Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to take part today, at third reading stage, in the debate on Bill C-9, an act to amend the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act.
It might be good to remind the House that Bill C-9 amends the existing Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. This basic legislation came into effect in January 1995 and is the process through which the federal government decides whether or not to approve projects that could have an environmental impact. It is important to note that we are therefore talking mainly about the federal government's power in the environmental area.
But we will see that, in this area as in many others, the federal government is unable to curb its insatiable desire for power to its own jurisdictions and this is the main reason the Bloc Quebecois is opposed to the bill.
In relation to a physical work, a project corresponds to any proposed construction, operation, modification, decommissioning or abandonment in relation to that physical work. These are all the concepts found in the act in relation to a project. Regulations will clarify the type of projects that are covered or not by an environmental assessment. Paragraph 5 of the basic legislation states that some projects are not subject to an environmental assessment and other exclusions, beside national and other emergencies, restrict the scope of the act. This is the context in which we have to work today.
Exclusions are logical and they are subject to other rules. However, some exclusions are much more ambiguous and cover a number of areas: agriculture, electric and nuclear energy, pipelines, forests, transport, and so on. A good number of these are areas of provincial or shared jurisdiction.
I would like to draw the attention of the House to a comment about this made by the member for Rosemont—Petite-Patrie, the Bloc Quebecois environment critic. He has carefully reviewed this bill as well as other issues related to the environment. The member for Rosemont—Petite-Patrie, who is a leader when it comes to environmental matters, mentioned that there was a fundamental problem, beyond the issue of jurisdiction, in that the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act takes a self-assessment approach: federal authorities are the ones who assess their own projects.
So, while there are sectors that were excluded, as we mentioned earlier, there are also sectors where departments carry out their own assessments of projects they want to promote. Once again, as the member for Rosemont—Petite-Patrie said, unlike in Quebec, where there is the BAPE, under Canadian legislation, departments are often responsible for conducting their own assessments. This means they are both judge and defendant. It is as though we were telling industrial developers or the oil industry to do their own environmental assessments. What would that lead to? It would lead to biased results. So, what we need is a truly independent process, like that of Quebec's BAPE.
The Bureau d'audiences publiques sur l'environnement du Québec has been in existence for several years now. Quebec set up an assessment process that dates back to 1972, when the first environmental assessment legislation was passed in Quebec. Back then, it truly was one of the best pieces of legislation of its type. Of course, environmental issues have evolved over the years, but the fact that the review is there, that this legislation was passed, has allowed for the development of a truly independent environmental assessment process that has, over the long haul, turned out to be a very good decision.
Under the process, there are clear standards by which preliminary studies are carried out on legislation in Quebec. If the environmental impact of a project meets the standards, then a certificate of authorization is issued. This gives developers a very high degree of certainty.
When the BAPE gives its authorization for a project, a certificate is issued, which consists of a guarantee for those involved in the project that, in the end, projects will be accepted, and can be carried out. Therefore, the BAPE assessment catches anything that the standards may have missed. The public is guaranteed access to this type of hearing.
There are other aspects of Bill C-9 that have caught our attention.
One of the features of this act is that only federal authorities are subject to environmental assessment. Whenever such an entity is the promoter of whole projects or parts of projects, it must conduct an environmental assessment. Help for a project may take the form of funding, a loan guarantee, or financial assistance.
However, financial assistance in the form of tax relief is not addressed, and neither are projects carried out outside Canada. In that respect, the organization Development and Peace recommended that Export Development Canada projects be assessed, because we cannot do abroad what we would not dare do at home.
This opens a very important chapter about all that lies ahead in international negotiations, where we have moved from agreements like NAFTA, to liberalize trade, to agreements that include social and environmental provisions. It is important that any legislation we pass now reflects this thrust, so that eventually we may have environmental assessments that allow us to determine the true value of projects.
First, Bill C-9 sets out new objectives: to promote cooperation and coordinated action between federal and provincial governments with respect to environmental assessment processes for projects, to promote communication and cooperation between responsible authorities and aboriginal peoples with respect to environmental assessment.
