This week, I changed much of the tech behind this site. If you see anything that looks like a bug, please let me know!

House of Commons Hansard #16 of the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was arctic.

Topics

Arctic Waters Pollution Prevention ActGovernment Orders

5:40 p.m.

Fort McMurray—Athabasca Alberta

Conservative

Brian Jean ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport

Mr. Speaker, I was interested to hear the member's views. I had an opportunity to spend approximately three years working with the member on the environment committee, which I found very interesting. He is very passionate about the environment.

I wonder what he means by no leadership. For over 100 years, there was no leadership on this file. No one did anything. We are extending it not just a little, but exactly double of what it is now. We are ensuring some of the boundaries will be on a use it or lose it basis, which has not been done until now.

The government has taken some real initiatives and some really hard stands on Arctic sovereignty, ensuring we protect what is ours. The resources are there and we want to ensure we do it in a manageable fashion.

For instance, this bill would establish a registry for ships coming into our waters. Currently there is no obligation for them to register at all. In fact, it has not been done. No government in history, except for this government, has taken a real stance on environmental integrity for our country, especially in doubling the limit to 200 nautical miles.

He talked about no investment and no leadership in the Coast Guard. We have invested $175 million in this budget alone in the Coast Guard for the purchase of 98 new vessels and for repairs to 40 existing vessels. In 2008 we provided $1.4 million on midshore and other vessels, icebreakers, including the Diefenbreaker.

I do not understand what the member is talking about because we know the Bloc can never deliver anything for Quebec. Are the Bloc members doing nothing but complaining because that is all they really can do?

Arctic Waters Pollution Prevention ActGovernment Orders

5:40 p.m.

Bloc

Bernard Bigras Bloc Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would rather be on this side of the House representing the interests of Quebec than on the other side lobbying for the oil companies. I am not ashamed to be on this side of the House. Quite the contrary, I would rather be on this side better than on the government side, behaving as they do.

As I said, there is a lack of leadership, because the government has never been interested in northern Quebec and the issue of the Arctic. They are starting to get interested because of the economic opportunity. When have we ever heard the Conservatives talk about the impact of climate change on the Arctic? Never. They are concerned about the Arctic only when the time comes to use a new seaway in the north. Then it is important.

There is also a lack of leadership in terms of maritime surveillance and control. As I mentioned earlier, in 2007-08, two ships were able to pass through our northern waters without notifying Canada. All the government wants to do is get its hands on land that holds a third of the world's oil resources, develop that oil and use an economical canal and an economical northwest gateway. But the government is completely ignoring the people who live in the north and the flora and fauna there. All that counts is the economy.

Arctic Waters Pollution Prevention ActGovernment Orders

5:40 p.m.

Bloc

Serge Cardin Bloc Sherbrooke, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would first like to congratulate my hon. colleague on his speech.

For some time now, we have been hearing about a lack of planning. I believe, however, that there was planning. One only has to look at the figures given by my colleague regarding the oil reserves. One-third of the world's oil reserves are located there. One only has to look at the enormous savings ships will realize by using the Northeast Passage. I cannot help but wonder if this was planned. Besides, it is the same thing whether the government is Liberal or Conservative. The Conservative government has already said that it was a socialist scheme, that greenhouse gases do not exist and that it was simply to make others pay. I think it was deliberately planned to ensure that the ice melts as quickly as possible. There was never any sincere, voluntary involvement on the part of Liberal governments to reduce greenhouse gases. The government's motivation was to see the ice melt as soon as possible, so they could benefit from it as quickly as possible.

Arctic Waters Pollution Prevention ActGovernment Orders

5:45 p.m.

Bloc

Bernard Bigras Bloc Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I remember participating in a conference on climate change in Moscow in early 2000. I remember that, at that time, a Russian president rose and told the international community that climate change was a good thing. We could well be hearing that from the Conservatives, as my colleague pointed out. According to them, global warming is an economic opportunity for the world. Oil resources will now be available, which has not been the case for years. That is complete nonsense and goes against the international consensus.

Arctic Waters Pollution Prevention ActGovernment Orders

5:45 p.m.

Bloc

Claude Bachand Bloc Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, in the spirit of tradition, I would like to thank the people of my riding, Saint-Jean. This is my first speech in the House since Parliament resumed, and this is the sixth time they have sent me back here. I want to thank them most sincerely for putting their faith in me, and I promise that I will continue to be effective at defending their interests.

The people of Saint-Jean also want me to defend Quebec's interests. Whenever Conservative Party members sing the same old tune about how we are useless here, we have to have faith in the people's intelligence. They re-elected a majority of Bloc Québécois members because they are satisfied with the members' work and they think that having us in opposition is better than having a bunch of government members who do not dare open their mouths. Why should we not react somewhat aggressively when told that we are useless? But I digress. I just wanted to thank my voters.

When I was given the opportunity to talk about Bill C-3, I was pleased to take part in the debate. Let me tell you why. I have been my party's defence critic since 2000. Before that, I was Indian affairs and northern development critic. Naturally, I went to the far north a number of times. I would like to tell you a funny story. Before leaving for the far north, I was still in Saint-Jean, and I asked my assistants what I should wear up there. They told me to dress as I would in Montreal. So I headed off with a suit and a little raincoat.

