Mr. Speaker, at the start of this new political season, I have the pleasure to speak on behalf of the Bloc Quebecois. I would like to take this opportunity to send greetings to the people of my riding of Beauharnois—Salaberry and my colleagues here in the House and to wish the latter a hot autumn.
Today, we have new leaders here with us in the House. We will also have several interesting questions on the Order Paper. I trust that the business carried out in the House will meet the expectations of the people of Canada, and of Quebec in particular.
Bill C-33 on the preservation of Canada's wildlife is one deserving of debate in this Parliament for a number of reasons, primarily the fact that it seeks to implement a number of Canada's international obligations under conventions it has signed, such as the Convention on Biodiversity and others like the Ramsar Convention, which is aimed at protecting species and preserving the flora and fauna of this planet.
This debate is of particular interest to me because there is a wildlife sanctuary in my riding of Beauharnois Salaberry, the Haut-Saint-Laurent, which is home to a number of species, some of them at risk. This is an issue that interests me particularly because certain individuals have made representations to me, including those who keep various species and want to have the public get to know them at the Hemmingford safari park. They think the present legislation is inadequate and should be expanded and improved with standards to ensure better species protection.
The Bloc Quebecois would like improved protection, legislation ensuring such protection for endangered wildlife, but in a debate such as this, it is concerned about the government's desire to pass legislation without any possibility of amendment.
We recently heard the Minister of the Environment say that this bill was fine as it stood, as he had introduced it, as it had been tabled in the House. What is the point then of today's debate, which will continue before the Standing Committee on the Environment and Sustainable Development, if we already know that the government does not want any amendments, does not want it improved?
And yet, this bill is far from perfect. We could cite criticism by members of the government even, who hope the bill will be amended once we have passed it or when we are called to pass it.
I quote, for example, the member for North York, who said on June 12:
We will do nothing to protect species at risk unless this bill leaves committee as a good...piece of legislation. The House must support legislation that is strong, fair, effective and makes biological sense.
The member for Lac-Saint-Louis, an expert on environmental issues, who served as minister of the environment in Quebec under Robert Bourassa, said on the same day with respect to Bill C-33, and I quote:
Instead of being recognized as being the final list produced by scientists of the highest repute who have worked tirelessly over the last two decades, the list will now be subject to the discretion of cabinet—
The member for Lac-Saint-Louis added:
I find that terribly ironic...
We are not even starting with the roll of the list of the 339 species identified by COSEWIC. That is a glaring fault in the law. Without a listing there cannot be protection.
As members can see, this bill needs to be amended, it needs to be improved upon, as suggested by two Liberal members. They are not the only ones who think that the bill is flawed.
A number of environmentalists and environmental groups have also said that the bill would not eliminate the loopholes left by certain provinces. Some of these groups, including the Sierra Club, also said that this legislation, which the minister claimed to be the strongest in the world, is an embarrassment for Canada at the international level.
According to Elizabeth May, of the Sierra Club, species at risk are not adequately protected under this bill. On behalf of her organization and of several environmental groups, she said that politicians, not scientists—and this is definitely an area where the voice of scientists should prevail over that of politicians—have the last word regarding the selection of species deemed to be at risk, when we should in fact call upon an independent group of experts to make an annual list.
This criticism from environmental groups should be listened to. It should trigger a debate and a thorough examination by the members of this House. I hope that the criticisms made by some Liberal members, including the hon. member for Lac-Saint-Louis, and by environmental groups will be taken into consideration by the committee.
In something rarely seen when it comes to environmental issues, industry is also opposed to the bill in its present form. For instance, two organizations, the Canadian Pulp and Paper Association, which wished to comment on Bill C-33 as it now stands, and the Mining Association of Canada, have indicated that the government could have taken a much tougher approach with respect to federal lands, public lands and natural areas, where the federal government's constitutional jurisdiction is not challenged by any of the provinces, particularly by our party, the Bloc Quebecois.
This brings me to the intergovernmental and constitutional aspects of Bill C-33. As my party's intergovernmental affairs critic, I feel it is necessary and indeed essential that the constitutional issues raised by this bill be tackled at this stage of the proceedings.
In matters of the environment, the division of powers in Canada is such that the federal parliament and the parliaments of various provinces have overlapping jurisdiction. This is affirmed in the preamble to the bill. But many provisions of the bill proper seem to run counter to this division of powers with respect to the environment and, by extension, the protection of wildlife.
Here, as in other areas, what we are seeing is a desire by parliament and the government introducing this legislation to drag in the issue of national interest.
Moreover, this bill is intended to implement an international treaty, namely the Convention on the Preservation of Biological Diversity referred to in the third paragraph of the preamble. It might serve, as has already happened in the past before the courts, the Supreme Court of Canada in particular, to imply that there is a national dimension to this bill, since it is intended to implement an international treaty and international obligations. Then, because of this national dimension, the appropriate legislation for the purpose of implementing these obligations becomes the federal legislation.
