Mr. Speaker, once again I am here in the House to talk about Bill C-5, the species at risk act. It is troubling to me that as usual the government is content to forge blindly ahead with legislation without any real idea of what the financial impact of the law would be on the country and the taxpayers.
I would like to spend some time discussing the socioeconomic implications of this proposed legislation. The protection of the environment is a very important priority to most if not all Canadians.
I come from British Columbia, arguably some of the most beautiful territory in the country. Last summer I spent two weeks driving around British Columbia. I put on about 4,300 kilometres just driving to different parts of the province to get a feel, as I often do, for what that province is really all about.
I recall driving up through Cariboo-Chilcotin, in semi-arid desert, Prince George, Prince Rupert, over to Terrace then to the Skeena River, a huge salmon river. I took a ferry across to the Queen Charlotte Islands and spent four or five days there. I recommend that anyone who wants to see what Haida Gwaii is all about should take a trip to the Queen Charlottes and spend some time there. I spent some time at Rennell Sound, at Bonanza Beach, where there are huge expanses of beach two miles long with no one around for miles, with eagles, bear and deer. This is what British Columbia is all about.
British Columbians, maybe more so than anywhere else in the country, understand what the environment is about and how important it is to protect these species. I went into the Kootenays, to the western slopes of the Rockies, to Blue River, and down into the Okanagan, beautiful territory and environmentally sensitive. We understand what that is all about.
However I believe that it is equally important to Canadians that our environment be protected in a way that is economically sustainable. To this end the Canadian Alliance has put forward Motion No. 3 which has been grouped in the third bundle of amendments to Bill C-5. It would require that the socioeconomic interests be considered in the legal listing of species.
The bill would already provide that economic considerations be considered when developing recovery measures. COSEWIC, the committee on the status of endangered wildlife in Canada, is charged with developing the list of endangered species and habitats from a purely scientific perspective. It is the cabinet which has the final say. This unfortunately opens the door for political considerations to dominate the process. We are saying the economic considerations should be part of the considerations as the list would have a definite impact on the Canadian taxpayer.
The Canadian Alliance has also proposed Motion No. 15. It says that:
The purposes of this Act, outlined in subsection (1), shall be pursued and accomplished in a manner consistent with the goals of sustainable development.
This is closely related to socioeconomic interests because it requires that a balance be struck between the environmental goals and the impact on taxpayers. Without considering sustainable development environmental laws could quickly kill the goose that lays the golden egg.
Consideration for endangered species is something that only prosperous economies can afford because someone must pay for it. As the previous speaker suggested, economic desperation will be no friend to species at risk. Someone must pay for this stuff and if we do not have an economy to support it, it will not be very friendly to the species at risk which it is trying to help in the first place.
Is it not essential that the cost to industry and property owners, not to mention the cost to governments in terms of enforcement resources, be known before the government introduces legislation with such vast implications? In particular, we must know what the bill would cost farmers, fisherman, loggers, ranchers, et cetera, and what the government's compensation provisions would be. Without this information, individuals cannot plan and governments cannot know what costs are being passed along.
One of my staff members in the constituency office of Surrey North is a member of a family that owns one of the oldest ranches in the Nicola Valley outside of Merritt. I had the pleasure to spend about a week on that ranch a couple of years ago. It was during calving season, but that is a whole other issue. It was quite an experience for someone who lives in the city to be on a cattle ranch during calving season.
I talked to my staff member's brother about the co-operation he shows with Ducks Unlimited to preserve habitat on his ranch, as do all ranchers. These folks understand what the environment means to their livelihood.
The government apparently has no idea of the socio-economic implications of the legislation. They could not be made any clearer than in the following statements from the ministry and the minister. The minister's information supplement from October 2001 says:
Environment Canada is aware that compensation for restrictions on the use of land is a complex issue that requires careful consideration and innovative thinking. We will need several years of practical experience in implementing the stewardship and recovery provisions of the Species at Risk Act (SARA) before we can be precise in prescribing eligibility and thresholds for compensation.
In explaining why he could not guarantee compensation under Bill C-5 the minister said at the standing committee on October 3, 2001:
We then got deeper and deeper into this and it became more and more of the proverbial swamp, more and more difficult to do partly because, of course, governments should not pass legislation which is open-ended in terms of funding. We have fiscal responsibilities which, as you can well imagine, are fairly strict on us. Forty-five million a year is what we've been given to run the process and that's what we can expect and that's it.
The environment minister was admitting he did not know the costs or the implications. He said he was pretty sure they would be more than $45 million a year. How much more? Has he produced studies? Can he give any idea? He says he does not want to undertake open ended spending commitments. That is fine for the government but Bill C-5 is open ended in terms of what it would cost Canadian property owners. The minister and the government would not pay for it but they would have no problem forcing others to absorb the costs.
The Species at Risk Working Group represents a broad range of environmental and industry groups including the Canadian Wildlife Federation, the Sierra Club of Canada, the Canadian Pulp and Paper Association and the Mining Association of Canada. In its presentation to the standing committee in September 2000 it recommended as an amendment that:
The purposes of this Act shall be pursued to the extent possible while taking into account the social and economic interests of Canadians.
With these facts in mind I hope the government and the opposition parties see the sense in the Canadian Alliance amendments and vote in favour of them. Otherwise we cannot support the legislation. As I said, we understand the implications of species at risk and the need to protect them, as do all Canadians. However we must consider the implications before we do so.