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House of Commons Hansard #31 of the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was judges.

Topics

Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act, 1992Government Orders

5:35 p.m.

Some hon. members

Question.

Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act, 1992Government Orders

5:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

The question is on the amendment. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the amendment?

Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act, 1992Government Orders

5:35 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

No.

Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act, 1992Government Orders

5:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

All those in favour of the amendment will please say yea.

Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act, 1992Government Orders

5:35 p.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act, 1992Government Orders

5:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

All those opposed will please say nay.

Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act, 1992Government Orders

5:35 p.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act, 1992Government Orders

5:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

In my opinion the nays have it.

And five or more members having risen:

Call in the members.

And the bells having rung:

The vote stands deferred until the end of government orders today.

Environmental Enforcement ActGovernment Orders

March 23rd, 2009 / 5:35 p.m.

Conservative

Environmental Enforcement ActGovernment Orders

5:35 p.m.

Langley B.C.

Conservative

Mark Warawa ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the second reading of Bill C-16, the environmental enforcement act, which addresses the important issue of enforcement of our environment and wildlife protection and conservation laws. I would like to compliment the work of the Minister of the Environment for making this bill a priority.

Our government has taken a number of steps since coming into office three years ago to protect our water, air and land through stricter enforcement measures.

The environment enforcement act will complement the $22 million commitment that we made in budget 2007 to increase the number of enforcement officers by 50%, a commitment that has led to the hiring of 100 new enforcement officers, the last recruits of which will be trained by this August.

Among these new officers, nearly two-thirds will concentrate on the legislative and regulatory requirements of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, known as CEPA, 1999, and the Fisheries Act, while the rest will be assigned to commitments under wildlife legislation.

The work they do will be further enhanced by this government's commitment in budget 2008 of $12 million over two years to Parks Canada for the implementation of an enhanced law enforcement program within Canada's national parks and $21 million over two years to enhance Environment Canada's enforcement operations by improving scientific and technical support during enforcement operations, including forensic analysis, expert witness participation and improved laboratory capacity, establishing two major case units dedicated to investigations requiring highly specialized skills and enhancing compliance and intelligence monitoring systems.

These budget commitments will increase the effectiveness of Environment Canada and Parks Canada enforcement officers and help them do their jobs. These commitments will also ensure enforcement activities are able to more effectively support prosecutions.

However, both enforcement activities and support for prosecutions will only lead to long-term results if prosecutions of enforcement offenders result in stringent sentences that act as strong deterrents, that denounce unlawful activity that threatens the environment and that contribute to the restoration and remediation of environmental harm resulting from environmental offences.

Bill C-16, the environmental enforcement act, proposes to introduce sweeping changes to the offence, penalty and enforcement provisions of nine environmental protection and wildlife conservation statutes to ensure they achieve all of these goals.

The application of the bill's amendments to nine different statutes ensures its impact will be far-reaching. Six of the statutes that would be amended by the bill are the responsibility of the Minister of the Environment. These include CEPA, 1999, the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, one of Canada's most important environmental protection laws. This act addresses the prevention and management of risks posed by toxic and other harmful substances and the environmental and human health impacts related to biotechnology, marine pollution, disposal at sea, vehicle, engine and equipment emissions, fuels, hazardous wastes and environmental emergencies.

The statutes that would be amended by the bill also include the Migratory Birds Convention Act of 1994, a key tool for protecting migratory birds in Canada.

The bill would also strengthen the enforcement, fines and sentencing provisions of Canada's trade and endangered species legislation, which forbids the unlawful import, export and interprovincial transport of species on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora control list and of foreign species whose capture, possession and export are prohibited or regulated by the laws of another country.

In addition, the environmental enforcement act would strengthen the enforcement provisions of the Antarctic Environmental Protection Act, which implements a protocol to the Antarctic treaty and the Canada Wildlife Act under which national wildlife areas are established and maintained for wildlife conservation and research activities.

The bill would significantly strengthens the International River Improvements Act, a statute that governs the construction, operation and maintenance of large projects such as dams on rivers flowing from Canada into the United States.

