Mr. Speaker, it is a great pleasure for me to rise and speak to Bill C-5, the species at risk act. As the chair of the national rural caucus this is something with which the rural caucus has been very involved.
Before I go into my speech I would like to take the time to help the member for Red Deer. I understand he has a television show to do on this subject tonight. I listened to his facts and some of them are wrong. This all hinges around clause 64 within the bill.
Subclause 64(1) basically gives direction to the minister for compensation and subclause 64(2) now states that a governor in council shall develop regulations for compensation. The confusion for the member for Red Deer was the fact that Motion No. 109, had it carried, would have changed the word “shall” to “may”. The rural caucus found that totally unacceptable.
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment, the member for Kitchener Centre, can verify the fact that we repeatedly went after her on this issue of “may” versus “shall”. I commend the minister. I believe he had three meetings with the rural caucus on the issue and the parliamentary secretary had a couple more. Two of the members of the rural caucus who were very active in this included the member for Churchill River, who was very concerned about the issue, and the member for York North.
The minister saw fit to listen to our arguments on Motion No. 109 and withdrew it. The rural caucus was very appreciative of that because it helped us out very much on the compensation aspect. I believe it has taken us in the right direction.
The people of rural Canada have been heavily involved in the development of the legislation that we are considering today. They support Bill C-5's emphasis on stewardship. They have had a big role in the formation of our policy in this area and for a very good reason. They know how important stewardship is because they have acted as stewards for generations and generations.
I was a farmer in my other life and I was taught by my father that if we were to see a killdeer's nest out in the centre of a field we would immediately stop the tractor, set up stakes and make sure the nest was not destroyed. I was taught that as a child and it has stayed with me as an adult.
Farmers and people in rural Canada are very good stewards and they were naturalists long before it came into vogue. That is the reality of the people who live in rural Canada.
This work is being done through small actions and huge projects but it all conserves Canada's rich, national heritage. We need to make sure that these people see that this work is valued, that it is essential and that it is at the very foundation of Canada's approach to habitat and species protection. If we delay, we send a message that this work is not good enough. No one here intends to do that. If we act now we let rural Canadians know that their contribution is the foundation of our policy on species at risk and habitat protection.
Let us not delay on that message any longer. Let us get on with it. Let us put federal species at risk legislation in place in Canada. It is the least we can do.
The proposed species at risk act ensures that there is involvement of the people closest to the species and to the land. That is something rural caucus fought for and received, and we thank the minister for that. This involvement stems from an overall co-operative approach. We did not just happen across this approach. In fact we set about developing it after much studying, many discussions and after an examination of what works and what does not in other countries and situations. We know that this one will work.
Fundamentally, we have to remember that our constitutional structure is such that we must work at all times with the provinces and the territories on any major policy.
There is a good reason for this structure and most everyone here would agree that it is one that is fair, workable and, above all, Canadian.
There are few examples as good as the development of the strategy for the protection of species at risk to show how well this system can work. There was co-operation among governments, co-operation that began many years ago, to set the stage for a successful strategy. That success can be found in the federal-provincial-territorial agreement called the accord for the protection of species at risk. Under this accord, we have all committed to protecting species, their habitats and to bringing in legislation and programs.
For decades the federal, provincial and territorial governments have been working together on wildlife management. Rural Canadians have been directly involved in this approach in many ways. This is not just for species at risk. All species benefit.
Stewardship, such as that under the North American waterfowl management plan, where provinces and territories have joined the federal government and their counterparts in the United States to preserve hundreds of hectares of wetlands and protect species of waterfowl. Farmers, hunters, landowners and conservation organizations have worked side by side to make this happen. Clearly we all have to recognize that species at risk is truly an issue of national concern and nobody can do it all alone.
We need this continued co-operation. We need to be able to lean over the fence between the federal government and the provincial or territorial governments. That fence makes good neighbours and it makes us partners. That neighbourly spirit brought us the accord in 1996, the accord that commits governments to legislation and programs. These are commitments that many of our provincial and territorial partners have met. These are commitments that the federal government must meet.
The accord formed the Canadian Endangered Species Conservation Council which has met a number of times and is working on an assessment and recovery planning that is so essential to meet the needs of the species.
The accord provides for the early identification, protection and recovery of all species at risk throughout the country.
Considerable progress has been made by the provinces and the territories in improving a legislative base for the protection of the species at risk in Canada since the endorsement of the accord.
Now it is our turn. The provinces and territories worked with us in developing Bill C-5. The proposed bill recognizes their contributions. Their support is absolutely critical to the success of the bill. We cannot protect species at risk throughout Canada without the provinces and the territories. It is they who manage most of the lands and the activities that affect the species and the critical habitat. They set the land management policies, direct the development laws and deliver many of the programs. Provinces and territories control a significant amount of land and many species rely on these lands. They have had many resources that we need to deliver the habitat enhancement and the protection, including the protection of wetlands and parklands.
Together we set a course for the concept of a safety net that ensures that no species will fall through the cracks before a government has failed to act. That safety net ensures that all species and critical habitat are protected everywhere in Canada. That is the work we need to do and that is the work we are doing.