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House of Commons Hansard #62 of the 37th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was federal.

Topics

Canada National Marine Conservation Areas ActGovernment Orders

11:45 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Deborah Grey Canadian Alliance Edmonton North, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise again on Bill C-10, which is going through another life cycle. At the beginning of the 36th parliament it was Bill C-48 and at the end of the 36th parliament it became Bill C-8.

I was pleased to be critic at the time for Canadian heritage and I spent some time on the bill. However it now rises again. These things seem to die on the order paper fairly regularly. The bill originated in 1988 when the Mulroney government introduced the National Parks Act that would permit the establishment of marine parks.

I will not go through all the details but I will hit a few high points about the intent of the legislation. I do not think anyone in the House or across the country would disagree that environmental protection and sustainability are paramount. Whether they pertain to national parks, marine areas or regulating the pollution of large companies, environmental protection and sustainable development are very important issues.

However these issues do not fall specifically within the jurisdictional power of the Minister of Canadian Heritage. We talk about ecosystems, fish, aquaculture and so on. It would be wise to place some of the responsibility for these issues with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. We could then talk about the Department of the Environment and how important it is to look at environmental sustainability in the whole area of marine conservation parks.

I also sense frustration with the amount of input parliament would have. I am not sure if this place is becoming more and more irrelevant.

Bill C-10 would pare down anything parliament would have to say on the issue. It would limit parliamentary input by giving cabinet the authority to create marine conservation areas on crown land without going through the normal legislative process. The question is, why bother with this place at all? Cabinet might as well get together, have coffee, bring up an order in council and throw a dart and pick a marine conservation area.

A lot of people and advisory committees have done an incredible amount of work on this issue. I have seen the maps and the areas and they seem well thought out. However the whole idea of going to cabinet and just zipping something through in a morning session, or maybe not even that long, maybe even before coffee, is no good. The House of Commons is where such debate should take place.

We know in the years we have been here that the amount of discussion and the power of parliament itself has been pared down. Members have also witnessed incredible growth in government. Budgets have ballooned. The debt has certainly ballooned and hopefully we are starting to control that. The annual deficit is somewhat under control. That is probably a good start.

Let us look at the amount of governing that would occur under marine conservations areas. Once a marine conservation area is established the minister may maintain and operate the facilities, conduct scientific research and monitor and carry out studies based on traditional ecological knowledge of the areas.

That is a nice tidy sentence. We can all guess where it may lead. It could lead to mushrooming bureaucracies, advisory committees and all kinds of studies and scientific research. Such things are essential but if they are not monitored they could fly loose. The legislation could be an entity unto itself. When members see the mushroom cloud it places under the government, a cloud with no checks or balances that will only get bigger and bigger, they should be careful.

This whole area unnecessarily expands the minister's domain to areas that fall outside her ministerial responsibility. The minister talks about marine conservation areas, which is again a nice thought and something that perhaps needs to happen sooner or later to a degree, but it is by order in council and should be under DFO control as much as anything else.

What about the Minister of the Environment? The bill would require the heritage minister to establish a management plan for marine conservation, ecosystem protection, human use and zoning. Somewhere in there surely the Minister of the Environment and his department should be involved. We then start saying that it is this department or that department and the whole thing blows loose because it gets bigger and bigger rather than adopting tighter checks and balances.

In addition, each marine conservation area would require the establishment of a management advisory committee to review and implement management plans. For every marine park or conservation area there needs to be a whole advisory committee. I am not necessarily questioning the wisdom of that. A lot of people have a lot of expertise in the area and I do not. I certainly respect the ability of advisory committees to review and implement plans.

However where does it stop? That is the question. This thing will get bigger and bigger. There must be rules and regulations and the government needs to come forward with them. Unfortunately we see no checks and balances in this piece of legislation.

Ministers have all kinds of power, which we have certainly seen. I could digress and talk about Bill C-15, the enormous omnibus justice bill, but there is no point in getting into that right now. It is certainly before the House. It is an unbelievable piece of legislation and an example of phenomenal ministerial power. I hope it gets chunked down into bite size pieces so we can deal with each section on its own.

Regarding ministerial powers and perhaps overuse of powers, the minister states that commercial fishing and shipping would be appropriate in conservation areas. I would like an expert to tell us those things rather than the minister.

In the last bill we talked about whether the minister would be able to curtail or eliminate commercial flights over marine conservation areas. What would that do to small charter companies that fly over the ocean three-quarters of their lives on the B.C. straits?

The clauses would allow commercial fishing according to the minister's will. All aquaculture fisheries management, marine navigation and marine safety plans would then be subject to the approval of the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans and the Minister of Heritage. Do we not see the thing getting bigger and bigger? It looks like mushrooming to me.

The whole idea of putting regulations into place is essential. However, how do we enforce them? We have seen all kinds of legislation over the years where regulations were put in place and not enforced. How do we enforce regulations? That is the frustration we see with the National Parks Act.

My colleague talked about Kootenay Park, Banff, Jasper and Yoho. The parallel is that the National Parks Act does not give park wardens sufficient authority to enforce the law. Park wardens drive around in their brown trucks. We see them all the time. I live very close to Elk Island National Park. It is 45 minutes east of my home in Edmonton. Lew and I ride out there a lot. We see park wardens and we know they are people we ought to respect.

I am a law-abiding citizen. When I see the rangers' authority I do not try to pull anything on them. We have gone around and around the block in the House about sidearms for park rangers. If a person is up to no good or wants to poach moose, elk or bison, they know park wardens are fairly powerless. The government is very irresponsible in terms of the National Parks Act.

The parallel can then be drawn: What would the government do with the marine conservation act? The director of Parks Canada has suggested allowing the RCMP to get involved. That is good, but there are lots of parks where the RCMP is more than a 12 minute drive away. Park wardens should have all the power and authority vested in them by the government and the minister to protect both wildlife and public safety.

For marine conservation acts the record is not stellar. We must ask what would happen. Would people be chased around in boats? Is that what enforcing the regulations would come to?

Let us look at the history of the legislation. This is the third swing around. Who knows when it might get passed? Is the government really committed to the legislation? It has died on the order paper a couple of times, as I mentioned. Will we put regulations in place that the minister will live by, or is this a grandiose plan that will not be enforced?

Many think parliament is irrelevant. A proposed amendment structure in the legislation would allow 20 days for amendments and a three hour debate on them. Such amendments may affect shipping lanes, commercial fishing, sport fishing, aquaculture, commercial flights, and who knows what. Recreational boating may not be allowed in some areas. If an amendment is put forward there would be only three hours to debate it. That is almost an admission that parliament is irrelevant and does not matter. Decisions would be made around the cabinet table.

The legislation would severely limit the ability of parliamentarians to consider all options when new marine areas are set up. The bill would give the Minister of Canadian Heritage free rein to create unlimited advisory committees for each marine conservation area. We know where that could go when people are absolutely unchecked.

Limitations on the size and structure of each committee must be established in the legislation. We need to make sure the parameters are in place. If we get an unlimited number of people with unlimited amounts of salary, and it looks like a big pot out of which we can draw cash, we all know that it could go on for a very long time. It may need to be studied for a little longer and, because it is important, we may need to bring in 15 experts. The thing needs some parameters in place but unfortunately we are not seeing that at this time.

I will wrap up by drawing a parallel with the land national parks and some of the things going on there. The parks of Banff and Jasper are absolutely glorious. They have a lot of building projects going on. The minister took her first swing out to those parks last summer or the summer before and was able to see first hand how fabulous these parks are and how important it is that we balance economic and sustainable development with environmental protection.

We want to make sure there is a balance in nature. We may not be able to please both sides of the equation but if I want to go to a park or spend money on a hotel or in a restaurant, I want to be able to do that. If I have the money to go camping in Jasper Park, I want to be able to go there and enjoy the pristine wilderness, have a campfire outside my camper and enjoy the campground. I am not sure that anyone ought to be telling me that I cannot do that.

It would be the same if we were talking about a marine conservation area. It is important that I am able to make use of that area but at the same time I do not want heavyhanded regulations. I want wisdom, not advisory committees. This may sound foolish, coming around in boats, but there needs to be absolute common sense from the government. I do not think we see that to this extent with some of the things I have discussed. I hope the government takes into account, when it swings through the legislation again, that too many rules and regulations certainly are unwise. At the same time, this just cannot be an open can or basket for people to help themselves.

