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House of Commons Hansard #225 of the 35th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was development.

Topics

Points Of OrderPrivate Members' Business

12:15 p.m.

Kingston and the Islands Ontario

Liberal

Peter Milliken LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, a point of order.

I believe you will find unanimous consent to have the following motion put to the House without the usual notice and that it be disposed of without debate.

I move:

That the membership of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs be modified as follows: Arseneault, Guy; Beaumier, Colleen; Boudria, Don; Catterall, Marlene; Duceppe, Gilles; Frazer, Jack; Langlois, François; Laurin, René; Malhi, Gurbax Singh; McWhinney, Edward; Milliken, Peter; Parrish, Carolyn; Ringma, Bob; Speaker, Ray.

And that the associate members of the said committee be as follows: Bélanger, Mauril; Bellehumeur, Michel; Bertrand, Robert; Brushett, Dianne; Cowling, Marlene; Epp, Ken; Gauthier, Michel; Grey, Deborah; Jordan, Jim; Leroux, Gaston; Pickard, Jerry; Plamondon, Louis; Solomon, John and Williams, John.

Points Of OrderPrivate Members' Business

12:15 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Kilger)

The House has heard the terms of the motion. Is there unanimous consent?

Points Of OrderPrivate Members' Business

12:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Auditor General ActGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.

Hamilton East Ontario

Liberal

Sheila Copps LiberalDeputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Environment

moved that Bill C-83, an act to amend the Auditor General Act be now be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, today with the proposed amendments to the Auditor General Act, I believe the government is making profound changes in the way it does business in order to make sure that it's environmental agenda is integrated with Canada's economic agenda.

Today we are also fulfilling a major election commitment of the Prime Minister and the Liberal Party. In the red book we said:

Sustainable development, integrating economic with environmental goals fits in the Liberal tradition of social investment and sound economic policy. Preventive environmental care is the foundation of the Liberal approach to sustainable development.

We also said:

It is past time for the federal government across all departments to act on this understanding by adopting economic and environmental agendas that converge.

Since assuming office we have tried to be guided by this belief. Our approach has been to integrate economic, social, environmental and foreign policies.

I believe we are serious about promoting sustainable development. We are serious about the greening of government. We are serious about getting the federal government's act together on environmental issues. We want to be held accountable for our environmental actions and our environmental planning.

We are serious about these things because Canadians want a healthy country in which we and our children can work to achieve our aspirations.

One vital aspect of our approach is to ensure that the environment and sustainable development form an integral part of the decision-making process in all federal government departments.

We are therefore talking about decisions on new policy, new programs and new regulations or legislation and on existing texts. We are also talking about decisions concerning departmental management of buildings, facilities and operations.

Proposals for amendments to the Auditor General Act now before the House will result in much of the integration we are aiming for. They form a key part of the government's response last fall to the initial report by the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development, entitled the "commissioner of environment and sustainable development".

Under the enlightened leadership of the hon. member for Davenport and with the support of all the members, the report gave careful consideration to the government's commitment in the red book to establishing an environmental function equivalent to that of the auditor general. The committee felt that, while it is vital to audit existing government documents, it is even more important to ensure that environmental considerations are a fundamental consideration in all departmental planning.

The committee called for greater environmental auditing of government policies, programs and legislation. It felt that the government must report to Parliament and to the public on the progress it makes in achieving its objectives.

The committee advocated the idea that the government go beyond simply an environmental auditor and instead establish a commissioner of environment and sustainable development. In these proposed amendments to the Auditor General Act the government will establish a commissioner and I hope meet the objectives of the committee's report.

The amendments do contain one departure from the committee's report and that is to create the commissioner of environment and sustainable development not as a separate position but within the existing framework of the office of the auditor general as recommended in the minority report. This is not in any way to be seen as a retreat from our red book pledge. Indeed I believe it will prove to be an effective way of achieving our promise.

The office of the auditor general has clout. When the auditor general speaks, departments of government listen. It is indepen-

dent from government, it is well respected and it has the expertise, as we saw recently in its initial assessments of environmental auditing of the government.

For all these reasons I believe it can greatly enhance the government's auditing of its environmental performance. There is another advantage to this innovation. Within the work of the auditor general, issues of environment and sustainable development must be directly integrated into economic considerations. This kind of integration is what sustainable development must be about. It is not a separate vertical approach but rather a horizontal approach which must de facto involve every department of government.

What then is the substance of these amendments to the Auditor General Act that I am proposing today?

[Translation]

First, as I mentioned, these amendments establish the role of the commissioner of the environment and of the office of sustainable development within the office of the auditor general, as the official opposition has proposed. The commissioner would report directly to the auditor general and would work with him to evaluate the government's implementation of sustainable development policies and practices. The commissioner and the auditor general would also work together in reporting to the House of Commons on the government's practices in matters of ecology and sustainable development.

No matter who the auditor general is, the amendments bind the office of the auditor general and the commissioner for sustainable development to encourage consideration of environment and sustainable development in all official duties. They do that by explicitly incorporating sustainable development and environment into the Auditor General Act. They do it by requiring the auditor general to take environmental effect into account when preparing all reports to the House of Commons.

For the first time an independent commissioner has a mandate and responsibility to follow up and report on what the government is doing or failing to do in meeting its environmental commitments. I must say entre parenthèses that one of the first departments the office of the commissioner will be looking at is my department, the Department of the Environment. We welcome the opportunity of independent public review because we believe it will accelerate the integration of the two key objectives of sustainable development and their integration into the economy.

We know that the blaze of publicity that attends each auditor general's report of financial failings has caused governments in the past to move and to take a different path. We can expect an impact at least as great for reports of environmental shortcomings and that publicity or the urge to avoid it should be a powerful spur to government action, a spur in more ways than one.

At times this may make things uncomfortable for us in government. It may make things uncomfortable for us as ministers and as members of the government but we are prepared and welcome that discomfort if the end is better government for Canadians. Better integration of sustainable development is a key factor in making decisions.

Imagine if we had taken into account sustainable development many years ago when we were making decisions about how to allocate quota of the cod stock. Look at the price we pay today for the thousands of fishermen who do not have fish to catch simply because we did not develop sustainable fisheries, not only domestically but internationally.

I had the privilege recently of participating in an environmental trade mission to the Far East. In discussions several governments were very interested in the concept of the commissioner for sustainable development. They understand, as we understand, the times when a department of the environment is the only department responsible for sustainable development are gone. We need integration through the highest levels of government. I believe the influence of the office of the auditor general and the new commissioner for sustainable development and the environment will be able to deliver that cross-cutting analysis of all government policy.

The scope of the amendments goes beyond a mere institutionalizing of procedures for monitoring and reporting on government activities.

More directly, these amendments require all federal departments to take environmental action. They go further than the red book's commitment in that they vigorously promote sustainable development through government activities.

Under the Act as amended, each department has two years to prepare a strategy for sustainable development, to be presented in the House of Commons by the minister responsible. The strategy must be results oriented. It should include the department's objectives and a plan of action to attain those objectives.

In effect this legislation will make every minister a minister for sustainable development. For example, the industry minister will be responsible for the portfolio and also for ensuring the Department of Industry operates in an environmentally sound way. The same is true for the foreign affairs minister, the transport minister and all of our colleagues.

This is a step forward in making sustainable development more than a concept. The departmental strategies will assist the auditor general and the commissioner in not only monitoring government for preparation of their reports to Parliament but they will also serve as benchmarks by which the commissioner and the auditor general can assess each government department's performance in making that shift to sustainable development.

By the way, the auditor general and the stakeholders have already indicated the need for such benchmarks. We need to show where progress is being made and if not, why not. This is not a one shot affair to be undertaken with fanfare and then quickly forgotten. Every three years each department must update its sustainable development strategy and its minister must table the update in Parliament.

Thanks to these amendments, Canadians will be able to play their part by ensuring that the government is responsive to expectations with respect to the environment. The Auditor General will have the authority to receive petitions from the public about environmental matters and forward them to the appropriate minister.

The number and purpose of petitions received by ministers and the status of these files will be monitored, and the commissioner will report on the results obtained to the House of Commons.

