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House of Commons Hansard #33 of the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was benefits.

Topics

Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act, 1992Government Orders

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

All those opposed will please say nay.

Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act, 1992Government Orders

3:45 p.m.

Some hon. members

Nay.

Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act, 1992Government Orders

3:45 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

In my opinion the yeas have it.

And five or more members having risen:

Call in the members.

And the bells having rung:

Accordingly, the vote is deferred.

The House resumed from March 23 consideration of the motion that Bill C-16, An Act to amend certain Acts that relate to the environment and to enact provisions respecting the enforcement of certain Acts that relate to the environment, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Environmental Enforcement ActGovernment Orders

3:45 p.m.

Bloc

Bernard Bigras Bloc Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak today on Bill C-16.

This bill was introduced by the government on March 4, 2009. It is what I would term an omnibus bill, because it amends a number of environmental statutes. It runs to close to 190 pages and beefs up the enforcement, fines, penalty and sentencing provisions relating to offences against an environmental act. Nine pieces of legislation are amended, including the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (1999), the Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994, the Wild Animal and Plant Protection and Regulation of International and Interprovincial Trade Act, the Antarctic Environmental Protection Act, the International River Improvements Act, the Canada National Parks Act and the National Marine Conservation Areas Act.

We were somewhat surprised when the government introduced this omnibus bill on March 4. What we were expecting from them was not an omnibus bill beefing up the enforcement, penalties and fines relating to offences against the environmental acts, but rather a regulatory framework such as the government had announced with great pomp and circumstance in 1997. Here on Parliament Hill, people were expecting an announcement from the government about regulations and legislation on climate change, an act that would make Canada a contributor to the international efforts to reduce greenhouse gases, particularly as we are leading up to the important conference on climate change to be held in Copenhagen in December 2009. Everyone was expecting the government to come up with a response to this regulatory framework that has been promised since 2007, particularly with a new administration in place south of the border, one that has made a commitment to come to the conference on climate change with legislation aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Also, given the rumours that were circulating in recent weeks, we would have expected the government to announce changes to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act in order to exempt certain projects from Canadian environmental assessment. However, no climate change bill was introduced. The regulations that were presented to us were hastily introduced last Friday, in a document that was not even published in the Canada Gazette for consultation for 30 days, which is normally what happens. No, instead the government used the fast tracking approach to pass regulations directly by cabinet order.

All this at a time when this government prides itself on balancing economic and environmental concerns. It is extremely disappointing to see that the government refuses to honour the formal commitment made by the Minister of the Environment just a few months ago in Poznan, Poland. There, in front of the entire international community, this government said that an economic crisis should not hamper Canadian and international efforts to protect the environment. Furthermore, I would remind this House what the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, said. He told the international community that one crisis is not an excuse for failing to take action on another crisis. The fact is, measures to fight climate change, or the absence thereof, demonstrate that this government has chosen to favour accelerated economic development, to the detriment of protecting the environment.

This flies in the face of an international principle recognized in Rio in the early 1990s: sustainable development. What has this government done instead? It has decided to go the old “law and order” route by upping the penalties for those who commit environmental offences and bringing in tougher sentences for those who violate the nine environmental acts.

How? A thorough study of the bill reveals that the government has decided to create a new fine structure and add it to each of the nine acts to set different fines for individuals, corporations, and ships.

Under the new structure, minimum fines would be stipulated for serious offences, and maximum fines would be increased. Fines would be doubled for subsequent offences. The bill would also direct all fines to the environmental damages fund so they may be used to repair the harm done by offences.

Can environmental catastrophes be avoided by increasing fines, sanctions and penalties? Wealthy companies will just end up buying pollution rights because of the government's new structure.

For example, in one particular sector, the oil sands in the west, as recently as February 2009—not so very long ago—Syncrude was charged under the federal Migratory Birds Convention Act and subject to a $300,000 fine or a maximum prison term of six months for dumping toxic substances into tailing ponds used in oil sands exploitation north of Fort McMurray.

This practice is common in Canada's oil industry, particularly in oil sands operations. As a result, 500 ducks died, and the company was formally charged under federal legislation and provincial legislation in Alberta.

Even if the government increases fines for super-rich companies that make hundreds of millions of dollars a year, what is to stop them from buying pollution rights thanks to the new structure?

The government needs to understand that increasing fines and penalties will not fix the problem. Structural changes to the industry are needed. We have to stop giving tax breaks that help polluting industries.

On the one hand, tax advantages are being given to the tar sands industry via a system of accelerated capital cost allowances. Our tax dollars—we cannot call these subsidies because they are clearly the tax dollars of the people of Quebec and Canada—are subsidizing the operations of a polluting industry. On the other hand, fines are being increased.

Penalties need not necessarily be increased; what is needed instead is to engage in an industrial repositioning so that Canada will be responding to the call by the United Nations to be part of the “green new deal”, which recommends that nations reinvest in sectors of activity that will contribute to repositioning the global economy at a time when an economic stimulus is needed. Rather than continuing to subsidize the oil and gas industry and to provide it with tax incentives, what we need is to follow the example of the economic stimulus program presented by our neighbours to the south. The incentive plan that President Obama has presented includes six times more investment per capita in energy efficiency and renewable energies. That is the example to follow.

But the approach the federal government has chosen instead is to increase fines for major polluters, while at the same time continuing to fund them. Basically, the big winner in the end is that industry, which Canada is helping out. The big losers are Canada's ecosystems and its taxpayers.

