That the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development be designated as the committee referred to in section 139 of the Canadian Environment Protection Act.
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to lead off this debate in Environment Week on the referral of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act to the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development.
The review itself is required by provisions of the act passed by Parliament in 1988. By moving this motion today our government is meeting our legislative duty, but we are also meeting another duty with this motion. We are keeping a promise we made to Canadians in the red book to give parliamentary committees more power in policy development and to allow members of Parliament more say in the development of laws that affect their constituents.
This motion makes no reference to the mandate, the reason being that we have decided to let the parliamentary committee draft its own mandate. The committee will have the latitude to decide on its own the scope of its review of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act. The government will not be recommending an approach. This will be for the committee to decide.
We will not force the committee to choose from a series of options. We want members from all political parties to play a legitimate role in protecting our country's environment.
The review of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act is the first statutory review of an act undertaken by a parliamentary committee since the election. The Minister of Health and I who have joint responsibility for this legislation believe this is an excellent opportunity to provide individual members of the House of Commons with a greater voice in drafting our laws. This is an innovative approach, an experiment which we are confident will bear positive results.
The Minister of Health has occasionally had some differences of opinion with Bloc and Reform members, just as I have had, although I must admit that I have been impressed with the keen interest of the committee members, regardless of their political affiliation, in environmental protection. I know that the committee's contribution to the process will be quite significant.
I cannot begin to count the members of our Liberal caucus who have shown tremendous enthusiasm for, and extensive knowledge of, the issues.
The Canadian Environmental Protection Act was passed six years ago to respond to a number of concerns: the need to control toxic substances; the need to prevent environmental harm; the lack of coherence among federal laws; and the inadequacy of enforcement.
Since the passing of the act six years ago our understanding of the importance of sustainable development and biodiversity has increased dramatically. Throughout Canada and indeed the world there is an increasing desire to move from merely controlling or cleaning up pollution to preventing it in the first place.
Just as there is a heightened awareness that economic and environmental policies must be integrated, so there is a new appreciation that we must take an ecosystem approach to issues of air, land, water and living organisms. There is a widely held commitment to link issues of environmental health with issues of human health. There is a range of new international agreements to take this into account, agreements which affect the environmental health of our planet and more particularly the health of human beings. They must be considered when we review national legislation.
I believe there is a new-found willingness among all levels of government in Canada to get our own act together through proper environmental practices and elimination of duplication and waste.
The Canadian public, the people of Canada, are demanding more information and more say on environmental protection. Green consumers are prompting the development of green technologies and green services, and those technologies and services are leading to exciting new possibilities for Canada in the realm of sustainable development.
The review of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act will allow a great opportunity to consider all these important new developments, in particular pollution prevention.
The parliamentary committee will give the provinces and territories, ecology groups, industry, labour unions, workers, natives and all Canadian citizens an excellent forum in which to voice their opinions of the handling of current environmental protection issues.
With this goal in mind, the committee will hear from Canadians, who will also have the opportunity to submit their views directly to their members of Parliament. You are undoubtedly aware, Mr. Speaker, that the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment has made remarkable progress in harmonizing environmental management practices in our country.
This work is the final stage in the parliamentary review process. Through the invaluable cooperation of provincial environment ministers, we have eliminated some instances of duplication which are costly to the taxpayers, which drive responsible companies crazy and which make it virtually impossible to penalize polluters.
The success of the CCME will be a great inspiration to the parliamentary committee as it goes about its work. However, I want to make myself very clear. This parliamentary review will not stop the government from following up its red book commitments.
In our view, these commitments lend support to the work of the committees and reflect the desire of all Canadians to enjoy a prosperous economy and a healthy environment.
In fact, only yesterday we announced an expanded plan to protect North America's wetlands that will benefit wetlands species as well as the communities depending on wetlands for their livelihood.
The Minister of Industry and I are now working on an environmental industries strategy. The Minister of Finance has also undertaken with me a full review of obstacles to sustainable development and a study of new economic tools likely to promote good environmental practices.
The Minister of Foreign Affairs has already announced major Canadian contributions to environmental initiatives around the world.
All of these actions and others we have taken and will take are a sincere effort to make sure that we promote the twin goals of improving our environment and our economy. The government is acting quickly in areas where we believe action must be taken, but none of our actions should preclude the parliamentary committee from suggesting realistic improvements. All members of Parliament clearly want the government to take measures which safeguard the environment, create new jobs and encourage national and international co-operation.
In that spirit of co-operation, this summer I will be seriously reviewing the recommendations of the parliamentary committee for the federal commissioner of the environment and sustainable development. I have already had some preliminary discussions with the chair of the committee on that particular issue and we are encouraged that we will move quickly on a number of the recommendations.
Today, I am also pleased to table an outline of the issues to be considered by the committee. This document sets out in simple and objective language a rather exhaustive list of the concerns expressed about our Environmental Protection Act. It also summarizes a number of major developments that occurred in this country and abroad since our current law was adopted.
This document should give interested members and other Canadians a general idea of the range of problems to be taken into account if and when we decide to amend the Environmental Protection Act. It should not restrict in any way the issues that the members will want to examine. In fact, officials from the Environment and Health departments will be on hand to provide the committee with documentation on any other subject it deems important. Environment Canada and Health Canada employees will be there to help the committee as it sees fit.
To be a further help to the committee, the government will provide members with an independent assessment of the administration of the act. The committee will have an opportunity to consider a variety of mechanisms to advance pollution prevention, from voluntary actions to market based concepts, to mandatory rules.
There have been important international changes since the act was first introduced, from the climate change convention to the convention on biological diversity, to a number of other international agreements. Members of Parliament will have the opportunity to examine the scope and complexity of these recent
international agreements and how they should influence changes within Canada.
The committee will be free to examine whether there are alternatives to court action in order to obtain speedy and effective results for obeying the law.
I know members of Parliament will not shy away from the thorny issues. From coastal zone management to environmental protection on reserve lands, in tackling these issues I know members of Parliament will listen first and foremost to the people who are affected by those difficult issues, be they representatives of First Nations, representatives of resource management, or others.
The government sincerely wants to hear the committee's advice on major pollution prevention issues, from prevention plans to the right of citizens to be informed, to technical assistance.
The parliamentary committee will probably want to consider seriously whether we can do better in preparing for and preventing environmental disasters.
Members have good ideas, and so do other Canadians. We want to listen to them. We want the parliamentary committee to make recommendations to strengthen the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, and recommendations are more than welcome.
Pollution prevention and sustainable development must remain national objectives. Our standards must be fair, firm and enforceable. The review of our environmental legislation must be an open and transparent process. We must find ways to give the public better opportunities to be heard and to hold governments accountable for their environmental decisions. We must also find ways to move from an approach based on reaction and restoration to one focused on the prevention of environmental problems.
The committee will be free to tell the government how it thinks we can encourage people to make responsible environmental decisions, thus protecting us for generations to come.
The government's only requirement is that the committee report back to Parliament within the next 12 months so we may have an opportunity to respond to its report and to act on it forthwith.
Members of Parliament are of course free to criticize the government and I know they will at any time. However I am sure that when we launch this initiative with the committee of the environment on sustainable development, the committee members will take this initiative to work together to produce a world class review of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act. It is an issue on which we have a real chance at winning a better future for our children.