House of Commons Hansard #146 of the 37th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was endangered.


Species at Risk ActGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.


Charles Caccia Liberal Davenport, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will briefly express some thoughts about Motions Nos. 23, 35, 49, 56, 78, 84, 96 and 112. I will not comment on the large number of motions from 51 to 55 and 98 to 102 because the group of motions proposed by our colleagues in the Bloc Quebecois would entirely gut the habitat safety net. They cannot be supported by anyone who knows the purpose of the bill in detail.

I express disappointment and profound regret for the amendments being advanced by the government today.

Species at Risk ActGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Bob Mills Canadian Alliance Red Deer, AB

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. My understanding of House procedure is that the member who introduced the first motion, which is the hon. member who was standing, should be the first to speak to this group of amendments.

Species at Risk ActGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

To answer the hon. member's point of order, he may blame it on my inexperience at report stage. I should have recognized by tradition and not necessarily by rule the member who has submitted the most amendments. In this case it would have been the hon. member for Mercier.

This having been said, does the hon. member for Davenport wish to desist in favour of the hon. member for Mercier, or does he wish to continue his speech?

Species at Risk ActGovernment Orders

10:55 a.m.


Charles Caccia Liberal Davenport, ON

I agree.

Species at Risk ActGovernment Orders

11 a.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

This being the case, we will resume the process and set things straight; therefore, the hon. member for Mercier now has the floor.

Species at Risk ActGovernment Orders

11 a.m.


Francine Lalonde Bloc Mercier, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will begin by pointing out that the hon. member for Davenport has many more years of experience in the House than I, and I am certain that you are not silencing him, because that is something that no one can do. I know him well and have great respect for everything he does.

I am pleased to take part in this debate on more than one count. The protection of species at risk is something that affects the future of the world, of Canada and of Quebec, and the future of our children. However, since the signing of the Convention on Biological Diversity in 1992, it must be admitted that Canada has had a great deal of trouble taking action, and, in its own areas of jurisdiction, has been slow to do so.

I should point out that Quebec has had legislation since 1989. I am pleased to note that it was the current member for Lac-Saint-Louis, a government member, who presided over the passage of the Quebec legislation.

I should also point out that in 1996 the federal and provincial ministers then responsible for wildlife who were present at the Charlottetown meeting, including Quebec's ministers, gave their approval in principle to a national accord for the protection of species at risk in Canada. The accord, said a press release:

--establishes a mechanism for cooperation among the federal, provincial and territorial governments. The Accord commits governments to complementary legislation and programs to ensure that endangered species are protected throughout Canada.

Not only did Quebec sign this agreement but, in 1996, it adopted a strategy on biological diversity, after the implementation of its 1989 legislation. This strategy already set out the major objectives for the development of protected areas. What were those objectives? They were to “increase the ecological knowledge necessary for the creation of a network to maintain quality and for the protection of vulnerable or threatened components of natural biological diversity; establish and maintain a comprehensive and representative network of the protected areas necessary for the preservation of biological diversity; strengthen the network of managed conservation areas so as to ensure the protection of biological diversity over a greater area”.

My intention is not to go on reading this, but to point out that Quebec has not fallen asleep at the switch. On the contrary, it has looked after protecting the environment and habitat.

It is therefore understandable that I was delighted to comply with the invitation by the respected member for Rosemont--Petite-Patrie to take part in this debate and to sign off on a number of the amendments, including the one calling for recognition that habitats fall under the jurisdiction of the provinces and of Quebec, as is the case, and has been until now.

I understand that this is a challenge to Canada—I have seen this, I have understood it—when one province, like Quebec, has quickly assumed its responsibilities before Canada—let us emphasize this—and other provinces have not. I am aware that a variety of research has gone into the succession of bills that have not gone anywhere.

But it seems to me—and I am thinking here of the minister who makes such a habit of offering advice to all the federations of the world on federations—that there would have been a way to make more of an effort to recognize the jurisdiction belonging to the provinces, their sovereignty within their own domain and their equal status when it comes to reaching agreement on different territories, rather than choosing to take their place.

The federal government has not been involved since 1992, until it decided to act in 2002. Instead of looking for a way to intervene, with the “complementary regulations” referred to in the accord, when it deems that what is going on in the provinces, and in Quebec, is not to its liking, it takes over for them.

This is totally unacceptable in a number of ways. It is indefensible, including the reference to federalism. But more than that is involved. What we are dealing with is maximizing the efforts to properly protect endangered species and habitats.

Hon. members will understand how surprised and annoyed, to put it mildly, Quebec was, having put considerable effort and an unusual amount of money into the protection of these habitats and endangered species, to find itself having to submit to the demands of a government that has so far done nothing. The word I used in French was “sujétion”, which has nothing to do with suggestion, but rather with being made subject to the power of a king.

This is unacceptable and it distracts us from the key issue, which is to find complementary means to provide the best protection with the monies that are available. Has there been thought given to what having officers means—because Quebec has wildlife protection officers—in Quebec and other federal officers who will cover the same areas? Why does the federal government not come up with legislation that will provide greater protection of endangered species and habitat in its own jurisdiction, on its own lands, and where we would agree to this?

It could work together in co-operation with the provinces that agree to it. It needs to come up with some other means for those who do not. My colleague from Quebec, Mr. Bégin, who used to be the minister of the environment, said that the provinces who want to be replaced are asking for this, but there needs to be some other way, other than replacing them. Until now, I repeat, this government has done nothing.

We know, incidentally that this government is taking advantage of the fact that it collects much more money for the responsibilities that it has to interfere in the provinces' jurisdiction, and in Quebec's jurisdiction.

We are not opposed to the objective of the legislation, on the contrary. We share this objective, and we believe that it is something that we need act on urgently. I was in Mexico when I read the report of the NAFTA Commission for Environmental Cooperation's report, which highlighted concerns over the disappearance of species, due to the extremely rapid growth of traffic between the three countries, Canada, the United States and Mexico, which was threatening endangered species.

The problems exist, and we need to apply the solutions in the right place, instead of using a bill to fulfill objectives other than the extremely important one of protecting endangered species.

Species at Risk ActGovernment Orders

11:10 a.m.

Kitchener Centre Ontario


Karen Redman LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment

Mr. Speaker, I will say a few words in support of the government's motions as well as its approach to assessing and listing species at risk as set out in the proposed species at risk act, Bill C-5.

First, we need to make sure everyone understands. There has been confusion about this. I do not know if it was deliberate or otherwise. Scientists and scientists alone would make the decisions about the assessment of species and where they would be placed on the list of those at risk. This would be done through the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, COSEWIC. The organization has been legally recognized as part of the assessment and listing process. This is a huge step forward.

The legislation means the assessment of species at risk would be scientific, expert and independent. It would be done at arm's length from government and away from any of the pressures that come with considering the social and economic impacts of being listed.

Decisions and findings of COSEWIC would be published in the public registry. Anyone could see them at any time. Anyone could see the reasons for the scientific decisions.

The government's decision to add species to the legal list would put a number of elements of the law into motion. For instance, species at risk legislation contains automatic prohibitions against the killing or harming of individuals of the listed species and the harming of their residence or habitat. It also stipulates that mandatory plans would be put together with specific time frames for the recovery of the species from its dangerously low numbers. Just as importantly, the process under the law would allow the authority to take emergency action if necessary to protect habitat.

Many decisions about protecting species at risk and their habitat could involve a number of serious economic or social implications, particularly for those who live in rural areas and depend on fishing, farming and ranching. We were elected to the House of Commons to take responsibility for such implications. We, not the scientists, must bear the burden of the decisions. We, not the scientists, must face the political heat. The government has been clear on this point for years and rightly so. Socio-economic decisions made under the act would be made by those who are publicly accountable. This is our democratic process.

I will speak to several government motions that relate to critical habitat protection with the proposed species at risk act. The motions in general serve to strengthen the federal commitment to habitat protection. They also reinforce the co-operative approach that has been and continues to be a key component of the overall strategy of protecting species at risk in Canada.

The federal government must work with provinces and territories to protect species and habitats. Protecting species at risk is the shared responsibility of all governments. The overall strategy of the protection of species at risk is to ensure the federal portion of the responsibility is met. Bill C-5 is one element of that strategy. It would complement the work done by other levels of government, build on a partnership approach under the federal-provincial accord for the protection of species at risk, and reinforce the stewardship component of the strategy.

The issue of critical habitat is only one part of species protection. We must protect where they live or they simply cannot survive. It is as simple as that.

What is a bit more complicated and has preoccupied us for a number of years in formulating the legislation is how best to protect critical habitat. It must be done in the best interest of the species but must take into account Canada's constitutional structure. We must respect jurisdictions. We must add to that the impact critical habitat designation could have on the livelihood of those who work on the land or water. This is difficult to assess at the best of times. Throughout all these considerations we must make sure the provisions for protection are workable, effective and integrated with other Canadian laws and conventions.

To that end, in its deliberations the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development made several changes to the species at risk act in the area of critical habitat. Some of the changes strengthen its provisions. I am pleased to say the changes are not only welcome but important. The committee added aquatic species and migratory birds protected under the Migratory Birds Convention Act to the critical habitat regime within federal jurisdiction. These are significant changes. They make critical habitat even stronger.

Building on the additions of the standing committee, the government is moving further to strengthen critical habitat protection. It is moving to provide automatic critical habitat protection in national parks, marine protected areas, migratory bird sanctuaries and national wildlife areas. These are all federal lands and the protection element is a crucial one.

For anywhere else in federal jurisdiction the government is moving to require the competent minister to recommend protection if critical habitat is not protected within 180 days of being identified in an approved recovery strategy or action plan.

The government motions regarding critical habitat are reinforced by a further motion that would require all federal ministers to consider possible impacts on identified critical habitats prior to issuing licences or permits for any activity.

By restoring governor in council discretion we would restore the preferred and necessary approach to protecting critical habitat: stewardship and co-operation first. We feel strongly that the standing committee's approach would be a disincentive for landowners to enter into agreements and an incentive for going straight to compensation.

As I said, our approach must be co-operative and workable. We must remember that most lands in Canada are under provincial and territorial management or private ownership. That is why the approach must be one of joint action and not heavy handed, top down law. The proposed species at risk act would provide protection for all species at risk in Canada wherever they may be. The comprehensive and co-operative approach is essential to the survival of our wildlife.

