Mr. Speaker, we have heard much in the last two weeks about the importance of basing the decisions about establishing lists of species at risk to which the act will apply on the best available science. We have heard from some who would want us to believe that the government will refuse to act on the advice of the recommendations of COSEWIC. I think it is important to look at what is actually being done rather than to speculate endlessly about what might happen.
The protection of endangered or threatened species is a responsibility the government takes seriously. We agree that COSEWIC's species assessments must be addressed in a timely manner and the government is taking steps to do just that. The government supports the amendment made by the standing committee to add to the bill a new schedule 1 that contains 198 species at risk.
Mr. Speaker, I must compliment you on providing us a reading of that list yesterday, and not only in both official languages but in Latin. Indeed, the motion to add 198 species to the legal list was proposed by our Minister of Environment during the standing committee review of the bill. This means that the statutory obligations would immediately apply to these species as soon as the act is proclaimed.
However, the government is going even further. COSEWIC has continued its work while Bill C-5 has been making its way through the legislative process. Assessments and reassessments of species with the new and improved criteria have been done and have yielded some very important results.
I wish to speak in favour of the government's motions to add another 35 species to that initial list. This is the list to which the statutory obligations automatically apply when the act is proclaimed. This brings the initial list to 233 species. Every species that COSEWIC has assessed against the new criteria, every single one, not just the cute, furry, fuzzy ones but the lichen, the fish and the slugs, has been reassessed. This is very significant and is an indication that the federal government is committed to species at risk.
Adding all 233 species to the legal list under species at risk legislation clearly demonstrates how seriously the government takes COSEWIC's advice. It demonstrates further our commitment to acting on that advice. The assessment and the listing of species is a perfect partnership. The scientists with the expertise will determine the threats as well as the status, and the elected members of parliament will move forward on actions that address the threats and the status. It is a partnership that will work very well.
We must give both the scientists and the government what they need to get this important job done. As an example, I support the proposed amendments that restore a more workable definition of the term wildlife species. We need to give COSEWIC a definition that can be interpreted and put to good use rather than one that narrowly restricts its work, as the proposed wording from the standing committee would have done.
While I am speaking about definitions I would also like to express my support for the proposed change to the definition of residence. While it may seem like a small change, it is an important one that will re-establish the concept of the residence as a clearly defined place associated with an individual or individuals of the species in question and it will not extend the definition to the broader concept of critical habitat which is covered extensively in other parts of this act.
This is important, as prohibitions against the destruction of the residence of a threatened or endangered species will apply automatically upon listing. Canadians deserve to be able to understand the concept and to identify those residences with some clarity. It is also important for a listed species because it enables the protection of the automatic prohibition against the destruction of a residence to come into play quickly and unambiguously.
The government motions are also intended to delete the new, broad, open ended authority added by the standing committee for the minister to take any interim measures to protect species from the time of listing to the finalization of recovery strategies. This contradicts the transparent and accountable nature of the bill.
It is important that we state as clearly as possible that there is no need to wait for recovery strategies and action plans. The species at risk legislation would contain emergency provisions to give the minister authority to take interim measures between the time of listing and the time of recovery. Moreover, the minister could at any time enter into stewardship agreements to protect species and critical habitat.
Speaking of stewardship, at the farm gate in Saskatchewan there are signs that proudly announce the recovery of the burrowing owl. Woodlot owners across Ontario and Quebec proudly display membership in conservation organizations and talk about such matters when they get together. Fishers in Atlantic Canada invest in different kinds of nets to avoid trapping sea turtles and whales. Ranchers in Ontario and Alberta assist in recovery efforts for the loggerhead shrike. Landowners in the southern Okanagan take time out of their busy lives to participate in the development and implementation of projects to protect habitat and help species.
These people and thousands like them are stewards. They are Canadians who are protecting species at risk. They are people who want to do the right thing and whose actions speak far louder than words. This is a land with an ethic of farmers, an ethic of protecting woodlands, prairies, and waters where fishers have worked for generations. That is stewardship. It is what we know will work as a first step in protecting critical habitat.
I will address the government's position on socioeconomic matters and how they relate to the proposed act.
Bill C-5 is designed to protect and recover species at risk. It is the whole reason we have the legislation before us. Assessments of species are prepared by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. They are based on the best available information about the biological status of species. It is the only information that influences species assessment. Social and economic factors do not, nor would they under the proposed act.
Equally clear is the recovery part of the act. Its objectives have everything to do with biology and nothing to do with social or economic factors. It is important to read the amendments and the act instead of the interpretations of others, interpretations that have not changed while we have listened, adjusted and listened some more. The act says clearly that there would be no interference with science. There would be none.
When would we take economic and social impacts into account? When would we determine how to respond to them? Consideration must be given to social and economic factors. At this phase the process is still truly open and transparent.
We have stated over and over that science is an untouchable piece of the proposed act. We would not allow undue influence over scientists. We have emphasized and continue to emphasize that the people of the land and the waters in Canada are doing the right thing and want to continue to do the right thing. We should not insult them any further by saying they would deliberately avoid doing the right thing. We should read what is proposed in the act and the motions, avoid the spin, and move on with passage of Bill C-5.