moved that Bill C-275, an act respecting the protection and rehabilitation of endangered and threatened species, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Madam Speaker, I appreciate the debate taking place this afternoon on the protection and rehabilitation of endangered and threatened species. I would like to thank the member for Scarborough-Rouge River and the member for Fraser Valley West for their support in their respective committees when it was decided that this bill should become a votable item.
In essence the reason for putting forward this private members' bill is very simple. It emanates from one important commitment made by Canada to the UN conference on sustainable development and the environment in Rio in 1992.
When the convention on biodiversity was arrived at with the consensus of some 150 nations, Canada was among the first, if not the first nation to sign it, if I remember correctly. It was among the first to ratify it. In other words, there was definitely a very quick response on the part of Canada. There was an understanding of the importance of the issue and the political sentiments of the nation. The aspirations of Canadians were expressed rapidly through these steps.
The signing or ratification of the convention has now reached a fairly large number and has been put into motion by virtue of the fact that a sufficient number of nations in the world have ratified it to make it workable.
What does a bill on the rehabilitation of endangered and threatened species mean? With this piece of legislation, which I hope will be followed by a measure to be introduced soon by the Minister of the Environment, we want to highlight the importance of the ecosystem to which we belong and the importance of protecting the richness that makes Canada so unique in the family of nations.
If one compares the richness in biodiversity and the number of species both in flora and fauna that exist today with what existed a hundred years ago, one has to admit with regret that there have been losses with respect to some species that may never be recovered. In other words, we have lost ground as humans have settled in the country and have adopted various agricultural and industrial practices at the expense of nature. If one looks down the road 100 years from now at the richness of fauna and flora our grandchildren may be able to enjoy, unless we do something
about it fairly soon we would suffer perhaps the equivalent or even greater losses.
Therefore it is necessary to put on the political agenda and on the agenda of Parliament, as well as those of the provincial and territorial legislatures, something that coagulates or gels our thinking on the subject matter. The bill before us attempts to do exactly that. It is inspired by article VII of the convention, the one I referred to earlier, which requires countries to:
-develop and maintain the necessary legislation and/or other regulatory provisions for the protection of threatened species and populations.
That is how it was put in the Rio convention which we have signed and ratified. It is a very simple, straightforward concept. I am sure that its application and implementation can be achieved if there is adequate political will.
I am glad to report that four Canadian provinces have endangered species legislation today. They are the provinces of New Brunswick, Quebec, Ontario and Manitoba. Close co-operation with provincial and native governments is necessary to protect endangered species. Preventing the extinction of species becomes a method of national and even international concern.
I am not claiming this private member's bill can achieve all that, but it is at least an attempt to subject the matter to parliamentary scrutiny, to encourage colleagues on all sides of the House to think about the importance of the matter, and to ensure that respective governments take the necessary steps.
There are 120 species that are either threatened or endangered in Canada. Of those 120, 43 are under federal responsibility: 18 species of migratory birds and 25 fish and marine mammals. The habitats of these threatened or endangered species are quickly disappearing. According to Statistics Canada calculations the wetlands have been reduced by 70 per cent to 80 per cent so far and the old growth forests by as much as 85 per cent to 90 per cent. These are considerable figures which I commend to the attention of the House.
The following commitment appeared in the red book of the Liberal Party in 1993:
Managing economic development in human growth without destroying the life systems on our planet and a vision of a society that protects the long term health and diversity of all species on the planet are matters of concern.
In a study conducted in 1991 Statistics Canada concluded that 86 per cent of Canadians supported the protection of the abundance of species we have today. Bill C-275 is simply aimed at identifying, protecting and rehabilitating endangered and threatened species both in the realm of flora and fauna and both in the sense that they have become directly or indirectly threatened or endangered. Why? It is as a result of human activity.
The bill provides the Minister of the Environment with the powers to develop and implement programs aimed at restoring the populations of threatened and endangered species to self-sustaining numbers. Time does not permit me to list the names of the various species. There are too many. However, they are attached to the bill by way of a schedule for any member who would wish to examine it. The bill attempts to provide a context for existing federal and provincial legislation in a complementary and unifying sense that is concerned with protecting threatened or endangered species.
The bill provides a legislative basis for two institutions: COSEWIC, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, and RNEW, the Recovery of National Endangered Wildlife. For members who might not have heard the terms before, they are two important committees in the protection of endangered species. However they are not required by law and the bill before us today would change the situation.
In addition the scientific expertise of Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada would continue to provide the important first step in identifying threatened or endangered species. In the recovery of nationally endangered wildlife groups it would still be a required step in protecting endangered species. However, Bill C-275 seeks to provide both COSEWIC and RNEW with a common legislative framework to allow for a more responsible, consistent and accountable approach to the identification and recovery of threatened and endangered species. It draws from the categorization prepared over the years by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, COSEWIC. The bill contains two schedules which are available to members. Schedule A lists endangered species and schedule B lists threatened species.
The listing of certain species and requiring the minister to represent their interests have the purpose of allowing recovery programs to be developed prior to species becoming endangered. It is a good precautionary concept. The preventive approach is more sensible and less expensive than simply allowing threatened species to become endangered species and then trying to recover them from the brink of endangerment and to regain ground. In other words the present approach can be subjected to improvements, and this is what Bill C-275 is all about.
As to public accountability, Bill C-275 contains a provision whereby any Canadian may make a representation to the Minister of the Environment in writing requesting the minister to add or delete a species from the threatened or endangered list. I hope it will be used for adding rather than deleting.
The minister must respond within 180 days, advising what course of action will be taken and why. This will have the effect of allowing for public knowledge and traditional knowledge systems such as those offered by the aboriginal people to work together with the scientific process represented by COSEWIC in determining which species in Canada are identifiable as endangered or threatened.
Every year the Recovery of Nationally Endangered Wildlife group shall report to the minister on the effectiveness of the recovery programs carried out in the previous year. The report is to be tabled in Parliament not later than June 1 of the year the report was submitted to the minister. This will be done to address the criticism presently levelled at the Recovery of Nationally Endangered Wildlife group that it lacks accountability and is too slow in enacting recovery programs.
I am sure many members of Parliament and the public at large would be fascinated, rather intrigued and quite attracted to becoming involved if they were familiar with the work done by both COSEWIC and RNEW.
To conclude very briefly, according to the bill the minister shall table no later than June 1 of every a report of a list of every species added to or removed from either the threatened or endangered list. The report will include the summary of the information that led to the species being removed or added to the respective list.
In essence the bill would provide a more coherent approach than we have at present to the protection of threatened and endangered species in Canada, while recognizing the importance of working in close co-operation with the provinces, the territories, the municipalities, aboriginal people and so on, so as to ensure recovery programs for endangered or threatened species are successful.
Furthermore the bill builds on the established systems of expertise represented by the people involved and presently active in COSEWIC and RNEW, so as to ensure that sound scientific principles are maintained when listing threatened or endangered species while providing the opportunity-and this is the main point of the bill to which I keep returning-and the importance of public input and public accountability.
This ends my presentation on Bill C-275 which I commend to the attention of my hon. colleagues. I hope they will find some positive aspects and sufficient substance in the bill to warrant having it sent to committee for necessary improvements and reinforcements.
As I said at the outset, it is a measure that emanates from the Rio de Janiero conference. It flows from Canada's fascination and understandable pride in the richness of its wildlife and in the desire to ensure that what we have inherited will remain for generations to come because we all love our wildlife and we all love nature.
Also as politicians we want to make a contribution to the work that is being done outside the political ranks in the communities at large in order to ensure that this richness remains one of the great things that makes Canada known and admired and desired by so many people abroad.