House of Commons Hansard #226 of the 35th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was mmt.


Government Response To PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10 a.m.

Kingston and the Islands Ontario


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

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 36(8), I have the honour to table, in both official languages, the government's response to 76 petitions.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10 a.m.


Tom Wappel Liberal Scarborough West, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have several petitions to present today with well over 2,500 signatures from all across Canada but primarily from the province of Ontario.

The petitioners pray and request that Parliament not amend the Canadian Human Rights Act or the charter of rights and freedoms in any way which would tend to indicate societal approval of same sex relationships or of homosexuality, including amending the Canadian Human Rights Act to include in the prohibited grounds of discrimination the undefined phrase of sexual orientation.

Questions On The Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10 a.m.

Kingston and the Islands Ontario


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

Mr. Speaker, I would ask that all questions be allowed to stand.

Questions On The Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is that agreed?

Questions On The Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10 a.m.

Some hon. members


Explosives ActGovernment Orders

10 a.m.

Scarborough East Ontario


Doug Peters Liberalfor the Minister of Natural Resources

moved that Bill C-71, an act to amend the Explosives Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Explosives ActGovernment Orders

10 a.m.

Moncton New Brunswick


George S. Rideout LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Natural Resources

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I rise before you today to support Bill C-71, an act to amend the Explosives Act.

The Explosives Act is an act of public and worker safety which regulates the composition, quality and character of explosives as well as the manufacture, importation, sale, purchase, possession and storage of explosives.

The amendment to the Explosives Act is important for a number of very good reasons.

First, at the present time there is no way to detect plastic explosives at airports. This act proposes the marking of plastic explosives by adding a chemical which would be detected by equipment at Canada's international airports and thus ward off the threat of terrorism.

Second, this amendment will allow Canada to be among the first nations to ratify an international convention requested by the United Nations and co-ordinated by the International Civil Aviation Organization with respect to the marking of plastic explosives. This convention was signed in March 1991 by 40 countries and 14 countries have already ratified the convention. Five of these nations, Norway, Spain, Switzerland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, are producer states where plastic explosives are manufactured.

Third, given the fact that Canada is a world leader in vapour detection technology, Canadian equipment manufacturers will be

able to take advantage of international market opportunities for their products as more and more countries ratify the convention.

Fourth, Natural Resources Canada which maintains the authority to inspect and approve the manufacture, distribution and storage of explosives in Canada will be responsible for the application of measures to mark plastic explosives following the proclamation of this amendment.

Let me explain these reasons in greater detail. Members of the House will certainly remember the tragic events involving crashes of two passenger aircraft caused by the detonation of bombs made of plastic explosives. The first instance I wish to refer to involved Pan Am flight 103 from London which exploded over the small town of Lockerbie, Scotland. The other was UTA flight 772 which crashed in Niger, Africa. A total of 442 people were killed in these two crashes.

Then of course there were the Air India tragedies involving two 747 aircraft both of which began their journeys here in Canada. One crashed in the Atlantic Ocean south of the Republic of Ireland while the other miraculously made it to Narita International Airport in Tokyo, Japan, before a bomb made of plastic explosives blew up in the airport's baggage handling area. That bomb killed at least two innocent baggage handlers.

Although the cause of the first Air India crash has never been officially determined there is strong belief that it was the result of a plastic explosive device. In any case, plastic explosives have emerged as the weapon of choice for terrorist groups, both for bombing aircraft and other targets such as public buildings because this type of explosive is small, powerful, stable, malleable and most important, difficult to detect.

It is quite likely that if plastic explosives had been marked or tagged with a substance that could have been detected by equipment in Canadian airports it is almost certain that the Air India tragedies would have been avoided. Consequently, terrorists would be discouraged from attempting any attacks in Canada using plastic explosives.

For these reasons an international effort to mark plastic explosives for the purpose of detection was initiated by the United Nations and has been co-ordinated by the International Civil Aviation Organization. The resulting international convention requires states to ensure the marking of plastic explosives to enhance their detectability. At the same time the convention requires controls over the import, export, possession and transfer of marked plastic explosives and the destruction of most unmarked plastic explosives.

In March 1991 more than 70 states and six organizations attended a diplomatic conference where the convention on the marking of plastic explosives for the purpose of detection was adopted by consensus. Forty states, including Canada, signed this convention.

The main features of the convention are: only plastic explosives as defined in the convention are required to be marked; existing unmarked commercial stocks of plastic explosives are to be destroyed within three years; an international explosives technical commission will be created to assess technical developments; the cost of Canadian participation in such a commission will be low; and the convention will come into force after 35 states including five producer states have ratified it. Canada is one of the world's producer states and as I mentioned previously, we will be among the first countries to ratify this important convention.

It is evident that the proposed bill respects the terms of this convention. The proclamation of this amendment to the Explosives Act will ensure Canadian official ratification of this important international agreement.

Bill C-71 specifies that the explosives branch of Natural Resources Canada will take the lead role in the implementation of the provisions of the convention. Plastic explosives are manufactured by the private sector in Canada.

Following the proclamation of Bill C-71, Natural Resources Canada's explosives inspectors who issue explosives factory licences to the private sector under delegation from the minister will refuse to license any manufacturing operation to make unmarked plastic explosives.

Inspectors again under delegation from the minister will refuse import or export permits for unmarked plastic explosives. Inspectors could take samples of explosives to verify that they are marked and could seize and destroy unmarked shipments, unmarked stores or abandon unmarked quantities.

The explosives branch is best placed to determine the location of unmarked plastic explosives and to assure control over them through a stringent system of licensing which would be supported by regular compliance inspections. Regulations would require prior notification of change of ownership along with a statement of the details of the physical transfer.

The military agrees that it can, except in times of emergency, observe all of the terms of the convention. Unmarked stocks of plastic explosives would be incorporated in munitions or used up during field exercises on a priority basis.

Transport Canada, which is responsible for the operation of detection equipment at Canadian airports, has indicated that the current technology can detect the marked plastic explosives.

Further, the extra costs of producing detectable plastic explosives are expected to be negligible. The industry has been involved in efforts to develop substances to mark plastic explosives for the purpose of detection. Therefore the industry acknowledges that the impact of extra costs will not be serious. The industry, the Canadian police community and the military were all consulted

throughout the process to prepare this proposed amendment to the existing law.

The major consumer of plastic explosives in this country is the Canadian military. The construction industry is a relatively minor consumer using plastic explosives for the demolition of large buildings. Given this comparatively concentrated consumer base, it will be easy to monitor compliance with the amended act following proclamation.

While the Canadian military has a 10-year supply of unmarked plastic explosives, the convention on the marking of plastic explosives provides for a 15-year period of grace for ratifying nations to use or destroy unmarked plastic explosives.

In addition, given the low volume of plastic explosives compared to the volume of conventional industrial explosives, the challenge of enforcing the provisions of the proposed amendment and by extension the international convention will not pose a significant problem or cost to the respective regulatory bodies.

Finally, I wish to emphasize that Canada's position as a leader in the development of vapour detection technologies will be enhanced as a result of the ratification of this international convention.

