House of Commons Hansard #93 of the 36th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was federal.


Negotiation Of Terms Of Separation ActPrivate Members' Business

11 a.m.


Darrel Stinson Reform Okanagan—Shuswap, BC

moved that Bill C-237, an act to provide for a national referendum to authorize the Government of Canada to negotiate terms of separation with a province that has voted for separation from Canada, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Madam Speaker, today I am pleased to speak in support of my private member's Bill C-237 which provides for a national referendum authorizing the government to negotiate terms of separation with a province that has voted to leave Canada.

Because the bill applies to any province voting to separate from Canada, today I want to speak about both Quebec and my home province of British Columbia. I believe that Senator Pat Carney was not wrong. There is a growing resentment in B.C. against the way central Canada runs this country, primarily to the benefit of central Canada.

Economic times are tougher now in B.C. than they have been in recent memory. One of the biggest contributors to these tough economic times is not the so-called Asian flu but Ottawa itself, a fact I will discuss this morning. However, regardless of which province might want to separate from Canada, certain conditions must apply.

My private member's Bill C-237 would set conditions which must be met before the federal government can negotiate with any province voting to separate. Because Canada is a democracy, which means ruled by the people, the first condition must be to ensure that separation really is the will of the majority.

My bill requires parliament to determine several conditions, including whether advance advertising for a provincial separation referendum as well as the ballots themselves state in both official languages that a yes vote means becoming a foreign state, losing representation in parliament, losing Canadian citizenship and passport and losing the unrestricted right to enter, travel and work in Canada.

My bill challenges separatists to follow some rules. If they do, my bill requires Canada to hold a national binding referendum authorizing Canada to negotiate. It does not spell out what would have to be negotiated, but I presume it would include such things as that province's share of the federal debt, rights of way for highways, power lines, pipelines, cables, payment of future pensions, cost of transferring permanent buildings and return of portable assets like military equipment.

This bill would establish a framework in which both the people of a province voting to separate and all Canadians could have a say in the future of our country. It would also provide a basis in law by which everybody would know what is expected, including separatists, federalists and the international community.

This legislation deals with one of the most difficult aspects of separation, namely, what must be done about people in the province who do not wish to leave Canada. This government has stated in the past that Indian bands that vote to remain in Canada would have their wishes respected. Why would the same rights not be extended to other areas where people vote to remain in Canada? After all, what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. If Canada can be broken into pieces so can a province.

Therefore, my bill proposes that a referendum on separating from Canada should be decided according to provincial and electoral district. It requires that only those districts with a majority of votes to separate would be allowed to leave Canada. Some people will say that this is ridiculous, but I find it no more ridiculous to suggest, for example, that the Montreal region of Quebec might want to stay in Canada while the Saguenay region voted to leave or to say that the Victoria and Vancouver areas of B.C. might want to stay in Canada while the interior and northern regions voted to leave than it is to say that we can rip Canada apart, allowing Quebec to leave while Newfoundland and Labrador and the Northwest Territories remain in Canada.

Will this be easy? No, of course not. Separating parts of Canada or parts of a province to become a foreign country will be extremely difficult. People who talk about separating have to know that in advance. I repeat that if the popular will can break up a country then the popular will can break up a province. After all, Quebec separatists claim to be a nation. They claim to be a country, so how can breaking up Quebec be any different than breaking up Canada? I want to emphasize that as a grassroots party Reform is well aware that only a small percentage of Canadians, whether inside or outside Quebec, want to see Quebec separate from Canada.

There was a statement concerning Quebec in the 1991 Reform Party green book which includes the following comment: “Our desire is to have a New Quebec as an equal and fully participating province in a New Canada”. At that time Reformers were trying to change the Quebec question from: “Do you want to leave Old Canada?” to: “Do you want to be a unique, equal and fully participating province in a New Canada?”

The statement concluded:

Reformers believe that the more the people of Quebec and the people of the rest of Canada are involved in defining the New Quebec and the New Canada, the higher will be the probability that the two visions can be reconciled. This is because ordinary people everywhere want more or less the same things for themselves and their children—a safe environment, good jobs with good incomes, high-quality education and health services, respect for their personal values and cultural heritage, and the freedom to live their lives in peace and dignity.

I personally believe that most people in Quebec as well as those in the rest of Canada want those same things today, but politicians and governments which do not listen to the people keep getting in the people's way. One of the most outrageous topics on which politicians do not listen to everyday Canadians is the question of unsettled native land claims.

Today for the people of British Columbia, especially people in rural ridings like my riding of Okanagan—Shuswap, we see natural resource jobs grinding to a halt. For example, B.C. has half the mining jobs it had 10 years ago. Mining investment in British Columbia is too low to replace existing reserves. According to a letter from a group of mine managers, one of the biggest reasons for this sharp decline in mining jobs in B.C. is uncertain land title and uncertain mineral tenure.

Nobody is going to invest millions of dollars in a mining investment without a certain answer to one basic question: Exactly who is the landlord?

The same question hurts the forest industry. The same question hurts the aquaculture industry.

According to the Constitution, land falls under provincial jurisdiction. Nevertheless, federal policies require that questions about aboriginal title to land be settled by the supreme court. Many in B.C. say it is time for B.C. to demand that the highest provincial court must be the court to decide questions of land rather than the supreme court.

The federal government seems totally oblivious to the enormous impact which the Delgamuukw decision of December 1997 has had on B.C., where 110% of its land mass is claimed by conflicting Indian bands, but the entire population lives on about 5% of the land.

Moreover, the entire provincial economy is based on natural resource jobs which are being choked off by unsettled land claims combined with increased expectations raised by Ottawa politicians and the supreme court.

When B.C. joined Confederation, one condition laid down was that it must set aside land for Indians in the form of Indian reserves. Setting aside those Indian reserves fulfilled all of B.C.'s responsibility to the Indians living there according to the terms of union.

However, Ottawa expects the people of B.C. to bear enormous additional costs in settling native land claims. Currently on the table are 50 treaties, with the Nisga'a treaty widely seen as the prototype for the others.

Ottawa is now expecting the people of B.C. to supply 20% of the cash costs and 100% of land treaty settlements.

A couple of summers ago my wife and I had the opportunity to visit with the Nisga'a and to talk with them firsthand. We saw the land surrounding the Nass River inland from Prince Rupert, which will form the land settlement of 1,930 square kilometres, plus $190 million in cash, $59 million for interest or inflation, another $122 million for their new highway, $100 million to compensate commercial interests like forestry, fishermen and big game guides for loss of their tenures, $21 million for the Nisga'a commercial fishery and unspecified millions to underwrite the cost of Nisga'a self-government.

Additionally, other forest companies in B.C. pay substantial amounts to the forest renewal fund from which the Nisga'a already receive about $2 million a year to reforest their lands. Funding will continue after the treaty but the Nisga'a will not have to contribute.

What will the taxpayers of B.C. and Canada get in return for this extremely generous settlement? No extinguishment of aboriginal title and a statement that the treaty is not final.

Yet this government, and this Prime Minister in particular, have said that the costs of about $2 billion to compensate all victims of hepatitis C from tainted blood are so huge that they threaten the very future of medicare. Fifty unsettled B.C. native land claims times $2 billion apiece is 50 times as great an amount as that for those additional hepatitis C victims.

This government figures that the land claims are okay while the law-abiding citizens who get sick after receiving tainted blood must go to court to try to get some help. Why the double standard? Does anybody remember that there are as many additional B.C. treaties from bands which have not started the long process of negotiation?

To a westerner like myself it is crystal clear. Central Canada, namely the two provinces of Ontario and Quebec, exercise absolute power and control over this country because of their population numbers and the total ineffectiveness of today's unelected and unaccountable Senate.

Let me provide a short list of other major offences Ottawa has delivered to B.C. For example, the softwood lumber deal was a poor substitute in accepting quotas and tariffs for lumber going to the U.S. despite the NAFTA. The first big hole is now obvious in new tariffs and quotas being imposed on us by the U.S. on pre-drilled softwood.

Another example is that Bill C-68 has been forced upon us regardless of the important role of rifles and shotguns in the rural western lifestyle.