The amendments also require the commissioner to report every year to the House of Commons on behalf of the auditor general. These reports can focus on anything related to sustainable development, whatever the commissioner feels important enough to bring to the attention of the House. In particular, the commissioner's annual report will show how far governments and departments have gone in meeting the objectives and expectations they have established in their strategies.

However, the annual report will not be the only report to the House of Commons on our environmental performance.

These amendments will ensure that environmental observations continue to be included in the auditor general's report as well. That is important because the auditor general's reports are more general in scope and they will include considerations of effectiveness and the environment. One of the commissioner's duties will be to assist the auditor general in preparing aspects of those reports referring to the environment and sustainable development.

We are wasting no time in moving on our obligations under the Auditor General Act because we are committed to thinking green and ensuring that green government is a central component of the decisions we make as a society. Our action plan accelerating the shift to green practices in government can be reflected in the work of Environment Canada. That plan has five points: green procurement policies that emphasize reduction, reuse, and purchase of environmentally sound products; managing the department's car fleets to reduce emissions by 30 per cent within the next five years; making zero waste a target in our offices; improving energy efficiency and conserving water specifically by auditing the use of water in all Environment Canada buildings.

We have already had some major successes. At Environment Canada headquarters in Quebec City, in Sainte-Foy for instance, water consumption dropped by 9.6 million litres annually following implementation of effective ways to save water. This is a good indication of the economic potential of sustainable development.

In Hamilton-Wentworth at the Canada Centre for Inland Waters, which is in the city of Burlington, energy efficiency improvements are lowering carbon dioxide emissions by 5,900 tonnes. That is the equivalent per year to the emissions from 1,500 cars. That means we are saving enough energy to heat 525 homes a year.

Another example is the new guidebook entitled "A Guide to Green Government", which is signed by the Prime Minister and all cabinet ministers, to help federal departments make sustainable development their business. It will serve as ground breaking information for the commissioner when she or he reports on the success departments are having in integrating sustainable development practices. They already have "A Guide to Green Government" signed by the Prime Minister of Canada because he believes that sustainable development is a responsibility we all share. It is a responsibility shared by Canadians.

When governments prepare our strategies we must act in an open and transparent way. We must include groups with expertise, like the national round table on the environment and the economy.

Another example illustrates the fact that we take our responsibilities seriously. The Minister of Finance and I received a report from a multiparty task force that was asked to identify obstacles to sound environmental practices as well as effective ways to use economic instruments.

In the last budget, the government followed the short-term recommendations of the task force, and we hope it will do more in

the long term. The response will establish how the government intends to go about using these economic instruments and to develop government policies that are environmentally sound.

A final example of our commitment is the proclamation of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act last January. I believe the legislation will ensure that environment is formally integrated into the project planning process of government. Through the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency we are already working hard to make sure that environmental assessments of new government policies and programs are done well.

These are important measures to establish a framework.

For years, governments have been talking about sustainable development. We have stated our commitment to this principle, but it has not been easy to ensure compliance.

That is why environmental groups have been asking for a governmental monitoring function and for independent reporting that would focus on the government's environmental activities. They saw this as a way to force governments to keep their word. And just as persistently, our predecessors in government have steadfastly refused to take this route.

We are convinced that these initiatives will have far reaching effects within government and within society. I hope and believe they will move government and the country forward on the path from talking about sustainability to actually delivering in terms of government policies and programs. That is something Canadians can be grateful for today.

I want to particularly thank the parliamentary committee under the chairmanship of the hon. member for Davenport and also the members of the opposition who brought constructive suggestions to the table. I think all Canadians understand that whatever one's political stripe, when it comes to the environment we should be working on behalf of the whole country. Certainly we saw that co-operation in the work of the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development. If we can carry on like that in government, we will be doing okay.

Auditor General ActGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.

Bloc

Monique Guay Bloc Laurentides, QC

Mr. Speaker, here we are back in the House after an exceptional summer during which many things happened.

First of all, in Quebec, under the Parti Quebecois government-in partnership with our party, the Bloc Quebecois, and the ADQ, the Action démocratique du Québec, with the support of many partners from all sectors of society, and in accordance with the strong wishes of a majority of Quebecers-all of us in Quebec are moving toward the referendum, which, I am increasingly convinced, will give us a country, Quebec, in a few weeks. This is what happened in Quebec over the summer. Winds of change have been blowing and are getting stronger every day.

The Prime Minister of Canada, who says he is distinct-and I fully concur with him-mentioned that the coming referendum debate would be fun. With the winds of change getting stronger, the fun expected by our distinct federalist Prime Minister will become serious and I am sure that he will not find it so funny on October 30.

Other events have commanded my attention this past summer. As a result of a labour dispute, workers at Ogilvie Mills in Montreal have been on strike for more than a year. This is the only labour dispute in Quebec that is specifically due to the use of scabs, which is allowed by the Canada Labour Code. Yet, the Minister of Labour, our national aunt, a first class switch-hitter and former critic of the federal government, promised several times that she would resolve this intolerable situation. The leader of the No side in Quebec continues to say no to these Quebec workers.

Another major issue that is of particular concern to me is the raising of the Irving Whale. I would first like to draw a parallel between this issue and the bill before us today, in the hope that creating the position of Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development will help us avoid a similar mess. Let us hope that the federal commissioner can get involved in such federal matters in order to alert decision makers and, if necessary, stop or reverse decisions like the one to raise the Irving Whale.

This salvage operation, which was scheduled for the month of August, could be described as a total fiasco. In fact, not only the operation itself but the whole matter is a dismal failure. Everything, from the decision making to the environmental assessment, the awarding of the contract and the job itself, was done in an incompetent and irresponsible fashion. The first one to blame for this fiasco is the Minister of the Environment who, for reasons I would describe as very partisan, took serious decisions without proper thought. The minister's partisanship on this issue is obvious. Just think back to the announcement she made in this House, saying something like: "Twenty five years have passed since the barge sank, and nothing has been done. But I, just 90 days after coming into office, made the right decision".

We now have proof that the minister's decision was in fact a botched job. The barge is still lying on the bottom of the Gulf, more than $12 million was spent-taxpayers' money of course, the procedure selected is increasingly questioned, and a Federal Court

judge even requested that she redo her homework as far as environmental assessments regarding PCBs are concerned.

Her botched and dicey decision could have caused irreparable damage to the environment. This partisan political game she has played is inexcusable.

This threat that hung over the Gulf of St. Lawrence throughout the month of August was a matter of continual concern for those directly involved.

Speaking of those directly involved, the hon. member for Bonaventure-Îles-de-la-Madeleine has been conspicuously reserved over the summer with his dear constituents who, all summer long, were completely shattered by this decision to lift the ship in that manner.

The media actually covered the operations, that they questioned on many occasions. The work was conducted haphazardly and without any degree of certainty. In a nutshell, it smacked of amateurism, and that had many people worried.

I certainly hope that the commissioner of the environment and sustainable development, whose position Bill C-83 seeks to establish, will have a say in this kind of decisions, which directly threaten the environment. The commissioner will be in a position to monitor the whole decision making process.

In the case of the Irving Whale , the process followed was seriously flawed, thus preventing an appropriate decision, that is the best possible one. Indeed, the process followed regarding the Irving Whale was flawed in several ways.

At the end of 1992, two studies commissioned by the Coast Guard and by the Department of the Environment recommended pumping the cargo out of the sunken wreck. Marex and CEF both concluded that was the safest technique.

However, the government ignored the recommendations made in studies which it commissioned. Instead, the Minister of the Environment relied on a third study commissioned by an independent organization, the Ship-source Oil Pollution Fund, which recommended lifting the barge without emptying it and moving it to a safe place before pumping the oil out.

It should be noted that this study conducted by London's Murray Fenton firm used the two above-mentioned studies as its main references. How could this third firm go against the findings of the other two if it used their studies as its basic reference? At that stage, the process was very twisted to say the least. All this does not seem very logical.

What we can figure out however, is the logic relating to the costs of the operation. In spite of the reassuring words of the minister, it is clear that the costs of the operation unduly influenced the decision making process. Indeed, the government chose the least expensive solution. Bloc Quebecois members and environmental groups have always said that the government should first pump the oil out of the barge.

