Mr. Speaker, I would like to start by pointing out that Bill C-98 before the House today on second reading is a typical example of the kind of bill I like to discuss.
Indeed, it will give me another chance to show Quebecers it would be both useless and dangerous to leave Quebec's development under federal control.
Consider the endless jurisdictional squabbles that would be generated by the passage of this bill. My colleagues from Laurentides and the Gaspé have already discussed this but I feel I must say more on the subject, at a time when Quebecers are about to make an important decision on their collective destiny.
The bill starts by identifying, in Canadian domestic law, Canada's jurisdiction over its ocean areas. To do so, however, the text merely incorporates provisions of the Canadian Laws Offshore Application Act and the Territorial Sea and Fishing Zones Act. Since the legislation I just mentioned has not been amended in any way, this part of Bill C-98 is redundant. Especially since Canada's sovereignty over its ocean areas is recognized by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, of which Canada is a signatory.
Part II of this enactment is supposed to provide for the development and implementation of a national oceans management strategy based on the sustainable development and integrated management of oceans and coastal activities and resources. This is, in fact, one of the most ambitious attempts by the federal government to invade jurisdictions over which it has no authority and which it would be folly to cede to the federal government.
According to officials from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Part II of the bill could have been dropped, since it does not give the Department of Fisheries any new powers to manage a national oceans strategy. According to the preamble, the purpose of the bill is merely to encourage the minister to collaborate with his colleagues on identifying a strategy. Obviously, the minister cannot assume the authority to manage a strategy that has yet to be defined.
In the light of the foregoing, I wondered why the government bothered to table a bill that apparently is no more than a series of good intentions.
A closer look at the bill gave me the answer. First of all, the bill identifies two classes of intervenors in the process of implementing a national oceans strategy: the federal government and interested persons and bodies. In other words, provincial governments are considered on a par with any lobby group. This is one way of telling Canadian voters that "if you voted for the right side, we will consider what your provincial government wants".
In the case of lobbyists, particularly major ones, this government tells them "If you contribute to our slush fund-the slush fund of the right party-our government will lend a much more attentive ear to your concerns". For examples of this we need only think of the role of the Liberal government in the case of Power DirecTv or the purchase of MCA by Seagram, the sale of Pearson airport, and most recently the privatization of Petro-Canada. We have learned just this week that the sale of federal shares in the latter will be
handled by Gordon Capital of Toronto, the Prime Minister's former employer. It will be remembered very clearly that, when it came time to vote on a private member's bill on public funding of political parties, the government opposed it in order to be good and sure to go on playing the little game of "he who pays the piper picks the tune".
The parallel to be drawn between businesses contributing to the right party fund and voters supporting the right party is obvious, particularly since there is no obligation for the minister to follow any recommendations by the governments of Quebec and the other provinces.
Similarly, sections 31, 32 and 33 of Bill C-98 empower the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to develop and implement a national management strategy for estuarial, coastal and marine ecosystems. Such a strategy will require a number of elements to be created. First, activity management plans; second, administrative or consultative bodies; third, a number of programs; fourth, environmental standards; fifth, scientific data gathering and analysis on the ecosystems concerned.
These are already functions of either Environment Canada or the provinces. We have seen that the minister is seeking through this act to encroach on the provinces' influence over the environment. Thus, the only useful purpose that we can see in this bill is to invade areas of provincial jurisdiction.
It is also worthy of note that the bill before us, as I have already pointed out, will enable the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans to encroach upon areas over which the Minister of the Environment has jurisdiction. Like my colleagues, I wondered why cabinet failed to see that and I concluded it was doubtless because, when the Minister of the Environment tries to invade Quebec's area of jurisdiction, she can be seen coming so far off in the distance that the job had to be given to someone else.
The fact that the minister is not obliged to come to an agreement with the provinces, which have a keen interest in the management of the marine environment, is both incomprehensible and unacceptable.
I would also like to point out that the environment is not one of the areas of jurisdiction the constitution attributes explicitly to one level of government in particular. It is what they call an ancillary jurisdiction and is subordinate to those jurisdictions the constitution explicitly mentions.
In theory, the Department of the Environment is responsible for the administration of this ancillary jurisdiction in co-operation with each of the departments concerned.
Until the mid 1980s, the Government of Quebec, which has jurisdiction over local and territorial matters, played a leading role in environmental matters, occupying the largest part of the field of jurisdiction. The federal government limited its involvement to areas relating to its jurisdiction, as the constitution provides.
