House of Commons Hansard #23 of the 37th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was endangered.


Species At Risk ActGovernment Orders

4:20 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Paul Forseth Canadian Alliance New Westminster—Coquitlam—Burnaby, BC

Madam Speaker, the problem with endangered species legislation, and it was certainly the problem in the American experience which was litigated through the courts, is that the good intentions of a law can wind up having a perverse purpose or a perverse consequence. We have heard of the tendency of the three esses from a previous speaker.

The main problem is that in order to further a protection regime some intended use of someone's land could be prohibited, or perhaps the land currently in fallow may require a future plan for planting crop. Landowners, especially in rural Canada, are already doing myriad things to preserve endangered species and the characters of wildness and habitat. The bill must recognize the wonderful things that are ongoing.

In the example cited, maybe some limits would have to be placed on the watering of cattle. Maybe there would have to be some mitigation factors such as a small amount of fencing to keep the cattle from destroying the shoreline of the stream or ensuring they only have access to the stream at a specific spot.

Perhaps there are other fields where the cattle would not be allowed during the early part of the year or they would be not allowed to go into a section until later in the year, after nesting has been completed. There are some costs involved. Perhaps the cattle would have to be trucked to another field or fed in a feedlot. The principle of that is that if there is a national or international objective there must be fair compensation for the willing landowner who wants to co-operate but does not want to pay the total social or environmental cost specifically by himself when the nation wants this objective accomplished. The problem is that in the bill there is no formula.

Professor Pearse was asked to do a consultation paper for the government but rumour has it that the minister is not predisposed to accept that formula.

We will have to look at regulation in the future. I suggested in my speech that perhaps we could look to the body of law and jurisprudence that is already there and learn from the expropriation principles. However we are not talking about expropriation. The cost could mean a limit on use at a particular time of the year or maybe putting up a new kind of fence in an area to protect some nests.

The problem with the bill is always cost. The administration has difficulty putting in legislation something that has open ended cost into the future. I can understand the government being very careful to stay away from that.

Species At Risk ActGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Rick Casson Canadian Alliance Lethbridge, AB

Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise and speak to this bill today. The idea of a bill to protect endangered species has been kicked around Parliament Hill for a long time. It has gone through numerous ministers. The only continuous factor has been the chairman of the environment committee, the member for Davenport, who has been through all of it and is certainly an advocate for strong environmental laws.

We support the protection of endangered species. My colleague from Red Deer said the other day that polls have indicated that 95% of Canadians support some kind of legislation to protect endangered species. He wondered why it was not 100% and why anybody would not want to do that? We agree that it needs to be done, but it needs to be done in a way that is fair and that deals with some issues that we feel are not being dealt with in this bill.

We will support the bill but we will put forth some amendments. We are hopeful that the government will, at some point in time during the bill's process through the House to become law, look at those amendments. We are also hopeful that the government will listen to the people of Canada and make the changes needed to make the bill work properly.

We cannot have the three s' s, shoot, shovel and shut-up, in Canada. It happened when some strong handed legislation was introduced in the United States and it did not work. We need to deal with co-operation, compensation, partnerships and working with stewardship initiatives in the private sector.

Compensation and scientific integrity are two issues in the bill for which we will have a lot of input. Scientists should decide what species are at risk. They should create the list and that is it. There should be no political interference in who decides what an endangered species is. It should be done scientifically and then presented to the House.

However, I feel, and I am sure this has been stated by others, that if any action is taken on that list it will require dollars and the intervention of some body with authority, which should be the duty of the elected politicians.

We have to be very careful that the co-operative efforts put forward already and the stewardship initiatives that we see across Canada are supported, enhanced and rewarded. We have a huge concern with that issue. We have to ensure that the people who are working so hard on their own to create habitat for endangered species and to preserve habitat that exists are recognized.

I had a great opportunity the summer before last to go up to the eastern irrigation district around Brooks. I was invited up there by a fellow named Tom Livingstone. There is a huge tract of pure virgin prairie grass that is being used for grazing. It is managed very well. There are oil and gas wells on this land.

Among all of this is the burrowing owl habitat. I was able to actually see a number of owls living there and raising their young right in among the cattle and the other development. The people there do things very carefully. They make sure that when the species need to be left alone, they are left alone. There is a huge tract of water that is used for wildlife and fowl. It was incredible. There were antelope and all kinds of ducks and geese there. It was quite a thing to see. These people have done that as an irrigation district to preserve what was on the prairies when we first came.

So in regard to this idea that we need to have heavy-handed legislation to bring our ranchers, our oil and gas exploration companies and our farmers into line, I do not think it needs to be done. If we work co-operatively with them and show them some support for their initiatives, we can go a long way to really doing this thing in a proper manner.

We have to make sure of something: people have told me that they want to have input into the bill. They want the committee to sit. After the committee gets Bill C-5, people want it to hear witnesses from all sectors of society. They want the committee to travel, to get out to parts of Canada, to get into the north. The member from the Yukon has issues in his area. People on the east and west coasts have issues. All across Canada people should have the ability to come to the committee to present their ideas to help make a bill that will work well. I encourage the members of our caucus on that committee and the others to work that way, to get out and go across this country to get that input that is so rightfully needed.

My party feels the compensation issue has to be in the legislation. To say that it will be worked out in regulation afterward is not something that we can live with. We certainly do not support the position presented by the Pearse report that one does not receive compensation until over 10% of one's livelihood has been affected and then one is only compensated for 50%. We would like to see full compensation. If we do it that way, we will encourage landowners and others to really take an active part in this. That has to be in the legislation. It has to spelled out very clearly that compensation will be given and that it will be given to the full extent that the landowner is affected.

The idea that all Canadians feel something needs to be done for the protection of endangered species brings us to the fact that all Canadians should be part of the cost of any mitigation implemented to preserve habitat. If it is a cost to society in general, then let us put it into the legislation and let all Canadians have a look at what that means. Certainly the elected officials have to be the people who are responsible for any spending of dollars that go into the protection of endangered species.

When I was on the environment committee we talked at length about residual powers, as we have here, about who should have effect over whom or which level of government and provinces should. A lot of the provinces have strong endangered species legislation. We have to work hand in hand. We have to receive the input from the provinces. We must make sure they understand that this is going to be a co-operative effort and that the end result will be to the benefit of the endangered species in the country.

We saw some really unusual coalitions formed when the bill was introduced last time in the House. We saw environmental groups get together with industry. We saw the mining industry come forward with the pulp and paper people, the Sierra Legal Defence Fund and the Canadian Wildlife Federation. Seeing all these people getting together to work together for the common good of endangered species was very encouraging. That is something that we as a country have to build on.

We have to encourage these types of partnerships and coalitions to get together to come up with the right plan that will work. If we have them all involved, if we have input from everybody and if we come up with the proper balance, there is no reason why we cannot have a law in place that will do the job but will allow us to go on with our lives.

Members know that we need to preserve what is here. I have children and grandchildren and I certainly want them to have the ability to see the things that I have seen in my life. We need to do this as a country.

In regard to the whole idea that it will not work, the idea that one part of society will go against the other and it will not come to be because we cannot come to an agreement, I do not buy into that. I think there are ways we can do it. If we have the compensation in the bill, if we work hard at the co-operative level to reward stewardship and reward the programs in place today—and enhance them if need be—if we show that we are willing as a government, as a body of elected officials, to receive input from Canadians in all parts of society, we will have support. We will have a bill that we can work with.

One of the things I experienced in the environment committee when we went through some other legislation was the wish of some to take out any reference to the word economics. If we were looking at social and economic reasons for doing something, people said let us not worry about the economics. However, I think we need to. When we are talking about the livelihood of people on the land and on the waters of the country, we need to bring that into the mix, into the formula.

Let us put the compensation aspect into the bill, let us work co-operatively, let us listen to all Canadians and let us come up with a bill we can all be proud of.

Species At Risk ActGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Art Hanger Canadian Alliance Calgary Northeast, AB

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the comments of the member in reference to those who work our land, our farmers, ranchers and any others who are using the land as their living, because they have been there a long time. I can remember as a youngster the care taken by farmers and ranchers in the area where I grew up to make sure there was a sort of habitat for some of the birds and some of the ground animals. That seemed to be the order of the day. That seemed to be the norm.

Today we have a very highly mechanized farming community and that concern is still out there, because it is something, it seems, that is passed on from one generation to another. I can recall farmers leaving wide tracts of grassy plain spotted with trees to allow the birds and ground animals to flourish there. They deliberately set that land aside so that they too could enjoy seeing those creatures around.