When I got off the plane, the thermometer said it was -30oC. I had to find a store where I could buy some more appropriate clothing in a hurry. I did not look at all like a northerner. I looked like a southerner in the far north for the first time—which is what I was. So I went around the town of Iqaluit, where I met people and asked them what their lives were like, if things were still as tough as they used to be. I saw that there was a huge problem with the price of food. People there pay twice as much for their food and they earn half as much as people here. It is no wonder they have trouble making ends meet.

It was very important for me to discover the far north. I discovered it the hard way. We noted that there was a certain degree of solidarity in the Inuit villages. I also noticed that there was a municipal form of government. It was not like Indian Affairs or aboriginal nations that operate based on a tribal council. Inuit villages were governed like municipalities. I was invited by the mayor of Iqaluit to speak with the mayor and councillors. I learned a great deal about the dangers facing the far north.

Many dangers threaten the far north. People are just now becoming interested in it because, as usual, the financial aspect takes priority and people realize there are riches to be had there. No one cared about it before. There was, however, one circumpolar meeting held every year or two, at which “nordicity”, that was the term used at the time, was explored. Now, we go even further than “nordicity”. How is it that the passage continues to open up and that we will soon be able to go through it all year round? This has not only economic, but also environmental repercussions. My hon. colleagues have talked about this. As Canadians and Quebeckers, we absolutely must try to regulate that.

I would also remind the House that there are now new territories in the far north. I had the opportunity to attend the creation of Nunavut in 2000. As part of the ceremony, there was a toast with a small glass of northern water. This gave me a new perspective on things because, normally, when we toast, it is not with water, but with something that looks similar but tastes much stronger. That ritual was intended to express the purity of the far north. Thus, I attended the creation of Nunavut.

I also became very involved in Nunavik, in Quebec. One must not think that today's debate is uniquely Canadian. It is also a Quebec debate. I would even say it is an international debate. In 2000, I began attending Canada-NATO meetings.

I have just come back from a meeting in Brussels where the far north was a hot topic. We are not the only ones who are realizing that commercial vessel traffic will be revolutionized by the opening of the Northwest Passage. The whole world knows it. In a minute I will talk about the different distances and tell you how many kilometres shipowners will save by sending their ships through the Northwest Passage. They can save tens of thousands of kilometres, which is huge.

As the national defence critic, I have visited the far north, mainly because many things in the far north have to do with the military. The Bloc has some concerns on that front. We do not want to see the Arctic militarized. We would like this to be negotiated, and we would like international legislation to be applied.

The answer is certainly not to build warships to stake our claim in the far north. I have a great deal of respect for the Canadian navy, but if we ever tangled with the American or Russian navy, it would not be long before Canada's navy was at the bottom of the Arctic Ocean. This is really not the answer. We have to find another way. We even think that the coast guard is likely better placed to patrol and assert Canada's sovereignty.

The issue of the military in the far north is still important. Now, for this government, it is clear that this is coming. The government is making no effort to try to address this fundamental issue. It is all well and good for the far north to open to vessel traffic for economic reasons, but this affects not only the people, but the Arctic flora and fauna. For example, there is now a higher rate of drowning among polar bears. They were used to swimming from one island to another, but the islands are farther apart now because the water level has risen. That also has an impact on the whole Inuit food chain, which is something we must never forget.

What is the government doing to address this issue? It is facing facts, realizing that the passage is opening and wondering how to go about defending our national interests. Consequently, there is a problem, and in my opinion, this problem should be solved in another way. We need to think about what greenhouse gas restrictions we should be adopting so as to keep the Arctic intact and not despoil it.

We cannot let economic concerns override environmental concerns. More and more people admit this and understand that if we push the economic side of things and ignore the environmental aspect, future generations will inherit a tainted and squandered planet. Even if they were billionaires, they would not be happy living on this planet if we let things go.

We have to ask ourselves these questions. Why is the government not trying to fix the greenhouse gas issue? Why is it not trying to fix it with absolute measures instead of intensity measures? The government is saying that it will ensure that for every barrel of oil produced, there will be a 20% reduction in greenhouse gases. However, if oil companies are allowed to produce 10 times the barrels, we will not make any progress and things will be worse.

The Bloc Québécois is defending the issue of greenhouse gases and absolute measures. That is how the issue will be resolved and greenhouse gases will be reduced instead of increasing. Nothing will be fixed by simply saying that greenhouse gases will be reduced by 20% for each barrel of oil produced, when 10 times as many barrels will be produced. The problem will still be there. That is the environmental aspect.

Let us come back to the military aspect, which must also be considered. I have been to the DEW line. It is a line of radar stations that stretches from Labrador to Alaska, passing through the Yukon and the rest. There are perhaps 70 radar stations, established to study the far north and watch for a Russian bomber attack.

