Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak once again to Bill C-5. As all members in the House are aware, this bill is supposed to protect endangered species. The motions in Group No. 2 deal specifically with jurisdiction and criminal intent.
The last time I had the opportunity to speak on the bill, it was with regard to the motions in Group No. 1 and the idea of compensation. As many of my colleagues have, I talked about the importance of obviously putting together legislation that brings together all the stakeholders involved in protecting endangered species. Why should we even deal with the bill if it does not create the atmosphere in the country of all the stakeholders coming together to protect endangered species.
Those stakeholders are various groups. They are landowners, ranchers, others have agricultural backgrounds and some of them are basically enthusiasts of nature, environmentalists or people who are interested in various forms of wildlife. All of them have an interest.
It is clear that even when Canadians are polled on this issue and even if endangered species does not rank at their top priority, over 90% of Canadians have expressed the interest in putting together some form of legislation that would protect endangered species.
In going through the bill and trying to deal with the legislation that hopefully will be effective in protecting endangered species, the question is can we get all Canadian from all those sides that I have mentioned working together. This is where the government has failed.
We have identified where it has failed over and over again in trying to bring stakeholders together. Instead, its mentality has been a divide and conquer mentality which refuses to bring all stakeholders together and jeopardizes the future of the protection of endangered species no matter what we do in this place.
We identified the idea of compensation. I will take a moment to repeat those concerns. Landowners who currently are stewards of the land, who make efforts usually on a voluntary basis, because they care so deeply about their land and about the endangered species that may be present on their land, make an effort to try to protect those habitats specifically on their lands without any involvement or legislation by the government.
How can we continue to do that in light of the government saying that if there are particular types of endangered species found on their land that this land could be confiscated without any form of compensation? The compensation question is still not clear. To get landowners on side and people involved in the agriculture industry, we have to give them the confidence that the government will respect private property rights. In fact, the government has no commitment to private property rights. This is the fear behalf of a lot of the landowners. If they are actually making the effort to be stewards of the land now and in future if the bill is passed and the compensation question is not clear, they are at risk of losing often generations of livelihood and generations of tradition on some of these lands because the government has not clearly put into the bill a mechanism or equation for compensation. This is outrageous.
I went on to talk about various communities in Europe that have actually outlined ways to deal with that compensation question. I wish the government would take that seriously. That is one other area that will pull apart the stakeholders when it comes to dealing with endangered species.
Group No. 2 motions talk about the area of jurisdiction and criminal intent. The Bloc is very concerned. I know Bloc members have many interests in the environment. They are pushing on many fronts to ensure the federal government respects the environment. We saw that with Kyoto and with a number of environmental bills. I am sure their commitment to endangered species is no less.
However the idea of jurisdiction in this case brings forth a lot of questions of how this relationship that is managed by the federal government will bring in the partners, the provincial governments.
When I talk about the stakeholders in the area of compensation, here is another example of trying to bring the stakeholders together, outside of the people who are directly related to the land, which are obviously the different levels of government. We can all be shooting on the same cylinders: co-operating together in this place and in the provinces to ensure that the paramount importance is put on endangered species. The government is refusing to even look at the way it will be trampling on provincial rights.
We have seen it time and time again from this government in health care, education and in a host of other areas where we know the government has no real commitment to working with the provinces. If anything, it would run roughshod over the provinces and invoke its own types of laws, when in fact those responsibilities may be of a provincial nature.
My colleague from Edmonton East, who spoke before me, talked about the idea of a national accord when it comes to environment, especially in the area of endangered species. This is an area where the government has lacked leadership in trying to bring those stakeholders together. I mentioned health care and education.
There has been talk of trying to bring the stakeholders from the provinces together in other areas. Let us face it, being federal representatives, we have to respect the provincial jurisdictions, but there are ways we can work better together if leadership is shown at the federal level to engage those provinces in the areas of health care, education and obviously the environment.
In creating a national accord, there would not be the duplication that we see in so many areas because the government has grown so large and tries to get involved in so many different things. We would try to eliminate the areas of duplication and obviously work in better co-operation with the provinces. The government has failed to do so and refuses to deal with the areas of jurisdiction that may be unacceptable to the provinces, where they may feel there is duplication. It obviously would not be in the best interests of taxpayers unless we address the jurisdictional issue.
That is why the idea of a national accord, such as in areas of education and health care, is something on which we should try to work together to allow provinces the flexibility to take care of its citizens and allow better co-operation and co-ordination with the federal government.
My colleague also spoke, as other colleagues have, about one of the big concerns we have in the bill outside the jurisdiction area. That is how the bill could affect criminal intent when it comes to people who are stewards of the land. The bill puts the burden of proof on the accused and not on the prosecution, meaning that farmers, ranchers, or anyone inadvertently destroying a species at risk or its critical habitat are guilty until proven innocent. This is unacceptable.
On the principle of obviously wanting to prosecute people who intentionally commit crimes against endangered species, I do not think we would find anyone opposed. When I was the environment critic for the official opposition, I had some discussions with some land management and agricultural groups. They said they had a real problem with the particular part of the bill that would invoke criminal intent. Even though we all know, and I think the parliamentary secretary to the environment minister would agree, there are people out there who are stewards of the land and who are currently working to protect endangered species, there are times in the daily operations of farmers, ranchers or others who deal in the natural resource industries when habitats might be affected negatively.
In many cases that could be done unintentionally. It is not the intention of many of these groups to damage habitats but unfortunately it could happen. What is being suggested in the bill is that even an innocent farmer or someone who is going about the business of dealing with their own business could be prosecuted in the event of an accident. This is unacceptable.
If there is obviously clear intention, which can be proven without making this sort of change to the bill, on the part of people who are going to actively destroy habitat, then we should prosecute them to the highest levels. We should ensure that fines are levelled and everything else. However we have jeopardized totally the whole notion of justice with this change of saying that a person is guilty until proven innocent. That goes against our belief in the justice system.
As I have said, the government has an opportunity to bring the stakeholders together. We have been repeating this message over and over again in the official opposition. The stakeholders involved have been repeating this message over and over again. This is the third time the government has tried to put this type of legislation through the House. Why has it failed? Because each time it consistently has refused to listen to the opposition and various stakeholders to bring people together on an issue that is very important. It refuses to listen to Canadians. That is unacceptable and that is why we have a really big problem with this bill.