I do not think a great deal has changed in our farming community. I will ask the member to tell us if he sees that kind of change taking place since he is from that same background.

I also have another question. I was in California three years ago, in the Fresno valley, where there is a very strong environmental law. I must say that I find it almost unsettling to think of the reaction that would take place if that kind of law were to come up here in regard to those who are protecting certain species at risk and how the state handles it. I will relate to members the situation that I learned about down there.

A farmer ploughing his land in the Fresno valley happened to run over a nest of kangaroo rats and kill them all. The environmentalists had been monitoring this. They swooped down on the poor farmer and seized his equipment. Here was a man who was trying to make a living in a very competitive world. They held his equipment, almost like they had the evidence and they were going to keep it, much to the detriment of his business. He is subject to court appearances and court action at great cost, which he has to bear, because he happened to run over some endangered kangaroo rats.

There is something out of balance there. I would like the member for Lethbridge to comment on that and tell us if he actually envisions something like that happening here.

Species At Risk ActGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Rick Casson Canadian Alliance Lethbridge, AB

Madam Speaker, that is exactly what I was referring to. If we have a heavy-handed command and control approach to protecting endangered species, we will not have any co-operation. We need to do it in a co-operative way, recognize that landowners are faced with some of these situations and help them get by.

One thing in the bill is penalties. There are penalties of a million or half a million dollars for this or that. If that is to be in the bill, why can we not have the compensation factor in the bill as well? We have to let people know there is some mechanism in place that will allow them to carry on with their way of life or their processes without giving them the heavy end of the stick all the time. We must have some method of keeping people working.

Certainly I was raised in an agricultural community and I too have some farmland. When I drive through the rural parts of this country, I am encouraged to see the things that people are doing on their own accord. Some of the practices we have today do take out some of the protective hedgerows and things. I will not deny that. However, in other areas people are still volunteering to put some land aside to create habitat and we really need to encourage that.

One thing the member mentioned too was this whole idea of people being able to point a finger at a person who is on the land, say that the person has just disturbed some critical habitat and bring a suit to bear against that person. We have a little bit of a problem with that as well. We think there should be a way to do this without having everybody who is going for a long walk in the country being able to point, say that something is wrong and get some action started.

Co-operation and the balance are the things we are getting at. We need to see that. If those things are not there, the bill will not work.

Species At Risk ActGovernment Orders

4:40 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

It is my duty pursuant to Standing Order 38 to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for Cumberland—Colchester, Foreign Affairs; the hon. member for Nanaimo—Alberni, Coast Guard; and the hon. member for Saskatoon—Humboldt, Employment.

Species At Risk ActGovernment Orders

4:40 p.m.


Charles Caccia Liberal Davenport, ON

Madam Speaker, the Minister of the Environment is to be congratulated for reintroducing the bill. It is urgently needed.

As we all know, Canadians care about endangered species, as proven by the many conservation projects across Canada, and the minister has provided funding to support current and future initiatives in this respect.

His promotion of stewardship is a major improvement over previous bills. In addition, the measure to provide a safety net, should the provinces fail to enact similar provisions, is also a fine improvement on the 1996 version, namely Bill C-65.

The minister should also be commended for some changes to Bill C-33. His changes include definitions in the bill, so amended to be consistent with those used by the committee on the status of endangered wildlife in Canada, a scientific committee. His changes also include the publication of specific documents in the public registry set up under the act, to provide greater openness, transparency and accountability.

Let me now describe some of the shortcomings of the bill, which could be corrected in committee. As regards the initial list of species, cabinet may, on the recommendation of the minister, establish the list of wildlife species at risk, but it may not. The bill does not even guarantee that there will be an initial list.

Scientists have appeared before the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development. They expressed a serious concern. There are currently approximately 185 species that have been reassessed by scientists. As I recall the discussion, we were asked that the reassessed scientific list, currently at 185 species, come into force at the moment the legislation is proclaimed so as to make it the starting list. I support that proposal. Earlier this afternoon, the member for Elgin—Middlesex—London put forward another proposal which I think has a great potential.

As to future changes by scientists to the list of species at risk, it is important to note that the provincial record, because of reliance on political listing, is very weak. Only 12% of endangered species have made it onto the legal list in Quebec; only 23% in Ontario; and only 32% in Saskatchewan. The abysmal provincial record shows how little protection may be given to species when politicians decide about listing.

The poor provincial record also underlines how crucial it is for Bill C-5 to ensure that the federal safety net will apply should a province fail to protect a species identified at risk by scientists. I commend the minister for having included this net. It is worth noting by contrast that in Nova Scotia the scientific list automatically becomes the legal list under the legislation. We should follow the Nova Scotia example.

Another weakness with the bill is that it contains too much discretion. In too many instances the minister may make a recommendation to cabinet, but he or she may not. Then there is the hurdle posed by the fact that cabinet may decide to enact crucial provisions of Bill C-5, but it may not. This means there is uncertainty in the implementation of the act affecting those who use the land. Landowners and other interested parties would not be given a clear indication of how they are to improve their practices to protect endangered species because of the uncertainty surrounding the implementation of key provisions of the bill.

Next, as we all know, the primary cause of the loss of species in this country is the loss of habitat, therefore, the importance of critical habitat. There is very strong public support for mandatory habitat protection. I received over 1,500 postcards and letters urging the government to provide mandatory habitat protection and I am sure my colleagues have too.

In the bill there is no mandatory habitat protection to species even within federal jurisdiction. Provisions against destroying the critical habitat of an endangered species would apply only where specified by cabinet even on federal lands. Similarly, regulations to implement necessary measures to protect critical habitats on federal lands are left to the discretion of cabinet.

By contrast, in the earlier bill, Bill C-65 which died in the 35th parliament, the responsible minister had the authority to regulate or prohibit activities that would adversely affect the species or its critical habitat. Why should cabinet be required to determine every component of the critical habitat to be protected for every species? Why not give the authority to the Minister of the Environment alone?

Then we come to the protection of the critical habitat of species within federal jurisdiction. That includes species on federal lands, migratory birds, aquatic species and cross border species. Here again the critical habitat of species at risk within federal jurisdiction may or may not be protected, depending on the will of cabinet, not of the responsible minister alone. Why leave such a key decision, clearly within the federal government's jurisdiction, to the entire cabinet and not to the Minister of the Environment alone as is very often the case with other important key legislation in other sectors?

Moreover, prohibitions against destroying critical habitats may apply to species on federal lands in the exclusive economic zone of Canada or in the continental shelf of Canada. Cabinet may make regulations to protect critical habitats only on federal land. These sections of the bill need to be strengthened to include all federal jurisdictions, namely all federal lands, migratory birds, cross border species and aquatic species.

The Minister of the Environment made a strong commitment when he said in the House on February 19: “These species, the species at risk, and their critical habitat will be protected whether they are on federal, provincial or territorial or privately owned land”.

However there are too many layers of discretion in the bill to facilitate the implementation of the minister's commitment. There are two other ministers whose approval is also needed. Then there is the whole cabinet that needs to be persuaded to act. The likelihood that the federal government will apply habitat protection even on federal lands is slim as the bill is written at the present time.

As to chances that the federal government will provide a safety net are even smaller. Where the minister finds that the province or territory is not protecting the critical habitat, the minister must make the recommendation to cabinet after consulting with the territorial or provincial minister. There is no time limit on these consultations. They could go on for a long time. Added to this is cabinet discretion. Conditions make it unlikely that habitat protection provisions will be put in place in the provinces or territories when needed.

The same can be said about the general prohibitions against killing a species or destroying its residence. Such provisions would apply on lands of a province or territory only to the extent that the federal government may specify after the minister has consulted with the province or territory. Obviously Bill C-5 would be more effective with a time limit for consultations and a time limit for the minister to make his or her recommendation.

I strongly urge the government to make the necessary amendments, so as to give the Minister of the Environment the tools he, or she, may need in the future to do what he said he would do, when he said in the House:

Make no mistake, where voluntary measures do not work, or other governments are unwilling or unable to act, the federal safety net will apply.

As to the discretionary federal powers, make no mistake. We all know these powers, which address cross border or federal-provincial environmental problems, have existed for many years. They are included in the Canada Wildlife Act, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, the Canada Water Act, et cetera. However, federal discretionary powers have not been used. Why rely on their use for providing effective protection of endangered species if in reality there is no record of the use of such powers?