Public hearings and consultations were held following the minister's decision, but the whole process was obviously a sham. Surely, the commissioner of the environment will be able to take a close look at such decisions.

Then we found out that PCBs were present in the wreck. The government says "What a surprise-we did not know." Yet page 3 of chapter I of the Marex report submitted to the government in December 1992 states that the capacity of the heaters "was transmitted to the cargo via a heating fluid (Monsanto MGS 295S) and heating coils in each tank". Thus the presence of PCBs was already mentioned in the 1992 documents.

So, in June 1995, another environmental assessment and consultations were carried out, this time not only fabricated but hastily fabricated at that. The outcome: a federal court judge issues a stop order and makes the Minister of the Environment do her homework all over again, this time conforming to her own department's statutes and regulations. That is something else, Mr. Speaker. What a blow to the pride of our Minister of the Environment, who had boasted only a few months earlier that she had settled the whole thing.

So the work was stopped by an injunction, work that had been delayed continuously and had already used up its budget. They say that it would cost between $150 000 and $180 000 a day to go on with the project.

And while all this flagrant bungling was going on, those in charge of the Coast Guard and Environment Canada were telling us "No problem. This is a well-oiled operation." Never were words so well chosen, for the whole danger of this controversial operation lay in its "well-oiled" nature.

We are continuing to follow this issue very closely and are anxious to see what the minister's next steps will be. I have drawn a parallel between this issue and Bill C-83, an act to amend the Auditor General Act, since the purpose of that bill is to create a commissioner of the environment responsible for overseeing situations like that of the Irving Whale .

It gives me pleasure to intervene, because this bill arises from the dissenting opinion expressed by the Bloc Quebecois in the May 1995 report of the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development on the commissioner of the environment and sustainable development.

As a result of the committee's work on this subject, the Bloc members proposed three essential criteria in the creation of the position of environmental auditor. They are as follows. First, it is the government's responsibility to establish the policies and the auditor's to examine them. Second, we must avoid creating more

organizations with similar mandates. Third, economic and environmental elements must be intrinsically linked.

These criteria gave rise to our party's proposal that the mandate of the auditor general of the environment be given to the office of the auditor general along with the resources it requires to effectively carry out its role.

That is what we proposed at the time. Our proposal was influenced in large measure by the testimony given by the auditor general, Denis Desautels. In testifying before the committee, Mr. Desautels indicated that his office performed the audit duties that would constitute the prime responsibilities of an auditor general of the environment. In other words, the auditor general indicated that he was already involved in environment issues and that he spent $4.5 million on them annually.

He also felt that his office could take on full responsibility for examining environmental and sustainable development matters with an additional appropriation of $4.5 million-making a total of $9 million. The route proposed by the auditor general struck us as the most sensible, simple and effective one to take. The Bloc Quebecois therefore proposed this route, and with Bill C-83 the government confirmed that we were right.

Most committee members were in favour of increasing structures. The Liberal and Reform members advocated, at one and the same time, a new body to be known as the office of the commissioner for the environment and sustainable development and the retention of the auditor general's duties in this area. Liberals and Reformers recommended an office of the environment and of sustainable development, with a budget of $5 million and staff of 30 professional and 15 support employees.

Also as mentioned in recommendation No. 17 of the report, they wanted to congratulate the auditor general on his initiatives on the environment and urge him to keep up the good work. The committee also recommended amending the Auditor General Act so he would have the appropriate instruments to do his job.

Liberals and Reform Party members on the committee were in favour of a new, specific structure, while maintaining and enhancing another structure with the same responsibilities. This would have been inconsistent, inefficient and very costly. Fortunately, the Bloc made its own proposals, and the Liberal minister listened to us, instead of acting on the recommendations of her own members which would have created duplication and overlap within the federal government.

I am glad that the Bloc and the auditor general opted for a common sense approach in this matter.

I think the Liberals and Reform Party members on the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development do not have a clue what common sense means and what the environmental facts are, and I am referring to problems out there that must be dealt with quickly and effectively.

Another instance of this lack of realism on the part of Liberal and Reform members on the committee could be seen in the report on the quinquennial review of the CEPA, the Canadian Environmental Protection Act.

Liberals and Reform Party members were convinced that it was absolutely necessary to further centralize authority in Ottawa in order to protect the environment. In this report, members opposite and next to us raised several considerations to justify increased centralization of authority in environmental matters. They referred to the growing globalization of environmental problems, the issue of national interest, the increasing importance of international trade and an ecosystem based approach as so many reasons for suggesting that the federal government expand its role and take full responsibility for environmental protection.

With these proposals the committee, in its report on the CEPA-by the way, the Bloc did not agree with the report-ignored the fact that the provinces already had most of the responsibility in this area. The committee, minus the Bloc, takes its cues from the government. They speak the same language, the language of centralization. The federal government wants more power, steadily encroaching on areas that, either directly or indirectly, come under provincial jurisdiction.

This encroachment by the federal government obviously leads to legislative and regulatory duplication which has the effect of setting back and undermining environmental protection. This duplication also causes some reluctance and apprehension among developers who no longer know where they stand. It is not very good for the economy. And this while members opposite keep talking about the economy and creating jobs.

With its increasing propensity for minding the business of the provinces the government is hardly stimulating the economy. In fact, it makes things increasingly difficult for its beloved economy. This is very disturbing. And it is very disturbing for an economy that is supposed to produce all those jobs promised by the Liberals and for the environment, which is in dire need of being protected and renewed.

Is there a way out of this extreme centralist approach? No, not unless we take matters into our own hands as we are about to do in Quebec on October 30. Federalism as such is centralizing, and I would say very much so. This excessive centralization and the manifold duplications it generates means established businesses have to work harder in order to be heard by both levels of government, face double the paper work and are obliged to meet the requirements of two levels of government.

One convincing example of the federal government's duplication involves the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, which came in effect last January. Environmental assessment had been, until then, essentially a matter of provincial jurisdiction, had it not? The federal government's unilateral action turned the rules of the game completely around. We in Quebec have been doing environmental assessments for more than 15 years. We have developed an expertise and have established a reputation. With its legislation, the federal government wrecked everything. Worse yet, the federal government did not incorporate any of the amendments proposed by Quebec or any of the other provinces.

The repercussions of this affront to Quebec and the other provinces on the CCME, the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment, were significant. While the federal minister was inviting her provincial counterparts to discuss harmonization, the events of January 1995 cooled things off considerably.

According to some sources, the climate between the minister and her counterparts remains unsettled. The federal minister would appear to be acting in a somewhat cavalier fashion by showing little concern for the provinces or for the environment. But what do you expect, Mr. Speaker, the minister is much more a political creature than an environmentalist. She is also much more of a federalist at all cost, a vehement centralist, than a decentralist.

Her partisan instincts lead her to unacceptable behaviour that raises a lot of concerns about the environment. She will certainly not effectively manage the environment by treading on the backs of the provinces-quite the contrary. The provinces, and Quebec in particular, have a considerable lead in this area. The minister should respect this and stop meddling in areas of jurisdiction already occupied, and well occupied at that, by the provinces.

If the new Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development looks carefully at the federal government's intrusion into areas of provincial jurisdiction, I am sure that he will focus on how overlap and duplication is detrimental to sound management of the environment.

To get back to this bill, the minister proposes to amend the role of the auditor general by giving him the specific mandate to look into matters related to the environment and sustainable development. As I said earlier and as he himself pointed out during hearings, the auditor general has already opened the door by setting aside $4.5 million a year for this purpose.

The bill provides for the appointment by the auditor general of a senior officer to be called the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, who will perform this specific task.

One of the commissioner's duties will be to submit an annual report to the House of Commons on behalf of the auditor general. This report will deal mainly with two things: first, the extent to which departments have met the objectives and implemented their plans concerning the environment and sustainable development; and second, a record of the petitions received and their status.

What is new in this bill is that it requires the new commissioner to do two things: one, to ensure that category I departments table a sustainable development strategy within two years after this bill comes into force; two, to open a door by allowing citizens wishing to be heard to file petitions calling for action on the environment and sustainable development.

