Mr. Speaker, may I begin by congratulating you on your new post. We have all taken on different responsibilities in the House. As we in the opposition offered our full co-operation to the last government, I am sure I can expect the same kind of co-operation from opposition members in a few weeks to come.
Nonetheless I am thrilled to be here on the government side of the House. Some of us have come here as new members. Some of us have been around this place for some time, and some of us have spent a lot of years in opposition. I have spent precisely 13 and a half years in opposition, 4 years working as an assistant to a member in the opposition, for a total of about 17 years fighting against governments. Mr. Speaker, if you see from time to time that it takes a bit of time for me to make the transition please bear with me.
I cannot help but look around the House and see how things have changed in the last 25 years. Twenty-five years ago there was only one woman in Parliament. When I was first elected to this place in 1984 there were 26 women. Today that has more than doubled. Of course I was very happy to see my hon. friend, the member for Yukon, back with us. We have taken steps rather slowly but we are getting there. I have to feel particularly proud of the work and the support given by our Prime Minister to the arrival of more women in our caucus. In 1984 we were five. In 1988 we were 13. This year there are almost as many women in the Liberal caucus as there were in the whole of Parliament: 37 Liberal women. I can say, Mr. Speaker, that you are going to be hearing more and more from these very strong women in the days and weeks ahead.
I am proud that our Prime Minister led the charge, in fact to some public criticism, in ensuring that this particular Parliament was more representative of Canada as a whole. When I see my colleague, the Secretary of State for Asia-Pacific, my colleague for Bramalea-Gore-Malton and other colleagues in this place, it is clear this is one Parliament where we are beginning to reflect the real face of Canada. For that I think the governing party can take some credit.
As the Prime Minister said, all government policies are aimed at creating a just, fair, human, decent and prosperous country. Ultimately, the government is serving people and it is by making use of everyone's skills in this country and by giving all Canadians an opportunity to realize their full potential that we will succeed as a nation.
With 205 new members of Parliament reflecting a broad range of issues we have a chance to deal effectively with issues which affect all Canadian families. In this International Year of the Family we have a duty to deal with the issues that can help safeguard Canadian families and ensure that they are healthy, secure and prosperous.
The government will address issues in particular relating to women's health, breast cancer, osteoporosis and heart disease. The government will introduce a program for prenatal nutrition to help ensure that when babies are born they are born healthy. We will address the staggering problem of poverty among aboriginal children through a specific head start program. The Prime Minister intends to personally chair the new national forum on health.
We believe a strong national health care system is essential for the dignity of our country and for the dignity of every
individual Canadian. We will act to make our streets and our homes safe. We will act to protect Canadians from hatred and harassment.
The government will take these measures because it is only through these measures that every Canadian has a fair chance to play a role in restoring our country to economic health. Canadians want to see the health of our country restored, and that is the top objective of the new federal government.
As Minister of the Environment I have heard loud and clear that Canadians understand economic prosperity can and must flow from a healthy environment. Yes, Canadians want to see our fiscal deficit cut down and they want the job deficit wiped out, but they know that can only happen when we attack the environmental deficit.
I am firmly convinced that, with the support of my colleagues in the House, we will succeed in making environmental changes which we, as Canadians, must make. The leader of the Opposition was once the Minister of the Environment. He and I sometimes have different opinions on some issues, but we agree on the need to show leadership when it comes to the environment.
The leader of the Reform Party has already said during the election campaign that even when it comes to cutting costs he obviously believes the environmental budget is one that should be kept intact.
The hon. member for Yukon represents a region of Canada where good jobs depend on a healthy environment.
The leader of the New Democratic Party, the hon. member for Yukon, comes from a part of the country that obviously depends very much on environmental health.
The hon. member for Sherbrooke was also Minister of the Environment and he knows how important sustainable development is to Canada.
I have had a chance to meet a number of our new members. I was very pleased to hear the commitment that a great many of them had to environmental issues.
Regardless of our political views on other issues such as the Constitution, the environment really matters to everybody, because all Canadians want to leave their children a more healthy and prosperous country. As Canadians, we care about our lakes and rivers. Let us not forget the song "Mon pays ce n'est pas un pays, c'est l'hiver".
We also care about our Rocky mountains, our Arctic region and about the air we breathe. We are adamant about leaving our children and grandchildren a cleaner environment. We know that good jobs and economic prosperity depend on a healthy environment. Guided by these principles, I am convinced that we will, in this Parliament, co-operate to ensure an improved environment and economy for our country.
