Mr. Speaker, perhaps we might start this debate by asking ourselves the following questions: Why are we in this predicament? Why does Canada have some 300 species which have been identified as being at risk?
Part of the answer may be found in a study by Donald Ludwig, Ray Hilborn and Carl Walters recently produced at the University of British Columbia and entitled “Uncertainty, resource exploitation and conservation: Lessons from history”.
They conclude first that scientific certainty can rarely be achieved especially in answer to the question of how long our resources will last. If we delay and wait for a definite answer, the only certainty will be to find that we are likely to run out or will run out of fish, forest, certain animals and plants.
Their second conclusion is that humans are often motivated by greed in exploiting natural resources.
There is a need therefore to act in a way that compensates for the two realities they have identified. That is why we need endangered species legislation with certain characteristics.
Who should decide? It seems to me that the role of scientists ought to be defined as to who would determine which species is threatened, vulnerable or endangered. Scientists, therefore, would, through a special committee, have the power to determine which species need protection, and then find ways of ensuring the recovery of the species. The scientists would work at arm's length from government. Once they determine a species is in trouble, the procedure leading to protection would also be set into motion.
The next question is: How do we protect the living spaces of endangered species? It seems quite clear by now that they must be protected. It means that to protect a species at risk without protecting the land and water that the species depends on is not possible. To protect an owl without also protecting the area that provides it with food and nesting material will not do. It does little to protect a large carnivore like the polar bear, which has been listed as vulnerable since 1991, without ensuring its territory and ensuring that it is not devastated by human activities, including mining operations. The same arguments apply for the many animals lower on the food chain, as well as plants, that are at risk in Canada.
How to proceed in the federal system is a difficult question to answer. It is often said that strong legislation is not possible because we are a federation. The possible answer to that is mirror legislation, which would work in the following way: When a province decides to protect endangered species within its territories, it would ask the Government of Canada to sign an agreement that once that province has equivalent protections in place for the species, then the federal law would not be enforced in that particular province. It would be a coming together between two jurisdictions with the same kind of approach for the purpose of protecting the endangered species.
This approach is necessary because species do not know the meaning of borders. If their extinction is to be prevented, there cannot be a patchwork of protections from province to province with no protection at all in some, weak protection in others and so on.
The other reason we have to move with this particular type of legislation is our international commitments. In 1992 in Rio, Canada was the first nation to sign the convention on biological diversity. The Government of Canada made a commitment to conserve our biological heritage for future generations. Other countries are beginning to take note of our lack of progress on this front. It has been seven years since we signed the convention and we still have no law protecting species at risk.
Protecting species also means protecting a part of the global commons; the resources that belong to everybody, to the global community. Therefore, when damage is done to one species, every other species somehow suffers and is affected by that.
Some people fear that an endangered species legislation would threaten private property. There is no need to panic, because a solution can be found for this particular concern.
The emphasis should not be on what individuals can do to protect the global commons. The emphasis should be on finding solutions and establishing roles for the individual and for the communities in order to arrive at a solution, rather than identifying the obstacles whereby we should not be acting. When it comes to the issue of private property, the tendency has been to magnify that particular issue rather than in developing approaches that would, in the end, result in a solution to that particular problem.
This kind of legislation is now becoming very urgent. The Canadian public is certainly very keen. It has responded very favourably to every initiative made by parliamentarians in alerting the government to the need for moving in this direction.
I hope this bill will serve the purpose that it was originally intended to serve, namely to provide a benchmark for the Government of Canada to possibly adopt in its fullness so that we can have an effective piece of legislation that will be functioning properly in a federal system and that will be adequately removed from political pressures.
I would be glad now to defer to my colleague from Lac-Saint-Louis.