Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to take part today to the debate on Bill C-33, an act respecting the protection of wildlife species at risk in Canada.
A motion was introduced by the Progressive Conservative member for Fundy—Royal, seconded by the hon. member for Shefford, asking that the second reading of this bill now before the House be hoisted for six month, which would be an excellent idea.
On the eve of a possible general election in Canada, I did not have a speech on species at risk on my agenda. I believe that this government is going too far. I cannot but denounce this bill and, at the same time, the government that introduced it.
It is amazing to see that the Liberal government which, I must point out, obtained the support of only 38% of the population of Quebec and Canada in the 1997 general election, is behaving as if political thinking were the same in Quebec and in Canada. Yet, in the House, for the first time in the history of parliament, we find ourselves with four opposition parties. There is in the democratic choices made by the people of Quebec and of Canada a message that the Liberal government does not want to understand.
What is more, this government's arrogance is leading it to hide things and act as if everything were fine. It keeps on introducing bills that do not reflect in the least the political realities in Quebec and Canada, which we represent collectively in the House, with five parties and not one only.
What has this government, which is on the verge of going to the voters for a third mandate, done since 1993? In spite of what it keeps repeating, it has kept none of its basic commitments from the 1993 and 1997 campaigns. The GST is still with us. We are turning increasingly to free trade. The employment insurance reform has been worse than the one announced by the Tories. Every social program has felt the impact of this government's budget cuts, health programs in particular, and this is jeopardizing the universality of these programs.
With the surplus derived from funds diverted to other purposes than those for which they were intended, the government now wants to hire spies who will go and lay down the law in the provinces on health.
Cultural budgets have also been reduced and the new president of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, CBC, is almost at the point of becoming the first CEO of a public federal organization to be out on the street if he continues to cut like he has.
I could go on with the list of promises that were not kept but I would not want to immediately start an election campaign and put the Liberal government on trial. The government will not get off lightly because the moment of truth will come and will have major consequences for those who are showing arrogance today.
In politics, promises must be kept. In politics, the affairs of the state must also be administered as though they were our own affairs and public funds must not be squandered. In politics, the affairs of the state must be administered with great attempts to reach consensus, and not with a confrontational approach, with quarrels and squabbles, as the federal Liberal Party has constantly done since taking office, particularly its leader, who is the specialist of the no, as though he did not have the chance to come out of his first identity crisis, which, in the normal development of a human being, happens traditionally around the age of two.
People are not fooled. They have had enough of this politicking that has been enriching the same people since Confederation. Whether they are liberal or conservative, this does not change anything in the scandals that have marked Canadian politics for so many years, at the expense of the little people who must be content with continuing to pay taxes.
People are starting to get the message. The government does as it pleases, grabs employment insurance funds, gets in bed with the oil companies, enriches the wealthy minority and distributes poverty to most of the people of Quebec and Canada.
That said, let us move on to the debate on the order paper for today, Bill C-33, an act respecting the protection of wildlife species at risk in Canada.
Biodiversity, about which we are hearing more and more, represents the result of the evolution which the earth has undergone over billions of years.
That evolutionary process has provided the planet with a broad selection of living organisms and natural environments. These make up the ecosystems we know today, and all of them have a role to play within the food chain, as well as playing a part in the biological equilibrium of this planet.
In recent years, however, the scientists have been reminding us that we are seeing more and more species become extinct, as well as increasing numbers of others being threatened with extinction or becoming highly vulnerable.
The decrease or degradation of this biological diversity affects us all and can eventually have unexpected consequences on the environment in which we live. In Canada, as in a number of other countries in the world, attempts have been made in recent years to slow down this phenomenon.
To that end, ever since the 1970s, we have seen some international conventions being signed for the specific purpose of limiting trading in certain plant and animal species in order to keep them from extinction.
In 1992, there was the Rio Earth Summit and an important part of the international community, including Canada, signed the Convention on Biodiversity. Signatory countries pledged to develop and implement the legislation and regulations needed to protect endangered species and populations.
When Canada made that commitment, the government was lead by Brian Mulroney's Progressive Conservative Party. That was enough for the Liberals to promise, in their red book, a long term protection for the species of our planet.
Following that commitment, in 1995, the then environment minister, the member for Hamilton, tabled a first bill which gave rise to an incredible number of protestations and critics, especially on the part of environmental groups.
In 1996, the federal government proposed to provincial and territorial environment ministers a Canada-wide agreement entitled, “Accord for the Protection of Species at Risk”. In October of the same year, the ministers responsible for wildlife approved the principle of that accord.
At that time, the Quebec government was represented at the table by David Cliche, the environment minister. He signed the accord in good faith. However, he immediately issued an independent press release where he stated very clearly that he could not remain indifferent to the fact that this accord was probably opening the door to overlapping and that it would be necessary to observe closely what ensued.
Just a few weeks later the federal government, through its environment minister, Sergio Marchi, introduced Bill C-65, an act respecting the protection of wildlife species in Canada from extirpation or extinction, a bill which too was harshly criticized by the provinces mainly because of the broad powers it gave the federal government with respect to the protection of endangered species.
Many denounced the minister for his about face as his legislation was flying in the face of comments he had made a few weeks earlier saying he wanted to harmonize federal policies with the provinces instead of imposing standards and overlapping with provincial jurisdiction.
Early elections called by the Prime Minister and member for Saint-Maurice caused bill C-65 to die on the order paper. Now the government is telling us that Bill C-33 is a new improved version of Bill C-65. If the Prime Minister keeps us here in the House long enough and does not again call an early election, we must send this bill back and not pass it under its present form.