The policy intents of Bill C-5 were not arrived at overnight. They came from years of study, consultation, discussion and examination. Because it is already working we know the co-operative approach is the Canadian way. We must ensure the incentive is there to pursue stewardship and voluntary action as the first step in all cases for protecting critical habitat.

Species at Risk ActGovernment Orders

11:15 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Bob Mills Canadian Alliance Red Deer, AB

Mr. Speaker, I will reiterate in the House the co-operation we had in committee and how disappointing it is to see the reversal of so many things, particularly this group of amendments. We now have a bill we in my party are convinced would not work for Canadians or for landowners. The talk we heard about co-operation, consultation and so on was just words as are so many things in the House.

We in the Canadian Alliance will definitely not be supporting the bill because it would not work. Had we got the changes that were necessary the bill could have worked. We want it to work. We need species at risk legislation. However the gutted bill we are looking at today would not work.

I will talk about two major areas in Group No. 2. First, I will talk about the mens rea amendments, Nos. 39, 44, 80, 86, 90 and 122. Second, I will talk about the federal-provincial safety net in some of the amendments.

First, I will deal with the mens rea amendments. If we think farmers, ranchers and corporations would be unhappy because they would not get compensation or because it would be left to the discretion of the minister, let us think how unhappy they would be when they found out they could be fined $250,000 for harming something they did not even know was there. Corporations could be fined up to $1 million. That is the problem. The federal government has said it would be a criminal offence to in any way harm, harass or kill an endangered species.

I want to make it clear that people who traffic in endangered species, hunt illegally or these sorts of things should have the book thrown at them whatever the fine. The government should go after them. However we are not talking about those people. We are talking about the farmer, the rancher, the little guy who may inadvertently destroy a worm, snail or plant without knowing it was there. The bill has been gutted so the government would not have to tell people a species was there. That is even worse.

I will quote from the bill:

No person shall kill, harm, harass, capture or take an individual of a wildlife species that is listed as an extirpated species, an endangered species or a threatened species--

Similarly, it says no person shall damage or destroy the residence of a species and so on.

Protecting species and their habitat is what should be done. That is what we are attempting to do. We want to catch dishonest people who destroy endangered species or their habitat.

How do we do that? The bill says even unknowingly harming species or habitat would be a criminal offence. How does a farmer know what a western spiderwort is, what a sand verbena is, what a tiny whatever the name is and so on? How are average Canadians to know about endangered species? Yet they could get criminal records because the burden is all on them. The burden is not on the government to tell them the species are there. It is on them to know they are there.

For a large corporation with an environmental impact study due diligence may be a possibility but it is not a possibility for the average landowner. The average landowner could be convicted of a serious offence for not showing due diligence.

What must happen? We must get information out to people so they know what endangered species are. What is the government's plan for doing this? It does not know. It has not budgeted for it. How will it inform people so they do not become criminals without knowing it?

Is there a solution? There is. The answer is to follow an old Roman piece of law that says they must have had a guilty mind: mens rea.

In other words, in order to commit a criminal act individuals would have to know they were doing something wrong. It has been a standard piece of law for all that time and yet all of a sudden we are putting in legislation that says individuals are guilty until proven innocent. It says they are guilty even if we did not tell them that that particular animal, bird, plant, snail or whatever was there. There is something wrong when we have a piece of legislation like that. It will not help endangered species.

The safety net is another part of Group No. 2. What about getting together with the ministers? There are a lot of worried provincial ministers. Our consultations with them have told us that they are concerned. They have put in endangered species legislation in their own governments and they are saying this is a piece of top down legislation where the federal government would impose its will on the provinces. The bill does not reflect co-operation and consensus building as we would expect it to. Instead it talks about how the federal government would impose its will on them if it decided they were not doing things right. Bill C-5 would give the federal government the power to impose its will on provincial lands with disregard for provincial rules or practices.

How would that possibly build co-operation between the provinces and the federal government? This concept of a safety net is largely a federal criminal law power and Bill C-5 would give it all to the minister. He would have absolute discretion and the right to decide whether a province provided effective protection. It would be up to the federal minister to decide. This is a top down approach which means the provinces who have the people to enforce this law would have to follow whatever the federal government says. They would lose control of their own provincial lands.

We must bring this point to the House and to Canadians. The federal government would be the judge and jury. It would enforce the legislation even though naturalists say five provinces have better legislation than the proposed federal legislation and three provinces have at least as good as what Bill C-5 would have. Eight provinces are as good or better than Bill C-5.

The federal government would take total power and control and the minister would have absolute discretion to determine if effective protection existed in that province. There is something wrong with that picture. There is something wrong when a federal government can ignore the provinces that way and try to put this legislation in.

What did we try to do? We introduced motions that would reverse this whole process and would say that the federal minister must consult, not may, with provincial governments to decide whether the species was being protected or not and to decide if in fact there was something the province could do to help save the species.

The government in Group No. 2 is reversing that whole thing and saying it wants all the power to tell the provinces what to do and it does not care about their particular species at risk legislation. That is a recipe for disaster and is the number two nail in the coffin of Bill C-5 to hurt endangered species in the country. We have a U.S. piece of legislation. It has not worked in 30 years and this one will not work either.

Species at Risk ActGovernment Orders

11:25 a.m.


Charles Caccia Liberal Davenport, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will start by rebutting the argument by the member for Mercier which really lacks credibility in view of the fact that the performance of the provinces is very poor. The jurisdictional issue the member for Mercier raised is totally out of place.

Let me put on the record that in the case of the province of Quebec, which did pass legislation to protect endangered species in 1989, there were 26 species recommended by scientists to the government of Quebec for the purposes of being threatened, therefore requiring protection. In the meantime, since 1989 only three have been legally listed in the province of Quebec. That means that of the threatened species in that province only 12% have been protected. The record for Ontario is not that much better because only 23% have been protected.

There is a profoundly wrong assumption being made. One could devote the 10 minutes allocated to that topic this morning but I will not do that. The wrong assumption is the perception amongst the political culture that turtles, lizards and salamanders, wolves or grizzly bears, any of the 300 plus species that are listed as endangered know what political boundaries are all about. That is the assumption being made and it is wrong.

We have to move out of that mental box and realize that if we were to fight on the grounds of political boundaries we would never tackle the nature of this problem as demonstrated and proven by the statistics province by province, which I understand one of my colleagues will elaborate on later.

On Motion No. 23 the committee recommended that the minister, within one year after the bill being proclaimed, shall establish a national stewardship action plan that would create incentives and other measures to support voluntary stewardship actions taken by any government, organization or individual in Canada.

Motion No. 23 introduced by the government would unfortunately wipe out this measure in the bill. It goes from mandatory to discretionary and it is contrary to statements made by the minister on various occasions in which he quite rightly spoke about co-operation, voluntarism and the importance of promoting voluntary action in protecting species. Motion No. 23 would nullify what is in the bill and I wonder whether the minister is aware of the content of the amendment prepared by his department because it is in clear contradiction of his public statements and his deep commitment to fostering co-operation and voluntarism.

Motion No. 35 deals with the listing which was the object of intensive discussions and study in committee. The motion is not supportable. It is not desirable at all. It causes deep concern because the problem of listing is not solved by the amendment introduced by the government. The committee found a reasonable solution to the problem which would take into account both political accountability and the fact that elected representatives come under pressure when allocating a natural resource. Members may remember the case of cod. At the same time it would take into account the importance of the recommendations made by the scientific community.

The scientific listing is proposed by a group called COSEWIC. It is an appropriate committee of scientists. That list would be sent to cabinet. From that moment and for six months it would be up to the politicians, to the elected representatives who are accountable under our system, to decide whether or not to accept that list. I submit this is a reasonable approach. It would balance the industry pressures by preventing the extinction of a certain species as happened in the case of cod 10 years ago. Unfortunately however, the government is proposing an amendment that would favour the status quo which would pave the way for the repetition of past mistakes.

Motion No. 49 would delete the work done in committee. It recommended a number of appropriate measures for the minister such as consultation with provincial ministers, wildlife management boards and so on, as well as public consultation. Unfortunately and regrettably, the public consultation is deleted by the amendment.

The minister seems to be, or the department perhaps, opposed to any timelines that were included in the bill as reported to the House. Timelines are necessary to provide an incentive for the provinces to act quickly given the track record of some provinces in listing endangered species, particularly British Columbia, Alberta, Quebec and Ontario.

It is highly unlikely that a prohibition safety net could be implemented quickly, if at all, without some federal timelines in place. We see here a contradiction between public statements that have been made and the thrust of this particular amendment.

The effect of Motion No. 78 would be to delete the mandatory development of regulations that are needed to put into place the so-called action plans, which are an extremely important component of the bill.

The amendment proposed by the government removes a timeframe, with a rationale stating that 120 days is a very short timeframe for the development of regulations and that it would unnecessarily limit the amount of consultation in the development of regulations.

I would say that by removing the mandatory timeframe for the development of regulations to implement this action plan there is no guarantee that there will be swift action. This is a very important component of the bill, as reported back to you, Mr. Speaker, namely the retention of timeframes in this particular portion of the bill and in others as well.

This takes me to Motion No. 84. I will comment briefly on this motion by saying that it reverts back to the discretionary habitat protection on federal lands with no time limit for protection. The rationale given for explaining Motion No. 84 is, I would submit, erroneous because the clause of the committee's bill, as reported here, is purely co-operative in nature.

I regret that my time is up but, in conclusion, I would say that with this particular motion the government would be removing and violating very severely the stewardship agenda proposed in the bill.

Species at Risk ActGovernment Orders

11:35 a.m.


Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—St. Clair, ON

Mr. Speaker, to pick up on some of the points made by the last speaker, the chairman of the committee and member for Davenport, I will begin by indicating that I have been through all the amendments in Group No. 2, and in keeping with the spirit and wording of the committee, I cannot find any to support.

However, given that we have such a short period of time to speak to these amendments and given the fact that a number of them are quite critical to the bill and to the work done by the committee, I will address them in a summary form, issue by issue, as I see them.

The first amendment I want to address, again in terms of trying to maintain the integrity of all the work done by the environment committee, which at this point, in spite of what we hear from the parliamentary secretary and the minister that there were various attempts here to strengthen the work that we did, that is not the case. It is just the opposite. A great deal of the amendments proposed by the government would, in effect, gut the bill and the work done by the committee. So much for parliamentary democracy.

