Mr. Speaker, the single biggest flaw in the bill is that the species at risk legislation will never be effective. It will be a failure because it fails to deal with the issue of compensation for landowners who will suffer economic losses as a result of the implementation of measures to protect species at risk and their habitat.
Compensation. The word sounds so grasping, so selfish, so un-Canadian. Why would people expect to get paid for obeying the law? Why should property owners not be willing simply to absorb the cost themselves in the service of a greater social good?
When people's livelihoods are at stake, they have a different view of things. Maybe a farmer will have to leave sections of land untouched for a number of years, or adopt farming practices to accommodate nesting birds. Maybe areas of the forest will be off limits during migration.
There are lots of ways property owners and resource users will be affected, some temporary, some permanent. In many cases they will face costs, lost income from not being able to use their land, or perhaps actual costs incurred to protect habitat or provide for individuals of an endangered species.
It is completely incorrect to think that farmers, for example, are just sitting there waiting for the government to put compensation into the bill so they can sell their land. Some members seem to imply this. The government seems to think that every farmer just wants to get rid of his land and that they will react that way to this legislation. Anyone listening to the minister talk about compensation would think that he believes that.
For the farmers and ranchers whom I know, their land is their life. Often it has been in their family for generations. They are not looking for an easy way out or to sell it to the government. They respect the wildlife on their property and would be happy to work co-operatively in a voluntary stewardship program. However when costs arise they do not want to be left holding the bag. Losing 10% of their land could easily put a farmer or rancher out of business.
No doubt the minister will say that the bill recognizes the principle of compensation. Let us look at the bill. Yes, it does say that the minister may, and I emphasize the word may, provide compensation. It is good that is there. The government even seems willing to retain the committee's wording of fair and reasonable compensation. That is even better.
However, in Bill C-5 any compensation that is left entirely to the minister's discretion will not be fine with the farmers I know. These will be hollow promises. “Trust us” is not something that people will accept. Until property owners and resource users know the losses they will suffer and the compensation that will be there, this bill will not work.
Instead, what has the government done in the legislation? It is moving to reverse what the committee did and instead make even the very drafting of regulations at the minister's discretion. He might, he might not. That is not very convincing. Again as I have said, most people will not accept “trust us”.
It would have been a token of good faith had the minister tabled the draft regulations for us to look at prior to the bill being passed. He has promised to have a draft ready soon after royal assent. That does not do anything to convince people that the act will be fair to them. What can they expect if he will not even put it in the bill?
In practice, what does the bill mean when it says that compensation will only be in the case of extraordinary impact of regulatory restrictions? Can people trust the process to be fair? The minister owes Canadians answers to these questions.
In fact, the only public picture of what the regulations might look like is the Pearse report. Obviously, the government has ruled out the Pearse report, but many people have read it and are concerned about it.
The very principle by which we have this legislation is the UN convention on biological diversity which Canada signed. This convention recognizes that because the objective of maintaining bio- and ecosystem diversity is so important, costs must be equitably borne by everyone and not just primarily by developing countries.
Applied at home, this principle would mean that landowners should not bear the cost of species protection but that since they are helping to achieve a greater social good, compensation should be extended to offset any losses that might result. The Species at Risk Working Group also recognized this in its brief to the standing committee. It wrote:
SARWG strongly urges Parliament to...recognize that the protection of species at risk is a public value and that measures to protect endangered species should be equitably shared and not unfairly borne by any individual, group of landowners, workers, communities or organizations. Provision for compensation helps to balance the effect of efforts to protect species at risk and instills necessary trust among all stakeholders.
The bill should specify that. It was amazing to hear industry, environmentalists, farmers, ranchers and foresters all saying that the whole of Canada could benefit by sharing that load of protecting those species at risk.
We believe in protecting these species at risk. That is the most important thing. If a government says it is going to take people's land, affecting their incomes and livelihoods, then obviously we are concerned that the ones who will be threatened even further are not only the landowners but the species that are at risk.
There are lots of examples internationally. Tasmania has a threatened species protection act which it introduced in 1995. It states that a landowner is entitled to compensation for financial loss suffered directly resulting from an interim protection order or a land management agreement.
In the European Community, a person who is required to comply with a notice under section 36 is entitled to compensation for financial loss as a result of being required to comply with that notice.
Switzerland runs an integrated production program, a voluntary scheme whereby farmers are given standard amounts based on profits forgone in return for agreeing to certain restrictions.
The U.K. has a natural habitats regulation which it introduced in 1994. It states:
Where a special natural conservation order is made, the appropriate nature conservation body shall pay compensation to any person having at the time of the making of the order an interest in land...who...shows that the value of his interest is less than it would have been had the order not been made.
Those are international examples. Nowhere, except it appears in our country, are people expected to give up their lands and livelihoods for the sake of the public good.
In the committee the minister even reported to us about his concern. He said that he would like to have compensation in the bill but that he lost the battle in cabinet. In fact in a leaked letter from the then minister of fisheries he said “I won't go along with any compensation”. It appears that is what happened more than the reality of trying to protect endangered species.
Environment Canada has said it knows there will be problems if compensation is not in the bill. It is easy to use all of the international examples and to talk about what people are telling us on the ground. Compensation does not have to be money. It can be land swaps. It can be tax breaks. It can be all kinds of things such as help with fencing or different equipment. There are lots of things that should be part of the bill but are not. There are lots of examples as well where it has worked to help save species.
I implore the government to look at the bill again. If it really cares about endangered species, it will include compensation in the bill.