It is somewhat distressing as well that we are holding this debate today, 20 years after an event that led to a real human drama: the wreck of the Exxon Valdez. Twenty years ago, in 1989, a ship whose hull was breached spilled more than 80,000 barrels of oil into the northern waters off Alaska.

We realize today that penalties and fines are not the way to avoid this kind of environmental damage. We are also aware that environmental damage also creates human dramas, from the experience of the northern communities around Alaska after that oil spill 20 years ago.

Some might say it is time to forget something that happened 20 years ago. But we must not forget it. Why not? Because if there was a very slim chance of such a thing happening 20 years ago, and yet it did, the risk will be greater in a few years, particularly with the development of this northwestern corridor. This northwest passage from Europe to Asia will see far more traffic, given the climate changes that are opening up a new passage to the north. As a result, the fragile ecosystems of the Arctic, pristine as they are today, will be at increasing risk in the years to come.

Some people believe that the Exxon Valdez disaster that took place 20 years ago could not happen again. But the truth is that the risk of such a disaster is greater than ever. The Government of Canada wants to extend its sovereignty in the north by extending the 200-mile limit, with these navigable waters and environmental legislation enforcement zones. I have nothing against that, but at the same time, what does this government really want? It wants to make sure that Canadian companies that want to can develop the huge global reserves of natural resources in that extended area. What does that mean for the north? It means that there will be more and more marine activity, more and more oil exploration and development and greater risks to our northern ecosystems.

Will heavier sentences and fines reduce these risks? Penalties are not a bad thing, but we have to work on prevention. We have to make sure that this area of the north can be protected. We have to make sure that the wildlife in our ecosystems can be protected.

That brings us to the sort of enforcement we want to see put in place here in Canada. It is all well and good to want to change the fine structure, but the current laws must be enforced.

I have been a member of this House since 1997, and I have seen a number of environmental laws enacted in Canada, including the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act and the Species at Risk Act. But the fact is that we lack the resources to enforce these acts. We can give officers more power, but there are very few officers on the ground to enforce the law.

Let us look at the enforcement record in Canada. Officials with the Department of the Environment admitted that, on average, they had laid three to 14 charges and obtained one to five convictions a year since 2000 and that the maximum fine of $1 million provided by law had been imposed only once in 20 years. We are not the ones saying that.

What does that mean? We can increase fines, but if the maximum fine has been imposed only once in 20 years, there is a good chance the system and the new structure will not be enforced in Canada.

Naturally we support the bill and are not opposed to it. However, it does not provide a structural solution to environmental issues here in Canada. What was required, as I mentioned earlier, was the tabling of long overdue regulations on climate change. We must establish greenhouse gas emissions ceilings that will make it possible to set up a true carbon market that we hope to have in future. Canada must go to Copenhagen in a few months with climate change legislation that establishes 1990 as the reference year for green house gas emissions reductions. This country must acknowledge that we must limit the temperature increase to 2oC above pre-industrial levels. That is what scientists are telling us.

To reach this objective, we must put in place absolute targets resulting in a reduction of between 25% and 40% of green house gas emissions from 1990 levels, by 2020. But wait. The government has decided to use 2005 as the reference year instead, ignoring all efforts made since 1990 and setting the counter to zero in Canada. In 2006, Quebec firms had managed to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 10% from 1990 levels.

What does that mean? It means that we are establishing a system that will ignore all past efforts and the increase in greenhouse gases in Canada generated by the Canadian oil industry. We must not adopt a polluter-paid approach; we must have a polluter-pay approach.

Therefore, we will support the bill before us even though it is clearly inadequate. We would really have liked a climate change bill that introduced structural changes for industrial commitments. That is how we will truly protect our ecosystems.

Environmental Enforcement ActGovernment Orders

4:05 p.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, I, too, rise in the House to speak in support of Bill C-16, but with serious reservations. I look forward to the opportunity to review the bill with the appropriate officials in committee so some of those reservations might be addressed and so I can fully support the bill.

I worked in the field of environmental enforcement for 35 years and had the opportunity to be the first chief of enforcement for Environment Canada. As a result of that work, I count as some of my best friends and most revered colleagues the former chiefs of investigation for each of the regions of Environment Canada, who deserve to be lauded as heroes of the planet. They often go unheralded in our move to protect the environment.

When I taught at Dalhousie Law School, I simultaneously did my master of law. The topic of it, which I would like to donate to the library for everybody's use, was “Effective Environmental Enforcement: the Missing Link to Sustainable Development”. What does that mean? It essentially means there is no point of having laws and policies in place unless there is the political will of the government to actually abide by and enforce those laws and policies. The bill is supposed to be about that.

The bill provides for a much welcomed array of expanded tools for enforcement officers, long overdue tools, many of which I recommended to the Government of Canada in 1988. I applaud the government for finally bringing forward this massive bill of almost 200 pages, which is a compendium of amendments of eight bills and the addition of a new bill. However, I have some serious reservations on some of the provisions and the rationale for why those changes are being made, which I wish to address.

When the original Canadian Environmental Protection Act, or CEPA as it is called in short form, was first tabled by the then Hon. Tom McMillan, minister of the environment, he took very profound action and that set a change in environmental enforcement right across this country.

When Minister McMillan tabled the first CEPA, he also tabled in the House an enforcement and compliance policy. This was an historic step. When the minister tabled that policy, he stated to the House:

As strong as the Act is, it is not good enough to have only a sound piece of legislation; it must be enforced. To that end, I am releasing today, as a companion to the legislation itself, an Enforcement and Compliance Policy designed to prevent pollution, to encourage co-operation and to deal harshly with those who would violate the Act.