Endangered species legislation was put forward and no doubt will come again soon. It makes little or no effort to compensate farmers and ranchers, the forest and mining industries for the cost of protecting species.

Canadian Forces base Chilliwack was closed. It was the only land force base in the most earthquake prone region in Canada with a significant population, including millions of international tourists each year. An official language policy that ignores freedom of speech has forced a great cost in British Columbia where the most common language after English is Chinese although in my riding it is German.

B.C. gets no protection from an immigration department that imports literally thousands of criminals into British Columbia who prey upon law abiding citizens while our own MPs hear accusations of bribery interfering with legitimate immigration.

The government has disbanded the ports police throwing costs into Vancouver area municipalities and making it easier than ever for illegal drugs and weapons to enter B.C. Taxes to support the so-called have not provinces have helped drive businesses out of B.C. including high taxes on gasoline. As for fishery policy one could easily devote more than one speech to the federal idiocy of a race based aboriginal fishery with no help to the salmon negotiations with the U.S.

This is the short list of reasons why I think it is possible my own home province of British Columbia may start talking seriously as Quebec has done about separating from the rest of Canada.

Up until now B.C. has not played the separatist game of trying to get special favours or it will leave. On the contrary western Canada voted for the Reform Party to make changes inside the system. However many people are becoming fed up with how little the government respects its commitments to get out of provincial jurisdiction and to rebalance the federation so there would be no need for any province to separate.

Therefore we need new rules in place to govern how separatism could take place so that everyone understands them. This is a must. This uncertainty has to end.

I will summarize at the end of the hour.

Negotiation Of Terms Of Separation ActPrivate Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

Simcoe North Ontario


Paul Devillers LiberalParliamentary Secretary to President of the Queen's Privy Council for Canada and Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs

Madam Speaker, I rise to speak in opposition to Bill C-237.

In the 1997 Speech from the Throne the Government of Canada committed itself to modernizing our federation and to ensuring that as long as the prospect of another Quebec referendum on secession exists debate is conducted with all of the facts on the table.

The federal government has acted accordingly since then. This approach will allow all Canadians to face together the challenges of the 21st century. With this objective in sight the Canadian government needs a responsible government to ensure there is a clear understanding of what is at stake in the type of unilateral secession that has been advocated by the current Government of Quebec. Such a unilateral declaration would be a deeply irresponsible and impractical act. It would pose serious risk of economic and social disorder particularly within Quebec and would have serious consequences for the rest of Canada.

In any democratic society clarity surrounding the key issues of the day is vital. The very core of democracy is the respect of the rule of law and within that the ability of citizens to make informed decisions about their future.

Much confusion surrounds the legal status of a possible unilateral declaration of independence. In order to clarify the legal aspects involved, the Government of Canada referred three questions to the Supreme Court of Canada, and we are committed to respect the court's opinion.

Thus the reference was an appropriate and responsible course of action by the Government of Canada. It is appropriate and responsible for members of the House not to deliberate about the appropriate process for secession until the supreme court has rendered its opinion on the question before it.

Support for sovereignty has dropped; this drop was probably brought about in part to the efforts made by the Government of Canada to clarify what is really at stake with the secessionist option. As the premier of Quebec once said “The conditions required to win a referendum have vanished”.

Recently, a poll conducted for the Council for Canadian Unity showed that 61% of Quebeckers would voted no to the referendum question in the 1995 referendum and 38% of those who voted yes would have voted differently if an economic union could not have been concluded with the rest of Canada.

In addition, an Ekos Research Associates Inc. poll conducted in March shows that only 11% of Quebeckers are in favour of outright independence. A SOM poll released in March shows that more than 62% of Quebeckers are opposed to Premier Bouchard holding another referendum. Finally, the poll sponsored by the Council on Canadian Unity shows that 50% of Quebeckers agree, while 36% disagree, that a region should be allowed to remain a part of Canada if that were the wish of a large percentage of its population.

All these figures go to show that Quebeckers want to remain Canadians and do not want to have to choose between their two identities. This is why the sovereignist leaders have no choice but to foster confusion and ambiguity. And they were quite successful at it, since polls consistently show that more than a third of Quebeckers still believe that, should sovereignty be achieved in Quebec, they would continue to be represented by members of Parliament in the House of Commons.

That is why this government has decided to counter the sovereignists' propaganda with clarity and use every means at its disposal to ensure that Quebeckers and Canadians in general are well aware of the irreparable consequences of secession.

Our primary duty and our responsibility as a government is to ensure that our federation keeps responding better and better to the needs of all Canadians. Our government has established mechanisms to strengthen our economic and social union. This union is based on our bonds of solidarity, compassion and openness, which, beyond our linguistic and cultural differences, unite us from coast to coast. This is the very basis of our federation.

Under the leadership of the Prime Minister, the Government of Canada has undertaken initiatives to make the federation work better for all Canadians.

Let me give a few examples of the numerous steps we have taken in this respect. Thanks to the Constitution Act, 1982, we were able to effect two constitutional amendments bilaterally to modernize Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador's education system.

There has been inclusion of public sector procurement, excluding health and social services, under the agreement of international trade. The federal government has now signed job training agreements with nine provinces and two territories. Intergovernmental negotiations are under way to develop a more concerted and co-operative approach to social policy reform. There is also the harmonization of existing federal legislation with Quebec civil law and the development of the national child benefit system.

These are the sorts of initiatives that demonstrate to all Canadians, including Quebeckers, that the federation can and does evolve to meet changing needs.

Our efforts have been productive. The deficit has been beaten, and we can afford to make some choices and to invest in the future. Quebec is also overcoming its own deficit, which is something to rejoice about. Last week, the New York credit agency Standard & Poor's raised Quebec's credit rating. It pointed out that the decreased popularity of sovereignty had something to do with this adjustment, since it had reduced political and economic uncertainty. One hopes the Government of Quebec takes careful note of this.

Canada has much to offer. Its economic foundations are solid and it is an exceptional place to live, invest and do business. Canada is a success from all points of view, and we are the envy of the entire world. We must make an effort to continue the progress that has begun and to make this country an even more remarkable place in which to live.

Canada was not created by magic; it is the result of a joint desire to live together. Our country has been built by generation after generation of Canadians, and it deserves to remain united so that future generations may continue to benefit from the efforts and visions of the builders of this country.

We must focus our energies on building Canada, not on dividing it. The Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs recently told students at the faculty of law at the University of Ottawa:

Canada is not a perpetual constitutional dispute; it is a principle of caring, one of the greatest that humanity has invented—.We must remain together and improve further this—generous federation that is our common achievement.

As we stated in the Speech from the Throne, the single most important commitment of the government is to keep Canada united. It is what we are committed to accomplishing through our initiatives to clarify what would be at stake in the unilateral secession and to modernize our federation.

For all these reasons I cannot support Bill C-237.

Negotiation Of Terms Of Separation ActPrivate Members' Business

11:25 a.m.


Pierre Brien Bloc Témiscamingue, QC

Madam Speaker, it is quite clear that no member of the Bloc Quebecois can support a bill such as the one introduced by the Reform Party. Even though the government says it will not support this bill, that is in fact exactly what it is doing.

My remarks will be directed in equal measure at both parties and I will return to a few of the points made by the parliamentary secretary in his speech. I am surprised, moreover, that the minister, who is always right, is not here himself to speak on this topic so dear to his heart. He has been strangely silent for some weeks now.

I will begin with what the member for Okanagan—Shuswap said were his bill's objectives. He said that he wanted to describe the conditions that had to be met before a province could become sovereign, even pointing out that there was growing support for such a move in his own province, British Columbia. We all know perfectly well that there is a sort of race on between the Liberals and Reformers to see who can adopt the toughest policy towards Quebec and thus boost their political ratings.

Having seen the Liberals come out with a very hard-line Plan B, a reference to the Supreme Court, and flirt with partition, and not wanting to be left behind, the Reformers, with this bill, are now very clearly supporting all the partitionist actions in Quebec. Never has a political party gone so far. Liberal members must surely be amused to see their colleagues taking matters a little further than they have, although ultimately they are echoing the same sentiments. They have encouraged this discourse.

They say that their primary objective is to ascertain the real will of the public. They want to make certain that this will is clearly understood, clearly identified and clearly gauged, as though Quebeckers were incapable of making their own decisions about their future, of determining if a given approach is clear and understandable.