It creates the position of environmental assessment coordinator. There is the rub. Let us consider paragraph 46(1), which states, “Where no power, duty or function referred to in section 5 is to be exercised or performed by a federal authority in relation to a project that is to be carried out in a province and the minister is of the opinion that the project may cause significant adverse environmental effects in another province, the minister may refer the project to a mediator or a review panel in accordance with section 29 for an assessment of the environmental effects of the project in that other province”.
This is the clause that obliges the Bloc Quebecois to oppose this bill. We cannot be opposed to proper environmental assessments. In this connection, Quebec has proven its desire to pass legislation that is effective and gives satisfactory results. The bill we have before us at the present time, however, allows the federal government to intervene in areas that are not under the general application set out in clause 5 but affect all other matters which, in the judgment of the minister, may be considered pertinent if the act is to be implemented in a province.
Thus there could be a duplicate assessment of a project to be carried out in Quebec, because it would have an environmental impact on Nova Scotia, Ontario or some other province. Certainly, we all agree that a good environmental process is necessary, but sustainable economic development assumes the presence of environmental rules that do not act as hindrances to development but instead make possible projects that fit in with sustainable development. We are entitled to doubt that this federal approach will be a satisfactory one.
To us, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act is an encroachment on Quebec's basic areas of jurisdiction. To begin with, right from the time it was introduced, it has been interpreted as a federal attempt to reintroduce discretionary leeway into its environmental assessment process. This is clearly demonstrated by the clause I was just reading.
In clause 8, the creation of a federal environmental assessment coordinator clearly demonstrates the federal desire to meddle in the Quebec process. It wants to created a coordinating position because of its intention to interfere in an area of Quebec jurisdiction. Otherwise it would not need such a position. If it stuck to its own area of jurisdiction, the federal level would not have any need of this position, one which by its very definition assumes the coordination of projects that affect several provinces or which, thanks to clause 22, can intervene in an area of jurisdiction that is already covered by Quebec, that is by the Bureau d'audiences publiques sur l'environnement.
We know that the provincial governments—Quebec and Alberta were the leaders in the environmental area—have spoken out against the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act and called for major changes, which would have made it possible for the provincial processes to replace federal assessments.
The federal government rejected those concessions at the time. The bill also appears to introduce discrimination between promoters of social projects and the federal authorities, and other authorities. For example, a project partly financed by the federal government will be subject to the Canadian environmental assessment act. But if the federal government is not involved, a second system comes into play. So there is a double standard. We should have examined this more closely in order to find more acceptable solutions.
In 1992--and this is already 11 years ago--, when Robert Bourassa was Premier of Quebec, the National Assembly unanimously passed a motion condemning the approach tkaen by the federal government, which was acting unilaterally without taking into account Quebec's representations.
This motion read as follows:
That the National Assembly strongly disapproves of the federal government bill, an act to establish a federal environmental assessment process, because it is contrary to the higher interests of Quebec, and that the National Assembly opposes its passage by the federal Parliament.
From the outset, a motion was unanimously passed and approved by this federalist Liberal government in Quebec that said, “The federal government has no business in this.” That is justifiable. It is a position that is shared by all political parties in Quebec.
Quebec wants all projects within its territory, whether the federal government is participating in them or not, to undergo its own environmental assessment process with the Bureau d'audiences publiques sur l'environnement. The Quebec process allows, in our opinion, more transparency in terms of public participation. We have attended BAPE hearings in the past. The debates are often very heated, but they allow people to express their opinions and their points of view quite clearly. In any case, this tribunal has always had a reputation for doing a good job.
Quebec has an independent assessment process that contrasts with the federal government's philosophy of self-assessment. Under Quebec's system, departments are not asked to assess their own projects. Obviously, this ensures greater transparency. This also means it is not necessary to ensure that the process complies with a sufficiently rational logic.
Quebec's process also excludes fewer projects early on and therefore provides greater protection for the environment. It contains no exclusions or exceptions, as does the federal legislation. It is also less complex than what the federal government is proposing. It is more homogenous and therefore more predictable, since it is comes under one single entity instead of different government departments.