That simple action of the minister tabling the policy in the House set in motion a change across the country and necessitated all provincial jurisdictions and all provincial departments of the environment to do the same. In order for the provinces to claim equivalency under CEPA, which would mean that they could enforce their laws instead of the federal law, they also had to put in place an equivalent enforcement and compliance policy.

What did that do for Canadians, what did that do for Canadian industry and what did that do for enforcement officers? It basically made a clear statement saying: first, they were obligated to obey environmental law; and, second, if they violated this environmental law, then a number of things could happen. It set forth very clearly what the various enforcement measures were available in the legislation and in addition to the legislation so any violator would know what to anticipate. It also set out clearly the criteria for when each of those measures would be used.

There is one thing that I find missing, very sadly, in the hon. minister's tabling of this legislation. Even though it may include a lot of important measures, he has provided the House absolutely no clarity on how those various new tools will be used. When are we going to go to court? When are we going to use administrative penalties? When are we going to recommend that permits be withdrawn? I encourage the minister to come back to the House, before we finally deal with this bill, and bring forward a strategic document. What guidance will be provided to his officials and how they will exercise the various new powers under that law?

In general, I am rising in support of Bill C-16. There is no one more important in Canada right now for the protection of our environment than our enforcement officers. They are often forgotten and they are often at the bottom of the list for additional funds and tools. It is long overdue that they be lauded for the role they play in protecting the health of Canadians and the environment. I rise in the House as well to commend and honour them and the good work they have done for Canadians.

I have some reservations and I look forward to the opportunity in committee, as I have mentioned to my fellow members of the parliamentary committee, to bring forth the appropriate officials from the Department of the Environment, from Parks Canada, and from the Department of Justice, as well as independent environmental enforcement experts, to talk to us about what the implications are of the various measures in the bill, so that we can fully understand the bill before us.

If we deem it appropriate, we can rise and support the bill and it can be expeditiously put forward and made available to the enforcement officers.

First, as did the hon. member from the Bloc who spoke earlier, I want to speak to the irony of the minister tabling this bill claiming commitment to the enforcement of federal environmental laws.

The irony is that the government has issued a full frontal attack on environmental protection ever since it came to power. There are still no enforceable regulations for greenhouse gases or for the countless toxins or pollutants awaiting regulation under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act or the federal Fisheries Act. Therefore, while it is nice to have these enforcement powers, there is not much to enforce.

The government has opposed Kyoto as a socialist plot. When will it come forward with binding regulations, as my colleague said previously, so that the enforcement officers can actually inspect, validate and enforce those laws, even if they are emissions trading rules?

In the fall 2008 Speech from the Throne, the government brought forward basically the same principles it put forward in its Turning the Corner report. Those principles were that environmental laws are simply red tape.

We witnessed just last week the action by the Minister of the Environment to unilaterally change significant regulations that have been in place following in-depth consultation with regulated industry, members of the public, and provincial and territorial governments, to unilaterally amend regulations without even providing a Canada Gazette notice in advance, essentially violating its own regulation-making power.

This removal of red tape is going to have a profound effect on the people who live downwind or downstream of these projects that the government is fast-tracking without any environmental impact assessment.

The concerns have been raised over and over in the House. The sad thing is that just when we finally get some strong environmental laws in place, including the Navigable Waters Protection Act, which has been in place for many decades, the federal Fisheries Act, which has been updated over time, and the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, the government moves forward and simply erases most of the laws that are in place to protect the public. Essentially the government is saying it has no interest in enforcing those important measures. Where is the real commitment of the federal government to enforce environmental law?

In its own Turning the Corner report, in its throne speech and in its budget, which has passed, there is absolutely no mention of support for clean energy or renewable power in its proposals for clean electricity. So where are the strong measures that in fact we will put in place to protect people's health and environment?

The 2009 budget was an assault on environmental protection, an assault on renewable power, an assault on scientific research, which was very critical to determining environmental cases, and an assault on the precautionary principle, which is exactly what the Navigable Waters Protection Act is all about and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act.

What is even more important is that in bringing forward those measures, those changes to our critical environmental laws without providing the opportunity for advance notice and comment by either regulated industry or the public, the very government that says it is getting serious about environment enforcement has abrogated international agreements.

It has abrogated the North American Agreement on Environmental Cooperation. That is the sidebar agreement to NAFTA, between Canada, the United States and Mexico. Provisions of that agreement require, under article 2, that the government has committed not to downgrade any environmental law for an economic benefit.

In article 3, the government commits to advance notice and comment to any concerned party on any proposed environmental policy.

So the government, by doing that action without even gazetting its regulation, by passing it without any opportunity of advance notice or comment, has also abrogated an international agreement with the United States of America, which it claims to be in co-operation with.

What is in the bill? There are a number of good measures in the bill, and there are also a number of significant measures that are not in the bill. I took the time to look at previous reports of the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development, which of course includes members from all parties.

The report from 1998 is very instructive. It provided almost 30 recommendations to improve the environmental enforcement system in Canada. There is something very profound and different about that particular parliamentary committee review. For the first time in history they actually brought in the regionally based enforcement officers to testify and to talk about what the real barriers were to effective enforcement of environmental law. Those recommendations are very instructive and I encourage members to reference that report by the parliamentary committee.

Some of those recommendations, to the credit of the government, have been acted on, some long overdue. The government has expanded the powers of enforcement officers, which is very appreciated by them. There is partial response to the recommendation to publish all enforcement data and to table that information in the House.