These two initiatives seem worthwhile in principle. In reality, however, one may wonder how much actual impact they will have.

Let us have a closer look at this new opportunity for people to file petitions with the commissioner.

This is a very simple procedure. The petition must be filed within the specified deadline; certified copies must be sent to those directly concerned; finally, the department responsible must provide a response. The procedure will be implemented without problems.

What I question though is the effectiveness of such petitions. Is this bill merely and stupidly putting in place a mechanism by which petitions can be tabled or will it really enable the people to have an say and to effect change?

In light of what is achieved through the petitions we table in this House, allow me to doubt their ability to effect any changes. The government's will to respond by taking swift action is seriously lacking. Petitions are given only trivial answers, based on facts, statistics or results and in no way sway the government or compel it to do anything. Petitions are not taken seriously by the government.

What will become of petitions to the commissioner of the environment? They will have the same fate as the rest of the petitions tabled in this place, since they will be answered by the same departments. There is no doubt that the government should be forced to pay greater attention to this means of applying pressure that the taxpayers have. Greater merit should be recognized to petitions.

I can remember the petition I tabled in this House regarding the Irving Whale . On September 23, 1994, petitioners from the Magdalen Islands asked that leaks be stopped and that further public, and particularly more transparent, hearings be held on this issue. To no avail. The barge continued to leak and is still leaking as we speak, but no further hearings were held.

The Minister of Transport's answer was flat and did not take into account the concerns expressed by the people. Petitions are useless since governments pay little attention to such demands.

This is highly regrettable and it aggrieves the people. On the other hand, while not signing any petitions, lobbies are paid much more attention to by ministers. The Liberals opposite are particularly lax in that area. Recent decisions clearly show that lobbyist and minister go hand in hand, while petitions amount to nothing.

This concludes my remarks on the petition aspect of the bill. Let us now turn to the other key element, namely the development and tabling of sustainable development strategies by the departments.

I immediately wonder about the two year time limit for tabling these strategies. What will the commissioner do during those two years, since his job is to make inquiries and monitor the implementation of departmental action plans and report annually on the extent to which objectives were met? What is the commissioner going to do for two years? This measure means that, to all intents of purposes, he or she will have nothing to audit for three years, assuming that the initial report will be on the first year the strategies are implemented.

Let us now examine these sustainable development strategies. First of all, it needs to be pointed out that they replace the green plan, that famous green plan which held such promise, but has passed on after years of neglect by the government.

We in the Bloc see this new federal government approach as another serious threat of encroachment and intrusion into provincial areas of jurisdiction. This concept of sustainable development which the federal departments are to develop concretely into plans raises some legitimate concerns. Does not sustainable development concern resources, an area of provincial jurisdiction?

Recent federal government actions, including the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, as well as the Liberals' ultracentralist intent in the report on the CEPA, are clear evidence to us of this tendency to interfere.

The federal government, under the guise of ecologizing the operations of each department, is actually implementing an overall result-oriented sustainable development strategy. On first view, one might believe this to be an initiative with exclusively federal effects, but when the description and orientations of this initiative are examined, it can be seen that it will be able to influence all of the provincial governments directly.

This initiative goes much further. By introducing sustainable development, each department has an opportunity to take responsibility for certain areas under federal jurisdiction. To achieve the desired results, the federal government has identified certain objectives for sustainable development which it intends to promote. For instance, it wants to ensure that the development of renewable and non-renewable resources, many of which, I may remind you, are exclusively under provincial jurisdiction, is sustainable.

Even if the provinces play a major role in achieving these objectives, the federal government has clearly indicated that it will emphasize communications and consultations with individuals and the private sector. It has only hinted at the possibility of joint management agreements with the provinces and aboriginal communities.

This approach, including implementation of the concept of sustainable development and an emphasis on relations with individuals and the private sector, may be seen as a threat to the provinces. A very subtle threat, which nevertheless reveals the cavalier approach of a federal government that uses this diversion to satisfy its hunger for centralism. In fact, the federal government increasingly resorts to this kind of strategy to get around the provinces and encroach on a number of areas.

As far as the environment is concerned, this approach is both unfortunate and dangerous. The federal government's record is not outstanding in this respect, and centralism does not tend to produce quick results where they are needed. We must not forget that the environment is out there, not in the offices of Ottawa's bureaucrats.

We think that before making any claims that they can do a better job, federal departments should start by complying with provincial legislation. The environment is one area where the provinces played a very active role well before the federal government did so. In fact, the Constitution confers on them a role that is more important than that of the federal government which, over the years, has used and abused its spending power in provincial jurisdictions. Ever since the federal government broke this delicate balance in the middle of the eighties, the result has been overlapping jurisdictions, conflicting objectives and costly duplication.

Fortunately, in Quebec, on October 30, Quebecers will decide to make their own country. Our environment will no longer be at the mercy of the federal government and will be able to breath easier.

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1 p.m.

Reform

Bill Gilmour Reform Comox—Alberni, BC

Mr. Speaker, before I get into talking about the bill I would like to make a few comments about the previous speaker, my colleague from the Bloc.

I find it most interesting that the Bloc would want the federal government to bow out of environment on the federal arena. However it is quite prepared to accept Canadian tax dollars to raise

the Irving Whale . This is part of the double message, the double standard. I expect it is some of the nonsense that we will have to put up with over the next six weeks from Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition.

A similar issue is the pensions. Bloc members want out of the country but they sure do not want out of the pension plan. They are quite prepared to accept it.

To get back to the bill we are talking about today, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak on the bill to amend the Auditor General Act. I want to make clear from the outset that the Reform Party supports efforts that balance economic and environmental considerations to maintain a clean and healthy environment for future generations.

We are into the third session of the 35th Parliament. Yet to date the government has been visibly lacking in its environmental initiatives. A recent study by the National Centre for Economic Alternatives ranks Canada as the second worst in deterioration of land, air and water. We have seen little action from the minister to address this situation. We have heard plenty of rhetoric but have seen very little action to address key environmental concerns.

Bill C-83 is one of the very few initiatives the Minister of the Environment has announced and it is far from revolutionary. Bill C-83 amends the Auditor General Act to create the position of commissioner of the environment.

The commissioner of the environment was one of the initial undertakings of the standing committee. This bill comes to the House after a lengthy process of consultation with witnesses before being sent to the minister. During committee I listened with members on both sides of the House to witnesses who came forward with recommendations on what role and which responsibilities the new position of an environmental auditor general should take.

At the end of the hearings the recommendations were consolidated and I worked with members of the committee to sort out and weigh the various recommendations. We put together a standing committee report of recommendations which was then forwarded to the Minister of the Environment last year.

It was a long process of deliberation. I commend the many members and witnesses who contributed to the process. I am also pleased to say that for the most part the members of the standing committee on the environment were able to put aside partisan politics to work for a common goal: to establish the role of a commissioner of the environment.

It is unfortunate, however, when so much time, effort and expense goes into these studies and committee reports that the end result is barely acknowledged by the minister in the resultant legislation.

Representatives are flown in from all over the country at taxpayers' expense to present their concerns to the committee. One of the roles of standing committees is to listen to and consult with people on government initiatives and bills before the House, a role which has been widely abused by this and previous governments. It is unfortunate that the process of consultation under this government is somewhat meaningless.

Despite any decisions made by the parliamentary committee or any feedback from Canadians while the government is on the road supposedly consulting with people, the bottom line remains that decisions are still made behind closed doors at the whim of the cabinet. It is particularly disappointing to note that very little of Bill C-83 reflects what was contained in the recommendations of the parliamentary committee presented to the environment minister last year.

Why have a lengthy consultation process when the minister is going to ignore the results?

If the bill is representative of the minister's initiatives on the environment it speaks volumes. Members on both sides of the House proposed a number of excellent recommendations regarding the commissioner of the environment, most of which the minister chose to ignore in the bill.

When the Canadian public has had the opportunity to examine the bill they will conclude that it accomplishes particularly little to protect the environment. It is little wonder Canadians have criticized the minister for coming up short on her accomplishments. Clearly this legislation is not the answer to environmental concerns.

