Mr. Speaker, it is a great pleasure to see you in the chair. The new session has started well with you gracing our presence.
I am also happy to have the opportunity to take part in the debate on the Speech from the Throne, a speech which was read by our new Governor General, Her Excellency Madam Clarkson, on Tuesday. I join with all members of the House, and of course with yourself, Mr. Speaker, in congratulating her on her new role and in wishing her the very best in the years ahead as Her Majesty's representative in Canada.
Since I have also been given a new role in the federal cabinet, I am pleased to take part in this debate and to have the chance to talk about an issue that I have been connected with all my life, that of protecting the environment.
As we heard in the throne speech, Canadians understand very well that the high quality of life we enjoy in this country, as well as our health and the health of future generations, depends on a clean and safe environment.
Canadians also understand that the quality of our environment is closely linked to that of the world environment. They understand clearly that any progress in this area requires initiatives to be taken on both the national and the international level.
The Liberal government intends to make environmental issues central to Canadian public life in coming weeks and months. To that end, we are going to take action on a number of different fronts, and to step up our environmental protection measures.
As I am sure hon. members fully appreciate, the Government of Canada does not have jurisdiction over all environmental and species protection issues in this country. That is why we will be working in close, harmonious partnership with provincial governments, municipalities, first nations, the academic community, the business community, environmental groups and, of course, individual Canadians who are concerned. We no longer have the luxury of pretending that environmental questions amount to a zero sum game of jurisdictional tradeoffs, a game where a win for the environment is somehow a loss for business, or a win for business is a loss for the environment, or a win for the provinces is a loss for the federal government and so on.
We must reinforce the fact that a clean environment, human health and a strong economy go hand in hand and that we must work together to achieve those common goals. Therefore, I will be working closely with my provincial counterparts because in many areas we share responsibility for protecting the environment. I believe that provincial action can be influenced by the federal government even in situations beyond our strict constitutional jurisdiction.
The Government of Canada has an overarching responsibility to protect the environment and the health of all Canadians. That is a responsibility we are committed to upholding in all areas, from species protection to climate change, to providing cleaner air and cleaner water, to controlling toxic substances, to developing green technologies for our industries, to meeting our international commitments and promoting eco-efficient practices within the government and throughout our society and our economy.
With respect to species protection, for example, there is a long history of co-operation among the federal, provincial and territorial governments through such things as the designation of protected areas, implementing international wildlife agreements and a commitment to biodiversity.
In 1996, some three years ago, wildlife ministers agreed to the accord for the protection of species at risk. I am pleased, in fact I am delighted, that all governments in this country have agreed that any species protection legislation must include provisions for the protection of the critical habitat of endangered species. This is absolutely fundamental: no habitat, no species.
We are now working under that accord with our provincial colleagues to develop stewardship programs and other collaborative and voluntary measures to protect species at risk. One such program is the Vancouver Island Marmot Recovery Foundation which is close to my home on Vancouver Island. Environment Canada is working with the B.C. Ministry of the Environment, Lands and Parks, B.C. Hydro, MacMillan Bloedel, the forestry company, the World Wildlife Fund, the Toronto and Calgary zoos and many others to try to save one of this country's most endangered species from extinction. I believe the Vancouver Island marmot is North America's most endangered mammal.
The federal legislation to protect species at risk mentioned in the Speech from the Throne will complement and strengthen provincial legislation with programs and voluntary initiatives. The federal approach aims to build on the excellent efforts to protect endangered species which are already being made and measures already being taken by so many individuals and groups. I salute them.
The only sustainable way to preserve species and their habitats is to ensure that appropriate incentives and knowledge are available to encourage each Canadian to do the right and responsible thing. We expect this to work in the vast majority of cases but when it does not, prohibitions must be available to prevent extinction and critical habitat destruction.
We are also working to protect our water resources. Protecting Canada's fresh water is not a question of economics or trade; it is a question of ecology.
Water is vital to human health, for our ecosystems, agriculture and industry. Canada's sovereignty over its water resources is total. Water in its natural state is not a commodity, and therefore not covered by NAFTA.
In order to ensure an enforceable Canada wide solution using an ecosystem approach, we are working jointly on an agreement under the terms of which each jurisdictional area would establish laws, regulations or policies prohibiting the removal of large quantities of water from Canadian water basins, including for export.
That includes federal legislative measures through amendments to the International Boundary Waters Treaty Act. They will be introduced this fall and will give the federal government the legislative authority to prohibit the removal of large quantities of water from bodies of boundaries water, such as the Great Lakes.
We have also made a request with the United States to have the International Joint Commission study how water consumption removals and diversions could affect our Great Lakes. Our objective here is not to plan for removal but to provide a basis for ensuring a consistent management regime for water shared with the United States.
Mr. Speaker, I know that your riding is at the end of the Great Lakes and the beginning of the St. Lawrence River. I am pleased to report to you that the interim report of the commission which was released in August supports our strategy and agrees that removals are harmful to the ecosystems that they support.
The report recommends an immediate moratorium on bulk water removals until the full report is completed, which we expect to be early next year. The commission is consulting widely with Great Lakes communities through public meetings which are currently under way.
Canadians are especially concerned about air quality. Residents in many areas are subjected to unacceptable air pollution caused by ground level ozone and airborne particles which combine with other air pollutants to produce smog. That is particularly so in our urban centres.
We have taken several measures to reduce smog over the last few years but I have to say a great deal remains to be done. For example, measures are now being taken to reduce the level of sulphur in gasoline. We want to reduce those levels by 90% by 2005. Why? Because the health benefits alone will be of enormous benefit to Canadians.