These people claim that we are incapable of understanding what happened in the 1995 referendum because, if we had, so many of us would not have voted yes. This is the assumption behind everything they have done.

The Liberals are saying that they are going to look for a new way, and use the Supreme Court as an authority in deciding whether Quebeckers exercised their judgement properly. The Reformers are saying that another way has to be found. Today, they have come up with two new approaches.

It is the House of Commons that will determine in legislation whether the process was clear, whether it was acceptable, and whether people were properly informed. However, such determination will not be made only by the House of Commons, but also by another institution. Indeed, our dear senators will also determine whether the process was clear and understandable to all Quebeckers. The first problem with this is that the government would have to first find and then repatriate the senators, so they could be in the Senate to review the issue. This alone would imply some rather extensive delays. Who knows, if a referendum were held during the winter, perhaps senators would hold their meetings in Mexico. This issue will have to be taken into consideration. As I said earlier, it is all a matter of finding out who is prepared to go the furthest.

However, the bill includes some positive elements, and I will mention them immediately, because there are very few.

There is a thought process currently taking place in Canada, particularly outside the Liberal Party and the Reform Party. That process concerns the possibilities of a partnership between Quebec and Canada. What kind of relationship will it be?

Even the Reformers' proposed legislation shows that a thought process is taking place on possible and eventual ties between Quebec and Canada. For the first time, Reformers do not question the fact that Quebec could use the Canadian dollar, otherwise they would obviously have mentioned it.

There was talk of the possibility of using some other Canadian instruments, but there is no longer any mention of the Canadian dollar, thus recognizing that sovereignists were right all along, as we already knew, along with most of the credible people who expressed their opinion on this issue.

Second, while the bill recognizes the democratic rule of 50% of the ballots plus one vote, its interpretation is very distorted, since it is based on electoral districts and not on the whole territory.

This means that, according to the logic of Reformers, I should no longer be here. Indeed, since my riding voted yes in the last referendum, it should be part of a sovereign Quebec made up of all the ridings that voted yes. Let me say in passing that this would be true for many regions in Quebec, including the riding of Sherbrooke and including the Prime Minister's riding. There would be a serious problem. The Prime Minister would no longer be in his present riding.

Negotiation Of Terms Of Separation ActPrivate Members' Business

11:30 a.m.

An hon. member

That would be fine.

Negotiation Of Terms Of Separation ActPrivate Members' Business

11:30 a.m.


Pierre Brien Bloc Témiscamingue, QC

That might just be fine, but there would be a serious problem.

The title of the bill was a step in the right direction, but there is a contradiction between its title and the bill itself. It is entitled “an act to provide for a national referendum to authorize the Government of Canada to negotiate terms of separation with a province that has voted for separation from Canada”.

It refers to a province and not various regions, parts of territories, and so on. However, further on in the bill, the approach changes and becomes much more radical, like that of Guy Bertrand and other excited Quebeckers who are in a lather over this issue, incited by the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs. Now the Reform Party is giving it its full support.

One very negative aspect of this bill is that a federal party is not just flirting with those who favour partition for Quebec, but sleeping with them too.

As I said at the start of my remarks, what bothers me the most is all the baggage. The bill states the following at page 3:

(2) If a province holds a separation referendum and the Question is answered in the affirmative, the Senate and House of Commons shall determine whether a ) the question that was put was a simple and direct question—

They are even going to decide whether a majority of people voted affirmatively in the riding. Do they know there is a chief electoral officer in Quebec? Do they know that elections and democratic exercises are governed by Quebec laws? Do my Reform colleagues know that? Where do they live?

Negotiation Of Terms Of Separation ActPrivate Members' Business

11:30 a.m.

An hon. member

They do not know anything.

Negotiation Of Terms Of Separation ActPrivate Members' Business

11:30 a.m.


Pierre Brien Bloc Témiscamingue, QC

Our own laws deal with this. The quality of democratic exercises even serves as a standard around the world.

Do they know that we also have, on political party funding, something that will not be found here in this House? Do they know that the provisions of referendum legislation permit the yes and the no camps to spend about the same amount? Do they know that?

Do they know that, normally, people should not intervene in these referenda with money from Ottawa, which comes and meddles in a process where Quebeckers are deciding their future? No. According to their rules, Quebec's future will be decided here in Ottawa, either by the supreme court, or the Liberals, the Reform members, Senate friends appointed by the Prime Minister. And we should say to Quebeckers: “Don't worry, some wise people in Ottawa will take care of properly defining our future”.

This is a bit too much, and we have had enough of all these approaches, of this race against the clock to determine who will play the hardest.

This morning, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs arrived with a series of highly partisan polls. Did members notice that several of them were conducted on behalf of the Council for Canadian Unity?

Every one here knows what the Council for Canadian Unity is about, but perhaps not all our viewers do. This council's purpose is to ensure that Quebec will never be sovereign, to keep Canada as it is, in a permanent, unchangeable status quo. It is becoming a federal propaganda tool. They took a few elements of a poll and threw them in our face this morning.

But let us take a closer look at reality. Let us take a somewhat historical perspective. In the 1960s, I was not yet born, but from what I heard, there were a few sovereignists in Quebec. There was the Rassemblement pour l'indépendance nationale. There were a few groups, and no one talked about a movement of over 10% of Quebeckers. During the 1970s, a political party was born. At first, it was the Mouvement souveraineté-association, and then it became the Parti Quebecois. Support began to increase, and soon reached 25 or 30%.

The first referendum, the first time where intentions were measured in a referendum was in 1980: 40% of the people said they were in favour of sovereignty, or in favour of giving the government a mandate to negotiate sovereignty and then come back before the people.

Later, in the 1980s, after this referendum was defeated, we were told there would be no more talk about sovereignty, it was over, archaic, and so on. Fifteen years later, we had another referendum and 49.5% of people voted yes.

If we look at it from a historical perspective, not according to some poll conducted yesterday or the day before yesterday, we see that Quebeckers' willingness to take their destiny into their own hands is on the rise. Their number is increasing day after day, year after year. It is an irreversible trend, which explains why Reform MPs and Liberals alike are so panicky.

Since I have only 30 seconds left, I want to say this to members of the government party and Reform MPs: our desire to choose et decide our own future is not negotiable. Whether they like it or not, Quebeckers are going to choose their own future. They said it very clearly. Our specialist on polls should look at those conducted in February, during the reference to the supreme court; they show that over 80% of people think it is for them to decide, not the court, not the Reform Party, not the Liberal Party, and certainly not the Senate.

Negotiation Of Terms Of Separation ActPrivate Members' Business

11:35 a.m.


Bill Blaikie NDP Winnipeg—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, I listened to the hon. member from Okanagan—Shuswap. I have had a chance to look over the bill. It seems what we have wrapped up in the bill and in the member's comments is a unique combination of all the various complaints the member and his party have about Confederation and about the nature of the country.

There are positions in the bill reflecting the Reform Party's position on the Senate and on free votes. In the member's speech we heard about land claims and about B.C. separatism. The member has made it very difficult for people to support elements of what he said and elements of the bill because it carries so much baggage with respect to a whole lot of other matters. Clearly it carries a lot of political baggage in terms of what the member had to say when he was speaking in defence of the bill.

I am not sure, having read things over, whether this is to be a referendum before the government negotiates terms of separation or whether what the government negotiates would be put to a national referendum. It appears to have elements of both. It is not clear exactly where this referendum would take place. This is one of the problems with the bill.

One does not want to speak in principle against the notion that any significant constitutional change might in certain circumstances be put to a referendum. Certainly after the experience of the Charlottetown accord where Canadians had their first experience in voting in a referendum on constitutional change it would be very hard not to have significant constitutional change in the future without Canadians participating in that way. Whether one thought that was advisable or a tradition that should have developed, this is a tradition that has developed. It would be very difficult for the government to do otherwise.

I am not sure the bill is the mechanism by which that might be achieved. It is not a votable bill. If it were it would go to committee and there would be an opportunity to do some work on this sort of thing. Clearly the member seems to be saying, and I think a lot of people would agree, there is work to be done on this.