Bill C-16 would strengthen the enforcement, fines and sentencing provisions of three other statutes for which the Minister of the Environment is responsible as the Minister for Parks Canada. These include: the Canada National Parks Act, under which our national parks and reserves are created and managed; and the Canada National Marine Conservation Areas Act, which authorizes the creation and management of marine conservation areas that are representative of the Atlantic, Arctic and Pacific Oceans, and the Great Lakes.

Bill C-16 would amend the Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park Act which protects the Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park for the benefit of this generation and generations to come.

Hon. members of this House may question why the provisions of Bill C-16 are not applied to the Species at Risk Act. As members know, the Species at Risk Act, known as SARA, was recently referred to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development for its required five year review. Out of respect for that process, amendments to the Species at Risk Act were not included in this bill.

The government recognizes that the Species at Risk Act may benefit from many of the provisions introduced in Bill C-16. I urge my colleagues on the environment committee, many of them here today, to consider the application of Bill C-16 on the Species at Risk Act as we review that act.

The need for the amendments proposed in the environmental enforcement act are clear. At the Global Judges Symposium held in Johannesburg, South Africa in 2002, where Canada's Supreme Court was represented, the Johannesburg Principles on the Role of Law and Sustainable Development were adopted.

The principles include the following statement:

We are strongly of the view that there is an urgent need to strengthen the capacity of judges, prosecutors, legislators and all persons who play a critical role...in the process of implementation, development and enforcement of environmental law...especially through the judicial process....

Current fines are too low to be effective deterrents. Furthermore, they do not adequately express society's strong disapproval of environmental offences. Finally, when fines are collected, they are currently most often directed toward the consolidated revenue fund. Our government has proposed amendments in Bill C-16 that would see those fines made available for remediation of the harm caused by that environmental offence.

On the issue of fines, although some of the statues amended by Bill C-16 already provide for up to $1 million in fines per day for an offence, imposed fines have never approached these amounts. In fact, the highest financial penalty imposed under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act to date is $100,000. Given that most offenders convicted under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act are corporations operating in a regulated sphere, there is a risk that fines of this quantity may simply be seen as the cost of doing business.

This greatly reduces the deterrent value of fines, not to mention poorly represents society's disapproval of environmental offences. To put this in perspective, we need to consider that penalties for environmental offences in the United States often reach millions of dollars. Bill C-16 would address this issue by providing guidance to the courts in appropriate fines for introducing minimum fines, requiring courts to consider aggravating factors and increasing most of the minimum and maximum fines.

If the environmental enforcement act becomes law, fines for individuals who commit the most serious offences will range from a minimum of $5,000 to a maximum of $1 million per day. Large corporations that commit the most serious offences will be liable to fines ranging from $100,000 to $6 million per day of an offence.

Beyond increasing fines, the bill would also improve sentencing guidance by introducing purpose and principle clauses that recognize the sentencing objectives of deterrence, denunciation and restoration and the importance of taking into account the aggravating factors.

It would also ensure courts have access to a full suite of powers to order offenders to undertake certain activities, including remediating harm caused by their offences, compensating those who take remedial action or who lose property as a result of the offences, and contributing to communities harmed by the environmental offences.

The bill would further enhance the deterrent effect of convictions by improving public disclosure of environmental offences, especially with respect to corporate offenders. It would add a provision to each act obliging the minister responsible for the act to maintain, in a registry accessible to the public, information about convictions of corporations for offences under the act. The objective is to encourage compliance given the importance of public opinion on corporate success. Furthermore, the bill would oblige courts to order corporate offenders who have shareholders to inform their shareholders of the convictions.

Beyond its focus on the outcome of prosecutions, the bill would give enforcement officers better tools for addressing offences that require immediate attention by allowing officers to issue compliance orders.

The bill also sets out the legislative authority needed to establish an administrative monetary penalty scheme for responding to less serious environmental infractions that might otherwise go unaddressed because of the prohibitive cost and time associated with prosecution.

These administrative monetary penalties are relatively low financial penalties that are appropriate enforcement tools for responding to violations of law that are relatively minor in nature.