I am really nervous about the fact that the minister would have far too much power and that it would be essential for joint ministries to work together. If we look at heritage we see that we have a marvellous heritage. We can also look at the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the Department of the Environment. I certainly hope that no one is just trying to make a legacy for themselves. That would surely be unwise and people would be able to see right through that.

Canada National Marine Conservation Areas ActGovernment Orders

Noon

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

The member for Lac-Saint-Jean.

Canada National Marine Conservation Areas ActGovernment Orders

Noon

Bloc

Claude Bachand Bloc Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would first like to point out that my riding is Saint-Jean. There is a big difference between Lac-Saint-Jean and Saint-Jean. They are two very beautiful regions. When you can, I invite you to come and visit my riding. The French immersion school is in my riding, but I know your French is excellent. Nevertheless, I extend a personal invitation to you; you will always be welcome in my riding.

I am making a point of speaking to the bill before us because I think it important for Quebec to express its opinion on all bills.

I am immediately struck by the title of the bill, which concerns national marine conservation areas of Canada. I understand that, in the context of nation building and the great and beautiful Canada, national means Canada. The proof that there is some authority there is that all provincial legislatures are called legislative assemblies, with the exception of Quebec's, which is called the National Assembly.

In my opinon, the bill before us today can be summed up in three words: centralization, centralization, centralization. If some are pleased with this type of legislation, it is most certainly officials from the Queen's Privy Council or from the Council for Canadian Unity. For these people, this type of legislation promotes nation building. Let me explain.

Earlier, I talked about centralization. I think we all agree that, when Canada takes part in treaties such as the FTAA, other types of international agreements or international forums, such as a forum on the environment where the topic may be marine areas, it must often deal with the fact that there may be two levels of jurisdiction involved, and sometimes even three, when municipalities have a say. The federal government often speaks on behalf of the provinces, and this is where the problem lies.

Over the past several years, Canada has undertaken a major centralizing operation. When it speaks at these international forums, Canada wants to do it on behalf of everyone, but it knows full well that it is not that simple. In Quebec, there is a national assembly, just like there are legislative assemblies across Canada, and these bodies have their own jurisdictions.

The federal government told itself “In the coming years, we will have to centralize as much as possible”. How? By intruding in the provinces' jurisdictions, with or without their agreement.

The bill before us is an invasion of a provincial jurisdiction, particularly in Quebec, since we have jurisdiction over, among other things, the river, the estuary and the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Quebec has jurisdiction over the bed of these waters. But through its centralization process, the federal government is taking over part of that jurisdiction.

How is the government going about this? Not just through bills, but also with its spending power. If conservation areas are strictly federal entities, the government will use its money to do it, as it does in other areas.

For example, in the case of young offenders, the government will use its money to do this. In the health sector, where it is more and more tempted, the government is using its spending power, a ploy which has been approved by the highest court, the Supreme Court of Canada. The government has the right to spend, even in jurisdictions that are not its own. It does this all the time.

Worse yet is the way in which it has managed to arrange things so that it can invade the jurisdictions of Quebec and of the other provinces. First, as everyone agrees, it did this on the backs of unemployed workers, but it also did it through transfer payments. The government decided, using an analytical grid based on the capacity to generate wealth, that it would reduce its contribution to postsecondary education, health and social programs and that it would send a little less money to the provinces, and much less to Quebec.

It rakes in the money and then turns around and uses its spending authority to invade provincial jurisdictions. That is what the bill before us today is all about. It is the same logic that was used with respect to the issue of young offenders, where Quebec has excellent legislation which has proven its worth. The consensus in Quebec is that the federal government should not invade this jurisdiction, that rehabilitation is working in Quebec and has done so for some time. But the government is obsessed with centralization and keeps on invading provincial areas of jurisdiction.

Another example is parental leave. The Government of Quebec is saying that it is capable of providing better parental leave for young Quebec mothers. The federal government disagrees and says that this should come under the employment insurance plan and that that is where it will put the money. It is not interested in hearing about our plans to improve our parental leave plan.

The same goes for privacy. The government has introduced a privacy bill, even though we already have privacy legislation in Quebec.

We can see that the federal government, with the money it has managed to extract from the provinces by decreasing transfer payments, is encroaching on Quebec's areas of jurisdiction.

This is one of them. As I have said, it is one because as far as jurisdiction is concerned, the beds of rivers, the bed of the St. Lawrence, the bed of the estuary, the bed of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, are all a provincial jurisdiction.

The federal government is telling us “We are going to establish a new area of jurisdiction, a marine conservation area”. This will likely be against the wishes of the Government of Quebec, which has not been consulted in any way whatsoever. The notes on partnership I have before me indicate that it was a very simple matter to put paid to partnership, and to say “Here we are, and this is what we are going to impose”.

This is totally deplorable, which is why it is important for me to ask all these questions. The Quebec National Assembly would surely object to a law of this kind. When I say object, this would likely be by consensus. Even the federalists in the Quebec National Assembly understand that Quebecers have a different way of thinking than the rest of Canada.

The nation building mentality of Canada does not make any differentiation, however. To it, there is but one nation in Canada: the Canadians. It renounces and closes its eyes to the nation of Quebec. This is totally deplorable. This is the type of bill which, if presented to the Quebec National Assembly, would most likely be rejected by the Quebec Liberals, because they would realize that their jurisdictions are being eroded.

Perhaps there is a consensus elsewhere in Canada. Social union is perhaps another example where the rest of Canada agrees with what is proposed and says “Fine, let us go ahead with the social union. We need the federal government's money, so we are prepared to relinquish part of our sovereignty over jurisdictions such as health”. Whether it is homecare or daycare, the government is always trying to intrude further in these provincial jurisdictions.

This is exactly what the bill before us does. Quebecers feel that the integrity of their territory is jeopardized. Canadians should know what a threat to the integrity of a territory is. They are making every possible effort to protect their territorial integrity, including in the context of issues concerning national defence—I am my party's critic in the matter—such as patrols in Canada's far north, etc.

The integrity of the Canadian territory must be respected. However, when it comes to the integrity of the Quebec territory, the federal government does not seem to really care. It constantly uses themes such as “Quebec's separation” or “Quebec's partition”.

It is very clear that the Government of Canada, in its obsessive nation building, completely forgets the importance of its partners, of Quebec in particular, when it comes to areas of jurisdiction, marine conservation areas and other issues.

I think that things are pretty clear with regard to the integrity of Quebec territory. The government has no say with respect to the floor of the St. Lawrence, the river, the estuary or the gulf. And yet, it shows up with a bill that says “Well, I will do it”.

There is no shortage of good examples. In the case of the Saguenay—St. Lawrence marine park, the federal government acted properly. It announced its intention to the Government of Quebec and they held consultations and agreed on it. They wondered whether they were capable of doing the job while respecting each other's jurisdictions, and they reached an agreement.

But with this bill, there is nothing about consultation. The government's aim is to impose once again, to intrude into Quebec's jurisdiction, the environment, river beds, and the floor of the St. Lawrence, the estuary and the gulf. Clearly we must object to that.

Now, there are other more internal reasons, which include overlap within federal jurisdiction even. Because there are other departments in this great government, including Fisheries and Oceans Canada and Environment Canada, each of which has its protection areas.

I find this to be a typical example, within the big federal machine, of the right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing. Some say they will create marine conservation areas, but others say that such areas already exist, which means that there is a possibility of duplication between different departments within the federal government.

The government seems to be dealing with this issue hastily. It prefers to cut corners, so to speak. It does not care about what goes on at Fisheries and Oceans Canada or at Environment Canada. National parks are the responsibility of Canadian Heritage. There are some forty national parks in Canada, but only a few in Quebec, which is another issue. Quebec often criticizes the fact that there are very few national parks in that province compared to the rest of Canada.

What I want to say is that Canadian Heritage is totally incapable of protecting ecosystems in national parks. Now it wants to interfere with provincial jurisdictions and create whatever it wants without looking at what goes on at Fisheries and Oceans Canada or at Environment Canada. Canadian Heritage is not even looking at what goes on in its own department with regard to national parks.