In fact, increased foreign market penetration by Canadian equipment manufacturers is virtually a certainty. Therefore the proclamation of this amendment has the potential to help stimulate job creation and contribute to Canada's future economic growth.

In conclusion, this amendment to the Explosives Act clearly shows the Canadian government's will to provide good government. We are committed to doing our part to protect the health and safety of passengers aboard aircraft using Canadian airspace and to doing everything in our power in co-operation with our partners around the world to ward off the threat of terrorism in the skies above Canada and other countries.

Passage of this amendment will allow Canada to ratify an important international convention which sends a strong message to terrorist groups that plastic explosives will be detected by equipment in our airports.

Further, Canada's ratification of the convention will demonstrate our leadership among signatory nations and encourage them to follow our example. In addition Canada is contributing to the development of substances to mark plastic explosives for detection.

With the ratification of the convention by more and more nations, Canadian manufacturers of vapour detection equipment will also be able to take advantage of significant marketing opportunities.

As a result this proposed amendment to the Explosives Act will contribute to two major federal goals: job creation and Canadian economic growth. Moreover, the passage of this amendment will protect the health and safety of all Canadians.

I urge the House give speedy passage to this legislation.

Explosives ActGovernment Orders

10:15 a.m.


René Canuel Bloc Matapédia—Matane, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened carefully to what the hon. parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources had to say. It goes without saying that the Bloc Quebecois supports Bill C-71, an act to amend the Explosives Act, but I still have many questions to ask him.

I must admit that I was surprised when I saw Bill C-71 to amend the Explosives Act on the orders of the day. I was also surprised not so much by the bill itself, although one can easily wonder, but by the delay, the time it took the government to react. It should be pointed out that this bill implements the 1991 Montreal Convention. The Montreal Convention was produced at the March 1, 1991, meeting of the International Civil Aviation Organization.

The bill came five years later, give or take a month, considering that it was read for the first time on February 24. So, it took the government five years to produce a bill only a few pages long, two pages and a half to be more precise, giving the impression that this government is a bad student. Like some students, only a few, it put off doing its homework till the last minute, if not the last second. To look good in front of the international community, it has now seen fit, five years later, to make the Canadian explosives legislation consistent with the terms of the Montreal Convention.

The impression we get from that is that this government is not efficient. It seems to indicate that this government is no better in terms of efficiency than the previous one, which we gladly got rid of.

As we can see, this government is not efficient. Unfortunately, acting on the Montreal Convention is not the only area in which the government is not very efficient.

Unemployment remains high throughout the country in spite of election promises and other commitments. Regions in Quebec and Canada are still in an extremely difficult situation in spite of repeated promises. This government tells us day in and day out that it is concerned with the economy, yet the country is going from bad to worse.

With Bill C-71, the government is hoping to convince the public that it is deeply concerned with the problems associated with criminal use of explosives. If that were the case, it would be great.

One wonders however what purpose this bill is intended to serve. Note that I said the purpose of this bill, as opposed to that of the government, because in my view we must distinguish between the two.

Officially, the purpose of the Explosives Act is to ensure the public and workers' safety, and that is fine. It also regulates the ingredients, quality and properties of explosives as well as their manufacture, importation, sale, purchase, possession and storage.

Its scope even includes pyrotechnics commonly called fireworks. The act requires the marking of most plastic explosives, so as to detect them. It prohibits the manufacture, storage, possession, transportation, importation and exportation of unmarked plastic explosives.

The act also seeks to control the proliferation of plastic explosives used in terrorist incidents. It provides for exceptions which include research purposes, as well as police and military uses. These are the official objectives. However, from the outset, we can easily question the effectiveness of such a bill.

First, it must be remembered that the Montreal convention could not even be implemented because there were not enough signatories. Therefore, why bother marking our explosives if we are practically the only ones to do so? Sure, it can be argued that we should set an example. Canada has always been very good at that, but when we are faced with the reality, it is an altogether different matter.

Canada is a peaceful country, but it is also a major producer of military equipment and explosives. I would love to think that, with this bill, we will solve the problem of international terrorism and that tragedies such as the Air India bombing and the incidents currently occurring in France will never happen again. Unfortunately, I cannot be convinced that this will be the case, because not all countries of the world are members of the International Civil Aviation Organization.

Those countries that provide weapons and explosives to terrorists will be even more reluctant to sign such a convention. They will certainly not pass similar legislation. If they do, they will continue to act like hypocrites. They will continue to make unmarked explosives and to sell weapons and ammunition on the international market.

The government's only real objective is to save face and to make Quebecers and Canadians believe that they will be better protected. With this legislation, the government is trying to look better than the others; however, there is a huge gap between theory and reality. Indeed, the government's real objective is to give the impression that it is doing what it should at home and on the international scene. This enables it to publicly pat itself on the back, even though it is well aware that the problem will in no way be solved and that the safety of Canadians will not be improved at all.

As a matter of fact, this government has always created illusions: illusions regarding safety, better economic performance, debt reduction, greater social justice, etc. So, we are going to mark our explosives. We cannot go against virtue. Once explosives are marked in Canada, so as to make them easier to detect, terrorists will surely be scared to buy them. They will no longer dare bomb anything in Canada. They will no longer dare fly on our airlines and use our airports. At least this is what the government would like us to believe.

Let us be honest with Quebecers and Canadians. Let us tell them that we are in fact passing this bill to ease our conscience. What will terrorists do once our explosives are marked? You know as well as I do they will go buy explosives somewhere else, where they are not marked.

The question immediately arises: Who sells explosives to terrorists? The federal government has no answer to this question. However, we do know that Canada is used by many criminal organizations as a convenient gateway to North America. This is true, for instance, in the case of organizations linked to the drug trade. It is common knowledge. Canada has a lot of trouble controlling drug trafficking within its own borders.

Canada has always had and still has trouble controlling alcohol, tobacco and cigarette smuggling. And now we are supposed to believe that this legislation will help them control the smuggling of explosives.

Now, do not get me wrong. I would be delighted if this happened. However, I am not so naive as to think that all of a sudden, this legislation will give us a superefficient government. Once the legislation is passed, its implementation will not be easy. Marking explosives is pretty straightforward. Of course we have the technology, but do we have facilities across the country to help us detect marked explosives? What is the use of marking explosives if we do not monitor them?

Are border controls stringent enough to prevent smuggling of explosives? Will this government invest enough money to ensure the bill is actually implemented? I doubt it.

Good intentions are fine, provided they lead to tangible results. The government will have to answer all these questions if it wants to be taken seriously.

We support marking explosives if it can really make a difference. I am still waiting for evidence that marking will have any impact on international terrorism.

The bill also provides for certain exceptions which I had not discussed so far. These exceptions are substantial and have the effect of considerably undermining the whole credibility of this bill. Everyone knows Canada manufactures arms and explosives. The bill provides that explosives for use in research by the police or the military will not be marked.

The reason is obvious. If you go to war and the enemy can detect your explosives, you lose a lot of your effectiveness. That I can understand. But these exceptions, necessary though they may be, make the bill practically useless.

They have the effect of telling international terrorists where they can purchase unmarked explosives, and since we do not mark explosives destined for research for use by the police or military, we can say this bill will only affect a negligible part of the explosives used in this country.