Let me deal with COSEWIC, the scientific body that designates whether a species is at risk. We took a great deal of evidence around a number of issues of the work that COSEWIC does: its existing list; how it has the list; the number of species not on the list that it would like to get at in terms of determining whether they are at risk. The list we saw contained over 200 species but COSEWIC told us that there were as many as 1,000 species at serious risk but that the analysis had not yet been done.

COSEWIC brought a great deal of credibility to the process and specifically to the work done by the committee. What was very clear from what we heard from COSEWIC and, more important, from any sector that was concerned about the bill and about protecting species, was the importance of having the list done scientifically, not politically. The amendment that has been proposed would do just the opposite. It is to say that the government will do this politically not scientifically and that the scientists will have an almost insignificant role to play if the amendment goes through as proposed by the Minister of the Environment.

What we simply did was tell the scientific community that we accepted the very good work it had done historically, that we wanted them to continue to do that and that we would authorize and empower them to continue that work in a much more formal way.

The government is saying that if socio-economic issues have to be brought in, any decision that has to be made about protecting a species is something it would do, but the determination of whether a species is at risk or not is purely and simply a scientific one. The amendments that the committee proposed, which are now being gutted, would have achieved that end.

The next issue I want to address deals with discretion, or lack of same, that is in the bill as amended by the committee. What we were saying here, based on a lot of past experience, was that we had to present to the public, the citizens of Canada, an image and a reality that we as a government would carry out the purposes and intent of the act. We are serious about protecting species in this country.

If I can digress for just a minute in that regard, Canada has a major responsibility here.

We are a developed country but we have a large expanse of land where we can protect species. In terms of developed countries, we may be in the very best position to do that because we still have so many of our species that have not been destroyed. An undeveloped country simply may not have the ability to do this. A developed country, where a lot of species may already have been killed off, no longer can do this. Canada is in a very unique position and, I would suggest, we have a responsibility to the rest of the world to be very careful about what we are doing here and be sure that we are going to protect species.

The amendments that have now come from the Minister of the Environment and his department do just the opposite. They portray an image to the citizens of Canada of a government that is not serious about protecting species. They have taken out all sorts of time limits. They have introduced discretion all over the place. They have introduced consultation that at times is meaningless and at other times it has been taken out. What that consultation really does, if we look at the approach that is taken, is it benefits the government at every turn to delay the process, which I suggest was the government's intent. It wants the ability to delay as much as possible implementing the bill and the law that we hope will flow eventually from it.

I also want to address some of the Bloc amendments and some parts of the bill which the government supports, especially around critical habitat. It is the issue of provincial-federal jurisdiction. The committee spent a lot of time on this and heard from about 150 witnesses. The chair was unrelenting in keeping us working on this. The meetings were often lengthy and often held several times a week. That was the pattern we followed since last January.

During the committee process it became very clear, from opinions we got from lawyers and a former supreme court justice who had actually written some decisions in this area, that the federal responsibility, authority and jurisdiction was very clear. As a federal government, we do have the right and, I would submit very strongly, the responsibility to protect species. We have the jurisdiction to do that. Several Supreme Court of Canada decisions confirmed that opinion. I and my party reject the Bloc amendments that try to dilute that responsibility.

We reviewed every one of the provinces' histories of protecting species and by no means were they great histories. If the federal government did not do it, it was pretty obvious that the provinces would not do it. There are provisions in the bill that if the provinces are doing it we stay out of it, but if they are not going to do it, then we need the authority in the bill to move in and protect those species.

The work that the committee did is reflected in the amendments we put to the original draft which does in fact empower the government to step in when appropriate to protect species and save them from extinction. We totally reject the proposed amendments that try to dilute the federal power.

I want to spend a few more minutes on critical habitat. We did not understand, and to this day I do not understand, why the department and the minister were so adamant about not protecting and not intervening to protect species when they had the authority to do so. We heard what I would suggest are lame arguments as to consultation and co-operation.

This bill as amended by the committee is very strong in that regard but we have a fallback position in that we have the authority to step in. If it is a choice between offending a landowner, a provincial government or a territorial government and the loss of a species, we have the responsibility to step in at that point.

I have not covered at least two of the other major areas but I see that I have run out of time.

Species at Risk ActGovernment Orders

11:45 a.m.

Canadian Alliance

Scott Reid Canadian Alliance Lanark—Carleton, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak in favour of the several amendments I have put forth which seek to remedy the glaring absence of mens rea in Bill C-5. Allow me to explain a bit about mens rea in Canadian criminal law.

Our criminal justice system is based upon several fundamental principles such as the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. In order to be culpable of a criminal offence in Canada three criteria have to be met.

First, a criminal act must have been committed. In other words, harm must have been caused. There are a few exceptions to this rule, as in the case of conspiracy to commit an act. However, in such cases we have accepted as a society the idea that conspiracy itself is a criminal act.

Second, the culpable party must have been the one to commit the criminal offence. In other words, if we are trying to convict person x for a crime, then person x must have been the person to actually physically commit the crime.

Third, we have the principle of a guilty mind or as the lawyers call it in Latin, mens rea. This means that not only does a culpable person have to have physically committed the act in question, but the person must also have committed the act intentionally and willfully. This principle exists in our justice system to protect people from prosecution for acts that they committed unwittingly or unintentionally, provided that criminal negligence was not involved.

The mens rea principle is an ancient part of the British and Canadian legal systems.

When the great British constitutional scholar Albert Venn Dicey was trying to give an illustration to define the rule of law in his great book Introduction to the Study of the Law of the Constitution , he gave the example of Voltaire, the great French writer. He was arrested and imprisoned in the Bastille for a poem that he did not write, that he had not circulated and the substance of which he had not agreed with.

That is the sort of thing the three principles are meant to stop. The bill in its unamended form unfortunately strips away at one of these fundamental pillars of the rule of law. Let me be more specific. Clause 32(1) of the bill states:

No person shall kill, harm, harass, capture or take an individual of a wildlife species that is listed as an extirpated species--

No mention is made of knowledge or intent. Clause 32(2) states:

No person shall possess, collect, buy, sell or trade an individual of a wildlife species that is listed as an extirpated species--

Again, there is no mention of intent or knowledge. This means I could go to my local health food store, buy a natural product and have unknowingly in my possession contraband which according to the unamended wording of Bill C-5 would make me a criminal.

Clause 33 states:

No person shall damage or destroy the residence endangered species--

Clause 36 and clause 60(1) reiterate the aforementioned offences and extend them to provincial lands. Clause 58(1) states:

No person shall destroy any part of the critical habitat of a listed endangered species--

It is likewise in clause 61(1). This means I could be walking in a forest, pluck a flower that itself is not an endangered species, yet because this common flower may be the food of an obscure species of which I have never even heard, I would be guilty of a criminal offence. This is much easier than one might think.

Under the schedules to the bill, there are listed as either extirpated or endangered species: 10 mammal species; 21 bird species; 4 amphibian species; 5 reptile species; 11 fish species; 8 species of molluscs; 6 species of lepidopterans; 51 species of plants; 1 lichen; and 1 moss. As well, the bill contemplates the inclusion of a reasonably extensive list of additional species that could by ministerial order be added to those lists.

I recognize at least one of those species as an endangered species in my constituency. I am sure there are many others, but there is one that I recognize.

That particular species, the loggerhead shrike, is found on the land of a farmer in my constituency who lost the use of his land because of provincial legislation protecting nesting sites of the species and any area within a 500 metre radius of a nesting site. That resulted in the loss of land.

Under the law as it is currently written without the amendments I am proposing, there would be the danger that this individual could have actually committed a criminal act because he did not know this species was endangered and did not know that it was even on his land until he was informed by the ministry of resources. There is the danger that this individual could become a criminal for unknowingly having done something to a species he did not know existed and if he had known it existed, he would not have known it was endangered. Clearly we need to change the system.

My point is that the mens rea convention exists in order to ensure that unintended consequences of normal human activity are not criminal. If my hon. colleagues in the House agree with me that plowing a field, buying tea, or picking a common flower should not be criminal acts, then my colleagues must also agree with me that these clauses must be amended as I have proposed to include the words “knowingly”, “wilfully” or “negligently”, or any other change that would bring these offences in line with our criminal code and with our legal traditions.

I would like to make one last point in order to prove that this glaring absence of mens rea is not an oversight by the drafters of this legislation. Clause 100 of Bill C-5 states:

Due diligence is a defence in a prosecution for an offence.

This may sound like a technical point but it is very significant. We have already reviewed the fact that the bill creates criminal acts which can be committed without intent or knowledge. Clause 100 states that in such cases, a defendant is allowed to plead ignorance or to try to demonstrate that it would have been unreasonable for him or her to have known the implications of his or her actions. This is what can be called reverse onus.

Normally in criminal proceedings the crown in order to prove that an offence was committed must prove that the defendant physically committed the offence and that the defendant did so knowingly and intentionally. With the reverse onus in the unamended wording of Bill C-5, all the crown would have to do would be to prove the defendant had physically committed the offence, full stop. It would then be incumbent upon the defendant to prove or to argue that he or she had acted innocently or unknowingly. With the bill in its unamended form, Canadians would be guilty until proven innocent.

I urge my colleagues to heed my warning and to consider the gravity of excluding the mens rea principle from the offences listed in Bill C-5. The consequences would be disastrous to our farmers, to our ranchers, to our land developers and even to our wildlife conservation officials who may be unwittingly harming wildlife or its habitat while actually attempting to do the opposite.

If the bill passes as currently drafted, every single person who has ever ventured out into nature would be in danger of committing a criminal offence. This is certainly not what the minister intended. It is certainly not in the best interests of Canadians or of the species that we wish to protect.

Species at Risk ActGovernment Orders

11:55 a.m.


Karen Kraft Sloan Liberal York North, ON

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.

Species at Risk ActGovernment Orders

12:05 p.m.


Bernard Bigras Bloc Rosemont—Petite-Patrie, QC

Madam Speaker, it gives me pleasure to speak to the motions in Group No. 2, on Bill C-5.

It gives me all the more pleasure because in committee, members from this side of the House, and Bloc Quebecois members in particular, made considerable efforts to make not only the government, but also some parties in this House, realize the importance of two things that are dealt with in the amendments before us today.