Certain parameters require that Canada conduct studies every five years. In certain parks, these studies have not been conducted for 12, 13 or 14 years. Some species of flora and fauna are disappearing.

It needs to be understood that, when a national park is created, people visit it. It is a place where people can go. There is a real danger for the flora and fauna in the park. A way must be found for nature and humankind to co-exist. When human visitors are numerous, when they do not stay on the paths, this can endanger certain species.

The government should do this follow-up. I think that the government is in a poor position to push this sort of bill through. When people are not reaching their own objectives within a department, they should not be asking for even more work so that they can make an even worse job of it. People should start with getting it right in their own jurisdiction and then they can think about extending their reach.

If the government could be more respectful of jurisdictions, I think that the Bloc Quebecois would be more inclined to support this type of bill. But this is not what has happened: quite the contrary. There is overlap. Heritage Canada is not able to do its job with its existing responsibilities, and it is looking for more.

The worst thing for the Bloc Quebecois is that there is a lack of respect for what is going on in Quebec and in the provinces. The National Assembly of Quebec would oppose this kind of bill because it is an intrusion in Quebec's areas of jurisdiction.

For all these reasons, it is clear that, unless major changes are made to the bill, the Bloc Quebecois will oppose it. I appeal to my Canadian colleagues. When they introduce bills, they should bear in mind that there is a National Assembly in Quebec, that there is a second people, a second nation, the one in Quebec.

When they want to take things away from that nation, the Bloc Quebecois, whose main purpose is to defend Quebec's interests, can be counted on to oppose such bills, and will be opposing this one.

Canada National Marine Conservation Areas ActGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Gurmant Grewal Canadian Alliance Surrey Central, BC

Mr. Speaker, on behalf of the constituents of Surrey Central, I am pleased to participate in the second reading debate on Bill C-10, the Liberal government's attempt to create national marine conservation areas.

The objective of establishing marine conservation areas is to protect and conserve marine ecosystems found in the ocean environments of Canada and in the Great Lakes. The purpose of the bill is to establish rules that would allow the creation of national marine conservation areas.

The bill is actually unfinished business from the last Mulroney government. It took the weak Liberal government more than 13 years to tinker with the idea of creating marine conservation areas. It is still at step one after feeble attempts to introduce legislation in previous parliaments, namely Bill C-48 and Bill C-8. It shows the lack of commitment of the Liberals to protecting and conserving our environment.

In addition to preserving marine areas for the benefit and enjoyment of Canadians, the bill strives to establish a framework for regulating marine ecosystems and maintaining biological diversity. It is important to note that while environmental protection and sustainable development are important issues, they do not fall within the administrative responsibility of the Department of Canadian Heritage.

The bill makes provision for two schedules that are intended to include the names of marine conservations areas and reserves. The minister has identified 29 marine conservation areas and the intent to create new national parks, but in Bill C-10 the two schedules are blank. The actual locations of all 29 parks have not been identified.

As a past co-chair of the scrutiny of regulations committee I would imagine these lists could be filled in by regulation and we would find the 29 locations somewhere in the thousands of pages of regulations that no doubt accompany the bill. That is governing through the back door, not through the front door and not through the voices of elected members in the Chamber. The bill should describe the location of each park and that information should be inserted in the two schedules. I hope the matter is fleshed out during the committee hearings.

Bill C-10 would limit parliamentary input by giving cabinet the authority to create a new marine conservation area on crown land without going through the normal legislative process. Currently the government is required to come before parliament any time a new national park is to be established or an existing park is to be changed. The legislation would remove the power from parliament and would allow parks to be created or changed by order in council. That is ridiculous.

The minister states that activities such as commercial fishing and shipping would be appropriate in conservation areas. However all fishing, aquaculture, fisheries management, marine navigation and marine safety plans are subject to the approval of the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans and the Minister of Canadian Heritage.

Similarly regulations affecting navigation or safety rules under the responsibility of the Minister of Transport must be made on the recommendation of both the Minister of Canadian Heritage and the Minister of Transport.

Disposal regulations pertaining to sections 127 and 128 of the Environmental Protection Act require the joint approval of the Minister of Canadian Heritage and the Minister of the Environment.

What is to be done about these contradictions and overlapping responsibilities? Clause 13 of the bill would limit or prohibit the exploration and exploitation of hydrocarbons, minerals, aggregates or any other inorganic material in all marine conservation areas. I anticipate hearing from stakeholders about this clause at the committee hearings.

There are considerations with respect to private property and reasonable search and seizure. Clause 22 of the bill states that, in the discharge of their duties, marine conservation area wardens, enforcement officers and persons accompanying them may enter and pass through private property. This is an invasion of the property rights of law-abiding citizens.

The weak and arrogant Liberal government has shown its pattern of disrespect for privacy rights and interference with personal property. We have seen that in Bill C-5, the endangered species legislation, where the arrogant Liberal government refused to offer fair compensation to Canadians.

Enforcing regulations is a serious issue and it is not addressed in the bill. In reference to Parks Canada, the director of the organization suggested that the RCMP be allowed to be involved in enforcement activities. Currently Parks Canada is involved in a labour dispute with its park wardens over personal safety. The bill contains the same deficiencies as the National Parks Act. It does not give park wardens sufficient authority to enforce the law.

Since 1993 there have been three separate reports recommending that sidearms be issued to wardens in order to fulfil their responsibilities. With park wardens off the job and other law enforcement agencies overburdened with enforcing criminal code violations, wildlife is being slaughtered in our national parks. The bill does not address any of these situations.

The Canadian Alliance affirms the federal government's role in the preservation of Canada's natural and historical heritage such as national parks. It supports sustaining and developing national parks and marine conservation areas that exist for the benefit and enjoyment of everyone. It also supports sustainable development and environmental protection regulations that have been fully debated by parliamentarians, not through the back door but through this Chamber.

The bill would strengthen the power of cabinet while diminishing the effectiveness of elected representatives. The bill is virtually unnecessary because the regulatory framework already exists to accomplish what the bill purports to achieve. It is just a power grab by a department that understands that it has a weak minister who does not understand that the new regulations are not required.

The legislation would clearly limit the ability of parliamentarians to consider all options when new marine areas are introduced or existing areas are expanded, with no input whatsoever when new parks are being created. The weak and arrogant Liberal government, time and again, abuses the Chamber and uses elected members as a rubber stamp. It does not give enough opportunity for debate by elected officials. There is no reason for this tight fisted form of control and undemocratic manner of proceeding. Like the bogus changes the government is proposing to Bill C-9, the Elections Act, Bill C-10 is also virtually anti-democratic.

The scope of the bill, as it relates to fishing, aquaculture and transportation, is such that changes to any schedule should require an act of parliament. Affected communities would be at the whim of the minister. The bill would give the Minister of Canadian Heritage a free reign to create unlimited advisory committees for each marine conservation area.

Limitations on the size and structure of each committee should have been established in the legislation. Will the committee that hears the bill allow these limits and rules to be established? I doubt it very much.

These advisory committees would give the government an opportunity for patronage in the way membership is composed and would serve no other purpose than that of a rubber stamp under the guise of public consultation. What we have here is yet another job creation program for failed Liberal election candidates and their supporters.

If marine wildlife and ecosystems are to be protected, park wardens should have exclusive jurisdiction in the enforcement of laws and regulations relating to each conservation area. Unfortunately, wardens are increasingly finding that they cannot do a proper job due to interference from Ottawa.

The decision by Parks Canada management to transfer responsibilities from park wardens to law enforcement agencies like the RCMP is Ottawa's way of centralizing tight fisted control away from the frontline officers who have the practical experience to know what does and does not work in Canada's national parks. What a shame.

The bill is a mess. It is as much an assault on our environment as an assault on the stakeholders in the regions that will be affected by it. My heart goes out to my colleague the Canadian Alliance heritage critic because I cannot see how the bill can be fixed or amended during committee stage.

On the one hand, the bill is not required because everything it does can already be done under regulations. On the other hand, it is a power grab by the minister and should be stopped 100%. Those concerned about preserving the environment can see that after 13 years of trying to bring the bill forward for debate in the House the government does not care about the environment.

