Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to the Group No. 2 motions. I am disappointed that Group No. 2 entitled, “Deadlines and Federal-Provincial Agreements”, contains motions amending a number of the most critical components of Bill C-5. They speak to the heart of the bill: the listing process; protection of critical habitat in areas of federal jurisdiction; and the safety nets and timelines for implementation of action plans. Each is worthy of debate, yet we are restricted to 10 minutes for the lot of them. It hardly serves the House well, nor Canadians.
I will speak first to Motion No. 35, a government motion that would reverse the committee's changes to section 27 which concerns how species are listed.
The original Bill C-5 provided that the decision whether to list a species would be left entirely up to cabinet without time lines based on recommendations of COSEWIC and the minister. The standing committee heard very little testimony that supported this method of listing. The majority of witnesses called for a science based listing system conducted by COSEWIC.
Whether a species is endangered or not is a scientific determination, not political. Under Bill C-5, every decision that takes place after a species is listed, including, and this is worth emphasizing, whether it is even feasible to recover a listed species, allows for socioeconomic considerations and other factors to be weighed by the Minister of the Environment and/or cabinet.
The bill is full of opportunities for such considerations but whether or not a species is at risk is for scientists to decide.
We could get around this dilemma by requiring that all cabinet minister be biologists, but the easier path would be to simply admit that the question of whether the leatherback turtle's very existence is at risk or not should be decided by science, not by cabinet.
However, as a compromise, the committee amended section 27 so that a species would become part of the legal list under Bill C-5 within six months of COSEWIC's recommendation unless, during this period, cabinet determined that the species should be listed. This reverse onus listing process upholds science based decisions with time limits while ultimately, and I underscore this, providing for political discretion.
The compromise approach enjoyed widespread support from over 1,300 scientists, many key conservation groups, the Mining Association of Canada, the Forest Products Association of Canada and the Assembly of First Nations, among others.
Government Motion No. 35 guts this amendment and reverts the bill to straight political listing. Such a motion can only be viewed as strange when at the same time the government has decided to completely side step the cabinet process by automatically listing 233 of the species recently reassessed by COSEWIC. In doing so, the government hailed COSEWIC's work as important, detailed and meticulous.
One might ask, why then not continue the science based approach for future assessments? Why is it okay for these species but not for future listings?
The decision to list a species or not will often be an extinction decision. I ask my colleagues in this place to think about that. An extinction decision would mean that a species not listed would receive no protection under the act. Behind closed doors, when they get around to it, cabinet will point at a species with the finger of life or the finger of farewell. Canadians will never be told why a decision to not list a species was made.
It bears mentioning that straight political listing has failed miserably in those provinces that use such a system. Most recognize fewer than 35% of COSEWIC listed species, some as low as only 7%, that appear in their jurisdictions. How low will the federal figure be?
I will now move to the issue of critical habitat protection, one of the most contentious points in the original bill. Why? For the simple reason that without habitat protection a species at risk will not survive.
The committee heard from many stakeholders, including those cited earlier, that the key to having an effective piece of legislation was to require mandatory critical habitat protection under areas of undisputed federal jurisdiction. It is beyond a doubt the absolute least the government can do to demonstrate its sincerity about protecting species.
Again the committee compromised by only requiring legal protection for habitat in a tightly defined federal house. Under amended sections 58 and 74 the protection extends to federal lands, aquatic species and migratory birds covered under the Migratory Birds Convention Act.
Within these parameters the committee agreed that the federal government must and should protect critical habitat after the action planning stage was completed, which meant not until two or three years after a species was listed. During this period there would be extensive consultation with landowners and other stakeholders, including the provinces, to properly account for public concerns, including socioeconomic issues.
Government Motion No. 84 and others that were not placed in debate Group No. 2 reversed these amendments by leaving it up to cabinet on a case by case basis to decide whether or not to bring in orders prohibiting activities that could destroy critical habitat.
Why? It has been explained as giving Canadians the first opportunity to protect habitat through stewardship. It has been said that such an approach builds co-operation.
Let us be clear, the committee fully supported the co-operation first principle. For this reason, it determined that habitat protection would not kick in until two or three years following listing, so that landowners, resource users and crown land lessees could first attempt to protect critical habitat on a voluntary basis through stewardship agreements.
In fact, the committee recognized that the lack of mandatory habitat protection would serve only to undermine the co-operative approach of Bill C-5. A forest company, for example, would be hard pressed to engage in a co-operative effort to protect the habitat of endangered species which could involve some cost, if they knew that some of their competitors could get away without having to do anything, and thereby gain an unfair advantage. Put simply, mandatory habitat protection not only deals with the bad actors but it also encourages co-operative efforts by the good actors.
Government Motion No. 84 seeks to protect critical habitat in national parks, marine protected areas, migratory bird sanctuaries and national wildlife areas. These extensions, while being sold as a compromise, are a big step back from the committee's amendments. I am sure most Canadians would be shocked to learn that without Bill C-5 it is open season on destroying habitat in protected areas of the country.
Failure to extend protection to include all of the federal house as identified by committee, will result in Bill C-5 being weaker than other federal laws, such as the Fisheries Act, four provincial endangered species laws, as well as the relevant United States and Mexican laws. In other words, when it comes to species protection in the NAFTA family, Canada will come last.
As I am almost out of time, I will address safety nets later.
In conclusion, this misnamed group of motions is a sad package that the government is delivering to the House, to Canadians and, most important, to the species we have promised to protect. They tear the heart out of the committee's work and transform Bill C-5 into one giant maybe.
Canadians expect a bill that will protect species. These motions ensure that we have failed to deliver on that promise, and I call on all members of the House to defeat these motions.