First, habitat is a provincial jurisdiction. Indeed, the purpose of the motion of the hon. member for Mercier, who suggested it herself after reading the bill, is to solemnly reaffirm that Quebec feels that critical habitat and its protection are provincial jurisdictions.

The other thing to which we object through the amendments moved by the hon. member for Mercier has to do with clauses 32 and 34 and with what the hon. member opposite called, and rightly so, the safety net.

In order to fully grasp the situation, we must understand what Quebec has done so far. About an hour ago, I was listening to the hon. member for Davenport, who said that, in his opinion, the provincial legislation, that is, the Quebec act on endangered species, which dates back to 1989, cannot not adequately protect these species in Quebec.

This claim by the hon. member for Davenport is somewhat peculiar, since the federal government is now proposing, 12 years after the national assembly passed an act to protect endangered species, a bill on the same object. For 12 years, Quebec has ensured the protection of those species on its territory, which is something the federal government did not do during those 12 years in its own jurisdictions, including in national parks.

The situation is rather the opposite of what the hon. member claimed. Quebec has been doing for 12 years something that the federal government has not done. Let us also not forget that the bill before us will not be passed today and there is currently no federal legislation protecting species and their habitat, while Quebec has its own act.

Let us talk about something else concerning habitat. Certain members opposite often tell us that Quebec has no intention of protecting habitat. As the member for Davenport said earlier, it is important to put things back into perspective. Some of the things said in this House are not always right. Some of the arguments made are specious.

I would remind the House that, since 1996, in other words well before there was any discussion of this federal bill to protect habitat, Quebec has had a strategy on biological diversity. This strategy set out the major objectives of developing protected areas. Under the bill now being proposed, there is currently not a single habitat that is protected, because the bill has not yet been passed, while Quebec adopted its strategy and created protected areas within its own borders back in 1996.

It takes some nerve to stand up and say that Quebec has not done its job, when it has had legislation since 1989 and the federal government still does not have any legislation concerning its own lands.

It takes some nerve to stand up and tell Quebec that it is not protecting its habitat when, since 1996, it has had a strategy to create protected areas within its territory. However, the bill before us today, which is supposed to protect habitat, fails to do so.

We are getting doublespeak from the government members. And we are also getting it—I say this in all friendship—from certain other members of the House who say that Quebec is not protecting its species.

I will give two examples. First, we are protecting species—we could make some improvements, and I admit this—because we have introduced a mechanism, a strategy on biological diversity, which makes it possible to create protected areas, and we have passed legislation.

I would remind the member for Davenport, who says that Quebec is not doing its job of protecting the areas within its territory that, on January 24, 2002, Quebec's minister of the environment announced $10 million in funding for nature conservancy in a partnership agreement signed with the community. The purpose of this agreement is to protect threatened areas and habitat.

Yet the federal government, I will remind hon. members, still has no legislation, while Quebec has had a strategy since 1996, with $10 million for habitat protection. Was that enough? Of course not, but we at least have mechanisms for protection of habitat. I would remind hon. members that the Government of Quebec has a strategy for increasing the protected areas within its territory.

Another reason we are strongly opposed to this bill—and I emphasize strongly because the amendments in Group No. 2 we are presenting today are the very essence of the entire Bloc Quebecois argument against this bill—is that the Government of Quebec in 1996 signed an accord on the conservation and protection of endangered species in Canada. This ensured the federal government and its partners that the Government of Quebec reiterated its intention, even though it had passed legislation in 1989, by signing this accord, to protect endangered species and to participate and co-operate with the federal government.

Among the objectives of the accord are two to which I will refer. It commits the governments to regulations and programs to guarantee that endangered species are protected throughout Canada and creates a council of ministers to determine the broad policies, report on progress and settle disputes. So, the Government of Quebec passed legislation in 1989, adopted a strategy on protected areas, and then signed the accord in 1996.

Today, what we are telling the federal government is that it must not take a policeman-like attitude toward Quebec and the provinces. We prefer co-operation, collaboration, concerted efforts, as the parliamentary secretary said this morning. We are in favour of joint efforts, because we signed the accord in question. We are not opposed to Canadian legislation on endangered species in Canada, but we call upon the federal government to have it protect only those habitats that fall under its jurisdiction.

Quebec has its legislation, and wants to see it applied on its territory. It does not need clauses like clause 34 of Bill C-5 to inform it at some point that if the federal government feels that the Quebec legislation is not protecting the species, then there must be a federal statute.

In closing, what we prefer is an approach aimed at concerted efforts, collaboration and co-operation, rather than having the federal government imposing a bill, and acting like a policeman.

Species at Risk ActGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Andy Burton Canadian Alliance Skeena, BC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to speak to my amendment to Bill C-5 in the Group No. 2 debate on the species at risk act. Specifically I will address Motions Nos. 97 and 94 which deal with jurisdiction between the federal government and the provinces. I will address concerns I have with the government's record on consultation as it too is an issue discussed in Group No. 2 and make reference to the problems both this bill and Bill C-10, the marine conservation areas act, have in common.

I believe jurisdictional issues in many ways are the easy issues to resolve in our country. All that is required is for the federal government to understand more clearly its role as an example setter and not a dictator. What is federal should stay federal and what is provincial should stay provincial. When an agreement is struck, particularly on finances, it should be upheld.

Creating legislation with jurisdictional concerns is nothing new for the government. I should like to compare this situation to a piece of legislation which is now in the other place, about to be reviewed by its committee. The other piece of legislation is known as Bill C-10, the Canada marine conservation areas act. The House dealt with that bill a few months ago and it too had some major problems with jurisdiction between what is rightfully federal and what is provincial.

My biggest concern with that bill surrounded its ability to create marine conservation areas in waters wherever the federal government wanted regardless of the economic potential hidden within that area. The bill tried to alleviate the concerns of fishermen by telling them that their livelihoods would be safeguarded. However reality was clear enough to them, that a marine park meant restrictions on gear types, catch sizes and even the creation of what are called no take zones.

Although in Bill C-10 the minister went to supposed great lengths to ensure that affected Canadians would be consulted, the bill lacked enough explanation and framework to allay those fears. Now that bill is in the other place and I sincerely hope it sees the huge jurisdictional problems it created with the provinces and works to fix this bill.

I cannot help but see the same thing happening with Bill C-5. Too often we see the federal government creep into areas where it has absolutely no constitutional right to be. With endangered species it is certainly the federal government's right to legislate against destruction on federal land, but to dictate measures to be taken on provincial land is completely out of its jurisdictional control.

I really do not understand why the federal government would even consider such drastic intrusions into provincial territory when eight out of ten provinces have endangered species type legislation already in place and the other two provinces are working on legislation.

As if that is not deterrent enough, what about the fact that the federal government signed with the provinces the 1996 national accord for the protection of species at risk in Canada. This accord included a commitment to establish complementary legislation and programs that provide for effective protection of species at risk throughout Canada.

In short, they agreed to work co-operatively to help save species at risk and now through sections like clause 61 of this bill the federal government is taking its own word back and stomping on the spirit of co-operation reached in that accord. Allow me to explain in detail using my suggested amendments to the bill. Motion No. 97 states:

That Bill C-5, in Clause 61, be amended by replacing lines 32 to 40 on page 34 and lines 1 to 15 on page 35 with the following:

“(3) The Minister may make a recommendation if a provincial or territorial minister has requested that the recommendation be made”.

My amendment would seek to delete much of the current subclauses 61(3) and 61(3.1) that give the minister the power to subject provinces and territories which he deems not to have effective protection of habitat of species at risk to the contents of this act. I have suggested that instead the minister should only have the power to recommend that provinces follow the federal act instead of forcing them to do so.

Furthermore, should the House reject this motion I would ask that instead of allowing the current bill to stand with clause 61 intact and failing my attempt to fix it, it be deleted altogether and replaced with the following details included in Motion No. 94:

That Bill C-5, in Clause 61, be amended by replacing lines 22 to 40 on page 34 and lines 1 to 40 on page 35 with the following:

“61. No person shall destroy any part of the critical habitat of an aquatic species or of a listed endangered species or a listed threatened species that is a species of migratory birds, protected by the Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994, that is in a province or territory and is not on federal land”.

At first glance it may seem that I am advocating allowing the federal government to intrude on provincial jurisdiction. However it is the exact opposite. This change in the bill would ensure that only those species already deemed under federal jurisdiction such as migratory birds, regardless of where they make their home and what province they travel through, are subject to the act. This amendment also seeks to limit the federal government's role on provincial lands to one which is directly the management of those specific species and not any other species found on provincial lands.

By supporting this amendment the House would be agreeing that the federal government has no business forcing provinces to adhere to federal acts, most particular when, as I said earlier, eight out of ten provinces have legislation which protects to one extent or another species at risk.

We have seen with health care and other federal programs like Bill C-68 that the ever popular cookie cutter or one size fits all style of governance so fondly used by the federal Liberal government is not conducive to the very different needs of our provinces. The same goes for endangered species legislation. Therefore by eliminating clause 61 and replacing it with the content of Motion No. 94 the House would be agreeing to respect the jurisdictional realities of the country.

The bill is flawed in many other areas. Motion No. 39 in Group No. 2 amends clause 32. It has been presented by my Canadian Alliance colleague. It argues for the need to prove criminal intent to cause harm to either the critical habitat or the species at risk before prosecuting for offences under the act.

As it stands right now the act makes criminals out of unsuspecting landowners and land users. Bill C-5 makes it a criminal act to kill, harm or harass any one of the hundreds of endangered species or to interfere with their critical habitat. Fines are steep, up to $1 million for corporations and $250,000 for an individual. The act provides for imprisonment of up to five years for an indictable offence.

Someone could commit such a crime without knowing it. The bill does not require intent or even reckless behaviour. Rather it places the burden of proof on the individual to prove that he or she was exercising due diligence should harm come to an endangered species. In this way the bill ignores one of the fundamental tenets of western legal history, that criminal penalties are only given for offences committed with a criminal mind or in the Latin term mens rea.

Is it fair to convict people of a serious criminal offence when they might have had no idea they were even in danger of committing one? It would seem to me that in order to protect themselves from breaking this law they would have to become experts at recognizing the sage grouse, the barn owl, the Aurora trout or many other species. They not only have to recognize them. They need to recognize their critical habitat too just in case they disturb it while they are out taking a stroll in their back 40.