The Quebec process has a clear time frame, unlike the federal government's legislation, which never gives very specific deadlines.
There are, therefore, two different environmental assessment models. In fact, the federal government is very late in addressing this; it is trying to play catch-up. It has developed a particular model which often creates conflicts of interest and which is, ultimately and very surprisingly, based on the Quebec system; it is going to intervene when the Quebec system is already in place. So, this can lead to significant duplication. In that case, it is not necessarily just the environmentalists who will react, but also the project developers. In fact, the latter, in good faith, submit a project for approval, undergo the BAPE assessment process and, suddenly, due to the federal legislation, have to submit their project to a second review. Then they have to see if it is approved or not.
It is important to remember that the purpose of assessing environmental projects is not to block the projects indefinitely, but to ensure that development projects respect the principles of sustainable development, as Quebec has done for many years now.
Of course, Quebec also opposes the duplication of procedures the federal government has introduced. This is a waste of resources that could be used more effectively for the benefit of the environment.
For all these reasons, we felt that it was important to try to get this bill revised and corrected. We are now at the third reading stage and we are trying to have the bill referred once again to the committee or to have the government itself reconsider the bill so that, in its final version, the bill will respect the jurisdiction of provinces, particularly that of Quebec, in environmental matters. Occasionally, the federal government has done so for other projects in order to respect provincial jurisdiction, and it also ensured that what worked in other cases could be incorporated in the legislation, in order to have a better act.
We see nothing of the kind in this bill and this is the why the Bloc Quebecois is opposing it. As we know, we have to find ways to apply the same rationale to development projects and their environmental assessment to have sustainable development.
In that sense, in the case of hydro projects, we can say that the past in an indication of what the future holds in store, as the member for Rosemont—Petite-Patrie said. He also said:
Look at what this government has done with the environmental assessment process in the Toulnustouc project on the North Shore. It is important to remember that the interference of the federal government in the hydroelectric generating station on the Toulnustouc River in 2001 caused delays of several months on this key project for the region.
Therefore we are not talking about theoretical objections, objections that did not turn out to be well founded. In the case of this bill, we are talking about real situations. It would have been possible to take advanatage of the amendments being made to the act to correct the situation and avoid, in future, this kind of conflict of interest, which has significant economic effects on revenues and also on job creation.
People on the North Shore undoubtedly want the project to go ahead as soon as possible. BAPE hearings were held and, consequently, it did not necessarily seem relevant to add a second environmental study.
The hon. member said later:
After reviewing the environmental assessment of the project, after public consultations in Baie-Comeau and Betsiamites, after 13 hearings involving some 650 people with 31 briefs having been presented, the BAPE gave the project its approval in June 2001. This hydroelectric power plant was going to generate employment for 800 people per year.
The federal government decided to enforce the federal process, skeptical of the BAPE's environmental assessment under Quebec's system, thereby delaying a sustainable development project for Canada, and also violating the principles of sustainable development, under which the economy, the environment and society are equally important. I think that the proposal of the current Liberal government, to have environmental reviews delegated to Quebec, is completely warranted.
Why not, instead, have legislation that would provide that, if a province had an adequate mechanism, that is what would apply, but duplication would be avoided at all costs?
The hon. member for Rosemont—Petite-Patrie concluded by saying that he was:
—convinced that when the newly elected government in the National Assembly sees this bill and when it studies and evaluates these major amendments, it will be consistent with Robert Bourassa's position in 1992 and support the drive to patriate and have one single environmental review process for all projects. In the end, I am convinced that the new government will remain faithful to Quebec's past claims and to the best interests of Quebec, as all of the Governments of Quebec have done for decades.
In conclusion, I think the best lesson to be drawn from today's debate is that, as the member from Hochelaga—Maisonneuve said this morning, the environment is not just about theoretical issues. It has an impact on people's daily lives and that should be one measure of whether projects are compatible with sustainable development. But we must never use environmental legislation to obstruct development projects; all voices must be heard.
At present, the federal government, by allowing us to vote on Bill C-9, is not working for the cause of the environment. Therefore, the Bloc Quebecois will vote against the bill.