We know that, for our country as well as for the whole planet, the environmental limits will soon be reached. Human activity has increased tenfold and the earth is less and less able to absorb the damage and to recover from it. In some cases, we have already gone the point of no return.
The environment is one of the basic features of our national identity. In some cases, this heritage is already in jeopardy.
The failure of the fisheries industry to be able to sustain itself is just one example of how environmental degradation can have serious and indeed devastating economic impacts. Literally tens of thousands of fishermen and fisherwomen have nothing left to fish because we have not been the guardians of this sustainable resource nationally and in particular internationally.
Sometimes we do not heed warnings.
For instance, for about a month it has been pretty frigid in this country, but nevertheless global warming is a very real threat. The same goes for the thinning of the ozone layer: skin cancer is on the rise, and even wildlife is threatened. Our beautiful lakes are being poisoned by toxic substances. Soil degradation and loss of biodiversity are also serious problems. The birds and the air we breathe have no passports, and that is why we all have a responsibility, whatever our political persuasion, to concentrate on finding solutions to these environmental problems. We are going through a crisis, but there is still hope. The answer is sustainable development.
We can aspire to a better life for ourselves and our children by understanding that sustainable development must provide a sound basis for Canada's long-term prosperity.
Individual Canadians have learned that lesson well. They are biking where they once would have driven. They are protecting wildlife habitat on their property and cutting down drastically on household garbage. Many businesses have switched to envi-
ronmentally friendly products and are reaping benefits. Our children regard blue boxes and composting as a fact of life.
Canadians expect the government and Parliament to do our part. That is why the Prime Minister made sustainable development a central theme of our election red book.
The Prime Minister, as members know, is a person who lives up to his commitments. He understands that environmental improvement and economic development go hand in hand. He believes that by making Canada a world environmental leader we will ensure prosperity for Canadians.
If we use our resources wisely, we will have resources for future generations. If we promote research and development and environmental technologies, we will create good long term jobs and protect ecosystems. If we make Canada a leader in green industries, we will create more products for Canadians to market throughout the world, products that can help clean up this world.
Also, we have the benefit of a Minister of Finance who is a strong environmentalist already on the record on these important issues. Personally, I am pleased that the Prime Minister asked the former minister of the environment of the province of Quebec, the member for Lachine-Lac-Saint-Louis, to become my parliamentary secretary. The hon. member is a committed environmentalist who has a great understanding of the delicate balancing act between federal and provincial jurisdictions.
The Liberal caucus is full of talented and energetic members of Parliament. I have personally heard from more than four dozen Liberal members of Parliament who are interested in spearheading environmental issues on the local, national and international levels. We intend to move from words to action and to make Canada a model of environmental responsibility.
The Prime Minister has already done that with the infrastructure program which will be signed in Ontario today and which has already been signed in a number of provinces across the country.
This key initiative is a wonderful example of how we can create jobs and clean up the environment. Untreated municipal raw sewage is one of the main causes of water degradation in Canada. Now the federal government under the infrastructure program will assist provincial, regional and municipal authorities to finance new or renewed facilities for sewage and water.
What is more, we are ensuring that our investment lays a firm foundation for economic development and pollution prevention. We are doing this by insisting that municipalities receiving funds encourage water conservation and develop sound financial plans to keep that infrastructure in place.
It is with that same spirit that the government is pursuing the action plan for clean-up of the Fraser River, the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River.
We ought to be a showcase for the world of economic growth in tandem with environmental enhancement.
I am pleased to inform you that we are about to sign phase two of our action plan for the St. Lawrence River, a vital part of our environmental heritage.
Sound environmental planning is not an impediment to jobs. It is a potential source of tens of thousands of new jobs.
Environmental technology is the fastest growing business sector in Canada today, growing this year at a rate of 15 per cent. We must tap the ingenuity and drive of Canada's workers. These are qualities that have made us one of the most successful trading nations in the world and they can make our country the world leader in sustainable development. Incredible.
At present Canada still imports 60 per cent of the environmental technology it needs. We plan to reverse the situation and make Canada a net exporter of eco technology and eco know-how. We plan to have the private sector seize this market advantage at home and internationally.
The government will help Canadians by directing 25 per cent of all new government funding for research and development to technologies that benefit the environment. We will consolidate incentive and support programs into a co-ordinated strategy to promote environmental industries.
That is why this week, the secretary of state for science and the parliamentary secretary for the environment will travel across the country from Halifax to Vancouver via Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg and Edmonton, to meet representatives from the various sectors and environmental groups and promote a joint development strategy for environmental industries.
