Mr. Speaker, we are now at third reading of Bill C-56, which would amend the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act in three important ways. I want to say from the outset that the Bloc Quebecois will vote against this bill.
It is indeed impossible for us to support a bill to amend the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, an act that we disagree with in the first place. We consider that this act is an unacceptable federal assault on a field of jurisdiction that is already occupied forcefully and effectively by certain provinces. Quebec, for instance, has its own environmental assessment process, which has proven itself.
Before going any further, I would like to take a moment to say a few words on the political strategy used by the Minister of the Environment, who is bent on associating the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act with our leader. We know that he is the one who originally initiated Bill C-78 in 1990, but a lot of water has passed under the bridge since then. The early bill has changed considerably, with the hundreds of amendments made by a legislative committee.
Many provisions and clauses have been deleted, rewritten or added. The flexibility our leader was looking for in Bill C-78, that became Bill C-13 in 1991, has disappeared and been replaced with rigidity in the legislative intent. Moreover, among the changes made, the statement to the effect that the federal government promotes sustainable development is a clear indication that it considers itself the sole authority for the renewal of resources, even though resources fall under provincial jurisdiction.
In light of all these changes, it is clear that the current centralizing vision of the Liberals is not in keeping with the original bill proposed by Mr. Bouchard. In an article that appeared in the April 1, 1992 edition of Le Devoir , Michel Yergeau, a well-known lawyer specializing in environmental law, reminded those who tried to justify federal intrusions in areas of provincial jurisdiction by invoking the fact that the first version of the reform was overseen by Mr. Bouchard, that Mr. Bouchard was well aware of the constitutional realities imposed by the nature of environmental problems.
Mr. Yergeau even repeated something that Mr. Bouchard said in one of his speeches: "In grey areas where the Constitution does not set out clearly the role of each government, co-operation must prevail". As we come to realize that the environmental debate and the fight for life itself must take place all over the globe as well as in every area of activity, our fellow citizens would not understand, much less tolerate wrestling matches between federal and provincial politicians.
Last Monday, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment told us that the federal government had already participated in many environmental assessments in Quebec. I must remind him that these assessments were carried out under the federal guidelines order providing for flexibility and co-operation between the two levels of government, something which Bill C-13 no longer allows.
Let me remind you of the Oldman River Dam case on which the Supreme Court ruled on January 23, 1992. The spirit of this ruling was one of respect for provincial jurisdiction. The Supreme Court ruled that the assessment process outlined in the guidelines order applies only to projects for which the Government of Canada has an "affirmative regulatory duty" pursuant to an act of Parliament.
Mr. Justice LaForest said, "It cannot have been intended that the guidelines order would be invoked every time there is some potential environmental effect on a matter of federal jurisdiction". He went on to say that the federal minister or the panel could not use the guidelines order as an excuse to invade-repeat, invade-areas of provincial jurisdiction unrelated to the area of federal jurisdiction involved.
The Canadian Environmental Assessment Act promulgated on October 6 is far removed from the Guidelines Order of June 1984 and Bill C-78. There used to be some flexibility and respect for provincial jurisdiction, but the new federal legislative and regulatory framework is more forceful and extends tentacles in every direction.
The CEEA has a major impact on the application in Quebec of Quebec's environmental assessment procedure. Clearly, there is a risk that this Quebec law and surely other provinces' environmental legislation will be constantly duplicated, challenged or subordinated to the federal process. Nevertheless, Quebec's procedure has been well established for ten years already, is well known to the public and developers and has proven itself.
In light of all the above, it is very clear that the minister's always associating our leader with Bill C-13 has no serious basis and may be due to some unadmitted desire to cast herself in the image of our leader when he was environment minister. But I think that the minister, as is her wont, is playing petty politics and using the only weapons she has, demagogy and partisanship.
To convince you of these unfortunate inclinations of the minister, I will show you that despite her praise and flattering remarks about our leader for his initial bill, Bill C-78, the minister voted against reinstating this bill on May 29, 1991 in this House.
Has the minister forgotten her vote against reinstating Bill C-78, which died on the Order Paper on May 12, 1991? All her Liberal colleagues also voted against reinstating it.
On May 29, 1991, the minister said that Bill C-78 should be thrown out. Today, she praises our leader for this same bill. I call that double talk. The minister is being flagrantly inconsistent. As always, she confuses the environment with partisan politics.
The minister's approach and behaviour are starting to give environmental groups and some provinces serious concerns. There is growing doubt about the Deputy Prime Minister's ability to run this important Department of the Environment well. Many people have told us that the minister does not know her issues and that her intransigent attitude is not at all appreciated. This situation is very disturbing and does not inspire confidence in the community.
