Mr. Speaker, before statements by members and oral question period, we were talking about EDC's environmental terms of reference. As I mentioned earlier, the auditor general said that environmental standards were missing from the terms of reference and that the terms themselves were not clear. I also said that this framework was vague and timid. Of course, EDC sets no objective for this environmental assessment, which is to ensure that the projects approved are respectful of the environment.
In 1999 the committee passed on to EDC the concerns that had been raised and told it that it was vital that the environmental terms of reference contain well established criteria and standards. The auditor general also said that there must be standards and criteria. All the government has done is to make it clear that it will not enforce the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. Once again, it is being left up to the crown corporation, in other words, to its directors, to determine what those standards and criteria will be. When the government says it amended this bill, that is so much nonsense. EDC still has responsibility. As I mentioned earlier, there is a lack of transparency. The same old people will still be doing the same old things.
What the bill states, quite simply, is that we need to look at the environmental aspects. This is the only statement made, with no specification on what is important, namely to establish criteria and standards solidly based on existing legislation. It would have been so easy just to apply the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act.
The auditor general has also referred to the sloppiness in projects. Out of 25 analyzed and examined by her, 23 had their environmental impact poorly assessed, if at all. On examination, we realize that it is not because a project is being carried out in a short period that its object is viable from the environmental point of view. Why? Because right from the start the agency eliminated two-thirds of projects when providing insurance or loans, saying that there was no risk, fewer problems because they were financing the credit and wanted to be sure they would be repaid. There is, therefore, no impact study. There is no study to see what environmental standards and criteria there can be.
EDC always comes back to this test of influence. The purpose of this is to determine whether it can exercise any influence to reduce the risks posed by a project. It carries out a detailed environmental examination of a project only when it determines that risk and influence are factors. One can imagine that it is not because a project is located outside our country that it will have no impact on the environment or that we will be reimbursed. It is not because the deadline is short that there will be no impact on the environment, on the contrary. Each case should be evaluated not according to its duration but according to whether it has an environmental impact.
As for the 23 out of 25 projects poorly assessed or unassessed, I believe it is clear that the EDC's internal methods are greatly lacking. There was no method for determining whether the harmful environmental impacts could be justified.
The government missed a fine opportunity to make a more transparent bill with real environmental standards. We know very well nothing has changed. They included this reference in the bill, however the focus must be on standards and criteria to be sure they are specified. This will enable the directors to set a course of conduct that takes the environment into account.
As to the release of information, there is another important matter and that is the lack of transparency. This is so important that I will provide a few examples of projects.
There is the Antamina mine in Peru, which will level for ever more eight peaks of the highest mountain range. The inhabitants complained to the World Bank about the environmental risks posed by the mine, insufficient compensatory measures and the displacement of people.
The Profertil fertilizer complex in Argentine has been closed twice because of ammonia leaks. Residents are concerned about the dangers created by the transportation and storage of chemicals and by dumping into the ocean.
There is another example. The Bulyanhulu mine in Tanzania has evicted thousands of small operation miners, who had their own piece of land. Environmentalists are concerned about potential heavy metal and cyanide contamination. Amnesty International has reported that miners were killed in the implementation of the eviction measures.
The government talks of transparency and of the environment. We must be totally informed in the case of a project such as this before funds are granted.
The EDC works with the information at hand. It takes the information provided by the promoter and what it has itself. This is not enough. They must go much further. Environmental criteria and transparency are essential.
As for transparency, how is a funding project prepared? Before funding is granted, the projects absolutely must be examined. Studies have to be done. Each project must be studied, not according to its length, but over all, with the accent on environmental effects.
Of course, this lack of transparency and the fact that the Access to Information Act cannot be used leave us rather perplexed about the decisions that can be made.
We are not told in Quebec and Canada which projects were involved and how much money was provided.
We know that this crown corporation is self-financed. However, we do an enormous amount of work at the international level. For this reason, words alone are not enough when it comes to the criteria raised by the committee and the auditor general, which include transparency, disclosure and protection of the environment. They must translate into action. We need to be seen as a country and as a people for whom the environment is important. We must promote environmental protection.
The same can be said for human rights, an issue raised before the committee in 1999. We said how terrible it would be if we ignored them, and yet, that is what we are doing.
We need to have this assurance around the world, and state what is important before the EDC invests in expansion. We cannot, when outside of the country, close our eyes and lower our standards because we are only required to obey the host country's laws and regulations. We have our own law. We have the opportunity to raise standards, and we are not doing it.