Provinces such as British Columbia have been doing that for quite some time. It regularly reports to the public online and provides written reports and tabling in the House so that all can know who is violating the law and what kind of action the government has been taking.

Unfortunately the government has chosen to implement only a very small part of that recommendation—the recommendation, by the way, that has been endorsed by many of the 100 member countries of the International Network for Environmental Compliance and Enforcement, which Canada participates in.

The government has agreed to table with the public and inform them of parties who are convicted. That is not really a great measure, because anyone can find out who is convicted, by looking at the court proceedings.

The measures it has not included are all violations, all warnings issued, all orders issued, all tickets issued, all agreements and all charges. Those are matters that the committee recommended and has not had action taken on.

The government has strengthened penalties, although there is no rationale for the minimum and maximum penalties, and I look forward to that description being provided in committee. I have yet to see the government table any kind of specific rationale from any kind of independent authority, or even its own government, explaining why it is that we have to shanghai the courts' powers to tell them what the minimum penalty and maximum penalty might be.

The maximum penalty has been increased to $6 million, but who is to say that is sufficient if an entire watershed is destroyed, or perhaps in a situation such as the Valdez, if that should occur in the Arctic? Where the entire food source of people in the Arctic or their ability to continue activities would be completely annihilated, it could be more in the order of billions of dollars lost. So I look forward to elaboration of that in committee and later in the House.

There is a broader array of enforcement tools, and orders are a welcome tool. However, the suspension of licences and permits is a complete mystery to me, because that is generally understood as being a provincial-level power. Perhaps that is what the Liberal critic was speaking to, that his party questions some of the constitutionality of the measures. I suppose the minister and the officials will come and defend that in committee.

The one really critical issue is fettering the discretion of the court. One of the measures in the bill actually fetters the discretion of the court. The court currently in the law has the power when it convicts a party to order that the convicted party actually compensate an affected community, or to actually award moneys to people who have been working to protect the environment and can further that cause. Regrettably, the government has decided that the court may only recommend to the minister those people it may compensate, which introduces some level of ministerial and political interference. It is basically recognized in the environmental enforcement profession as a completely inappropriate interference in the discretion of officers in enforcement. I look forward to the rationale for that provision.

What is not in the bill? A number of critical federal environmental laws are not mentioned, for some reason. The government has decided to consolidate and improve and provide a broader array of powers to a number of acts, but not the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, not the federal Fisheries Act, not the endangered species legislation, and not the Arctic Waters Pollution Prevention Act. It is a mystery to me why on earth those acts are not included. In particular, the federal Fisheries Act is known to be the strongest federal law in existence for the protection of the environment. I look forward to an explanation as to why that is not included.

Among the significant enforcement measures not included as well is a provision that is in the federal Fisheries Act, and that is the right of anyone who initiates a private prosecution or brings forward the charges to receive half of any penalty imposed.

The parliamentary committee had actually recommended that as far back as 1998. I look forward to an explanation as to why they did not carry forward that long overdue amendment.

Again, where is the compliance enforcement policy for all these acts that are included in the bill? We need to understand how these new, innovative tools will be used, in particular the proposed new Environmental Violations Administrative Monetary Penalties Act, which has never been used. There is actually no explanation of how that will work in the array of tools.

Where are the long-promised strengthened standards and regulations for air pollutants, toxins and greenhouse gases? Without having regulations in place, frankly there is nothing to enforce. While the Canadian Environmental Protection Act has been on the books now for almost three decades, very little action has been taken by any of the governments in power to actually promulgate the regulations so we have binding standards that can be enforced.

Where, finally, is the tool to require an assessment of the efficacy of the array of tools? The Government of Canada has participated for the last 15 years in the coming together of the International Network for Environmental Compliance and Enforcement. One of the most important discussions that the enforcement agencies across the world have discussed is the need for clear indicators of effective enforcement action.

Article 5 of the North American Agreement on Environmental Cooperation under NAFTA obligates Canada to effectively enforce its environmental laws. It has yet to come forward with the clear criteria so that Canadians can determine whether we are effectively enforcing the environmental laws.

Those are essentially the comments I wish to make. I laud the government for bringing forward these improved measures, but I have also raised a number of serious questions that I look forward to having addressed either by the minister in the House on future readings of the bill or in committee.

Environmental Enforcement ActGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

Liberal

Mario Silva Liberal Davenport, ON

Mr. Speaker, notwithstanding the fact that this is an omnibus bill that amends nine statutes and creates a tenth, I do agree with my hon. colleague in the fact that the bill misses some important pieces of legislation such as the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act and also the Species at Risk Act.

However, we are supportive of the bill subject to, of course, a study by the committee. I also agree and concur that strengthening and standardizing the penalties for polluters across all federal government environmental laws is a good step for the government to take. Requiring that violators pay to repair environmental damage on top of paying fines is an important step to ensuring that polluting is not just part of the cost of doing business.

We have heard from stakeholder groups such as the Sierra Club, which is also in support of the bill, and that is a positive thing.

We believe it is not so much the content of the bill that is of concern, but also the enforcement. I think my hon. colleague also spoke about this issue.

While I am in support of the bill and we on this side support the bill, I agree with my colleague, and maybe she can comment further on the government's inability to enforce the provisions that is the real problem when it comes to the breach of environmental laws.

