Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak to this bill that concerns my riding to some degree.
This bill may, at first glance, affect my riding since Berthier-Montcalm is located between Montreal and Trois-Rivières. This riding includes all the islands of Sorel and Berthier where, every year, many migrating birds, some of which are endangered, come to spend a few days or a few weeks before leaving for other places.
Unfortunately, even though it deals with endangered species, I have to say I am not in favour of this bill. It is not because its subject matter is not important, not because it is not dealing with fundamental issues, but simply because I feel Bill C-65 does not respect provincial jurisdiction.
It is not the first time the federal government has tried to interfere in this area of jurisdiction, probably because it wanted to keep its 1993 election promises, its red book promises. This will no doubt remind you, Madam Speaker, of the time when the minister talked about "a vision of a society that protects the long-term health and diversity of all species on the planet".
I am sure you remember that phrase from the red book. Although that vague commitment on endangered species can be interpreted in a number of ways, the red book contained more specific commitments which the government has not met. I would have told the government to forget about its promise, since this is an area of provincial jurisdiction. But, once again, the government has decided it wants to legislate in this area.
Hon. members will remember that, in Spring of 1995, the kite and flag lady, the current Deputy Prime Minister, then the environment minister, introduced a bill along the same lines as the bill before us today.
At the time, there was such an outcry in the environment community and also in the provinces and among the people who have to enforce the law that a year later, after a cabinet shuffle, the new environment minister decided to call a meeting of environment ministers to try to reach an agreement.
Indeed, on October 2, 1996, in Charlottetown, a famous city which has often left its mark on Canadian history, an agreement in principle was reached. However, if you were to compare the provisions of Bill C-65 with the so-called agreement in principle reached on October 2, 1996, you would soon realize that they are completely different.
Either we do not speak the same language in this country or we do not understand the same things. However, a bird is a bird and a whale is a whale, but we do not seem to understand the same things when a bill has to be drafted to ensure the agreement comes into force.
This is so true that on December 2 of the same year, the Quebec environment minister, David Cliche, wrote to the current federal Minister of the Environment to indicate that there were in fact some inconsistencies between the agreement in principle that was reached and the bill. I will not read the whole letter, because I know the minister has a copy, but for our viewers and the many Liberal members who are carefully listening, I would like to quote parts of the letter sent by Mr. Cliche.
It says: "Nor was it ever agreed that ratification of a treaty by Canada changed anything in the distribution of jurisdictions and gave the federal government exclusive jurisdiction to implement
the treaty". The purpose of the treaty is still to protect endangered species.
Further on, he adds: "Under the pretext of protecting species at risk, the bill is in fact an attempt to rewrite or reinterpret the Canadian Constitution and the way it gives certain powers to various levels of government". This is a minister of the Quebec National Assembly writing to the federal Minister of Environment to tell him: "Listen. There are several differences between what we agreed upon and what there is in the act, in particular a marked difference in jurisdictions."
He says a little further: "Thus the federal government's definition of federal land for the purposes of the bill has no relation to reality. We never understood that the management of fish stocks or inland or coastal waters navigation meant that the federal government had jurisdiction over all aquatic ecosystems, along with the seabed and the subsoil and the airspace above these waters".
The federal government took advantage of this legislation to provide more than was necessary and to try once again to go against Quebec's views, even on issues that I think are quite neutral, on which we could easily agree if people would truly respect the agreements in principle that have been hammered out and the Canadian Constitution. This is a minimum and this is not asking too much but, at this stage, it seems to be extremely difficult to agree on these factors.
On Bill C-65, the Bloc Quebecois will be true to its mandate to protect Quebec's interests and those of the true Parliament in Quebec, that is, the National Assembly, since that is what all men and women of Quebec identify with. It was quite natural for us to propose amendments to the bill that would reflect that.
One motion requires co-operation between all levels of government. I understand that a migratory bird landing in the riding of Berthier-Montcalm can take off and land again in the riding of Beauséjour. I can understand that and I think it requires co-operation between all levels of government.
Motions Nos. 16, 24 and 26 call for the recognition of provincial primacy. Why? Simply to respect the Canadian Constitution. Nobody can accuse us, as members of the Bloc, sovereignists, nationalists and all the other ist-words, of not wanting to respect the Canadian Constitution in this House, the Constitution the Liberals across the way signed in 1982 and whose 15th anniversary they celebrated not too long ago. We did not celebrate that anniversary for other reasons.
I think it is just normal to want to respect the Constitution which gives each level of government certain responsibilities, but it seems to be difficult.
I will read to you Motion No. 24 so you understand that what we are asking is really not complicated. Here is what it says:
"(3) Notwithstanding subsection (2), no responsible minister may enter into an agreement under that subsection with an organization or person in a province unless the minister advises the provincial minister of that province of the responsible minister's intention to enter into the agreement with the organization or person, as the case may be, and the provincial minister informs the responsible minister that the government of the province does not object to the responsible minister entering into such an agreement with that organization or person."
It is crystal clear. In other words, we are saying to the federal minister that, if he wants to enter into agreements with organizations in Quebec, for example, he must simply inform the environment minister of that province.
Madam Speaker, I could have spoken all afternoon about these important motions, but you are indicating to me that my time is up. Am I right? May I have the unanimous consent of the House to conclude my remarks? I need five or ten more minutes to finish my argument on these motions, if the House agrees.