I firmly believe that the reason the Bloc Quebecois expressed serious reservations regarding the EDC and human rights is that there is something missing. There is something missing from the bill, but there was something missing before, and it is still missing now.
Even though in its assessment of the political risks the EDC does not take into account the human rights situation, the issue should not be dealt with merely through discussions. We did that in committee and we stressed this aspect, but it is not provided in the legislation. How can we be taken seriously if we show that we do not even comply with the international agreements signed by Canada? This is not provided at a time when we have the opportunity to do so in a bill as important as this one. We help our exporters, but we forget really important things like this.
The Bloc Quebecois feels that this bill is too weak from an environmental point of view. It provides no guarantee of an effective environmental assessment and it leaves too much leeway to the EDC in the determination of the criteria to be complied with.
It is silent on disclosure. It would have been very easy to provide for the disclosure of information, but clause 12 of the bill excludes the possibility of using that provision of the Access to Information Act. I should point out that a crown corporation is not subject to the Access to Information Act. This should be noted because it has not been mentioned.
I now want to get back to clause 12. It refers to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. Again, that act was excluded. While it is true that a crown corporation is not subject to this legislation, this was reinforced by saying that we do not want to use it. Yet, this would have been the legislation to use. We want to implement it in Canada. Why, when we provide funding, when we give money or assurances, should we not apply our own criteria? However we are not doing it.
Moreover, the bill does not include punitive provisions should the EDC not respect its environmental framework. In this regard, Quebec imposes fines and even jail terms on officials who are found guilty of negligence in environmental matters. This is an important step by Quebec. Why not do the same, particularly when we are trying to do something at the international level, to show that Quebec and Canada care about the environment?
As I said earlier, we are watering down environmental standards by not making sure that projects comply with more than just the standards of host countries. Again, this was a perfect opportunity to show that when we want a bill like this one, we should not give priority only to trade and international issues, but also to the environment. We must stop watering down our requirements. We must use our own standards and criteria, instead of those of host countries, and we must stop yielding to the will of EDC officials.
As I mentioned, this bill also excludes any possibility of making the EDC subject to section 12 of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. All this undermines the EDC's credibility.
The bill could have been used to make the EDC much more credible, not just for Quebecers and Canadians, but for all those who are going to do business with a Canadian crown corporation with criteria and standards and an openmindedness, not just a blind openmindedness, not just trade or the economy.
Earlier, I heard the parliamentary secretary say here in the House that the exporters who do business with us are happy. I am happy that exporters are happy, but this is not just about exporters.
The reason this amendment to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act was proposed is that some people were a little less happy. I am talking about the environmental groups who brought pressure to bear, who took action and who obtained figures, information and statistics. They brought to light such important factors that finally there was an opportunity to make all this applicable, with criteria, specific standards, and also, I believe, the possibility of transparency at last. The government passed it up.
The government would rather not talk about cases such as those I mentioned earlier, in Tunisia and in Argentina. There is an international impact when eight mountains, one of the great chains in the world, are being levelled through the auspices of the EDC. We are taking part in this. I find it somewhat embarrassing. There was an excellent opportunity to do something about situations such as this.
There was an excellent opportunity to use the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. One of the features of this act is that only federal authorities are subject to environmental assessment. The federal government is therefore the promoter of whole projects or parts of projects and must therefore do an environmental assessment. Help for a project may take the form of funding, a loan guarantee, or financial aid. This is basically what the EDC does, but it does it outside the country for exporters. This bill could therefore have been amended or regulations included to specify environmental criteria or standards to be used.
When we are told that, with international standards, the EDC can say “We will have this or that standard in this or that country”, I believe this was the opportunity to do the exact opposite and say “We are not going to lower our standards”. For us, that is important.
If we, the countries of North America, do not specify what our standards are throughout the world, and what significance we wish to attach to them, it is easy to imagine what sort of image of us this projects. We are said to have a Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, that we carry out impact studies, as soon as a project comes under federal jurisdiction, yet outside the country we do not apply the same standards.
People elsewhere, who are not familiar with Canada's laws and regulations, say to themselves “They keep on talking about the importance of the environment, they go to the UN, they go everywhere. That is what they say, but they do not do it”. That is the image we are giving to the public, including the people of Quebec.
Yet with the Canadian legislation and Quebec's environmental assessment legislation and office for public hearings, we are ahead of the others. Our legislation is far stricter because we can even send heads of companies to jail for harming the environment.
We know about it therefore, we Quebecers with our legislation, and Canadians with theirs. Yet imagine what image we project outside the country.