Fine, we can say we will carefully monitor unmarked explosives destined for researchers, the police or military, although here again, do not depend on it. Everyone knows that even where security is supposed to be tight, there is always a leak somewhere. And another thing, the Canadian border is in many respects as leaky as a sieve. Government cutbacks have also affected controls at the border and in our airports.

So, even if we do mark explosives, if we cut services further, it will not serve much purpose. There are good examples both past and present of the permeability of the Canadian border thanks to the carelessness of this government.

Canada is currently facing serious problems involving a number of well armed native communities. Some members of these communities are almost as well armed as members of the Canadian armed forces and certainly better armed than the police. We have experienced this sort of problem in Quebec, unfortunately. We might ask ourselves where these individuals got the weapons, ammunition and explosives. Are they Canadian or were they imported?

The Montreal region is currently in the midst of a veritable war among organized gangs of bikers. They are also well armed, as you know. Where did they get their weapons, ammunition and explosives? Can the government tell us?

They have shown that Canadian controls are not very effective. They have shown that this supposed great country where people allegedly enjoy a remarkable quality of life is living on a lot of illusions.

It cannot be claimed that this bill will give people greater security. It is true that the government has to legislate. It was established to govern our society. But it has yet to acquire the means to carry out the legislation it enacts. What is the point of enacting legislation, if we are unable to carry it out?

Instead of trying to ease its conscience, as it is attempting to do, and to improve its image internationally and endlessly repeating that Canada has one of the highest ratings in the world, this government should really make an effort internationally to try to correct certain injustices.

Except in the case of organized crime, the use of explosives in Quebec and in Canada for purposes other than those for which they were intended is neither obvious nor particularly frequent.

Along with adopting legislation on marking explosives, would it not be a good idea for the government to take steps to fight organized gangs, to acquire the means to monitor the movement of terrorists within the country as closely as possible and to tighten controls at border points as well as at ports and airports, ensuring more effective surveillance?

There is much public pressure now for anti-gang legislation. We know that gangs are the ones using explosives for criminal purposes. Having such a statute would be a hundred times more effective than marking our explosives.

Perhaps Canada once enjoyed a certain credibility on the international level. By adopting Bill C-71 the government is trying to bolster that credibility, which is seriously drooping these days.

The aboriginal problem has markedly lowered Canada's degree of credibility.

The Prime Minister's statements implying that he will not respect the choice of 7 million Quebecers in the coming referendum suggest that this government does not have a great deal of respect for democracy. In fact, this government's sole purpose in passing a bill on marking explosives is to give the illusion that it is fulfilling its commitments. It is proposing this five years after the Montreal convention, when it could have done so far earlier.

The effectiveness of such a statute is questionable. Do they really believe that Quebecers will be fooled, that Canadians will be fooled? On the international level, will the body of nations be fooled? Will international terrorism quake in fear of this new measure? I beg to differ.

I would be especially happy if this government really respected democracy and promised to recognize the results of the upcoming referendum in Quebec. I would be especially happy if this government did honour another one of its commitments by really creating jobs. I would be quite satisfied if this government could show me how it will succeed in reducing the common debt while respecting the most disadvantaged in this country.

I would be satisfied if Canada managed to regain a certain credibility at the international level, but not by taking action at the last minute in order to ease its conscience, as this government is doing by proposing this bill. Because contrary to what some members of this government and some Canadian extremists may think, we in the Bloc Quebecois are not ill-disposed toward Canadians. We simply want to give ourselves a country that will respect its neighbour.

The present government's attitude toward the traffic of explosives in Canada and toward the commitments made when the International Civil Aviation Organization met in Montreal shows everyone that we simply have a vision and that reality is quite different when one has to manage a country.

For ordinary citizens from the small towns and villages in my riding, this bill, whose only purpose is to enable the government to save face at the international level, is a little ridiculous. These people really feel that the government is wasting its time instead of dealing with the big problems they must face every day: earning an honest living so they can put bread on the table, as the Prime Minister keeps repeating every day; keeping their small businesses afloat; living safely and peacefully at home.

You can mark manufactured explosives all you want, these people will say, but if you do not fight social injustice and take real steps against violence, organized crime and terrorism, you are simply wasting your efforts. I am convinced that is the message I will hear back in my riding, and I can only agree with these people.

I urge this government to be a little more serious and take action for reasons other than to ease its conscience, because although we support this bill so far, we still have many questions. Is the bill's only purpose to allow the government to show off at the national and international level, or is it a real bill that will be acted on because we will give ourselves the means to do so?

Explosives ActGovernment Orders

10:35 a.m.


Chuck Strahl Reform Fraser Valley East, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is good to be addressing this, the first bill I have had the pleasure of addressing in my new role as the critic for natural resources. I would like to make a few general comments about the department before I detail our support for the bill and the reasons behind it.

I would like first of all to tell the Minister of Natural Resources that in my travels around the country this summer, checking into the background of the department, how her program is being received both in industry and among the provincial natural resource people, in many ways she seems to be moving in the right direction. She has been working hard. I think she is sincere in downsizing her department and getting out of areas that are traditionally and constitutionally in provincial jurisdiction. As she continues to do that, she will have my support certainly in getting the federal government out of those areas and allowing the provincial governments to carry out their mandate.

The resource industry is tremendously important to Canada. The energy, mines and forest sectors account for something like 13 per cent of Canada's GNP and a full 39 per cent of its exports, so the minister has an important resource to look after. If we were to add up the mining, forestry and gas and oil sectors alone, we have direct employment of almost two million people in Canada, again emphasizing the importance of that department.

It is interesting that under the new system we heard about the other day, the new system of rating countries in the world, Canada came out as the second wealthiest country in the world, based largely on its natural resources. Again, it is very important, obviously, that we must be good stewards of our wealth, make sure that our natural resources are properly managed, and that we take advantage in a sustainable way of ensuring that prosperity is made available to Canadians.

With that background, it is a privilege to be the critic in this very important area. I remind the minister that she will have my support as long as she continues to move.

It is also interesting that the areas in which the government has moved in natural resources have stuck very closely to the demands we made during the last campaign. For example, we warned against the idea that if we are not careful we could have a carbon tax in the country. The carbon tax did not come to fruition in the last budget, and I am not sure why. This was positive for the industry.

The minister has also taken steps to sell off the government's share of Petro-Canada, which is something we have been calling for, for some years. That is certainly long overdue. I have registered my concerns about the process by which the brokerage firms were chosen, but other than that we are pleased to see that Petro-Canada is being privatized. It is unfortunate that the cost to the Canadian taxpayer will probably be something in the neighbourhood of $20 billion, so the $2 billion that will be raised by the sale will be a small consolation to the Canadian taxpayers who are on the hook for about $1,480 each. Be that as it may, it certainly was a positive move.

Another encouraging move the minister has made was the guarantee that the government is out of the megaproject business. Again, that is something the Reform Party has been advocating for years. We will be out of the Hibernia project after this year, which is another positive step. It is interesting that all the things I would like to congratulate the minister on were certainly things we advocated before and during the last election campaign.

