Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak to Bill C-5, an act respecting the protection of wildlife species at risk in Canada.
First of all, this bill reminds me of the early 1980s, when I was the mayor of a small municipality of about 4,000 inhabitants. When plans were made to create a national park in an area containing endangered species, our municipality had to invest considerable money in attaining its objectives, with the help of Parks Canada, of course.
The municipality had to clean up its water, because used water was being discharged into the St. Lawrence River at the proposed site of the park. At the time, I, as the mayor, and the council members were seen almost as cranks, people who were going to squander the taxpayers' money to save threatened bird species.
Twenty or so years ago, the environment was perhaps not the important concern for most people that it has become over the years. The bill before us today, which has a very specific objective—to protect species at risk—has undoubtedly been requested by taxpayers. Unfortunately, we cannot support this bill because, once again, the federal government is interfering extensively in provincial jurisdictions.
However, we should perhaps keep in mind the impact this bill may have on endangered species in our societies. We should perhaps also recall how the planet has evolved, how our environment has evolved since there was first life on earth. In fact, the situation today is the result of 4.5 billion years of evolution.
Man, humankind, is undoubtedly the creature which appeared last, but which has had the greatest impact. Over the years, man, by acting as he has done on this planet, is perhaps the being that has contributed the most to the destruction of his environment. Let us not forget that the evolutionary process has provided the human beings on this planet with a large selection of living organisms and natural environments.
We have only to look around us here. Leaving this House, we can go out to parks, along the Ottawa River, into Gatineau Park, and everwhere are surrounded by natural environments we often neglect to pay any attention to.
A decrease or degradation of biodiversity affects us all, and can have unexpected consequences for all human beings, for our living environments, and for our health in particular.
In Canada, as elsewhere, attempts have been made for some years to control the phenomenon of environmental destruction. Since the 1970s international conventions have been signed in order to control the trade in certain animal and plant species, in order to protect them from extinction.
Again this week, television news reports have shown us how certain species are disappearing, in Africa in particular, where people are engaged in trade involving endangered species. At the Rio summit in 1992, a number of countries in the international community, Canada included, signed the Convention on Biodiversity and made the commitment to initiate or maintain the existing legislative and regulatory provisions necessary to protect threatened species and populations.
Not long after, moreover, the government made the promise in its red book to commit to long term protection of the species that populate our planet. In that same vein in 1995, the Minister of Environment of the day introduced a first bill.
This provoked an incredible number of protests and criticisms—from environmental groups in particular, and others—that the environment had not yet really entered into our collective mores.
One of the main criticisms regarding this bill was that it was limited to federal lands. Environmental groups reproached the federal government for only intervening on lands that it owned, when it should have been intervening on all lands that required it. Once again, I repeat, such interventions would have to be done with the agreement of the provincial governments, including Quebec, which already had major legislation in place that protected species at risk to a great extent.
It is important to remember that at the time, only four provinces had laws to protect endangered species. Environmentalists pointed out that it was important for the government to act across the country. Once again, it is important to note that there were only four provinces, including Quebec, that were equipped with legislation to protect endangered species. As usual in the Canadian federation, Quebec was ahead of the others. This is nothing new, this is the case in a host of areas.
In 1996, the federal government proposed a Canada-wide agreement to the provincial and territorial ministers of the environment. This lead to the bill now before us. That agreement was the Accord for the Protection of Species at Risk.
In October 1996, the ministers responsible for wildlife gave their agreement in principle, which means that they finally accepted the principle of the bill and came to an agreement. At the time, Quebec environment minister David Cliche signed the accord, but he did not agree with, among other things, the federal government's interventions, which did not take into account provincial laws and regulations on the protection of threatened species.
In fact, our position and that of Quebec are the same as the one that the Minister of the Environment, Paul Bégin, stated as soon as his federal counterpart's bill was tabled, namely that this legislation was mere duplication. This is why we will vote against the bill.
Again, we agree in principle with the objectives of the bill, but we cannot accept it, since it creates duplication in provincial jurisdictions. In our opinion, this bill is not very useful to Quebec, considering that we already have regulations and laws protecting threatened species.
When the bill was introduced by the federal government, the Quebec minister indicated that this legislation sought not only to create a safety net for the protection of threatened species and their habitat on federal sites, but also on the whole Quebec territory. And we cannot agree with such a measure. We agree that the federal government must be able to take action to protect threatened species. It must do so, but by agreeing with the provinces, by accepting Quebec's jurisdictions, by accepting that Quebec is already ahead in this area, and by working with provincial governments.
The main criticism that we have regarding this bill is that it creates duplication, in that the federal government is once again duplicating regulations that already exist in Quebec. Instead of co-ordinating its efforts, of investing with the province to protect threatened species, the federal government is duplicating, it is creating a new structure and it is adding a new army of public servants to protect threatened species, while Quebec already has the necessary instruments.