Small and medium sized businesses in the environmental industry will benefit from improved access to funding assistance for capital investment. Canada Investment Funds will be created to help leading edge technology firms. The strategy for implementing an information highway and the creation of a technology network designed to improve the diffusion of innovation are essential elements of this two-pronged approach: job creation and environmental protection.
The government is aware that by targeting assistance to small and medium sized businesses that are active in the environmental sector today, we will create the jobs of tomorrow.
The government will also review the tax system and federal subsidies to identify barriers to sound environmental practice. We want to ensure that at the national level, government expenditures and taxes are used to promote social equity, protect the environment, conserve resources and develop new green industries in order to create future prosperity.
The government will promote energy efficiency which can quickly generate economic and environmental dividends. We must extract maximum value from the energy we consume. It makes sense, both economically and environmentally, to use our precious resources wisely.
We will also adopt an industrial policy to promote the value of our natural resources and the processing of these resources into finished goods that can be sold on international markets. Increasing jobs and prosperity without depleting our natural wealth and resources is a vital part of the Liberal national employment policy.
More and more environmental problems have a global dimension, and that is why we must work together. These problems cannot be solved without international co-operation, and that is why we will make sustainable development a key element of Canada's foreign policy.
The Prime Minister has already shown the way. He was the first political figure to ask for the inclusion of environmental guarantees in NAFTA. He realized that this was a unique opportunity to promote both economic prosperity and a healthy environment. His approach showed great vision.
Under the NAFTA the North American Commission for Environmental Co-operation will be located in Canada. To that end we are engaged in an open and transparent process to select the host city for the commission. We have commissioned an independent consultant to provide selection advice based upon objective criteria.
For the first time ever in the history of the Canadian government the environmental record of the applicant cities will be taken into consideration in choosing the site of this important international institution.
Significantly for the first time in Canada's history, an environmental record is requested of each city that wishes to act as host to this international institution. At the Seattle summit, the Prime Minister invited all Pacific Rim countries to contribute to sustainable development.
It is in response to this invitation that foreign and Canadian environment ministers will meet in Vancouver next March with my colleague, the secretary of state responsible for Pacific affairs, to consider solutions to common concerns. The Prime Minister thinks that our trade partners must also become our environmental partners.
Mr. Speaker, permit me to congratulate the Prime Minister on his choice of the new ambassador for the environment, your predecessor, Mr. John Fraser, who had a reputation for cleaning up this House. It should serve as a model for how we can clean up the country. We will move in the spirit of John Fraser very quickly to proclaim the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. However, I want to assure you that we will do more than that. We intend to establish a concurrent process for amendments to strengthen that act as it is being introduced. Our goal is an assessment process that is comprehensive and effective.
Environmental assessment is not a stumbling block to be circumvented. It is a powerful tool to promote sound decision making to prevent environmental damage and to avoid costly mistakes.
At the request of the Prime Minister, I am also working personally to analyse the requests in the red book for an environmental auditor general and for an independent environmental assessment agency. If we as Parliament and government are going to encourage others to clean up their act we have to start by putting our own House in order.
At the Prime Minister's instruction, I am examining the most effective means of ensuring that our own practices are held to rigorous environmental scrutiny. We intend to work very co-operatively with provincial ministers.
I already had a very fruitful discussion with my counterpart from Quebec on several issues, including proposed harmonization measures.
We have already signed an administrative agreement with the province of Alberta to make sure when we get into the business of environmental regulation that we do it in a way that protects the environment and at the same time ensures that we use taxpayers' dollars wisely. That is the spirit in which we will, as Parliament, be reviewing the Canadian Environmental Protection Act. I know the parliamentary committee will be working very hard to hear the concerns of all Canadians and I welcome input from all sides of the House.
More and more Canadians take the environment into account in their daily decisions.
I draw confidence and hope from the positive changes that I have seen in my own community. Hamilton harbour is now a place where children can swim.
I will repeat it. Hamilton harbour was one of the worst places, but it is now a place where children can swim. I invite everyone to come and visit my riding in the spring to see for themselves how sustainable development can work.
People and wildlife are the beneficiaries. Canadians want to see co-operation between levels of government and political parties. We want to avoid possible overlap and duplication but we also want Parliament and the Government of Canada to start taking sustainable development seriously. It is an opportunity we can seize. We must keep the faith of Canadians. We can and we must make sustainable development not simply a concept but a way of life starting right here in Parliament so that we can show Canadians that as we speak so we do.