I am here this morning to speak to Bill C-71, an act to amend the Explosives Act, which will allow Canada to formally participate in the international convention on the marking of plastic explosives for the purpose of detection.

The purpose of the convention is to make sure that as many plastic explosives as possible are detected by the legal authorities, particularly at airports, in an effort to stop terrorism. This is really an anti-terrorism bill. I and my colleagues agree with the intention behind it.

After the Air India tragedy and the Pan Am bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1989 the United Nations passed two separate resolutions. One was passed by the Security Council and the other by the General Assembly. The resolutions urged the International Civil Aviation Organization, which is another UN body, to intensify its work on an international regime for the marking of plastic explosives for the purpose of detection. Out of the resolutions was born the convention I have already mentioned. It was put forward in Montreal in 1991 and signed by 100 nations. Although Canada signed at that time, it did not have the legal authority to ratify it. The bill we are talking about today will give Canada the authority and the ability to formally ratify that convention.

For the last four years research has been ongoing to consult with the industry and to develop an appropriate chemical marker, which has now been developed at laboratories in New Jersey. The time has come to ratify the convention.

Unfortunately the convention will not take effect until 35 nations become signatories. At least five of those signatories must be producers of plastic explosives. I understand that five producer countries have now signed, among them Slovakia, Switzerland, Norway, the Czech Republic, and Spain. Canada will be the sixth producer country to sign. That still means that only 13 countries, including Canada, will have legally ratified the convention, which is a long way from the 35 needed to actually put it in place.

Doubts have been raised as to the effectiveness of the convention when it is finally put in place. I fear that it may simply increase the black market for unmarked plastic explosives which will still be in circulation. It may also strengthen the network of terrorist groups that will continue to communicate with each other, more regularly perhaps, to get a supply of unidentifiable plastic explosives.

However I agree that the ordinary terrorist, if I can call such a thing ordinary, without international connections will be harder pressed to obtain material that will escape detection devices. Therefore the convention is a positive thing. I am recommending to my colleagues that the vote in favour of it.

Interestingly enough, although the United States has signed the convention, it has not yet introduced legislation to ratify that convention. We talked with the explosives industry organization in Washington called the Institute of Makers of Explosives. Its representatives say they endorse the convention. The Federal Aviation Administration, which is a leading agency in America, may introduce legislation soon to ratify it. To date nothing has come about to make sure this happens.

We have not had an instance for a long time like the Lockerbie incident or the Air India explosion. The urgency has somehow died down and the issue has probably taken a lower political priority, at least in the United States. I hope that it will not take another tragedy to bring this issue to the world stage once again.

The convention is not in force right now and therefore is not really relevant. Until the United States recognizes it, the remainder of the significant players in this game will not join in ratifying the convention.

The amendment to our act that we are discussing this morning will continue to be irrelevant until we do something on a political level to bring the United States into the game. Until that happens, nothing will get done and airline passengers all over the world will not receive the benefits that marking plastic explosives will bring.

Today I am calling on the Minister of Natural Resources to address this on a political level, to call her American counterpart and bring him up to speed on this issue and to urge the United States to move on this issue and formally approve the convention so we can keep terrorism in its hole where it belongs.

The minister has shown leadership. I have mentioned some of the positive things she has done in her portfolio. I would ask and encourage her to put her words into action now on the political front internationally and show some leadership with our American friends in urging them to sign this convention as quickly as possible.

I have some relevant comments to make regarding other issues about the Explosives Act. Allow me first to give our listeners some background on explosives in Canada and then I will get to the amendment.

First let me talk a little bit about the general explosives regime in Canada. There are about 100 licensed producers of other explosives but only one manufacturer of plastic explosives in the country. This producer is located in Quebec and only produces plastic explosives on an as needed basis, mostly for military demolition charges. We are not talking about a major market for plastic explosives or, for that matter, a major problem with them.

Our 100 producers of conventional explosives are served by a 30-employee branch within the Department of Natural Resources Canada and there are five regional offices including one on West Hasting Street in Vancouver.

I have some personal experience with the explosives branch in my former life as a logging contractor and a road builder. Certainly in British Columbia one does not do a lot of that without dealing extensively with explosives. I have in the past received my blaster's certificate, taken the exams and so on in order to deal with explosives. However, we have not had an extensive problem with abusive explosives in Canada. Historically that has been a blessing and I hope that will continue.

However, there is an ongoing problem that seems to be happening in one region of the country. It is what happened when the Hell's Angels decided to take things into their own hands in Montreal. These ongoing biker wars in Montreal with cars, kids, restaurants, bystanders and even the odd member of the biker gang have been a concern to Canadians and are a growing concern about the use of explosives in terrorist activities. Police warn that this could be just the beginning.

The Hell's Angels are the biggest, wealthiest motorcycle gang in the world. It is working hard to tighten its grip on drug trafficking, prostitution and gun running right across Canada. It seems to have chosen explosives as the anonymous method of choice for killing rivals.

As the police begin to scrutinize these groups more and more closely, the groups may be driven to use more covert methods. There is always a possibility that plastic explosives that currently are not being used for these purposes will be used in their terrorist acts and innocent people may continue to be killed.

I have been assured that plastic explosives have not been used to date in any of the Montreal explosions, but only explosives that are more easily obtainable from regular construction, mining and road construction.

Who knows when some biker gang could put plastic explosives on some kind of public transport and kill many more innocent people? Plastic explosive that is marked with a chemical identifier would ensure that this would become much more difficult and may even deter criminals from using it. That is why Bill C-71 is a positive move. Although it may have a very negligible impact on that market, at least it is a positive step and deserves to be supported.

I also have some concerns with conventional explosives. The last example is in Montreal, which is not a worker health and safety problem that the Federal Explosives Act is meant to address. It is a security problem, with these same biker gangs that seem to strut their stuff by killing innocent 11-year old kids and so on.

What about the explosives used in these biker bombings? It is interesting that Quebec has the strongest provincial security regime regarding explosives in the entire country, something which it put in place following the FLQ crisis years ago. Yet it cannot seem to find out where these people are getting their explosives.

I want the House to know that not every piece of explosive was detonated in those killings. In one bombing police came upon several sticks that did not explode. Why could these explosives not be traced back to the original vendor so we could find out who sold these explosives to whom and try to catch these thieves and black marketeers? Someone must be currently licensed to store or use explosives and is selling it via the black market to these gangs. However we just cannot trace them. Although the boxes are marked at the factory, the individual sticks or cartridges of explosives inside the boxes are not. To mark each one individually would be an incredible amount of work and probably far too costly to contemplate.

However a solution to this has been suggested by the American Institute of Makers of Explosives, the industry representative of explosive manufacturers in the states. Its solution could help Canada's growing security problem with explosives. It is not a solution that would require legislative change but only a change to the regulations attached to the act.

The Institute of Makers of Explosives is calling for a study on a proposal it has made of including tiny plastic and metal chips in the explosive material itself which is coded by colour to identify the manufacturer. After an explosion investigators would look for the chips in the debris and be able to trace the explosives in that way.

I have a description paper on the study that has been proposed. The institute suggests studying this to see whether it is either economically possible or even a positive move. At least the study should include whether those types of identifiable tags of plastic and metal parts should be used.