At one time, this line was extremely important. In the 1950s the Americans and the Canadians agreed to build that network. At the time only bomber planes could carry atomic weapons into the U.S. territory, or anywhere in America, Canada or Mexico. A network was needed to watch for these aircraft. Now, this line is somewhat obsolete, because there is no defence against intercontinental ballistic missiles. The Americans claim to have one, but that remains to be seen. There is no question that if they were the target of a massive attack, they could not stop them all. But at the time, it was important. I went to Hall Beach in the Arctic, on the DEW line. I chartered a plane and I visited about ten radar stations. I saw the environmental catastrophe that was created there in the 1950s and that has still not been dealt with. I think my colleague referred to it earlier, when he said that the federal government had increased its contribution for the cleanup from $300 million to $500 million, but it will have to increase it again, because at Hall Beach it is truly a catastrophe. I am not talking about a catastrophe merely because it is ugly, but because it is polluting and it is even contaminating the whole Inuit food chain. Whales are suffering and have many diseases. Birds, seals, all the Arctic flora and fauna are being contaminated, because there was a lack of control at the time.

Back then, they would use a barrel of contaminants and if that barrel was half empty, they would empty it on the spot and leave it there. We now realize it was a terrible mistake. There are health problems, not only affecting the flora and fauna, but also the Inuit themselves who traditionally feed on these animals, on this wildlife. So, there is a major problem with the DEW line and I think it is far from over. We will have to invest a lot more money to correct the situation. Sometimes I wonder if it is not too late.

I also travelled to Alert, which is the Canadian Forces' northernmost base. We can understand that there is a reasonable military presence. However, if the Conservative government's strategy is to arm ourselves even more heavily, I think we will have a problem, as I explained earlier.

From a military perspective, if one wants to take possession of a territory or establish sovereignty over that territory, human presence is always important. I think the far north is the subject of many studies. People want to know how to behave and affirm their presence. Many tactics are being considered right now.

Our Russian friends left a titanium case containing a Russian flag on the bottom of the ocean. That was kind of an old-fashioned approach. Long ago, nations planted flags to assert sovereignty over a territory. The Russians deposited a titanium case on the bottom of the ocean to lay their claim.

The debate is ongoing. Where do Canada's boundary waters lie? I think that when a country claims a given territory, as Canada has the Arctic, it has to implement a series of legislative measures or laws to secure that claim. That is what Bill C-3 does. It enlarges the protected area from 100 kilometres to 200. I think that is a good idea.

That being said, there is no doubt the Americans consider Arctic waters to be international waters. Along with the Americans and the Russians, the Danes also want in on the act. A lot of northern countries are looking closely at what they can claim. That is why I am saying that we should rely on governance and diplomacy to resolve the fundamental issue. We need scientific studies, and we need international courts, such as the court in the Hague, to rule in case of dispute. As I said before, we cannot let this turn into a power struggle between nations or war in the far north. That would certainly be senseless.

That is why we have the Rangers, the Canadian Forces' arm in the far north. They patrol the region. I am planning to go on patrol with them. I might not cover as much ground as them because they are in great shape, and they are used to walking long distances and camping. I do not mind camping. I am sure they know how to make igloos, but I do not think they camp in them. I am looking forward to going with them because patrolling territory is a form of sovereignty assertion. That is why planes fly over the area. The Coast Guard has a presence in the far north. All of these elements support the government's claim to the Arctic. Our military presence is important, but it must not go too far. As I said, our military would not be able to hold off an American aircraft carrier or destroyer for long. Their military is much bigger than ours.

Why not look at other surveillance options as well? In terms of defence, satellites are being developed as an option. Thus, we could ensure accurate surveillance of vast areas in the far north. NORAD is using its satellites for that purpose. They now monitor shipping traffic and can guide their ships on their routes to some extent. They can communicate with them to say, “You are not on your planned route. You must stay on your planned sea route.” Thus, satellites are gaining in importance.

Drones are another possibility. We do not need to use ships and we do not have to pay exorbitant amounts for fuel to patrol the far north. Some types of drones can patrol the area and provide appropriate surveillance.

I had promised earlier that I would talk about distances. I have seen some very impressive distances. The route that will be used will save thousands and thousands of kilometres. For example, travelling from London to Yokohama, via Panama, is a trip of 23,300 kilometres. Using the Northwest Passage, the distance is 15,930 kilometres. If the trip is 10,000 kilometres shorter, shipowners and all marine traffic will save a lot of money. I believe that is the main focus. There is not enough concern about the environment. We ask ourselves how to save money. That is humanity's downfall. Greed often wins over concern for the environment. This has to be regulated.

That is why, as other members have said, the Bloc Québécois will support the bill that is before us. As I mentioned earlier, it is a claim over a territory. If we can extend the protection zone to fight pollution, this legislation will show that we care about that region. Quebeckers also care about the north. Incidentally, the Inuits and the Quebec government have signed excellent agreements for the Nunavik. I think that, as Quebeckers, we too must monitor that part of the far north that is located on our territory. New intentions and interests are surfacing among the parties involved. There are people looking at the impact that this will have on their daily lives. Will all that is going on in the far north and all that has happened in the past have an impact on the food chain? How do we try to settle the issue once and for all?