Canadians are waiting for the government to take charge and pass reasoned, meaningful legislation, not bills like this one which is completely lacking in substance and will do very little to change the status quo on environment.

It should be noted that the commissioner of the environment was not only a committee recommendation but also a Liberal red book election promise which the minister again fails to deliver.

The environment committee made several recommendations for the office of the commissioner of the environment, 17 in total. The Reform Party supported the initiative. Yet few of the committee recommendations have been followed through in the bill which barely resembles the intent of the parliamentary submission presented to the environment minister.

For example, the standing committee recommended that the office of the commissioner of the environment and sustainable

development be established by new and separate legislation. However the bill is an amendment to the Auditor General Act. The bill is neither a new nor a separate piece of legislation.

The government promised in its red book that it would appoint an environmental auditor. The bill does not do that. It creates in legislation the position of a clerk who reports to the auditor general, a clerk with a limited role and with very few powers, not anything remotely close to an independent environmental auditor.

The standing committee on the environment recommended that the government establish a new office designated the commissioner of the environment and sustainable development. The legislation does not establish a new office.

The commissioner of the environment is clearly not an independent environmental auditor general but a clerk reporting to the auditor general who will assist with environmental issues. It is not independent. It is not powerful. It is a clerk.

I am sure the auditor general already has several assistants to help him with environmental issues. I question the need to entrench the position in legislation, especially given the limited mandate spelled out in the legislation. The government has severely reduced the scope and extent of the position by establishing the commissioner of the environment within the offices of the auditor general in a position.

I can question how much if any the new position will actually change the status quo. The auditor general already responds to environmental issues. Now he has his new clerk entrenched in legislation to help him with the issues. This does not change anything.

The red book promised the environmental auditor general would report directly to Parliament. This was also recommended by the standing committee. Again the government has reneged on its promise. The bill comes up short of fulfilling this promise. Bill C-83 proposes the new assistant to the auditor general will report to the auditor general, not to Parliament as promised. When the commissioner reports to Parliament it is through the auditor general, not as an independent body.

The committee also recommended that the commissioner submit an annual report to Parliament. The bill proposes that the commissioner's annual report to Parliament will be on behalf of the auditor general who does the same thing. Appointing an assistant to speak for the auditor general hardly changes the status quo.

Another recommendation from the standing committee on the environment which the minister has ignored is that all reports produced by the commissioner be referred automatically to the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development or to one or more parliamentary committees if the subject matter of the report makes it appropriate or necessary. Again there is nothing in the bill to support the committee recommendations.

Within the duties of the commissioner of the environment the only reports the commissioner will be making to Parliament on behalf of the auditor general will be related to the status of environmental petitions brought to the attention of government and the status of departmental sustainable strategies. The bill does not empower the commissioner of the environment to report on much more than these two items.

In addition, the role of reporting on departmental sustainable development strategies is not a new initiative of the government. It was tried before when the last government attempted to establish an office that would report on the status of departmental sustainable development strategies. This office was called the office of environmental stewardship. Its mandate was to carry out environmental audits of federal departments and agencies in co-operation with the office of the comptroller general. The details and funding arrangements were all laid out in the green plan. This April we learned that the plug had been pulled on the green plan. It appears that this same office created by the last government has been dismissed by this government and reintroduced as a new initiative. The games they play in the tired politics of the old line parties.

The committee also recommended that the commissioner be granted in legislation adequate access to information powers commensurate with his or her mandate. Given that the mandate for the commissioner is so weak clearly explains why the bill contains no such recommendations.

The minister also completely ignored the committee recommendation for the commissioner to have the discretionary powers to appoint individuals to one or more advisory committees to assist the office in the performance of its duties. This committee recommendation has been completely ignored.

The committee also recommended that legislation to appoint the commissioner should be with the approval of Parliament. Instead the bill allows the auditor general to appoint the commissioner in accordance with the Public Service Employment Act. Actually, this is one recommendation of the minister which merits serious consideration because in this instance it may eliminate the potential for a patronage appointment, an area where this government has been so free. By allowing the auditor general to appoint a commissioner of the environment the position will be more at arm's length from the government.

There is nothing in the bill that outlines the term or length of office for the commissioner. The standing committee recommended that the position be held for a term of five years which may

be reviewed only once, in other words a 10 year maximum. The position would have a specified length of term. By allowing the position to be renewed only once would prevent a monopoly of the position and would allow fresh new ideas to be injected into the position on a regular basis.

There is nothing in the bill which addresses the recommendation that the commissioner be paid a salary equivalent to that of a judge of the supreme court. However, the salary of course is based on the role and mandate of an independent, effective position. Given the measly powers and responsibilities of the position, such a salary clearly is not warranted.

There is nothing in the bill that subjects the commissioner's office to a parliamentary review. The committee recommended that the office be subject to a review every five years by Parliament. This would allow members of Parliament to evaluate the effectiveness and usefulness of the position. It is clearly evident that the minister has failed to carry through on this recommendation in her bill. Such a clause could be contained in the bill to ensure accountability. If the role is not effective or necessary after five years a new government may wish to review and reconsider the position. I suggest the government consider this.

The red book also promised that the environmental auditor general would have "powers of investigation similar to the powers of the auditor general". Yet in this bill the responsibility for reporting on environmental issues remains with the auditor general, not with a new body. The only powers of investigation that the new commissioner on the environment will have in the proposed legislation will be those designated by his boss.

The government is backtracking on another red book promise. Obviously, as assistant to the auditor general the commissioner of the environment does not have the same powers as his boss to whom he reports. Whether issues are reported through the auditor general or the auditor general's assistant, the commissioner of the environment, it is still up to the auditor general to decide whether action will be taken.

The government is not bound to any of the recommendations of the auditor general nor is it required to make a formal response to the auditor general's report. As a result-and we are well aware of this-many recommendations in the auditor general's reports have been ignored for years by governments which would rather not recognize the problems or act on the solutions.

The Liberal red book criticized the Conservatives for their lack of action in the area of environmental assessment, yet this government refuses to conduct a full environmental assessment of critical environmental hot spots such as the Sydney tar ponds in Nova Scotia. It appears the gap between rhetoric and action is as evident with the Liberals as it was with the Conservatives.

The Minister of the Environment has complained that she cannot perform her job without public pressure. Why then does the minister not create a real position for the commissioner of the environment with powers to put some pressure on her department which she is having so much difficulty handling?

The standing committee proposed to create a separate, independent office of the commissioner of the environment that would have real powers and would be responsible to report directly to the House. The legislation fails to meet the fundamental goals of the standing committee and of the Liberal red book of election promises.

It is high time the government came clean on its election promises. The changes proposed in Bill C-83 to amend the Auditor General Act are simply cosmetic. It is all just a big show from the Liberals in an attempt to fool the public into thinking they are actually doing something when clearly they are not. The bill is nothing but fluff. It accomplishes little.

The government made a number of promises to Canadians. It is becoming very apparent that it cannot or has no intention of keeping promises such as establishing this position. It is time the government came clean on its agenda. If government is going to encourage others to clean up their act, it is time it started putting its own house in order.

From the failure of the government to establish a real environmental auditor general, or a real ethics commissioner for that matter, to the failure of individual members across the way to resist the draw of the pension trough, the picture is clear: the government has no intention of keeping many of its promises to the people of Canada.

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1:20 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Kilger)

We will now move to the next stage of debate where members will be entitled to a maximum of 20 minutes in their interventions subject to a 10-minute question or comment period.

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1:20 p.m.

Lachine—Lac-Saint-Louis Québec

Liberal

Clifford Lincoln LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Environment

Mr. Speaker, to begin with, I would comment very briefly on a remark by the hon. member for Laurentides, who, when speaking on behalf of the official opposition, accused the minister of partisan politics. I could not help noting the irony of her remark in a debate on an environment bill when she talked about the Quebec referendum and the Ogilvie mills, of her lengthy remarks concerning the Irving Whale and of course of the usual litany on centralizing federalism with all its sins and evils.

