Mr. Speaker, as opposed to the proverbial comment we hear in the House that it is a pleasure to participate in such a debate on Bill C-19, I might actually say that every time I have had an opportunity to speak on issues pertaining to the environment I usually preface my comments by saying that it is with great sadness that I have a chance to participate in the debate.
What I am referring to is Bill C-19, which is the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. It was first brought forth as a very progressive piece of legislation by the Conservatives in June 1992 when the Progressive Conservative Party was in government. Those governments have been described by individuals such as Elizabeth May of the Sierra Club, who is outside fighting the environmental degradation at the Sydney tar ponds, in this way: the Conservative governments were the most environmentally progressive governments in the industrialized world.
The Conservatives actually developed the omnibus bill on the control and use of toxins in the environment, known as the Canadian Environmental Protection Act. It was a Progressive Conservative government that led the international community in 1987 with respect to developing a protocol known as the Montreal protocol. That challenged the industrialized world to eliminate or drastically reduce ozone depleting gases.
During that same era, Mr. Speaker, I am sure you will recall that the prime minister and the minister of environment of the day, Jean J. Charest, led a delegation in which Canada was a world leader by bringing the world together with respect to climate change and biodiversity. In contrast we now have a government that has been in office for nearly eight years and has yet to pass a single piece of environmental legislation of note. That is the record.
These are not just my comments. I can even refer to Stewart Elgie, who is the executive director of the Sierra Legal Defence Fund. These are his words, not just mine.
What we are looking at is a mandatory review, which was put in place by the Progressive Conservative government in 1992 in the first piece of legislation and which shows the understanding that what we do today with respect to environmental management will be drastically different in the very near future. That is why it is incumbent upon the government to review legislation of this sort.
In addition to this initiative, we should be doing what the minister of the day, Lucien Bouchard, said in 1990. He found three legislative gaps with respect to the environment. First, Canada essentially has a pesticide act that is over 30 years old. Second, we really do not have a framework to establish legislation to ensure safe drinking water in Canada. Last, at the time he was advocating that we have legislation in place to protect species at risk.
Here we are a decade later, after eight years of Liberal government, still waiting for those three initiatives to be brought forth to the Canadian public. However we do have some housekeeping, in that the minister has tabled in a timely manner the mandatory review of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act. According to the minister's press release, the purpose of the act is essentially tenfold. I will list the ten points very briefly.
One purpose is to focus the act on projects with a greater likelihood of adverse environmental effects as opposed to having only broad screenings of issues that have less or a minor impact and could be managed more effectively and exclusively by the provinces. The Progressive Conservative Party has a proud tradition of being respectful of jurisdictional issues with respect to the provincial governments and the federal government. That is why we support the idea of harmonization, not to the lowest common denominator but to ensure that this is done in the most cost effective, time effective and environmentally effective manner possible.
On this list with respect to this new review the minister advocates: improving co-ordination among federal departments and agencies when several are involved in the same assessment, which I think is a good initiative; reaffirming and enhancing co-operation with other governments in conducting environmental assessments where jurisdictional overlaps and duplications occur, which the Progressive Conservative Party indeed embraces; and increasing certainty in the process in order to reduce the potential for project delays and cost increases. Industry will play by the rules. We can develop faster and that will help our economy grow, but industry and the provincial governments that want to take initiatives of this sort have to know what the rules are. The certainty in reducing overlap and duplication is a key component.
In the bill the minister advocates strengthening the role of follow-ups to ensure that sound environmental protection measures are in place for the project as well as improving consideration of what the cumulative effects of the project might be. One project on its own may not have an impact that would significantly degrade the environment in any way, shape or form, but the cumulative effect may come into play.
The eighth point the minister advocates is that of providing convenient and timely access to reports and other information about assessments. As well, he advocates strengthening the incorporation of aboriginal perspectives in the federal process, an initiative I strongly applaud, along with expanding public participation.
The House may be aware that within the last year a task force led by the federal government was struck to study issues with respect to environmental assessment. A myriad of items was tabled in that report. The sad thing is that in going through the legislation at first blush it seems that only a few were acted on in this revision of the act. When this gets to committee the Progressive Conservative Party wants to ensure that we have a full vetting of the committee's report. It is a report that I have not gone through in any detail, but through our research we have discovered that only a couple of the items were touched upon.
Here we are dealing with a mandatory review of a piece of legislation which the government is compelled to actually perform. We will do our process, but what Canadians want is environmental leadership across the board. As the former minister of the environment, Lucien Bouchard, said in 1990, we need new pesticide legislation. It is 30 years old. The Minister of Health said he would table it quite soon. I remember Claire Franklin, the executive director of the Pest Management Regulatory Agency, saying that framework legislation or draft legislation has essentially been in place for three years. Yet the government has not acted and does not table the legislation.
We are still waiting for a species at risk bill that will work. The Progressive Conservative Party will not support that piece of legislation for four reasons, primarily because it does not include migratory birds and it still contains the belief that politicians rather than scientists are a better fit to determine whether or not a species is at risk. It is also extremely intrusive in one regard, and very hypocritical, I might add. The species at risk legislation says that it has the capacity to force a private landowner to engage in recovery plans and the capacity to force a province to participate, but it is permissive with respect to habitat protection within its own backyard, on federal land. We will have a chance to address that bill later on.
We are a long way from being able to give a definitive answer about whether we will support this legislation in its compulsory review. We will let the committee do its job, but ultimately the Government of Canada should take up the myriad of recommendations made by the task force that studied this issue. We will do our work in committee.