What about snowmobilers? When we think of endangered species and such we often think about the implication for farmers or landowners in the spring, summer and fall seasons and forget about implications in the winter months. Like many other members of parliament I have concerned snowmobilers in my riding of Skeena. They are concerned and rightly so that the bill could adversely affect their growing recreational industry.

Canada and more particularly northern B.C. have trails and areas for snowmobilers taking them through both private and public lands. They are very concerned that the legislation could seriously limit the number of areas available for their use and could harm that industry.

I just came back from a 500 mile snowmobile trip throughout my riding and down into Wells, B.C., in Cariboo--Chilcotin east of mine. Not only is snowmobiling a growing recreational activity but these cross-country trips add much to the economies of the small towns along the way.

All of this to say that both the Canadian Alliance and I believe in effective and responsible endangered species legislation. Bill C-5 is neither effective nor responsible.

I mentioned earlier this week the need for compensation to be built into the bill and today I state my concerns over jurisdictional intrusions. I have talked about my concern that the legislation places the burden of proof on the accused as opposed to the need for the crown to prove criminal intent before prosecuting for offences under the act. Just now I have talked a bit about the bill's potential effect on tourism and the snowmobile industry in my riding and essentially all over Canada.

The bill has serious flaws. The government should go back to the drawing table and this time spend less time trying to please lobby groups and more time creating a fair, effective and responsible species at risk act. It would find that the Canadian Alliance would support that kind of legislation because we are in favour of protecting Canada's endangered species, but we will not support bad legislation and Bill C-5 is bad legislation.

The crux of my argument is that we have no problem with endangered species legislation nor with the marine conservation act. We support the concepts of these proposed acts, which would improve situations in Canada, especially for endangered species.

Our concern is with the fairness of the legislation, the possibility of this type of legislation which tends to come down with a very heavy hand on presumably innocent people. They may have no idea they have committed an act against an endangered species. To put them in the position of being criminals when they may not even know they have created a problem just is not acceptable.

Species at Risk ActGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.


Andy Savoy Liberal Tobique—Mactaquac, NB

Madam Speaker, as a member of the Standing Committee on the Environment, I took my task to review the government's proposed species at risk act very seriously. There are many different perspectives on this proposed legislation. As a committee we heard 96 witnesses and considered 82 submissions from individuals, non-government organizations, other governments and industries. Our task was certainly a challenging one.

After more than eight years of debate on this issue and two previous failed attempts at passing federal endangered species legislation, we as members of parliament were asked to give our views on what kind of approach would effectively protect species at risk and treat all Canadians fairly.

Support for national legislation to protect and recover endangered species is overwhelming, both in rural and urban constituencies. In my own constituency of Tobique--Mactaquac in New Brunswick, living with wildlife in our backyards is an important part of our lives. Our traditional economy is resource based. We work in the woods, on the waters and in the fields. The rich biodiversity in our region of the country is of great value to us and we are continuing to improve how we live with wildlife.

Understanding the needs of species is the key to improving how we live with them in our daily lives. Giving us the knowledge of where species live, what kinds of food they eat and what kinds of activities may threaten them allows us to modify our behaviour to ensure their survival. Our inclusion in recovery planning ensures that practical solutions to species protection are instigated.

As a member of the standing committee and the elected representative for Tobique--Mactaquac, I sought to find a way to balance the advice of scientists and the experience of landowners and resource users so that the legislation would work in real life situations. I know that the farmers in my riding want to know where endangered species live and what kinds of activities can harm them. I know that they want to be included in identifying how we can protect and recover these species. The fishermen want to know population estimates and the life cycle details of endangered stocks, and we need their advice to find the best ways to protect these stocks. Finally, private landowners are the people best placed to protect endangered species found on their lands because they will be there on a daily basis to look out for them.

Neither the farmer, the fisherman nor the private landowner want to be ordered by government, without consultation, on what they can and cannot do. No, they want to be part of the solution and I think we can all agree that their participation will make our solutions much more effective.

I support the government motion to separate the scientific listing process from the political decisions to protect a species and its habitat. Listing decisions lead to immediate prohibitions against killing and harming of species and destruction of residence as well as mandatory recovery planning. The prohibitions may have social and economic impacts on our local communities. For this reason it can only be elected officials who should make such decisions.

The people who live in Tobique--Mactaquac have a right to have their views considered before a decision is made to prohibit certain activities in order to save a species. The scientists also deserve to be able to provide scientific advice independent from social and economic considerations. We certainly do not want scientists being lobbied to consider non-scientific factors.

I do not support changes made to Bill C-5 by other standing committee members which are contrary to the principle that elected politicians should be held accountable for decisions that may have social and economic impacts and that scientists should be able to present independent advice. I support the government motion that restores government accountability for decisions to list species once all factors have been considered.

We should not put an arbitrary timeline on government decisions that may preclude meaningful consultations and considerations. At the same time I support the new amendment to Bill C-5 which would ensure that the Minister of the Environment would publicly respond to each and every COSEWIC assessment within 90 days and, to the extent possible, set out timelines for actions to protect the species. This ensures accountability to scientific advice while not restricting consultations with local communities.

Just as we should not set an arbitrary timeline on listing decisions, we should not set arbitrary timelines on action plans to protect and recover species. Each species will require a different approach depending on its needs and the circumstances of the region. The people who are best placed to find the approach that best fits the species' needs are those local people participating in recovery action, namely the landowners, resource users, scientific experts and local communities. One committee amendment put a timeline for completion of all action plans for all species. I support the government motion that will instead leave action plan timeline decisions in the hands of local recovery teams.

Fundamentally we need to find an approach that builds on everyone's strengths. The bill aims to put protection in the hands of those who live and work closest to the species. A key role of the government is to provide information and support to Canadians so that they can protect species.

For example, in New Brunswick the Government of Canada has many projects up and running that are helping landowners, resource users, local communities and visitors protect species at risk. There is the coastal guardian program for the Acadian peninsula, which protects nesting sites of the piping plover and other bird species by installing fencing and by educating beach visitors. In the Bay of Fundy the government is funding gill net modifications for fishermen so that we can reduce unintended entanglements of the North Atlantic right whale. As well, there is a demonstration project to restore Atlantic salmon habitat in the inner Bay of Fundy.

These projects are helping local residents, visitors, fishermen and communities protect species in a way that does not penalize them. These projects provide the support necessary to modify, not stop, activities so that both wildlife and human populations can thrive.

By providing Canadians with information about species and offering financial support for recovery teams, the government is building a co-operative, inclusive approach to species protection. This is better than an approach that relies on enforcement of laws to protect species and habitat.

The reporting requirements in this legislation make it one of the most transparent and accountable pieces of legislation ever drafted. Any Canadian will be able to track the government's record on species protection and governments will be forced to give attention to every single species at risk in Canada. Under Bill C-5, it will not just be the cute and charismatic species that receive protection.

We continue to learn that we cannot afford to treat any species as insignificant. Each species plays a role in the web of life and we should do all we can to prevent extinction of more species. Losing a species means further upsetting the balance of life.

There are currently 387 species at risk in Canada. I voted to approve the addition of all 235 species recently assessed by the independent scientific body, COSEWIC, for protection under Bill C-5. I also voted to maintain the government's “co-operation first” approach to habitat protection so that local communities can play the lead in species protection.

With the government's motions we will achieve the balance I sought to achieve by working on this legislation. By adopting the government motions to Bill C-5, I will be able to assure the people of Tobique--Mactaquac that endangered species will be protected and that my constituents will be full partners in this protection.

Species at Risk ActGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Carol Skelton Canadian Alliance Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar, SK

Madam Speaker, I want to reassure the House that my Canadian Alliance colleagues and I are very concerned about species at risk and fully support looking after them. I want to talk about Bill C-5 and the motions before us today that deal with jurisdiction and how extremely important they are. The federal government seems content to ride roughshod over existing policies and legislation.

In 1996 the provinces and the federal government agreed to the National Accord for the Protection of Species at Risk in Canada. The accord was established to ensure that complementary legislation would exist among the federal and provincial levels of government. The key word is complementary. It was an agreement that worked toward the common goal of saving species at risk across Canada.

The provinces are fully aware of the specific species and habitat in the respective provinces and are capable of ensuring that these species and habitat are protected. They are also aware of the impact of legislation upon the citizens of those provinces. I am aware of 33 separate pieces of provincial habitat and species protection legislation. This is obviously an issue of great importance for the provinces. They hardly need reminding of the importance of species protection.

Likewise the property owners in the provinces are aware of the impact their actions have upon species and habitat on their land. Every election year in recent memory has seen the Liberals' red book promises outlining their intention to establish legislation to protect endangered species. I would hope that in an attempt to fulfill these longstanding promises the government would not ignore the invaluable co-operation of individual provinces.

There are concerns the government would use unilateral discretion in the application of the bill. While the provinces have their own unique legislation, this bill allows for the minister to use his own discretion in imposing federal legislation upon the provinces. By what standards would these decisions be made? Individual discretion is not something to be taken lightly. What would the influencing factors be in making these decisions? Leaving these decisions open ended is unfair to the provincial ministers and causes doubts and uncertainty among the citizens of the country.

Without delving too deeply into the issue of penalties and punishment, I must say I have concerns over the issue of jurisdiction. How are property owners going to know which rules apply? They may be in complete compliance with all provincial regulations but the federal minister can override those regulations. Suddenly these law-abiding citizens are guilty in the eyes of the federal government. This is hardly fair or equitable to either the provinces or the property owners.

The principle behind the 1996 accord was to ensure that the federal and provincial governments would work together in protecting species. Both levels of government have important roles to play. Leaving the federal minister with absolute discretion over these matters is in direct conflict with the spirit of the 1996 accord.

The antagonistic feelings between the two levels of government seem to be growing daily. Problems already exist over the Canadian health and social transfer. Feelings of alienation between the west and the federal government are growing. The way the bill is currently written will only lead to feelings of animosity between the provinces and the federal government over species at risk.

There is also an air of secrecy included in the legislation. It allows for the federal government to fly in and impose its rules but there is no provision made for involving the property owners in the process. The property owners and those with interests in the land have the right to know what the government's plans are for that land. After all, the property owners own the land and they make their livelihood from that land. Any decisions made in relation to that land would have an immediate effect on the property owners.