I sense a contradiction between what the member is saying now and what I understood his party to be saying in an earlier debate in the House. They were uncritically supportive of the view that the supreme court is going to figure all these things out. The government is being more consistent, not necessarily right, in opposing the member's bill. The member to some extent speaks for his party. However, this is Private Members' Business so I cannot assume that. Maybe he is only speaking for himself in this respect. But he supported his party's position and seems to be saying this is a matter for the courts in so far as support for the supreme court reference. On the other hand he is saying we should have legislation to deal with this.

I am not sure where the referendum comes in but I find it hard to imagine a situation in which a government, having negotiated reasonable terms of separation with a separating province, would have to go to a national referendum, knowing what I know about politics. Even if a very good arrangement had been negotiated, it would be very difficult to put such an arrangement to a referendum because there would always be someone or some group of persons who might be able to point to something in the negotiated settlement that would threaten to scuttle it.

It is in that sense that I ask the member a question. In a theoretical way is he, in creating a process whereby secession or separation as he is suggesting in this bill, not guaranteeing that a separating province would eventually be driven to a unilateral declaration of independence? Would this bill not set up a process that would make it almost impossible for any agreement, not to be reached, but to be approved?

I also find it very disturbing that the member would talk about the spectre of separatism in British Columbia. It is well and good to talk about alienation, anger and legitimate grievances. Many of the things the member spoke about I can certainly understand and share his feelings.

The case needs to be made, and many people are making it, that this country needs more attention paid to what is going on in western Canada, particularly in B.C. Our media has central Canadian glasses on. This has been aggravated by the regionalism of this parliament. The fact that the government is almost entirely from central Canada does not help.

However, this is something all the political parties have to address. To the extent that as political parties we try to build our political fortunes on regional alienation, we contribute to the problem. There is a bit of a conundrum. On the one hand we want to give voice to the anger in our regions but we do not want to represent it in such a way as to contribute to the fragmentation of the country. It is part of the art of politics and something that has to be done as well as can be.

Finally, the parliamentary secretary talked about Canada being a generous federation. I agree that if Canada were a generous federation it would be more worthy of being kept unified. I also agree that Canada has been a generous federation. However, I would argue that one of the things that threatens this country now as much as any determination on the part of my Bloc Quebecois colleagues or the PQ government in Quebec or anything like that is the breakdown of the social democratic consensus that existed in this country from the 1940s through to the 1980s.

The breakdown of that by a variety of forces, circumstances and policies adopted by this government and previous governments is every bit as much a threat to Confederation as anything being put forward by separatists, although obviously they are much more clearly a threat at the political and symbolic level. I am saying that at the social and economic level there is this other threat to Canadians' sense of themselves as being part of a caring community that they feel is worth defending and that many Quebeckers might feel is worth continuing to be a part of.

I think of the cutbacks the federal government has been responsible for in terms of federal transfer payments to the provinces. The federal government is now only paying something like 15% or 20% on medicare and perhaps it is as low as 10% depending on the figures that we believe. When it comes to the cost of health care I do not know how any member on the other side has the nerve to talk about this being a generous federation.

We see what this government has done in terms of unilateral secession. We talk about unilateral secession. There is unilateral federal withdrawal from cost shared programs, from programs which in some senses were initially imposed on the provinces and certainly were initiated by the federal government. It is something which we supported and still do. But if we are going to continue to have those programs then we have to restore much fuller federal participation in those programs. Government members cannot get up day after day—

Negotiation Of Terms Of Separation ActPrivate Members' Business

11:45 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

I am afraid I must interrupt the hon. member. Time has run out.

Negotiation Of Terms Of Separation ActPrivate Members' Business

11:45 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

André Bachand Progressive Conservative Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Madam Speaker, I am going to speak briefly to Bill C-237 introduced by the Reform Party member. Having listened to him, I think that the member is experiencing major frustration. I urge him to carry out a rapid consultation and do something positive for the country, not something negative, as he is with Bill C-237.

What is surprising in this bill—once again we see the dichotomy of the Reform Party—is that there is recognition for a referendum in Quebec or in the other provinces while, in February, indignant Reformers said that they did not recognize the right of the people of Quebec to decide their own future. In Bill C-237, they say that now they have the right. Once again, we see that the Reform Party is inconsistent and never on the same wavelength as the rest of the country. We will see this in the next election.

What is surprising about Bill C-237 is that it is a negative bill. It sets out on paper the Reform Party's position on how to legally split up the country. It is the same with the Liberal government opposite. They want to establish standards on how to carve up the country, taking matters to such an extreme that there is now a criterion involving gauging results riding by riding. This is unprecedented.

They say that Quebec, British Columbia, or any other province, has the right to consult its population as to whether it wishes to remain in the country, but the bill goes further than that. It does not say that the province has to be the one consulting. It says “a referendum or question put to the electors”, meaning that a riding dissatisfied with its lot in the country can decide to change country. That is what is idiotic about the bill.

It makes no sense. They are saying that it is possible to divide Canada, tear it apart, divide provinces, and they are no longer necessarily limiting this partition to a country or a province, but are now talking about regions. This is nonsense.

In this bill, if the aboriginal peoples decide to change country, no province or parliament can stand in their way. All that can be done is to hold a national referendum to set the rules. If the James Bay Cree decide to join the United States, they will be able to do so easily with this bill. No legislation or supreme court reference can prevent them.

What this bill does is to give the country's regions, rather than its provinces, the right to fight with each other and to split off. This goes so far that it makes no sense. What we have here is a pizza parliament. Given the frustration of the Reform member and of other parties in the country, if such a bill were to be passed, we could be looking at a “puzzle Canada”, with discontinuous stretches of country here and there. That is what Bill C-237 is about.

Constitutional stupidity goes that far. It is totally crazy. I can understand the Reform Party, though. They will never be in government in this country, united as it is today, so they say: “We are going to collect bits of ridings here and there across the country and make ourselves a little republic of our own”. That is what Bill C-237 is about.

If the member had anything else in mind, he should have consulted the other parties, taken a look at what has been happening in Parliament in recent years and been more positive in his approach.

The principle of ridings goes far beyond that. If we support a national referendum, we must apply the same rule to ridings. What would happen if Quebec or, say, Prince Edward Island decided to separate? A national referendum would be held to put the terms of the separation to the people of Canada. What would happen if Quebec ridings voted no? It does not wash.

Can we not talk positively about the country and stop trying to sour relations? I want to say something, with much respect for my Bloc friends. They are my Quebec colleagues. There are, however, two separatist parties in this House. One is French speaking, the other, English speaking. That is the reality of this Parliament. We are going to have to give priority to the things that count, like putting bread and butter on the table.

The Reform member is right about one thing. There are indeed problems in certain parts of the country. I agree with him. However, why waste our time introducing twisted legislation and telling the Supreme Court and the whole world that regions can separate? There is no support for the big bad separatists in Quebec. But there is also a secessionist movement in British Columbia.

Talk about the country is negative. The most negative thing about this country is that there are people who cannot make ends meet. Some people are poor and dying of hunger. All the Reform Party wants is to introduce bills to blow the country apart. This is the way to resolve a lot of problems.

What we say is that there should be a more positive approach in this Parliament. Members should stop trying to dragoon people into their movement and introducing bills proposing ways to break up the country. That is bunk. A country is not a marriage. The difference between a constitution and a marriage contract is that the marriage contract sets out the conditions for divorce. A constitution makes no such mention.

So, the idea is to include in a constitution the rules that would apply in case of a divorce. But a constitution is not a marriage contract. The bill goes too far. We favour a constructive approach. If they wanted, Reformers could do the same.

Someone close to the Reform Party listed 10 reasons why Quebeckers should vote yes in a future referendum. His approach was somewhat sarcastic. Reformers are constantly adding fuel to the fire. The Liberal Party has failed to try to put out the fire. But again today, the Reform Party is trying to add fuel to the fire. This must stop. The best way to destroy a country is to introduce legislation such as Bill C-237.

Where in this bill is the will to maintain a united country? There is no such will. This is the Reform Party's approach. The Liberal Party does not fare much better. There are other problems. Again, Parliament will have to start discussing positive things.

