Mr. Speaker, I take a particular interest in this issue. In 1988, one of the last things I did as Quebec's minister of the environment was to introduce in the national assembly the first act protecting threatened species in Quebec.
Sure, this act is not perfect. It needs—as a Bloc Quebecois member pointed out—to be improved regarding habitat protection. At the same time—1988 was quite a number of years ago—the Quebec act, like the acts of other provinces, was implemented over 15 years ago. Today, at the federal level, we are still discussing an act on threatened species. All these years have gone by; three bills have been introduced, this one being the third one. Unfortunately, it is sad to see that this third bill may be the weakest of all, because it is so discretionary.
Let me give some examples taken from Group No. 3. In Quebec, we have the beluga whales that live in the St. Lawrence River. This is a most important species, because it is unique. There are belugas elsewhere. There are some in the north, but they are not as threatened as those in the St. Lawrence. There is clear evidence that, in the St. Lawrence River, because of the pollution generated by factories, the beluga whales have had to fight for their survival for years, even decades. At one point, it was mentioned that there were only some 600 belugas left and they could barely survive.
A friend of mine, Pierre Béland, who works for the Institut national du Saint-Laurent and who follows the evolution of the belugas, told me that the survival of these belugas is still in jeopardy, because they are so intoxicated by all the emissions that are unfortunately released into the St. Lawrence River.
An amendment that was proposed in committee would have enabled the federal government, which has clear jurisdiction over waters and is a direct partner of the Quebec government in the Saguenay--St. Lawrence marine park, to settle this issue. In this instance, Bloc Quebecois members cannot argue that the federal government does not have jurisdiction.
Therefore, the committee submitted, with good reason, an amendment to protect species that are threatened geographically or genetically. Separate geographical protection means that if, in a given geographical region, for example the St. Lawrence River, belugas are affected, but that they are not affected in another location, then, according to the act, those that are threatened must be protected.
It seems to me that this provision makes perfect sense. It makes so much sense that all the biologists to whom we talked said it is essential. Could someone give me just one reason as to why the government should withdraw this protection?
It seems to me if we want geographic protection for certain species in one area where they might be affected and not in another area where they may not be affected, surely this makes a tremendous amount of sense for a government that wants to protect a particular species.
I cannot conceive of one reason that this amendment is viewed to be superfluous, to be bad for the common good of the public, for the protection of species. I challenge the government to give me one good reason why this amendment is flawed, why it makes no sense. It is a part of a feeling that the committee has gone beyond its powers. Yet what the committee has done is it has made a feeble bill a little less feeble, a little stronger. Certainly the bill can be viewed as so drastic as to upset the people who are not strict environmentalists like myself.
There is another example of why the government has gone beyond the norms to set aside all the logical amendments that were brought forward by the committee. It has to do with interim measures, which make a lot of sense, if a long space of time occurs between the time a species is declared endangered and the time an action plan happens.
The committee rightly gave the minister discretionary powers to institute interim measures to protect the particular species between the time it was listed and the time an action plan happened. These powers would be discretionary. We did not put compulsory and mandatory powers on the shoulders of the minister. We gave the minister the discretion to use these powers. If the minister for a particular reason, jurisdictional or other, did not choose to use the interim powers, then they would not be used.
Even that was viewed to be going too far. Yet who will ensure that interim protection if this power is not given to the minister?
If I were the Minister of the Environment, I would love to have additional powers to protect species because that is the objective of the law. I would have asked for these powers if the committee had failed to suggest them itself. I would have put them in the original bill anyway. But had I not put them in the original bill, I would have welcomed the committee's idea to insert them in the bill so that these discretionary powers would be in my hands if I chose to use them at any time. But no, even a mild change such as this was viewed to be too outlandish and had to be reversed.
Then there is the question of permitting. In the original Bill C-5 the minister has the authority to enter into an agreement to issue a permit to people which authorizes them to affect the listed species, its residence or its critical habitat. The committee judiciously and logically amended the bill so that there would be consequences if this was not followed.
With the government amendment it means there is no penalty if a person does not get a permit and there is no penalty if it is not complied with. What is the incentive for enforcement? What compels somebody who wants to endanger a species if there is no compulsion at all under the bill, not the slightest desire to enforce it by the government or the minister?
There again it is totally illogical that the government should choose to refuse such limited powers under the bill which would give it far more space, far more latitude to comply with the objectives of the bill which are the protection of species. We wonder whether it was some wish by the minister or the government to--