. The Squamish River Watershed Society is implementing a Squamish central estuary wetland restoration project. That's in B.C., on the Pacific coast.

We've already mentioned the North American waterfowl management plan. There's a habitat joint venture there that we call the Pacific Coast Joint Venture, and estuaries have been identified as one of the key habitats to conserve. There's an example of the national wetland conservation fund contributing to waterfowl conservation, hunting opportunities, and wildlife viewing opportunities.

Switching to the Atlantic coast and the Bluenose Coastal Action Foundation, the Petite Rivière watershed shale pit remediation and wetland expansion project is just another example of working to improve water and wetland quality. There will be in-stream work and post-restoration monitoring activities to ensure the effectiveness of the project.

Turning to an example in Quebec, la Fondation de la faune du Quebec is doing restoration of wetlands on private property, and that project is focused in the St. Lawrence and the Lac St-Jean agricultural plains areas. In many of our agricultural landscapes across Canada, wetlands have been lost. We have the most significant wetland loss, so there's an organization targeting agricultural systems to restore some wetlands.

Those are just three more examples.

9:55 a.m.

Conservative

Stella Ambler Conservative Mississauga South, ON

I appreciate that. Thank you.

I want to read into the record a quotation from when the program was announced by the Ducks Unlimited Canada president, Mac Dunfield, who said:

An investment in wetlands is not only an investment in critical habitat for fish and wildlife, but it is also an investment in green community infrastructure, jobs for rural communities, a sustainable working landscape and in providing Canadians—especially young Canadians—with opportunities to connect with nature.

That's what Ducks Unlimited had to say about the program.

I see this on the ground, when I see the projects. In fact, it's particularly satisfying for me. There are, I think, four of us on this committee on the Conservative side today who were on the committee three and a half or four years ago when we studied the national conservation plan and what it would look like, and gave that report to the minister.

I'll point out three of the recommendations. One was the youth element of it, that the committee wanted the program to reflect that young Canadians are better off when they interact with nature; two, that it should have an economic component; and three, that it should include an urban component, as well. I represent an urban riding, as do many of my colleagues, and making sure constituents are able to connect with nature was an important element of the program for us.

9:55 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Harold Albrecht

Thank you, Ms. Ambler. We're way beyond the time. We're being lenient. We have two more questioners—okay, three—who have indicated a desire to speak. Following that, we will then try to wrap it up.

We have some committee business to do. We have the election of a vice-chair. I want to mention to committee members at this point, so I don't forget, on Thursday morning we have a group from Ghana who would like to meet with us. I'm going to suggest an informal meeting beginning at 8:00 a.m. for those of you who can come, and then we'll go right into our committee at 8:45 a.m. Thursday morning at 8 a.m., the group from Ghana will be here. We do have some committee business in camera to deal with in terms of a budget.

Ms. Leslie, Mr. Woodworth, and Mr. McKay.

10 a.m.

NDP

Megan Leslie NDP Halifax, NS

Eight in the morning; that's going to be hard.

I'd like to keep going on this idea of habitat loss. I grew up in a riding very close to Ms. Moore's on the Ontario side. I'm a northern Ontario girl, and I started at the age of seven going out to the hunt camp with my stepdad. It was all about who got what moose tag when and how dumb the partridge were that you could hit them over the head with the butt of your gun. That's the world I come from. Also the world I come from is watching people dig up shoreline on the lakes so that they could have a nice place to put their boats and not even thinking about what that meant, or that behind our place there was a car graveyard where people dumped their cars. I don't even think that kind of action is the worst of it. We didn't know. We didn't have any sense of what it meant to be kind to the habitat and protect it. I can remember we'd skip this one area for hunting because it had been clear-cut and there weren't any animals there. It's that industrial development or forestry that you were talking about, Ms. Gelfand, mining and ATVs; I mean, we tore everything up. That's what the kids were allowed to do. We were allowed to go out on the ATVs without helmets. It was a different time, but we didn't know.

How do we slow these impacts? Part of it is information and education, absolutely. If we had known, maybe we wouldn't have dug up the shoreline, but I think it's more than that. I think it is about regulating what we do with habitat, monitoring, and enforcing those regulations.

Ms. Gelfand, you can comment as environment commissioner, or if you have any thoughts as well from your other work because you've been working on environment for a very long time.

10 a.m.

Commissioner, Office of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development

Julie Gelfand

We didn't audit any of this. Bob McLean already indicated that a lot of what you're talking about would be at the provincial level. Some of it would even be municipal. What Bob didn't talk about as much was the federal levers in terms of legislation that they have at their disposal. Yes, research and information. Yes, the second thing was monitoring and having their own house in order, but they also have a variety of different pieces of legislation where they can have some impact: the Species at Risk Act, the Canada National Parks Act, the Migratory Birds Convention Act. These are all federal levers where the federal government plays on the habitat picture.

The stuff that you're talking about is at the provincial level and even down to the municipal regional level.

10 a.m.

NDP

Megan Leslie NDP Halifax, NS

I don't know if you have anything to add, Bob—sorry, Mr. McLean.

10 a.m.

Executive Director, Canadian Wildlife Service, Environmental Stewardship Branch, Department of the Environment

Robert McLean

It's okay, you can call me Bob for sure.

10 a.m.

NDP

Megan Leslie NDP Halifax, NS

You've been here so often, I feel like, you know....

10 a.m.

Commissioner, Office of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development

Julie Gelfand

He is the guy. He said for decades.... You've got the guy. This man needs to be commended for his incredible tenure in wildlife service. You've got the guy.

10 a.m.

