Mr. Speaker, today we are debating Group No. 3, with the main theme of socioeconomic interests and public consultation.
The laissez-faire, wide open approach is not the current situation in Canada, as we do have a multi-level system of environmental laws. However, we need to go to the next step in identifying specific endangered species and finding ways to protect and preserve them. We understand that if we are not careful in creating boundary lines that limit property rights and commercial activity we could ruin the economy and still not significantly help species at risk. It is finding those boundary lines, the system of discretion where we shall impact or limit or may even punish, that the whole controversy is all about. Also there must be a range of incentives to protect and preserve. The consequences of the new act, on balance, must result in species preservation, but if that wrong line is chosen, which it looks like the government indeed has done, then species will not be protected at all.
I note that the Species at Risk Working Group, which had representations from a broad range of environmental and industrial groups such as the Canadian Wildlife Federation, the Sierra Club, the Canadian Pulp and Paper Association, the Mining Association and so on, recommended as an amendment in its presentation to the standing committee in September, 2000, that:
The purposes of this Act shall be pursued to the extent possible while taking into account social and economic interests of Canadians.
We say that in this section of the bill it is a failure on that count.
There has been a lot of debate around COSEWIC itself. COSEWIC stands for the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. It is a panel of scientific experts appointed by the minister whose chief function is to classify species at risk and to recommend to determine the scientific list of endangered species. This is where a main controversy erupts. Environmentalists want the scientific list determined by COSEWIC to automatically become the list that is enforced by law. The Liberals want cabinet to have the final decision as to which scientific recommendations are accepted and which are not.
The Liberal government wants to have political control over which species are protected. Then the consequences can be applied, perhaps according to which area gives to the Liberal Party or sends Liberals to the House. In other words, regional differences and influences will be played again by the Liberal government.
In committee, the Canadian Alliance proposed a balanced compromise which was accepted by the committee. The Liberals now want to reverse it. We argue that the scientific COSEWIC list should become the legal list within 60 days if the cabinet does not act to prevent it. In other words, under this approach cabinet would have the final say. Indeed, politicians have to make that final decision but they would have to act to perhaps overthrow or overcome a scientific recommendation with convincing justifications to the public and also with the political consequences that would flow from that. Under the Liberals' approach cabinet could defeat scientific recommendations simply by ignoring them.
How dare this Liberal government ignore the work of the House standing committee and run roughshod over its own backbench members and parliamentary democracy? Why should MPs listen to witnesses or bother finding consensus positions between parties when the government ignores it all anyway?
The House standing committee's balanced approach to listing endangered species proposed by the Canadian Alliance is, I believe, the responsible position. The Liberals want all power to remain with cabinet so they can simply ignore the scientists, and environmentalists would make the pronouncements of unelected, unaccountable scientists the law of the land, but it is cabinet's job to consider the socioeconomic consequences of listing and to determine the proper response to scientific recommendations. Scientists should do science. They should not get into the world of politics. The political decisions should be rightly left to cabinet, but cabinet should at least be required to explain and justify itself and should be publicly accountable if it chooses not to follow a scientific recommendation.
Part of that process is public consultation and public notice. That is a very positive thing. Some of the technical amendments in this grouping are heading in that right direction.
However, protecting endangered species absolutely requires the support of property owners. For this reason, it must be as transparent as possible. People must have the opportunity to make their case before decisions are made. The system must be perceived as responsive to their needs to create co-operation rather than an unpredictable law that is to be feared and perhaps even circumvented.
The bill would preserve the minister's discretionary power. He would decide whether the compensation is given or not and how much. He would decide whether provincial laws are effective or not and, therefore, whether the federal government would step in to impose its laws. This discretion is the opposite of transparency, the opposite of incentives to protect and preserve.
The government has refused to provide any draft regulations about the process for compensation, who would qualify or for how much. These are essential and should be part of the debate before they are finalized.
Where is the technical amendment which would provide a predictable process for property owners to seek compensation? The committee at least said that the minister must draft regulations, but the government wants to do away with that obligation also.
Where is the technical amendment which would set out the criteria which the minister would use to determine whether a province's law is effective or not? The committee put criteria into the bill, but the government wants to take it out also.
The process for action plans and recovery plans must be transparent.
In summary of this section, it appears that the Liberals want a species bill under such a name so they can say that they have one, regardless if it ever saves anything. They want to take total control. This means only one thing, judging by past Liberal government performance on other files. It wants to selectively apply the law which puts political considerations first. If the consequence affects the likelihood of money delivered to the Liberal party, then that factor will probably have sway.
Under the present form of the bill, it will be the Liberal Party first and species and the environment second or even third.
The bill is a classic example of how good intentions get perverted by Liberals, how an environmental need is secondary to interests of the industrial friends of the Liberal party. It is clear that the Liberals cannot manage and this bill is the clear evidence of it.
It will probably take a Canadian Alliance government to eventually bring into the country a nationally fair and workable law that actually saves some endangered species rather than being designed to save the endangered Liberal Party.