NDP-9 is at clause 321, Mr. Chairman. It provides that lines 11 to 24 on page 294 are to be deleted. Those lines, as you can see from consulting them, are as follows:
5.1. (1) Despite section 5, a work may be built or placed in, on, over, under, through or across any navigable water without meeting the requirements of that section if the work falls within a class of works, or the navigable water falls within a class of navigable waters, established by regulation or under section 13.
(2) The work shall be built, placed, maintained, operated, used and removed in accordance with the regulations or with the terms and conditions imposed under section 13.
(3) Sections 6 to 11.1 do not apply to works referred to in subsection (1) unless there is a contravention of subsection (2).
It goes on:
322. (1) The portion of subsection 6(1) of the Act before paragraph (a) is replaced by the following:
And then that's the end of the English amendment.
Essentially, Mr. Chair, this is the heart of the Conservative attempt to gut the essence of the Navigable Waters Protection Act. This is a statute that we've had the benefit of in Canada for over 100 years. Essentially, what we're doing here is opening up completely to ministerial discretion the possibility of excluding classes. Now, what's particularly pernicious is that there's no explanation of what the details of that would be.
Now, this is interesting, because historically the Conservatives have always pleaded that parliamentarians should know, when they're coming before a parliamentary committee, what the actual shape of the regulatory changes would be so that they know what they're voting on. Now, of course, that's obviously a principle that applied to the Conservatives when they were in opposition but no longer applies to them when they're in power. We see here that the possibility is going to be enacted, if this goes through, to remove all protection for navigable waters, because we have no control over what the shape, scope, size, and relative importance of those exceptions would be. So they're asking for a blank cheque. Of course, they're confident that because it's their guy who's getting the blank cheque, no foul.
We don't view it that way. We think that the Navigable Waters Protection Act has been there for a reason, that Canada has done relatively well compared to a lot of other countries in terms of protecting its waterways. We've been anything but perfect; we've had serious problems, especially in the southern part of this country, but all things considered.... I can talk for the state of things in Quebec. There are over 5,000 rivers in Quebec. As incredible as it might seem, there are over one million lakes in Quebec. Canada possesses an extraordinary richness in terms of the world's freshwater reserves. We have close to one-fifth of the world's fresh renewable water, although some people contest the definition of “renewable” in the sentence I've just spoken.
On the world stage we're very lucky with regard to fresh water, and a lot of analyses lead people to believe that because of global warming, because of demographic changes and increased desertification, we might be heading for a time when water will become increasingly important to be protected. That's why it's so galling to see the Conservatives, backed by the spineless Liberals, removing this protection for Canada's watercourses.
It was interesting to be here last night. I'm sure there was no untoward intention on the part of the Conservatives, but it was a shame that it was between 8:30 and 10 o'clock last night that all of the environmental groups were in here to speak against this atrocious attempt to remove protection of Canada's navigable waters. What was interesting is that there were about 200 people in the hall, representing everything from canoeing and kayak associations to people who work as water keepers and people working on rivers from across Canada, but most of them were from Ottawa, from Toronto, a lot of them from this province we're in right now, Ontario. People across Canada share the concern of what the Conservatives are up to here.
Essentially, we would delete the lines in question, the lines that would provide this new rule-making power that would essentially give a minister, especially the one who's there now, the ability to simply gut the protection that's provided for navigable waters in Canada.
Mr. Chairman, we move that Bill C-10, in clause 321, be amended by deleting lines 11 to 24 on page 294.
This amendment has to do with section 5.1, which would be added to the Navigable Waters Protection Act. Every time we talk about this act, we tend to forget that its name is not the Navigable Waters Act, but rather, the Navigable Waters Protection Act.
Here is what the Conservatives would like to add and what we would like to remove:
5.1 (1) Despite section 5, a work may be built or placed in, on, over, under, through or across any navigable water without meeting the requirements of that section if the work falls within a class of works, or the navigable water falls within a class of navigable waters, established by regulation or under section 13. (2) The work shall be built, placed, maintained, operated, used and removed in accordance with the regulations or with the terms and conditions imposed under section 13. (3) Subsections 6 to 11.1 do not apply to works referred to in subsection (1) unless there is a contravention of subsection (2).