The legislation is set up to allow for consultation processes between other levels of government, wildlife organizations and such, but no mention is made of property owners. This will only serve to build feelings of fear, resentment and uncertainty among the property owners. Those with an interest in the land must be included in these talks and consultations. The co-operation of the property owners is vital if this legislation is to be effective in protecting species and habitat.

The consultation process and actions of the government cannot be secretive. The amendments brought forward by the Canadian Alliance provide for public notice being given by the minister. It also calls for consultation between the minister and the affected property owner.

I feel that this is critical. The government is often seen as an entity unto itself, existing far off with no real understanding of the common citizen. There must be an openness among the government, the provinces and property owners. Government should not be allowed to operate behind closed doors.

We live in a democracy. While I fully understand that rules and regulations must apply to all, the implementation of these rules and regulations must be a public process. The property owners and their interests in the land cannot be ignored. Any legislation must keep in mind the rights of the property owners. They must be allowed to be full participants in any action taken by this legislation. It is essential that property owners be included. Without their co-operation, there is little hope of this legislation helping any species at risk.

This legislation will not work if it is approached with a top down attitude. Conservation and species management starts with property owners, not with lawmakers and legislators. Farmers and ranchers are among the finest conservationists in the country. Most do all they can to treat both animals and habitat with respect.

Last fall at a meeting of the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities, the RMs and their administrators and the landowners group spoke about the federal government's heavy handed fisheries department. They talked about how they cannot put in a culvert to drain a slough without a permit. It was taking up to six months to get a permit to build a road. They talked about how farmers had tried to drain sloughs and because the fisheries department was upset with them, they were fined. The farmers were charged for helping their livelihood and for helping their agricultural land.

The shoot, shovel and shut up policy will go on with this legislation. It happens to farmers and rural property owners across the country. We are conservationists in our own habitat and we will look after our environment.

If the federal government attempts a heavy handed approach, it is inevitable it will be challenged on it. Co-operation among all levels of government, interested groups and property owners is far more likely if these relationships are entered into with a feeling of respect. To override the efforts made by the provinces and the individual landowners is not respectful and will be met with challenges.

As a partner in a farming operation, I fully understand the importance of the land and its inhabitants. If we work against the land, it works against us. As landowners we see the importance of saving and protecting those species that exist on that land. The majority of Canadians feel that species and habitat need to be protected. Our environment is a great source of pride.

Canada has a diverse landscape and an amazing variety of wildlife. We need to protect these, but we must work together in order to ensure that full protection is offered to those species that are at risk.

Species at Risk ActGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.


Antoine Dubé Bloc Lévis-Et-Chutes-De-La-Chaudière, QC

Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to take part in this debate. Like the vast majority of the residents of my riding, I am very concerned about all environmental issues.

Our riding is very near the St. Lawrence River and a number of zones that border the St. Lawrence contain species of plants and animals that are important, but that are threatened. So, this is an issue that concerns many people. In principle, it is fair to say that we all support this initiative unanimously, since it is an extremely important matter.

However, the Bloc Quebecois believes that the way this legislation is drafted, it does not take the provincial legislatures into account sufficiently, particularly Quebec's jurisdiction. Since 1989, Quebec has had legislation with the same objectives. Obviously, it does not always satisfy everyone.

As we know, when it comes to the environment, though many agree with the objectives, they do not agree with the means. I listened to my colleague from the Alliance who expressed her wish that we count on the goodwill of owners of private property, farmers for example, to protect species, be they animal or vegetable.

We know full well however that when it comes to the environment, goodwill is not always enough. There needs to be laws and regulations to better protect the common good, and this has to be done respecting the existing jurisdictions. In most of the cases that this bill targets, when it comes to Quebec, they are already protected. There may be room for improvement, but protection already exists.

As for cross border species—mostly birds and fish that cross provincial boundaries—if the bill targeted more specifically migratory birds, we in the Bloc Quebecois could have provided our support for the bill in short order, but it goes much beyond this.

Basically, this bill designates the federal government as judge. It says “there are areas in Canada where the environment is less respected than others. We know best how to act. We will not take into account what is happening in the provinces and we will impose wall to wall, in this area as in others—we could mention education, health— measures that will apply everywhere”.

Of course the bill mentions co-operation with the provinces, but there are many passages in it where it says “to the extent possible”. There is always an “if possible” that infers that if the federal Minister of the Environment does not manage to convince one or several of his colleagues of something during discussions, it does not matter, because all he has to do is impose his will.

We should see if this type of negotiations is constitutionally acceptable, but that is not the subject of today's debate. I do not sit on the bench of the supreme court, so I cannot assess this point.

However, we wonder about this and we deplore such an attitude. The federal government will negotiate, have talks with the provinces, try to harmonize policies, but if things do not work out, it will have the final say.

This is contrary to the spirit of the Constitution. Madam Speaker, you know that very well, since you are quite knowledgeable about history—I know because I often discuss these topics with you—and you also know the Constitution very well. It is not you whom I must convince. I know that you readily agree with me that the spirit of the Constitution should be respected, by sovereignists and federalists alike, as long as the situation in Quebec remains unchanged.

What was the spirit of Confederation in 1867? The federal government was not a higher level of government that dominated the four original provinces that were behind the Constitution. It had to act in the spirit of a confederation, as is the case in Germany, in Switzerland and in various other countries, where the process is based on consultation. And when there is disagreement, it must continue to discuss the issue in order to come to an agreement. But this is not how Ottawa sees things now, and this is particularly true of this government.

The Liberal government begins a discussion that is limited in time, and that limit is set by the government itself. When it decides that this is it, the discussion ends with the federal government saying “Sorry, but since we did not manage to convince you, we will do this in the interests of the nation, which take precedence”.

A few days ago, when we were reviewing another bill—in fact it was during the debate on the Bloc Quebecois' motion on health—I heard a Liberal member say that, even though health is not a federal jurisdiction under the Constitution, the federal government had to spend in the best interests of the nation. This is how he justified federal spending in that area. He then added that, since the federal government is spending, it must have a say in how this area is managed—even though it has no business in it—again in the name of the nation's best interests, a principle which is not even mentioned in the Constitution.

When a Quebecer, an Ontarian or any other citizen is elected to the provincial legislature—let us take the case of Quebec—it is as if that person had lost his judgment, even though he has been elected by his constituents, just as we are. It is as if, all of a sudden, he had lost the judgment and the rigour that elected representatives should possess.

Supporting the bill as it now stands would be to accept this domination, which is seen as normal by certain members opposite, whereby the federal government is a superior government, composed of superior individuals with superior knowledge in all matters, although I am sure that many members spoke without even having read the bill. If all members read every clause of this bill, they would see that a good number of them irritate, suggest interference in provincial jurisdiction, and create duplication.

The public sees it as duplication when two levels of government wish to do the same thing, resulting in twice the cost, and two kinds of officials, who argue with each other. We can even see it starting here in the House of Commons, where members do not see eye to eye because they have two different concepts of the current Canadian federal system.

I have not just made a sovereignist argument. I did not mention sovereignty during my speech. I am merely going by the spirit of the 1867 Constitution. But there are in fact areas of shared jurisdiction, environment being one of them.

Just as the management of public and even private lands, and natural resources come under provincial jurisdiction, it goes without saying that even if species are threatened, when they are swimming in our rivers or flying and crossing borders, we must look after them. That is the crux of what I am saying.

Species at Risk ActGovernment Orders

12:55 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Brian Fitzpatrick Canadian Alliance Prince Albert, SK

Madam Speaker, there are two processes governments can use to deal with problems in society. One way is to command or order a result. The former Soviet Union had a command system. In a command system the government orders people to do things and hopes it works out.

The other approach to good public policy is to manage situations so all stakeholders involved in the process co-operate. History and the study of public administration show the second method is far preferable to the first. However the Liberal government chooses the first. It is too much work to do it the other way. It is far easier to get bureaucrats to draw up legislation and regulations that command or order a result.

We pride ourselves on living in a free and democratic society. It would be wise for some of my colleagues across the House to sometimes stand back and ask what the ingredients are of a free and democratic society. One of the things that separates us from countries that are not free and democratic is that we do not convict people of serious offences without a guilty mind. That may be the way of other countries. I am certain the Taliban dealt harshly with a lot of people who did not do anything criminal in their minds.

It is offensive that people could be looking at five year jail sentences and $250,000 fines when they did not have guilty minds and did not intend to cause harm to endangered species. Maybe a lot of folks in Toronto would be guilty of this crime. I am sure the lifestyles of urban people in Toronto and Montreal have a far bigger impact on endangered species than those of farmers and landowners in Canada.

Another ingredient of a free and democratic society is respect for property rights and the freedom of the individual. Increasingly the government is showing a hostile attitude toward individual freedoms and property rights in our society. It is as if the government owned all the property and people had their property at the pleasure of the Liberal government.

There is another thing that bothers me, and we can look at the Booth case in the British system and so on. Free and democratic societies respect privacy. Free and democratic societies do not allow the state to charge into someone's home in the middle of the night to conduct a search and seizure. However the Liberal government allows it. Why does it allow it? It does not allow it with regard to dangerous sexual offenders, terrorists or people like that. It allows it with respect to people who own long guns. They are the people who break the law.

In many respects the name Liberal is becoming the antithesis of liberty and freedom. The Liberals should seriously look at changing their name because it no longer matches up with these concepts.

There are a whole host of examples where the government has an agenda of hostility to rural Canada. It is as if it hired Warren Kinsella to become the general of kicking butt in rural Canada.

There are some species that should be at risk in our society. We should be looking at that. We had the pleasure of having this individual aim his gun at us during the federal election. Now he is aiming the gun at some of his own people and they are starting to get a dose of their own medicine. I think we can all agree that maybe this person should become an endangered species.

I will go through some examples of the continual war on rural Canada the government keeps pushing through. It is shameful. It shows an ignorance of the realities of rural Canada but the government insists on going ahead with it.

A huge bureaucracy in the fisheries department goes around harassing farmers, landowners and local governments for doing such simple things as maintaining bridges and roads, removing hazards in their communities and doing minor ditching. The government imposes huge fines on people for doing things they have been doing for ages. The government is crippling organizations by asking them to do environmental impact studies on the most minor of things. These people do not have the money or resources to get into that sort of thing but the government has done that.