The new act would authorize the Governor in Council to make regulations needed to implement the administrative monetary penalty scheme, including regulations identifying for what offences administrative monetary penalties may be used and a method for calculating the fine amount. The new act would restrict the amount of these monetary penalties to $5,000 for an individual and $25,000 for any person or ship, creating a continuum of enforcement responses from warnings to compliance orders to administrative monetary penalties to charges.

Persons issued an administrative monetary penalty may have them reviewed by an administrative tribunal to ensure fairness that may determine whether the person committed the violation and, if the tribunal determines the penalty for the violation is not determined in accordance with regulations, it may correct the amount of the penalty.

Finally, as I have already alluded to, the bill would help address the harm resulting from environmental offences by directing all fines collected under the statutes amended to the environment damages fund. Currently, the fines collected under most environmental protection statutes are directed to the Receiver General, from which they are not necessarily available for environmental restoration and protection projects. Moneys in the environment damages fund, however, are available for individuals and organizations for the purpose of supporting restoration and protection projects.

Ineffectual enforcement of environment and wildlife conservation and protection laws make them ineffective. Canadians expect these laws to be enforced and that their enforcement will lead to meaningful sentences.

The budget commitments that this government has made, including the additional officers and now Bill C-16, combine to form a comprehensive, modern and effective enforcement regime for Canada, one that will protect the rich natural resources that define our nation and make us as Canadians so uniquely appreciative of the land that we cherish and so proudly call our home.

Environmental Enforcement ActGovernment Orders

5:50 p.m.

Bloc

Bernard Bigras Bloc Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have a few questions for my hon. colleague, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment, including this one in particular.

As we know, Bill C-16 identifies a number of aggravating factors for the purposes of sentencing. A number of those aggravating factors are listed in the bill, including the following: the offender failed to take reasonable steps to prevent the offence, despite having the financial means to do so.

Why did the government decide to list a number of factors for the purposes of sentencing? Why did the government insist on defining what it considers aggravating factors?

Environmental Enforcement ActGovernment Orders

5:55 p.m.

Conservative

Mark Warawa Conservative Langley, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from the Bloc and I look forward to continuing our hard work in the Standing Committee on the Environment. I hope he will support Bill C-16 as it is well needed.

I want to share with the member that there have been over 500 convictions under the laws amended by this bill in the past five years. A conviction on indictment is only one type of conviction. A prosecution can proceed on indictment or on summary conviction. In fact, most prosecutions under the statutes amended by this bill proceed by way of summary conviction.

It is accurate to say that we have not often proceeded with prosecutions on indictment. The decision to proceed by indictment or summary conviction is a complex decision made by prosecutors and is dependent on the specific facts and circumstances of a particular case.

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5:55 p.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, I thank the parliamentary secretary for his presentation of the bill.

When the Minister of the Environment presented this bill at his press conference, he presented it as an updated modernization of the bill as consistent with what we see around the world. I am puzzled. If this is an updating of all of the acts and laws, why does this bill not include updates for the Federal Fisheries Act, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act and the Navigable Waters Protection Act?

Why are we not including in these bills the opportunity to also include the right to receive part of the fine if one does a private prosecution?

Environmental Enforcement ActGovernment Orders

5:55 p.m.

Conservative

Mark Warawa Conservative Langley, BC

Mr. Speaker, the Minister of the Environment has the authority to deal with these nine statutes. We could also deal with SARA but the Fisheries Act would be a different minister. These are acts for which the amendments in Bill C-16 would apply.

If the other ministers would like to see these kinds of amendments, that could be done but it would be up to that minister in another bill. However, Bill C-16 deals with specific statutes for which the Minister of the Environment is responsible.

Environmental Enforcement ActGovernment Orders

5:55 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, the government seems a bit schizophrenic on the environmental protection of bridges and dams. I think it is a good initiative. I am supporting stronger penalities for people who are doing the wrong things. It is going through the proper process, through committee and through the House so that we can debate it, which is excellent. The minister had a good briefing, which I went to.

However, on the other hand, it sneaks the changes to the Navigable Waters Act, which affect the same bridges and dams, through Parliament in the budget when it knows we cannot have debate. It rushes it through. It is a bit disappointing that on one hand it shows this concern for protection, which I sincerely think it agrees with, but on the other hand it tries to totally avoid it and sneak through Parliament the changes to the Navigable Waters Act which we were not allowed to change.