The institute promotes the objective study of placing such tags into the explosives and whether it would be an effective law enforcement tool. It wants to study whether it would be a negative impact on the environment because of the presence of these chips. It wonders how efficient it is and whether a significant number of bombings would be traceable. Although there were 2,300 bombings in the United States last year, only 36 involved commercially available high explosives. They also want to know about the cost.

The institute is willing to take part and participate in a study on all those things. It would investigate whether this could help to deter things like the Montreal bombings. It would certainly make the explosive traceable to where they are manufactured and sold.

This study is worthy of support. It may be a suitable way to trace explosives. I hope that the Canadian government will participate in the IME study to see if it could have application here.

I believe that knowing explosives were traceable might deter people from being dishonest and selling them on the black market. If they do that, they should know they are contributing to murder and violence. At the current time they are getting away scot free because the explosives are untraceable.

I mentioned earlier my support for this amendment. However I need to mention, in light of the couple of negative comments I have about this bill, the timing of it and so on had to do with what is really minor housekeeping business being brought to the House. Admittedly, as I mentioned, we will support it.

There are a whole slew of very serious issues, some of them involving biker gangs, some of them involving other criminal justice issues that could be brought to the House and should be dealt with as quickly as we are prepared to deal with this one.

We have a multitude of problems that people were telling me about in my travels this summer, especially in the criminal justice area that are far more serious than this anti-terrorism bill. It could save more lives if the government would listen to the Canadian people and put the rights of the law-abiding citizen ahead of the rights of the criminal.

I wish today after we deal with this we would be spending time next on a crucial and critical bill dealing with amendments, for example, to the Young Offenders Act or on critical bills like enabling legislation that would allow for a national binding referendum on capital punishment. Those are measures of some substance that people would say are moving Canada toward a safer system or toward a system that I can have faith in.

This anti-terrorism bill we are dealing with today is not going to affect most people even a little. There are many issues that we could be and should be dealing with quickly that could reinforce people's faith in the justice system. Certainly I do not see them on the legislative Order Paper and that is one of the things that is unfortunate.

Allow me to sum up. I call on the minister today to contact our American counterpart and urge the United States to sign the convention, thus making our legislative amendment more relevant in the world.

I also urge her to take part in the study being proposed by the Institute of the Makers of Explosives in the United States which would look at the idea of placing identifiable chips in explosives so that we could trace them when we are confronted with criminal misuse of explosives, a problem that seems to be increasing.

For a long time we have had the luxury of concentrating on worker health and safety through the Explosives Act. These are important issues and it has been most of my experience with the Explosives Act in my own personal background.

I believe the day is approaching when the federal government will have to turn its attention toward enhancing the security of all Canadians through more accurately identifying the source of explosive charges. We should at least have in our possession the options identified and priorized in case we need to move toward traceability of explosives in a more extensive way.

I want to reiterate my support for Bill C-71. I do not believe it is going to set the world on its head, but the intention behind it is good and I support it. I do not see why we should take any more of the valuable time of the House to deal with this matter.

There may even be unanimous consent to move directly to a committee of the whole and dispense with this bill in short order so that we can get on with dealing with some of the more critical issues that I mentioned earlier. If the government wishes to make such a motion, I will stand in support of moving to committee of the whole.

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10:55 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

We will now go to the 20-minute speeches.

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10:55 a.m.

London East Ontario


Joe Fontana LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Transport

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his offer. I believe the parliamentary secretary to natural resources will take his suggestion under advisement. Perhaps there is a way to expedite the bill. I am pleased to speak on Bill C-71, the marking of explosives for detectability.

I congratulate the parliamentary secretary and the member for Moncton for his fine words this morning on the urgent need to essentially deal with an important piece of legislation concerning the security of Canadians, at the same time hopefully making it possible for us to deter terrorists from using plastic explosives to undermine the social fabric and security of the country.

There has been some experience around the world with plastic explosives being used by terrorists against civil aviation targets. The roll call of terrorist acts which have resulted in the deaths of innocent people on aircraft and the destruction of those aircraft as the result of sabotage by plastic explosives is a tragic one.

Unfortunately the world as we know it continues to have its dangerous and uncertain elements and conditions remain ripe for the emergence of people who will take the law into their own hands and cause such tragedies and suffering. Canada and all like minded nations must continue to be diligent in order minimize the chances of such acts of depredation occurring in their countries or be visited on their citizens.

The legislation before us to date cannot solve the problems of the world that give birth to terrorism. It can however enable us to put another brick in the wall which governments are building to reduce

the ability of terrorists to act against the peaceful interests of states and their people.

As has been described so clearly by my colleague, the bill is designed to ensure the so-called marking agent is inserted in plastic explosives. This action will improve immeasurably the ability to detect these explosives using the right equipment. This is an essential step in the development of a system which will provide Canada with the capability to respond effectively to terrorist threats of sabotage using plastic explosives.

It should also be a matter of some pride that Canada has played such a pivotal role in developing the international framework for marking and controlling plastic explosives. Canadian scientists and technical experts have been world leaders in solving the technical problems associated with putting markers in explosives in a way that ensures their detectability while in no way jeopardizing either the essential function of legal explosives or degrading their safety or environmental acceptability.

Both the government and the Canadian explosives industry recognize that Canada must continue to be in the forefront of developed nations ensuring all reasonable actions are taken to thwart the activities of terrorists. Our passage of this legislation will send a clear message to other countries including the United States that we are committed to improving the framework for combating terrorism and that we are taking positive steps to ensure this happens earlier rather than later.

We must continue to remain aware that the legislation represents not so much an end point of a process but rather a point along a continuum of actions which must be encouraged and nurtured to ensure Canada and other nations remain vigilant in the fight against would be saboteurs.

In consequence of this approach the government is extremely mindful that along with the ability to make explosives more easily detectable is the requirement to have the right equipment in the right places to detect terrorist activities. The sad history of terrorism demonstrates clearly that the air carrier industry has been a target for the such activities. We are confident the equipment in place at airports today is appropriate to the threat and the risk that prevails in Canada.

Let me assure members of the House as well as the public that we have the capacity today to detect plastic explosives. That does not mean the government is complacent about aviation security, far from it. For its part Transport Canada keeps it aviation security regime under constant review in order to ensure it is properly configured to respond both to the situation which prevails today as well as to any change in threat that might arise.

Mindful of the gains to security that might be available as a result of the improvements to the detectability of explosives which will arise in response to this new legislation, and keeping in mind constant improvements in detection technology, Transport Canada in co-operation with industry and other interested departments will soon begin an in depth review of its equipment deployment strategy at airports. Once the review is complete the Minister of Transport will be looking to see what refinements might be needed to ensure Canada remains in the forefront in terms of our ability to respond to terrorist threats where and when they exist.

This legislation is an essential part of the mosaic to respond to the scourge of terrorism. It has been developed in close collaboration among many departments and is fully consistent with the overall approach among many countries. The principles contained herein have been embraced by the industry which it affects.

This collaborate endeavour should be enough to convince the most skeptical of observers that Canada is fully committed to combating terrorism. I entreat all members to demonstrate their personal commitment to this effort by voting for this legislation.