I hope the bill looks significantly different when it comes back before the House following committee hearings. However, knowing the government's record, I doubt it. I hope the minister's secret agenda of power grabbing is exposed. I hope Canadians see clearly how little the government cares about the environment.

Canada National Marine Conservation Areas ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is the House ready for the question?

Canada National Marine Conservation Areas ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

Some hon. members

Question.

Canada National Marine Conservation Areas ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Canada National Marine Conservation Areas ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Canada National Marine Conservation Areas ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

Some hon. members

No.

Canada National Marine Conservation Areas ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

Canada National Marine Conservation Areas ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

Canada National Marine Conservation Areas ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

All those opposed will please say nay.

Canada National Marine Conservation Areas ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

Canada National Marine Conservation Areas ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

In my opinion the yeas have it.

And more than five members having risen:

Canada National Marine Conservation Areas ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Call in the members.

And the bells having rung:

Canada National Marine Conservation Areas ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Accordingly the vote is deferred until Wednesday, May 16, at the end of government orders.

Canadian Environmental Assessment ActGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.

Bellechasse—Etchemins—Montmagny—L'Islet Québec

Liberal

Gilbert Normand Liberalfor the Minister of the Environment

moved that Bill C-19, an act to amend the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Canadian Environmental Assessment ActGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.

Kitchener Centre Ontario

Liberal

Karen Redman LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of the Environment

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to address the House on the second reading of Bill C-19, an act to amend the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act.

I will begin by congratulating the Minister of the Environment for bringing the legislation before the House. Bill C-19 is a continuation of an important effort that dates back 25 years in Canada's history. It would bring environmental factors to the table when government decisions are made.

The proposed legislation is based on the results of a national consultation completed last year as part of a five year review of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. It is also based on the Minister of the Environment's personal commitment to improve the federal environmental assessment process so that it can continue to be the best in the world.

I will be clear on what we are proposing. Although Bill C-19 is not a major rewrite of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, it would strengthen the act, an act that has served its purpose well over the past five years and has resulted in notable environment assessment success stories.

The act has had a positive effect on projects ranging from the creation of an inland navigation channel in New Brunswick to the protection of Pukawska National Park in my home province of Ontario. In British Columbia it enabled the Government of Canada, in collaboration with the province, to ensure that the construction of a new road to end the isolation of a first nations community did not have a significant impact on the sensitive grizzly bear population.

Those are just three of the many environmental assessment successes Canadians have achieved over the past five years.

The Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, proclaimed by the Liberal government in 1995, has had a positive and lasting effect on ecosystems and development projects from coast to coast to coast. It has helped integrate Canada's environmental goals with its economic, social and cultural values. In other words, it has moved us down the road toward sustainable development.

Our experiences over the past five years have identified concerns that need to be addressed to make the federal environmental assessment process even stronger, more certain and more accessible. In short, the current process is effective but imperfect.

Coincident with other environmental initiatives, the revised and strengthened Canadian Environmental Assessment Act would help protect and preserve Canada's diverse and sometimes fragile environment. It would assure Canadians of the clean air and clean water they have a right to expect. It would allow Canadians to benefit economically from responsible development in the use of our natural resources.

The purpose of Bill C-19 is to establish a more predictable, consistent and timely process, to improve the quality of environmental assessment in Canada and to strengthen opportunities for public participation. The amendments would ensure that the federal environmental assessment process better serves the interests of all participants in the years ahead, not the least of whom is the Canadian public.

Not everyone may be familiar with the goals and intent of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. I will therefore take a few moments to provide some context for the proposed amendments.

As already noted, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act was brought into force in 1995 with the goal of promoting a healthy environment and economy through sustainable development. The act requires federal departments and agencies to undertake an environmental assessment if they intend to develop projects themselves. It requires them to provide funding or land for such projects and to issue licences or permits for the projects such as might be issued under the Fisheries Act.

One can imagine the scope of such activity. Last year alone 30 federal departments conducted about 6,000 environmental assessments. Many of the projects had the potential to affect the health of local and regional ecosystems for decades to come. The act also touches on billions of dollars of potential investment in Canada each year. For environmental and economic reasons it is important that we get the process right.

The underlying principle and main strength of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act is that a project's environmental effects receive careful consideration before development begins. The act is also built on the premise that the Canadian public should participate in the review of development proposals.

Based on the findings of an environmental assessment, the government must decide whether to proceed or to withdraw its support for a project. Depending on the scale of the activity and the type of assessment, the decision may be made at department level or by cabinet.

Environmental assessments often result in recommendations on actions that should be taken to protect the environment or improve benefits to affected people and communities before the project goes forward.

Used as a planning tool for sustainable development rather than a barrier to growth and development, environmental assessment allows projects to be designed in ways that are economically efficient and rewarding but which are also compatible with a healthy environment and a healthy society.

Let me be clear on this. The government, through the leadership of the Prime Minister, views environmental assessment as a cornerstone of its commitment to protect our tremendous environmental heritage, our air, water and natural spaces, for the benefit and use of current and future generations of Canadians.

That was a central theme of January's Speech from the Throne. Our government recognizes, and I quote from the Speech from the Throne, that “A healthy environment is an essential part of a sustainable economy and our quality of life”.

Environmental assessment has been and will continue to be an indispensable tool for pursuing the government's environmental priorities. Within this context, our approach to environmental management is being driven by three emerging global trends.

First, human activity is placing unsustainable burdens on the ecosphere, particularly on natural habitat and on our landscapes.

Second, there is a resurgence in public concern about environmental issues and a shift in public values in favour of increased environmental action.

Third, businesses and the marketplace are learning that unsustainable business practices are bad business and unacceptable to consumers. The old tradeoff of the environment versus the economy is ringing more hollow with every passing year.

Those three trends offer an enormous opportunity for change. They call for environmental management which builds on partnerships, promotes incentives and is based on science.

Environmental assessment is an essential part of our efforts to ensure clear air, clean water and the protection of Canada's natural spaces. Project by project and step by step, environmental assessment helps avoid the adverse effects of development. That is why it is important to improve the process by making it more predicable, consistent and timely and by strengthening opportunities for public participation.

These were our goals when the Minister of the Environment launched a public review of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act in December 1999. At that time the discussion paper served as a launching pad for an open, comprehensive and public dialogue about how to improve the act.

To convey the scope of our consultation I will share with the House that almost 1,200 people in 19 cities participated in the public meetings and regional workshops. A website to inform Canadians about the review and give them an opportunity to have their say received over 14,000 visits.

We have received more than 200 written submissions about possible changes to the act and the environmental assessment process. The Minister of the Environment received a report and recommendations from a multisectoral regulatory advisory committee established some time ago to provide input on environmental assessment regulations and policies.

The committee brings a unique perspective to issues. It includes representatives of industry, the federal government, provincial governments, environmental and aboriginal groups.

Staff of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency have consulted their provincial counterparts and colleagues from other federal departments. We have received input from several processes, including aboriginal people who have been deeply involved in some of the more high profile and successful environmental assessments undertaken in Canada to date.

The consultation process has been exhaustive. By using electronic means of communication like the Internet we have been able to reach Canadians from all walks of life, in all cities, rural areas, and remote parts of the country. These amendments are the product of one of the most open and thorough public reviews that I have witnessed in my time in government. They represent the consensus view of diverse groups in their intent to move us forward toward the goal of sustainable development, which has been embraced by all elements of Canadian society.

There is always room for argument when developers and environmentalists come together at the same table, but our consultations reveal a remarkable level of agreement on the merits of the existing act and how it can be improved. After hearing from literally hundreds of Canadian businesses, communities, associations and individuals, there is strong national support for an effective and efficient environmental assessment process at the federal level.

Canadians are looking to the federal government for leadership in ensuring that environmental assessment remains an important tool for making decisions in support of sustainable development. I assure hon. members that we intend to provide that leadership.

Our review of the act has confirmed that many strengths of the current environmental assessment process do exist. Canadians have endorsed the fundamental process and the principles of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. They have endorsed the basic structure of the process and the factors that must be addressed when dealing with an environmental assessment. They have given their blessings to the role of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency.

These features of the act would be retained under a revitalized federal environmental assessment process, but we also heard strong messages about the need for change. I do not intend to review these concerns in detail. They are addressed in the report of the Minister of the Environment to parliament which was tabled on March 20, 2001. Instead I will spend the rest of my time explaining how we intend to address them through the proposed amendments to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act.