Environmental Enforcement ActGovernment Orders

5:55 p.m.

Conservative

Mark Warawa Conservative Langley, BC

Mr. Speaker, Bill C-16 is there to enhance enforcement, to provide direction to the courts with minimum and maximum sentences. This will also give tools to the enforcement officers.

As the member knows, we have increased by 50% the number of enforcement officers from just under 200 to over 300 officers. We need to have those officers, but we also need to have the legislation and Bill C-16 does that. It provides much stiffer penalties and consequences which will act as a deterrent. However, we believe it needs to pass quickly through the House and I look forward to the member's support.

Environmental Enforcement ActGovernment Orders

6 p.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, with all due respect to the parliamentary secretary, I will give him a chance to answer my question again.

In fact, the Minister of the Environment is responsible for the contaminated substance provisions of the federal Fisheries Act, so it would be normal and rational that he would bring forward those changes to fines and enforcement provisions as well, or encourage his colleague to bring that forward in an omnibus bill. The federal Minister of the Environment is also responsible for the enforcement of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, so I will give the member an opportunity to perhaps pursue that again.

I would also like my second question to be answered. Why, if we are modernizing the legislation, are we not bringing forward into all environmental statutes the provision, if there is a private prosecution, that it can claim half of any fine that is imposed on conviction?

Environmental Enforcement ActGovernment Orders

6 p.m.

Conservative

Mark Warawa Conservative Langley, BC

Mr. Speaker, if there were any additional statutes that are under the responsibility of the minister, for example, SARA, Species at Risk Act, those could be made at the Standing Committee on the Environment and Sustainable Development.

As I shared in my comments, the minister is respecting the committee because of the review. If there are any other statutes that are under the responsibility of the minister, that would be the place to make those suggested amendments to Bill C-16. I look forward to the member's work and her help to get this through quickly.

Environmental Enforcement ActGovernment Orders

6 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, as the member is an experienced parliamentarian, if we were to bring in other acts and amendments, would not the chair of the committee rule them out of order because they are going to committee after second reading?

Environmental Enforcement ActGovernment Orders

6 p.m.

Conservative

Mark Warawa Conservative Langley, BC

Mr. Speaker, the member makes a good point, but we are doing the Species at Risk Act review as it is a legislative requirement after five years. We will likely be making recommendations to amend SARA, so that would be the opportunity to also have this added to the statute as part of the recommendations of the standing committee.

Environmental Enforcement ActGovernment Orders

6 p.m.

Conservative

Peter Braid Conservative Kitchener—Waterloo, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the parliamentary secretary for his great work on this file. I certainly appreciate the opportunity to work with him on the Standing Committee on the Environment and Sustainable Development. Bill C-16 seems quite heavy with respect to fines, but fines do not achieve anything if there is no political will to enforce them. I want to ask the parliamentary secretary, how does the government plan to ensure that our environmental laws will be enforced?

Environmental Enforcement ActGovernment Orders

6 p.m.

Conservative

Mark Warawa Conservative Langley, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague for his hard work and I enjoy working with him two days a week at the Standing Committee on the Environment and Sustainable Development. He works very hard and I want to thank him for his very good question.

As evidence of how much of a priority this is, in budget 2007 there were $22 million to hire more environmental enforcement officers. We have done it there and we are now providing the legislative changes in the statutes. I believe we have the people and now we will have the legislation. There will be a strong deterrent. With some benchmarks or guide posts for the courts with minimum and maximum sentences, I am quite optimistic this will be a tool that will make sure that we do not have environmental damage. Corporations will not be able to make a profit with this new legislation. They will have to pay back any profit that results from that offence.

Environmental Enforcement ActGovernment Orders

6 p.m.

Liberal

David McGuinty Liberal Ottawa South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to be here tonight to speak to Bill C-16, the government's environmental enforcement act.

I would like to, first, congratulate the legislative drafting team at Justice Canada, through the legal services division of Environment Canada, for their hard work on putting together this very large bill.