Again, we will support Bill C-3. It is unfortunate that the government will not take the bull by the horns and say: “As for greenhouse gases, we will deal with this issue to save the far north.” However, should this become inevitable, we will have provided the solutions that we can see. We must not militarize the region. We must reach agreements at international forums to ensure that the far north is accessible to all and that Canada gets its fair share in that region and in the circumpolar regions.

Arctic Waters Pollution Prevention ActGovernment Orders

6:05 p.m.

Bloc

Raynald Blais Bloc Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would first like to congratulate my colleague from Saint-Jean for his speech and the quick world tour he gave us. “Happy he who, like Ulysses has travelled well.” I have the impression that our friend has travelled a lot and has also learned a lot. I would like him to discuss an element that he did not really touch on during his speech—the idea of settlement of the land.

We do not, and could not, oppose the spirit of the bill that has been introduced. However, we cannot forget that we have a responsibility when we have a certain territory. I come from what is considered a remote area, and I understand relatively well what is happening in the north in terms of the lack of interest there has been, not only over the past few years and months, but over many years. This is the first time anyone has been this interested in the Canadian north. And they are interested for the wrong reasons.

Settling the territory is wonderful in principle, but at the same time, that means something for the people who live there. They do not want to feel looked down upon, but honoured and supported. I would like to hear my colleague talk about the elements that may have been left out of the bill.

Arctic Waters Pollution Prevention ActGovernment Orders

6:05 p.m.

Bloc

Claude Bachand Bloc Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine. Occupying the territory is important. However, those of us who live in urban areas often find it difficult to understand people who live in outlying areas. You have to have gone there. You have to go to Gaspé to know that you will travel 50 to 70 km to have a coffee at a restaurant. In Montreal, when I am lost and I ask someone where a certain place is because I cannot find it, they tell me it is very far and that I should take a taxi because it is three blocks away.

The basic concept of occupying an area varies. In regions such as the far north, you have to work with the people who live there. People from the south do not fly there. They do not go there. Sometimes the Canadian army goes there for training exercises. It is trying to have a presence in the air, the water and the land. However, the exercise lasts two weeks and then the army returns to its base. We have to convince the inhabitants of the far north that occupying the area is important.

Over the years, the military have returned with better equipment. These people are very proud. My colleague is right. They are very proud of where they come from. There is no one better than they to defend this territory and to occupy it. They know what to do, they were born there and they know the landmarks. The area is vast.

It is vital that we occupy the territory and it is important that we continue to support the Inuit so that they occupy their territory.

Arctic Waters Pollution Prevention ActGovernment Orders

6:10 p.m.

Fort McMurray—Athabasca Alberta

Conservative

Brian Jean ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to ask a question of my friend. I am from a northern resource community and, as he knows, I am passionate about the people there and how to best represent them. We have seen some dramatic changes over the past 10 to 20 years in that particular community. We, like many northern communities, sometimes need to travel up to 500 miles just to find something like a roller rink or an ice rink because we are so isolated.

I wanted to ask the member a couple of questions but, in particular, I wanted to correct the record.

In a question to the member's colleague, I said that this Conservative government had spent $1.4 million in 2008 on vessels and an icebreaker. It was actually $1.4 billion that we initiated for that investment. It is a great investment.

I would like to know what the member thinks about that $1.4 billion investment because it is the first time that kind of significant investment in marine has been undertaken, as well as the $175 million that we initiated and earmarked for 2009 for 98 new vessels, 40 new repair vessels.

I am really happy today. I have been in this place for five years and I now see that the Bloc is concerned about northern Canada and the future of Canada and our great united nation. I am happy to hear that from the member because I respect him a lot. It is great to see the Bloc coming forward on that.

Arctic Waters Pollution Prevention ActGovernment Orders

6:10 p.m.

Bloc

Claude Bachand Bloc Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to tell my hon. colleague that the reason people care so much about the far north, as he said, is because they know that Canada will always be Quebec's neighbour. We also have a northern area in Quebec. Just on the other side, a few hundred kilometres away, another territory begins, the Canadian territory, and we will always be neighbours, whether we like it or not. I personally do not want Canada's north to become American or, even worse, Russian. I want it to remain Canadian. It is only normal for people to be worried about this, for we also have our concerns in Quebec regarding the nordicity I mentioned earlier.

As for the vessels he mentioned, I repeat: we have nothing against the ice breakers and we have nothing against the coast guard ships, but we want to prevent the militarization of the far north. I think the Canadian government would be making a serious mistake if it decided to arm big ships, for example, to patrol the far north.

As I said earlier, we do not have the capacity to stand up to the United States or Russia. Our argument before the international courts, if it ever came to that, would be to show that we are effectively occupying the territory, that we are effectively patrolling the waters and air space, and that we are effectively monitoring that vast, open space by satellite or drones. That is how we must prove our ownership of the territory.

Arctic Waters Pollution Prevention ActGovernment Orders

6:10 p.m.