It is true that the government does not introduce a lot of bills. It hides from the public a surplus of $6 or $7 billion in this year's budget, because Liberal ministers want to spend this money, and I can understand that.

But why not talk about positive things to promote the common good of Canadians and Quebeckers, instead of telling people in some regions of Quebec, such as Montreal Island “If you vote no in a referendum, you will remain with us”?

On the other hand, the democratic nature of the vote is recognized. The Reform Party was in favour of the recall. The whole democratic issue is important. We must have an elected Senate, we must do this and that.

Reformers want to ensure the constitutional issue is recognized in Quebec. They want to ensure Canada is divided. They talk about partition in Canada. They do not recognize the Quebec province as a whole any more. They take what they need and let go of the rest. This is what Bill C-237 is about, this is what the Reform Party is about. It is a separatist party.

If they want to have the opportunity to change their label, they should introduce far more positive bills: hold a hand out to British Columbians, to Quebeckers. They know that from history.

They should come and visit Quebec. I invite them to do so. There are also regional frustrations in that province. In my riding, there are regional frustrations, but one thing is clear: we want to work positively to improve this country and Quebec. People should stop saying it is always Ottawa's fault. We must take our future into our own hands.

There remains a credible alternative to this government and to the constitutional issue, and it is here in this corner of the House.

Negotiation Of Terms Of Separation ActPrivate Members' Business

11:55 a.m.


Darrel Stinson Reform Okanagan—Shuswap, BC

Madam Speaker, to summarize, we have heard a bit about this bill, but more on partisan politics from a number of parties in this House.

I would like to remind members, especially the separatists, that when they talk about sovereignty they play the politically correct game. They tone it down to try to confuse the people in this country. Let us understand that what they actually mean is separation, not sovereignty association.

I also address the Conservative Party in the House. We got into this mess because of two parties basically. We are here today because of the Liberal government and the Conservative government. I remind the Conservative members exactly where Mr. Bouchard came from. He came right out of their ranks, straight from the Conservative Party. They should remember that.

We get fed up with the political correctness some people say we have to operate under, that we should not bring these types of bills before the House and to leave it up to the Senate to make the decision. I have great concerns about that. This is supposed to be the highest political office in the land. When we do not have the intestinal fortitude to take these problems face on and come up with answers to these questions, then we are in a sorry state in this country, when we back down from problems like this instead of facing them and trying to use them for other reasons.

I would like to repeat what Saskatchewan Premier Roy Romanow said the other day. He warned the federal government last week at the annual meeting of the Council for Canadian Unity that it needs to take provincial demands much more seriously than it now seems to be doing. It must continue to rebalance the federation.

At the unity conference the results of a CROP poll conducted earlier in April were announced. It stresses my point. In Quebec 75% described themselves as being very attached or somewhat attached to Canada. The poll showed that many Quebeckers remain confused about what separation from Canada would mean. Thirty-seven per cent of those polled in Quebec said that Quebec sovereignty and an economic partnership with Canada would not mean that Quebec would leave Canada and become an independent country. This is in Quebec. Twenty-nine per cent said Quebec would still elect MPs to go to Ottawa; 39% said Quebeckers would keep Canadian citizenship; and 36% said Quebec would still be a Canadian province.

It is time that this place put the rules in place of exactly what we are talking about when provinces and people want to talk about separation. Let us come here and do the job we were elected to do. Let us clear this confusion up and get this settled instead of it costing us millions and millions of dollars every year on the same issue. Let us put some rules in place for a change. Let us do our job.

Negotiation Of Terms Of Separation ActPrivate Members' Business

11:55 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

The time provided for the consideration of Private Members' Business has now expired. The order is dropped from the Order Paper.

Orders of the day.

The House resumed from April 24 consideration of the motion that Bill C-32, an act respecting pollution prevention and the protection of the environment and human health in order to contribute to sustainable development, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1998Government Orders



Marlene Catterall Liberal Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

Madam Speaker, there have been discussions among the parties and I think you would find unanimous consent to allow the ministers to speak in this debate later today for the normal time of 20 minutes for speeches and 10 minutes for questions and comments.

Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1998Government Orders


The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

Is there unanimous consent?

Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1998Government Orders


Some hon. members


Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1998Government Orders



Rick Casson Reform Lethbridge, AB

Madam Speaker, thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak to Bill C-32, the Canadian Environmental Protection Act.

The Reform Party has always supported the concept that all Canadians deserve to live in a clean and healthy environment. The key to protecting our environment is to ensure a co-operative attitude. Without co-operation no piece of legislation will achieve its purpose.

In order for environmental goals and targets to be met it is essential that an open dialogue representing social, scientific, technical and economic considerations be held. The successful development of any project requires consideration for all these aspects.

It is important that we never lose sight of the role played by public consultation and participation. With the recent signing of the environmental harmonization accord the time has come for all levels of government to work with each other to ensure that environmental issues receive top consideration.

In 1988 when the original Canadian Environmental Protection Act came into force, now simply referred to as CEPA, the goal of the legislation was to protect the environment and in turn protect human health.

CEPA intended to fill regulatory gaps where they existed in the legislative framework with particular attention being paid to the issue of toxic substances, when and if to ban them and how harmful they can be to our health and our environment.

CEPA has also played an international role. Canada has always tried to play an important role in the international arena and whenever international environmental treaties are signed, international obligations ensue.

This piece of legislation touches and affects several acts, including the environmental contaminants act, the oceans dumping control act and the clean air act. The legislative review that began last parliament was part of a mandatory review of the administration of this act. The review resulted in the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development's holding hearings which resulted in a report of recommendations.

The old bill, Bill C-74, died on the order paper and never made it through the House, the reasons for which I will delve into briefly. Now a revamped version has been tabled under Bill C-32.

This rather extensive piece of legislation, 230 pages in all, provides measures for the protection of environment and human health as well as pollution prevention. Other sections deal with the management of toxic substances, the virtual elimination of releases of substances determined to be the most dangerous, and the partnerships needed to achieve the highest level of environmental quality. This last section is particularly important because without strong co-operation between varying levels of government, science, industry and environmental sectors no amount of legislation will safeguard our land, keep it in good health and preserve it for our children and their children to enjoy.

Among the changes made to CEPA, Bill C-32 includes the provision to implement pollution prevention, new procedures for the investigation and assessment of substances and new requirements for toxicity assessments, new provisions respecting fuels, international air and water pollution, motor emissions, federal and aboriginal land protection, the proper disposal of wastes and other matters at sea and the safer export and import of waste.

Should Bill C-32 be enacted it will provide for the gathering of information for research and the creation of inventories of data, the publishing of objectives, guidelines and codes of practice, new powers for inspectors, investigators and laboratory analysis, many environmental protection alternative measures as well as civil suit action guidelines.

The differences between the old bill and Bill C-32 are not overwhelming.

Bill C-32 contains minor amendments that appear to work in favour of the bill. That is not to say the bill has no shortcomings.

However, these concerns can and must be addressed by the Standing Committee on the Environment and Sustainable Development. One area of concern lies with the issue of jurisdiction.

Looking to the Constitution for help in this matter is fruitless. Environmental jurisdiction is not definite in the Constitution.

For years now much duplication and overlap between different levels of government have left us with the relatively ineffective system in dire need of fine tuned co-operation.

Since the 1980s environmental protection has been expanded at the federal and provincial levels. The result has been a great deal of tension between the provinces and the federal government that has been taken to the highest courts in this land.

Last September the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that Ottawa has a right to enact legislation to protect the environment. However, the supreme court also made special note that the federal government was not to take this as a carte blanche to run all over the existing provincially run areas of the environment.

This holds true with an important aspect of Reform principles. Very often some government affairs are best carried out at a closer level to the people of this nation.

While it is true that environmental issues transcend man made boundaries, if the provinces are properly carrying out their environmental duties, there is no reason for the federal government to interfere.

Federal-provincial co-operation is essential to ensuring that environmental policies are carried through. If the recent signing of the harmonization accord between the federal and provincial environment ministers is any indication, perhaps we are well on our way to ensuring a partnership rather than an adversarial approach to environmental protection.

The resources required to adequately protect our environment and consequently our health are vast. Clearly such a huge task should be shared by all levels of government.

