Her name is Christine. She has had to deal with the challenges of being married to a member of parliament over the last seven years and I appreciate her support.
Last, if I may be allowed to stay with the personal issues for a minute, I would also like to thank my parents for their support and, in particular, my father for his guidance. Unfortunately, he passed away just after the election.
As I turn now to the issues of today's debate, we should ask ourselves the question, why should we care? Does it matter in effect that the loggerhead shrike is on the verge of extinction? Does it matter that the passenger pigeon has become extinct? We all know that extinction exists in nature. The dinosaurs have become extinct. In effect, why is this an issue?
The issue of extinction is not the natural rate of extinction, but we should concern ourselves when species, whether they are plants or animals, are becoming extinct at a rate far faster than they would under normal evolutionary circumstances. We should care at a most basic level because extinction of plants and animals may be an early warning of our extinction, that is the extinction of the human race. If not of our extinction, it should at least be an early warning of threats to our well-being.
Endangered species can play the role of a canary in the mine shaft. If all of a sudden our frog population is declining because of changes in the atmosphere which can be a signal that we need to change our ways. It can be a signal that there is tremendous damage being done to the environment, to the ecosystems, to the plants, to the animals and to human beings, which depend on those ecosystems. It is important that we pay attention to these issues.
We should also care because of the importance of biodiversity. By that I mean, having the widest possible variety of plants and animals on the planet earth. We should care for medical reasons. Oftentimes, unthought of medical solutions, whether they are pharmaceuticals or whatever, come from plants that probably have not even yet been discovered or categorized.
We should not only care for practical reasons in terms of our own self-interest, but I believe that we should also care for more basic spiritual or religious reasons. While I do not share an animal rights point of view of the world, I believe our natural world deserves our respect. The unnecessary extinction of plant or animal species is akin to a crime.
I would also like to suggest that Canada has a particular responsibility to deal with this issue. With so much of our population concentrated in a relatively small part of our land mass, habitat protection, which is fundamental to species protection, is relatively easy for us when compared to other countries with larger populations or perhaps fewer resources. If Canadians cannot protect habitat and the species that depend on them, how can we expect other countries to do it? I think it is our responsibility to take a lead on this.
Talking about habitat protection and more specifically, protecting wilderness, His Royal Highness, Prince Philip, stated:
The sorry story of the almost absent-minded degradation and destruction of so much of the world's biosphere is becoming only too well known to millions of people. Every other day there are disturbing stories about the burning of tropical forests, reclaimed wetlands, polluted rivers, lakes and oceans and the growing list of species of animals and plants becoming extinct.
Canada has an almost unique opportunity to ensure that future generations will be able to see examples of the state their land was in before the rush for development and exploitation began. The task is to conserve a whole range of viable ecosystems and habitats covering all the country's natural regions. It is also necessary to ensure that those human activities that impinge directly on the natural environment, such as forestry, farming and commercial fishing, adopt sound conservation practices.
That was in the forward to a book put out by the World Wildlife Fund called Endangered Spaces .
In the same book, William Francis Butler is quoted upon visiting the western plains shortly after confederation. As he stood in an ocean of grass and solitude he said “One sees here the world as it has taken shape and form from the hands of the creator”. He had a profound respect for the land in its natural state.
Before I turn to the details of the bill, let me also just say that a concern for extinction is part and parcel of a more general concern about the environment. It would make no sense at all to concern ourselves with endangered species while not concerning ourselves with, for example, climate change. Any work we do on habitat protection can be wiped out in a matter of months, if not days, by damage from our weather systems. Fundamental to any activity is an appropriate humbleness as we look out upon the world and respect for nature.
On that same theme, again taking a particularly Canadian view, writing in 1944 on a wilderness canoe voyage, Pierre Trudeau said,“I know a man whose school could never teach him the patriotism but who acquired that virtue when he felt in his bones the vastness of his land and the greatness of those who founded it”.
We have it from the great Prime Minister Trudeau himself about respect for nature and respect for the Canadian wilderness. It is part and parcel of respect for habitat which is fundamental to protecting endangered species.
In my remaining time let me comment directly on the bill that is in front of us. The government should be applauded for making some improvements on its previous legislation. Specifically, the compensation part of the bill is going to be essential for having the bill accepted in various parts of the country. It is clear that the cost of changing behaviour should not be borne simply by the landowners. There is a public good at large. Consequently, the public should be prepared to pay for land conservation or habitat protection. I do not foresee this being a tremendous amount of money. It would be money well spent.
However I share with some of my colleagues in the opposition and my Liberal colleagues concerns about the bill. The legislation needs to go further in terms of protecting habitat, particularly in the area of federal jurisdiction. I have concerns about who actually does the listing. I look forward to exploring that issue further in committee.
I also have concerns about the rollover of the list. Currently we have identified some 300 plus plants and animals that are on the verge of extension or are threatened. Most, if not all of the scientific work, has been done. We can make this list part of the legislation itself rather than making it the subject of cabinet regulation.
Those are my initial concerns. I look forward to working with the opposition on this very critical issue. It is part of a broader issue of concern for the environment. As we look forward, the environment will be the issue of the next period of time. This is only one small part of proper environmental stewardship and I am happy to play a role in it.