Bloc

André Bellavance Bloc Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Mr. Speaker, I greatly appreciate what my colleague from Saint-Jean, who is the national defence critic, had to say. He spoke about the militarization of the Arctic and the dangers associated with such militarization.

I am convinced that my colleague has followed all the bickering between Canada and Denmark about who was going to be the first one to plant a little flag on an island. There is also the fact that submarines are increasingly able to roam the Arctic waters.

He also talked about what the people want. They want inspections to be carried out, they want the coast guard to have much more responsibility for asserting our sovereignty, and they want Canada to use diplomacy rather than military force.

Because my colleague is the national defence critic, I am certain he has spent a great deal of time looking at this issue, and I would like to hear his comments on this.

Arctic Waters Pollution Prevention ActGovernment Orders

6:10 p.m.

Bloc

Claude Bachand Bloc Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague and let him know that I agree with his point of view. Perhaps we should consider what happened on the other side of the planet at the south pole in Antarctica.

Antarctica is an international place that belongs to all of humanity. That might solve the problem, but the situation is more complicated at the north pole, in the Arctic, because of greed and people's financial needs. We have to avoid making that the crux of the debate. My colleague is right: to avoid having that happen, we need diplomacy along with territorial development and occupation. Canada's solution is not militarization, because Canada cannot stand up to other world powers that have laid claim.

I hope that things will not go beyond studies to figure out where the continent ends. Have people occupied the territory since time immemorial? Yes, the Inuit have been there for a long time. They were there long before European civilization in America, and I think that argument bolsters our claim. We have to avoid militarizing the issue because we would lose in the end.

Arctic Waters Pollution Prevention ActGovernment Orders

6:15 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, it gives me some measure of pleasure to speak to Bill C-3, an act to amend the Arctic Waters Pollution Prevention Act. The bill would increase the environmental protection of the Canadian Arctic, which is consistent with the New Democrats' position on Arctic sovereignty.

Specifically, the bill would extend the geographic application of the Arctic Waters Pollution Prevention Act to the outer limit of the exclusive economic zone of Canada north of the 60th parallel. The NDP's position has been and remains that Canada needs to increase its claim to the waters of the Arctic islands and beyond through the increased enforcement of environmental protection laws. This bill would expand the area covered by the Canadian environmental protection law, which is stronger than that afforded under international law.

Other nations may dispute the increase of this protection. However, support of Canada's position is expected to be strong in the international community. I would also note that Canada's action is consistent with article 234 of the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea.

We also have had occasion to discuss the bill with notable Canadian experts in the field, in particular, Mr. Michael Byers, who is an internationally renowned expert in Arctic sovereignty issues. Dr. Byers has examined this bill and recommends that it be passed as is.

The bill specifically amends the definition of Arctic waters from 100 to 200 nautical miles to help ensure that ships do not pollute Canadian waters. That is an important step.

The bill raises the very critical issues in our country of the Arctic, our claim to sovereignty over the Arctic and the importance of that region to Canada's history, heritage and development. Also, and not tangentially in any respect, it raises the issue of the critical importance of the environment and the pressing need to get control of the greenhouse gas emissions in this country. I will be talking a little bit about that in a few moments.

I will read from the government's press release in which it announced this amendment. One thing that does concern me is a quote by Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities where he says:

Our government is taking action to promote economic development while demanding environmental responsibility in Canada's North.

What concerns me is the reference to promoting economic development. Canadians are concerned that the Arctic not be used and exploited for its natural resources. Rather, Canadians want this area protected in pristine condition and not to be used as just another area of exploitation by international oil and gas companies.

Global warming is nowhere more evident than in our Arctic. I think it is common knowledge among all members of the House, and certainly on the conscience of Canadians, that our polar bears are experiencing habitat threat of grave concern. If we talk to the indigenous peoples who populate all of the regions of the Arctic, they will tell us and have told us that there are serious climate change issues going on in the Arctic and that these are harbingers that ought to be of grave concern.

The fact that global warming is causing a retraction in the iceberg and ice floe levels in the Arctic does not give us an opportunity to rush in and start developing oil and gas deposits and exploit mineral deposits. Rather, this should cause us great pause. It should force us to look at the underlying cause of this problem, which is that greenhouse gas emissions are causing climate change that is of grave peril, not only to Canada and our people but to the entire world.

I am happy to hear that the government now speaks in terms of protecting the environment, which is a good thing and it should be applauded. However, intention is everything and if the intention to preserve our Arctic is simply to allow more economic exploitation as opposed to protecting the environment, then I believe the bill and the government will be misguided.

I want to speak a little about the environment and about other steps the government has either taken or failed to take, steps that are actually imperilling our climate and our environment in the Arctic region.

I noticed in the last budget that the government cancelled the eco-rebate for alternative clean energy production. This was a program that delivered one cent per kilowatt hour to producers of new green energy. What did the government do? It cancelled the program.

The government cancelled or failed to renew the ecoauto rebate program for hybrid and electric cars. This was an incredibly successful and very effective program whereby Canadian consumers could purchase hybrid cars and cars that are more energy-efficient, which has an incredibly positive effect on our environment. What did the government do? It failed to renew the program.