I am splitting my time, Madam Speaker, with the member for North York. Canadians place high expectations on this government for protecting endangered species. The legislation offers great potential for co-operative management and stewardship of our land and wildlife but amendments are needed. Hopefully, after hearing witnesses the committee the government will decide to make the necessary changes.

I will conclude by saying that we need strong legislation to halt the continued slide toward extinction of endangered species before it is too late.

Species At Risk ActGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.


Karen Kraft Sloan Liberal York North, ON

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise and speak to Bill C-5. My sentiments on the various incarnations of endangered species bills have been aired many times in this House. I will address a few particulars of this legislation, but as one who has followed this issue closely for many years, I would like to begin with some broader thought.

To set a context for my comments, I will borrow a few words from Wendell Berry, the noted farmer, poet and writer. In an essay entitled “The Conservation of Nature and the Preservation of Humanity” he tells us:

When we include ourselves as parts of belongings of the world we are trying to preserve, then obviously we can no longer think of the world as “the environment”—something out there around us. We can see that our relation to the world surpasses mere connection and verges on identity. And we can see that our right to live in this world, whose parts we are, is a right that is strictly conditioned. There is simply nothing in Creation that does not matter. Our tradition instructs us that this is so, and it is being proved to be so, every day, by our experience. We cannot be improved—in fact, we cannot help but be damaged—by our useless or greedy or merely ignorant destruction of anything.

This small quotation touches upon a number of important themes in the debate around the protection of endangered species. First, it emphasizes that we all too often and conveniently view ourselves as disparate from the natural world. What possible relationship can we have with nature, one might ask, as we hurtle along a superhighway wrapped in an SUV with our ear pressed to a cellphone? If we cannot see nature and we cannot hear it and we cannot feel it, then it becomes easy to believe that it is something that is not us, something that we engage in on our terms perhaps when driving through a national park gate.

I believe that intrinsically most of us know that this is not so. We are not so far removed from an age when we were more aware of being of nature. This awareness has been buried deep within us by the mechanism of modernity. The challenge therefore becomes one of how can we reanimate this? How can we bring ourselves to a place where the world ceases to be defined in our minds as that which we have created, to a place where the term environment is no longer a category, a compartment, a file but instead includes us as part of this broader natural world? Such a reanimation would help us to abandon the current focus on, as Berry put it, our connection with the world and lead us to an emphasis on our identical identity. Were we to identify with nature rather than objectify it, who knows what wonders we might achieve.

Second, Berry wisely asserts that because we are of this world there are conditions to our participation in it. The conditions of every other species' participation are determined by the laws of nature. We alone among species get to set many of our own rules. For example, we can kill any species, anywhere at any time. We can kill for fun. We can kill deliberately or we can kill accidentally. We can kill quickly and efficiently through direct action or we can kill a species over a long timeframe by altering the conditions that it requires for survival. We can even kill from great distances.

Surely some responsibilities come with such apparent exceptions to the rule of nature. Most fundamentally, if we are in nature and nature is in us, then the unconditional application of our authority is nothing less than its unconditional application against ourselves.

That brings me to Berry's third point, that our destruction of anything in nature, whether intentional or through ignorance, damages us. Actually, he puts it better: “We cannot be improved” through such behaviour. The superficial and immediate rewards of destruction may tempt but by other measurements we are poisoning our own larder. By way of example, let me ask the human focused critics; which of our present species of plants would prove to contain ingredients essential to future medicines, vaccines and cures? We cannot know this now, hence we must accept as a condition of our participation in the world that we not eradicate them.

When I spoke on the previous version of this bill last June, I noted that on an issue of such fundamental importance to Canadians as the environment, when those concerned with its preservation and restoration rise to speak, few are really ready to listen. Many in this place say they care and many make fine speeches themselves, but words are a poor substitute for action. All of the rhetoric in the world will not save a river, a fish, a forest, nor will it protect a child from a hazardous contaminant.

Our words will not protect species at risk; only our actions can. Discretionary authorities to act may be political deal makers but they risk becoming convenient barriers to action in the hands of those who do not recognize a duty to protect the common. When we respect nature we can begin to understand the incredible services it provides. For those who must, putting a monetary value on nature's services is difficult for many reasons. What price can be assigned to the last drop of water or the last gasp of air?

On the task at hand, Bill C-5, let me first commend the Minister of the Environment for implementing several changes to the bill since its last appearance as Bill C-33. Most notably, the decision to recognize the current COSEWIC list as a scientific list of species at risk in Canada is laudable. However, in order to trigger action, the species must be legally listed. Currently the decision for legal listing resides solely with governor in council. Canadians from all walks of life, including industries, scientists, conservationists and environmentalists are concerned that this will therefore be a political and not a scientific decision.

The political listing approach has proven to be ineffective in other jurisdictions. The proposed round table meetings every two years to discuss species at risk are a welcome addition to the bill, as are changes to what will placed in the public registry.

The safety net provisions in Bill C-5 allow the federal government to step in if a province fails to protect species. However, the safety net is also subject to cabinet discretion. In other words, even if a province fails to protect species there is no duty for the federal government to act.

While the scope of the safety net provisions in a former endangered species legislation, Bill C-65, were more narrow than in Bill C-5, they contained a mandatory requirement for the federal government to act to protect species if provinces failed to do so.

One of the things that makes the public debate around the bill vastly different from those around other so called environmental bills is that a coalition of industry, environment and conservation groups have come together and worked for years on the legislation. I cannot tell the House how unusual this is. I congratulate them for their efforts in this area. The group is known as the species at risk working group.

Along with many other Canadians, the working group has raised concerns that the bill does not go far enough to protect species. It will be the role of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development to hear from this group and from a wide range of Canadians on how we can improve the bill.

We will do nothing to protect species at risk unless the bill leaves committee as a good, effective piece of legislation. The House must support legislation that is strong, fair, effective and makes biological sense. It must be enforceable and it must be enforced.

Let me close with a few more words from Wendell Berry:

In taking care of fellow creatures, we acknowledge that they are not ours; we acknowledge that they belong to an order and a harmony of which we ourselves are parts. To answer to the perpetual crisis of our presence in this abounding and dangerous world, we have only the perpetual obligation of care.

I call on all members of the House to care about species at risk.

Species At Risk ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.


Benoît Sauvageau Bloc Repentigny, QC

Madam Speaker, I listened carefully to the speeches of my colleagues from the Liberal Party and the Canadian Alliance on Bill C-5.

I will begin by quoting a successor of the former Quebec minister of the environment, Mr. Bégin, who said this about Bill C-5 introduced by the Liberal Party: “Another example of useless duplication for Quebec”. These words are from the Quebec minister of the environment, who is also the minister of revenue and the minister responsible for the national capital region, namely, as members know, Paul Bégin.

This is what he said when he looked at the federal government's proposal to pass this legislation on wildlife species at risk in Canada and to create a safety net for the protection of threatened species and their habitat, not only on federal sites, which would be acceptable to Quebec since it would only be normal, but also on the whole Quebec territory, which is much less acceptable. In fact, Mr. Bégin added:

Quebec has always behaved in a responsible and appropriate manner regarding the protection of the most threatened fauna and flora species and intends to keep on exercising its authority in this matter. We will never accept an umbrella piece of legislation covering all the initiatives in this area.

It is out of the question for Quebec to accept federal intrusion on its jurisdiction. This bill must exclude all species, sites or habitats under Quebec's jurisdiction and must only be implemented at the request of the provinces or territories. Quebec has always taken good care of its species at risk and it will not need to use this legislation.

Quebec passed an act respecting threatened or vulnerable species in 1989. It has its own act respecting the conservation and development of wildlife as well as fishery regulations to protect species at risk in their habitat. If I am not mistaken, these two bills were passed under a Liberal government in Quebec. It is the hon. member for Lachine—Lac-Saint-Louis who deserves credit for these two initiatives.

As I will explain later, we can see that these two pieces of legislation have allowed Quebec to address the situation of threatened species very well.

Quebec's minister of the environment reassured us in these terms:

These measures have given Quebec the full range of tools needed to identify species at risk, legally designate them as threatened or vulnerable, protect their habitats, and develop and implement recovery plans.

I would like to talk about how Quebec has been looking after its endangered flora and fauna for the past almost 12 years since the introduction of the bill.

First, I will give an overview of this, to say the least, worrisome problem of the disappearance of species, this symptom of a worldwide problem. It is not just a problem in Quebec or in the national capital region or in Canada; it is a problem the world over.

The acceleration in demographic grow, the unrestrained consumption of the planet's resources, coupled with the occupation of land by human beings, has resulted in pollution, the destruction of natural habitats, and the disappearance of many living species throughout the world.

