Mr. Speaker, in looking at the amendments in Group No. 1, I will be addressing in particular two amendments that I have put forward, Motion No. 103 and Motion No. 111. Both of them deal with the very important issue of compensation to landowners, particularly farmers, for land use loss they may suffer as a result of the rules under the species at risk act.
Motion No. 103 amends clause 64(1) to read as follows:
The Minister shall, in accordance with the regulations, provide full, just and timely compensation to any person for losses--
The current wording in that clause is:
The Minister may, in accordance with the regulations, provide fair and reasonable compensation to any person for losses suffered as a result of any extraordinary impact of the application--
of the law.
I just want to point out the obvious flaws that exist in the current wording of the legislation as regards compensation. First we notice that under the current wording the law says compensation may be provided, not that it shall be provided. That means that it may not be provided.
The previous speaker from the government side said that compensation will be provided in exceptional circumstances, so we may assume that it will not normally be provided, that most farmers, most landowners, will in fact suffer the complete cost of protecting species, however large that might happen to be. He said that it would be decided on a case by case basis whether or not compensation should be provided. That means that there will be no certainty for landowners ahead of time as to whether in their case compensation may or may not be provided.
This kind of uncertainty is the very opposite of the rule of law on which our society is founded. It is precisely when this kind of uncertainty is created and when individuals may, on a more or less random and unsystematic basis, be subjected to bear all or most of the costs that people are in fact most likely to react with irresponsible husbandry practices or to feel victimized by the government and therefore respond by taking matters into their own hands.
There is plenty of international experience of this. The rule in the United States, where some of these laws have been applied without any consideration for compensation, has been that some people “shoot, shovel and shut up” when they find an endangered species on their property rather than try to exercise the kind of responsible husbandry of the natural environment that would result in those species being protected. When a species that is endangered is discovered on their property, they react not by protecting it but by eliminating it before the government authorities have a chance to find out about it and impose the costs of protecting that species on the owner.
The amendment I have proposed would change this dramatically. It states that the minister shall provide compensation. It also states that the compensation shall be full, just and timely as opposed to being, as in the current text of the bill, fair and reasonable. Fair and reasonable could be interpreted as meaning occasional, partial and more or less arbitrary in application. We can already see that the government side is interpreting it this way. This is simply unacceptable. It is bad for the environment. It is bad for landowners. It is just bad all the way around.
Fair and reasonable compensation has been described by the Pearse report as being 50% of the cost. There are cases where 50% of the cost of losing the use of a chunk of land will put individuals out of business and cause them to lose their farms or their land. I know of one example where this type of thing has already occurred in my own riding under provincial legislation of the same sort. It is a piece of land that an individual purchased and was living on. The mortgage depended upon the development of one lot on that piece of land.
The ruling that came down from the Ministry of Natural Resources of the province of Ontario was that because a species known as the loggerhead shrike, or butcher bird, had a nesting site in one of the landowner's fields it would be impossible to develop any land within a 500 metre radius of that nesting site, notwithstanding the fact that the particular lot did not actually have any use for the relevant species or for the loggerhead shrike. The result was that this individual was unable to develop the land. The value of the land fell and the mortgage could not be renewed. I am actually not certain if the individual has lost the property yet but that is the expected result of this legislation.
I do not see why we would want to replicate this kind of flawed model at the federal level. What would have been the harm in providing that individual with compensation for that land?
There are low cost solutions that are available. As my colleague from Red Deer observed, it is possible to compensate someone for the loss of the use of a piece of property. It is also possible to help subsidize the cost of protecting that species if some form of active measure is needed. There is no reason why that should not be the way things are done.
In fact, under the voluntary system that has been developing in Canada we already see measures being taken that impose very limited costs on landowners and provide very effective compensation and very effective protection for the species. I am thinking in particular, if I may give another example, of an individual who lives near Greely, Ontario, just south of the city of Ottawa, who was approached by a private organization requesting that he agree to sign a covenant that a wetland on his property would never be used for development purposes. The individual agreed. That wetland is now protected and serves as a nesting site for ducks as they migrate from north to south and south to north. This kind of voluntarism that we see seems to be preferable.
When the government wants to impose rules and national standards it certainly can do so for the benefit of the entire country, but only if it takes into account the responsibility and the willingness of people, in farming and in other rural occupations, to assist in conservation and only if it takes into account the fact that people, no matter how responsible they may be, are not likely to be as responsible when they are in danger of being driven out of business as they are when they are provided with some compensation.
Turning very quickly to the other amendment I propose, Motion No. 111 contemplates the amendment of the rules to permit individuals to have some compensation for legal costs. One of the unfortunate aspects of the elaborate bureaucracy that would be set up here is that it would allow a large government agency to go after small landowners who have limited resources. In order to defend their rights to their property and in order to seek compensation, they would have to go to court or through some form of arbitration process, which involves a considerable upfront expenditure.
If there is one thing that I think distinguishes people who are in farming it is that they tend not to be cash rich. Because of the nature of the business, they tend to be perpetually short of cash. Depending upon a lengthy process that may produce compensation for them at the end without allowing them to gain some kind of compensation for their legal costs more or less assures that they will be unable to pursue any compensation that is due to them. I think this requires an amendment to reflect the particularly difficult circumstances they find themselves in when faced with a powerful bureaucracy.
If I may, I would like to make one last comment regarding the issue of whether or not people could be prosecuted for unknowingly damaging a species. Clearly this is an unreasonable thing in this law. The law should say that one could not be prosecuted for harming an endangered species unless one knew about it. The idea that someone could accidently plough over a plant or destroy a nesting ground of some animal that he or she is unaware of is unacceptable under our system of law and within a civilized society.
I would strongly encourage members to consider adopting these amendments.