After 1985, the federal government began to meddle in environmental matters. It did so primarily by virtue of its spending power and the new powers the courts had accorded it. That was the beginning of many instances of duplication and overlap. They continue to exist and have grown more numerous since the election of the present Liberal government, which is trying to centralize decision-making in Ottawa. The Government of Quebec considers Bill C-98 another step toward centralization.
In 1988, the Supreme Court of Canada, which Mr. Lévesque likened to the tower of Pisa, always leaning the same way, took management of the marine environment and surrounding territory away from the provinces and gave it to the federal government in a decision of four justices to three.
With Bill C-98, the federal government is trying to get the most out of this decision. Quebec fears that this centralizing tendency means the federal government will sooner or later claim management of the waters and the use of the tributaries to the coastal estuary and ultimately all fresh water rivers on the pretext that the contaminants in these waters are a source of degradation of the marine environment.
There is currently a great deal of overlap and duplication in federal and provincial environmental regulations. As a result, private businesses very often have to spend time, money and energy on many things such as collecting information on the many government programs, providing the two levels of government with the required data, participating in the various advisory committees and subcommittees in charge of regulating the industry, preparing for the inspections carried out alternately by the federal government and the province, and complying with the requirements of both governments.
In this regard, the toxic waste regulations are a convincing example. At this time, eight federal regulations overlap similar regulations that already exist in Quebec. Let us take, for example, the storage of PCB material regulations and the pulp and paper effluent regulations. Quebec sovereignty would effectively end this duplication.
Although it must recognize that it can no longer afford to take environmental action, since cuts of 32 per cent over three years were announced in its last budget, the federal government continues to usurp the role of the provinces in setting national standards and priorities. The new Environmental Assessment Act that came into effect in January 1995, which encroaches directly on provincial jurisdiction, and the eco-government policy in which the federal government favours relations with citizens and the private
sector rather than with the provinces are striking examples of this kind of attitude.
On the face of it, the federal government has noble objectives and respects these areas of jurisdiction but, in practice, it bypasses the provinces, forcing its agenda on them and effectively taking over provincial responsibilities.
Bill C-98 adds fuel to the fire as the federal government, despite its financial situation, allows itself to create new structures to protect a particular ecosystem.
Bill C-98 sends an ambiguous message. It seems to reflect a concern for marine ecosystems while at the same time taking away from the Department of the Environment part of its responsibilities and treating provincial environment ministries on the same basis as the industry or municipalities. Will Fisheries and Oceans withdraw just like Environment Canada? It is obvious that Environment Canada is becoming a policy generating department instead of taking real actions-the Irving Whale is a case in point-mainly for budget reasons.
This leads to a number of problems. Here are the main ones. First, environmental concerns must clearly be identified by the grassroots. Policy coming from Ottawa is less likely to be suited to local circumstances, let alone be endorsed by the community. In fact, it has become increasingly clear that efficiency in terms of the environment is dependent upon a sense of ownership at the local level. For real progress to be made the people must be concerned about their rivers and marshes, their environment.
Second, one of the federalists' arguments for centralizing environmental management is that pollution knows no boundaries, travelling from one province or state to another. Acid rain and river pollution are good examples of that.
The federal government is apparently the only one who is able to legislate with efficiency and make international agreements, and to take a holistic approach in order to provide global solutions to global problems. Also, it is unthinkable that the minister not be required to work together with EC officials, as my hon. colleagues from Laurentides and Gaspé said earlier. Unsatisfied with creating jurisdiction conflicts with the provinces, the federal government has now set out to create jurisdiction conflicts between its own departments, all this in a context of fiscal restraint.
Once again, we have before us a bill which, like many others before, is designed to centralize it all in Ottawa.
I have much respect for my friends from the Reform Party because they say what they think and they think what they say. They are the only ones actually to speak about decentralization. They are pretending to offer decentralization for the good of all the provinces, including Quebec. I think that would be a good thing and I think they are really serious about it.
However, in that offer somewhere is a catch 22 because my friends in the Reform Party will never form any government in Canada as long as Quebec is a province. Quebec holds the balance of power in the country as far as the vote is concerned and Quebec will never vote Reform. It is not because we hate Reformers; we love them very much. It is because our philosophies are too far apart. We just have to look at our positions on gun control, gay rights, bilingualism and on all of the bills which have been presented to the House. Most of the time we and the Reform Party have voted differently.
My friends all know the country will soon hit the wall. They all know we are going bankrupt, as it was said in the Wall Street Journal not so long ago.