Mr. Speaker, this is the first time I have rise in the House since your election. I am delighted to see you in the chair. You have demonstrated great skill in the role as the Deputy Speaker. We look forward to one of the most productive parliaments that one could possibly expect as a result of your leadership and your skills as Speaker.
I am pleased to rise to speak on the Speech from the Throne. As Minister of the Environment it is my particular responsibility to concern myself with Canada and our natural heritage from coast to coast to coast.
We are blessed to live in a country that is rich in nature, wilderness and ample resources. This rich natural heritage is a sacred trust passed from one generation to the next. Indeed, as former Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau used to remark “geography and nature defines us as Canadians”.
As Canadians, we understand that protecting the environment is not an option. It is a must-do. Nothing is more fundamental in this country.
That is why one of the key planks in the government's plan for its third mandate is to ensure a clean, healthy environment for Canadians and the preservation of our natural species.
For its part the Government of Canada has already made significant investments in the environment by supporting community initiatives, funding research, facilitating the development of new environmental technologies, supporting international environmental initiatives, and strengthening measures to reduce air and water pollution.
Our work is paying off. Just last month at the world economic forum in Davos, Switzerland, a study was released which shows that, together with Finland and Norway, Canada is one of the top three countries in environmental sustainability.
Canada ranks third on an environmental sustainability index, the most comprehensive global report comparing environmental conditions and environmental performance across 122 countries.
We can be proud of that progress, but we should not be content to rest on our laurels. I would like to speak today to how the government intends to build on this and other environmental achievements to ensure the preservation of our vast landscape and the wealth of our natural resources for future generations to come.
Specifically I will address clean air and clean water, the conservation of Canada's parks and species at risk, health protection and climate change.
Our goal is to help Canadians push the frontiers of environmental science and technology. Let me stress that science must be the foundation of all our environmental policies.
If we do not have the science right we obviously will not get the policies right. By investing in our science capacity and sustainable practices we can harness the power of science to support our environmental goals and to protect and promote the health of Canadians.
Science is already showing us that children do not react the same way as adults to toxic substances. They are not small adults. They are at the most delicate stage of development and one of the most at risk groups.
In its third mandate the first key step for the government will be to fill critical research gaps that exist now so that we can assist in developing the appropriate standards to safeguard the special vulnerabilities of our children.
Our science also tells us that some 5,000 Canadians annually die prematurely because of air pollution. Hundreds of thousands of others suffer from aggravated asthma, and I am one of them, bronchitis, and other respiratory illnesses. Now we are learning that air pollution affects our health at lower levels than we previously thought.
Canada has already launched the beginnings of a clean air strategy. It addresses transboundary pollution, vehicle and fuel standards, industrial sectors and the science of air quality. In so doing, it engages Canadians and the communities in which they live to become part of the solution.
We have also reached other important national and bilateral agreements related to air pollution. In December I had the pleasure and privilege of signing on behalf of Canada the ozone annex to the 1991 Canada-United States air quality agreement, committing both our countries to significantly reducing the creation of smog causing pollutants in the eastern half of this continent.
In our new mandate the Government of Canada will move quickly to implement that ozone annex and to extend it to the western part of the continent. The annex complements many other initiatives already underway to improve air quality in Canada itself, including the Canada-wide standards for particulate matter and ozone agreed to by the federal, provincial and territorial governments only some six months ago.
The quality of our air is rightly one of the top concerns of Canadians. So is the quality of our water. Indeed, the quality of our water is now preoccupying Canadians from all walks of life and all levels of government.
The Government of Canada is committed to working with all partners and all levels of government to protect Canadians from the dangers of polluted water. During their June 2000 meeting the federal, provincial and territorial ministers of the environment agreed to establish three task groups to deal with water management issues including water quality, demand, use management and preventable measures for water hazards such as flooding. We have put some $135 million into supporting municipal projects through the Federation of Canadian Municipalities that protect the environment such as waste water treatment and solid waste management.
The Speech from the Throne commits the government to do more and to take leadership in developing stronger national guidelines for water quality. Drawing on expertise within the government and across Canada we will significantly strengthen the role of the National Water Research Institute.
We will invest in research and development to protect surface water and groundwater supplies from industrial and farming activities. We will fund further improvements to municipal water and waste water systems.
We are also taking action to protect fragile ecosystems. We have created seven new parks. We have also provided Parks Canada with an additional $130 million over four years to establish new parks, manage the existing ones and build on our scientific capacity within the parks system. My neighbour, the Minister of Canadian Heritage, will no doubt be saying more on this later in this debate. I look forward to hearing her remarks.
In addition, the Government of Canada is committed to protecting species at risk through strong and effective legislation, stewardship to protect habitat, a productive recovery process in partnerships with provinces, territories, stakeholders and aboriginal groups.
I stress the importance of effective legislation. Duplicating less effective legislation elsewhere simply because it appears to be stronger is not the way to go. Let us learn from the mistakes of others, craft something totally Canadian and effective on the ground, which is where we can protect species and the battle lines can be drawn.
I will be reintroducing the species at risk act in the House today, but I want to point out that our strategy to protect species at risk is already producing good results.