Environmental Enforcement ActGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, the serious missing measure was the one that I mentioned at the beginning. It is now recognized in Canada in hopefully both federal agencies and provincial agencies that it is not enough simply to enact a law. We also have to table what our strategy and our policy will be and how we are going to use those tools.

Part of that strategy is, do we have sufficiently trained environmental prosecutors? Have they been assigned specifically to bring those cases to court? Is the Department of Justice giving priority to those cases the same as it is to criminal provisions? Have we given sufficient resources to our enforcement officers? Do we have sufficient officers in the field and are they properly trained? Also, have we trained and worked with our customs officers?

A lot of the federal laws deal with the transport back and forth of contaminated fuels, and so forth. What has happened is that, under NAFTA, greater priority has been given to expediting goods across the border, instead of 20 years ago, where attention was given to actually inspecting the goods to make sure that contaminated fuel did not come into Canada.

There are many measures included. It is not enough simply to table a law. We need to know where is the political will to enforce that law and what is going to be happening with the Department of Justice.

Environmental Enforcement ActGovernment Orders

4:25 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, first, I would like to thank the member for Edmonton—Strathcona thoughtful and very knowledgeable remarks. In her speech, she has shown from her years and decades of experience in dealing with environmental regulation and environmental law, both in a government setting and in an NGO setting, just how much she contributes to the bill and what lacks in the bill. I appreciate her forthrightness in establishing that the elements of the bill are important, but details and issues need to be looked at committee.

One of the points she made was about the lack of resources for enforcement officers. Clearly, if we have good enforcement regulations, that is one thing, but if we do not have the resources to carry it out, then that is a huge problem. She mentioned that this was a serious deficiency, given the years of cutbacks we have seen in enforcement and the resources.

Could she outline for us some of the measures she would like to see to provide the resources that would ensure enforcement takes place so it is not only the letter of the law, but we have the resources to deal with it?

Environmental Enforcement ActGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, when we develop a new law, it is important that we think in tandem with what regulations we need to implement that law, what kind of staff we need to enforce that law and what kind of training they need. I look forward to the government explaining the process it has in place to move forward on these new provisions.

We have been told that moneys are being provided to hire and put forth a lot more enforcement officers, but there is some confusion in the materials provided as to whether that has already happened or if there will be additional enforcement officers.

What has not been clarified yet, and I know this from being within the department, is this. It is one thing to have further environmental investigators who go out to investigate and bring forth cases to go to court. It is another thing to call them enforcement officers when they are inspectors. What is not really clear is whether those inspectors are being hired to enforce the law as opposed to being free technical advisers to the industry.

We also do not know if the resources will be available as well to the Department of Justice to prosecute these cases. In past years there has been a problem where the Department of the Environment has been required to pay to bring forward the cases and did not have appropriate resources to do that and therefore did not proceed.

I look forward to further details on how the government is planning to proceed and financing, but also to give free rein to the regional enforcement officers without interference.

Environmental Enforcement ActGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.

Liberal

Derek Lee Liberal Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will ask the hon. member about two very minor components of the bill, but components nonetheless.

In more than one section of the bill there is a provision that the regulations involved are not statutory instruments. The effect of that provision would be there would not be any pre-publication, any consultation, pre-enactment review of the regulations. We understand why that is the case in many respects because the order involved would have to be put in place quickly.

By saying in the bill that these orders, a compliance order, for example, would not be a statutory instrument, it precludes Parliament itself from reviewing these instruments after they are made and put in place, reviewing, as Parliament normally does for all regulations. That is the first thing.

Does the hon. member have any view about whether or not that is appropriate? I do not think it is. I think the Department of Justice, in drafting the bill, has either forgotten about Parliament or wishes to do an end run around Parliament.

Does she have any thought about the relatively new process in the bill where a fine for an infraction is not set out in the act? It is actually set out by way of a formula in the regulations, so in the end the government ends up setting the fine, not the statute.

Environmental Enforcement ActGovernment Orders

4:30 p.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, I can only answer the member's first question very generally because I have not had an opportunity to absorb it.

He points out that there are a lot of fine words or points in this proposed bill that are not yet described fully.

If there is a case where there is an order by an enforcement officer, I believe the enforcement officer should have the freedom to issue it. Those are usually being issued because time and circumstances require that action be taken immediately. The need to protect the environment and take precautionary action overrules any need for the House to review that order.

If there is a case of, perhaps, a ministerial order that is more broad-based, I fully agree with the member that there is great need to have it reviewed by the House and certainly at least by a committee or a regulations making committee.

The hon. member raises a very good point about inappropriate infusion of ministerial discretion. I am finding even more significant inappropriate interventions by the minister. I find it quite reprehensible that the government would propose a provision whereby a judge would make a recommendation to a minister, who will exercise political discretion to decide whether a community can have compensation. I have never heard of such a provision.

The measures the hon. member has suggested are exactly the provisions we need to have reviewed by the committee and to discuss whether it is appropriate that the bill go forward in its present form.

We have already seen the minister's propensity to short-circuit the regulations act, which requires there be gazetting, advance notice and opportunity to consult. If we are going to have that kind of procedure in making the regulations, I am very concerned. I share the hon. member's concern.

Environmental Enforcement ActGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

It is my duty pursuant to Standing Order 38 to inform the House that the questions to be raised tonight at the time of adjournment are as follows: the hon. member for St. Paul's, Chalk River Nuclear Facilities; the hon. member for Brossard—La Prairie, Social Housing.

Environmental Enforcement ActGovernment Orders

4:35 p.m.

Liberal

Kirsty Duncan Liberal Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Yukon.