Even more ironically, while accusing the minister of partisan politics, she herself admitted that the minister chose the option put

forward by the Bloc Quebecois as the official minority, rather than the option put forward by the Liberal majority.

I believe that Canadians, including Quebecers, want to set aside this sort of unproductive debate. Everyone agrees that environmental concerns transcend political referendum disputes and so-called centralizing federalism. For this reason, I am going to avoid talking about this sort of thing and keep to the subject of Bill C-83.

In 1987, I had the honour of being a member of the Canadian delegation to the United Nations when Prime Minister Brundtland submitted her famous report on the environment and the economy, known today as the Brundtland report. She was followed at the podium by the president of the Maldive Islands, Mr. Abdul Gayoom, who remains the president today.

The Maldives are an archipelago of some 100 islands south of India in the Indian Ocean. Describing his country in the words of the great Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl as jewels on a cushion of blue-the Indian Ocean-he said that his country and its magnificent islands were not hit by storms and adverse weather conditions until the 1980s. They were inundated by enormous waves in 1984 and 1985 and then again in 1986 and 1987-for the first time in their history. These waves became increasingly violent, bringing about distress, destruction and casualties. Everybody there was asking the representatives of industrialized countries: "Do we, innocent people of the Maldives, have to pay the price for the destruction you caused, for the harm you did to the environment, for the greenhouse effect, for all the environmental problems for which we are totally blameless and for the consequences of your actions?"

I submit this is a fundamental problem and that, as a rich country with unparalleled natural resources, we must set an example for the world, especially for the developing countries which have to endure the consequences of the actions taken by industrialized countries. We must show the world that sustainable development is more than just words.

We have to start practising what we preach on the international scene. Sustainable development must never be just a catchword. It must never be that kind of convenient buzz word that makes us escape from the realities of having to integrate economy and environment in a realistic and true fashion.

If the federal government does not practise sustainable development in all its day to day doings in its act of governing the country then how can it expect its citizens to do the same? How can it expect municipalities and provincial governments to practise sustainable development if it does not show the example itself?

This is why in 1993 in the red book the Liberal Party of Canada devoted a total chapter on sustainable development. One of the key parts of that chapter was to install a commissioner of the environment. In the red book the idea was such that it be linked to the office of the auditor general of the environment.

I am very pleased this is becoming a reality with Bill C-83. We will become the second country in the world to install a commissioner of environment and sustainable development after the leading example of New Zealand several years ago.

This new office will have significant powers. Beyond the significant powers of the office, the very existence of the office of a commissioner of environment and sustainable development sends a powerful signal not only within the government itself but beyond the government into the reaches of Canadian society. They now know there will be somebody there, a monitor, an ombudsman, who will devote his or her duties to the environment and sustainable development in making sure the government itself practises what it preaches.

The Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development held hearings for several months on that topic. Our colleague from Davenport really deserves to be congratulated for his sensible and really inspiring leadership. In fact, our committee had recommended that an independent commissioner of the environment and sustainable development be designated, a position similar to that of the Commissioner of Official Languages, but the government went with the suggestion made by the official opposition, to set up a commissioner of the environment and sustainable development within the office of the auditor general.

Despite the fact that the government did not choose the option recommended by the committee, I think-even though I was a member of the committee-that it is a major step forward. Today, with Bill C-83, we are creating this position of commissioner, which becomes irreversible. With the appointment of the commissioner, two years from now each government department will be required by law to table in the House a sustainable development strategy.

These strategies will have to be updated every three years and the revised strategies will also have to be tabled before Parliament. So, Parliament will be accountable to the Canadian people for all these sustainable development strategies in the future.

It is a tremendous departure for the Canadian public that in the future every ministry of government will have not only to produce a strategy of sustainable development but also be responsible to the commissioner for its being monitored, its being followed up very

closely to ensure that it really responds to the reality of truly integrating economy and environment in our governance.

Further, the public can now intervene with the commissioner. The public can send petitions to the commissioner if it does not agree with government policy or government programs relating to environment and sustainable development. The commissioner will transmit the petitions to the ministers and the ministers will be bound by this bill, Bill C-83, to respond to the commissioner within a reasonable delay so that the public at large will feel very truly that in the commissioner for environment and sustainable development it has an ally, an ombudsman, somebody it can turn to at all times and in complete open freedom.

The commissioner will have to table before the House an annual report to Parliament. This annual report will give the status of each department regarding its sustainable development strategy.

Furthermore, the report of the commissioner will have to give details of all the petitions he has received from the Canadian public, what action has been taken, and what response the ministers have given in regard to these petitions.

The key issue here is if this commissioner of environment and sustainable development will be truly independent and have the necessary powers, autonomy, independence to ensure that he or she is listened to and that the public feels that through this office it has a voice and a say.

The best answer to this is that we will now have to amend the law of the auditor general. I think all Canadians are fully satisfied to date about the independence, the autonomy, the openness of the auditor general to freely criticize government when he or she feels that criticism is deserved and that criticism is carried far and wide into the land and the government pays heed. I am convinced that it will be the case with the commissioner for environment and sustainable development and that the commissioner will have the full independence and autonomy that he or she deserves on behalf of the Canadian public.

We have just undergone work on behalf of the committee on the environment and sustainable development under the leadership of the member for Davenport on a massive review of the mainstay of Canadian environmental legislation at the federal level, the Canadian Environmental Protection Act. This review has touched on the various aspects of what must guide the environmental cause in the future: the fact that we cannot govern ourselves now in little compartments, that ecosystems mean that everything is connected with everything else and we human beings are connected with the ecosystems, that without this interconnection, this interdependence of all the elements that form the ecosystems and bioregions, economic development or profit is impossible. You cannot plant trees in a desert. You cannot use water if the stream has dried up.

We who are blessed with natural resources beyond compare have a duty to guide ourselves in the future so that instead of short term we look to what our aboriginal brothers and sisters say: seven generations ahead. We really truly believe, as they do, that a healthy mother earth provides a healthy quality of life but a sick mother earth makes us sick as well.

I believe that the CEPA review, having put out all these new ideas into the realm of the Canadian public today, will see in the office of the commissioner of environment and sustainable development a tremendous opportunity for these ideas gaining ground in actual governance inside the federal system.

I believe the time has come for us to realize that we cannot be the society of waste we have been. We cannot continue to be the society of overuse of energy. We must live differently. We must find new ways of production. We cannot toxify and harm our natural resources forever without suffering the consequences. This is why this bill is so important to all of us today.

I was listening to the official opposition with all its litany of partisan politics about the referendum. I have always believed and my experience has shown me, as a politician in Quebec and also at the federal level, that the environment is the greatest binding thread among people because it knows no colour, it knows no race, no creed, no physical boundary. The environment is all of us. It is life itself. It is whatever sustains life and living. It is a tremendous binding force for good.

I think at this time especially we should reflect on the tremendous binding force the environment can be among Canadians. If we really truly believe in the environmental cause, in quality of life, in the seven generations, then we will back Bill C-83 with great conviction. I am convinced that it will change the way we govern ourselves. It will lead to change in the way we act and live as citizens so that we will look to our natural resources to be there not only when we ourselves grow old but for the generations to come.

It is with great conviction that I will vote for Bill C-83.

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1:35 p.m.

NDP

Len Taylor NDP The Battlefords—Meadow Lake, SK

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to be able to be here today to take part in the debate and listen to the hon. parliamentary secretary respond to the bill before us.

The parliamentary secretary make a couple of important notations in his remarks to the House. He talked about sustainable development being more than just words. Obviously all of us agree

with that. The whole activity of working toward sustainability must be more than just words. It must be seen to be happening, not just heard to be happening. Governments often are not trusted because they say things that cannot be seen.

The committee did a tremendous amount of work on this, as the parliamentary secretary has already indicated. In his remarks he referred to Canada now being only the second country in the world to install a commissioner of the environment. He pointed out that New Zealand was the first country to have a commissioner.

The point I wish to address my question to is the concept of sustainable development being more than words. The New Zealand model for a commissioner is much different from the model being put forward in Bill C-83. Helen Hughes, the commissioner of the evironment for New Zealand, appeared before the parliamentary committee and said at the time that she would find it very difficult to operate without being able to look at government policy. The commissioner of the environment in New Zealand has the ability to look at government policy, has the ability to look ahead.