An independent panel of health and environmental experts predicts that a reduction to that level would prevent some 2,100 premature deaths, 92,000 incidents of bronchitis in children, five million other health related incidents such as asthma attacks, and eleven million acute respiratory symptoms, such as severe coughs and new cases of pneumonia and croup. That would be over a 20 year period. With those figures I wonder whether anyone could argue that those steps should not be taken to protect the health of Canadians. I do not think many would.
It also gives me satisfaction to be able to note that the government is determined to work with provincial governments and other levels of government to improve the country's physical infrastructure in the coming century. We must ensure that our increased trade and our improved economy are matched by an increased capacity to move people and things in complete safety.
In order to maintain the quality of life in our cities and rural communities, we must ensure our air and water are clean.
Under the last two infrastructure programs the Government of Canada, the provinces and the municipalities invested hundreds of millions of dollars in water treatment and sewage management to protect our waterways and the health of Canadians. We are committed to work with other levels of government and the private sector to reach by the end of next year agreement on a five year plan for improving the physical infrastructure in urban and rural regions across our country.
This agreement will set out shared principles, objectives and fiscal parameters for all partners to increase their resources directed toward infrastructure, with a particular focus on the environment, as well as health and safety, transportation, tourism, telecommunications and culture. I would like to describe this program that we will be developing as a green infrastructure program because I am sure that when we examine the needs of this country that in fact is the way it will be.
I would like to say a word about contaminated sites. We will be dealing with the clean-up of contaminated sites and how we can improve our performance in that area. That again was mentioned in Her Excellency's speech. I must warn Canadians that this will be a long term program. We have had, as reported by the environment commissioner, starts and stops before. I want to see a clear outline, a program, to achieve substantial clean-up of our contaminated sites over the next 20 years.
Recently we have committed some $38 million to the clean-up of the Sydney tar ponds which is Canada's most contaminated site. Of course more will be required on the financial side and more will have to be done. There are literally thousands of contaminated sites which are under federal jurisdiction, thousands more under provincial jurisdiction and many which we describe as orphan sites where there is an abandoned mine and there is no possibility of finding an organization which will pick up the clean-up costs.
The tar ponds remind us of why we must change our approach to the environment. We need to prevent pollution before it occurs rather than paying the enormous costs which sometimes result from clean-up after the fact. That is why we must be more diligent in conducting our environmental assessments. It is why we have made pollution prevention the cornerstone of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, or CEPA.
The renewed CEPA provides the government with stronger powers to protect the environment and therefore human health. Essentially it marks a shift from after the fact clean-up to proactive prevention. After investing a very lengthy period of more than five years in renewing this legislation, I believe we can now move forward on implementing stronger environmental protection to give Canadians the cleaner environment that they deserve.
I announced two or three weeks ago that $72 million would be put forward in new funding to strengthen our scientific and enforcement capacity under the new CEPA. This is in addition to the $40 million that was announced earlier this year to conduct scientific research into toxic substances that harm human health and the environment, including endocrine disrupters, the so-called gender benders and toxics that may have serious effects on all species, including the human species.
Under the act, all substances currently used in Canada will be examined for their level of toxicity. As well, the act provides firm deadlines for the control of toxic products and requires the virtual elimination of the most dangerous ones.
The act gives Environment Canada officials significant new powers to act with respect to a polluter breaking the law.
It will also help Canada honour a number of international environmental commitments and enable people to initiate proceedings if the federal government does not ensure compliance with the law.
The act includes new provisions for regulating vehicles and fuels and new abilities to regulate less traditional sources of air pollution such as lawn mowers and off-road vehicles. The government has already begun discussions with manufacturers of these devices so as to reduce toxic emissions and greenhouse gases. We are committed to clean air. We are prepared to take the action necessary to prevent the build-up of greenhouse gases that are responsible in part for climate change.
This may eventually mean some changes in lifestyle choices for many Canadians, but I am confident that Canadians understand there will be even greater adverse lifestyle changes if we do not take action at the present time on this problem.
On climate change, in 1997 Canada joined with 160 other nations in negotiating the Kyoto protocol on climate change. We set a target of reducing our emissions of greenhouse gases to 6% below the 1990 levels. This would be achieved in the years between 2008 and 2012. Incidentally, that target was announced by the Prime Minister.
The fact that other countries have agreed to comparable reduction targets does not make the 6% reduction any less ambitious or challenging for an energy dependent country such as Canada. To meet these targets, given the projected growth in our economy and population, we will have to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by approximately 25% below the business as usual projected levels for 2010. Those targets cannot be reached without significant changes to the way our economy functions and to our lives as individuals.
The scope of these challenges must not prevent us or delay us from taking appropriate action now, because one of the most dangerous attitudes toward climate change is that because there is still some scientific uncertainty we should do little or nothing. The most credible evidence that we have available tells us that climate change due to human activity is a reality.
I could give more on climate change. I have many pages in my speech explaining the problem and giving examples of it. I will simply say that I will be happy to discuss this with the member over lunch some time. I am sure the member agrees it is important to make sure we have a system that is acceptable to Canadians which achieves the goals in question.
Many opportunities will be provided by our environmental programs such as developing new environmental technologies. The opportunities for export, et cetera, are there. Therefore we have many provisions which again could be mentioned, but I will pass over them quickly and simply say that we will find economic opportunities which will flow from our efforts to improve the environment in Canada.
In conclusion, Canadians understand the linkages between the environment and health and between environment and economic growth. They understand that we need to have development and growth. That has to be sustainable in the future. They also understand that we must act decisively or in essence we will be guilty of robbing our children and grandchildren of a safe, secure and prosperous future. I am sure all members of the House will actively support our actions in this regard.