We must find a way to respect each other's jurisdiction while finding a real solution to the problem of migratory species, that unfortunately know no border. It is obvious that if we are serious about finding a real solution to the problem of endangered species, a concerted effort is needed both nationally and internationally.
Since this is an area of shared jurisdiction, greater consultation and closer co-operation among various levels of government are needed as it is imperative to improve the protection of endangered species both in Canada and Quebec. Again, this will not happen though confrontation but rather through a consensual approach.
Does Bill C-33 really provide an additional protection that is enforceable? Will it really do something to improve the protection of our ecosystems and of the threatened species that are part of them? What good is it? What is in it?
There is sufficient cause for worry that the bill is suspicious. While lines 25 to 30 of the preamble state that responsibility for the conservation of wildlife in Canada is shared among the various orders of government in this country and that it is important for them to work co-operatively to pursue the establishment of complementary legislation and programs to protect species, the bill's wording does not reflect this. It does not reflect reality, which is that protection of habitats is essentially a provincial responsibility.
Everything in fact suggests that the minister holds the power to impose his vision of protection on the provinces. In other words, his legislation will take de facto precedence over existing provincial legislation, even if the habitats fall solely under provincial jurisdiction.
By doing so, the federal government is assuming the right to impose its own way of protecting species. It is not at all clear that force and fines would always be a province's preferred approach.
Not only does the bill give broad discretionary powers to the Minister of the Environment, but it does not respect the division of powers as stated in the constitution and as interpreted over the years. This bill truly interferes in an area under provincial and territorial jurisdiction and excludes the provinces and the territories from any real and direct input into the process. Existing legislation is totally ignored.
It is true that the protection of species can only be effective if habitats are also protected, but it is the responsibility of the provinces and the territories to manage these issues in co-operation with the various stakeholders.
Even though the minister supports, theoretically, the shared responsibility between the federal government and the provinces with regard to the protection of species, in reality, first, he disregards the division of powers and the provinces' responsibility with regard to the management of habitats and the protection of species; second, he ignores existing legislation; and, third, he assumes very broad powers with regard to the protection of species. By acting this way, the federal government is going against true environmental harmonization between the various levels of government.
Now, what about the position of environmental groups? How did they receive this government bill?
Those who should be the minister's allies in any attempt to improve the protection of wildlife species find this bill totally useless and even dangerous, and they oppose it. Indeed, there has been much protest and criticism since the minister introduced his bill.
Most stakeholders find the bill too weak. Even organizations representing the industry feel that the bill will not provide greater protection for species or specify the appropriate approach to protecting species living on a site under development.
Also, it must be noted that, in its present form, Bill C-33 is a bit scary for the representatives of certain industries. As for the representative of the Mining Association of Canada, he said that the fines and legal proceedings were excessive in cases where a species was not deliberately killed.
However, the main problem that seems to be raised by all environmental groups is the fact that the decisions on the designation of species will be taken by the minister and his cabinet, and not by scientists.
This has led some activists, such as the president of the Canadian Campaign for Endangered Species, to state that Bill C-33 was a dismal failure and that it will not ensure the protection of Canadian species.
Others, like one of the lawyers of the Sierra Club, made more qualified statements, but still denounced the weakness of the legislation and described as disgraceful the fact that such a discretionary power with respect to the designation of species be granted to politicians.
The sponsor of the bill is being criticized for resorting to a piecemeal approach dictated by cabinet, instead of a set of gentle measures promoting negotiation, but supported by compelling legal measures if an agreement cannot be reached.
For his part, Paul Bégin said that the proposed legislation was just another example of useless duplication for Quebec. Indeed, the Quebec minister indicated that the bill introduced by the federal government sought not only to create a safety net for endangered species and their habitat on federal lands, but also on the whole Quebec territory.
While it may be appropriate for the federal government to legislate to protect migrating species, this government has no constitutional authority regarding the management of habitats on provincial and territorial lands. The Quebec government cannot accept that the federal government would infringe upon areas of provincial jurisdiction and dictate to Quebec how to protect its ecosystems when Quebec already has its own legislation protecting endangered species and their habitats.
In fact, the Quebec government believes an act such as Bill C-33 would be acceptable if it excluded any species or habitat under provincial jurisdiction and applied to a province or territory only if this province or territory had explicitly asked that it did.
Considering the increasing rate of species extinction, the situation is serious and it is true that we must take effective measures. But Bill C-33 is not the answer to the questions I asked at the beginning of my speech.
The principle of providing greater protection to endangered species is in itself one the Bloc Quebecois readily supports. However, the Bloc does not believe that Bill C-33 will improve the protection of species at risk. In fact, the Bloc opposes the bill because it constitutes a direct intrusion into many areas of Quebec's jurisdiction. It even overlaps the act Quebec passed in 1989, which is having good results.
The bill could very well increase the paper burden and it will not allow for an efficient use of already scarce resources. The Quebec government has already legislated in areas covered by Bill C-33 and while recognizing that it is urgent to improve the legislation, the Bloc does not believe that Bill C-33 will give the expected results.
The Bloc also recognizes that responsibility for the environment is shared between the federal government and the provinces. It is becoming very clear now that the federal government is ignoring this fact and is working against true harmonization of environmental issues by the various levels of government. Instead of assuming its major responsibilities in an appropriate way, the federal government is insisting on trampling on other governments' jurisdictions.
I said at the outset that I fully support the motion of my colleagues from the Progressive Conservative Party. Whether or not a general election is called, I sincerely hope that this bill will be postponed indefinitely.