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11:05 a.m.

Moncton New Brunswick


George S. Rideout LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Natural Resources

Mr. Speaker, I compliment the parliamentary secretary for his excellent address. I have a question relating to the role of transport and the detection of explosive devices and whether this bill will be of any assistance to the department in trying to regulate that.

We are hearing a number of speeches this morning talking about a number of things that are not relevant to what we are trying to achieve here, which is merely to detect plastic explosives normally in a situation in which they are being transported on an aeroplane. Transport obviously has an integral role to play with respect to that. Perhaps the parliamentary secretary could comment.

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11:05 a.m.


Joe Fontana Liberal London East, ON

Mr. Speaker, while my remarks may have addressed Transport Canada's concern with regard to the absolute necessity that we have this legislation in place, it is important to note-and I assure my colleagues in the House as well as the public-that Transport Canada has the ability and the equipment which are important at our airports to ensure we can detect plastic explosives.

It is in place now and we will continue to review any improvements required to ensure the travelling public at our airports that the aviation security regime is in place and is at the forefront of detecting these plastic explosives.

It is important that all nations ratify the convention. Our borders are open and Canada deals with every country in terms of trade, as well as tourism. It is important to ensure Canada take this leadership role today and move on with the legislation so that hopefully it will encourage other nations to participate.

To answer the question of the parliamentary secretary, through him to the public, Transport Canada has the equipment and the confidence that we are able to detect any plastic explosives introduced in the aviation regime.

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11:05 a.m.


John Solomon NDP Regina—Lumsden, SK

Mr. Speaker, I rise on behalf of the New Democratic Party caucus to say a few words about Bill C-71, an act to amend the Explosives Act.

The Explosives Act is an act of public and worker safety which regulates the composition, quality and character of explosives, in addition to their manufacture, importation, sale, purchase, possession and storage. It also controls the use of fireworks. This amendment is necessary, according to the government, to require the incorporation of a detectable additive in plastic explosives, coupled with a provision to make regulations to control unmarked plastic explosives.

It is claimed this will hinder terrorism and enable Canada to ratify an international civil aviation organization convention on the marking of plastic explosives for the purpose of detection.

The principal provisions of the bill require the marking of most plastic explosives for the purpose of detection and prohibit the manufacture, storage, possession, transfer of possession, transportation, import and export of unmarked plastic explosives, except that may be permitted by the terms of the convention or required by overriding military necessity. Also the principal provisions of the bill allow the governor in council to make regulations governing the possession, transfer and disposal of any unmarked plastic explosives.

New Democrats support positive initiatives which reduce crime, reduce terrorism or which make our country safer for Canadians, all those to be included in that heading.

The bill, although not as timely as we would like, will be a positive first step in addressing illegal and other terrorist acts. We are concerned as New Democrats that this initiative is a delay on the government's part.

We have other concerns about the bill. One is that in June 1989 a United Nations Security Council resolution called for the international civil aviation organization to intensify its work on devising an international regime for the marking of plastic or sheet explosives for the purpose of detection. Later that year, in December 1989, the same resolution was passed by the United Nations General Assembly of that sitting. We are now looking at 1995 where the government is undertaking to introduce this bill which would achieve the convention.

I heard the parliamentary secretary say in the House that it was a leadership role. I have some questions with respect to how forthright and how strong this leadership is mainly because Canada has had five or six years to introduce the legislation in the House of Commons. The government is just meeting the requirements of the convention. Why is the government not undertaking to make it more restrictive to purchase explosives and safer for Canadians? Why is the government not undertaking to make it more difficult to purchase explosives?

We have seen a long and drawn out debate on gun control legislation and the registration of firearms. Where was the government in terms of saying there is one manufacturer in Valleyfield, Quebec, manufacturing explosives? However the government will not deal with making it more difficult to purchase bombs.

It is a indication of the weak leadership capacity of the government where it is not going beyond the convention. Why not go beyond the convention and undertake to introduce regulations which will make the purchase of plastic explosives and bombs more difficult for Canadians and for others outside the country? The government could have gone one step further.

Has the government undertaken to study whether there is new technology on the horizon which would detect existing plastic bombs? We have seen all sorts of new computer technology introduced in the last number of months. It is being introduced on a weekly basis from a number of different companies, not just computer companies but technologically based companies. Why has the government not pursued with private sector corporations developing a technology which would identify plastic explosives now as opposed to waiting for 35 other countries to sign this convention and hopefully in the next 15 years have this problem addressed?

I think 15 years is a bit long to be waiting to have this problem addressed. In 15 years a lot of people and a lot of organizations can purchase explosives and use them in a very damaging way, especially on the Canadian population.

We are wondering what the government is doing in that regard, why it has not taken a leadership role, as it calls it, in undertaking to make it safer as opposed to meeting the basic requirements of an international convention which will not be in effect internationally for another 10 or 15 years, or who knows how long.

I wonder what the bill will do with respect to diminishing terrorism in Canada, for example in the Montreal situation where motorcycle gangs are having a bit of a set to in essence. They are killing each other with bombs, perhaps not plastic explosives but with dynamite and other explosives. What is the government doing in response to making our communities safer, making Montreal safer and addressing this very serious problem in Quebec?

Let me share with members of the House and Canadians what the government is doing. It is not doing a lot. The Minister of Justice travelled to Montreal to meet with the mayor of Montreal to discuss anti-gang legislation which the mayor has asked the federal government to implement. What has the Minister of Justice done? He listened to the mayor, had a nice little trip and had a lunch, but he will not do anything with respect to this issue because there are more important issues like gun control and registering which are creating all sorts of problems. He will not look after the bombs. We will leave the bombs up to the gangs. We will let the manufacturers of explosives continue to manufacture these things and sell them in the communities of our country so that people can use them to kill each other and innocent bystanders in larger numbers than with rifles.

I am wondering what the government is doing with respect to solving this problem in Montreal. I share the concern of members of the House, particularly from the province of Quebec, who are very concerned that this very serious problem be addressed. The bill will have absolutely nothing to do with addressing this problem in Quebec. I am sorry to see that happen.

I will not take up a lot of time on the bill. As I said, it is a good first step. I have another concern, and it is in response to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources when he says that the military has a 10-year supply of plastic explosives.

Canadians are wondering what will happen with this 10-year supply of plastic explosives as it relates to the bill. Will the military use the explosives as they are, with undetectable components in the explosives? Will the government have the military destroy the undetectable explosives and have it purchase the new formula explosives so that they are detectable?

These are questions the government should be answering. I guess Canadians would like to ask what the military is doing with a 10-year supply of plastic explosives. Are they assuming that something very serious is going to happen internationally and we may require these explosives?

These questions have to be addressed by the government. The bill excludes the military use of plastic explosives being detected for emergency purposes. I would like to know how the government defines emergency use of plastic explosives by the military so that it may be exempt from the clauses of this convention. Does this mean that all the military in every country in the world is exempt as well, or is it just the Canadian military? If that is the case, does it have a very secure system of storage of plastic explosives so that if it is undetectable at least it is safely stored away and for the purposes of military uses only?