Quebec has not been spared. The great auk, the Labrador duck, and the passenger pigeon are some of the recent victims of this worldwide problem. These birds have not just disappeared from our region; they have been exterminated from the face of the earth in a few short years.

Certain more fortunate species, such as the elk and the trumpeter swan have disappeared from our region, but still exist in small numbers elsewhere on the planet.

Nowadays, several hundreds of plants and dozens of animals are on the list of threatened species in Quebec.

In order to stem this alarming phenomenon, many measures have been taken since 1978. The Association des biologistes du Québec created a committee for the preservation of endangered species and, in 1984 or 1985, published the initial reports on the status of endangered plant and animal species.

In 1983 the Montreal botanical garden and institute were already publishing a list of 408 rare plants in Quebec. I will not give their names, but I think that the member for Berthier—Montcalm is now consulting the list of these 408 plants at the table.

As hon. members can see, the concern for endangered species is nothing new. Back in 1974 Quebec passed its ecological reserves act, one of its objectives being to protect endangered species.

The Réserve écologique du pin rigide was created in 1978 to protect the pitch pine. It was the first ecological reserve to protect a rare tree. In 1981 came the Parc de conservation de la Gaspésie, created to save a distinct caribou population and its habitat. Thus, parks and reserves are created in order to protect certain exceptional elements of our natural heritage, the heritage of Quebec.

Finally, and this one a major event, the government of Quebec passed, as I have already said, its act respecting threatened or vulnerable species in 1989, as a reaction to the increasing threat to the integrity of the biodiversity of Quebec and in response to the urgent and legitimate demands of the environmentalists.

On the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the enactment of this legislation, the government of Quebec proposed a brief overview of its major environmental accomplishments and those of its partners in connection with endangered species.

There are some high points in the implementation of the Quebec legislation on endangered or vulnerable species that merit attention. I will list them if I may.

In November 1988, the Centre des données sur le patrimoine naturel au Québec was established. In July 1992, the government adopted the first component of the endangered or vulnerable species policy. This policy sets out the process to be followed for designation of a species of flora or fauna that is at risk of becoming endangered or vulnerable. In June 1993, the Gazette officielle du Québec , by ministerial order, published the list of species of endangered or vulnerable vascular flora and vertebrate fauna liable to be so designated.

This list, which dates back to 1993, comprises 374 species of vascular flora and 76 species of vertebrate fauna of Quebec. It is the outcome of an analysis of the available knowledge and of consultations with a large number of specialists and environmentalists.

In Quebec we have made protection a real issue. Species designated or likely to become designated have been the object of many actions aimed at ensuring their protection and re-establishment.

Over the years, thanks to numerous studies and inventories carried out throughout Quebec, we have acquired more knowledge of our endangered heritage and its status.

This information permitted the production of reports describing the status of species, that is, their geographic distribution, their habitat, their characteristics, the state and trends of their populations and threats to them.

In Quebec the management of most biological resources is a matter of provincial or territorial jurisdiction, with the exception of migratory birds—we acknowledge and accept that—and marine organisms, which are federal responsibilities.

Even before the passage of Quebec legislation on threatened or vulnerable species, all threatened vertebrates were protected by certain measures under the Quebec laws on the environment and respecting the conservation and development of wildlife and regulations on fishing.

In Quebec, 76 species or animal populations are considered to be in difficulty, over 10% of vertebrate fauna. Most of them are birds or mammals. However, amphibians and reptiles form the category most affected with more than half of their species recorded on the list of species likely to be designated threatened or vulnerable.

Of the 76 species and populations in difficulty, 34 have been studied or specifically inventoried; 19 have been the subject of a status report; 14 have been the subject of a specific plan of action, in co-operation in certain instances with the co-operation of the federal government, bordering provinces and non-governmental partners; 13 are covered by specific measures to protect their habitat; and 10 are in the designation process.

Quebec's flora has not been left out either. All plant species, except for marine plants set out in the Fisheries Act, come under provincial jurisdiction, need I mention. At the moment, there are, as in the case of the animals, no plants either threatened or at risk under federal jurisdiction. The Quebec ecological reserves act and the act respecting threatened or vulnerable species are unique in the area of plant protection in Quebec.

Out of the 374 plant species that are threatened or vulnerable, 178 have been the subject of inventories or specific studies, 41 have been the subject of a status report and an assessment by the advisory committee, 19 were designated as threatened or vulnerable species, and 14 others are in the process of getting designated.

Special measures to protect habitat or stocks were implemented for 55 of these species, including the arisema dracontium, the American water willow and the giant holly fern. Wild leek has also been designated as a vulnerable species, while American ginseng may soon be designated as a threatened species. In the case of these last two plants, it is now prohibited to sell specimens that were taken from their natural habitat.

As for flora, efforts have been made in co-operation with various organizations to inform the public and develop greater awareness. Botanists from the Quebec ministry of the environment and their associates took part in numerous seminars and various botanical inventories and activities to promote awareness. Information and educational documents were published, and many articles and specialized inserts were included in Quebec's major natural science magazines and in some dailies. In the past few months, the Internet site of the Quebec ministry of the environment has been providing information sheets on certain species that are at risk.

Quebec can also count on numerous allies. The study and the protection of threatened or vulnerable species is first and foremost based on co-operation between many government and non-government partners.

Regional county municipalities play an essential role in the protection of threatened species. In recent years, RCMs, as they are called in Quebec, have been asked to take into account the presence of threatened or vulnerable species when they draw up their land use plans, so as to protect critical sites for these species.

In 1997 the Pabok RCM even adopted the Aster anticostensis as its floral emblem. The world's largest population of that species is found on the territory of the Pabok RCM.

The Commission de la protection du territoire agricole and the regional agencies promoting the development of private forests have recently been made aware of the importance of protecting threatened or vulnerable species.

Ad hoc joint initiatives have also been taken by Quebec and Canada, in a positive atmosphere. For example, the Canadian Wildlife Service and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans are the main players in the efforts to protect wildlife species that come under federal jurisdiction, that is migratory birds, mammals and marine fish, while Quebec's Société de la faune et des parcs and the Quebec Department of the Environment are responsible for all other wildlife and plant species.

Over the years, these departments have joined forces with a variety of institutions: the Jardin botanique, the Institut botanique, the Biodôme de Montréal, the Musée Redpath, the Jardin de Métis, the Jardin zoologique de Québec, the Jardin zoologique de Granby and the Jardin zoologique de Saint-Félicien, and the Aquarium de Québec.

Organizations such as the Association québécoise des groupes d'ornithologues, the Groupe Fleurbec, Flora Quebec, the Fondation pour la sauvegarde des espèces menacées, the Groupe de recherche et d'éducation en milieu marin, the Société d'histoire naturelle de la vallée du Saint-Laurent, the Société d'entomologie du Québec, the Société Provancher, the Société linnéenne du Quebec, and the Union québécoise pour la conservation de la nature have all contributed actively to these efforts, along with countless scientists, students, university researchers and amateurs from a wide range of backgrounds.

Much of the funding for studies and activities to protect endangered or vulnerable species is provided by the departments responsible and by their partners. The Endangered Species Recovery Fund of the World Wildlife Fund Canada and the partners for biodiversity program of the Fondation de la faune du Québec have made many initiatives possible.

Federal-provincial co-operation, with respect for respective jurisdictions, is possible. As proof, many projects have been carried out under the St. Lawrence Vision 2000 agreement, a federal-provincial program involving several partners.

More recently, an administrative agreement between the Department of Natural Resources, the Department of the Environment and the Société de la faune et des parcs du Québec resulted in join initiatives for the protection of forest species at risk. The contribution of the private and parapublic sectors is also important. Some examples are: Ducks Unlimited, Hydro-Québec, Alcan, and the Montreal microbrewery, Le Cheval Blanc.

Quebec's accomplishments in the area of endangered or vulnerable species are so numerous as to be hard to count. One of the finest of many fine examples is the Centre de données sur les espèces menacées ou vulnérables.

The conservation of endangered or vulnerable species is based on the available scientific data. The Centre de données sur le patrimoine naturel du Québec, created by the Quebec ministry of the environment in 1988, the Nature Conservancy of Canada, and the Natural Conservancy in the United States all make active contributions to the gathering and distribution of information on these species.