Our first goal in bringing forward the legislation is to establish a more certain, predictable and timely federal environmental assessment process. This would not only save time, money and effort for all affected parties, but it would build on confidence in the process and improve the climate for investment in Canada. Bill C-19 proposes amendments to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act that would provide for a focus on the appropriate projects and would move away from assessments of insignificant matters like window replacements and erecting road signs.

Reducing the number of assessments of small, routine projects would free up time and resources that could be put to better use assessing projects that are likely to produce adverse environmental effects. This would be achieved through a new use for class screening reports as a replacement for project specific assessments when accepted design standards and mitigation measures are used on small and routine projects.

Under Bill C-19 the scope of the act would also be expanded to include federally funded projects on reserve lands and would allow regulations to be developed for federal lands leased or managed by a third party such as local airport authorities. These are important gaps in the current legislation that need to be addressed.

Bill C-19 also includes measures that would improve co-ordination among federal departments involved in environmental assessment. Our goal is to reduce delays in project planning and to assure proponents that information requirements and timing of decisions would be more consistent from project to project. The act would be amended to provide for the appointment of a federal co-ordinator for screenings and comprehensive studies.

The co-ordinator's job would be to bring together appropriate federal authorities when necessary and to consolidate the information required for an assessment. For projects subject to the assessment process of another jurisdiction and for large projects requiring a comprehensive study, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency would take the role of co-ordinator.

To increase certainty in the process, which in turn would promote more effective project planning and reduce project delays and costs, Bill C-19 would amend the act to eliminate the possibility that a project may be referred to a panel review even after undergoing a comprehensive study.

The revised comprehensive study process would provide the Minister of the Environment with new powers to set conditions for mitigation measures and follow-up programs, to require more information to bring a comprehensive study report up to standard and to direct that action be taken to address public concerns.

The bill would promote greater use of mediation in dispute resolution and would clarify the powers of federal departments to impose conditions on a project. Another overriding goal of Bill C-19 would be to improve the quality of environmental assessments. High quality assessments contribute to better decisions in support of sustainable development and help build a more accountable planning process.

The amendments contained in Bill C-19 would establish a clear role for the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency to promote and monitor compliance with the act. Specifically the agency would be given authority to lead a quality assurance program for assessments across federal departments.

Changes would also be made to ensure more and better follow-up of projects after an environmental assessment. Bill C-19 would also propose that the results of regional studies, studies of the effects of several future projects in a region, would be recognized and used in the consideration of cumulative environmental effects; in other words the combined effects of many projects in a region over a long period of time. Finally, it is our intention through Bill C-19 to ensure meaningful public participation in assessments.

The environmental assessment process of the Government of Canada must remain worthy of the trust and involvement of all Canadians. The fundamental value of meaningful public participation in environmental assessments was one of the strongest measures emerging from the review of the existing act.

The legislation would propose to strengthen public participation in three ways. First, Bill C-19 would establish a single, government-wide Internet based registry to provide public access to relevant information. The registry would be administered by the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency and would replace the existing system in which a seldom used separate paper based registry had been established for each environmental assessment.

Second, we wish to better incorporate the knowledge and perspectives of aboriginal people in the assessment process, particularly where assessments involve reserve lands, traditional territories, or treaty and land management areas. Amendments proposed in Bill C-19 would formally recognize the value and use of traditional knowledge in conducting environmental assessments. An aboriginal advisory committee would also be established to offer advice on assessment issues.

Third, specific opportunities for public participation in assessments would be expanded under Bill C-19. These amendments would clarify that a responsible authority may establish opportunities for public participation at any stage during the screening of a project.

In the case of comprehensive studies, two new opportunities for public participation would be built into the legislation early in the scoping phase of the assessment and during the comprehensive study itself. In addition, the participant funding program now in place for panel reviews would be extended to the comprehensive study review process.

This is a broad overview of the changes proposed in Bill C-19. They are practical, fair and realistic. Bill C-19 would build on the core values of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act as it exists today. These include the notion that environmental assessment should be applied as a planning tool as early as possible in the development process. We are also maintaining the principle of self-assessment by responsible authorities.

The principle of public participation is not only retained, but greatly strengthened under Bill C-19. We are reaffirming the principle of one project, one assessment. The co-operative model of working with other jurisdictions has served us well in the past and would continue to do so in the years ahead. At the same time I assure the House that the federal decision making authority would not be delegated to other jurisdictions.

The process of developing these amendments to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act was launched more than a year. Through the dedicated efforts of many people we have come to a consensus on both the need for change and the nature of the change. I ask members of the House to do their part by supporting Bill C-19.

Canadian Environmental Assessment ActGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Bob Mills Canadian Alliance Red Deer, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege to be able to speak to the amendments in Bill C-19 as proposed by the Minister of the Environment.

As the environment critic for the official opposition I have spoken on numerous occasions in the House of my experiences and concerns relating to environmental issues. I have also learned that there is one very important thing to pay attention to when dealing with environmental issues, and that is co-operation. There has to be co-operation with all levels of government and industry as well as with people who are interested in the kind of legislation we are passing.

The federal government is in a unique position to act as a leader in the area of co-operation and to bring all stakeholders together when we talk about the environment. Environmental issues are consistently found at the top of the list when we talk with various stakeholders.

We have often heard people of all ages ask what they can do to help the environment. They then go on to describe their feeling of helplessness and of being overwhelmed by the issues. The federal government has a real lead role to play in co-operation. It should empower Canadians so that they feel active in their communities and can improve their health as well as the ecological system in their areas.

The federal government must also work to provide for the public's best interest and must provide objective knowledge concerning many of these issues. It can act as a facilitator of information and provide venues for the public to engage in the issues. The public must be consulted as often as it possibly can. An informed and empowered citizen is the best friend of the environment.

I have witnessed in the last few years amazing discussions with public groups. We have examples of environmental groups working with industry to bring their joint concerns about endangered species before the environment committee.

In my own community I was part of the parks board for about 10 years. We looked at building a trail system and how that would impact on the potential development of our river escarpment and valleys. The fact that people, industry and real estate people would get involved and work together with city council on that scale made it happen. We are very proud of a parks system which is a selling feature of our community.

No matter where we look, whether it is at endangered species, pollution or water resources, involving people is important. We must get away from the concept that big government runs everything, that it knows best and does not need to consult with people.

Canadians sometimes forget that they can work with industry. They sometimes feel alienated from government and industry. It is incumbent on us, and I believe the bill goes a long way in accomplishing that empowerment and making people feel part of the whole system. Empowerment is an important part of the fabric of a country, a province or a community. Many environmental issues demand government co-operation.

While many think this is only an issue for the federal government and the provinces, we must show people that the bill goes a long way in showing they can be involved. That co-operation is critical.

We must also work on the relationships people have with their government, and I apply that at all levels. The provinces and the federal government must work together to develop initiatives and programs which understand and address the concerns and the very health of people. Whether we talk about the water situation, which we had a lot of discussion on lately, or sewage or whatever, this involvement is so critical and affects people's health.

I believe growing co-operation at all levels is a sign of our observations of the patterns discovered in nature, which we call biodiversity. While competition and combat have an important role in our interactions with each other, humans and nature cannot be reduced to these elements alone.

Co-operation and construction are also integral to the system of nature of which we are all a part. We recognize that we must have both competition and co-operation. Our end goal is what is best for both people and for the natural world that people participate in. With a recognition of the transforming power of both competition and co-operation, the solutions to our concerns are made more apparent.

This brings me to Bill C-19 specifically, the amendments to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act.

First, I will talk about some of the bad news, the competition side of things. Then I will talk about the good news in the bill, which is the areas of co-operation.

The current government continues to have a serious problem when it comes to environmental commitment. It has been said by a number of people that the government is very long on promises and relatively short on action, sort of chameleon-like in approach, constantly changing its colour to fit the surroundings. It betrays the trust of Canadians who once believed that Liberal means environmentally friendly.

As the environment critic for the official opposition, the Alliance Party, it will be my job to show Canadians that we have an environmental conscience and that we care about the environment and the kinds of changes it needs.