I would like to thank all the Environment Canada officials who have worked on this feverishly now for several years, many of whom of course were originally involved in the drafting of the architecture of environmental enforcement in this country, 80% to 90% of which was accomplished over three successive Liberal governments. Many of those individuals I know personally. I know they have been working feverishly on this bill for many years and it is the culmination of so much of their investment in serving Canadians on this front. I would like to congratulate those officials on behalf of all parliamentarians for their good service.

This is really quite a sweeping bill. It is a 225-page document, with far-reaching consequences. Subject to study at committee, the official opposition intends to support the bill going forward. We do, however, have an awful lot of questions about the motivation behind the bill, questions around the constitutionality of the bill, and questions around the evidence that might or might not backstop this bill.

As I said, it moves to strengthen and standardize penalties that polluters across all of the federal government's environmental laws would face and it builds on the substantial architecture set in place by successive Liberal governments.

We know that requiring violators to pay to repair, for example, environmental damage on top of paying fines is an important step. It is a step in the right direction in ensuring that pollution is not just part of the cost of doing business.

We are also pleased the government is building on the 1995 environmental damages fund created by the former Liberal government. We wish only that the government was this aggressive and forward-looking, and prepared to build on the good work of the previous government on climate change. It is too bad it was not as aggressive and forward-looking on its climate change work.

In that regard, I would like to share with Canadians a few impressions of the official opposition about the state of climate change and the degree to which Bill C-16 might apply to the climate change crisis.

The parliamentary secretary rightly pointed out that the Species at Risk Act is being examined now by the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development, a mandated five-year review, which the former Liberal government brought to bear for Canada.

We have heard from the critic from the NDP that there is an obvious and gaping omission with the absence of the Fisheries Act. For the parliamentary secretary to suggest that it is because it does not fall within the purview of the Minister of the Environment, I am not sure if that washes with Canadians. There are probably improvements to be made under the Fisheries Act and it is a mystery, still, as to why it has not been woven into these series of acts that are all being amended under this one bill.

However, the real elephant in the room for Canadians is climate change. How is this environmental enforcement act going to apply to the climate change crisis?

I feel for my colleague, the parliamentary secretary, because he is in a very difficult situation. I think the government is now in a very difficult situation because it has no climate change plan. The plan that it put forward under the last Parliament has been withdrawn. We have no regulatory framework. Eleven independent groups, from the C.D. Howe Institute to the Pembina Institute to RBC Dominion Securities to a series of third-party groups, have examined the government's claim that it would, for example, reduce greenhouse gases by 20% from 2005 levels by 2020. Every single group, including Deutsche Bank, and every group that has examined the government's plan has simply said it will not work.

We have no plan and now we are waiting for the United States, where 535 Congress people are trying to craft a single cap and trade scheme for delivery to the president, and a renewable energy plan, but we have no matching plan to bring to the table.

We have a dialogue of the deaf because we have a government that purports to be in conversations, no “negotiations”, with the new Obama administration, but we see no independence being manifested by the government on behalf of this country. We are not acting like a sovereign state on climate change. There are no negotiations. There is no special envoy. The Minister of Finance does not know what the price of carbon is in the international markets. There are no timelines.

For that matter, we are not even sure what the government will do with the Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act, a legislative tool that was brought to bear by members of the opposition and forced on to the government after, of course, it withdrew its Clean Air Act from the last parliament because it was re-written and greatly strengthened by all opposition parties. However, the government did not like the bill, did not like the new improved Clean Air Act, so it did what it does best, it censured debate and it prorogued Parliament.

As a result, the new and improved Clean Air Act evaporated into thin air and the government is now without a climate change plan, waiting for the United States and not acting like an independent country. There are no negotiations. There is no envoy. There are no timelines. The Department of Finance has not crafted a tradeable permit scheme for this country, so we are now in a situation where, when we look at environmental enforcement, we are led to ask the question: why this and why now? If we are in desperate need of enhanced environmental enforcement, how will it apply to the single, greatest crisis civilization has ever known, and that is the climate change crisis and temperature increases? That is a line of questioning that we hope to pursue at committee with the government when we do see the bill there.