Today, the centre is administered by the Quebec ministry of the environment and the Société de la faune et des parcs du Québec. It is far more than merely a focal point for collecting and analyzing data. The information it contains is necessary for setting priorities for the conservation of various species that are in precarious situations. It makes it possible to determine the phenological distribution and the population of these species in a given area. It carries out species censuses of protected areas, natural sites of interest for conservation.

The centre's creation has made it possible to take vulnerable species into consideration within the process of preparing development projects, environmental impact studies and various research projects. Each year, close to 400 inquiries are handled by the centre's specialists and the regional offices of the ministry of the environment and the Société de la faune et des parcs du Québec.

So much for the past. Now for the future. There have been a lot of changes in the past 12 years for certain threatened or vulnerable species. The objective of reintroducing the peregrine falcon has been attained: new nesting sites are being established, which holds promise for the future of this species. Once gone from the St. Lawrence valley, hawks have now reached their previous population levels.

The copper redhorse and its habitat are now protected. Specific protection programs and the application of current standards will make it possible to limit the negative impact of human activities on the populations, migration and spawning grounds of this fish unique to Quebec. The intervention plan for the survival of the copper redhorse is aimed at promoting the reproduction of this fish. Fishways and a wildlife refuge are needed for the Richelieu River.

After a brush with extinction, the St. Lawrence belugas are increasing in number. However, their disturbance, water pollution and sediment continue to cause concern among scientists. Draconian protection measures and the recent creation of the Saguenay—Saint-Laurent marine park permit a more hopeful outlook for the future of this species.

Wild garlic has been designated a vulnerable species. This designation brings with it the prohibition against picking for commercial purposes. Picking it for personal use is highly regulated. Measures of this sort have slowed the decline of populations of this plant.

Ginseng is about to come under the protection of the act respecting threatened or vulnerable species. The fact of its being grown agriculturally may soon mean the demand for this plant with its desirable medicinal properties will be met, while the natural forest populations remain protected.

However, the wild species and their habitats remain under pressure. Much remains to be done to conserve biodiversity. The growing demand for the use of domestic plants for horticultural purposes puts pressure on wild plants in natural settings.

Similarly, the marketing of wild mushrooms is increasing and the loss and alteration of habitats associated with human activities is still the main factor explaining the drop in numbers for certain species.

Forestry and farm operations affect habitats, and so does the constant expansion of highways and cities. Acid rain, contamination caused by the emissions produced by industries and motor vehicles still play a major role in the acidification of soils and waterways, thus threatening plants and wildlife.

Even climatic change force plants and animals to make adjustments that must be carefully examined. In this context, it is appropriate to speed up the review of the situation of endangered species, their legal designation and the implementation of protective measures.

We must also continue the work undertaken and widen the scope of our studies. There are too few studies on invertebrates, molluscs, insects and spiders or non ligneous plants, including mushrooms.

From a legislative point of view, greater complementarity between federal and Quebec laws would be beneficial. I insist on the notion of complementarity, which is more conducive to success than intrusion and duplication. The recent agreement on endangered species helps promote greater federal-provincial co-operation in this area.

In conclusion, as I tried to show, Quebec is doing very well with threatened species. The member for Lachine—Lac-Saint-Louis, when he was the minister, gave us an act that is effective in this respect, and we must think in terms of complementarity instead of duplication and intrusion when it comes to these threatened species.

Species At Risk ActGovernment Orders

5:20 p.m.


Clifford Lincoln Liberal Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

Madam Speaker, the way we treat nature and our mixed biodiversity translates in many ways to the way we behave as a society and the kind of future we build for our children and grandchildren.

Intertwined with the treatment of nature and its biodiversity is the underlying principle of equity, that is, respect for others, respect for nature around us and respect for the ecosystems that create life and support living.

This is why the bill is so important, even essential, as a tool to protect the environment and nature.

I rejoice that Bill C-5 was reintroduced after two of the previous bills died on the order paper. I also rejoice that the minister brought in several changes to promote transparency and make the bill a better one than Bill C-33.

However, there are still fundamental amendments that need to be made. In presenting the bill the minister said “All reasonable suggestions to further improve Bill C-5 will be considered carefully as the bill progresses through parliament”. I am very glad that the minister is open to amendments being made and I hope several amendments will be made in committee.

I happy to say that there is almost unanimous consent amongst Canadians for this bill. In a Pollara poll done only a very short while ago, over 90 % of the Canadians living in urban or rural areas said they supported a strong and proactive bill on endangered species.

Some time ago, the committee on the status of endangered wildlife in Canada, known as COSEWIC, brought in for review a list of 339 species that were listed as threatened and endangered. At this point the review is nearly completed. Only 53 species need to be reviewed. By the spring the total review will be completed.

The problem is that we leave cabinet with the discretion of when to list these species and at what point each species will be chosen or not chosen instead of having a startup list in the legislation before it becomes a statute. We have been asking for this very strongly. I do not think cabinet should be left with the discretion of deciding when, where and what species will be listed.

We also want habitat protection to be compulsory in the law instead of being at the discretion of the cabinet. It is like that in several pieces of legislation that the provinces have put forward. There is not one substantive argument that has been brought forward to convince us that habitat protection should not be compulsory.

I believe that habitat protection must be compulsory on federal lands, north of 60 and in areas of federal jurisdiction for cross border species and species that migrate between our country and other countries. In this connection, a letter was sent by the United States senate to the President of the United States on October 6, 1999 by 11 senators of both parties, republicans and democrats alike, including the senate minority leader, Thomas Daschle. The letter pointed out that Canada must ensure that any new bill contains habitat protection for U.S.-Canada shared species on all lands.

I believe that unless we can cover species and habitats on a compulsory basis on our federal lands and on lands north of 60 for cross border species and species that migrate between our country and other countries, our law will be left to the discretion of this government and successive governments that may or may not enforce it and put it into place. We need it very badly because it as an essential tool.

The government has a wonderful chance with this bill, which will soon go to committee. We all know there are only a few areas in the bill that need modification or improvement in order to make it a strong piece of legislation and one for which we can all be satisfied and proud.

I implore the minister and the government to give the committee a chance to work freely. Allow it to amend the bill in the critical areas, such as the listing of habitat protection and coverage on federal lands and in federal jurisdictions, so that we will have a substantive bill and one that has a mandatory safety net. A safety net that leaves discretion to the cabinet is no safety net.

All of us know which areas need to be improved. All we need now is that little push forward, that consent by the minister to do what he kindly suggested to us himself, to let these suggestions come forward so that the bill can be improved. This is my fondest hope.

Species At Risk ActGovernment Orders

5:30 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

It being 5.30 p.m. the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

Tax On ToolsPrivate Members' Business

February 28th, 2001 / 5:30 p.m.


Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB


That, in the opinion of this House, the Goods and Services Tax and the Harmonized Sales Tax should be eliminated for employees in the trades who are required as a condition of their employment to provide the tools they need to do their job.

Madam Speaker, I thank the member for Burnaby—Douglas for seconding this very important motion for employees in the trades.

During the election campaign, I met with many constituents of mine, particularly those who are in the trades. They said to me “Why is the parliament not adopting regulations to give us a tax break when we buy tools for our work?”

At this point, I would like to say that for once I might have a bit of a problem to concentrate and to make my speech because, being the youngest in a family of 11 children and the only one who does not have grandchildren, I am proud to tell the House that I will become a grandfather tonight.

Tax On ToolsPrivate Members' Business

5:30 p.m.

Some hon. members

Hear, hear.

Tax On ToolsPrivate Members' Business

5:30 p.m.


Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

My daughter is presently in the hospital, and we never know for sure, but it seems that it will be a baby boy. He might be in the trades one day and he could then benefit from my motion and get a break on the harmonized taxes. This little boy will be named Jonathan.

It gives me great pleasure to rise in the House and speak to this motion. Employees in the trades, like miners, and mechanics working for car dealers or in small garages, have to buy their own tools, and they feel nothing is being done for them.

If a company needs to hire employees in the trades and decides to buy the tools for them, it will be a tax deductible expense for the company. Moreover, it does not have to pay the GST on these tools. If the employee buys them himself, he has to pay the GST.

Often people who have just completed their courses in a community college to learn their trade have had to pay this expensive training, and, when they look for a job in their trade, they have to buy their tools.

For example, in the Brunswick mine, in my riding, the carpenter had to by $1,200 worth of tools over a year, and the GST was $85. That may not be the end of the world, but, for an ordinary worker, it counts. Income tax is also deducted on his pay cheque. The electrician in the same mine paid $2,918 for his tools, and $148 in GST. For the heavy vehicle mechanic, it was $4,970, and $347 in GST.