We in the Bloc Quebecois and all the governments of Quebec, one after the other, have always challenged this national dimension theory. The courts have hesitated to apply it, although they have sometimes been tempted to broaden the range of federal jurisdiction through reference to this theory, particularly when the environment is concerned.
It seems this is the case again here, because certain provisions in this bill clearly suggest the desire for this legislation to apply to the provinces, and apply to them without their consent. Moreover, a number of its provisions are along those lines.
For instance, paragraph 34(2) is the most explicit, and is very clearly aimed at having federal legislation apply within a province and without the province necessarily wanting this to be so. I will quote this, because it is worth reading in its entirety:
(2) The Governor in Council may, on the recommendation of the Minister, by order, provide that sections 32 and 33 apply in lands in a province—
This relates to the listing of a species of wildlife as extirpated species.
—with respect to individuals of a listed wildlife species that is not an aquatic species or a species of birds that are migratory birds protected by the Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994.
Federal legislation can thus end up being applied in a province without the province's consent.
This would indicate that the government has little concern about potential overlap between this upcoming federal law and certain provincial laws passed in previous years, which have enabled the provinces to meet some of their obligations, including international ones arising from Canada's ratification of certain treaties on biological diversity and the protection and preservation of flora and fauna.
This is the case with Quebec, for example, since it passed two important bills: the act respecting threatened or vulnerable species and the act respecting the conservation and development of wildlife. The National Assembly considered it practical and essential to pass these laws to preserve endangered wildlife in Quebec.
Accordingly, the Government of Quebec, through its minister of the environment, Paul Bégin, has said that Bill C-33 constituted only more unnecessary duplication for Quebec and that its aim was to put in place a safety net for endangered species and their habitats in areas under federal jurisdiction. This is in keeping with the provisions of the constitution and the jurisdiction it afforded parliament over the environment, but the federal government wanted to do the same thing on Quebec soil, which the government of Quebec was not prepared to accept. Neither are the duly elected Bloc Quebecois representatives in this House prepared to accept it, and their voices must be heard.
I would add that some provisions of the bill are also likely to be declared unconstitutional as they are incompatible with the division of powers. I am thinking in particular of clauses 36, 39 and 57 to 64, which also seek to allow the federal parliament and this legislation to interfere with the powers granted to the Quebec National Assembly and to the other provincial legislatures.
I take this opportunity to praise the work of our critic on environmental issues, the hon. member for Jonquière, who, in this area as in several others, shows not only an interest for the environment, but also for the protection of the right to the environment, this third generation right whereby we have a duty to protect species, to protect nature, plants and animal life against the dangers and the harm that man and institutions can cause.
In particular, I wish to emphasize the work done by my colleague regarding the importation of MOX, a fuel that entered Canada against the will of several environmental groups. In fact, MOX could still enter Canada through Quebec and Ontario even though no real debate, no consultation and no adequate impact studies have been conducted to our satisfaction and that of a number of other parliamentarians and groups representing the civil society.
The Bloc Quebecois will not accept and will not support a legislation which, we are already being told, cannot be amended, even though we know it is inadequate, even in the eyes of Liberal members such as the hon. member for Lac-Saint-Louis, who is here with us. This bill is deemed unacceptable by several environmental groups, by a number of people in the industry, who want the federal government to take action in this sector, but only in those areas and territories over which it has accepted and recognized jurisdiction.
Therefore, the Bloc Quebecois will not accept a federal act that creates overlap and duplication in this area, as is the case in so many other areas.
Yesterday afternoon, we learned that the government wanted to impose another gag—and this sets off bad memories for us; members have only to recall the series of gags imposed this past spring by the government, which was trying to ram through its clarity bill, gag by gag—to prematurely cut off debate in order to get its young offenders legislation passed.
This is another debate in which the Bloc Quebecois has been trying to defend Quebec's interests and its jurisdiction in a field where it has shown that flexible, intelligent legislation encouraging the rehabilitation of young people was much better than federal laws designed to put 12 and 13 year olds in jail when what they deserved was a chance at rehabilitation.
The government does not seem to be interested in making the effort or urging others to do so, but is instead casting doubts on the chances of rehabilitating young people, and thus perhaps responding to the people represented by many Canadian Alliance MPs today, who are calling for tough measures against young offenders.
The young offenders bill, like Bill C-33, other bills, programs such as the millennium scholarships and others that come under provincial jurisdiction, shows just how far the federal government is prepared to go, this government which claims to be a national government, which wants to be such a government and in fact reiterates this in the bill when its speaks of its desire to defend Canada's national identity and history, of which its natural heritage is an integral part, and shows just how unfederal its federalism truly is. It is for this reason that so many of the Quebecers represented by the 44 members of the Bloc Quebecois are challenging this federalism and calling for their own country.