The New Democratic Party campaigned very hard on the environment in the last federal election. One of the major planks of our platform was the immediate implementation of a hard cap and trade system.

I know that in 2002 the Prime Minister was calling the Kyoto accord a socialist plot. I am happy to see that he is a recent convert to what scientists around the globe have been telling us for years, which is that we need to get control of greenhouse gas emissions now.

I am still not sure that the Prime Minister understands exactly how important this is, because he is still speaking in terms of intensity emissions as a substitute for hard caps. Those are two very different concepts, with very compelling and different results. It is only by having hard caps on the emissions of greenhouse gases in this world that we are actually going to have a hope of controlling rising temperatures and climate change.

I noticed in the budget that the government has defined “clean energy” to include coal-fired and nuclear facilities. I think that is why the government is investing so much money into carbon capture and storage, the so-called carbon sequestration programs. It is because it still believes we can use dirty oil and coal and can continue to burn these fossil fuels, if only we can find a way to take the carbon dioxide that is emitted and somehow control it. I think this is misguided.

I note that of the approximately $2 billion allocated in the budget to so-called green programs, half of that, $1 billion, is going to carbon capture and trade systems and experiments and to subsidies to the nuclear industry.

It is very telling that the budget allocates less than 1% of the total stimulus package to the investment in clean energy production. This is to be contrasted with the United States, where the American stimulus package is spending four times the per capita investment amount in clean energy production.

These things are important because one cannot speak about the Arctic, about the need to preserve and protect that vital piece of Canada, without talking inevitably about protecting the environment.

I also want to talk a little about sovereignty. I will applaud the government for any moves and measures it takes that will allow Canada to assert our national autonomy over this area. Of course other countries are rapaciously circling the area and have similar designs on getting their hands on minerals and oil and gas deposits in that region in order to exploit those resources instead of protecting this vital part of our planet.

I note that Denmark and Greenland have been reported to be intending to exploit certain islands in the area, specifically the vast icefields. Greenland intends to harvest these icebergs and sell them to a world that is as thirsty for water as it is for oil.

The Danish government for its part is pouring millions of dollars into a comprehensive map showing the geological features of the Arctic Ocean, and its map runs from a shelf that is underneath its country all the way along so that it can claim part of the North Pole itself.

I do not have to remind members of the House that both the United States and Russia are countries that seem to be holding similar designs on this area. Therefore, it is vitally important that our government take all the measures it can to assert and retain our sovereignty in the area.

We cannot get too bold on this because Canadian companies and Canadian politicians have similar designs. They view the Arctic as just another economic area to be exploited, as opposed to a national environmental treasure that plays a vital role in the globe's climate system.

I note that EnCana, a Canadian company, has a current strategy to sell off its holdings in dangerous parts of the world and focus instead on developing sources of natural gas in North America, primarily under the sea floor near Davis Strait. The first and biggest licensee of resources in this area is EnCana Corporation, a transnational company with a head office in Calgary, Alberta.

I do want to caution all members of the House to make sure that the intentions behind the bill match the reality.

There are other concerns we ought to keep in mind when we are talking about the Arctic, such as the cultural aspects of the people who live in the north. We must always remember that this is not a vast unpopulated area. Rather, the Arctic is populated by many people with thousands of years of ties to these lands. We must pay attention to ensure that their needs, their aspirations, their ways of life are protected and preserved. We cannot turn back the clock on the erosion of the indigenous people's way of life once we have altered it irremediably.

In terms of the historical importance of the Arctic, and my hon. colleague from the Arctic spoke to this earlier, it is important that we pay attention to economic development and the social welfare of the people of that region.

New Democrats believe that this area of our country is in urgent need of financial support, particularly from the federal government. These people require schools, community centres and assistance with health care. I am hopeful that the Minister of Health will see to it that the appalling treatment of indigenous people, particularly in the north, and the ignoring of their health needs that has gone on for decades, and arguably centuries, is addressed by the government.

I would be happy to see a bill introduced by the government that would spend money and invest funds in the protection and enhancement of the health of the people of the Arctic. This is not just about ensuring that ships can travel untrammelled in the Arctic, but it is important for us to take a moment and ensure that the people of the Arctic are able to travel with equal freedom. In order to do that--

Arctic Waters Pollution Prevention ActGovernment Orders

6:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

I need to interrupt the member at this time. When we resume debate on this matter the member will have six minutes remaining in his presentation.

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.

6:30 p.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, I asked the Minister of the Environment a question some time ago and this is my opportunity to seek further embellishment to the response provided. I note that the minister is absent from the House, and I am looking forward to hearing from his parliamentary secretary.

6:30 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

I know that the member is new to the House, but it is not appropriate to refer to whether members are here or not.

6:30 p.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, I did not mean to suggest anything. I am looking forward to the answers to my questions from the government side.

In my follow-up questions I had asked a question regarding the government's reaction to the report of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development. I have some questions on which I would like further elaboration, and I look forward to a reply.

The minister had replied that he is acting on the recommendations of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development.

