Mr. Speaker, it is with great pleasure that I rise to speak in this debate as we move this bill forward. It is a bill that is deeply flawed and has been discredited across the environmental sector and in other parts of our communities, because as members in the House join the daily gathering of question period, it speaks to the partisan nature that for far too long has overridden all good and sensible conduct when it comes to our environment.
As Canadians tune in to watch what has become the daily spectacle of question period and the partisan approach that seems necessary to attract attention to any given issue of the day, they despair. They despair because partisan politics have overridden the commonsensical approach, particularly to things like climate change.
There is a necessity to look at the context and the history of what has happened in the debate and in the actions of the Canadian government over the last 15 to 20 years as this issue has grown in importance and context throughout the world. As country after country has taken on this issue with seriousness and determination, why has Canada continued to fall further and further to the back of the field?
We saw a number of plans under the previous regimes. The Liberals came up with the so-called action plan 2000 that was anything but action. There was a climate change plan for Canada in 2002 that was nothing of the sort, with no plan and still no action. Finally, in 2005 there was project green, which the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development herself said was not enough to get us there.
On this issue, I believe that Canadians have been out in front of the politicians consistently, year in and year out, demanding more from us, demanding a sense of leadership rather than partisan debate and the small inaccurate steps taken by regime after regime, previously by the Liberals and now by the Conservatives, when it comes to what is now being represented as the most pressing issue, certainly environmentally, and perhaps it is the most pressing issue of all.
When the NDP and the other opposition parties first looked at the bill the Conservatives proposed, they found it wanting. It lacks principles and is thus impossible to support in principle. For those who are watching and just coming to this debate, I will note that when a bill gets passed through this House on second reading, it means that the House has agreed to the bill in its principles, in its very nature, and then wishes to tweak and alter some of those parts of the bill which can be altered.
However, the process that we New Democrats proposed and which the other parties agreed to was, without any such agreement, to take this bill and to have the opportunity to change its very DNA, to change the very structure of what is being proposed for Canada's environment and Canada's economy.
As has been said, Kyoto is more an economic pact than an environmental one. It asks the world to consider and bring about changes to the way we earn money, to the way we drive our economies, particularly when it comes to the energy sector, and to look at new ways that are necessary for the very survival of our planet, for continuing a prosperous planet and, in this country, a prosperous national economy.
Canadians have been demanding and expecting leadership on this issue, but in budget after budget and government after government they have seen otherwise. They have seen short term, nearsighted thinking. It is time that Canadians got what they truly deserve, which is leadership when it comes to the environment and leadership when it comes to restructuring our economy and our energy sectors to a place where we can all be proud.
Recently I was at the Nairobi summit, the United Nations meeting on climate change. Canada consistently won the fossil award, the award given to the country doing the least to promote global efforts on climate change. We won more fossil awards than all the other countries put together.
We were consistent in one thing: holding back the talks and holding back progress across our planet. China, India, Australia, France and Britain were all coming forward with solid and credible plans and there we were, the Canadians, once proud of our environmental record, with our delegates scurrying around the halls in Nairobi in shame because we could not bring forward a viable plan. What was suggested in the so-called clean air act was not enough. It was a delayed plan. It was long term. It left too much power in the hands of a few politicians rather than in the will of this Parliament.
One of the many suggestions that New Democrats brought forward was to return the power to the people who are actually elected to represent the will and the intentions of Canadians, because we know that this will and those intentions are to do something serious about climate change, change that we are experiencing already.
The Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, essentially the auditor, is meant to look over Canada's plans and actions for a whole series of environmental initiatives. She looked at what the previous Liberal regime had proposed. Six billion dollars had been announced for this. The important word in this sentence is “announced”, because a little over $1 billion of that $6 billion in the announcement was actually spent and much of that not very effectively at all.
It is important to note that the commissioner is a non-partisan functionary of this Parliament who reports to us. She said of the Liberal record since 1997 that the government:
--does not yet have an effective government-wide system to track expenditures, performance, and results on its climate change programs. As a result, the government does not have the necessary tools for effective management....
At its base, if we do not have the capacity to track, to monitor, to understand what is effective and what is not, how can we possibly make the proposed changes that we claim or hope to make? It simply cannot be done if we do not have the ability to monitor, to track, or to understand what is being done. The elected officials in this place, elected from across the country, do not have the ability to properly or accurately understand the situation until the dust has settled and the confetti has dropped out of the sky.
We know for a fact that the actual numbers that matter most on this issue are in regard to the increase in greenhouse gases in our environment. They went up by 27%, but we know that the goal, the stated claim and the signature that we put down on the Kyoto protocol indicated that Canada had the intention of dropping emissions by 6%. Lo and behold, as the numbers have come in and as the tests prove, we failed as Canadians when the Liberal government, year in and year out, failed to deliver. We needed more and Canadians demanded more. They expected leadership. They want leadership.
Let us look at what is proposed in the Conservative bill. The Conservatives propose a number of measures that have some potential, but they are all delayed measures. They are all put off, and without the ability of parliamentarians, the people elected from all corners of the country, to affect what is happening. Instead, it is left to orders in cabinet, intentions and notices of intent that do not bring the required seriousness to this issue. That seriousness means that this place must be able to mandate, regulate and hit the targets that Canadians expect us and need us to hit.
My friend from the Western Arctic and I, from northwestern British Columbia, with British Columbians across the entire province, are seeing the effects of climate change now. Canada's forestry council has directly cited climate change as one of the leading factors in the pine beetle infestation that has absolutely devastated our forests and has now hopped over the Rockies and is headed into the boreal, into Alberta, and across to Saskatchewan and Manitoba.
For those who are watching and for those members of Parliament who have not yet seen what devastation truly looks like, let me say to them to hold on, because that pine beetle can absolutely punish the forest and the economies that depend upon those forests. Direct action is needed.
The Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development implored the government to take serious action on the environment. She said that “it must take immediate and long-lasting action on many fronts”.
She said “immediate”, but lo and behold, when the bill came out, all action was delayed. The action is delayed until 2015, 2025 and even 2050 for heaven's sake. That is not action. That is just an excuse for delay. The Conservative government is essentially asking Canadians to trust its ethics on the environment and unfortunately that did not pass the smell test.
What we need to do is remove the partisan nature of this debate. We need to finally step beyond that into a place where the issue of the environment, the issue of fighting global climate change, can occupy a place in the Canadian debate that goes beyond partisanship and allows members of Parliament to bring forward their best ideas.
By accepting this bill prior to second reading, by accepting it with the option of changing its fundamentals, of making it stronger, of bringing in the best ideas from across the economy and from across the country, we have allowed an opportunity to exist in this place, an opportunity that previously did not exist. I am proud of our actions. I am determined, as are my colleagues, and colleagues in the other caucuses as well, to make the most effective bill--