Let us look at the wheat board. Let us suppose an individual is trying to support a family of four. Bankers are knocking on his door, commodity prices are low and he finds a market for his product in the United States. He gets double what he can get in Canada by selling it to the United States. A lot of Liberals feel the U.S. is a great evil empire or dangerous concept, but he takes his grain across the border and sells it to the Americans.

What is the nexus of his crime? Is it selling drugs to youth? Is it violating someone's basic rights and so on? I cannot think of any rights being violated except the farmer's right to make a living. The government turns him into a criminal and puts him in jail for six months. It hauls him to court with irons on his legs as if he were a menace to society. The government targets him to send a message to other farmers that they do not have property rights. If they grow their grain and so on the government will decide who they sell it to, how they sell it and how much money they get. That is the Liberal way. It is not the Canadian way but it is the Liberal way.

Canada has all these livestock, poultry and pork producers who are trying to make a living and keep people fed. Along comes the fanatical animal rights movement and the Liberal government buys it hook, line and sinker. If that became law it would be as negative to the rural way of life as the endangered species legislation. We would have fanatics challenging longstanding agricultural practices, harassing law abiding citizens with unnecessary court proceedings and prosecutions, and putting people further into the hole.

The Liberals like putting people in holes. It is the Liberal way. When they get them in holes they have them under their control. Rather than giving them ladders to climb out they like to dig the holes deeper and impoverish Canadians.

We have the wheat board, the firearms registry, and the endangered species legislation which would have horrendous consequences for accidentally causing damage to endangered species. When we go down the list we wonder what the government is up to. Liberals pander to real criminals. They make sure someone serving 25 years with eligibility for parole has the right to vote in federal elections. That is important. The government does not register dangerous sexual offenders. That would be going too far. However it is perfectly okay to register all law abiding citizens in Canada who have long barrel rifles. The government brings in anti-terrorism legislation that seems to target regular Canadians more than the real threat of al-Qaeda and terrorist networks around the world that can move in and out of the country unimpaired. It is a strange thing.

I understood the Bloc would be supporting the bill but they tell me they are not. I am glad to hear that. Bill C-5 would be the culmination of the Trudeau way. It would transfer all the power to the enlightened, friendly dictatorship in Ottawa and let it manage and run everything in the country. A lot of people including those in the caucus are starting to realize it is a dictatorship but enlightened and friendly is perhaps not the correct terminology for it.

I think of people in certain female caucuses who found how enlightened and friendly the dictatorship is and what its dangers are. The country needs to realize that the transferring of more power to this centralized and unenlightened dictatorship must stop.

Species at Risk ActGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

Before we go to debate I remind hon. members that it is not up to the Chair to censor members or in any way influence the content of members' speeches. However we are dealing with amendments to the main motion and I caution hon. members to stick to the subject at hand. Relevance is always pertinent in terms of our debates in the House.

Species at Risk ActGovernment Orders

1:05 p.m.


Bill Blaikie NDP Winnipeg—Transcona, MB

Madam Speaker, I will do my best to adhere to the rule of relevance.

If I understand correctly we are debating the Group No. 2 amendments. In the grouping we have a number of amendments, if I understand correctly, by the Canadian Alliance which seek to put into the legislation an element of mens rea or mental intent in the nature of the offences that would be created through the bill, that we find unacceptable and which the committee found unacceptable.

After having studied the matter, and I am told by our critic in this area, the member for Windsor--St. Clair, that the committee spent an awful lot of time looking at the issue and the way similar laws are designed and enforced in various provinces, I came to the conclusion that if the kind of language the Alliance is seeking to put into the legislation were to be put into the legislation it would make enforcement of the bill very difficult and the likelihood of obtaining convictions in the matter would be very difficult indeed.

The idea is to protect endangered species, not to create an endangered species bill which would make it almost impossible to protect endangered species but which would nevertheless have the name of a bill to protect endangered species.

It is on those grounds that we think that in any defence people might offer with respect to whether or not they intended to put at risk, kill, injure or in any other way damage an endangered species the matter of intent could be taken into account by the courts when it came time for sentencing, but that trying to put too stiff a requirement with respect to intent at the front end of the process would in the judgment of the committee create a situation whereby the likelihood of the bill being used as it is intended, which is to say to protect endangered species, would be reduced to the point where the usefulness of the bill would be called into question.

Those are the grounds on which we find ourselves unable to support many of the amendments that have been put forward by our Alliance colleagues. It is not because we think the matter of intention is irrelevant but because we think the matter of intention or mens rea is something that should be dealt with differently than in the way they are suggesting.

I might also add that none of us here are obligated to agree with what is passed in committee. I have certainly had many occasions in the House to disagree with what has been arrived at in committee, but in this case it seems to me that the committee has done its work rather well.

This is an issue that has been before the House for a long time, as I am sure members will know, not just before this parliament but before a previous parliament and perhaps even a previous parliament, and it is high time parliament demonstrated it was able to deal with the issue.

The committee it seems to me took its job very seriously, went about the process in a non-partisan way with a great deal of co-operation, and arrived at conclusions that are worthy of our highest notion of how a parliamentary committee should work. It is one of the reasons we are so distressed on this side to find that the government at report stage is dedicated to undoing the work of the committee and the great work done by so many members of parliament on the committee on both sides of the House.

It must be particularly distressing for government members on the committee to find that their work is now held in so little regard by their own colleagues in cabinet and in government, that at report stage we would see the slew of amendments we now see designed to undo the work of the committee.

One cannot win around here. Committees rubber stamp what the government wants and people say the committee process does not work because it is a rubber stamp. Government and opposition members work together to improve a bill, to respond to what they have heard from the Canadian people and from people who have come forward to indicate their concerns about the legislation. The committee process works according to the ideal, that is to say, not taking the legislation on its face as if it is beyond criticism but working to improve it in an all party way. Then the bill comes back, the government says that it is very nice and amends the bill back to the stone age from where it came originally, from the drafter's pen.

We think the government is reinforcing, in a terrible way, a kind of cynicism about the parliamentary process and a cynicism about the arrogance of the government, in this case not toward the opposition but toward its own members.

There are a great many qualified people on that committee. I will not name them, but I have known some of them for a long time. They have reputations in their own right as concerned, dedicated and knowledgeable environmentalist MPs. Here was an opportunity to take advantage of their expertise, dedication and the work they were doing with like-minded people from all parties on the committee. It would have been a great day for parliament had this bill gone into committee, been as substantially amended as it was, came back to parliament and then respected in its amended form by the government.

That would have been what we teach our kids in school about parliament, that a bill passes at second reading, goes to committee to be studied, improved upon and amended and then comes back to parliament for final approval. We do not teach our kids that a bill goes through second reading, then goes to committee and anything that gets done in committee which the government does not like gets undone at third reading. That is not the way the civics books read and it is not the way they should read, particularly when we know that what happened in committee was not the result of mischief, falsely concocted majorities or absenteeism on the part of government members that permitted the opposition to succeed in something they otherwise would not have succeeded in. No, what we have before us is a bill that is the end product of a very deliberate and well considered process, yet does not seem to mean anything to the government.

Members of the government who are in the know, in the loop, and who may have a little clout in whatever small pockets of the Liberal universe they occupy, a universe with many pockets and most of them lined, might want to consider why there is a growing sense of desperation over there with respect to how their party works. This is indeed an example of what is wrong with the government and what is wrong with Canadian politics.

I wish I had the opportunity to rise and say, is this not a great day for parliament, the committee did its work, parliament is now respecting the work of the committee, or at least the government is not seeking to undo the work of its own members, but I am not able to say that. Instead, the opposite is the case.

Species at Risk ActGovernment Orders

1:15 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Jim Gouk Canadian Alliance Kootenay—Boundary—Okanagan, BC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased that you are here today to hear the remarks being made. I am also pleased to see that 3 or 4 of the 178 Liberals elected to the House are here as well.

I listened with interest to the comments of the hon. member from the NDP. I recognize and congratulate them. They are well known for their environmental concerns. However I would hope that any group backing the bill does not become so blinded by the need to put something through to protect endangered species that they ignore some of the harm that can be done from the bill at the same time.

One of the real challenges an MP faces in general terms with legislation is voting and how to really with good conscience decide exactly how he or she will vote on a particular issue.

I wrote an article that went out in my householder recently which talked about the concept of voting on omnibus bills and what to do when facing a bill that maybe had some good things and bad things. Does one vote for the good things and ignore the bad things? Does one vote against the bill because of the bad things and ignore the good things? It is a very perplexing and challenging thing for a member of parliament. Perhaps in itself it is one of the hardest things with which MPs have to deal.

It is particularly frustrating when we have a bill like this, which was good at the outset and which the Canadian Alliance very strongly supported. Who in their right mind would not support the concept of wanting to protect species that are endangered in the country and in the world?

The problem is we have a bill that suggests it will deal with these very things but at the same time it has harmful things in it which are not necessary for the protection of endangered species.

For example, yesterday we talked in terms of compensation. Whether we compensate or do not compensate people has nothing to do with the protection of endangered species. Whether an individual is compensated or not will not alter the aspects that we look at in terms of protecting an endangered species. It becomes a question of right. We are putting through a bill that addresses endangered species, but we are not doing the right thing by addressing the right of a person to compensation for loss of their personal property or the use of that property.

Today, we are looking today at a question of responsibility. It becomes slightly greyer I suppose in one sense. It is not quite as black and white as yesterday in terms of compensation. The bill has a provision which can be interpreted and utilized to penalize people for damaging the habitat or even directly the species themselves at danger without even having known they did it until after the fact.

The hon. member from the NDP said we had to have that because it made it too hard to prosecute people if we had to prove they meant to do it and that there could be consideration in sentencing. Consideration in sentencing means that they would be found guilty of a criminal act. Even instead of the $250,000 fine, they were given a token fine of $1,000, $500 or even a dollar, they would still be criminals and have a criminal record. That is just not acceptable when people do something in all innocence and have no way of knowing they have broken the law, rule or regulation.

How can a farmer ploughing his fields search behind every corn stalk, sheaf of wheat, down every drill hole or every possible place? Plus, they would have to know ever single organism that is in the endangered species act, how to identify them perchance they find some evidence of it on their property so they could take some action to protect that endangered species, whatever it might be. That is absolutely impossible.

