Mr. Speaker, unfortunately in Group No. 3 as in other groups there are certain amendments proposed by the government which seriously weaken the bill as reported to the House by our committee.
The majority of committee members passed good amendments which help to strengthen the bill which is now before us. One example is in the definition of wildlife species for the purpose of listing because listing is crucial and very important. For that reason, after having listened to witnesses from the scientific community, the majority of committee members improved the bill in the definition of species. That definition is one which includes “geographically or genetically distinct populations” as one of the criteria in determining whether a species should be put on the list. That recommendation came from the committee of scientists.
When the committee started to examine the bill, the scientists told us that the government definition was scientifically vague and scientifically inconsistent. I stress that originally they found it was vague and inconsistent with the scientific approach. We therefore amended the definition of species accordingly. The majority of committee members agreed that species should include in the definition “geographically or genetically distinct populations”.
Now at report stage, the government in an amazing display of insensitivity to the advice of the scientific community, has proposed to remove the amendment made in committee by the majority of the members and to water it down with the words “biologically distinct populations”. This is the very same terminology which the scientific community told us was vague and inconsistent.
I must bring to the attention of the House that this is a bad development both in substance and procedure. It is bad in substance because it would weaken the definition of species. It is bad in procedure because it shows disregard for the parliamentary process. I therefore must urge members to vote against Motions Nos. 9 and 10 which would weaken the definition of species.
Motion No. 120 in this group is also bad. I cannot recommend it because it rejects another amendment passed by the majority of committee members.
When we debate Groups Nos. 4 and 5, I will continue to identify motions which undo the work done by the majority of committee members, as I have already done with Groups Nos. 1 and 2.
It should be noted that the committee majority amended the bill in a variety of ways. I will briefly outline the thrust.
Throughout the process of examination and study of the bill, the intent has been to refine the political role on the road to approving the listing of endangered species. There is now a better balance than there was before when the bill was passed at second reading.
Another thrust was to reinforce volunteerism, contrary to what has been said by some in the House.
The third thrust was to set deadlines to ensure results. Deadlines are important. In this particular area time is of the essence in ensuring that a species is protected.
The final thrust was to increase the powers of the present and future Ministers of the Environment, so as to make him or her less dependent upon other departments or on the will of the Privy Council Office.
Those are roughly the thrusts we adopted in amending the bill as it stands before the House. The government unfortunately is trying to undo the work done by the majority of committee members. I must ask for the support of the House to resist such a move.
There was an interesting intervention yesterday by the member for Halton who made an excellent contribution to the committee's work. He was quite right when he said that he was sure that if anyone ran over a burrowing hole with a mower, or a peregrine falcon with his car, there would be no chance of his being charged. I am glad he made that point because it rebuts allegations, assumptions and wrong interpretations made mostly by members of the official opposition who are trying to instill fear and unnecessary concerns on the population by interpreting the bill in a manner that is totally incorrect. I am grateful for that and I applaud him.
I would also like to put to rest the concerns he raised in his speech yesterday. He spoke about the possibility of a polarization between rural and urban Canadians, a split in attitudes. The majority of committee members who voted for the changes which are now incorporated in the bill as reported to the House are rural members.
In the remaining two minutes I would like to rebut, in a gentle form of course, the intervention by the member for St. Albert who spoke about the socioeconomic costs. He has to make up his mind as to whether action is needed, even when it has some economic consequences, because if action is not taken, there are very serious health consequences.
Too often the term socioeconomic costs has been used in a loose manner in this debate. It is also a concept that is inserted too often in the bill itself.
In the context of the bill it means that socioeconomic costs in a certain form are a sword of Damocles. Madam Speaker, you would remember Damocles better than I, not because of age but because of your culture. The sword of Damocles is the economic interest that could take precedence over the decision to declare a species endangered. This is important to remember.
For example, imagine that scientists recommend that cod should be declared as an endangered species because it has been so exploited for socioeconomic reasons that it is now endangered. We can imagine the surprise in finding in the bill numerous references to socioeconomic considerations as reasons for not declaring a species endangered. Unfortunately many clauses in the bill are peppered with this contradiction.
If we lost the cod it would be because of socioeconomic considerations to a point where a moratorium had to be invoked. It would no longer be possible to say we must continue with the cod fishery in order to maintain the socioeconomic conditions of the villages in Newfoundland. At a certain point the resource would collapse.
Therefore to use socioeconomic considerations as a crutch is a very dangerous approach.
The member for St. Albert demonstrated it this morning in his intervention. At a certain point he has to make up his mind. When there are certain situations where the socioeconomic considerations can no longer be invoked because the species, the environment or human health are at such risk, difficult decisions have to be made because the socioeconomic considerations can no longer help us out.