I am wondering if the minister could please advise the House of the specific measures being taken in that regard, more specifically measures on reducing smog-producing air emissions, action long promised and overdue. Is the minister directing his department to expedite the new framework, in particular for coal-fired power plants?

Is the minister intent to again allow direct engagement of federal environment officials in provincial air emission reduction processes, and reverse the pull back by his predecessors? Previously there was very active participation by federal officials in provincial review processes in my jurisdiction.

Given that the minister has raised concerns about United States-based coal-fired power emissions, has the minister directed work on the promulgation of a CEPA regulation to regulate mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants, mirroring the Alberta law now in place?

The minister replied that the solution to reduce emissions of toxins in greenhouse gases is investment in technology. Does the minister support adherence to the polluter pays principle? Is the minister aware of the significance of regulation as the prime trigger for private investment and deployment of improved pollution control technologies? Does the minister intend to impose legally binding requirements on large final emitters to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and if so, when?

The federal government had an oversubscribed eco-energy program to incent the development and deployment of renewable technologies. If Canada intends to parallel American clean energy initiatives while the U.S. has increased its support for renewables, can the minister advise why the government cut funding?

My last two questions are in reply to the minister's reply to me. Is the minister planning to expedite federal action on the long overdue management plans required under SARA for species at risk?

Finally, the commissioner identified numerous instances of failure of his department to monitor and enforce compliance with federal laws, and in a number of instances laws regulating significant toxins. Can the parliamentary secretary advise what specific measures the minister intends to deploy to ensure that these laws are enforced?

6:30 p.m.

Langley B.C.

Conservative

Mark Warawa ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment

Mr. Speaker, I am prepared to answer the member's questions to the minister regarding carbon capture and storage. I would be glad to answer her further questions in the appropriate venue, but I want to answer her first question about carbon capture and storage.

Carbon capture and storage is a promising technology for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Canada has played a pioneering role in its development. The Weyburn carbon dioxide monitoring and storage project in Saskatchewan has shown this. More than seven million tonnes of carbon dioxide have been injected and stored. The first phase of the project completed in 2004 demonstrated that this natural geological setting is suitable for long-term carbon dioxide storage.

It is time to move beyond the research phase and apply this new technology widely. All the G8 members are headed in this direction and have committed to support the launching of 20 large-scale carbon capture and storage demonstration projects by 2010 with a view to begin broad technology deployment by 2020. This technology is key to large-scale decarbonization of fossil fuel-based sectors on the global stage.

The Government of Canada has a target to reduce total greenhouse gas emissions in Canada by an absolute 20% by 2020. Transformative technologies such as carbon capture and storage will be key to meeting that objective.

In light of the current economic downturn and the opportunities offered by other developments in the United States, such as the recent election of the new President Barack Obama, we are reviewing our previous regulatory approach and determining what the best path forward is on climate change. We need to ensure that actions we take do not further harm struggling industries.

In addition, the re-engagement of the United States on climate change provides an opportunity to put in place a North American cap and trade system that will benefit all parties. We believe that a cooperative bilateral approach to the environment and to energy will spur economic recovery and renewal.

Our budget commits to investments that allow us to protect our environment and for research into how to best conserve natural resources. Our investments include $1 billion over five years to clean energy R and D and demonstration projects, including carbon capture and storage. This includes $150 million over five years for research and $850 million over five years for the development and demonstration of promising technologies. This support is expected to generate a total investment in clean technologies of $2.5 billion over the next five years.

I want to thank the member for her question and look forward to her supporting our budget which includes green technologies.

6:35 p.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for his reply. In fact, my question had very clearly been for the minister on matters arising from the Commission on Sustainable Development report which dealt with greenhouse gases and toxins. I look forward to a reply in an early and timely manner to my questions on toxins.

Returning again to the issue of climate change, does the hon. member not support the principle of polluter pays? And does he not agree that the most effective trigger for private investment in technologies, including carbon capture and sequestration, would be to issue binding regulations on the sectors that are emitting the greenhouse gases?

6:35 p.m.

Conservative

Mark Warawa Conservative Langley, BC

Mr. Speaker, I have the member's question here and she is saying that carbon capture and storage is an unproven technology. The fact is that it is a very proven technology. It will help the world reduce greenhouse gas emissions dramatically. Canada is one of the world leaders in this technology. I count on the member's support for our budget which provides billions of green dollars for technology.

6:35 p.m.

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Liberal Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to again bring further focus to an issue about which I had posed a question for the Minister of Human Resources a number of weeks ago. It is with regard to EI premiums and Canadians who are finding themselves in a very difficult situation, having lost a job and having to look for some type of revenue to help support their family. In many cases, these people are the most vulnerable. These people are least apt to go a week or two without a paycheque, not that anybody can really go too long without a paycheque. When there is an interruption in household income over a period of time, it creates an incredible amount of stress on the family unit and we should do all we can to try to help these people who are in need.

There is a chance that this problem will even worsen as more and more Canadians find themselves, through no fault of their own, out of work. The January job statistics showed that 129,000 jobs were lost in this economy.