I would like to emphasize and take this opportunity to mention municipal involvement. Municipal levels of government are closest to the people.

Canadians deal with their local city councils on almost a daily basis and we should encourage grassroots participation in safeguarding our environment.

Getting back to the problems between federal and provincial jurisdictions over the environment, a clear understanding must be achieved in order to avoid unnecessary overlap and duplication.

Reform blue book policy clearly supports the establishment of clear federal-provincial jurisdiction over environmental matters.

It is important to keep in mind that every dollar saved in the administration of the environment would be better spent toward such areas as pollution prevention, viable alternative energy systems and waste management, to name a few.

Bill C-32 contains some amendments requiring co-operation between the federal and provincial governments in an attempt to show support for the harmonization accord signed in St. John's, Newfoundland earlier this year.

CEPA's preamble sets out a shared responsibility for the environment. Here is an important step toward true harmonization and cost effective environmental protection.

This alone, however, hardly is enough. It is imperative that CEPA spell out that the government will discharge its responsibilities by working co-operatively under the federal-provincial-territorial Canadian-wide accord and subagreements on environmental harmonization as agreed to in principle by the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment.

Safeguards are in place to ensure that no one province steers the direction of the federal government vis-à-vis any international treaties. The federal government must be cognizant that many international treaties will require provincial implementation and that provinces should be able to take part in any implementation strategies.

Bill C-32 empowers the minister with the control of the movement of non-hazardous solid waste to or from the United States. Usually waste management falls under provincial jurisdiction and this is one area that could cause tensions between federal and provincial levels of power.

This is one section that may need to be reworked. In the area of accountability, it is interesting to note that CEPA allows for the creation of a national advisory committee. Unfortunately the committee structure compromises its accountability to Canadians.

The members of the national advisory committee are appointed by the minister without any provincial involvement, and this is not acceptable.

The lack of accountability may cause this committee to act as a political vehicle to promote the minister's agenda rather than a national vehicle to ensure provinces and territories are fairly represented in the decision making process.

This brings me back to my first point, the importance of a fair and open consultation process for the public, especially in the development of regulations and additions of new substances. Reform has always supported the principle of grassroots participation. We are dedicated to public consultation and policy development, especially when we are dealing with an issue that knows no boundaries such as the environment.

Eventually we all eat from the same earth, drink from the same water and breathe the same air. In short, we are all in this together, so the best way is a co-operative way because we are all affected by the environment in one way or another.

I am not impressed with the lack of formal consultation processes in CEPA. During the last parliamentary session over 100 concerns were raised regarding CEPA and there are still areas of concern that need to be addressed especially in the area of consultation.

For example, Bill C-32 needs to ensure that all draft regulations and guidelines are released for public comment 60 days before the minister formally releases the assessment. It is unfortunate that too much is left to the minister's discretion.

Another example of this is the environmental registry. Access to the registry should be open and the form should be clearly announced. Bill C-32 leaves all this at the minister's discretion. This secrecy is not justifiable.

Another questionable issue is the lack of requirement to print the final text of all agreements in the Canada Gazette . I am unclear as to why this is not a required practice. I ask that the minister allow all final texts be published in full and easily accessed through the Internet.

One more area of concern is the lack of adequate time given to the Standing Committee on the Environment and Sustainable Development to review proposed administrative and equivalency agreements. As a member of this committee I have twice witnessed the fast track approach taken by the environment minister, once to push through the harmonization accord and second to pull together a very last minute and rather hasty position on Kyoto.

Now more than ever Canadians are fed up with the old way of doing business. Canadians are demanding accountability from their government. I remind the environment minister that this means no more dealings behind closed doors. Canadians want transparency when it comes to conducting business dealings.

One more area required for sound policy decision making is reliance on sound scientific principles. It is imperative that legislation reflect the right choices to protect our environment and not for political gain, as has been the case. CEPA and many decisions made under this legislation need to be supported by sound scientific study.

One area where the old bill has serious problems rests with the minister's ability to bypass section 65 and overlook the requirements set out in the risk assessment determination on toxic substances.

I am quite certain Canadians would not be impressed to find out this bill gives the environment minister unlimited powers to bypass science in her decision making. This is one of the critical reasons Reform, environmentalists, industry and many Canadians cannot support this bill. Perhaps this was one of the reasons for its demise in the last parliament. Further study will be required to assess whether the unlimited powers section has been properly addressed.

It is odd that the word toxic is not defined in Bill C-32's preamble considering there is an entire section devoted to controlling toxic substances. This section may allow substances to be defined as toxic without the necessary scientific evidence needed to prove toxicity.

It is rather frightening to think this may be yet another section giving the minister or parliament authority the ability to arbitrarily ban substances.

Another concern is the provisions to provide for toxic assessment consultation fail to require that qualified experts from government, academia and industry are full partners in the assessment process.

Another controversial section of the bill is the national ban on substances banned in other provinces or industrialized countries. Such a policy could abandon risk assessment as a basis for priorization and chemical control when it is the standard accepted internationally and by the science community.

This policy could also undermine the necessity of requiring a science basis for decisions. It is critical that the role of science be clarified so that science forms the basis of decisions made under CEPA. This needs to be spelled out clearly.

Another key issue is enforcement which is critical to environment policy. The Reform Party has many clear positions on enforcement. Reform blue book policy clearly supports the principle that the polluter should pay for its pollution controls and that this be stringently enforced in an unbiased manner and that penalties be severe enough so polluters will not consider them a licence fee to pollute.

Reform also supports fines and jail sentences for officers and executives of companies violating environmental laws.

The biggest problem with CEPA is its lack of enforcement. When CEPA was proclaimed 10 years ago the Conservative government bragged that it introduced the toughest environmental law in the western hemisphere. Yet this has proven to be quite the exaggeration.

One of the principal concerns regarding this act is inadequate funding for enforcement. The department simply does not have the resources to ensure that the requirements of the act are fulfilled. The environment department has had almost two-thirds of its budget slashed since the Liberals came to power. No matter how tough the minister makes the act it will make no difference unless the department has the resources to enforce the legislation.

What must be emphasized more than enforcement is the operative word compliance. It is always better to follow the carrot over the stick approach. A law must have the capacity to enforce its regulations. Yet it will be more effective if it can deter individuals from breaking the law or, better yet, if it can encourage individuals to follow the law.

Other areas of enforcement contained in Bill C-32 also need to be examined and possibly amended for improvement. For example, the right to sue provisions contained within the bill may be improved if amended so that the government is made a mandatory party to any suit.

Whistleblower protection contained in the legislation may also require expansion to include whistleblower protection for workers who report breaches of the law and bad environmental practice not just to inspectors but to the public and through the media. Pollution is a public issue and workers should have the right to publicize it without fear of sanctions.

Despite the many needed areas of improvement, some of the other improvements to Bill C-74, which is now Bill C-32, include improved time lines for adding new substances that have been assessed and added to the domestic substance list. Pollution prevention planning guidelines have been further developed in the new bill. Recognition of voluntary instruments has also been added.

Section 51 has been amended to ensure that pollution prevention virtual elimination and environmental emergency plans can only be required by the minister for substances that are on the list of toxic substances.

Greater flexibility has been provided in the preparation of pollution prevention plans to keep with the policy objective that the plan does not become akin to excessive regulatory burden.

Many changes have been made to Bill C-32, formerly Bill C-74, to make it more acceptable to the public. There are still areas of concern that need to be worked out. Canadians have waited a long time for the government to pass meaningful realistic environmental legislation.

Especially after the fiasco with Kyoto, I am hoping to see our government get away from its empty rhetoric and destructive political agendas and move toward something more realistic and acceptable to Canadians that will truly benefit our environment. I hope we never again have to witness such an embarrassment as the lack of formal consultation and the lack of an implementation strategy prior to set targets like we did with Kyoto.

On a more positive note it appears that there has been sufficient progress with Bill C-32 to make it a plausible alternative to the existing legislation. Depending on further analysis of the bill, as long as the progress made on the bill is not lost in committee and some revisions are made to tighten it up there is a good chance the official opposition may support the bill.

Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1998Government Orders

12:15 p.m.


Charles Caccia Liberal Davenport, ON

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate the member for Lethbridge on his thorough review of Bill C-32 and for his commitment to the pollution pay principle as well for the way he stressed the importance of enforcement.

