Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure today to be here to debate Bill C-33, an act respecting the protection of wildlife species at risk in Canada.
Before I begin my comments, I want to point out that I am personally involved in agriculture in my riding of Selkirk—Interlake. I am a cattle rancher and holder of several thousand acres of land, which is necessary for our cattle operation in that area. As a result, I am not totally unbiased in the debate today. However, I would like to point out that as cattle ranchers and farmers in the Interlake area of Manitoba, we are totally dependent on having an environment that is sustainable for the wildlife around us and sustainable for the agricultural pursuits in which we happen to be involved. In my case that involves cattle. In order to produce cattle we need a good environment with good grasslands, good forestry and a clean water supply.
Having made my position clear, I want to go on with some comments with regard to this specific bill. The summary, as put forward by the minister, states that the purpose of this enactment is to prevent Canadian indigenous species, sub-species and distinct populations of wildlife from becoming extirpated or extinct and to provide for the recovery of endangered or threatened species. It also encourages the management of other species to prevent them from becoming at risk.
People need to know that this legislation covers every biological diversity in the country except bacteria and viruses. For instance, it includes our continental shelves off the shores of our coasts and the biological organisms that are contained therein, such as fish species and shellfish.
When we talk about the minister having a certain amount of say and authority over this, we can look back to when I was on the fisheries and oceans committee where we saw that the government's management of the cod fishery and the fishery off the coast was less than desirable. The basic problem at that time was that the government had a political agenda to deal with that was more important to it than what was happening in the oceans.
What we saw was that the information, reports and critical analysis that were being put forward by the scientists to the minister were not being relayed to the general public where they would have received attention from individuals, environmental groups, fishermen and from all concerned people who would have said “Hold on a minute, what you are ignoring here you should not be ignoring. The reports from the scientists should override political considerations”.
The bill establishes the committee on the status of endangered wildlife in Canada. It is to be an independent body of experts responsible for assessing and identifying the species at risk.
The idea is great. I believe that is what should be done. However, we have to remember, as we do with all things involving animals, trade and certainly the protection of species, that this should be totally science based and should not go running off, as I mentioned with regard to the fishery off the east coast, into political decision making.
Science is fine and dandy, as long as the science, the reports and the analyses that are put forward are accessible to the public. They should be totally and unreservedly put out for public scrutiny, not only by people with lay knowledge of the issues, but also other scientists.
What we have seen with government paid for and sponsored studies is that quite often this science based information is not available for general public scrutiny. As a result, it gives the minister an opportunity to deal with the information, to keep it secret, or to put out little snippets that help support his or her particular point of view. That will make this legislation less than perfect.
I would like to see that the minister not have the final authority with regard to the endangered species list, but in fact that there be a requirement in the bill that all the information be made public so that various NGOs, for instance the Canadian cattlemen, the farm lobby groups and the environmental groups, have an opportunity to come to each and every MP and say that this particular species should or should not be on the list and convince members of the House, all 301 of us. I think the list could be brought to the House for approval as opposed to the minister simply saying “I think these are fine, and this one should not be on the list” for reasons that are not clearly in the public interest.
The issue with regard to government scientists, which has been brought forward quite extensively, is the fact of muzzling reports which they put forward. I have mentioned this, that there should be clear guidelines in the legislation to ensure that those reports are automatically made public.
Wildlife in Canada is the property of the crown and is subject to provincial jurisdiction. The animals, birds and fish species that are not are the ones that migrate from province to province or cross international boundaries, those of the United States and Mexico in particular, but also right through the whole Americas. As a result, there is a federal responsibility for these species. Environment Canada, through the Canadian Wildlife Service, has a mandated responsibility to conserve these migratory birds and their habitat through the Migratory Birds Convention Act and the Canada Wildlife Act.
Just as an example of man not being the know-all and the be-all when it comes to the management of species, there has been considerable depredation of habitat, particularly nesting habitat in the Arctic with regard to the snow geese, the white geese, that have become so numerous that the balance in nature has been upset to the point where the species itself is destroying the habitat, which will ultimately end up in starvation and death among the newborn birds in the north.
Part of the problem is the efforts through various groups and governments to restrict and prohibit hunting. With man being so populous and numerous in the world today, hunting is part of the overall management control of a species. I think there should be less negativity put forward with regard to hunting which would help keep these species in check.
There has been talk and there will be some changes to the hunting legislation with regard to the snow geese which will allow for a greater harvest of those birds, which can be used for food.
The Canadian Wildlife Federation, along with other farm groups, has been lobbying and putting forward information concerning predator damage and crop damage from migratory birds, as well as other issues. I would like to point out on behalf of farmers that they put out a broader message. They proposed in 1998 that the national agriculture stewardship program provide critical direction while we make the decisions we are currently involved in. They anticipated that the program would prove to be a model for other programs addressing environmental needs.
To show the broad thinking of farmers and their representatives, they say, for example, that there should be funding for endangered species recovery plans and we should be providing broader incentives to landowners to maintain and enhance habitat and biodiversity. That brings out the point quite clearly that our farmers, ranchers and other people engaged in agriculture do think of the bigger picture and are not simply thinking of production and profit.
One issue put forward by the Canadian Federation of Agriculture with regard to essential components was that it wanted to ensure that conditional 100% compensation would be provided. Among the 11 recommendations, it wanted to see that there be permanent and flexible fiscal management from year to year.
Working with agriculture, with the landowners, with the forestry industry, with the fishermen on the oceans, on our Great Lakes and on the freshwater lakes of the prairies, co-operation is the key and the essence to making any endangered species legislation work.
The legislation put forward by the minister is lacking in that it does not state specifically that the federal government has a total commitment to working in co-operation with the provinces and the landowners. The provinces are mentioned in the legislation, as well as landowners, but the specifics of how and when and under what circumstances compensation would be paid is important. As we have seen so many times, co-operation with the provinces does not work.
The last couple of points I will make are with regard to the specific policy of the Canadian Alliance. We are committed to protecting and preserving Canada's natural environment and its endangered species and to the sustainable development of our abundant natural resources for the use of current and future generations.
The Canadian Alliance maintains that for any endangered species legislation to be effective it must respect the fundamental rights of private property owners.
In my riding, on the very lake where my ranch is located, North Shore Lake, it is my understanding that we have a species which is at risk at this time called the piping plover. North Shore Lake has risen to such high water levels that the shoreline where they nest and feed is actually under water, with only a small portion remaining. This brings to the forefront the fact that all of us are affected, no matter where we live in this country.
The federal government has the responsibility to do what it can to preserve habitat. In order to do that it has to have the co-operation of the landowners. It also has to provide the necessary funding in the case of North Shore Lake for an outlet to that lake, which is non-existent at this time, to maintain the water at a lower lever so that these endangered piping plovers can nest and reproduce.