A specific incident showing the minister's ignorance occurred on November 10 when she was in Charlottetown. The minister, who was there to meet the people and reassure them about the raising of the Irving Whale , took the opportunity to say that she was very poor in science in school. This incident was reported in Le Radar , a Magdalen Islands newspaper, for the week of November 18 to 24, 1994.
Here is an excerpt from this article signed by Achille Hubert: "In fact, the minister showed her abysmal ignorance when she was interviewed by Lyne Danis, a Radio-Canada journalist. When asked how the refloating operation was going to be conducted, the environment minister floundered. She thought the booms would be at the bottom of the water. As for the ship which will support the barge once it reaches the surface, she also thought that it would be at the bottom".
After listening to the option chosen to refloat that barge, I say that the minister has no idea of what is involved: She does not even have any sense of what this delicate operation entails. She showed her total ignorance of science, and I hope that the environment will not suffer more from her incompetence. Otherwise, it would not look very reassuring for the future.
I urge the minister to take a very close look at the issues which are under her responsibility, and to stop justifying her own inability by claiming that her predecessors were passive.
I want to go back for a moment to Bill C-78, which preceded Bill C-13, and remind you of what some members of this Liberal government were saying then, when they formed the opposition. At the time, the current Liberal member for Winnipeg North Centre said: "We want to make sure that the powers involved are sufficiently explicit to allow for the establishment of environmental rules capable of sustaining the pressure exerted by the provinces. With this legislation, the government does not succeed in at least protecting Canadians against the ambition of the federal and provincial governments. We have let people down in so many ways that if we were to do it once again, this would be the most infamous action ever taken by Parliament".
This is what the Liberal member for Winnipeg North Centre thought of that bill. It was not good yesterday, but it is just fine today.
The Liberal member for Eglinton-Lawrence, who is still here today, said this on October 22, 1990, and I quote: "This is legislation without teeth. It is, in fact, legislation without teeth. The key word was `redraft' and not make amendments that are going to provide acceptable frills to this bill, but to alter completely the dimension of this bill. One of those items refers to the fact that the compliance component of the bill certainly is way lacking. There is absolute indifference to the concept of making various jurisdictions of government comply, particularly when they set up their own review mechanism".
The Liberal member for Egmont, in Prince Edward Island, said and I quote: "Bill C-78 does not satisfy the legislative requirements necessary to protect our environment. In view of the importance and the urgency of environmental impact legislation, we cannot be satisfied with an imprecise, toothless piece of legislation such as the bill presently before us. This bill does
not meet the expectations of the people of Canada. It does not measure up to the expectations of its own appointed environment and economy committee. It is so seriously flawed that it should be withdrawn and redrafted".
As for the Liberal member for Cape Breton Highlands-Canso, he said: "We should reconsider many basic aspects of this measure. I think that to be fair, it is somewhat short of perfection".
The Liberal member for Nepean added the following: "Unfortunately, the weakness of the legislation before us makes for a skeptical public and questions the motives of us as legislators and the seriousness of the government's intent in enacting this resolution".
The present Secretary of State for Latin America and Liberal member for Northumberland mentioned: "Mr. Mulroney's government's latest environmental legislation is fundamentally flawed. Canada will return to the dark ages of environmental law if Bill C-78 passes in its present form".
Other Liberal members, who are now heavyweights in the Liberal government, also spoke against Bill C-78 at the time. The present Minister of Industry said in the House: "The heritage of Canadians is too important to be left only to the provinces. Yet I do not see even a wish on the part of the federal government to acknowledge that it has the power to intervene in development projects which are going to be environmentally harmful. In many regards, this bill is not an appropriate answer to the numerous events happening in Canada".
This very enlightening statement by the minister shows the vision of the provinces the people opposite have. With this vision as a basis, no need to look very far to see why Liberals so cheerfully promote a centralizing kind of federalism that tends to crush and dominate the provinces.
The Minister of Industry, a fervent supporter of centralizing federalism, was not the only one to attack Bill C-78 at that time. His Cabinet colleague, the minister of social program reductions, mentioned that his colleagues and his party had brilliantly pointed out the flaws of this bill. The legislation was no good, he said. At the time, the minister of unemployment cuts said that he hoped we would one day have a government that would know how to negotiate a new agreement so that federal and provincial authorities would share responsibilities for such projects.
The minister of cuts then said that we should use our imagination to find a way to share the responsibility for environmental assessments. What a nice wish for the minister to express! Unfortunately, his wish did not come true, since his Minister of Environment, in her bill and her regulations, decided not to share this responsibility with the provinces and respect what the provincial governments are already doing, but rather to intrude by imposing her own assessment process.