The OECD, the Organisation on Economic Co-operation and Development, reported several weeks ago that we were the second worst in the ranking of those 29 countries in terms of environmental progress. That is a rather serious indictment for a country that prides itself in our environment.

The auditor general in his final report released several months ago argued that the current government had significant problems putting words into actions.

We have toxic waste sites around this country numbering in thousands. We have someone sitting on a hunger strike outside here who is saying that something has to be done about the Sydney tar ponds, the most graphic example of where promises have been made but nothing has happened.

We have raw sewage which is being dumped into St. John's Harbour and into the Halifax and Victoria harbours by a G-8 country, an advanced industrial country. That is not an environmentally good record to have.

The far reaching implications of Kyoto promises and endangered species legislation, if implemented without the proper consideration of costs and benefits by the government, are not the way things should be done by a government. We should know what it is going to cost. We should consider the socio-economic impacts. We should look at the whole picture and work with Canadians to solve those problems.

Important detailed information on voluntary and co-operative programs, said to be the emphasis of the new endangered species act, is not there and creates an uncertainty for landowners. When someone is told that some of their land will be taken out of production, where their family is going to suffer, and compensation is not provided for in the legislation, that is a serious lack of co-operation with the people, the people who we must co-operate with if we want to save something. That is the bad news.

The good news is the co-operation. The federal government, under the PCs, developed this tool for environmental impact assessment in co-operation with government, industry and other levels of government. It was soon entrenched in law as the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. Its regulations were a provision for a five year review of the act. This was undertaken last year by the current government with direction from the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency.

The review was close to what a public review can be and should be. It involved the participation of thousands of Canadians from many different walks of life, those involved in non-governmental organizations, the provinces, industry and aboriginals. We called many of them to ask them what they thought about Bill C-19. Many came back and said they had looked at it and listened to us. They sounded somewhat shocked that the bill included what they had said. I compliment the government for doing that.

There were consultations and workshops across the country. There were and continue to be regular meetings with the regulatory advisory committee, a stakeholder group made up of industry, environmentalists, aboriginals and government representatives. The process began with background studies, a government discussion document and ended with a draft bill. This was good business practice and these were good consultations.

Many of the amendments in Bill C-19 addressed the various weaknesses in the original act. That is exactly what should happen when we do a review.

There were some infamous cases of environmental assessment that did not work very well, such as the Oldman River case in my province. There was duplication of effort between provincial and federal governments. There were late interventions. There was a lack of consultation and some rather foolish decisions.

In the winter I had a bridge put in to haul lumber out for Sunpine Forest Products. The bridge was put a way up on the banks so it would in in any way touch the river. Yet, through an environmental assessment called by a small group, the company had to lay off 100 people and the project did not go ahead because the bridge would shade the fish. The problem was that it was only there to be used in the winter. The fish were not swimming or breeding at that time. There was ice and snow on the river. That is the kind of foolish decisions that are sometimes made. Hopefully, these amendments will stop that sort of thing.

The amendments would increase the ability for the public, industry and government to work effectively and efficiently on environmental assessments, saving time and money for all involved, increasing public participation in many cases and aiding in protecting the environment.

I am particularly interested in the environmental assessment co-ordinator assigned to each federal assessment and the possibility of having this co-ordinator there. Often what happens is the public does not know who to talk to and are shifted from one level of government to the other. Having an environmental co-ordinator assigned to a project should end this.

I would suggest several changes as well to make the bill even better. Public participation is essential to quality environmental assessment. There are three improvements that should be made to improve this even further and I will just touch on those.

First, the public and industry want to work together on this issue. Early public involvement means less long term suspicion and delays. The scoping determination must be open to public scrutiny.

Second, while the government is keen on going electronic, and I applaud this effort, it must not forget that many Canadians are still not plugged in. Rather than an immediate switch to an electronic public registry system for access to information on project assessment, this government should go a little bit slower. I have been told that there have been significant problems in the past with an electronic format. Therefore, instead of throwing the baby out with the bathwater, I suggest working on a new one while keeping the old and relatively reliable format for the time being.

Third, it is essential that there be another review of the act and the effectiveness of these amendments in the next five to ten years. This would be to everyone's benefit and I believe would interest all stakeholders. Co-operation between government departments and other levels of government is critical for the success of environmental assessment in Canada and outside Canada. We must stop the duplication between different levels of government.

It is natural for people to be suspicious of new changes, especially when these changes significantly alter the way they must think about how things have been done for so long. The environmental assessment has been around for some time now and it is time for all federal departments to act in co-operation through the leadership of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, so that environmental assessment can be done well and with a strong public input.

Crown corporations in particular have been very slow to rise to the challenge of environmental assessment. While there are provisions in these amendments for developing environmental assessment regulations for some of these corporations, the public must have input into these regulations and have an opportunity to respond to drafts. There must be assurances that Canadian standards are not different in some places or for some departments or corporations.

Co-operation with the provinces, I repeat, is critical. While the amendments to Bill C-19 reflect several suggestions made by the provinces, there is still significant discretion on the part of the responsible minister regarding key elements of decision making. Turf wars are one of the most serious problems between the two levels of government. I would like to see the provinces consulted before the minister's discretionary powers are invoked in sections 25 and 28 of the act. This would demonstrate to the provinces that the federal government is truly working with them and not against them.

I congratulate the Minister of the Environment and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency for their work. I also sincerely congratulate all those who have spent much precious time on developing these amendments, those in the public who gave their time in public consultations and workshops and those who have given their time to work on the regulatory advisory committee. All of them deserve many thanks for their commitment to this process and this country.

I started this speech by talking about how environmental legislation best works. It is first through co-operation with the citizens and all levels of governments. It is through empowering people with information, with venues for dialogue, with support for dialogue, involvement and action. It is through the federal government taking the lead, setting the example and co-ordinating the efforts.

Too often the government has failed in keeping its many words regarding action on the environment. It has failed many times to consult Canadians, has failed in some basic business practices and has said “just trust us”. However suspicion wins when government fails to be up front. The health of Canadians, the economy and the environment suffer if we are not up front with this information.

The five year review of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, while certainly not perfect, was a successful exercise in consulting with Canadians. Such success means better environmental assessment, better co-operation, better government, and the government, industry and citizens will protect the environment better. It means time saved, money saved and human health and the environment saved. Environmental assessment is a good tool to work toward sustainability. There is still much room for improvement, but I have indicated where some of that can come from.

In conclusion, I suggest that the government use the five year review as a model of what can be achieved with other environmental issues such as global warming, species at risk, space preservation and other environmental issues. Taking the lead through co-operation first with all of the citizens of Canada is the very best way to guarantee human health, environmental health and protection for now and the future for all of us.

Canadian Environmental Assessment ActGovernment Orders

May 15th, 2001 / 1:10 p.m.

Bloc

Mario Laframboise Bloc Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, first I want to say that the Bloc Quebecois is opposed to the bill before us, Bill C-9, an act to amend the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. Being opposed to Bill C-19 is in line with the position traditionally taken by representatives from Quebec.

Since 1992 and even before that, the federal government has been trying to get involved in environmental assessment, an area that falls under Quebec's exclusive jurisdiction and in which the province is doing very well.

Quebec has the Bureau d'audiences publiques sur l'environnement, which does environmental assessments based on criteria that were accepted and approved by successive legislatures in Quebec.

Once again, we must speak up in the House. It is not an easy task, but it is not easy either for all those who are watching us, particularly Quebecers, who do not often have the chance to see the kind of duplication that a bill dealing with environmental assessment can create.

Quebec has always been and still is at the forefront in the area of environmental assessment. What the bill before us says is that, whenever the federal government invests money in the form of loans, loan guarantees or direct grants, or whenever it leads a project, an environmental assessment will necessarily be done.

All that in spite of the fact that Quebec has its own Bureau d'audiences publiques sur l'environnement, a concept that is totally independent from political decision makers. We saw the BAPE in action recently with regard to major projects by Hydro-Québec. The BAPE went against the major orientations of the agency. This is a system that works well in Quebec.

Once again, here we have federal duplication. If there was no representation by Quebec at the public hearings that were held, there was a good reason for it. There has been none since 1992 purely and simply because, that year, the government of Robert Bourassa had passed a unanimous resolution in the National Assembly, stating as follows, and I quote:

That the National Assembly strongly disapproves of the federal government bill—

I have dropped the number.