A former Conservative premier addressed a crowd of reporters and residents in Walkerton, Ontario, where hundreds of people suffered from drinking E. coli. contaminated water and seven people died. He said, “We have a terrible tragedy here”.

Unfortunately, all could have been prevented. Dr. Murray McQuigge, the local medical officer of health, revealed that the Walkerton Public Utilities Commission knew there was a problem with the water several days before it told the public. Illnesses could have been prevented, in part, if cuts to the environment ministry and deregulation of water testing had not occurred.

The environment minister reported that, “If there is something positive that can ever come out of an event like this, it is that changes be made to ensure that it doesn't ever happen again”.

Bill C-16 is an important step to improving the health of Canada's environment. Specifically, it would help enhance and protect environmental health and human health by standardizing and strengthening penalties across all of the federal government's environmental laws and by requiring that violators pay to repair environmental damage beyond paying fines, ensuring that polluting was not just part of the cost of doing business.

The Conservative Minister of the Environment proudly reports:

In the election campaign, our government committed to bolster the protection of our water, air and land through tougher environmental enforcement that holds polluters accountable. Today we delivered...the new measures will provide a comprehensive, modern and effective enforcement regime for Canada.

What assurances can the government provide regarding its ability to implement the provisions? Also, will the newly hired and trained offers be sufficient to do the work that is required to enforce Canada's environmental laws? What accountability measures will be put in place to ensure enforcement? How truly comprehensive is the proposed bill if it fails to address our most pressing environmental issue, namely climate change?

Global warming will in fact impact the very items that Bill C-16 aims to safeguard. As a result of climate change, we are already seeing changes in caribou, polar bear and seal populations, changes in permafrost and impacts on traditional ways of life. In the future, climate change will potentially impact migratory birds, their flyways and possibly the spread of avian influenza.

Our country's current climate policies are widely criticized in Canada by external research bodies, parliamentarians, the public and the scientific community.

In contrast, President Obama is recognized for taking global warming seriously and is listening to scientists who tell us that the situation is outdistancing our efforts to confront it. The President said:

We all believe what the scientists have been telling us for years now that this is a matter of urgency and national security and it has to be dealt with in a serious way.

President Obama has since called for hard caps on global warming, cleared the way for tougher clean car standards, declared an intention to play a constructive role in international climate negotiations and introduced a serious green stimulus package.

The Prime Minister, however, believes that the differences between the American and Canadian regimes are not near as stark as some would suggest. He said:

When I look at the President's platform the kind of targets that his administration has laid out for the reduction of greenhouse gases are very similar to ours.

Climate Action Network Canada and US Climate Action Network, representing 100 leading organizations in Canada and the United States that are working together to prevent catastrophic climate change and promote sustainable and equitable solutions, argue that Canada needs to overhaul its current approach and raise its level of ambition to have a credible climate change policy.

Today the issue of climate change is more pressing than ever as considerable time lags in the climate system mean that many impacts of climate change are already locked in over the coming decades. Today's buildings, power plants and transportation systems continue to produce increased emissions, meaning an even greater delay and increased warming in the future. Moreover, as some of the climate risks materialize, the economic costs will be much steeper than those from the current financial crisis.

Canadians want action on climate change, as recognized by a former Conservative environment minister who said back in 2007, “Canadians want action, they want it now”.

As testament to this fact, during earth hour 2008, Canada had almost 10 million people participating in 150 cities from coast to coast to coast. People in cities across Canada held candlelight dinners, enjoyed time with family and friends, and went on neighbourhood walks. In Toronto, electricity demand dropped by almost 9%, the equivalent of taking 260 megawatts off the grid or approximately 5.8 million light bulbs.

This hear earth hour falls on Saturday, March 28, with more than 1,500 cities across 80 countries committing to reduce electrical consumption, with more coming onboard every day. Canada currently ranks second for the most city sign ups at 258.

Canadians understand that earth hour will not reverse or reduce climate change but, rather, will raise awareness about the climate challenges the world is facing. Earth hour presents a good opportunity for people to show their federally elected representatives that they support actions to fight climate change.

However, it is worth noting that most Canadian provinces have emission reduction targets that are much more ambitious than that of the federal government. Canada's largest province, Ontario, is moving ahead with the cap and trade system based on absolute caps aimed at meeting its reduction target of 15% below 1990 levels by 2020, with an implementation date of January 1, 2010.

The Conservative government must protect our atmosphere. It must build partnerships with business, consumers, local authorities and the energy sector. It must find abatement solutions and reduce fossil fuel subsidies that currently put a premium rather than a penalty on CO2 emissions.

Many policy instruments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions have significant implications for government revenues and expenditures. An OECD analysis provides examples of ambitious emission reductions that can be achieved through auctioned tradable emission permits, with estimates of fiscal revenues reaching over 5% of world GDP by 2050. Although we are talking about domestic policy, it is important to note that tackling climate change requires strong collective action worldwide.

Indications of climate change must be treated with the utmost seriousness and with the precautionary principle uppermost in parliamentarians' minds. Extensive climate changes may alter and threaten the living conditions of much of humankind. They may lead to greater competition for the earth's resources and induce large-scale migration. Such changes will place particularly heavy burdens on the world's most vulnerable countries.

In closing, my appeal to the government would be to please listen and reflect on the voices of science and Canadians regarding climate change and, most importantly, to act with determination and a sense of urgency.

Environmental Enforcement ActGovernment Orders

4:45 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, all the speakers have mentioned or questioned the government's ability to or interest in actually enforcing these new enforcement powers it is putting in.