What kinds of restrictions, what kinds of regulations, what kinds of registration systems do they have for plastic explosives for the military?

In summary, we are very concerned with respect to the bill. It is a good first step. It is not a large enough step in terms of addressing the issue. I do not think it is happening quickly enough. If the Canadian government is serious about passing the bill, it will have a plan of action in place to contact other countries that are co-signators of the convention to have them introduce their legislation in a very timely way so that we can address this problem quickly, as opposed to over the next 15 years.

I would ask the government in its initiative to undertake to contact these other governments in a very formal way to ensure that this convention is signed by the minimum number of countries required to make it effective internationally.

New Democrats support the bill in principle. If some of these questions can be answered accurately and satisfactorily, we will give our support to the bill. I wait for and look forward to the bill coming to committee so that we can ask these questions in greater detail.

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11:15 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is the House ready for the question?

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11:15 a.m.

Some hon. members


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11:15 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

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11:15 a.m.

Some hon. members


(Motion agreed to, bill read the second time and referred to a committee.)

The House resumed from September 18 consideration of the motion that Bill C-83, an act to amend the Auditor General Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

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11:20 a.m.


Peter Adams Liberal Peterborough, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is a very real pleasure for me to stand to speak in support of Bill C-83.

It is entitled an act to amend the Auditor General Act. It seems to me that it is very difficult to get excited about a bill with a title like that. However, I should explain that this legislation is designed to fulfil a commitment made in the Liberal red book and supported by all environmentalists and all environmentally minded business people before and during our election, that is a commitment to appoint an overseer for environmental matters in the federal government.

I would like to read out the red book commitment before addressing the actual terms of Bill C-83. The red book states that the government:

-will appoint an Environmental Auditor General, reporting directly to Parliament, with powers of investigation 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.

Bill C-83 deals with that promise we made in the red book. It deals with appointing an auditor for sustainable development in government.

Sustainable development is simply common sense in government, in business affairs, and in our everyday lives. Sustainable development is human beings living on the planet in such a way that they maintain a healthy environment around them.

It is illogical and also immoral for us to think that we can live on the planet, conduct a business on the planet, or conduct a government operation on the planet without taking into account the health of our environment in the long term. If we do not, one day those bad policies would catch up to us. Our personal health would suffer, the health of our children would suffer, and so on.

Sustainable development, which is mentioned in our promise, is simply a sensible way of living on the planet, a sensible way of conducting business, and a sensible way of running a government.

I am delighted to see Bill C-83 before the House. Its purpose is to establish a commissioner for the environment and sustainable development within the office of the auditor general. I should explain this, because our red book commitment states that we will appoint an environmental auditor general.

When the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development was conducting public hearings there was a great deal of support for the idea of having an environmental watchdog in the federal government. There was a good deal of discussion on what form or what powers that person and that office should have. One view was that there should be a separate office called the environmental auditor general. That office would have functions very similar to those of the auditor general's office today, the general watchdog on government.

Another view was that there should be a commissioner. In some other jurisdictions there is a commissioner for the environment who performs not only the sorts of watchdog functions that our auditor general does for the federal government processes but also acts much more as a conscience for environmental matters as a point of contact for ordinary citizens who want to communicate their concerns with government, in this case about the environment and sustainable development.

Under Bill C-83, in fulfilling our promise to provide an environmental auditor general I believe we are going further. We are providing a commissioner for the environment and sustainable development, whose office will be within the present office of the auditor general.

It is important to realize that we are putting our environmental concerns in exactly the same place as our business concerns, our concerns about the efficiency of government.

Under Bill C-83 we will see the creation of a commissioner whose new office will confirm the government's commitment to put its own house in order from an environmental and sustainable development point of view. Any greening of government policies we put into place will be monitored by the commissioner.

This person will be available to the public and will be required to report to Parliament. By making the appointment the government is holding itself accountable for its own environmental performance. Because the federal government is a very large and powerful organization-and some of us think it too large and powerful-the commissioner will be able to promote sustainable development not only in our own government but throughout society by example and in other ways.

The commissioner will be the auditor general's right hand person on all environment and sustainable development matters. In addition to helping the auditor general in those very special and important areas, the commissioner will monitor and report to Parliament every year on how all government departments are putting their sustainable development strategies into practice, on how the ministers are responding to petitions from the public on environmental matters.

On reading the legislation I was also interested in something else, which actually is different from the way I have thought of the environmental and sustainable development commissioner watchdog as it was presented in the red book, that is the matter of appointment of the commissioner. Mr. Speaker, to be honest with you, I was a involved a little in developing parts of the red book and I had not given much thought to that. I had not thought through how one would appoint a person who is independent of government and who could criticize government.

In this case, it is interesting that the legislation we have before us provides for the auditor general, who is already well accepted as an independent arm's length office holder, to make this appointment. I like the fact that this will not be an order in council appointment. It will not be an appointment by the Prime Minister. It will be an appointment by the auditor general, who will be directed to seek out an appropriately independent person who will become our commissioner for the environment and sustainable development. I like that. That fits in with the already existing-and I think

accepted by the general public-arm's length principle of the auditor general's office. It is very important that the commissioner for the environment be independent and be seen to be independent of government. I am glad the appointment is being dealt with in that way.

I mentioned earlier that one of the ideas discussed was the watchdog would be a separate office like the auditor general's office. In this legislation we provide for it to be within the auditor general's office itself. What are the advantages of that? Mr. Speaker, since you read the auditor general's reports from cover to cover when they appear every year, you will know that the auditor general already makes a point of reporting on environmental matters. It is not something that has been ignored by the auditor general. In a sense that function is already there and we are strengthening it by the appointment of a commissioner who will be working with the auditor general.

The commissioner, unlike some of the other people who are appointed to the auditor general's office, will be appointed because of his or her expertise in the area of environment and sustainable development. That is quite different from the present where naturally in the auditor general's office accountants and people who can read financial statements are needed. This is all very important.

There will be a specialist who can advise the auditor general on environmental and sustainable development aspects of government. This will strengthen the auditor general's office and will give the commissioner a sound foundation for his or her work.

Another advantage is that the auditor general already has a respectable reputation for independence. Instead of having to start spending considerable time building a new position and to show very clearly that he or she is independent of government, this new commissioner will already be working in a respected arm's length office which I believe helps.

There is a financial advantage to it. We already have an auditor general's office and there are efficiencies in terms of support and things of that nature. It fits in with our concerns for efficient and economical government at the present time.

There are a couple of other things about this matter. One is that by being in the auditor general's office the commissioner immediately has the advantage of sharing the spotlight which is on the auditor general's report every year.

One way the auditor general works, and I think ministries feel paranoid about it, is that the publicity which surrounds the release of the auditor general's report is used as a vehicle to make sure that the recommendations of the auditor general are implemented. That spotlight does exist.

The media now wait every year, as members do, for the auditor general's report. When the scandals appear they are in the spotlight. It is one way our system works to cleanse itself and make itself more efficient. By putting the commissioner in the auditor general's office we immediately get a share of that spotlight for environmental and sustainable development affairs. I like that.

