Madam Speaker, before I speak to the amendments in Group No. 3 I would like to dispel a couple of myths about the committee's work on the bill.
First, is the myth that the standing committee's changes would make Bill C-5 more coercive. This word is being applied to any change to the bill agreed to by the committee that is contrary to the government's position.
As I noted the last time I spoke the committee fully supported the co-operation first principle. It was foremost in virtually every discussion we had in the many months of our study. The committee sought to inject clarity and predictability into the bill. Most Canadians would believe this is a good thing but we are being told such things are coercive.
Even the committee's version of Bill C-5 is heavily laden with discretion. Every consultation mechanism and opportunity for private stewardship would remain in the bill. They were in fact strengthened by the committee and are available in black and white for anyone to read. I challenge those who claim that the reported version of the bill would be coercive to stand in the House and point to those sections of the amended bill that would support this thesis.
Second, is the myth that 80% of the committee's amendments have been accepted. I do not know what system of accounting produced this figure, but I suggest that the parties involved in this calculation have a brilliant future ahead of them with Enron. A precursory examination of the government's motions clearly indicates that little of the substantive work of the committee has been accepted, including virtually every amendment the committee made to the core issues of the bill.
Furthermore, there are numerous government motions entitled technical motions that are in fact reversing motions. In case after case they change every committee amendment to a particular clause, save for one minor syntactical change. Yet these are described as supporting the intent of the committee and called technical amendments.
As someone who sat on the committee for the duration of the study I am well placed to tell the House what its intent was. The intent of the committee was to improve the bill to reflect the input of the witnesses we heard, to reflect the diversity of views around the committee table, and to improve the biological basis of the legislation. Many of the government motions in no way support this intent.
I will speak to the motions at hand. Government Motion No. 9 and Motion No. 10 would delete the words geographically or genetically distinct from the definition of wildlife species. The committee inserted the language to make the definition consistent with COSEWIC's practice. The original version of Bill C-65, the precursor to Bill C-5, defined species to include geographically distinct populations. This was the government's language. The government changed its mind in Bill C-5. It deleted the reference to geographically distinct populations and replaced it with biologically distinct, which is self-evident, narrower and certainly far more confusing.
Dr. Geoffrey Scudder, former president of the Canadian Society of Zoologists and fellow of the royal society testified before the committee as follows:
The term “biologically distinct population” is vague. It does not make any sense at all to me as a biologist.
There are good reasons for protecting geographically distinct populations. Geographically distinct populations are typically genetically distinct as well and preserving genetic diversity is a key objective of the convention on biological diversity, a convention to which is Canada is a signatory.
On the current reassessed COSEWIC list a number of species, as we heard last night are geographically or genetically distinct populations. They are identified as such on the list. With the rollover of the list we have a contradiction between these subspecies on the COSEWIC list and what the government wants to do to the definition of species.
The government's definition is inconsistent with COSEWIC's definition and its longstanding practice which has been to list geographically distinct populations of a species, for example, the St. Lawrence beluga whale, the eastern cougar, et cetera. One might ask, is this just the committee's opinion? No. COSEWIC itself disagrees with the government on this definition and wrote in its brief to the committee:
The geographic, as well as biological, distinction of populations is a key criterion in the recognition by COSEWIC of an evolutionarily significant unit.
It is not just the standing committee and the broader scientific community the government is ignoring, but it is ignoring COSEWIC itself, as it has on numerous key issues in Bill C-5, including the listing process. This is the same COSEWIC that the government tells us it will listen to with great attention.
I turn now to government Motion No. 66. This motion guts the committee changes to clause 37 which pertains to recovery strategies. The committee agreed to insert language granting the minister discretionary authority, and I stress discretionary authority, to take interim habitat conservation measures for a species between the time it is listed and the time the decision is made whether or not to protect its habitat, a period that could last for a year or more.
The government has said that this power already exists in the bill in the form of emergency orders. Yet this is available only if there is an emergency that threatens a species' survival, a very rare situation and one requiring cabinet approval.
There will likely be many situations of threats to a species or its habitat that are serious but that do not necessarily threaten the survival or recovery of the whole species. For this reason, the government's arguments ring hollow. It clearly does not understand its own bill.
Without interim conservation authority, Bill C-5 will create a perverse incentive. If a logging company, for example, knows that a species has been listed and its habitat may, and that is only may, eventually be protected, it will have an economic motivation to accelerate logging of that habitat in order to avoid legal restrictions if the bill's habitat protection measures kick in. To avoid this, authority to create effective interim measures is required.
The committee agreed, yet the government has decided to gut this. It argues that this contradicts the bill's principles of transparency and accountability. In numerous other clauses of the bill, the government is gutting committee amendments that insert criteria, that insert public consultation, that insert reporting mechanisms. Yet in this case, it claims that the committee is blurring these lines.
Government Motion No. 120 removes permitting from the penalties section. I remind the House that there is no mandatory habitat protection of any kind in the bill, either within areas of federal jurisdiction or without. It is all discretionary. It is perfectly possible that a species could go from the beginning to the end of the process that the bill lays out and never have its habitat protected. This is a critical failure of Bill C-5 and the reason it cannot be said to have a biological foundation.
The committee agreed that the government should be required to protect habitat in federal jurisdiction. One way to do this would be via the permitting section.
In the original Bill C-5, the competent minister has the authority to enter into an agreement or issue a permit to people authorizing them to affect a listed species, its residence or its critical habitat. If the terms of such an agreement or permit are not met, or if the permit or agreement is never obtained, what are the repercussions under the original Bill C-5 vis-à-vis habitat protection? There is little or none.
The committee agreed that this should not be the case. In the context of changes to clause 74, which will be debated in Group No. 5, the committee agreed that there should be repercussions. For this reason it amended the list of penalties in clause 97 to include the failure to obtain or comply with an agreement or permit under amended clause 74(1). Government Motion No. 120 eliminates this as a penalty.
It disproves the suggestion that Bill C-5 is heavy on volunteer initiatives at the front end backed up with solid legal protection in the event that those initiatives fail. There is nothing solid about this motion and its intent. There is no penalty if a person does not get a permit and if a person does get a permit, there is no penalty if it is not complied with.
I call on all members of the House to defeat these motions.