Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today on a subject of the utmost importance. We in the Bloc Quebecois consider that the relationship between developing our economy and protecting the environment is one of the major challenges facing our society.
For the past few generations, the capacity of the human race to modify the world ecosystem has undergone a spectacular increase, as the result of the population explosion and our dizzying rate of technological progress.
World economic activity, for example, is more than 20 times what it was in 1900. Consequently, many human activities are on the verge of surpassing our planet's potential to replenish its resources.
Every year, the energy we consume is responsible for releasing billions of tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere and for using up more than 40% of the planet's organic material. Every year, we burn almost as much fossil fuel as the earth was able to produce in a million years.
Although we are forced to acknowledge that poverty and hardship exist throughout the world, and will continue to exist, we do not throw up our hands in despair at its scope. Similarly, we are capable of seeking solutions together to many of the challenges posed by our deteriorating environment, and the multiplication of substances that are a threat to human health.
A short-sighted view will not enable us to solve these problems. What we need is a fundamental change to our way of making decisions at all levels of society. We need to start incorporating environmental considerations in our day to day decisions as individuals, managers and legislators.
We must treat the environment as the limited and unique resource that it is. We must treat human life like the fragile thing that it is.
Let there be no illusions about this. The precarious state of our environment is the result of what will soon be two centuries of neglect. There can be no quick fix. There will be more crises, more ecological accidents. What is needed essentially is to restore the ecological balance that has been upset gradually over the centuries, and particularly over the past 100 years.
This is a long term undertaking, and one which will require the commitment of each and every one of us, from the various governments down to the last individual. Any serious response to the environmental challenge will lay our present lifestyle open to question, because the environmental issue is more than just pollution, domestic and chemical waste, or land use management. These are just symptoms of a larger problem.
The main thing is the way we approach our relationships, define our prosperity and select a lifestyle. In this respect, we are witnessing a real revolution in attitudes. Recent polls, newspaper forums and radio hot-lines all agree.
The public, and young people in particular, consider quality of life more important than the mere accumulation of consumer goods. They choose health over the pursuit of economic expansion at all cost. These new values are priorities. They should be used as the basis for the political will to allocate sufficient resources to the preservation of the environment we all care about.
It is paradoxical that this government repeatedly drew upon this widely held public opinion to finally come up short in terms of a commitment to reduce greenhouse gases and protect the collective scientific tools used to assess our environmental situation.
This government cannot be satisfied with reacting to environmental crises. Never has the government developed a long term action plan which takes into account the collective diversity of the territory for which it is responsible under the Constitution. Never has the government given any serious thought to where it wanted to be five or ten years down the road and even after that.
In order to have a political will, governments must be able to set out the goals they wish to achieve through specific actions. For the time being, we must unfortunately express concern about this government's lack of vision on environmental issues in the current constitutional context.
In fact, since I have been sitting in this House as the member for Rosemont, not one federalist party has been able to come up with a vision of the future that reconciles two fundamental values in my view: respect for societies, including Quebec society, and implementation of sustainable development.
Bill C-32 as it stands symbolizes the failure of a unilateral federal approach, which denies the right of the Quebec people to decide their own future. This is my view of Bill C-32. Because of what I believe in, I cannot consider this bill simply from a sovereignist or environmentalist point of view. I am opposed to Bill C-32, because this Liberal bill fails to reconcile two fundamental values for Quebeckers.
First, my vision of sustainable development is based on the conclusions of the United Nations commission on the environment and development, chaired by the then Prime Minister of Norway, Gro Brundtland. The commission defined this new concept that it was proposing to the world, namely that economic development must now be subject to environmental considerations.
Let us be clear: it is wrong to claim that the environment must now be at odds with economic development. These two basic realities are not at odds: they are essential elements of a type of progress that is now sustainable in our society.
The notion of sustainable development simply means that we must no longer endanger the resources of our planet and that we must make sure our natural resources will still be there for future generations. In other words, economic development must be achieved by preserving our planet's resources, rather than by using them up, or, to use a financial image, by using the interest and not the capital, in terms of our resources.
Economic development must not jeopardize the planet's natural balance. Since I first came to Ottawa, all too often I have seen people try to change the meaning of sustainable development. They closely link that concept to economic growth and then use it to oppose environmental concerns.
These people are not helping anyone's cause. If anything, they take us back 10 years, before the Liberals and before the work of the United Nations on development and the environment. We now have to recognize that the respect for individuals must be extended to their surroundings.
In other words, it is not a question of choosing between economic growth and environmental protection. Since both of these concerns are essential to global survival, what matters is finding an approach that takes both into account.
This environmental challenge still requires changes in attitude that force us to reconcile what might initially look like contradictory goals. I am convinced that we can forge a consensus in Quebec around these environmental and economic convictions. I am sure that a great many Canadians and Quebeckers also share my vision of sustainable development.