The other reason I like the integration in the auditor general's office has to do with what I tried to say about sustainable development in the first place. The environment and sustainable development are not things which are separate from government. They are not things which are separate from the way we live our daily lives. They are not things which are separate from the way business is conducted. As I tried to explain at the beginning, if we do not live in a sustainable way on this planet, in the end the planet will destroy us. I do not believe the planet is at risk, I think it is human beings who are at risk.

By putting the commissioner for sustainable development and environment in the auditor general's office, we are sending out a signal that we realize business, environment and sustainable development are all part of the same thing, that the functions of our auditor general automatically include environment and sustainable development.

In the section of the red book I reminded the House of, the recommendation included the matter of citizens petitioning the government with their environmental concerns. I am pleased to see in this legislation that the commissioner is required to deal with petitions and to monitor petitions received by all of our ministries on environmental matters. This means that citizens dealing with ministers have someone watching over their concerns.

I like to think that most ministries take petitions seriously but in this case the commissioner is required to monitor each minister's response to petitions on the environment. This extends the public's power to influence government in what I consider to be a very important area.

Ministers will have 120 days to respond to the petitions with extensions to that only under very exceptional circumstances. The commissioner will see to it that the ministers respond. That is very important.

Another item which is built into the terms of reference for the new commissioner is the fact that our government departments are required to develop their own sustainable development plans. They

have to develop these plans within a certain period of time. Once they are established, every three years they have to renew them.

I know directives of this sort go out on various matters to departments from ministers' offices and we sometimes wonder if anything happens because the organization is so big. In this case the commissioner is specifically directed to monitor each ministry's ongoing plans for the environment and sustainable development within that ministry's jurisdiction. The commissioner is required to report annually on those plans. This is building checks and balances into the basic system of government which ensure that the environment and sustainable development are built into everything we do.

I know this is not easy. When the economy is difficult we have the tendency to forget environmental matters and the basic health of our population and the effects a polluted environment will have on us. When the minister introduced the legislation yesterday she mentioned some of the things which have been done. These are things which will help the commissioner to ensure that these measures are properly implemented.

In Environment Canada we have already implemented green procurement policies which emphasize reduction, reuse and the purchase of environmentally sound products. The fact that we have announced that policy and the fact that we will have an environmental watchdog to see that we implement it are very important.

We are already managing the ministry of the environment vehicle fleet to reduce emissions by 30 per cent by the year 2000. In all offices in the ministry zero waste is now the target. We are improving energy efficiency in all ministry buildings and conserving water by means of water audits in all Environment Canada buildings. Those are examples of what one ministry is doing. Those are the sorts of things which the new commissioner for the environment and sustainable development will be asked to monitor.

In summary, under Bill C-83 the auditor general's office is exclusively given the environment and sustainable development responsibilities and the staff to carry out those responsibilities. The commissioner will allow us to show leadership in a wide range of areas involving green government and sustainable methods of governing. The commissioner will monitor all ministries continuously and will ensure that they are accountable. The legislation will allow Canadians to approach the government much more readily with their environmental concerns.

In particular, the commissioner will integrate the environment into the normal business of government. That is what sustainable government is all about. I congratulate the Minister of the Environment on this legislation and I look forward to its rapid implementation.

Auditor General ActGovernment Orders

11:35 a.m.


Monique Guay Bloc Laurentides, QC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague's speech indicates a certain naivety. I understand the creation of a Commissioner of the Environment and, moreover, we are in agreement with the bill, but it will not solve all environmental problems.

In listening to what he has just said, I got the impression that this commissioner was to solve all of the problems in place within departments and all of the problems in Canada, and I do not think that this will be the case.

If I may, I would like to make a small comment on the role of the Commissioner of the Environment, his or her appointment in particular.

It is our sincere wish that this commissioner's appointment be non-partisan and non-political. In environmental issues, I feel that the minister has made political decisions rather than environmental ones. Among others, the Irving Whale issue alone is a great scandal.

I would like to ask my colleague whether he feels that the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development ought to have total power to reverse a decision such as the one in the Irving Whale situation, where everyone is fully aware that the environmentalists were against that decision anyway. I would like to know his opinion. Should this commissioner not be totally empowered to act in a very timely manner so as to be able to reverse just such a decision as we have seen this summer?

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11:40 a.m.


Peter Adams Liberal Peterborough, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. Bloc member for her question.

On the matter of the member's first point, I am sorry if in my enthusiasm I conveyed the idea that one step like this can solve all problems. We all know that in all areas of government there is no magic formula which solves everything. It does not.

I believe that this is not just one decision. It builds something into government which will tick away day in day out, year in year out for decades and I hope longer to come. It will continuously influence and produce changes which will go on for very long periods of time. I appreciate the member's point and I apologize if I gave the impression that it would solve everything.

On the appointment I explained that I like the idea it will not be an order in council, that it will be an appointment made by the auditor general. The auditor general is an arm's length person. He is not a political person. I believe it will be non-partisan. As I said in my remarks I like that idea.

On the point about the power to reverse decisions, I do not believe for example in the case of the auditor general who overviews all government that a watchdog of that type should be able to step in and have draconian powers to interfere with the general running of government. I believe he or she should have all possible power to pressure for changes, but I do not believe it is feasible to have a watchdog who in fact can stop government or change government on any particular issue.

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11:40 a.m.


Jim Gouk Reform Kootenay West—Revelstoke, BC

Mr. Speaker, I will make my question very short and succinct for the hon. member.

Government watchdogs in the past have proven to be little more than government lapdogs taking the direction of the government. Is it the government's position that it is going to come up with a new concept of a watchdog, or is this simply the government's way to ensure that it can control the agenda of environmental processes?

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11:40 a.m.


Peter Adams Liberal Peterborough, ON

Mr. Speaker, I really am shocked by this, particularly in the context of this debate. Perhaps there are some specific examples which the member can refer to. Is he really saying that the auditor general is a lapdog of this government or previous governments?

I believe it is something that the member should withdraw with respect to the person of the auditor general today and with respect to the office of the auditor general. He can criticize the way an office like that functions. He can criticize their views and things of that sort. I know he did not mention the auditor general and perhaps that is what he is going to say, but this is what the debate is about. It is about the office of the auditor general. I think that is a shocking aspersion on the auditor general.

I have agreed that such offices do not cure all our problems. I have to believe the auditor general is independent, is honest and is efficient. I know the auditor general cannot cure all the ills in government.

I hope the member will withdraw.

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11:45 a.m.


Dick Harris Reform Prince George—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, I might just clarify my colleague's point to the hon. member for Peterborough.

He was saying that we have seen example after example in the House, during this Parliament and in Parliaments before, where the auditor general has come down with scathing reports about the operation of government departments and ministries, only to have these reports totally ignored by the government of the day.

Unless the government is truthfully committed to acknowledging, respecting and acting on the recommendations and the findings of the auditor general we could appoint a million government watchdogs and a million auditors general to keep an eye on the government. If the government continually will not do anything about it, what is the use? That is the point.

What assurances do the House and the Canadian people have that this new appointment, if it is to be effective, will act on the recommendations and on the reports and criticisms of this position?

There has been no example in the past of the government making any meaningful move toward acting on auditors general's reports. What assurances do we have now?