The government said it is clearly not its intention to attack people who innocently do something and that that would be taken into consideration.

I remember back some years ago when the now industry minister was the justice minister. He came in with a bill called conditional sentencing. Conditional sentencing was supposed to give judges the discretion that if someone was convicted of any crime and the court felt that there was no need for public safety to put that individual in jail that person could be released on a conditional sentence and serve no time in jail.

Much to the horror and shock to the public and certainly to us in the House on the opposition side, we found that violent offenders and rapists were being given conditional sentences by the courts. When we brought that concern to the House and faced the minister, the minister's direct response was that it was never their intention that it be applied that way.

Whenever the possibility exists, intention means absolutely nothing. The government must write it in a way that cannot be misinterpreted. Its intention must be absolutely crystal clear when it writes the bill. There cannot be any false interpretation that either harms innocent people or turns guilty people free as happened in the case of conditional sentencing.

In terms of intention, this provision of the bill questions the integrity of farmers and ranchers. It shows a suspicious nature on the part of government. It suggests in some cases that the government does not trust their good judgment and integrity. How would the government have come to that type of attitude, that it would feel that cynical about the integrity on the part of farmers and ranchers in relation to the bill?

I guess the best way to illustrate this is a story I heard some time ago about an individual on the west coast of Canada who went sailing one day. It was not a particularly good day for sailing but he went anyway and found himself in some serious trouble. This individual probably would have died at sea were it not for the sharp eye and the swift action of a lighthouse keeper on the rugged west coast. As a result of that action the individual was saved.

Naturally this person was very grateful for what happened and actually went to the trouble of hiking into many of the light stations on the west coast, bringing with him a little gift, a bottle of wine and some other things, as a token of thanks to the people who manned these lighthouses and who had saved this person's life.

Sometime later this individual ran for parliament, managed to get elected and found himself on the government benches. He went through some different positions and was elevated to be a cabinet minister. He found himself as the minister of transport ironically at the very time the government decided to start shutting these lighthouses down. This individual had said to the lighthouse keepers “I am in your debt and if ever there is anything that I can do for you, you can count on me”. Here was the minister of transport in charge of shutting these lighthouses down.

The west coast of Canada is very rugged and a lot of pilots, float operations and so on in a fog infested coast rely on these lighthouse keepers as do people at sea, as obviously this minister had relied on as well.

Is it not ironic that the government appears to have this suspicion of farmers and ranchers that it has to question their integrity to the extent that it has put in the bill the ability to prosecute them for damaging habitat that no one even knows existed and has found out after the fact? Perhaps now at least we have some explanation. Integrity I guess is in the eye of the beholder.

Anyone who can profess that kind of gratitude, make that kind of commitment only to be the very person in a position of power who chooses to shut those lighthouse keepers down, I think suggests what the farmers and ranchers who may innocently destroy habitat or endangered species can expect from the government, intentions notwithstanding.

Species at Risk ActGovernment Orders

1:25 p.m.


Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, I believe it is absolutely essential that we get a law in place to protect species at risk. We have waited far too long, seven years. We cannot fail Canada's species, the world's species, by failing to enact a law.

Much has been made of the proposed species at risk act: Is it too strong? Is it too weak? Does it protect enough? Does it prohibit enough?

My remarks will centre on the need to remember that Canada's territories must be treated as full partners in the approach to the protection of species at risk. I would also like to use my time to address the importance of the co-operative approach and of the national aboriginal committee.

There is a significant amount of federal land in the territories, but the territories, under the proposed legislation, are not treated like little brothers and sisters, they are treated as equals. We must continue to ensure that this full partnership is not undermined in any way. That is why the approach must be one of joint actions, not a heavy-handed, top down law. A balance is what we must strive for. This is certainty.

In Canada, the federal government must work with the provinces and the territories as part of its constitutional structure. This applies as well to the protection of species and habitats. Protecting species at risk is a shared responsibility of all governments, that includes Nunavut, Yukon and Northwest Territories.

The overall strategy for protection of species at risk is ensuring that the federal portion of this responsibility is met. The bill is one element of the strategy and it complements the work done by other levels of government. It also builds on the partnership approach under the federal-provincial-territorial accord for the protection of species at risk. It also, of course, reinforces the stewardship component of the strategy.

The accord is one of Canada's commitments to protect species. We also have commitments to international and domestic agreements, such as the United Nations convention on biological diversity and the migratory birds convention.

Unfortunately, the standing committee amendments eliminate the incentive for Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut to complete the development of their own species at risk legislation to meet their commitments under the accord. That is certainly not good news for wildlife.

The standing committee's approach, whereby the safety net is only available in the territories for game species, is not consistent with current practices and contradicts ongoing devolution of federal responsibilities to territorial governments.

Bill C-39, the new Yukon act, was introduced into the House of Commons in October. The purpose of the bill is to transfer responsibilities for federal land and resource management in Yukon to the government of Yukon.

Yukon's responsibilities will include “conservation of wildlife and its habitat, other than a federal conservation area”. This means all wildlife, not just game. If we were to accept the standing committee's approach, we would be contradicting ourselves.

While the federal government is devolving authority to the territories, the federal government would also be taking away this authority through the species at risk act.

Let me also note that the formation of the proposed legislation has involved wildlife management boards under land claims agreements and aboriginal peoples in a variety of ways. They have been at the table for many rounds of discussions. They have provided a very significant advisory capacity by helping us to fully understand the issues, needs and capacities to protect species at risk.

For the first time ever, in any piece of federal conservation or environmental legislation, we are entrenching the role and importance of aboriginal traditional knowledge. These are the people whose traditions tell us about the habits and patterns of birds and animals. These are the people who know, because they have been told by their parents and the parents of their parents, that certain plants can survive in certain places.

This knowledge will help us protect species and it will further help us plan effective recovery. In fact, we are incorporating aboriginal traditional knowledge into our assessment and recovery process in a formal way. This is quite unique.

It is absolutely essential that the first nations of Canada have mandatory consultation on species at risk and when they are being protected. A lot of the species live on their lands or lands that will be their lands after a treaty. It is absolutely essential that they have the chance to be consulted as we proceed in these initiatives.

I would also like to speak in support of the motions for a national aboriginal body or committee on species at risk. This is an enormous step forward. We are recognizing and putting into law the importance of the relationship with aboriginal peoples to the land and to wildlife. With this committee, with this legislation and with the incorporation of aboriginal traditional knowledge into the assessment and recovery of species, we are moving forward.

I also support the overall co-operative and inclusive approach of the legislation. Bill C-5 is flexible enough to make room for all Canadians to get involved with species protection recovery: from the fisherman to the trapper, to the territorial governments, to the aboriginal organizations, to wildlife management boards, to biologists, to mining companies and everyone else. Bill C-5 also has teeth, but what is most important is it does not bare them in a threatening way. They are there if necessary.

The emphasis is on co-operation, building partnerships with the people on the ground. This will work.

The policy intents of Bill C-5 were not arrived at overnight. They came from years of study and consultation, of discussion and examination. We know, because it is already working, that the co-operative approach is the Canadian way. We know it is the only way. The time to act on this legislation is now.

Let us pass the bill so we can get on with the more important task of actually protecting and recovering our species at risk.

Species at Risk ActGovernment Orders

1:35 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Ken Epp Canadian Alliance Elk Island, AB

Madam Speaker, it is interesting that the member who spoke previously was very glowing in his support of the bill. I wished he had used some of his time to tell us why he will vote against the very good amendments we put forward. After all, at report stage that is what we are talking about. We are talking about the amendments that have been put forward.

I should not prejudge the matter, but I would predict, and if I were a betting man I would bet up to a nickel on it, that he will vote against all the amendments from Canadian Alliance because they have the wrong label. If the amendments were Liberal, he would vote for them. That is just a strange and curious coincidence, I am sure.

I want to talk a little bit about the amendments in Group No. 2. This is a very important bill. I want to make sure, by reiterating in broad principle, that I, and I am sure all of my colleagues and probably all the members in the House, want to see proper legislation that will promote the preservation of endangered species.

I have the great privilege of living on a country acreage in Alberta. It is a place where we have been for a number of years. We bought it at a good price at a time when we could afford it. Subsequent to that the price has gone up, the taxes have gone up and sometimes I wonder whether we should stay there.

One of the features of our place is that we have a little lake nearby. On that lake is an unusual species of duck. Unfortunately I cannot remember the name for that species of duck but it is a very interesting duck. People from all over Canada and the United States go there, put up blinds to observe the ducks and shoot them with their cameras, not with guns. I do not know if the ducks are an endangered species but they are a unique species which attracts quite a bit of attention.

I do not see any reason in the world why, if we have a species which is endangered, we should not take adequate and appropriate measures to prevent that species from becoming extinct. How do we do that? Strictly speaking, except for lands which are specifically under federal jurisdiction, this is not within the realm of the federal government unless it can say that it is a criminal offence.

I take great offence at the ease with which the Liberals are creating criminal offences just so they can usurp the power of the provinces. They are quite ready to make a criminal of a person who fails to comply with some administrative procedure. The best example in our area is that of the gun law. The reason I am mentioning it here is because the Liberals are applying the same principle in this legislation, which is that in recognizing that the enforcement of the registration of guns is a provincial jurisdiction, they have brought it into federal jurisdiction by saying it is a criminal act to fail to register. That is absurd.

If a person walks into a bank or a store with a gun, or a knife for that matter, and attacks the owner of the store, steals the money, injures the person or even kills him, that is a criminal offence because a crime is intended. However, that person may simply have failed to fill in an administrative form that says he or she has a device, be it a knife, a sledgehammer, a baseball bat or a gun.The Liberals have chosen the gun, which is one of the tools used to perform criminal acts. However, they have not said that using the weapon in an offence is a criminal act. They have said that failing to fill in a piece of paper and registering it with the government is a criminal act.

Quite clearly this is in violation of a very important--

Species at Risk ActGovernment Orders

1:40 p.m.


Karen Redman Liberal Kitchener Centre, ON

Madam Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I know my hon. colleague will eventually find a way to tie in this somehow obtuse discussion to the species at risk legislation. I am wondering if he would speak to the amendments before the House.

Species at Risk ActGovernment Orders

1:40 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

I thank the hon. member for raising the question of relevance which I have raised already three times since I have been here. I am sure the hon. member will get to his point.