What has motivated the government? I believe it is motivated by good faith, but I also believe that it is part and parcel of the government's recent quarterly law and order communication agenda. That is okay because most Canadians know, as tens of thousands of them lose their jobs, that the government is not performing, when it comes to the economy, the way they expect.

The government has pursued an aggressive agenda, what I call a shock and awe law and order communications agenda. I hope, as one parliamentarian, that this does not fall prey to the government's penchant for Republican style law and order communication tactics. I hope this will survive that kind of approach and get to committee and be debated in a meaningful way.

If it is to be debated, then we need to see from the government some evidence. In so many of the law and order measures brought forward by the government, there is just so little evidence to backstop the proposed measures. There has been an awful lot of ideology, but there is not often a lot of evidence. Where is the evidence of the need for such sweeping reform on environmental enforcement, on fines, on penalties, on mandatory disclosure of corporate pollution, for example, and prosecutions? Where is the evidence that these changes will actually have an effect on pollution levels? We are not saying that it will not, but as a government, it has an obligation to bring forward the evidence to substantiate its claims.

The parliamentary secretary said fines are too low to be an effective deterrent. How many fines have there been in the last three and a half years of Conservative government? How high have those fines been? If the fines will be used for restorative purposes, what about pre-existing liabilities?

There are 38,000 to 40,000 contaminated sites in existence in our country as we speak. How will this environmental enforcement deal with pre-existing liabilities for the municipalities, cities, towns and regions across the country that are inheriting toxic sites, brownfields, blackfields, contaminated sites? Will this deal with that troubling issue?

The court may indeed order compensation and restoration payments. I believe there will be questions about constitutionality. There will be questions about the federal-provincial division of responsibilities. Courts can suspend or cancel permits for those who commit environmental offences. This is a good thing, a provision which did not exist before.

The registry of environmental offenders was referenced by the parliamentary secretary, so we get to publish names of corporate environmental offenders. What about the preponderance of Canadian companies that are not incorporated? Eighty per cent of all jobs in Canada today hail from small and medium-sized enterprises with less than 100 employees. How will they be brought into the fold? That outstanding question has to be answered as well.

Will the government inspire itself from the decade-old experience in the United States, where publicly-traded corporations have to reveal not only how much they are spending on corporate social responsibility, environmental sustainability, fines and prosecutions, but also have to disclose, for example, to what extent they are involved in litigation?

There is an agreement between the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the Securities and Exchange Commission that compels the sharing of information so institutional and retail investors in our capital markets can make better and more informed choices about where to place their investments. How will the bill deal with capital flows in capital markets so we can encourage investments in those companies and organizations with better environmental performance? That remains to be answered. That is the kind of evidence we need brought to bear with respect to the bill.

All offenders must now pay a fine equal to the benefit received as a result of committing the offence, in addition to paying the fine for the offence itself. What does that mean? How will that be monetized? How will that be quantified?

What if another Exxon Valdese were to occur or an on-land Exxon Valdese equivalent were to occur and Canada were to lose significant wetlands? Canada has 26% of the planet's wetlands. They are millions of years old and are perfect and free water and air filtration systems. If we were to have a significant tailings pond spill and lose, for example, pre-eminent wetlands in a sensitive region in the country, how is the court expected to monetize and calculate that loss of eco-service? The notion of natural capital is not something about which the government has ever talked.

The government continues to pretend that carrying capacity out there is limitless, that we can continue to put as much greenhouse gas into the atmosphere as we wish because it will keep assimilating it. We know that is not the case. This is an interesting measure. How exactly is the court going to order fining equal to the benefit received as a result of committing the offence in addition to paying the fine for the offence itself? Surely the government is not going to be instructing courts to ignore carrying capacity and eco-services in Canadian natural settings.

The good news about the bill is it began well before the last election in 2008. Officials have confirmed its drafting began some two and a half to three years ago. I hope sincerely that the bill has been inspired largely by the terrible example of what can happen when a jurisdiction begins to ignore environmental standards such as the example in the province of Ontario under a previous Conservative government, where four front line cabinet ministers of the present government served, as well as the Prime Minister's chief of staff, and fired half of the province's water inspectors, leading to the terrible disgrace and tragedy of Walkerton.