There was a perfect example yesterday when the government was lambasted at the transport committee for adding 500,000 square kilometres, an area the size of Saskatchewan, in enforcement abilities, yet not a penny in the budget of the money needed to add the enforcement.

In fact, a submarine this summer was in the Canadian Arctic and sighted a few days after an explosion. The government was not there, but when officials went there, they did an investigation and they will not tell Canadians what they found out. I think that Canadians would want to know about that submarine and that explosion.

I would like to ask the member about these added enforcements in this bill and several other bills, but no actual boots on the ground to do them, no money for enforcement officers, nor the freedom and the will for those officers to actually make these enforcements.

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4:45 p.m.

Liberal

Kirsty Duncan Liberal Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, enforcement is key and these are the key questions we must ask the government. It talks about investing, I believe, $43 million. It has newly hired and trained officers, but will they have the autonomy and the power to enforce Canada's environmental laws? A key question at committee will have to address the accountability measures that would be put in place to ensure enforcement.

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4:45 p.m.

NDP

Bruce Hyer NDP Thunder Bay—Superior North, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for her inspirational, rousing, accurate and fantastic speech in defence of doing something real about climate change.

As the hon. member will recall, in the last Parliament the Liberals supported and helped to incorporate and develop the amendments in committee to make that bill better. That bill is back in terms of the climate change accountability bill. The vote will be next Wednesday. I would like to ask the hon. member whether she and other members of the Liberal Party will be voting for the bill that they voted for in the last Parliament?

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4:45 p.m.

Liberal

Kirsty Duncan Liberal Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, climate change is the most pressing environmental issue we have. I am proud of our party's record on climate change. We respect the science of climate change. We are the party that ratified Kyoto. I believe if there are questions regarding climate change and the actions taken, they must be addressed to that side of the House.

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4:45 p.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask the question again. If the hon. member firmly believes in the need for binding regulations and binding laws, so that we can actually have laws enforced, will she stand and vote in favour of Bill C-311, which actually provides for accountability of the government in delivering a prescribed agenda for climate change?

Environmental Enforcement ActGovernment Orders

4:50 p.m.

Liberal

Kirsty Duncan Liberal Etobicoke North, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is really important to look at Bill C-311. It is important that Canada gets this right, that we look at the reductions in emissions. Do we go back to Kyoto? Do we get ahead of what is being done internationally? It is an incredibly important bill and it has to be looked at very carefully.

We as a country have to get this right. We have to get it right for our people. We have to get it right for our various sectors. We have to get it right for agriculture, for forestry.

We are already seeing tremendous changes here in Canada. For example, our Great Lakes levels are going down. We have increasing drought on the Prairies. We have shifting migration in fish. We are seeing an increase in heat waves, for example. Currently, about 200 people die each summer as a result of heat waves. By 2050, 1,200 people may die as a result of a heat in Toronto alone.

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4:50 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to discuss Bill C-16, an omnibus bill we are referring to as the environmental enforcement act. I need not tell members in the House that omnibus bills are sweeping in scope. This bill touches on almost any legislation dealing with environmental protection that has a regime for enforcement and levying fines.

The announcement of this bill seemed to be more about re-announcing old funding commitments from budgets 2007 and 2008, including $22 million for hiring 106 new enforcement officers and $21 million to implement environmental enforcement measures, than about the legislation itself.

As I mentioned earlier, I have concerns with the government's commitment to making sure these new enforcement officers will have the capacity to find infractions and enforce environmental regulations. However, I know these will be brought up by fellow members in this debate.

I am here to discuss the provisions of this bill that alter the Antarctic Environmental Protection Act. I am certain that some Canadians will wonder why legislation originating in Ottawa features any mention of the Antarctic. The reason is our commitment to international law.

Since December 2003, people visiting the Antarctic through Canadian expeditions or tours and those operating Canadian aircraft and vessels are required to apply for a permit from the Government of Canada except when granted permission by another country that is party to the Madrid protocol.

The Madrid protocol came into force in 1998, designating the Antarctic as a natural reserve devoted to science and peace. It is also known as the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty and its purpose is to ensure that countries regulate the activities of their nationals in the Antarctic. The protocol has been ratified by 30 countries. The amendments proposed in this bill update, clarify and strengthen regulations put in place six years ago when the Liberals were on the other side of the House.

This is truly international legislation. One can review the equivalent Antarctic environmental protection legislation of other Madrid protocol countries, including the U.K., Australia and New Zealand, and note they share many similarities. Much can be learned about Canada's own Arctic through the study of the Antarctic. Recent discoveries indicate there are species that inhabit both northern and southern polar regions. Arctic seas share at least 235 species in common. These include migrating birds and grey whales, but more commonly small and elusive sea life including crustaceans, snails and worms.

In order to learn all we must learn about the effects of climate change on polar regions. We must study both poles and as legislators do all we can to facilitate scientific cooperation between the people who have a passion to carry out this research. Last month, I was pleased to see the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development announce a memorandum of understanding between Canada and the United Kingdom that will see Canadian researchers gain access to British research stations in the Antarctic in exchange for our granting access to British researchers to our stations in the far North.

These opportunities for international cooperation through science provide our researchers with venues to share their knowledge and learn from their colleagues while gaining critical data needed to understand climate change. The Antarctic blocks up about 90% of the world's freshwater. We continue to learn of studies indicating that Antarctic ice sheets are even more sensitive to subtle elevations in greenhouse gases and temperatures than we originally thought they were. We have all seen the maps and models illustrating the dramatic effects that higher sea levels will have on the coastlines and even on the earth's rotational axis.

