Mr. Speaker, I rise this evening to speak to Bill C-441, an act respecting the protection of wildlife species in Canada from extirpation or extinction.
I would like to thank the member for Davenport for an excellent bill. His wisdom, vision and leadership are appreciated. His efforts to improve the protection of the environment for this and future generations are evident in his position as chair of the House of Commons Standing Committee on the Environment and Sustainable Development.
The bill before us reflects the hon. member's vision. Canadians can only hope that the environment minister's proposed species at risk legislation will be as well written to ensure the protection and recovery of species at risk in this country.
Canadians have told the government to act. The Prime Minister received a letter signed by 638 Canadian scientists, calling for specific action to be taken on the scientific listings of endangered species and the explicit need for national habitat protection for transboundary species.
Two letters from the scientific community, dated February 1997 and October 1995, stated explicitly that one cannot protect species at risk without protecting their habitats, the places where species feed, breed, rear their young, and so on, which are critical to their survival and recovery. The letters stated that habitats can be geographically dispersed and are not confined within political boundaries, but must each be effectively protected to ensure a species' well-being.
Regarding the scientific listing of endangered species, the letter to the Prime Minister is quite pointed. It reads:
Identifying and listing species at risk is the foundation of endangered species protection. Your government recognized this in its 1995 legislative proposal, and agreed that species at risk should be identified and listed by COSEWIC—an independent committee of scientists drawn mainly from government and academia—and that mandatory listing should follow COSEWIC's determinations.
Since then, your government has abandoned this principle in two ways. First, the federal environment minister recently decided to strip most of COSEWIC's non-governmental scientists of their voting rights. This change (which was made without public notice) weakens COSEWIC's independence by opening the door to political interference in species listings.
The Prime Minister's letter also refers to this government's effort to give cabinet the power to override the scientifically based list of species at risk. As I mentioned at the outset, we Canadians can only hope that the environment minister's proposed legislation will be on par with Bill C-441.
I encourage all members to read the summary of this very sound legislation. It states:
The purpose of this enactment is to prevent Canadian wildlife species from becoming extirpated or extinct and to provide for the recovery of those that are extirpated, endangered or threatened as a result of human activity.
This is a vision which has protection and recovery as its purpose. We need a sincere, non-partisan approach to address the crisis that faces Canada's biodiversity today.
The bill's preamble presents an outline for a working framework between all jurisdictions. There is a specific reference to the conservation efforts of individual Canadians and communities that should be encouraged and supported and their interests should be considered in developing and implementing recovery measures. This is a specific reference to the role of citizens and communities.
There is also a specific reference to the role of aboriginal people and of the wildlife management boards established under aboriginal land claims. I thank the hon. member for his continued diligence in traditional aboriginal ecological knowledge and the important role that this presents for Canada and future generations.
Throughout the interpretation section the definitions are good. The definition for residence is especially important, as it notes the basic facts that wildlife is mobile and is affected by seasons. A bird does not spend its entire life in a nest and the caribou feed and calve in different areas.
Prevention of species loss and species recovery provides the basis for this bill. I do not believe the minister will be able to match this principle due to politics.
I have not seen the Prime Minister's leadership and vision for proactive environmental initiatives, so I fear there is a strong probability that these basic principles will be missing from the current government's legislation.
Bill C-441 sets a standard for the responsibilities of ministers and the delegation of responsibilities between departments and jurisdictions to ensure this legislation works. Consultations with stakeholders are ensured. Funding requirements are outlined in section 9. These references include specific management and fiscal responsibilities. It is refreshing to see legislation where accountability for a minister's action is defined.
The hon. member for Davenport includes an excellent proposal for a specific Canadian endangered species conservation council. With specific reference to the Prime Minister, I hope the wildlife species listing process described in Bill C-441 will be included in whatever legislation the government assembles for this crucial issue.
The basis for the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, COSEWIC, would address the scientific, academic, non-governmental organizations and overall concerns for effective legislation. This means effective protection, prevention and recovery. Otherwise, why waste the trees to print a meaningless and toothless biased law?
It is unfortunate that the government is setting a dangerous precedent in the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, CEPA, which is about to enter the House. We can expect the government to throw out the democratic committee process once again with CEPA next week. We fully expect industry bias and that the industry and natural resources ministers will overrule the environment and health ministers. Canadians can only hope that this government will attempt to reverse the current trend toward environmental devolution and degradation with a well written endangered species act.
The proposed recovery and management plans are based on realistic terms. They represent a conscientious approach that includes the necessity for public buy-in. There is a requirement for landowners' needs and concerns to be addressed and considered.
On the international stage Canada is falling behind. It is well reported that our North American neighbours have effective endangered species legislation. The United States has had this legislation for 25 years. As signatories to the Rio biodiversity accord, Canadians can only expect that this government will finally act.
I will read some comments from a publication I received while I was at the United Nations in New York recently:
Currently, a grizzly bear can lumber across the border from the American state of Montana, where it is protected by law, and die quite legally in a hail of hunters' bullets in the Canadian province of Alberta. Similarly, wetlands and forests critical to creatures like the whooping crane and the spotted owl enjoy virtually no protection in Canada, though they are rigorously policed by the U.S....which is why the American conservation groups...have gotten in on the issue...they are attempting to use a 30-year-old American fishing law to pressure Canada to conform to a 55-year-old convention on wildlife by passing a species law.
The mechanism they plan to use is the Pelly amendment to the Fisherman's Protective Act of 1967. Their filing of a petition under this amendment would require the U.S. Secretary of the Interior to evaluate Canada's efforts to comply with international programs to protect endangered species.
Not only are Canadians knocking on this government's door, international neighbours and the world community is also looking at Canada to take leadership and to make a move on protecting our species.
The publication sums up our current status, which is why Bill C-441 is necessary for the protection and recovery of species at risk.
I thank the hon. member for bringing a worthwhile bill into this House and I ask all members to vote in favour of it.