Mr. Speaker, it is with great pleasure that I address Bill C-15, an act to amend the Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994 and the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999.
Although I am pleased to address the important provisions of the proposal before us, it is also an honour to address the recommendations of the House of Commons Standing Committee on the Environment and Sustainable Development following its careful deliberations on the bill.
The bill received strong support from the committee. In essence, what is before us are measures that not only make substantial improvements to the environmental legislative regime in Canada, but they also enhance the competitiveness of our economy, improve the general well-being of Canadians and better protect our nation's rich natural heritage. In other words, the bill supports our vision for the environment.
I would like to also recognize the fine work of several members of this chamber. The member for Victoria, when he was the minister of the environment, introduced a version of this proposal in May of this year. It was his clear guidance and direction that were instrumental in getting us here today. We must also recognize it was the members of Parliament, particularly from Atlantic Canada, who worked so hard to address the tragic situation that occurs so unnecessarily every winter on the seas off our coastline. They did the hard work and we now have before us a viable bill that will make a difference .
When the current Minister of the Environment appeared before the Standing Committee on the Environment and Sustainable Development, he emphasized the importance he attaches to the conservation and the protection of Canada's migratory birds and the protection of the marine environment. The committee clearly supported these principles as well.
It is gratifying to see that the conservation and protection of migratory birds are so strongly held. As a result, there was constructive and focused discussion in the committee. I commend our colleagues for their fine work. This is the spirit of collaboration on which we can build a sustainable society, one that values nature and remains competitive. In that spirit, I would like to elaborate on some key points.
The bill will accomplish several important things as we move toward more effective enforcement in our marine waters of the amended Migratory Birds Conservation Act, 1994 and the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999. First and foremost, it addresses a serious problem that affects us all: the loss each year of hundreds of thousands of seabirds that die a slow and painful death from cold and starvation because of oil discharged illegally by ships in our waters.
Our scientists say that a conservative estimate is that 300,000 seabirds are killed every winter: thick-billed murres, common murres, Atlantic puffins, herring gulls, great black-backed gulls, common eiders, and many others. We know these birds are also dying off the Pacific coast, but we do not have reliable or accurate estimates of numbers because the winds and currents bring few birds to shore. We do know oil is being dumped at sea there as well, in areas where many seabirds are concentrated.
The oil gets into the plumage of the birds and decreases their insulation, their waterproofing and buoyancy. This is why they starve and freeze to death. A few hundred thousand deaths each year, out of the millions that feed in the waters every winter, why is there so much concern?
Let me use the thick-billed murre as an example. Oiling is the most important known human induced stress on the population numbers of these birds. The models show us that the potential growth rate in the population of this species is reduced to 1% per year because of oil dumping. We also know that climate variability and other factors can and do shift the population balance to the negative side in many years. This means that with ongoing oil pollution, there is no buffer against any threats to these birds, so their overall populations can be reduced.
In order to understand what Bill C-15 does to address this problem, allow me to explain some key points about the Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994, and the migratory birds convention, the international agreement which the act itself implements. These instruments go back to 1916 and 1917 to a treaty with the United States to stop indiscriminate killing of migratory birds and ensure their future.
The migratory birds convention in fact is held up as one of the best examples in the world of an international strategy to protect nature. It is an example that has been followed time and again, as in the case of the international convention on biodiversity, or the North American bird conservation initiative among Mexico, the United States and Canada, just to cite a few examples.
Because the birds travel among jurisdictions, their management is frequently accomplished in treaties and implemented primarily by federal levels of government. These birds are sentinels and flagships of conservation efforts that reach all kinds of biodiversity. Birds fly and so they can react quickly to ecosystem changes. Birds are also highly visible and they can be counted with greater accuracy than can many other species.
This also applies to seabirds in marine environments. The birds protected by Bill C-15 are excellent indicators. For example, seabird eggs have been used to assess contaminant levels in the Arctic monitoring and assessment program and the Great Lakes monitoring program.
We shall look after the conservation of birds, confident that this approach will have much wider benefits. If we can make sure that the bird population continues to survive and prosper, then in a large measure we can be confident that the environments in which they live remain healthy for a wide range of life.
With that in mind, allow me to address some of what the committee had to say about Bill C-15. The committee put forward an amendment that would include a minimum fine for illegal pollution by the largest ships. I am happy to support this proposed amendment. It restricts the application of the minimum fine only to the larger ships, those over 5,000 tonnes. It would leave intact the flexibility for the courts to use the sentencing options in the amended Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994 in the majority of cases brought under this legislation.
At the same time as amended, the bill will certainly send a strong message, one that should be heard loudly and clearly by the few in the international shipping industry that continue to view Canada's waters as fair game for the illegal discharge of their oily waste. The committee's proposed amendment shows that Canadians will not stand for a continued illegal discharge of oil into our marine environment and they want the illegal polluters to pay heavily.
The amendment sends a strong message that Canadians want the polluters to be subject to fines that are large enough to deter them from similar or repeated illegal actions. The amounts proposed by the committee's amendment ensure that these fines represent much more than just what some might consider the cost of doing business.
Much as I support this amendment, I would like to propose a further refinement. The committee's amendment establishes minimum fines for ships over 5,000 tonnes. As it stands now, fines are paid to the Receiver General and go directly into the consolidated revenue fund. There is no option to direct the fines to programs for environmental remediation or restoration.
This further amendment goes against some of the changes to the sentencing considerations and options now in the Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994 and proposed in Bill C-15. There the court has the option to fine an offender a nominal amount and then make an order directing the offender to pay the bulk of the penalty into a program of environmental damage assessment or restoration.
My proposal maintains the spirit of the committee's amendment. It is drafted to ensure that fines received by the Receiver General for an offence that is committed under the Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994 be directed to the environmental damages fund. This is an existing fund that was established in 1995 for the purpose of supporting environmental restoration. I hope that members will see the merit in this amendment.
I would also like to address some of the concerns that have been expressed by stakeholders in the shipping industry. I believe that some of their concerns result from a misunderstanding of certain aspects of the bill. I have two points to make.
The Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994 and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 1999 already apply to the discharge of oil into Canada's territorial seas. These two laws deal with the protection of natural resources. They apply in Canada's 200 mile exclusive economic zone.
The question is not whether to apply them because they do. The difficulty lies in whether the existing act has the necessary authority to effectively enforce these acts in the 200 mile exclusive economic zone. Bill C-15 enforces that gap. It is very important.
Again, I would like to commend the committee for its fine work. These measures are good for Canadians and for our economy. They are good for preserving our rich natural heritage and the migratory birds that are such an important part of the heritage.
I would hope that the House would accept the committee's report and its amendments to Bill C-15. Further, I would request the House to consider the additional amendment that I have proposed.