I also find it rather funny to see that, back then, the minister of education cuts wanted to share responsibilities with the provinces, given his action today, his reform proposal and the negative reactions he has got so far from the provinces.
Finally, the prize for best decrying goes to our dear Minister of Finance, the minister of fake Canada-wide consultations. On May 29, 1991, he said in this House and I quote: "Bill C-78 is so flawed it will in fact undermine our existing standards for environmental assessment". He added: "My feeling is that if we have to go with Bill C-78 or none, go with none".
Here we have yet another minister who wanted to scrap Bill C-78. When you read all the speech he made on May 29, 1991, it becomes crystal-clear that the minister of consultation wanted more powers for Ottawa. Besides, nowhere in his speech did he mention the provinces and their jurisdiction. This speaks volumes about the domineering intentions of people across the floor.
This is what some Liberal members were saying when they were on this side of the House. What is so inconsistent and indecent in the Liberal position on Bill C-78 is that at the time they criticized the bill and the minister, our leader, who introduced it but today they commend him for having initiated the process.
The Liberals, headed by the Minister of Environment, now shower praise on our leader but then they hurled the pot at him. You are opportunists who change their minds with the weather. This opportunistic change of opinion unequivocally confirms that Bill C-78 has been so deeply amended that it has nothing to do any more with the purpose it was intended to fill at the time. Liberals themselves make this abundantly clear. If Liberals, in their minds, consider today's Bill C-13 as the equivalent of the then Bill C-78, the latter has to have been significantly changed to be approved today by the Liberals.
This confirms our claims that the act the minister proclaimed on October 6, 1994, is totally different from the one that was initiated at the time. The bill she has introduced today and the act it amends are unacceptable. The minister is predicting a new so-called era of co-operation but this is only to impress everyone. Far from bearing the stamp of co-operation, this new era will be one of centralization and domination by the Liberals.
The Canadian government forces this process upon us without looking at what is already being done in the provinces and it justifies the whole thing with a single bilateral agreement with Alberta. This is sufficient for the minister. This single agreement gives her the green light to impose her way on all other provinces.
Again, the Canadian government is laying down the law coast to coast. Canada is homogeneous, so, for the Liberals, what is signed or accepted by one province is good for all the others. What bad, simplistic reasoning.
We in the Bloc Quebecois do not accept that kind of standardization from sea to sea. We oppose Bill C-56 and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act and we are not the only ones. The federal assessment process infringes on provincial jurisdiction and powers. Not only will it create duplication and disputes, but it will also subordinate provincial processes already in place.
Quebec opposes and has always opposed that federal assessment process. Since 1990, Quebec has regularly made representations on this to the federal government. Before, it was through Pierre Paradis, the former Minister of the Environment, a federalist Liberal, like the people opposite, and now, it is through Jacques Brassard, a member of the separatist Parti Quebecois, the present Minister of the Environment. Despite their conflicting political positions, those two men denounced federal interference in environmental assessment.
Pierre Paradis, the former minister and a true hard-line federalist, said that the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act was no exception to that dominating and totalitarian federalism. Coming from a federalist, that says a lot. He said that he saw Bill C-13 as dangerous interference in Quebec's affairs by the federal government. He added that Ottawa would then be in a position to impose its assessment on any Quebec project having an environmental impact. This hard core federalist said, and I quote: "With Bill C-13, the federal government is seeking to use all available means to subject the largest possible number of projects to the federal assessment process and even to control every aspect of the assessment when it is carried out by other authorities. The federal process will interfere constantly with the provincial process".
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment should understand these comments by his former provincial colleague. Moreover, as former Minister of the Environment in the National Assembly, the parliamentary secretary should pass on Quebec's message to his minister. Was he or was he not a member of the same government as Mr. Paradis?
On November 22, 1991, Mr. Paradis wrote to the minister, Jean Charest, who was luckier than his Conservative colleagues since he is still with us today. The letter said: "Far from clarifying the situation, Bill C-13 in its present form allows the federal assessment process to unnecessarily interfere with decisions which are exclusively Quebec's responsibility. This will create unproductive duplication of assessment procedures and will inevitably lead to numerous disputes".
Quebec's federalist minister said that he wished Ottawa would recognize and respect the assessment process put in place by the provinces. It seems to me that the message is clear. Mr. Paradis told the federal government to mind its own business.