The misunderstanding does not lie at this level. The difference resides in our identifying with distinct peoples. We want to acquire as many tools as possible for orienting our development.
Our wishes are the opposite of those of the majority of Canadians, who basically want to see Ottawa play an increased role in numerous areas, including that of the environment. Elected representatives from Quebec, whatever their political stripe, have always fought to be able to retain the prerogatives that allow us to shape our future as we see it.
If there were any sign of this feeling of belonging and this desire for freedom in the other provinces, Bloc Quebecois members would not be the only ones rejecting the federal government's attempts to keep on grabbing a little more power. We can only conclude that this wish for autonomy is confined to Quebec. The fact of the matter is that, every time this country wanted or had to make weighty decisions of the sort that reveal basic natures, it went into crisis.
Instead of finding comfort in the face of adversity, instead of being galvanized by a challenge, and united in trust and hope, like a normal country, it instead fell into painful division. From the Riel affair to the schools in Manitoba, from conscription in World War I to conscription in World War II, from the 1982 patriation to the passage of the free trade agreement, from the Meech Lake accord to the Charlottetown accord, each time the same wounds were opened anew, the same tenuous solidarity was torn apart along the same stress lines by the same tensions. Paralysis and uncertainty were the poisoned fruits of this inability to live together.
Two recent environmental initiatives provide another illustration of the forces blocking the legitimate aspirations of two peoples still bound together by one federal government. The first issue is of the highest importance for our future, since it involves climactic changes affecting the nature of life on earth as we know it today. As I speak, millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide are being released into the atmosphere. In North America alone, we are responsible for more than a quarter of these emissions, which are having an unprecedented effect on our atmosphere.
For some time already, scientists from the four corners of the globe have noted that the planet has been warming up at a rate unprecedented in the past hundred years or so. Naturally, many research teams have looked at this phenomenon to understand its origins. One after another, the teams have published their disturbing results, which have begun to reveal that human activity is responsible for global warming.
Their conclusions were immediately contested by many scientists, who were astonished to learn that humans could have such an impact on the atmosphere protecting us. For a long time these scientists and ecologists were reduced to preaching in the wilderness. However, by the mid-1980s, we were becoming increasing aware of the seriousness of the environmental problem we now face.
Once the main concerns relating to the 1982 economic crisis were resolved, our societies began to realize the scope and the amplitude of our environmental problems. We all benefited from the expanded debate that ensued. It did not take long for the environment to become a concern to society as a whole.
Public awareness supported both specialists and political leaders in their efforts to further protect the environment. After facing the many challenges necessitated by greater levels of protection of waters, air, forests and the earth, we looked to problems at the global level, such as those concerning our atmosphere.
The international scale of these problems necessarily involves global and co-operative action by nations.
This led to the signature in Helsinki, in 1984, of the first international protocol to reduce transborder emissions responsible for acid rain. Three years later, in 1987, Montreal hosted an international meeting that resulted in the signing of the Montreal protocol, the purpose of which is to reduce the production of gases harmful to the ozone layer.
Five years later, over 150 nations got together in Rio for the earth summit. This meeting led to the signing of a UN framework agreement to limit concentrations of greenhouse gases. At this unprecedented summit, developed countries adopted the common goal of stabilizing greenhouse gas emissions at the 1990 level by the year 2000.
Today, five years after the Berlin conference, Canada as a whole has achieved nothing but a resounding absence of concrete measures for meeting this challenge. Why? Because the Liberal government, which has been in office since 1993, seems to have devoted more effort to developing an environmental doublespeak than to implementing concrete measures for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
There is no lack of examples. In a self-congratulatory advertisement that appeared on April 24, the Liberals claimed to have demonstrated international leadership by helping reduce the causes of climate change in the world. Nothing could be further from the truth. Unless, in Liberal speak, leadership means one of the worst performances in the world when it comes to reducing greenhouse gases.
Indeed, compared to other OECD members, Canada has done poorly in terms of reducing greenhouse gases, in spite of the good results achieved by Quebec, which is still in a position to meet the objectives set in Rio. For Canada as a whole, however, observers expect that there will be an increase of 13% in emissions by the year 2000.
If, by international leadership the Liberals are not referring to this country's notorious failure to reduce greenhouse gases, perhaps they are referring to its apparent wish to be the last to present a reduction goal for the period up to 2010.
In fact, thanks to the Liberal government, Canada was the last G-7 country to present its negotiating position for the Kyoto summit. For a long time, the only public position that was endorsed by the Minister of the Environment and the Minister of Natural Resources was the Regina position. Once again, this decision widened the gap between two blueprints for society.