—, an act to establish a federal environmental assessment process—

This was an act identical to the one introduced today. The resolution continued:

—, because it is contrary to the higher interests of Quebec, and that the National Assembly opposes its passage by the federal Parliament.

This was a resolution unanimously passed by the Quebec National Assembly in 1992, under the Liberal government of Robert Bourassa.

It is, therefore, a matter of integrity and honesty for all Quebecers in this House, to defend the interests of their constituents.

The federal government is too quick to interfere in provincial jurisdictions for all kinds of political reasons.

The only thing that should guide a government when adopting a legislation is the protection of the interests of the citizens. In this case, the interests of the citizens are well protected by the Quebec government's Bureau d'audiences publiques sur l'environnement which, I repeat, is a non political, arm's length organization. Historically, it has had a very good record and rendered very good decisions.

It is difficult to understand how Liberals representing Quebec can defend a bill which constitutes a direct interference into Quebec's jurisdiction.

The federal government has so much money that it could invest to help develop road infrastructure. We have an infrastructure program in which the federal government, the Quebec government and municipal governments pay one third each. This program was announced with great pump by the federal government, and received the support of the provinces, the Quebec government and the municipalities.

Once again, that infrastructure program will cover projects in this area.

Since the federal government is contributing one third, through subsidies, to several of these projects, environmental assessments will be made by it, even though Quebec has its own environmental assessment service, namely the Bureau d'audiences publiques sur l'environnement. This is a striking example of duplication that is extremely costly to Quebec taxpayers because we already have a good service.

As I said, in 1992, the National Assembly, under the leadership of Robert Bourassa, unanimously adopted a motion rejecting a similar bill, which was to be passed in the House of Commons at the time. That motion was adopted unanimously.

During the public hearings on this bill, no one came to represent Quebec, for the simple reason that we have our own environmental assessment service.

It is because of examples like this one that an increasing number of Quebecers are fed up with the federal government. It interferes in jurisdictions in which it has no business. The federal government should let Quebecers do their own thing, since they have an environmental assessment system that reflects their needs and that has proven successful. The Bureau d'audiences publiques sur l'environnement, or BAPE, is very helpful because it conducts environmental assessments for many projects. It is a Quebec agency that works well and that Canada is trying to copy for the benefit of the other Canadian provinces. That is fine with us, but leave Quebec alone with its own resources and structures.

We have something that works well, namely the BAPE. Why impose a new level of assessments that will generate additional costs? Instead, the government should put that money in the tripartite infrastructure programs involving the municipalities, the Quebec government and the federal government. Or let them invest more than the mere $600 million they said they would invest in highways throughout Canada. In the election campaign, this Liberal government promised Quebec alone over $3 billion in investment, when there is only $600 million in the federal budget. We have just looked at the votes in the Standing Committee on Transport, and only $600 million is available for the next five years.

Rather than waste energy and money and spend resources on adding another service to the one that is very well operated in Quebec, the government should keep this money, invest it in municipal infrastructure projects, and government highway infrastructure projects in Quebec and Canada. It should leave the organizations and institutions that work well in Quebec. The Bureau d'audiences publiques sur l'environnement is one Quebec institution that works well.

It is hard for the public, for Quebecers watching us, to hear us discuss a bill that has a pleasing title, the act to amend the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, except that it pleases the Canadian provinces that do not have environmental assessment procedures in place.

We in Quebec do have one. We are proud of it. I repeat, in 1992, the government of Robert Bourassa, unanimously called on the federal government to withdraw from this area of jurisdiction, environmental assessment, because it is a provincial jurisdiction.

There is good reason no Quebec organization appeared before the various committees studying this bill. The Bloc Quebecois cannot support this bill, which is a blatant example of interference. It is because of measures like this one that an increasing number of Quebecers no longer believe in this Canada. The federal government is only investing in an attempt to gain political popularity. It is trying to achieve that by duplicating services that are already provided by Quebec agencies. This is unacceptable.

I cannot understand why Liberal members in this House, who are aware of the problems associated with infrastructure programs and the constant needs of municipalities and of Quebec's road network, support a bill that will create a new level of environmental assessments.

Whenever the federal government will invest, lend or guarantee even the smallest amount, it will be in a position to set up an environmental assessment program that will be in addition to the one that already exists and that works so well in Quebec. There are such aberrations in this Canada. I hope people will remember that, and the sooner the better.

Canadian Environmental Assessment ActGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.

NDP

Wendy Lill NDP Dartmouth, NS

Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Churchill. It is a pleasure to rise today to speak to Bill C-19, an act to amend the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, at second reading. For the record, the New Democratic Party will be opposing the bill and will be voting against it at second reading.

Currently the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act does not go far enough to protect our environment. The changes proposed in Bill C-19, unfortunately, would only further weaken the legislation. The bill is an attempt to streamline and speed up the environmental assessment and review process to benefit developers and industry instead of protecting the environment.

This enactment would implement the results of the statutory review of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act conducted by the Minister of the Environment. It would establish a federal environmental assessment co-ordinator for projects that undergo screening or comprehensive study level assessments. It would modify the comprehensive study process to prevent a second environmental assessment of a project by a review panel while extending the participant funding program to comprehensive studies.

This enactment would expand existing regulations, making authority for projects on federal lands, provide the new use for class screening reports as a replacement for project specific assessments and makes follow up programs mandatory for projects after a comprehensive study or review panel. These amendments would provide Canadians with access to information about the environmental assessment of a specific project.

This enactment would create the Canadian environmental assessment registry. It would require that the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency establish and lead a quality assurance program, promote and monitor compliance and assist relevant parties in building consensus and resolving disputes.

New Democrats believe that we need measures to strengthen and improve safeguards to protect the environment and this bill unfortunately does not go nearly far enough.

Canadians are increasingly concerned about the state of the environment in their communities and around the globe. They worry about the quality of the air they breathe and the safety of the water they drink. They are deeply concerned about the kind of ecological legacy they will be leaving their children.

The question is: What kind of measures are we talking about? At the present time outside the House of Commons we have a demonstrator from the Sierra Club, Elizabeth May, who is on her 14th day of a hunger strike. She is trying to force the federal government into taking action on the environmental travesty at the Sydney tar ponds. She wants to force the government to permanently relocate the many people who are living in the area directly around the tar ponds who have experienced colossal health problems for decades because of the pollution in their environment. This is a very concrete example of a measure that the government could take right now to ensure the environmental and health safety of many Canadian citizens.

Another very important measure in my mind is the Halifax harbour clean up. I come from a community that has been dumping raw sewage into the harbour for many decades. The only benefit is that we have ocean currents that continue to move the sewage around at quite a pace, but we have a huge job ahead of us.

The Halifax regional municipality has worked very hard to get both the provincial and the federal government on side to work on that essential infrastructure project. Something of that size has to be done on a three way split. Each level of government has to be involved because of the cost and the scope of the project. At this point in time the federal government is nowhere near offering the kind of money that is required from its side of the equation. That is another measure the government could take right now.

Clearly it is time that Canada implement comprehensive, enforceable and understandable standards for water and air quality and food safety. The government should be investing in services that clean up the water and the air, stimulate green investment and expand public transit. It should also take action to make work places safer. The government's record on the environment is a litany of neglect, delay and broken promises.

The NDP believes that we should protect the environment in some very specific ways. I will put forward suggestions for the government to take into account when it is doing further work on the act. We need to assert a strong federal presence in both environmental monitoring and regulatory enforcement. We need to implement comprehensive, enforceable and understandable standards for water and air quality and food safety. We need to develop and implement a national water strategy including development of national safe drinking water standards and a ban on bulk water exports.

It is time we institute agreements that give environmental protection precedence over trade agreements in transboundary movements of hazardous wastes and other environmentally dangerous goods. We need to ensure that a green screen integrates environmental criteria into all federal government decision making.

It is time we implement endangered species and habitat protection legislation developed in co-operation with other governments, affected communities and labour, making use of traditional aboriginal knowledge and vesting identification of species at risk with independent scientists.