They say anything, because they do not think the laws here are as stringent and because we do not apply them internationally.
It is clear that without such standards, given that we cannot strive to achieve the final results attainable with these projects, because the Access to Information Act cannot be used, after this amendment to the act, be sure what they do outside? How much are they giving all these exporters? This is a large corporation, which must show people outside the country who Quebecers and Canadians are.
Exporters must use the corporation to show who we are. Something more than mere financing must to be involved. Even the World Bank does impact studies when it grants a loan. Why would the EDC not follow its example? These are the questions we have. This does not drop out of the sky or from today's debate. It comes from committee and the auditor general. Requests are made.
They cannot say they did not know. What is the point of leaving it up to the directors of the EDC? I ask the question because it intrigues me.
This was a good opportunity to get things right with a crown corporation that grants loans. This crown corporation has a certain reputation, thanks to advertising, however, it should reveal exactly everything that it does. I am sure that some who are listening to us wonder what the EDC does. What is it, what does it do? Not all of our fellow citizens know exactly what the EDC does.
We do not know what it can do, because it only provides us with the information it wants us to have. Here was an opportunity to include the Access to Information Act in order to verify what is being done with this money. Here was a chance to see how we were perceived abroad, how many projects were finished, how many succeed and which ones did not succeed. Do we get back more than we put in? Surely, because in the end, there is a profit. I think the assets have reached some two billion dollars.
That is a lot of money. It would enable Quebec exporters to promote their projects. How many projects have there been from Quebec? This request was made of the EDC. They refused to provide the information. They refused to say how many projects the EDC had given. They have refused this and we cannot invoke the Access to Information Act. If we had this information, we could show people that we could find out exactly what the EDC does. We would have known what kind of projects it gets involved in and if it really respects the environment.
I was referring to the influence test. Nor is there is any guarantee that it has been abandoned.
This is something that is done by EDC officials. The impact may be minimal, average or significant. The possibility of influencing a project is assessed. They can say “Make it a little more acceptable”, but these people are not experts. They base their decisions on standards that are, again, set in other countries which often have standards and criteria less strict than ours.
Maintaining such a test of influence makes the whole process arbitrary. It is indeed very arbitrary. We could have a specific framework, but it is not the case. We have no specific criteria and standards. Because we cannot know since we do not have access to them I wonder whether the criteria are the same from one country to the next or from one project to the next. Could we even use them beyond what is allowed, by awarding contracts to people whom we know, for example, or by subjecting an exporter to criteria not as strict as others so as to favour him? We do not know.
The transparency that was supposed to be introduced just is not there. Yet, the government gave the following response to the committee's report, in June 2001:
As Canada's public export funding organization, the EDC has an obligation to conduct its activities in a manner that benefits Canada and it must fulfill Canada's international commitments.
So, we are talking about human rights and environmental rights.
The government recognizes that the information currently being disclosed by the EDC is in a very compact form, but it admits that the corporation has made a lot of progress in the communication of information.
How can the government see this? We cannot use the Access to Information Act. When we make direct requests, we are denied the information.
In its response given on June 26, 2001, the government said the following:
The government also endorses the view that the EDC should consider setting up a position of ombudsman. The ombudsman would deal with issues of accountability, fulfillment of obligations and access to information.
I read the bill. There is no mention of this. This comes from a response to the committee's report. The response was dated June 26, 2001, but this is nowhere to be found in the bill. The Export Development Corporation was chosen because it was a crown corporation and reflects Canadian environmental values in its overseas projects. I will not repeat everything I just said, but the government wants to see Canadian values reflected abroad, and is not even using the standards and criteria in the legislation we already have. It is left entirely up to the directors, and the approach taken for each project is probably different.
The government responded as follows:
It undertakes, within twelve months, to give the environmental assessment process legislative force. The options are to include a provision concerning the terms of reference in the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, or to include regulations concerning the EDC in the act.
If it truly had a choice, all it had to do was use the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act and then, through regulatory amendments, do what had to be done. It failed to do so. There is nothing in the bill.
Then we were told:
The government agrees that environmental assessments should be made public early in the project funding approval process.
The minister kept his promise to introduce a bill within 12 months, but the bill addresses none of these other concerns.
How can we approve such a bill? If the government had had the courage, the understanding, to use the existing Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, if it had done what the committee had asked, if it had addressed the concerns of the auditor general, this bill might finally have provided us with a chance for access to information about what the EDC is doing, and more particularly it might have provided an opportunity to respect standards and criteria.