Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak to Bill C-42.
Bill C-42 is enabling legislation that will allow Canada to ratify the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty, commonly known as the Madrid protocol.
Since signing the protocol in 1991, Canada has been committed to its ratification. By doing so, Canada will be joining the other 29 nations that have ratified the protocol. It will commit the country to the protection of this unique ecosystem, from which we can learn a great deal about the world's environment.
As a nation active in Antarctica, we must provide clarity on Canada's role in the region to Canadians present there and to the global community. We must establish mechanisms that will prevent or mitigate potential negative environmental impacts of human activity.
The Antarctic was once available to only the most adventurous of explorers and is now visited regularly by tourists and scientists, including Canadians. With continued scientific research, commercial fishing and increased tourism, we must be cognizant of the cumulative impacts of human action.
The challenge that nations operating in the Antarctic face is to manage activities in a way that balances the benefits of access with the need for environmental protection. The Madrid protocol, which came into force in 1998, achieves that balance through three key obligations.
First, it commits parties to the comprehensive protection of the Antarctic environment and designates Antarctica as a natural reserve devoted to peace and science.
Second, it sets out the principles for environmental protection, requiring an environmental impact assessment of all activities before they are allowed to proceed.
Third, the Madrid protocol bans activities harmful to the Antarctic environment, such as commercial mineral resource activity, damage to historic Antarctic sites and the harmful disturbance of wildlife.
The protocol's approach to environmental protection and conservation is similar to the approach taken by Canada in the areas of environmental assessments, marine pollution countermeasures, as well as our general approach toward national parks and species at risk.
What Bill C-42 does is it provides the legislative basis needed to implement the requirements of the Madrid protocol in Canada. Canadian tour companies and scientists are already voluntarily complying with the protocol using the approval mechanisms established by other nations. Those individuals and groups have consistently called upon Canada to ratify the protocol.
It is time for Canada to take responsibility for the activities of its nationals in the Antarctic.
Bill C-42 is consistent with established Canadian legal policy and practice and is in accordance with international law. It is consistent with the approach taken by other countries that have ratified the protocol.
The history of Antarctica is one of inspiration. It inspired people like Scott, Amundsen, Shackleton and the men that joined them, including other Canadians. It inspired ground breaking scientific research. Perhaps most important, it inspired the nations of the world to come together in a spirit of cooperation and multilateralism to declare that there would be a place on earth dedicated to peace and science.
It is now time for Canada to complete the process that began a decade ago and join the world in preserving and protecting the environment that has inspired so many in the past so that it will continue to inspire many more in the future.
We have seen only too well what damage can be caused to fragile frozen tundra if rules and procedures are not put in place and a common understanding is not established.
Antarctica is the last great wilderness on earth. It is not the territory of one nation, but the responsibility of all people in the world.
Canada has a well deserved reputation as a responsible polar nation that protects its environmental heritage. That reputation must be extended to Antarctica as well.
My hope is that passage of the bill through the House will enable Canada to do its fair share to protect this last common wilderness as a legacy for people in the future.