Madam Speaker, I am please to speak to this bill today. For those listening, it is important to recall that we are debating the Species at Risk Act at report stage.
I am going to explain why the Bloc Quebecois is opposed to this bill and to the government's approach, which has taken the form of the various groups of amendments considered at report stage.
The bill's preamble reads as follows, and I quote:
the Canadian Endangered Species Conservation Council is to provide national leadership for the protection of species at risk, including the provision of general direction to the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada in respect of that Committee's activities and general directions in respect of the development, coordination and implementation of recovery efforts,
In other words, with a bill which we are told respects provincial jurisdiction, we have a situation where the federal government once again wants to interfere in matters which do not concern it. It wants to tell the provinces how to go about things, without necessarily seeking their consent. That is why the Bloc Quebecois is opposed to this bill. It also opposed a number of amendments put forward by the government so that, ultimately, we could have a bill respecting provincial jurisdiction.
The wording of the bill is not such as to respect provincial jurisdiction, or the essential aspects of the protection of habitat in so far as the provinces are concerned. In fact, all indications are that the minister has the power to impose his vision of protection on the provinces when he deems it necessary. It is a bit paternalistic. Under this approach, if a province does not reach the same conclusions as he does, he will decide that his conclusions are the right ones; he will be a sort of umpire between the provinces. This is exactly the opposite of the spirit in which we wanted to see this sector managed.
In other words, this legislation will take de facto precedence over existing provincial laws, even when the habitat is fully under provincial jurisdiction. All this confirms that the bill interferes into areas of provincial responsibility and because of this, it is unacceptable.
In the section on general prohibitions, it states clearly that, and I quote subclause 34(2):
The Governor in Council shall, on the recommendation of the Minister, by order, provide that sections 32 and 33, or either of them, apply in lands in a province that are not federal lands—
The next subclause then states:
The Minister must recommend that the order be made if the Minister is of the opinion that the laws of the province do not effectively protect the species—
This describes the paternalistic approach that is unacceptable in this bill.
Similarly, clause 36 requires that when provinces classify certain species as endangered that are not listed on the COSEWIC list of designated species, they must apply the same prohibitions to these species as those that apply to the designated species. In doing this, the federal government is claiming the right to dictate how the provinces must go about protecting species. Restrictions and fines may not always be the route that a province wishes to choose.
As such, there is a contradiction when it comes to responsibilities. There is also a contradiction when it comes to the different approaches to ensuring protection. Throughout the bill, the federal government tries to impose its way of doing things, even if provincial legislation already exists.
As regards recovery strategies, the choice of themes is also troublesome when it comes to provincial jurisdiction. In fact, clause 39 sets out that “to the extent possible”, the recovery strategy must be prepared in co-operation with the appropriate provincial minister.
It is this type of phrase that will lead to fighting between the provinces and the federal government, and perhaps to litigation before the courts. A business or an individual caught breaking the law could invoke this flaw, this possible conflict between federal and provincial laws. Either way, we would all lose and end up without the desired results. Even though this bill was introduced some time ago and has gone through the different stages, it seems to have been botched. For the most part, it gives the federal government the right to interfere in this, which is unacceptable.
We are also aware that most environmental groups are opposed to the bill. Even those who should readily support any attempt to improve the protection of wildlife species find the bill useless, even dangerous.
A lot of things are totally unacceptable in this bill. The need to amend it and make the significant changes the government did not make is obvious.
However, the main problem raised by all environmental groups is the fact that the decisions on the designation of species will be taken by the minister and his cabinet, and not by scientists.
Beyond the jurisdictional conflict, that is the conflict of authority between the federal government and the provinces, there is the fact that, since decisions will be made by a minister and his cabinet, and that the minister will be subject to a great deal of pressure, environmental groups are afraid that the same thing will happen as in the case of the management of marine species and fisheries, where the government gave in to political pressures for many years, with the result that some species have nearly or totally disappeared. I believe that, in this respect, environmental groups have an important point.
This is why environmental activists like the leader of the Canadian campaign for the protection of endangered species said that Bill C-5 was a total failure and would not ensure the protection of Canadian species.
Moreover, like one of its lawyers, whose statements are more balanced than that, the Sierra Club is criticizing the bill for being too weak and giving such disgraceful discretionary power to politicians with regard to the designation of species.
The minister is being criticized for favouring, through his bill, a piecemeal approach, left to the discretion of cabinet, rather than a comprehensive approach soft on negotiation, but supported by binding legal recourse, should agreement prove impossible.
The federal government chose to adopt a paternalistic attitude, as I said earlier, by imposing its ways of doing things, controlling how things will be done, and giving sweeping powers to the political arm of the government. This issue is linked to the interpretation of the law and nature with respect to biological situations, the behaviour of various species and situations well beyond the scope of political cabinet decision making. For this reason, I believe it was absolutely necessary that the bill be amended, and this did not happen.
As for the Government of Quebec, it stated, through its environment minister at the time, Paul Bégin, that the bill was just another example of useless duplication for Quebec. He said that Bill C-5, introduced by the federal government, was aimed at creating a safety net for the protection of threatened species and their habitat not only on federal sites, but also on the whole Quebec territory. Mr. Bégin said, and I quote:
Quebec has always behaved in a responsible and appropriate manner regarding the protection of the most threatened fauna and flora species and intends to keep on exercising its authority in this matter.
In other words, the federal government's intervention comes at a time when Quebec has already assumed its responsibilities and done part of the job. In this sense, the new federal bill is useless and may even create complications with regard to interpretation and lead to decisions that will not result in better management of species at risk.
The Government of Quebec believes that legislation such as that proposed in the bill could be acceptable if it excluded any species or habitat under provincial jurisdiction and if it were applied to provincial lands if, and only if, the province or territory specifically so requested.
In closing, instead of having a bill that reflects the reality of Canadian federalism, we have a bill that reflects the government's centralizing approach even on the issue of species at risk.
For all these reasons, we believe that this bill is unacceptable. Even with the groups of amendments, several aspects of the bill would have to be improved to make it acceptable. The essential condition would be that the provinces be allowed to make their own decisions with regard to their own territory, which is not the case in the bill as it stands now.