Mr. Speaker, Bill C-48 has been described by many as a housekeeping bill, to combine the federal Department of Forestry with the Department of Energy, Mines and Resources.
In my opinion Bill C-48 is far more than that. Today I want to begin by praising Bill C-48 while also raising a few concerns. First, I wish to praise the government for continuing with this integration started by the former government, both from a standpoint of tax dollars saved and new understandings included in Bill C-48. From a recent departmental briefing I see that this amalgamation is expected to save something in the range of $41 million over a four-year period starting in 1994-95 primarily through streamlining at the corporate level, including such things as putting together financial services and human resources of what formerly were two cabinet level departments.
The jobs of the rank and file public service generally were spared the axe although the downsizing did remove a cabinet minister and three assistant deputy ministers.
The preservation of those other jobs is perhaps due to the fact that the Canadian Forest Services-and I would like to comment on the forest services here-is already one of the most decentralized of all in the federal government with some 90 per cent of the people not in Ottawa.
Another reason for praising this legislation is the new understanding presented by Bill C-48 of what principles and methods should be used to manage the nation's natural resources. For example under "interpretation", Bill C-48 defines sustainable development as "development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs".
The bill's list of the minister's duties in clause 6, items (d), (e), and (f) are as follows:
The minister shall:
(d) have regard to the integrated management and sustainable development of Canada's natural resources;
(e) Seek to enhance the responsible development and use of Canada's natural resources and the competitiveness of Canada's natural resources products;
(f) participate in the enhancement and promotion of market access for Canada's natural resource products and technical surveys industries, both domestically and internationally;
Although day to day management of natural resources falls under provincial jurisdictions these directives in Bill C-48 should lay to rest many longstanding public concerns that the federal government might either encourage the so-called rape and destruction of our natural resources on the one hand or collapse before extremists advocating only recreational and tourist use of natural resources on the other hand.
The legislation makes clear that the minister must have regard for integrated management and sustainable development. That is good for everybody.
Another reason to praise Bill C-48 is that it will help counteract an unfortunate tendency by some people to speak of our natural resource industries as though they were so-called sunset industries, as though their time had somehow come and passed. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The role of science and technology in the Department of Natural Resources is widespread with the scientific establishments at numerous sites from Victoria to Resolute Bay to St. John's as part of a science and technology budget at Natural Resources Canada in the order of $432 million projected for 1994-95.
Among the minister's duties are that the minister shall, and I quote clause 6, sections (b), (c) and (i):
(b) assist in the development and promotion of Canadian scientific and technological capabilities;
(c) participate in the development and application of codes and standards for technical surveys and natural resources products and for the management and use of natural resources;
(i) gather, compile, analyse, co-ordinate and disseminate information respecting scientific, technological, economic, industrial, managerial, marketing and related activities and developments affecting Canada's natural resources.
Another indicator that our natural resource industries are continually elevating in addition to the specific growth in science and technology is the modernization of their insights, their principles and the managerial techniques as the world moves toward sustainable development, in part pushed by the new wave of green consumerism.
As a prime example of such integrated resource management the federal government has been a major participant in the Whitehorse mining initiative whose report presented September 13 included a set of more than 150 recommendations in light of 16 principles and 70 goals voiced by more than 140 individual participants in the process.
For all these reasons I applaud the government for uniting these departments into one through Bill C-48. However, I also want to voice some concerns.
Bill C-48 helps to spell out the federal role and relationship with provincial jurisdiction over forestry and mining. Despite much talk about the so-called new economy, the $40 billion forest industry remains number one in Canada, providing some 777,000 jobs or one in every 16 in 1993 with approximately 350 Canadian communities dependent on forestry for their financial existence. It also adds a $19 billion contribution to Canada's net balance of trade, by far the largest of any industry in Canada.
Although the mining industry has been hard hit in recent years, there are some 150 communities across Canada that depend on mining and mining related activities. This contributes 4 per cent of our GDP, 17 per cent of our exports and a net $11 billion surplus to our balance of payments as well as being the source of 60 per cent of rail freight and 55 per cent of port traffic. Directly and indirectly, mining provides some 300,000 jobs.
Clearly, forestry and mining are two of the most essential contributors to our national economic health. Therefore I would have preferred to see clause 7 of Bill C-48 say that the minister shall co-operate with the provinces and municipalities rather than may as it now does. These economic sectors are simply too important for us to tolerate government duplications or squabbles regarding jurisdiction. As a Reformer I am especially concerned that there should be as little overlap as possible between the levels of government and that no activity be undertaken by the federal level if the provincial level can handle it.
I also have questions on clause 35, subclauses 7 and 8, which detail other things the minister may do.
Subclause 7 says that the Minister of Natural Resources may make grants and contributions and, with the approval of the Governor in Council, provide other forms of financial assistance. I am told that Parliament can exert control here by simply refusing to appropriate money to the minister for such purposes. But once the funds are voted, the minister does not even need to consult with cabinet before making grants and contributions.
I believe Bill C-48 should have included some procedure to build into the granting process public accountability and transparency as well as requiring at the minimum consultation with cabinet.
Subclause 8 provides that:
(1) The Minister may co-ordinate logistics support and provide related assistance for the purposes of advancing scientific knowledge of the Arctic region and contributing to the exercise of Canada's sovereignty in that region and its adjacent waters.
(2) For the purposes of subsection (1), the Minister may
(a) make grants and contributions; and
(b) make recoverable expenditures on behalf of any other department, branch or agency of the Government of Canada or a province or any university, organization or person in respect of its share of the cost of any logistics support or related assistance.
I have the same concerns as mentioned above about the authority for grants but I would would like to ask some additional questions.
First, is this Bill C-48 the appropriate place to authorize a minister regarding contributing to the existence of Canada's sovereignty in the Arctic? If there is doubt regarding Canada's sovereignty in that region, it seems that a so-called housekeeping bill on natural resources is at best an inappropriate place to bolster such authority.
Second, in view of the tradition that natural resources north of 60 degrees latitude fall under the jurisdiction of the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, why is the Minister of Natural Resources given this twin function of asserting Canadian sovereignty in the Arctic and authorization to recover costs from groups performing exploration or research, maybe filming a movie or leading a tour group?
I look forward to hearing the government's explanations for what look to me to be shortcomings in a bill which otherwise deserves the praise and support of the House.