Bill C-83 simply gives the commissioner of the environment within the auditor general's department the ability to look at what government has done and tell us whether we have made a mistake, not to tell us where we have to go and how to get there, not to look at the future, the seven generations the member spoke about.

I wonder if the minister could tell us how he can talk about New Zealand as a model to look up to and then indicate his support for Bill C-83, which does not come close to the New Zealand model.

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1:40 p.m.

Liberal

Clifford Lincoln Liberal Lachine—Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for the question and also for the very significant contribution he made to our committee when we studied this question. All of us on the committee were truly grateful for his presence and his contribution.

I concede that we did not go as far as our report suggested. Sometimes politics is the art of the feasible. However, I think it is a significant start toward the New Zealand model.

The commissioner will have the task of ensuring that every ministry of the government will have to table before the House within two years strategies for sustainable development. Strategies for sustainable development as such obviously will touch on policy and programs because sustainable development is effectively how we integrate the economy to the environment within a framework.

As the Minister of the Environment stated, environment will not be carried just by the Minister of the Environment in the traditional sense; every ministry will become a sustainable development ministry. Furthermore, by law it will have to produce to Parliament within two years a strategy of sustainable development.

This is looking forward and not backward. Obviously the strategies will look to the future. If at the time the strategies are tabled in Parliament Canadians or parliamentarians are not satisfied, the commissioner will be subject to petitions on every aspect of these strategies. He will have the power to report once a year to Parliament on the status of these stratgies, which will have to be updated every three years through Parliament.

Therefore, I do believe it is a significiant step forward. It may not go as far as the New Zealand model, considering that New Zealand is a country of 3 million people and we are a country 10 times larger and far more complex. At the same time, I am convinced that it is a significant step forward.

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1:40 p.m.

Liberal

Charles Caccia Liberal Davenport, ON

Mr. Speaker, I also have a question for the parliamentary secretary.

As he heard earlier, the hon. member for Laurentides spoke at length about an assumption of hers. She stated that the federal government is using the environment as a means of concentrating power in a big way in its own hands. I would like the parliamentary secretary in order to tell us what he thinks about the point made by the hon. member for Laurentides.

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1:45 p.m.

Liberal

Clifford Lincoln Liberal Lachine—Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will be brief. As an environmentalist of many years, as someone who has spent most of his political life standing up for the environment, I must say that wherever I go in Canada, whether it be in British Columbia, in Newfoundland or especially in Quebec where I laboured for most of my political career, including three years as Minister of the Environment, whenever I talk to environmentalists or environmental groups, I realize that they do not make any distinction between the federal government and the provincial government, when the environment is at stake.

All they want is for things to work out. All they want is a collective approach where everyone can work together.

I know there has been duplication and overlap at times. It is unavoidable in a government system like ours. But at the same time, given all the positive work that has been done for the environment these last few years, and the very fact that the Council of Ministers of Environment has become a worthwhile body which meets regularly, I think it would be a total exaggeration to say that the federal government is using the environment to infringe upon provincial areas of jurisdiction. In fact, I think we should put this issue aside and find ways to turn the environment into a major cause that could rally all of us, because for the sake of the environment, we must all work together. Otherwise, we are doomed to failure.

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1:45 p.m.

NDP

Len Taylor NDP The Battlefords—Meadow Lake, SK

Mr. Speaker, to follow up on my previous comments and questions, again I thank the parliamentary secretary for his kind words about my work on the committee. I did enjoy the work on the committee.

I have congratulated the committee on its work since the report was brought forward. The committee certainly did a tremendous amount of work. I congratulate the chairperson and the parliamentary secretary for their activity with regard to the committee as well. I wish the government had listened to the committee's recommendations because obviously we would be in a better position today with regard to this bill.

My question has to do with the departmental strategies the parliamentary secretary talked about. The bill asks the auditor general for the environment to look at departmental strategies. The bill gives the departmental officials two years to write those strategies and then exempts them from redoing it again for another three years. Does the parliamentary secretary know the purpose of the auditor general for the first two years while the departmental people are writing these strategies we are all supposed to be so excited about?

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1:45 p.m.

Liberal

Clifford Lincoln Liberal Lachine—Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member raises an important point which has also been raised by the official opposition. Obviously during the first two years the commissioner will have to set up the office and will have to organize the whole work of the auditor general's department relating to the environment.

Today the auditor general carries out a significant amount of work on the question of environment and sustainable development. The commissioner will take over this work and will assist the auditor general in carrying out this work further.

Also, the bill provides a very important function which cannot be lessened or minimized which is the power of Canadians to be able to submit petitions to the commissioner about government performance in sustainable development. These petitions from Canadians will certainly go forward and the commissioner will have to deal with them.

The two years are a very wise investment in time. At least the office will be well prepared to deal with infractions that will ensue and will also help the auditor general with his important work on environment and sustainable development.

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1:50 p.m.

Bloc

Jean-Guy Chrétien Bloc Frontenac, QC

Mr. Speaker, the purpose of the legislation we are discussing this morning, that is Bill C-83, is to amend the Auditor General Act so as, first, to ensure that environmental considerations in the context of sustainable development are taken into account in the auditor general's reports to the House of Commons. Second, it provides for the appointment of a Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development. Third, it imposes requirements for responding to petitions received by the auditor general about federal environmental matters in the context of sustainable development.

So that it be clear for all constituents, a petition does not necessarily have to be signed by hundreds of people. A complaint made by only one person will be processed normally as if it were endorsed by one or two thousand people.

Four, it requires monitoring and reporting to the House of Commons on petitions and the extent to which departments have met the objectives, and implemented the plans set out in their sustainable development strategies. Fifth and finally, to require each department to establish and table in the House a strategy for sustainable development.

By tabling the bill in this House, the Liberal government across the way will be able to claim that it is respecting one of its campaign commitments as set out in the red book. In this connection, the red book stated-if I may, I shall repeat the exact quote that the Minister of the Environment gave a few minutes ago-that a Liberal government will "appoint an Environmental Auditor General, reporting directly to Parliament, with powers of investigations similar to the powers of the Auditor General. This office would report annually to the public on how successfully federal programs and spending are supporting the shift to sustainable development. The report would also evaluate the implementation and enforcement of federal environmental laws. Individuals could petition the Environmental Auditor General to conduct special investigations when they see environmental policies or laws being ignored or violated". End of quote from the famous red book which, incidentally, has become very rare and therefore worth its weight in gold.

The red book is now being kept hidden away under the counter, and it is very difficult for anyone outside the Liberal Party to get a copy.

It was, however, at the suggestion of members of the opposition that the government decided to modify the Auditor General Act to integrate the position of Environmental Auditor General. Let us indicate right at the outset that the Deputy Prime Minister would have liked this position of Environmental Auditor General to report to her department, no doubt out of a desire to build up her influence within her government or her party, or maybe both. But that is another story we can get to later in more detail.

Here I would like to make a parenthetical remark. A few minutes, a few seconds ago, the parliamentary secretary to the Minister of the Environment stated in his response to one of my colleagues that the environmentalists and ecologists wanted things to work out.

He says he is convinced that there is some overlap and duplication in terms of public servants, services and money, but what people, and particularly ecologists, really want is for the operation

to work. I am almost tempted to tell the parliamentary secretary to the Minister of the Environment that we too hope it will work. I remind him that it was 25 years just a few days ago that the Irving Whale , a barge full of oil, sank off the Magdalen Islands and PEI. At the end of June, we learned that there was not only bunker crude oil but also PCB-contaminated oil in the wreck.

That oil is leaking, slowly but surely, in the Atlantic ocean. If the hon. member is so intent on making it work, then he should take action. He awarded a contract in the spring and the operation was supposed to go smoothly. Yet, the barge is still at the bottom of the ocean and hundreds of litres of bunker crude oil are leaking from it. Again, if the hon. member really wants the operation to work, he should take measures not only to pump the bunker crude oil out, but also to get the Irving Whale out of there.