I hope the government is going to deeply study the O'Connor report and insist that the learnings that were derived are implemented fully in the bill. It is extremely important to learn from past mistakes, but I am glad to see the previous minister of the environment, who was a minister in that unfortunate Michael Harris government that gave rise to that Walkerton crisis and tragedy, appears to be learning from that past and unfortunate experience.

Those are some of my first comments, but I want to pick up on a theme raised by my colleague from Yukon. It is passing strange that just last week, on a break week, the Minister of the Environment was in Calgary announcing to Canadians that he was single-handedly going to decide how environmental assessment was going to be conducted in Canada going forward. It is interesting because the first environmental assessment brought into the country was in 1992 by the former Mulroney government. It was a fine and important step for Canada.

In the last Bill C-10 budget bill, the government laced it with nine poison bills, not the least of which was the Navigable Waters Protection Act changes. There again was zero evidence presented to suggest that it was necessary to give a minister of transport and infrastructure unfettered discretion to decide when and when not an environmental assessment ought to occur in a bill which is over 115 years old, an act, the Navigable Waters Protection Act, set out originally to protect natural waterways in Canada forever.

However, it is worse because last week the Minister of the Environment stood up in Calgary and gave a speech announcing that he was going to go further. Without parliamentary notice, without public consultation, without engaging the committee, without anything apparently now under the guise of getting money out the door as quickly as possible for stimulus purposes, the Minister of the Environment was facilitating the undermining of environmental assessment. That is rich.

The Minister of the Environment has now announced that he will change the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, change the function of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency to weaken EAs as they go forward. This is something that the opposition, as the official opposition, will not tolerate.

We will be watching and asking questions about how the government intends to reconcile so-called tough on environmental crime measures in the bill, while speaking out of the other side of its mouth and announcing that it is either poison building its budget bill by forcing changes to environmental assessment or the Minister of the Environment freelancing in Canadian society, saying that he knows best and he will decide how 20 years of environmental assessment practice ought to be changed without notice.

Those are the kinds of changes we will be protecting against. Those are the kinds of issues that we intend to raise. It will be very important now for the government to come to committee and explain to Canadians, to go back to what I was saying a moment ago, how the bill will take us one metre farther, one yard farther down the field in dealing with the elephant in the room, which it is unprepared to admit exists in the room. That is the climate change crisis.

Environmental enforcement is all for naught if we see a 3° to 4° centigrade temperature increase on this planet in the next 50 to 100 years. It is all for naught. The government now has to stop the window dressing and come to ground on the climate change crisis.

Environmental Enforcement ActGovernment Orders

6:20 p.m.

Bloc

Bernard Bigras Bloc Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to congratulate my colleague on his speech on Bill C-16. I would like to focus on the real changes that will result from this bill. As my colleague said, it is sort of a “law and order” approach. The question is whether this approach will really bring about significant changes and improvements in the environment. Here is an example.

In February, the federal government charged Syncrude Canada with violating the Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994, by releasing toxic material into tailing ponds in northern Alberta, which led to the death of 500 ducks.

Under this act, this company is liable to a $300,000 fine or six months in prison. Does my colleague believe that Bill C-16 will really change the behaviour of corporate polluters?

Environmental Enforcement ActGovernment Orders

6:25 p.m.

Liberal

David McGuinty Liberal Ottawa South, ON

Mr. Speaker, quite simply, nobody knows. Nobody knows if this bill will have a real impact on everyday decisions made by companies large and small or by Canadians. Nobody knows. However, we know that, by itself, a law and order approach to the environment has never worked in either the United States or the European Union. But there is a spectrum.

For example, why is the government not tying law and order and environmental enforcement to intelligent use of fiscal choices? It costs $2,500 a tonne to reduce greenhouse gases. The government brings in a tax deductible transit pass, which has zero impact on driving up ridership.

Instead of investing in silly games like that, why is the government not using fiscal policy to achieve higher environmental performance? They are linked. My colleague is right.

In Europe, for example, the European Union has excelled in a concept of eco-covenants, where industry, government, NGOs and communities sign contracts together. Over five years, they are implementable, one against the other. It is a very interesting tool that is absent in this debate. It is simply and apparently still all about law and order.