Since the amendment mentions an exemption to section 5, it is worthwhile to read that section to see what it is all about. This provision is the heart of the act, it's a general provision that reads as follows:
5. (1) No work shall be built or placed in, on, over, under, through or across any navigable water unless (a) the work and the site and plans thereof have been approved by the Minister...
At the present time, Canada has a general system for protecting navigable waters. By adding subsection 5.1, we would be completely destroying this protection by giving the minister the power to allow exemptions or exceptions. In other words, the government could make this protection of Canadian navigable waters, which has existed for more than 100 years, completely meaningless. We think that this is a scandal.
We have to look at this against the backdrop of other information that came out in recent weeks about the government's clear intentions. The Minister of Transport, Mr. Baird, who appeared before this committee, did not try to deny it. Some information did leak out, and Louis-Gilles Francoeur, of the Devoir, was the first to put this information on the front page of the newspaper. The federal government intends to also tinker with the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. Apparently their goal is to change the threshold. In the future, any infrastructure project worth less than $10 million would not have to have an environmental assessment. From an environmental point of view, this is absurd. Obviously, in such a case, the important thing is not the value of the infrastructure project, but rather, the environmental value of the ecosystem. Even if you add fill to a precious wetland in order to build infrastructure worth $9.9 million, that doesn't change in any way the fact that you have back-filled the wetland. This is a totally absurd way of seeing the issue, but that's how the Conservatives see it.
Let's take a look at what they are getting ready to do with the assistance of the unprincipled Liberals. They are serving up this dish, which they call the economic crisis. The crisis is real. They are presenting this dish, and they are making a stew with all the old fashioned extreme-right ideas that had been kicking around for decades. First they are going to tinker with the provisions of the act and take away the right of women to have equal pay for work of equal value. Then, they are going to attack the rights of unionized workers and social rights. They are stripping their employees of the right to bargain collectively. They serve it all up on a plate, and they say that if we don't do something about the economic crisis, the world will come to an end, and the sky will fall. They are saying that dealing with the economic crisis is the absolute top priority. They are using this concoction to bring in their far-right programs with the support and the guilty complicity of the Liberals.
And now they are attacking the environment. This is what we are dealing with. They are using an economic crisis as an excuse, saying that the funds for the projects have to go out. Last night, a senior official came to give a political speech. He said:
we're going to have a tiering.
What is interesting is the fact that it is not included in the budget. He might know the content of the regulations, but it certainly is not included in the amendments that are before us.
Senior officials are implicitly telling us that they are aware of upcoming changes in that area, whereas the elected representatives, who are supposed to be independent and make the laws governing this country, are shunted aside.
When they were in opposition, the Conservatives tore the shirts off their backs every time a bill included too many regulatory powers. All of the shirts in the Conservative caucus have been torn to bits. The Conservatives always asked why they should vote on provisions without knowing what would be in the regulations. It was one of their hobby horses, one of the great principles for which they fought without respite. But curiously, now that they are in power, that principle has been tossed away. However, the Liberals do not have that problem because they never had any principles in the first place. When they were in power, they did the same thing. Today, they are the opposition, and they still support the Conservatives.
But the NDP, Mr. Chairman, will stand up for its principles and oppose the outrageous actions of the Conservatives. They are trying to take advantage of a real economic crisis to insidiously pass their extreme right agenda, which stands against equality, in particular the equality of women, which stands against the environment and future generations, which stands against social and union rights, the unemployed, the most disadvantaged and poorest members of our society. In short, they stand against everything which has been built over entire decades in Canada. They are trying to do this even though they are a minority government, and they are succeeding because the Liberals are too weak to stand up to them.
The first amendment we are proposing to the Navigable Waters Protection Act would reinstate the protection which has always existed under section 5, that is, in the general provisions. We cannot let unelected officials do the work of the government, that is, the executive, as far as this matter is concerned.
As members of Parliament, we are also here as legislators. We therefore have the right to know what those provisions contain. Since we do not know what the government's real intentions are, no parliamentarian worthy of that title can support the Conservative amendment. Since last night, we know that senior public servants know more about the government's real intentions than do the lawmakers themselves. I find that unacceptable. Therefore, I am in complete disagreement with what is happening. I hope that other members of Parliament will support us and defeat the amendment to weaken the protection of navigable waters.