Legislation is supported on the ground through voluntary activities by conservation groups and individuals who are taking action to help protect species, protect habitat and conserve biodiversity where it matters most: on the land, in our streams, oceans and forests.
Our strategy balances strong regulations with voluntary measures and incentives. When Canadians, for example, donate ecologically sensitive lands to an environmental group, they can now benefit from a 50% reduction in capital gains.
I applaud the Minister of Finance for his recognition of the importance of this measure in getting the goodwill and co-operation of landowners in the battle to protect habitat of species, endangered and otherwise.
Let me turn now to the issue of global warming. Canada is extremely concerned about climate change, and with good reason.
The North, and our country is a northern country, is the area which perhaps is experiencing the most severe impacts of climate change. We see that the ice is melting. Polar bears are starving. The traditional lifestyle of aboriginal peoples is threatened. The fauna and flora are highly disturbed.
As a northern nation we are on the frontline of the impact of climate change. We have taken action to respond and will take more action throughout the coming decade. We are beginning to see results.
Since Kyoto we have succeeded in decoupling economic growth from emissions growth in Canada. Indeed that has dropped to one-fifth of what it was before. Previously for every 1% increase in gross domestic product we would see a 1% increase in emissions. Now for every 1% growth in GDP we see one-fifth of that. Indeed that is a dramatic change.
Canada has become a leader in the science and modelling of climate change. Last fall we adopted the first national climate change action plan.
This $500 million action plan captures many of the best ideas that came out of a consultation process with representatives of industry, environmental organizations, aboriginal people, municipalities, academic institutions and other.
We engaged all our provinces and territories in the effort. All relevant federal departments were involved in preparing the action plan.
No other country in the world has gone through such an extensive process to develop its national plan. This means that once the decisions are made we will have an already high level of buy in and acceptance and hence, we trust, a smoother path to implementation.
The action plan targets key sectors that will provide both environmental and economic benefits. As a result Canadians will enjoy cleaner air and water. They will save money from energy efficiency and increased use of renewable energy technologies.
Ultimately our climate change action plan will make the Canadian economy more innovative and more competitive on the world scale.
When fully implemented, the plan will take Canada one-third of the way to achieving the target established in the Kyoto protocol. It will reduce Canada's greenhouse gas emissions by about 65 megatonnes annually during the commitment period of 2008 to 2012.
This is a major step forward that sets the stage for future reductions and reflects the seriousness with which Canada takes its international commitments.
On the world stage we have championed a comprehensive approach to climate change that will lead to practical action.
I must confess disappointment at the results of the meeting in The Hague where inflexibility on the part of the European Union did not allow for an agreement between the United States and the countries of the umbrella group and the European Union. Nevertheless that is a minor setback. We will continue to play the role of bringing people together on climate change and other key environmental issues because Canadians have told us they want Canada to take a leadership role in protecting the global environment.
We have already played an instrumental role in bringing about the Montreal protocol on CFC reduction, the persistent organic pollutants, or POP, negotiations, which took place in Cartagena and again in Montreal, in addition to the successful outcome to the Montreal conference on biosafety and genetically modified organisms.
This weekend, I will be joining my international colleagues, the various environment ministers, at the United Nations environment program meeting in Nairobi to continue in our efforts to build a world that is more secure, more prosperous and more sustainable.
I would like to turn now to an important tool to promote development that is sustainable, and that is environmental assessment. By bringing the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act into force in 1995, this government has ensured that the environmental effects of our actions are fully considered before decisions are taken.
Each year the Government of Canada assesses almost 6,000 projects each with the potential to affect our air, our health, our water, our wildlife and natural spaces. Project by project, and step by step, we are using environmental assessment to avoid adverse effects of development.
I will report to the House soon on the outcome of the recent review of this act. I plan to take the measures needed to make it an even more effective tool in support of this government's focus on a clean, healthy environment for Canadians.
In closing, I will tell a story that captures the essence of these issues. It demonstrates the holistic nature of environmental issues today, and the need to embrace new ways of thinking and new alliances.
The Georgia Basin ecosystem initiative from the west coast of Canada, an area which we share with the United States, is a partnership among the federal and provincial governments, business and industry leaders, first nations, citizens and volunteers.
The initiative tackles environmental issues such as clean water and air and species at risk. At the same time, it addresses the social and economic needs of communities within the Georgia Basin.
In one of their projects, they have developed an interactive computer model that shows how three prime systems, the biosphere, human society and the economy, interact with each other. Community members have had the chance to plug in their choices and see the kind of world they can create for the Georgia Basin by the year 2040.
I like that project for a number of reasons. First, it is a great management tool that will be useful for decision makers. Second, it is a motivator of ordinary citizens. It gets people involved and shows them the consequences of their potential actions. In that way it allows a higher level of debate about society and its goals.
In the months and years ahead, as we struggle to protect the myriad aspects of our environment, we need to use all the available tools. We need to embrace innovation, whether it comes from a computer model or an aboriginal elder. Finally, we need to promote the notion of personal stewardship among all Canadians.
Our ancestors have thrown us the torch. It is for us to hold it high, to keep it burning brightly and to pass it on to our children. The government and I, as Minister of the Environment, are committed to that task.