These tradespersons say “I get up in the morning, I go to work, I contribute and I do not want more privileges than anybody else, but I would like to have a little more. I participate in the economy and I help these companies to survive while supporting myself and my family. I would like to have a little something”.

This is much like the discussion we had here, in the House of Commons, when we asked for tax deductions for forestry workers who have to go out to logging camps every spring, drive their cars, buy trucks, and so on. We asked for a tax deduction for expenses incurred to go work in logging camps.

More and more we see workers who want to have a piece of the pie. If employers can get tax deductions for everything they buy, if they do not have to pay the GST or the HST, why would it not be the same for workers? The only difference is that when employers buy products, they do not have to pay the GST on those products, but when workers buy products, they have to pay the GST.

This is why workers always feel like they are being punished. I think it would really help if, for example, tradespersons just starting out, whether they are electricians, painters, welders or instrumentation mechanics, were given a GST exemption to buy their tools. I think it would be really helpful to them.

Perhaps these workers would say then they got at least a little from the government and would like the government a little more. Every time we talk to workers, they say the government is always digging into their pockets, but they are the ones who help companies survive, they are the ones who pay taxes, while the others do not pay any. I think this would be a small reward for these trade workers.

Perhaps the government will say, if we do this for them, we will have to do the same for others. Well, this has to start somewhere. There is a GST on everything that we buy, but for the worker who has to use his tools to do his job, I think no one would mind if this worker were to be considered the same way as the owner of a company. It would be important for Canadians to have this chance and this opportunity.

I think my motion is very important. It is too bad that when it went through the committee it was not deemed to be votable. I would have appreciated if it had been votable and left for the members of the House of Commons to decide.

It is easier now for committees of the House of Commons to say that it is too bad, it is not votable. I would like to see the Liberal member across the floor face the mechanics and electricians in his riding for whom he has refused to eliminate the GST. Those working people just want a break when they buy their tools. These people work all their lives. They use their tools to earn their livings. They should be given a little break when they start.

After they complete grade 12, they go to community college. They pay to educate themselves to become mechanics or electricians. When they come out of community college, they are already in debt. They have to pay a fee to become electricians. They will pay income tax all their lives. They will not be on social programs. They will be prosperous in the economy. They just want a break when they start.

We all like to flick a switch and have the lights on in our houses. When our cars break down, we like the fact that we can have them fixed by mechanics. When our water system is broken, we like the fact that we can call a plumber to fix it.

Why do we not give them a little gift at the beginning of their careers? We could say that when they buy their tools they will not pay tax because they will probably pay income taxes for the rest of their lives. The company that hires those people and provides them with tools gets a tax deduction.

If he is the employee though, it is another story. When it is the working people it is like a sin if we treat them the same way as others. I believe strongly that if we want the working people to say good things about the government, we have to give them a little break. It would be a break that they would appreciate.

In my riding I have lots of people in the trades. They have come to me and asked me why they do not get a tax break when they buy their tools. They say the government will get its money back when they pay their income tax. Every time they get their cheque $200 or $300 is taken off for taxes. However this little $89, or $148 or $180 would be a welcome compensation for them.

It is the principle. Sometimes the principle means a lot. For example, sometimes stores have a sale, say 20% off, but no one rushes in to buy. Then they put up another sign that says GST free. People run in and buy because, out of principle, they do not have to pay the tax. The GST is 15% in my riding in New Brunswick because of the harmonization. A store could have at 20% off sale but it would not have the same effect as if it were 15% because of the principle of it.

It is because of principle that we should do it. It is too bad the committee refused. However, that was its right and I accept that. However, it would have been nice for the trades people of our country to get that break.

I used this as an example. This is a matter of principle.

People are used to seeing, when they walk in front of stores, a 20% discount on certain items. People are used to this. It is only a 20% discount, prices have perhaps been marked up and then the stores claim reduced them by 20%, but it is nothing more than that.

However if people see a sign in a window saying “Pay no GST” or harmonized tax, then they go in and say “Look, in the end I will save money, because I will not be paying the tax”. It is the principle of the thing. There is a reason stores do this. It seems to bring in more customers. It does not work to offer 20% off, but if there is a sign advertising no GST, which is 15%, that brings them in. And yet it is 5% less. It is the principle of it.

If we were able to say that the government is doing that for them, employees in the trades would be thrilled. It is also a matter of principle. I know that I am repeating myself, but sometimes it has to be said 27 times for the members on the other side to understand. I may not have the chance to say it 27 times, but I am at least going to say it several times. If this tax relief were to be given to our mechanics and electricians, I think that they would appreciate it. They have gone to school, paid for their studies and, at least, when they buy their tools in order to join our country's labour force, they would get a small reward. The government would not be seen as being there solely to take their money away.

A woman in my riding told me “It is unbelievable. The government taxes us when we come into this world, and we are taxed right up until we are buried, because they even make us pay taxes on our coffin”. When my grandson is born this evening, he will be taxed as soon as he takes his first breath. We are taxed from the time we come into this world until we die. It is unbelievable. It is as though the government is tax crazy.

We should give people a break once in a while and show some humanity in this case. I think it is only human to give employees in the trades a break. I think it would boost morale and it would help them financially.

Having finished my short speech, I would like to hear what other members have to say.

I would like to know what they think and whether they agree with me that employees in the trades here in Canada should benefit from a small deduction representing the 15% tax. This would show that we appreciate these workers who must buy tools to earn their living.

Tax On ToolsPrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.

Etobicoke North Ontario


Roy Cullen LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Finance

Madam Speaker, I thank the member for Acadie—Bathurst for his initiative in bringing the motion before the House of Commons.

I also congratulate him on his good news.

Mechanics' tools and tools required for work seem to be a very topical debate right now. The motion proposes that the Excise Tax Act be amended to eliminate the application of the goods and services tax and the harmonized sales tax for employees in trades who are required as a condition of their employment to provide on the job tools.

Currently GST-HST relief is provided via a rebate mechanism for the GST-HST paid on those employee expenses that are deductible in computing an employee's income from employment for income tax purposes.

It is recognized that presently there are a number of private members' bills, as I mentioned before, Bill C-222, Bill C-244 and Bill C-225, before the House with respect to the income tax treatment of the tools of mechanics and others.

As the GST and the HST rules should be consistent with those for income tax purposes, it is prudent to await the outcome of the debates and the outcome of the discussions on these private members' bills. I am sure the hon. member would agree.

Nevertheless, it should be stated that any tax policy with respect to the matter of employee tools should be fair. In addition, any changes should also be relatively simple to administer and enforce for the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency, and easy to comply with for taxpayers. In this regard, any changes with respect to the tax treatment of employee provided tools should take into account a number of factors.

First, any measure in this regard should be targeted to extraordinary expenses. In other words, the cost of the tools in question should be beyond those that most employees must incur in the normal course of employment. The motion before the House today would provide GST and HST relief to all employees irrespective of the size of their expenditures instead of targeting relief to those who incur extraordinary expenses relative to their income.

For employees with tool expenses comparable to those incurred by other employees this would be unwarranted as tax relief for normal employment expenses is provided through the basic personal exemption amount. That is the case with apprentices. Perhaps a special case needs to be considered for those with low incomes and high tool costs.

Second, effective control mechanisms would have to be put in place. Under existing rules for income tax purposes the employer must certify certain expenses as eligible for deduction from employment income. This is important as many items provide a personal benefit even when they are required for work. One would need to ensure that any tax relief is provided only for items required as a condition of employment and not for those purchased for personal use.

This would be very difficult to do because many items could be purchased mostly for personal reasons even if they are used for work. For instance, the computers home based employees need to purchase are available outside working hours for personal use. In these circumstances providing full tax recognition and a GST-HST employee rebate would be unwarranted.

Finally, any new measures would have to both take into account the existing capital cost allowance provisions and appropriately deal with change of use and transfers to other arms length persons.

The provisions needed to address these issues would inevitably be very complex since they would need to account for the large variety of items for which tax relief may be claimed and the different work situations in which such items are used.

To understand this, let us consider the extensive provisions needed to ensure the equitable recognition of automotive expenses. Provisions governing the deductibility of employee equipment expenditures and corresponding GST-HST employee rebates would apply to hundreds of disparate items and numerous occupations.

As members can see, this is a complex issue with many aspects that need to be examined carefully. In particular, with respect to the GST-HST employee rebate, I hope the hon. members agree that it is essential to ensure that the GST-HST rules be consistent with those for income tax purposes.