We need to expand marine protected areas and the national parks system and protect the parks system from commercial development that threatens its integrity. We need to introduce tough punishment for polluters including criminal charges for corporate owners, directors and managers that break the law. We need to develop the environmental bill of rights to ensure the legally enforceable right of all Canadians to a safe and healthy environment.

In conclusion, I repeat that we will be opposing the bill. We will be voting against it at second reading. We believe that the environmental assessment act does not go nearly far enough. It needs to be strengthened. We need the federal government to invest and commit immediately and generously to an environmental cleanup that will protect our children for generations to come.

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1:30 p.m.

NDP

Bev Desjarlais NDP Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, I want to emphasize, as the hon. member for Dartmouth mentioned, that the New Democratic Party is opposed to the bill and intends to vote against it. Hopefully there can be some improvements to the bill somewhere along the line, even though it is becoming clearer to most of us that the Liberal government does not follow through on its talk of being there to protect the environment and to do what is best for Canada. I doubt we will see those changes and certainly there need to be changes.

To follow on what my hon. colleague said, public services like clean water, effective waste disposal, diversion, good roads and accessible public transit are essential to strong, healthy communities. By the 1990s Canada was investing just 2.1% of its gross domestic product in public infrastructure. That was about half of what was spent throughout the 1960s and 1970s. We have had two decades of neglect. This has meant poorer public services resulting in major problems like poor water quality, pollution, and a $75 billion deficit in municipal and environmental infrastructure.

No one group has suffered more from the neglect than Canada's first nations people. We heard of the situations with water in Walkerton and North Battleford. There was little emphasis on the number of first nations communities that have boil water mandates in place on an ongoing basis. Many Canadians do not know that although there were standards in place for water treatment in communities throughout Canada, the government and the first nations communities never bypassed the bare minimum standard for anything in first nations communities. Whether it be water, sewer or housing, bar none the bare minimum standard was met. We know what happens when only the bare minimum standard is met. That is exactly what they get. As a result, with little money going into the infrastructure we have seen even greater problems in those communities.

The occurrences of stomach and gastrointestinal problems that we hear about in non-aboriginal communities are ongoing issues in first nation communities. They struggle and fight with the government to put in place ongoing funding for these programs so they do not have to go to the government. I hate to say it, but often immediately before an election the government says it will do something and then right after the election we see many communities having to go on bended knees begging the government for what should be rightfully theirs in the first place, which is quality water and sewer infrastructure and quality housing.

Ecologists warn that without major new investment and a national approach to water quality, access to freshwater will soon become Canada's worst environmental crisis. Significant public and private investments are also needed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, improve energy efficiency and cut back the release of waste into the environment.

Too many corporations have opposed efforts to deal with these pressing issues. The Liberals have listened to corporate Canada, ignoring the fact that no economy or society can exist independently of the environment. The Liberals have made no progress in developing a sustainable economy for Canadians.

We know the Liberals have listened to corporate Canada. We also know and fear the fact that our Prime Minister is now listening to the American president and vice-president saying they want more energy resources from Canada instead of the U.S. addressing its problems of overconsumption, greed and misusing energy when it should be putting into place conservation processes. We see our government buckling under to the U.S.

We all wants jobs and economic prosperity, but we also want to protect the air we breathe, the water we drink and the food we eat. With leadership from the federal government working families can have both environmental and economic security. New Democrats believe Canada needs a new commitment to rebuilding our publicly owned and operated infrastructure.

The NDP has called for a multi-year national environmental infrastructure investment program to channel investment into pressing environmental concerns like water and air quality, toxic waste disposal, energy efficiency and the clean up of environmental hot spots.

A national environmental investment and infrastructure program could be used for the set up of a clean water fund to upgrade municipal water and waste water treatment plants to improve water quality, water conservation and effluent management. We cannot have another Walkerton.

We could clean up toxic hot spots like the Sydney tar ponds and the sites of the Great Lakes. I know my colleague mentioned this as well, but a number of colleagues from that area of the country over the past three or four years have constantly pushed and fought for the clean up of the Sydney tar ponds. This has made me realize just how terrible are the Sydney tar ponds. When hearing about it on a daily basis and getting all the background on it, we realize that this is a government-company sponsored environmental wasteland with no serious effort to clean it up.

The sad part is there is real concern it cannot even be cleaned up now. The least we should be doing is getting the people whose health is at risk out of that area. That is why Elizabeth May has been on a hunger strike for the past two weeks. The government has failed to address the issue of getting those families out of there. Instead it puts their health at risk.

The national environmental investment infrastructure program could renew efforts to achieve short term reductions in greenhouse gas emissions in the wake of the Liberals' abandonment of commitments it made at Kyoto, Japan, in 1997.

We could set up a clean air fund to back community based initiatives that reconcile job creation with the challenge posted by climate change. The fund would be used for tree planting, alternative energy and transition programs for workers displaced by actions taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. We could support expansion and encourage greater use of public transit. We could put mandatory limits on sulphur content in gasoline.

We could change the federal tax system to ensure that tax policies encourage a more sustainable economy. Taxes should be reduced on sustainable activities, particularly those that involve a greater investment in labour and an increase in non-sustainable activities.

We could create a jobs fund to provide loan security for the cost of retrofitting residential, commercial and industrial buildings to meet higher standards of energy efficiency and make greater use of energy from alternative sources, resulting in reduced greenhouse emissions and lower costs. We could improve recycling, composting and recovery systems to improve the diversion of household and commercial industrial waste.

This fund could encourage dynamic environmental industries and the development of new environmental technology. We could invest as a partner in integrated and co-ordinated affordable public transit and commuter rail service in and around major urban centres. This would be part of a national transportation strategy.

Often we are criticized as New Democrats for thinking about the environment too much, for not considering the cost. I say we can never think about the environment too much. We can never put too much into the environment.

We have shown today that the cost savings are there. This is an economical opportunity for Canada. It is an opportunity for jobs, but even more so it is an opportunity to continue having the country we have now with a relatively decent environment and relatively clean air. We have some bad spots, but we have a country of which to be proud, a country to which people from all over the world want to come.

A young woman from Mexico attending university in Ottawa commented to me that it was nice to have her children go outside and play and not have to worry about their health because of the air. We have a clean environment to offer people of the world. Let us continue to offer it to them by making sure that we protect it. Let us fix the legislation and toughen it up instead of watering it down like the Liberals have done.

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1:40 p.m.

NDP

Wendy Lill NDP Dartmouth, NS

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate the member for Churchill on her excellent speech and the suggestions she made. I want to ask her a question about aboriginal people and the quality of their environment.

Over 20 years ago I was living in Kenora, Ontario, where two reserves, White Dog and Grassy Narrow, were tragically affected by mercury poison in the Grassy River system. The irony is that we see pristine wilderness that is completely polluted by external forces, by pulp and paper mills or by other industries such as mining.

How would the member for Churchill tackle that problem in her area, which is certainly a home to many native communities?

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1:40 p.m.

NDP

Bev Desjarlais NDP Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to respond. Within the Churchill riding in Manitoba I actually have more than half the first nations in Manitoba. I have been to all 31 of their communities. Over my years living in northern Manitoba I knew many of the problems those communities faced. As their member of parliament I have had the opportunity to view firsthand the situations they live in.

We often hear members of the House criticize why first nations live in such conditions. The people in those communities do not want to live like that. That was not the bargain they made with the Government of Canada when they made a decision to share the land and in return receive certain benefits from the government.

They do not get specific funding to ensure that they have water and sewer services in every house. They do not get specific funding to ensure that they will have fire hydrants in their communities. The amount of funding for housing for all first nation members is so limited that we see literally a third of their populations leaving their communities because they do not have houses to live in.

Although we will hear great criticism of why first nations people live like they do, the criticism should be directed at the governments of Canada which over past number of years have not sufficiently supported first nations people.

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1:45 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Rick Casson Canadian Alliance Lethbridge, AB

Mr. Speaker, I have a question for the member. I know she has close ties to the aboriginal community and environmental issues. She mentioned the Sydney tar ponds. I had an opportunity to view that disgraceful mess and I would sure like to see something started there to clean it up and get the people living nearby who have been exposed to it away from it.

Is the member aware of anything the government has done in the last few years to clean up some of the messes that were left in northern Canada by military bases, air force bases, the DEW line and things like that? I know that some were pretty bad. Could she comment on what has happened in that area?