I came to this chamber eight years ago. At one time, it took four to five weeks to turn around an EI claim. It then drifted up to six weeks. Now it is even seven and eight weeks before somebody can receive benefits. That is very much of great concern.

The day I posed the question in the House 10 weeks had passed from the time my constituent lost her job, filed for EI and was notified that she would receive benefits. That is unacceptable. The employment insurance fund is one that Canadians pay into and it should be there when they need it.

I know Service Canada employees are a very caring and concerned group of employees who are doing all they can to help these Canadians, but they do not have the resources. They need additional resources and we have to put those in place so Canadians who find themselves out of work are helped.

Service Canada says that it can turn the processes around in 28 days. However, the reality is if there is any kind of glitch or if there is anything out of the norm at all, a case has to go to a level 2 agent for review. That is where the delay is because there are not enough agents, or the workload is too great, or there are not enough resources within the department to deal with these claims. However, no Canadian worker should have to wait eight, nine, ten weeks for some type of assistance from the government.

Therefore, I call upon the government to make the necessary investments to help Canadians who need it now.

6:40 p.m.

Souris—Moose Mountain Saskatchewan

Conservative

Ed Komarnicki ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and to the Minister of Labour

Mr. Speaker, I welcome the opportunity to respond to some of the questions posed by my colleague from Cape Breton—Canso.

In an economic downturn, EI is the first line of defence. We recognize that it is a challenging time for many Canadian families. We understand this and we sympathize with those who are feeling the negative effects of the current situation. There is no question about that.

We want to ensure that people who have the misfortune of losing their jobs get the benefits they need and deserve just as quickly as possible. This minister and the government have made, and are continuing to make, a number of significant efforts to ensure that this happens.

Through Service Canada we have a high standard for service delivery. Despite the increase of claims, owing to this unfortunate downturn in the economy, these standards have not changed. We continue to put resources toward ensuring that we meet or exceed these standards. Service Canada is doing what it can and we are applying the resources that are necessary to achieve that.

This is not simply an administrative issue. We are making these efforts because we know just how important it is for families to get their EI benefits just as quickly as they can. The time after individuals lose their job is indeed a stressful time and an uncertain time. We want to help ease the burden as much as we can.

Our government has taken a number of steps to deal with the influx of EI claims. For obvious reasons, and in the interests of privacy, I will not get into any specific cases. But as I have said, the government has taken a number of steps to ensure help for Canadians continues to flow quickly.

We have hired and trained additional employees at Service Canada to meet the demand in different parts of the country. Agents are working overtime to process claims. We have increased the capacity of our call centres significantly and hours of operations will be extended to 6 p.m., Monday to Friday. These extended hours start today and will help us ensure that more Canadians receive benefits more quickly.

Processing centres are working together to balance processing workloads, shifting claims from busy centres to less busy centres to help Canadians faster and to ensure all of our resources are working to help Canadians.

We are also working with companies to help employers and employees get the information they need so that we can process their claims faster. All employers are encouraged to register for ROE Web to create and submit ROEs, commonly referred to as records of employment, online. We are improving and promoting self-service options in order to speed up processing even further.

Ensuring that applications contain all the required information goes a long way to avoiding delays in payment. Every delay is regrettable and painful for Canadian families. We understand that. Measures like these help minimize delays and we will continue our work in this regard.

Unfortunately, delays do occasionally occur. Sometimes this can happen because applications miss some important information from the employer, especially on the ROE I just mentioned. Once complete information is received a claim can be processed, a recalculation can be made and a cheque issued.

I can assure hon. members that our department is monitoring EI service very closely. We are taking and will continue to take the measures necessary to ensure that Canadians who have lost their jobs will get their benefits as quickly as possible. That is what Canadians expect, and that is what we will continue to do.

6:45 p.m.

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Liberal Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate and respect the reply from the parliamentary secretary, but the measures that have been taken by the government are trying to address some of the backlog that has accrued over the last months. However, at the rapid rate at which Canadians are losing their jobs, I fear that the problem will worsen.

My supplementary question to the parliamentary secretary, if I might: Are there further resources? Is the government willing to take further steps to address this problem and to help Canadians if the problem worsens, as we very much suspect it will?

6:45 p.m.

Conservative

Ed Komarnicki Conservative Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Mr. Speaker, we appreciate that Canadians are facing uncertain times. That is why we are taking a number of measures. Some take effect today, as I speak. I wonder if the member was listening to the various steps that we are taking to ensure this happens.

We understand that when Canadians lose their jobs through no fault of their own, there are worries about looking after their families, about making ends meet, about paying their mortgage, and putting food on the table. Those kinds of things are important to Canadians. That is why we are ensuring that people get the employment insurance benefits to which they are entitled as quickly as possible.

This is important to us and we understand that many Canadians are turning to the EI system. We will continue to make every effort to ensure we are serving Canadians in this time of uncertainty, as quickly and as reasonably as we can.

6:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

The motion to adjourn the House is now deemed to have been adopted. Accordingly the House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 10 a.m., pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 6:48 p.m.)