At the beginning of his speech the hon. member for Lethbridge made reference to one specific section, which I was not able to take note of quickly enough, that in his words needs to be reworked. I wonder whether he could perhaps amplify on that part of his intervention.

Also the hon. member for Lethbridge spoke about the importance of sound science and the desirability of spelling out the role of science. I would be interested in knowing how he would propose to spell it out within the context of the proposed Bill C-32.

Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1998Government Orders

12:15 p.m.


Rick Casson Reform Lethbridge, AB

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague, the chairman of the environment committee, for being here to listen and to pose some questions.

When we are talking about science we have to be sure that we consult with the scientific and academic communities on all issues to get a good cross-section of existing science. We did this somewhat with Kotow at the environment committee, as the member knows. The best people from across Canada came to explain what they felt was the situation. There were people speaking for and against the position the government was taking.

We have to make sure that grassroot Canadians, the scientific community and industry all have an opportunity for input to assess and debate the science the government is using to base its positions on.

We should open up the debate to make sure we are looking at all angles, to make sure it is an open-minded discussion and not a preconceived look at science by the government. Indeed all areas of concern should be brought before us.

One of the problems we saw in the past on the environment committee when we dealt with Kotow was that some people told us global warming was not happening, although the majority said it was.

We have to take all that information and put it together in a position that would force the government to have a better look at it and maybe come at it from a couple of different angles to ensure that what gets put into legislation is indeed the science that community is putting forth.

Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1998Government Orders

12:20 p.m.


Charles Caccia Liberal Davenport, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have a supplementary question for the member for Lethbridge. In his speech he made reference to the discretionary powers given to the minister, indicating that he found these powers to be too wide.

Is the member for Lethbridge in a position to indicate in which way he would propose to reduce the scope of the discretionary powers of the minister in Bill C-32?

Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1998Government Orders

12:20 p.m.


Rick Casson Reform Lethbridge, AB

Mr. Speaker, one of the areas in the bill where we would like to see some change made is the proposal to put in place an advisory committee. Members from the provinces, the aboriginal communities and the departments of the environment and health will sit on it. However, from what we can read in the bill the minister will appoint these people.

One way to ensure membership of the advisory committee and possibly others who will be reporting to the minister is to allow the provinces to appoint the members who will be sitting on the committee reporting to the Minister of the Environment. If we do that we would somewhat get away from the fact that the minister could appoint some members to the committee who are favourable to the government position.

We want a little more accountability so that the provinces would be interested in taking part and being able to put forward their best person instead of the minister appointing the entire advisory committee.

Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1998Government Orders

12:20 p.m.

Northumberland Ontario


Christine Stewart LiberalMinister of the Environment

Mr. Speaker, it is with a feeling of pride that I join in the debate on Bill C-32, an act to amend the Canadian Environmental Protection Act.

The tabling of the bill on March 12 fulfilled an important election commitment as referenced in our platform document “Creating Opportunity”. As we promised in the Speech from the Throne last fall, the health minister, the co-sponsor of the legislation, and I are taking another step in protecting the health of our children.

As members know, the legislation was a long time in the making from the excellent work of the standing committee in 1995 through to the government's response in Bill C-74 and now in Bill C-32.

The committee's intent and the government follow-through has been consistent: renew and improve the Canadian Environmental Protection Act to better protect the health of our children and grandchildren from the threat posed by toxic substances.

When I was appointed minister of the environment in June 1997, I chose to concentrate my efforts on four priority areas that would bring Canadians a cleaner and healthier environment in the next century. The priorities are clean air, clean water, conservation of nature and meeting our Kyoto commitments on climate change. These are not just my priorities. I believe they represent the wishes of each and every member of the House and the Canadians we all serve.

I and Canadians need tools to reach our goals. We need faster action to reduce the threat from toxic substances. Canadians want more information and a voice in environmental protection. Business wants a predictable framework in which to operate as green industries that prosper economically.

The renewed and strengthened Canadian Environmental Protection Act responds to those needs and demonstrates leadership by providing Canadians with the tools they want and need for environmental protection.

The current CEPA has supported significant achievements. Under the current act Canadians have achieved concrete environmental improvements including the reduction of specific toxins such as dioxins, furans and PCBs. We have taken action on known carcinogens such as benzene in gasoline.

As well in recent weeks I have announced a series of initiatives that would better protect human health, give Canadians cleaner air and water, protect nature and meet our climate change objectives.

Among them are, first, an intergovernmental agreement last Friday in Toronto to implement early action and to develop a national implementation strategy to ensure that Canada meets its climate change goal; second, improvements to the air we breathe through the reduction of up to 85% of emissions of particulate matter and toxic metals such as arsenic, cadmium, lead and mercury from heavy oil and coal fired plants by 2003; and, third, by presenting Canadians with options to reduce sulphur in gasoline which causes respiratory ailments in our children and the elderly. The government will announce this fall the new sulphur level for gasoline which will bring about cleaner air. Fourth, Canada was the first country to ratify the 1997 amendments to the Montreal protocol which shows our dedication to reducing methyl bromide, one more substance which depletes the earth's protective ozone layer.

I have been able to take these actions by using the current legislation but more needs to be done. Our environmental problems are becoming more complicated. We need new modernized legislation to deal with emerging issues and to integrate new solutions. Pollution prevention and the ecosystem approaches to sustainable development must be incorporated into legislation.

The proposed act before the House of Commons reflects the greater understanding, giving us new tools to protect our health and the environment. It tackles toxic substances and puts the most dangerous ones on the path to virtual elimination. Strengthened legislation for toxics is crucial to clean our air and our water and to protect our health.

Under the renewed legislation, pollution prevention will become a national objective. When the original act was enacted, most of the environmental protection efforts focused on pollution management through last-resort solutions.

We must, however, prevent pollution and not worry about it once there has been a leak, a spill or harmful emissions.

Toxic substances affect the health of Canadians. PCBs and other harmful substances have been found in the breast milk of mothers in the Arctic. Urban smog makes our children sick, the number of children hospitalized for asthma having increased by 27% for boys and 18% for girls. According to Health Canada, one person dies every day from air pollution in the greater Toronto area.

The renewed legislation will control air pollution, including urban smog, more effectively. Among other things it will allow for regulations requiring cleaner fuels and tougher emissions standards for new motor vehicles. In addition, for the first time, the federal government will be able to set emissions standards for other types of engines such as those used in lawn mowers and off road vehicles. Getting toxics out of the environment will mean cleaner air.

Clean water is also an objective of the legislation. Canada borders on three of the world's oceans. We are also stewards of 9% of the world's available freshwater. These are enormous responsibilities, ones which I do not take lightly.

The new Canadian Environmental Protection Act will provide a means to help fulfil our stewardship responsibility and to meet our goal of cleaner water for Canadians. It puts in place a process for quicker assessment of toxic substances to identify those that need to be eliminated or controlled, together with strict deadlines for action.

We know that pollution does not respect borders. Whether toxics reach our waters in effluent or are transported by air, getting them out of our environment will mean cleaner water. New provisions in the act will provide a framework to take action on Canadian sources of water pollution that affect both our country and other countries.

We know our wildlife is being poisoned by toxic substances in our air, land and water. Last summer I saw for myself the effect mercury poisoning is having on loons in Nova Scotia. I want an environment safe for loons and all other species, including human beings.

The renewed Canadian Environmental Protection Act will put in place an ecosystem approach that recognizes the fact that all components of the environment are interdependent. It means we have to look at the whole picture and make the link between our actions and their effects on nature and us.

That is only a brief description of how the renewed Canadian Environmental Protection Act will help to make our air and water clean and preserve nature. In all cases the new act will focus on preventing pollution before it is created. It will shift the focus from cleaning up toxics to stopping them from getting into the environment in the first place.

The environment is a shared legacy. It is beyond the ability of any person, industry or government to solve environmental problems on their own. We not only need to continue co-operative international efforts but we need to build and continue domestic partnerships in order to achieve success. This includes partnership with the provinces, territories and municipalities and of equal importance, partnership with business and industry.