With leave, I will carry on after question period, but for now I will conclude by reminding the hon. member of the St. Lawrence action plan, phases I and II. The government took $6.5 million allocated to phase II and invested that money in Miramichi, several hundreds of kilometres away from the St. Lawrence River. This is the vision of the federal environment department.

Indeed, a good part of the money allocated to clean the St. Lawrence River, that is $6.5 million out of $20 million, was spent in Miramichi, New Brunswick.

Such examples must be brought to light daily in the House of Commons. I will get back to the green plan after question period.

Auditor General ActGovernment Orders

1:55 p.m.

The Speaker

It being 2 p.m., pursuant to Standing Order 30(5), the House will now proceed to statements by members pursuant to Standing Order 31.

1999 World Rowing ChampionshipsStatements By Members

1:55 p.m.

Liberal

Walt Lastewka Liberal St. Catharines, ON

Mr. Speaker, on August 17, St. Catharines stood before the world's international rowing body representing Canada's bid for the 1999 World Rowing Championships.

Canada won the right to host the biggest world rowing event in 1999. The federal government played a leading role in the success of the bid. The community, local fundraisers and other levels of government will also assist in ensuring this project is a success.

The 1999 World Rowing Championships will bring millions of dollars and hundreds of jobs to Canada. The event will bring the athletes, coaches and media of some 40 countries. It will be the final event in a summer long rowing festival in Canada including the Pan American Games in Winnipeg, the Canada Cup in Montreal, the Commonwealth Regatta in London, the Regatta of the Americas in Welland and the Royal Canadian Henley and the World's in St. Catharines.

I thank all my colleagues for the wonderful support they have given in putting this bid forward. Canada's reputation in rowing is known and respected around the world.

Status Of WomenStatements By Members

1:55 p.m.

Bloc

Christiane Gagnon Bloc Québec, QC

Mr. Speaker, through my participation in the NGO Forum and in the World Conference on Women, I consider it a privilege to have witnessed the dynamism and proud determination of women everywhere to improve their living conditions. The Secretary of State for the Status of Women who headed the Canadian delegation made a commitment on behalf of her government to promote the equality of women via the plan for gender equality.

On the strength of those promises, I invite the Canadian government to translate words into actions and to immediately adopt measures to create employment, daycare services, social justice and measures to ensure employment equity as well, bearing in mind those areas that are under provincial jurisdiction.

One thing is certain; with sovereignty, Quebec would finally hold all of the powers necessary to continue to act in the best interests of women.

Reform Party Of CanadaStatements By Members

1:55 p.m.

Lethbridge Alberta

Reform

Ray Speaker ReformLethbridge

Mr. Speaker, as Parliament returns for its fall session, the country faces a number of important challenges: health care reform, tax reform, pension reform, UI reform. Yet none of these issues are on the government's fall agenda. Why? Because the government has been hijacked by the Quebec referendum.

We in the Reform Party refuse to be silenced by the separatists. We will be the national opposition party, offering solutions to the real problems that face the country.

Our medicare-plus proposal will give provincial governments the funding and flexibility they need. Our flat tax proposal will revolutionize the tax system of the country. Our super RRSP proposal will personalize retirement planning.

The message is clear. If neither the Liberals nor the Bloc will speak on behalf of all Canadians, the Reform Party will. We have the people, we have the plan and we have the will to confront the tough issues.

Ports CanadaStatements By Members

1:55 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Elsie Wayne Progressive Conservative Saint John, NB

Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Transport with his new marine strategy is considering a recommendation concerning the policing of Canada's ports.

A recommendation that local ports simply use municipal police forces or private security firms is just not adequate. The Canadian Association of Police Chiefs has expressed its concerns and has stated that Ports Canada police officers are specialists in their field, they are trained and knowledgeable in national and international crimes such as drug trafficking, illegal immigration and terrorist activities.

Chief Sherwood of the Saint John Police Department has said that he does not want the extra responsibility nor does he have the manpower or the expertise.

I ask, for the safety and security of our country, that the recommendation concerning port policing not be endorsed by the government and that the port policing continue to be funded and operated under federal jurisdiction.

Hants County Youth For YouthStatements By Members

1:55 p.m.

Liberal

John Murphy Liberal Annapolis Valley—Hants, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to recognize the efforts of the Hants County Youth for Youth, a group working in my riding of Annapolis Valley-Hants.

Under the Youth Service Canada program, this dynamic group is working to meet local community needs by focusing on a youth newsletter, a project in tourism and to establish a youth centre, which will officially open September 30.

In return, these participants are gaining valuable experience in communication, personal development, entrepreneurial skills and community development. I am proud of the efforts of these young people.

I want also to thank the Hants West District School Board and their partners, the Windsor Plains Recreation and Social Development Committee and the Hants Shore Community Health Centre for making this program a success.

I would ask that all members of the House join me in congratulating everyone involved in the Hants County Youth for Youth program.

New BrunswickStatements By Members

1:55 p.m.

Liberal

Guy Arseneault Liberal Restigouche—Chaleur, NB

Mr. Speaker, just a week ago, Frank McKenna led the Liberals to a third victory in a row, forming a majority government.

New Brunswickers gave the McKenna government the mandate to carry on with its action plan based on job creation, a plan showing that New Brunswick is always at the forefront.

I would like to congratulate all the elected MLAs, especially those from my riding: Jean-Paul Savoie, Restigouche West; Edmond Blanchard, Campbellton; Carolle de Ste. Croix, Dalhousie Restigouche East; Albert Doucet, Nigadoo-Chaleur and Alban Landry, Nepisiguit who all won their seats, keeping Restigouche-Chaleur Liberal red.

I am also proud to say that the Confederation of Regions Party, an anti-bilingual and regionally based party, was wiped off the electoral map. Let this be a warning to the regional parties in the House: Canadians have had their fill of one issue and regionally based parties.

Small BusinessStatements By Members

September 18th, 1995 / 1:55 p.m.

Liberal

Andy Mitchell Liberal Parry Sound—Muskoka, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to recognize and compliment the newly named Business Development Bank of Canada for creating a new micro business loan for small business.

This program is aimed at helping both existing and new small businesses with amounts up to $25,000. It will help ensure that the entrepreneurial spirit in Canada is encouraged and that ideas that will lead to new businesses and new employment will not be starved for lack of capital.

An important component of this program is training. All participants will be required to demonstrate their ability to handle the financial aspects of operating a small business.

This is an example of the bank's new role as a complementary lender. It is an example of the government's commitment to small business and it is an example of how government can create an environment in which the private sector can create jobs. I applaud this initiative.

Creating A Quebec-Canada PartnershipStatements By Members

2:05 p.m.

Bloc

Jean-Paul Marchand Bloc Québec-Est, QC

Mr. Speaker, last weekend a CROP poll reminded us once again that 50 per cent of Canadians are open to a partnership with Quebec after a yes vote.

Beyond the unyielding stance of politicians who do not want to have anything to do with any kind of association with a sovereign Quebec, the people show plain common sense, realism and pragmatism. As a matter of fact, half of the respondents agree that the rest of Canada should maintain an economic and political association with a sovereign Quebec.

This should be no surprise for government members. Even before the federalist scare campaign, the majority of Canadians outside Quebec said they were in favour of maintaining an economic association. As we can see, they have not changed their mind. The Canadian people knows where its true economic interests lie.

Expo 2005Statements By Members

2:05 p.m.

Reform

Jan Brown Reform Calgary Southeast, AB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate the city of Calgary. After many months of hard work and patience, Calgary has won the competition to host Expo 2005.

The bid committee for Ottawa-Hull deserves tremendous credit and congratulations for all the work it did on its bid. The healthy, high quality competition only serves to raise the performance of Calgary as it moves on to compete internationally to bring Expo 2005 to Canada.

On behalf of Canada, Calgary will make its submission au Bureau des Expositions Internationales, a winning bid that will make all Canadians proud.

I would like to congratulate again all participants in the competition to host Expo. Calgary, Alberta and the federal government must now work together to win the international competition for Calgary to be a good hostess to Expo 2005. Once Canada has won the right to host Expo 2005, I would like to invite everybody to celebrate with us in Calgary.