All the letters, dozens of them, sent by this hard core federalist to the federal minister since 1990 contained the same messages. Let me read you a few of them. The minister was concerned that the bill would create "major constitutional problems and numerous difficulties in terms of implementation". On another occasion he said "that the federal government was not justified in using the protection of the environment as an excuse to interfere in areas under exclusive provincial jurisdiction". He also said that, to Quebec, this legislation meant that every environmental project would be subject to a federal assessment. He was concerned that adding the federal process to the provincial process would only create costly duplication and delays.
Finally, here is what Mr. Paradis was quoted as saying in the Journal de Montréal on March 17, 1994:
We have to harmonize the federal and provincial legislation so as to establish a single window in the area of environmental assessment, Quebec having priority over Ottawa''. And he added that:Quebec maintains its objective of having its jurisdictions protected, of being in charge''. The current Liberal minister was there, on March 17, 1994. Why did she not hear and take into consideration the claims made by a federalist Quebec minister who had been strongly opposed to that legislation since 1990?
The new Quebec environment minister, Jacques Brassard, reacted scathingly to the promulgation of the Canadian act. Mr. Brassard recalled the Quebec representatives from the federal-provincial talks and did not show up himself at the environment ministers' conference in Bathurst, in early November. He said that discussions between the two levels of government on harmonizing environmental measures following the promulgation of the federal act were a farce, and said: "We are tired of being laughed at".
For Quebec, this legislation means being under trusteeship. Mr. Brassard put it even more bluntly: "This is utterly unacceptable to Quebec. This is provocation, a demonstration of arrogance and disregard for Quebec". With this federal legislation, developers in Quebec and in other provinces will be faced with two assessment processes with different requirements. In Quebec, businesses object to this dual assessment which will have a disastrous impact on the economy. Obviously, businesses will be reluctant to submit their projects, because they will not know what to expect from the environmental assessments.
Why do federal Liberals intrude with such arrogance in this area of provincial jurisdiction? They are federalists who, deep down, believe in a strong central government. They think that
Ottawa is where it is at and that the federal government should have an overriding role. What else could we expect from them?
These people take the "think globally" approach in order to justify their excessive centralization. Members opposite hold the mistaken position that, because water and air know no boundaries, their preservation should be the responsibility of a big national machine. Who knows, with that kind of thinking, they may one day submit to a larger organization or even a world organization. Why not?
Again I quote Michel Yergeau, from Le Devoir of April 1, 1992:
`The fact that Ottawa has found something called aglobal' approach that ignores boundaries is not reason enough to shrug off the Constitution. By passing Bill-13, the federal government makes an autocratic argument and unilaterally settles the dispute, necessarily in its favour''.
That environmental law specialist had more sound remarks which graphically illustrate the problems the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act will bring. Here is what he says: "In order to justify that brutal approach, the federal government cloaks itself in the urgent necessity to preserve the environment in its own jurisdiction. The net results of that unilateral exercise are not good, nor can they be. It should be reconsidered and refined. As it now stands, Bill C-13 is a rough draft which will have to be refined by the courts on a case by case basis and which will only be a source of dissatisfaction for everybody. Ultimately, the process will take more time than if we had negotiated this issue. On second thought, the federal government has just set a time bomb in Canadian legislation. It is also a further threat to the constitutional reconciliation so dear to the federal government. And it is of no benefit for the environment either." End of this very enlightening quotation.
Please note Mr. Yergeau's last sentence. "And it is of no benefit for the environment either". You see, Mr. Speaker, the environment is an issue which must be dealt with in the field, at the community level. But we all know that federal centralism is not attuned to what happens at the community level.
Centralized structures are generally and often quite far from concrete problems and day to day situations. The environment needs efficiency: quick analyses, prompt actions and decisions as well as good relations between developers, decision makers and the community.
However, the minister's proposal is the complete opposite. Her process is slow, complicated, cumbersome and creates duplication. The environmental and economic repercussions will be very important, according to many experts.
In the first federal assessments, we will see how developers react and what effect the federal process will have on their decisions to submit projects. I am sure that they will not like being subjected to two environmental assessment processes. The federal government's interference in environmental assessment will create uncertainty and hesitation. It is deplorable that the minister does not seem to pay any attention at all to the impact her law will have on projects.
In December 1993, Quebec's aluminium industry association submitted the following statement to the Quebec minister of the environment and wildlife: "Section 5(1) of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act sets conditions for the environmental assessment procedures even though these projects could already have been covered by a provincial process. . . We fear that duplication. . .will make the process more cumbersome without protecting the environment any better. This duplication will entail more costs and delays. . .developers will pay for this duplication and could very well decide to abandon economically beneficial projects".
Is that message not clear enough for the federal minister? The environment and the economy will be affected by the federal process.