Executive Director, Canadian Wildlife Service, Environmental Stewardship Branch, Department of the Environment

Robert McLean

That's a very generous—I'm sure too generous—comment, but thank you very much. I appreciate that.

I think it's a multipronged approach. With respect to habitat, just as with biodiversity itself, it's important to keep a diversity of tools to achieve the outcomes. I think government-protected areas at one end of the spectrum will always be important, but so is the other end of the spectrum with stewardship agreements, conservation agreements, and working cooperatively with landowners and land managers to achieve shared outcomes.

We were very actively engaged in those kinds of conversations with industry, with every industry sector in the context of the species at risk legislation and the section 11 conservation agreements. I think we would be better served if we can have agreement on shared outcomes, because then we don't have to worry so much about a big stick of regulation and so on.

It's very difficult, and I think provinces have learned this in their experience, to regulate private land management. When that is done, it needs to be done very carefully, very deliberately, with good engagement of those private land owners. We—the royal we, federally and provincially—probably can't regulate habitat protection to the extent to sufficiently conserve the biodiversity of species. We need those protected areas. There might be occasions when a regulatory approach to habitat protection is warranted on those private lands, provincial crown lands, or federal crown lands, but equally so is the softer agreement, if you will. I don't think we should confuse a softer contribution agreement under the habitat stewardship program, for example, as any less efficient in terms of achieving a conservation outcome.

10:05 a.m.

NDP

Megan Leslie NDP Halifax, NS

Yes, Ducks Unlimited has done fantastic work.

10:05 a.m.

Executive Director, Canadian Wildlife Service, Environmental Stewardship Branch, Department of the Environment

Robert McLean

It's the willingness of the landowner. If the landowner buys in, it's almost a certainty we're going to get the result. The real key is to monitor those agreements, because when landownership changes, one might get a different land management philosophy, and then I think it's important to have the discussion with that new landowner.

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Harold Albrecht

Thank you.

Mr. Woodworth.

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

Stephen Woodworth Conservative Kitchener Centre, ON

Mr. Chair, I see it was a mistake for me during the election for chair not to disclose to others that you're an early morning starter; perhaps the outcome would have been different.

I appreciate the efforts of our witnesses here today. There is always lots of food for thought on this committee.

I'll begin with a couple of questions for Ms. Gelfand.

I'd like to focus on your comments regarding the Canadian nature survey, in particular the recognition that approximately two million Canadians age 18 and older participate in hunting and trapping activities in Canada. I assume that this is a figure you are willing to accept. It's a solid and recognized figure. Is there any question about it in your mind?

10:05 a.m.

Commissioner, Office of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development

Julie Gelfand

It hasn't gone through an official audit, but it would probably be an official substantiation document, in my opinion.

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

Stephen Woodworth Conservative Kitchener Centre, ON

I know that auditors are always very cautious, so I almost didn't have to ask the question. When I see a reference to something in your report, I assume you accept it as reliable.

I wonder if you can describe to me why the activity of those two million Canadians is relevant to your work.

10:05 a.m.

Commissioner, Office of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development

Julie Gelfand

Are you asking why it's relevant to my work?

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

Stephen Woodworth Conservative Kitchener Centre, ON

Yes, you mentioned it in your report, and I am operating on the assumption that you did so because it's relevant to your work, so I just want to hear you articulate why it's relevant to your work.

10:05 a.m.

Commissioner, Office of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development

Julie Gelfand

I think what we were thinking of when we were bringing it to the attention of the committee was that you were doing a study on hunting and trapping. Our chapter in our biodiversity report of 2013 focused only on migratory birds, but it didn't focus on the full extent of hunting and trapping in Canada. We brought this to the attention of the committee to make sure that you were aware of it, because it is important information for you in terms of your study on hunting and trapping.

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

Stephen Woodworth Conservative Kitchener Centre, ON

I suppose that you're here to comment on our study from the perspective of your role as the commissioner of the environment and sustainable development office of the Auditor General, so when I see your report I get the impression that you were commenting on the importance of trying to engage those two million Canadians in the issue of conservation, and that this is relevant in an important way to your work as commissioner for the environment. Am I stating that correctly?

10:05 a.m.

Commissioner, Office of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development

Julie Gelfand

Yes, I guess so. The commissioner of the environment and sustainable development's definition of sustainable development is actually quite broad. People are engaged in conservation, be it the hunters and trappers, but you'll see a lot of other people engaged in conservation of nature in this nature survey, so you have bird watchers. We were just discussing people who golf, hike, snowshoe, cross-country ski and snowmobile, so there are lots of different people who are involved in nature and participate in nature.

As a commissioner, just as a person, I've been working in this field for many, many years, not quite as long as Bob, but almost, so it is very important to me to see in particular what Ms. Ambler was talking about: young people involved in nature. Getting involved in nature is important to understand where we fit. Ms. Leslie was indicating how she participated in nature. What's happening now is we're seeing fewer and fewer young people participating in nature. In fact, more and more of them are looking at screens, spending a lot of their day looking at screens and not actually getting outside. I think this will have a long-term impact on Canadians in the future. It's not yet something I've audited, though.

10:10 a.m.

Conservative

Stephen Woodworth Conservative Kitchener Centre, ON

Is it a reasonable focus for your work and for our work as a committee to look at how these two million people who are participating in hunting and trapping interact with the environment and what contributions they can make to our efforts to conserve biodiversity and care for the environment, and lead others to the environment?

10:10 a.m.

Commissioner, Office of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development

Julie Gelfand

It's very clear that the people who participate in hunting and trapping through the North American waterfowl management plan have made a positive impact on those populations.