As a result, I think members of the House would agree, given the number of other private members' bills dealing with the tools of mechanics and others, that it is prudent to wait for the outcome of the aforementioned private members' bills, for the deliberations of the House and for any government response that might deal with the issue of income tax deductions for employee tools.

Tax On ToolsPrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Joe Peschisolido Canadian Alliance Richmond, BC

Madam Speaker, first, I want to congratulate my friend from Acadie—Bathurst on his good news.

I agree with the purpose of the motion, which is to do our utmost to improve the economic well-being of workers, in particular employees in trades who need tools to do their jobs. My father was and still is a member of the Painters and Workers' Trade union in Toronto. And I understand what a challenge it is to ensure that one's family has the best possible life. Unfortunately, I do not agree with the way my hon. colleague wants to proceed.

As I mentioned, I applaud the member's goal. My party and I want to do everything possible to help the hard-working men and women of the country. However I agree with my colleague for Etobicoke North that the mechanism would be too complex given all that was outlined. I would like to perhaps see a utilizing the income tax system to incorporate the incentives.

As was mentioned by my friend from Acadie—Bathurst, there is a discrepancy between workers who are workers and those who are self-employed. Why not eliminate the discrepancy and utilize the income tax system to deal with some of the legitimate concerns that have been put forth by my friend from Etobicoke North?

For example, if a self-employed trades person buys a tool, it can be deducted through the income tax system through something called a depreciating business capital acquisition. That basically means one can deduct a certain amount of the cost of the tool through the income tax system.

However, as was correctly pointed out by my hon. friend for Acadie—Bathurst, if that same person is an employee the deduction cannot occur. However there is a provision in the Income Tax Act, T-2200, that allows employees to claim certain types of expenses. The rule for this would be if it is consumable. It deals with certain types of supplies such as paper, pens and gasoline. It would not include tools, except for one exemption and that is what I want to talk about.

Under the Income Tax Act now, loggers are covered. Their power saws are utilized under this part of the Income Tax Act for the purpose of deduction.

I would propose, and I am sure my friend from Etobicoke North would agree, that if we eliminate the complexities of applying GST to a particular point and utilize the income tax system as I outlined, perhaps we can work together on passing a motion which I and the party believes is good. It would not be this particular one. It would be one that incorporates the good points that I and my hon. friend from Acadie—Bathurst have put forth.

Tax On ToolsPrivate Members' Business

5:55 p.m.


Michel Guimond Bloc Beauport—Montmorency—Côte-De- Beaupré—Île-D'Orléans, QC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to join the previous speakers in commending the hon. member for Acadie—Bathurst for the motion he has brought forward.

We can tell that the hon. member for Acadie—Bathurst has a strong social conscience. So do I. This motion is consistent with his concerns and those of some workers who do not necessarily feel supported by society.

I am not saying that these people are working for minimum wage. However, contrary to popular belief, these people spend a lot of money to buy the tools they need to do their job. The key words here are “tools they need to do their job”.

To get a job, any electrician, pipefitter, welder, building painter, blue collar worker or carpenter needs a tool kit. Members will see what I mean when I thank the hon. member for Acadie—Bathurst for standing up for the workers who do not necessarily get all the support they need, who do not earn high wages but still have to incur major expenses.

As the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance, the member for Etobicoke—North, pointed out earlier, there are before the House other bills addressing the same issue, including one of mine. I introduced my bill in the 36th parliament. It was called Bill C-205. I have again introduced this bill, which a committee of MPs has judged to be a votable item. Eventually, sometime during March I imagine, we will be discussing my bill, Bill C-222, which is aimed at allowing automobile mechanics to deduct from their income the cost of purchasing their tools.

The amounts involved are considerable. I am talking about the tools required by auto technicians. I will take this opportunity to raise the awareness of all colleagues in this House. In order to work, an auto technician requires a tool kit worth at least $15,000, and the amount can easily be as high as $25,000, $30,000 or $40,000. He has to have that tool kit in order to be able to work. Today, with all the computers and electronic sensors, a person has to have quite a tool kit in order to work.

This is a heavy burden for a young apprentice, who has just finished a course and is saddled with student debts, whose parents may not be well off and often have gone into debt to help him get the minimum tool kit he needs to get a job. From my meetings with those working in the automotive industry, I know that the apprentice's tool kit costs at least $4,000.

A young person just finishing his course and already in debt has to go into further debt or ask his parents to co-sign a $4,000 loan for him. When he goes looking for work at an auto dealer or a service station, he will have to have his own tools. The first thing the owner will ask him is “Do you have your tool kit?” He cannot be constantly begging tools from others, going into other people's tool kits. That is not the way it works.

I am glad that the parliamentary secretary said earlier that there were other bills before the House. I hope that when we debate Bill C-222 he will not tell me what he did when we debated Bill C-205. I listened very carefully to what he said. He said “We cannot agree to deductions for mechanics. What will we tell electricians, plumbers, pipefitters and welders?”

He has found a way to distance himself from the entirely reasonable and legitimate motion by the member for Acadie—Bathurst. I do not want to start taking a dislike to the parliamentary secretary, because I would like this motion and mine to be approved, but he cannot have it both ways.

He tells the member for Acadie—Bathurst “Perhaps we would not be ready to go with your approach, because there are other bills that will cover the deductibility of tools”. I am anxious to see what will happen.

I had discussions beforehand with the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Finance. He held this position and he told me that he could not vote in favour of the motion. I met with members individually and brought the problem to their attention. I urge the member for Acadie—Bathurst to bring this problem to his colleagues' attention, because we each of us have in our ridings pipefitters, plumbers, automobile technicians, welders and house painters. These are ordinary people who are not floating in money and who are listening now, over supper in the case of those on eastern standard time. These people are eating their supper and saying to their spouse “That is right. A motion like that should be agreed to, because we need this”.

I brought this problem to the attention of members of the House and the vote at second reading was 180 for and 11 against. I therefore hope that when it comes time to continue the discussion on the mechanic's bill, we will remember the fine words of the parliamentary secretary.

I will close because it is getting late. Once again, I point out that in an earlier life, before I was elected, I worked in the field of human resources for 16 years, 14 of them in the pulp and paper industry. I think that such a deduction for the cost of tools required in employment is important.

In my work, the necessary tools have always been a pencil, an eraser and a calculator, to some extent. I am not a mechanic buff and my toolbox at home only includes a minimum number of tools. But I know that there are workers who need something like Motion No. 248, which was tabled by the hon. member for Acadie—Bathurst. It is simply a matter of equity, of social justice.

There are other categories of workers who are already allowed a deduction, including musicians and people who must use their car to work. These people can take full advantage of the deduction. Whether or not they pay the GST does not really change things, because they can deduct the amount from their income.

It is simply a matter of social justice and equity. We just had an election campaign last fall. Members from all parties in the House, including myself, worked hard to get elected. We visited many companies, small and medium sized businesses and plants.

The member for Acadie—Bathurst introduced this motion in the House. Of course, he is intelligent enough to have thought of it on his own, but I think he will honest enough to recognize that he did so because people have made him aware of that issue. It must be understood that our role as members is to act as messengers, as spokespersons for the citizens whom we represent. This motion only asks for greater justice.

Tax On ToolsPrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Scott Brison Progressive Conservative Kings—Hants, NS

Madam Speaker, it is with pleasure that I rise tonight to speak on Motion No. 248. The issue of fairer tax treatment for all Canadians is one in which we have been actively engaged in the House over the last several years. Fairer tax treatment for all Canadians is an issue that has been at the forefront of my personal interest as a member of the House since being elected in 1997.

The hon. member's motion specifically addresses the tax treatment of those involved in trades. It would provide relief for GST and HST on the tools required for those trades and would certainly help, but I think we have to address the issue in a macro sense and in a more holistic way. The whole issue of tax reform needs to be addressed in this place, at the finance committee and in the House.

Frankly, we should now be engaged in a budget debate. It is late February. Every February we have a budget introduced. That is the tradition. In fact, we do not have a budget this year. One of my colleagues opposite, a member of the Liberal government, has just said that we have a budget. In fact we have a mini budget, which was introduced in October and reflected a set of circumstances very different from those that exist today.

We currently are at the edge of, if not a recession, certainly an economic slowdown, which is not just a U.S. phenomenon. It is a global phenomenon. Our reliance on the U.S. market certainly means significant levels of concern in Canada. For instance, yesterday in response to a survey, 57% of Ontarians expressed the view that we will be in an economic downturn in the next year. Canadians are very concerned.