Also, last January, the Centre patronal de l'environnement wrote to the federal government and said they believed it would be very difficult for the federal government to justify the implementation of a law that would unduly overlap provincial jurisdiction. With all the budgetary restraints, the federal government would be better off working in close co-operation with the provinces and sharing the fiscal burden, especially for this type of assessment where the costs and resources allocated will be considerable.
The Canadian Electrical Association expressed the same opinion in a brief submitted to the subcommittee which recently reviewed Bill C-56. I would like to quote three very revealing parts of that brief.
The first says:
"The CEAA, the Canadian Environment Assessment Act, contains serious shortcomings which are not addressed by Bill C-56. The bill before the subcommittee deals with red book commitments but does not look at issues such as jurisdiction and proponents' rights. We see the CEAA as an unwitting and unnecessary federal intrusion into jurisdictional controversy and as leading to more, not less, duplication. Harmonization agreements with the provinces will not resolve these fundamental flaws".
The second one is, and I quote:
"Canadian Electrical Association's objective is to ensure that the CEAA operates effectively and efficiently while providing the degree of certainty required for project proponents and operators. The act, even as amended by Bill C-56, and guided by the regulations published recently in the Canada Gazette , Part II, does not indicate that the environmental assessment process that will emerge will be workable''.
And the last one is as follows:
"The intent of the act is not to ensure that economic activity in resource sectors stops, but that the environmental acceptability of projects be examined in a timely and appropriate manner to determine if they should proceed. The consequence of not having a workable process is that investments in projects will dry up. The Fisheries Act requires special attention because including this act as a trigger under CEAA could create uncertainty for already licensed operating facilities".
Despite its rhetoric on the federation being so efficient, the federal government is itself increasing the overlap and duplication which add to the administrative costs for governments and developers. In the name of federalism and a global approach, the government forces its way by imposing its process on us, which will create problems and lead to unacceptable costs. In the long run, clearly it will not be good for the environment and it will hurt the economy.
It is unfortunate that the federal government is once again acting unilaterally and treating the provinces, the developers, taxpayers and, of course, the environment with such disrespect.
We are all in favour of environmental assessment, but we are also in favour of showing respect for the processes already in place in the provinces. It is absolutely false to pretend that the federal government must make its presence felt for the sake of the environment. Quebec was a forerunner in the area of environmental assessments in Canada and has shown exemplary consistency and thoroughness.
The federal approach is even more unacceptable when you think that the Quebec process is recognized as one of the best of its kind. It is credible, well established and has proven its effectiveness. Since 1980, 745 projects have been submitted. Two hundred and ninety projects are presently at different stages in the process and some 25 major projects are completed every year.
What more do you want? Why is the federal government getting involved in this? Why do they want to duplicate the whole process that already exists in Quebec and elsewhere?
The federal minister believes that these problems, whether current or anticipated, will be settled by signing bilateral agreements with the provinces. Fine, but what will happen in the case of provinces with which she will not be able to strike a bilateral agreement? Has the minister considered this? Does she have an alternative for provinces which will not tolerate this intrusion by the federal government? The minister is speechless on this issue and has no answer. What matters for her is that the federal government makes the move, regardless of what the provinces want.
Since the beginning of my speech, I have often referred to the duplication of the assessment process due to federal interference in that field. Yet, the Liberals have been telling us since October 25, 1993 that they want to eliminate this unnecessary and costly duplication. The people opposite are quite far from delivering on their fine promises. Their actions and decisions are totally contrary to what they say.
But, besides duplicating what is already being done in the provinces, the Liberals cannot even clean up their own backyard. Let us take a serious look at clause 1 of Bill C-56. In its first version, that clause said: "to ensure that responsible authorities carry out their responsibilities in a co-ordinated and efficient manner with a view to eliminating unnecessary duplication in the environmental assessment process". Hence, we could think that the federal government, even though it is duplicating provincial processes, wanted to avoid any duplication deep down.
However, a motion put by the Liberals in sub-committee changed that clause. That motion included the words "to the extent possible" in the clause. The new clause reads as follows: "to ensure that responsible authorities carry out their responsibilities in a coordinated and efficient manner with a view to eliminate, to the extent possible, unnecessary duplication in the environmental assessment process"; To the extent possible, what nonsense and how ironic. Not only does the federal government duplicate provincial processes, but it also opens the door to duplication in its own operations.
I will conclude by saying that, eventually, the taxpayers will once again pay the price for that bad decision made by the federal government. They will pay twice because their environment, as well as the economy, will be affected.
What a mess the federal Liberals are making. How far will they go to satisfy their thirst for centralized power in Ottawa?
We will vote against this bill.