Business and industry are the ones with the tools and the know how to stop pollution and toxics from entering our environment. In addition to protecting the environment, pollution prevention is good for the bottom line. Ford Canada knows this. Its St. Thomas, Ontario assembly plant now uses 27 million fewer gallons of water and has reduced paint sludge by 500,000 pounds each year saving the company $275,000 annually.

Good regulations promote innovation. Canadians and Canadian businesses just proved it. The new Canadian Environmental Protection Act will further stimulate innovation, helping our businesses to maintain their status as world leaders in the development of environmental protection techniques.

These businesses have been able to meet the challenge because they viewed it as an opportunity not only to make profits but also to become good corporate citizens who are aware of their social responsibilities within the community.

Business leaders want a clean environment just as much as we do. Some are members of ARET, the accelerated reduction and elimination of toxics program. These members reported recently that in 1996 emissions of a number of toxic substances such as zinc, benzene, lead and copper were reduced by over 5,000 tonnes, a decrease of 27% from 1995 emission levels.

The 152 member companies of ARET are implementing the process changes and other measures to reduce these toxic substances voluntarily. They recognize that voluntary action can work with a regulatory regime such as provided by the Canadian Environmental Protection Act.

Businesses have told us that they want predictable regulations which protect the environment yet still allow for growth and prosperity. That is exactly what they are getting. In addition the renewed act provides many opportunities for consultations as measures are developed. When businesses clearly understand what the law demands of them, they can plan more effectively. This ensures a higher rate of compliance. Together we will put to rest the myth that good environmentalism precludes economic growth. The two are in fact mutually supportive.

For businesses that will not live up to their end of the partnership, the renewed act has strengthened the enforcement arm of the new legislation. We have expanded the powers of officials who are charged with enforcing the act.

Officials will have the ability to issue on the spot orders to stop illegal activity or to require action to correct a violation to protect the environment and public safety. They will be able to use environmental protection alternative measures to provide corrective action and penalties without the need to proceed with a lengthy court case. There will be a new sentencing criteria to guide the courts to take into account such things as remediation costs for damage.

We know that environmental problems respect no boundaries, provincial or federal. Their causes and solutions are rarely found within the borders of one jurisdiction. Tackling these issues requires action at local, regional, national and global levels.

Positive results will best be achieved by governments working together. This way, we can plug any holes in environmental protection and more effectively meet the challenges that the environment poses to the community.

We have learned from past collaborative efforts with the provinces that, on environmental issues, the best results are achieved through intergovernmental co-operation.

Through partnerships between governments, significant improvements were made in areas such as acid rain and ozone depletion. This renewed legislation is based on this reality and provides a framework for co-operation between the federal and provincial governments.

This legislation is not, as some have said, a federal retreat from environmental protection. It is consistent with the harmonization accord I signed with the provinces last January. I remind members that harmonization is about working together to achieve the highest national standards. The federal government has not given up its authority to act. The renewed Canadian Environmental Protection Act is proof of that.

Finally we come to the reason we are protecting the environment in the first place, the Canadian public. Canadians are telling me they are worried about the effects of pollution on their health and the health of their children. Nine out of 10 Canadians are worried about the effects that environmental problems are having on their children and grandchildren.

Greater public participation is key to protecting the environment. Canadians want to be part of the solution. They want more power to influence environmental decisions and stronger measures to ensure a legacy of clean air and clean water. The renewed act responds to their demands. It provides Canadians with more information giving them the tools to act in their communities.

One of the ways that we will do this is through the environmental registry. The registry will provide comprehensive information on regulations and decisions made under the legislation. In addition, the national pollutant release inventory, an accounting of the releases of 176 pollutants from all significant sources, will continue to provide Canadians with information about the toxics in their communities. Under a new Canadian Environmental Protection Act this program would become a legal commitment for the government in an effort to provide Canadians with as much information as possible.

The current act safeguards the confidentiality of persons who voluntarily report illegal releases of substances. The new act expands this protection to cover all violations and protects federally regulated employees from discipline, dismissal or harassment for reporting violations in the workplace. In addition, to ensure the government does its job, Canadians will be given the right to sue if the government does not enforce the Canadian Environmental Protection Act where significant harm to the environment has occurred.

I stand firmly behind the renewed Canadian Environmental Protection Act not only because we committed to it in the red book, not only because I believe it is what Canadians want, but most importantly because it will protect the environment and the health of Canadians.

One day when my grandchildren ask me what I did, I want to tell them that I worked to ensure that the environment I left them was clean or cleaner than the one my grandparents left to me. I want them to be able to tell their grandchildren that the Canadian government and I had their health and their legacy in mind when we passed this renewed legislation.

This legislation and this portfolio is particularly timely for me. As I look forward to the birth of a new grandchild I want to be proud of the environmental legacy I pass on.

Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1998Government Orders

12:40 p.m.


Rick Casson Reform Lethbridge, AB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the minister for her presentation and for being here today and for giving me the opportunity to bring up one of the points I made, which is the national advisory council.

As I read the legislation, and perhaps she can define it for me, it indicates she will be appointing all the members to the council. Would the minister allow the provinces to appoint them so that we could truly get a national scope to that council?

Also, is there going to be more responsibility for the municipal governments in Canada?

The minister mentioned stewardship and the fact that Canadians are good stewards of the environment. Will the minister be putting the concerns or the value of stewardship of the land in the upcoming legislation on endangered species? We know that we have stewards of the land across Canada who take very good care of it. Hopefully the value of proper stewardship will be reflected in that legislation as well.

Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1998Government Orders

12:40 p.m.


Christine Stewart Liberal Northumberland, ON

Mr. Speaker, with regard to the national advisory council, this is federal legislation and therefore the federal government appoints. The legislation will be going to committee. Certainly I am interested in listening to comments committee members will make in terms of how those appointments might be made for recommendation to the federal government.

We are hoping that we can have a wide and diverse representation in that committee. In that way it will as much as possible reflect the broad cross sector of Canadian interests.

With regard to the involvement of municipalities, municipalities are really within the provincial jurisdiction of responsibility. My personal view is the municipalities represent a grassroots level of government where we can most effectively produce some results on the environment. I am hoping I will be able, with the assistance of the provinces, to work very closely with the municipalities to achieve the results we need on the environment.

The hon. member asked a question about stewardship and the environment. Stewardship crosses over all environmental issues. It is my belief which is affirmed through polling information that Canadians in all sectors of our economy truly are concerned about the environment. They want tools from the federal government to help them, to assist them in making sure the environment is protected, whether it is water or air or our natural ecosystem.

The purpose and intent of my legislation is to put in place instruments with which I can work collaboratively with all levels of government, with all sectors in our society to protect the environment and to make sure we have the authorities there as well that when we see problems or abuses we are able to take prompt action.

Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1998Government Orders

12:45 p.m.


Bernard Bigras Bloc Rosemont, QC

Mr. Speaker, first of all, I must express my amusement with the speech by the Minister of the Environment in which she refers to her environmental concerns.

She tells us that she wants to act before there are any ecological catastrophes and before our environment deteriorates. I might begin by reminding her of her government's terrible record as far as greenhouse gas reduction is concerned. I believe that this government's failure to meet the objectives of Rio is an obvious sign of its lack of desire to take these environmental concerns into consideration. That was my first comment.

Second, the minister had very little to say about the negotiations surrounding the harmonization process. I would remind her that, in principle, it was intended to eliminate potential conflicts between the provinces and the federal government. It was also intended to eliminate duplication and overlap.

I would remind her as well that Quebec refused to sign that agreement, for two basic reasons. First, it wanted recognition of Quebec's exclusive and overriding areas of jurisdiction within its constitutional rights.

It also wanted changes to the legislation, such as those in Bill C-32, to take the concerns I have referred to into account. I take pride in speaking out against this bill, simply because it does not address the concerns defended by the Quebec Minister of the Environment.

My question for the Minister of the Environment is a very simple one. When I look at the bill and the spirit of that bill I see that it calls for interventions at the national level, for instance those in clauses 139 and 140 on national fuels marks and clauses 152 and 150 on national emissions marks.

Does the minister not agree that her bill represents a direct attack on the provinces and an obligation for them to adopt provincial regulations, as otherwise the federal government will end up directly interfering with what Quebec can do in environmental matters?