We have a recent report from the chief economic analyst of the Toronto-Dominion Bank, Don Drummond, who used to be the associate deputy minister of finance under the current Minister of Finance. In his report he said that even after the promised tax relief from recent federal budgets, our reliance on personal income taxes in Canada will mean that we are the most highly taxed jurisdiction in the G-7.

The fact is that we have not even caught up to the U.S. in terms of fairer and lower tax rates. The U.S. is preparing to leapfrog even further ahead with a $1.3 trillion tax reduction in the Bush tax plan, which is proceeding through congress now, garnering support.

The government is dreaming in technicolour. The Minister of Finance and my colleagues opposite, with due respect, are dreaming in technicolour if they believe that we are insulated against the effects of a significant economic downturn in the U.S. We have not, in the mini budget, done as much as can be done through fiscal policy to provide the level of economic stimulus that Canadians need in the—

Tax On ToolsPrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.


Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Madam Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I am new here, but I thought we were discussing a mechanics' bill. This member is talking about the budgets of the United States and Canada.

Tax On ToolsPrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Scott Brison Progressive Conservative Kings—Hants, NS

Madam Speaker, I do agree with the hon. member. He is new here. If he would read a little further, he would see that we are talking about taxes and that does tie into this subject. I certainly appreciate his intervention.

The fact is that this is the kind of debate in which we in the House should be engaged in the context of a federal budget. My colleague from Acadie—Bathurst has introduced the motion in terms of a tax reform measure that would provide fairer tax treatment for tradesmen. Other colleagues have, at various times, presented motions to provide mechanics the ability to write off the cost of their tools every year. These types of tax reforms are all very important, but they form only a part of what we should be debating aggressively in the House and at the finance committee in the context of a federal budget.

We should be talking about issues such as capital gains taxes, for instance, and the fact that we still have a higher capital gains tax burden in Canada than citizens in the U.S. do This is a very critical area as it affects the new economy. We still have a tax burden in Canada on the corporate side which puts us second highest in the OECD. That is of course going to have a significant impact on growth.

My friend and colleague in the New Democratic Party may not agree with all my positions on tax policy, but he would agree that we need to have a legitimate debate. A mini budget was introduced which reflected the many levels of intellect on the opposite side of the House when it came to economic and other matters, but that mini budget was part of another parliament.

One of my hon. colleagues opposite actually shadowed my riding for the last caucus. I do not know the name of his riding and no one else in the House does either. He was the shadow member for Kings—Hants and was represented in the Liberal caucus. I want to thank him for the great job he did, because his involvement in representing the Liberal Party in my riding obviously helped me to come back to the House representing the Progressive Conservative Party for that riding. I hope he continues to do that type of great job because he is such a likeable individual.

The fact is, that mini budget, which reflected a mini vision of Canada, was introduced by the previous government. A previous group of parliamentarians approved, discussed and debated that budget. This is a new parliament. Many of the members here now were not here in the previous parliament. The question is why current parliaments and the current House of Commons are denied the opportunity to debate and discuss the fiscal direction of the country. That is what parliament is for.

We know the contempt in which members opposite hold parliament. We have seen that demonstrated time and time again, including during the debate last night on the motion of the government House leader, the former patron saint of effective opposition. He has become the patron saint of hypocrisy in terms of what he has done in denying opposition members and, in fact, members of his own caucus opportunities to effectively represent their constituents in this place.

However, the fundamental issue in not having a budget and not having an accountability for the fiscal policy of the government to parliament goes much deeper than simply having a budget that does not reflect current economic times. It strikes to the very core of parliamentary accountability and respect for the parliamentary institutions that are the cornerstones of our democracy in Canada.

We are all concerned on this side of the House. In fact many members opposite are gravely concerned although they will not express that in the House. They express their views of dissatisfaction with the current government and lack of respect paid to backbenchers behind the curtains as they impale themselves on microphones when reporters talk to them quietly looking for comments without names.

They are very brave when they are outside the House where they can make comments with the impunity of comments provided as background and without any regard or fear of repercussions from the Prime Minister's Office or Mr. Goldenberg.

The fact is that we need a significantly renewed sense of respect for parliament. There is no better way to provide that in the current context than to introduce a February budget. In the past seven years there has not been a worse February than this one to duck the issues and not even introduce a budget. I would like to be debating the hon. member's tax reform measures as part of a February budget as we should be doing.

Tax On ToolsPrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.


Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Madam Speaker, first of all, I would like to touch on a few points that were raised in order to make corrections.

My colleague of the Canadian Alliance said that independent workers have the right to deduct their expenses, but not the mechanics or the electricians or the ordinary trade employees who work for them.

This is not what I was saying. I was saying that, if it is the companies, the big corporations or the small businesses that buy the tools, they are deductible, but if it is the employee himself who buys them, they are not deductible.

I have to disagree with my colleague from Kings—Hants, because I am introducing a motion to assist the small mechanics and the small electrician. However, he takes his little two minutes to talk about corporations, to say that we should give a tax cut to big corporations. I believe parliament talks about this day in and day out.

It is sad to see the parliamentary secretary, across the floor, asking me how we are going to do this. He is telling us that the solution might be to allow those with lower salaries to use the deduction, and not those who have higher salaries.

I have never seen the government give tax deductions to small and medium sized businesses that do not make a lot of money and take them away from the big companies. Strangely, they had the formula in those days and they were able to live with big companies that make a lot of money enjoying tax deductions. But when it comes to workers, they cannot find a formula. What a pity.

If my colleague from the other side, the parliamentary secretary, has a problem with the GST formula, I would suggest that the Liberals fulfil the promise they made in 1993 and eliminate the GST as they said they would do in the red book. We would have no problem with that. The tax would be eliminated for everybody. This is what the Liberals promised in 1993: to eliminate it altogether. Then it would not be a problem for anybody, rich or poor. It would not exist anymore.

That is not what happened, however. It is still there. Despite all his promises, the Prime Minister realized that he needed it. The only thing we are asking of the government is to try to be fair to certain workers.

It is just like eating a pie. Everyone takes only one piece, but after it has gone around the table, maybe there is nothing left. With the GST, we can start with one group of workers, and maybe, in the end, there will be no more GST. It was introduced by the Conservatives. I would say, with all due respect, that the Conservatives may say all they want about corporations and things like that, but they should not forget that they are the ones who introduced the GST, who imposed this 7% tax burden upon workers.

In closing, I would ask the House to agree to my motion unanimously. I am sure the Liberals opposite will agree, because it is a reasonable motion. Therefore, I am asking for unanimous consent to have my motion agreed to.

If that does not work, I may bring forward another motion to abolish the GST completely. So I am asking for unanimous consent to have my motion, Motion M-248, agreed to.

Tax On ToolsPrivate Members' Business

6:20 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mrs. Bakopanos)

Is there unanimous consent?

Tax On ToolsPrivate Members' Business

6:20 p.m.

Some hon. members


Tax On ToolsPrivate Members' Business

6:20 p.m.

Some hon. members


Tax On ToolsPrivate Members' Business

6:20 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired. As the motion has not been designated as a votable item, even though the member did try, the order is dropped from the order paper.

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.

Tax On ToolsAdjournment Proceedings

6:20 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Bill Casey Progressive Conservative Cumberland—Colchester, NS

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to seek some clarity on an issue that I raised in the House on February 5 after the fatal accident involving a Russian diplomat. I rose in the House to ask two questions. Actually I asked the same question twice and I did not even come close to getting an answer. I am very optimistic that the distinguished parliamentary secretary, who is commissioned today to answer the question, will answer my question.

This question arose after a Russian diplomat was involved in a fatal accident in Ottawa. We have recently learned that he is being investigated for criminal charges in Russia. He has now been fired from the diplomatic service, which is only too appropriate. It appears that he will never come back to Canada, at least as a diplomat, and be a menace to our society.

It was not the first time that this Russian diplomat was involved with the police. In fact, on two other occasions he was found to have been drinking and driving. However, after one episode, Mr. Knyazev, the diplomat, received a letter of apology from foreign affairs due to the manner in which we was treated by the Ottawa-Carleton police. It appears now that the Ottawa-Carleton police were absolutely correct and the apology should not have been submitted to the Russian embassy.

The question that I asked twice and did not get an answer either time was: When Canada apologizes to a country like Russia does it not require the approval of a minister, or can just anybody apologize on behalf of Canada? My first question was: Did the minister approve this apology specifically? When I did not get an answer I asked again: Who authorizes letters of apology on behalf of the Canadian government to other governments?