That is one of the reasons for my private member's bill. The government should look at providing a provision in the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act to allow for environmental refugees because the predictions are that there will be over 50 million refugees coming as a result of climate change. This is all to say that going to the Antarctic to research is not about romantic adventure. It is about the research that humanity's future depends on.

I would also like to note at this time that a Yukon company won a world contract put out by the British to build an airport in the Antarctic and did an excellent job if anyone is looking for further work in the Antarctic. I hope this will serve as an incentive to the government to follow through with its commitments to building research capacity in the Arctic and to do all it can to expedite the creation of the much-discussed new high Arctic research centre.

I noticed that the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development was in Iqaluit last month and that he announced that the federal government will spend $2 million on a feasibility study to help the government figure out where to build the research station: Pond Inlet, Cambridge Bay or Resolute Bay. I understand the study will take a year and a half to complete.

All I can say is that I hope the three communities, along with all the other northern communities, will receive their share of attention and support from the government regardless of which is selected for the research centre.

I also appreciate the money to upgrade existing northern research infrastructure, which I and my colleagues pushed very hard in the House for the government to come up with.

What the government has been harshly criticized for are the dramatic cutbacks in funds for the researchers themselves. As has been stated in the House, we will have a bunch of research facilities in the north that will be empty because they do not have access to sufficient government funds to continue their research.

As I have already noted in this House, the PEARL research centre in Eureka is in jeopardy. The Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences received no new funding from the Government of Canada in the last budget. Without new funding, CFCAS will be shut down by this time next year taking 24 research networks that are focused on climate change with it. This is insanity.

Does the government not see money spent on climate change research as money well spent? Do we want the opposite of what common sense says we should do? Does the government believe that drought is an important issue facing Canada?

If so, how can the government cut the funding for the Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences that funds the only comprehensive drought study ever conducted in Canada? The drought research initiative, DRI, is focusing on drought in Canada, on the prairies, and, in particular, is contributing to the better prediction and adaptation to this crisis.

Does the government support greater resiliency to natural disasters in Canada? How can the government cut funding for CFCAS projects that examine a range of extreme events, such as storms, floods and droughts, over many parts of the country? These projects include DRI and the storm studies in the Arctic, STAR, research networks. DRI was discussed above and STAR is the first ever research project to examine eastern Canadian storms.

Both STAR and DRI are working closely with those affected by natural disasters to increase their resiliency. This includes farmers, water managers, Arctic communities, et cetera. I implore the government to reinstate this critical funding for Arctic and other climate change research.

I find the government all too willing to announce initiatives in support of the north through highly visible events that capture the attention of the media for a day or two and raise the hopes of the people in the north only to go silent for months with no news of progress. We can take our pick, whether it is the deep-sea port at Nanisivik, three icebreakers or supply ships with reinforced hulls or enacting a respectable climate change policy, members of the government are experts at staging photo ops but it is too slow to deliver.

For the benefit of my colleagues and those Canadians with direct interests in Antarctic research, I would like to take some time to outline a few of the changes this bill would bring.

The provisions would ensure that any polluter, whether the person is Canadian or the person is in the Antarctic under a Canadian licence, would be held responsible under Canadian law. This demonstrates that Canada is capable of meeting its international treaty commitments.

Of course, it is not only Canadian scientists who travel to the Antarctic but increasingly large tour groups organized in Canada and elsewhere.

The reasons for the legislation and amendments are summed up well in clause 50.9, which states:

The fundamental purpose of sentencing for offences under this Act is to contribute to respect for the law protecting the Antarctic environment and dependent and associated ecosystems in light of the global significance of the Antarctic and the Treaty....

The section goes on to state that the sentencing measures within the act exist to deter the offender, denounce unlawful conduct that puts the environment at risk and to reinforce the “polluter pays” principle by ensuring the offenders are held responsible for effective cleanup and restoration. These were always the objective of the legislation but they are now spelled out in their own section.

I also would point out that sections 30, 32 and 37 would now offer enforcement officers more discretionary powers to compel potentially offending vessels to follow instruction and allow the officer to seize a vessel, regardless of whether or not it is Canadian, if there are reasonable grounds to believe an offence has been committed.

Section 37 states that a foreign state must be notified that a detention order against a vessel registered in that state was made.

Section 44 states that the offending party shall be held liable for the costs of the seizure, so no need to worry our friends at Treasury Board.

Finally, the last amendment of note is clause 51(2), which states:

If a Canadian vessel or other vessel commits an offence under this Act, every director or officer of a corporation that is an owner or an operator of the vessel who directed or influenced the corporation’s policies or activities...is a party to and guilty of the offence.....

I am pleased to see the legislation take a strong stand on corporate responsibility.

Environmental Enforcement ActGovernment Orders

5 p.m.

Liberal

Mario Silva Liberal Davenport, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for Yukon for the excellent work he has done on the north. I carefully listened to his words on climate change and how it is affecting the north. We need to hear more about what he had to say because those were important issues that he raised. I would like to hear his further comments on this important issue.

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5 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, before I do that, it is my sincere hope that the discussion on Bill C-16 and its Antarctic provisions and the recent announcement of research and cooperation with the United Kingdom will help all members of the House keep in mind that Arctic issues and Arctic sovereignty are about more than sensational press releases, such as those sharing the details of Russian bomber flights that did not even come into Canadian airspace.

The best way for Canadians to defend the north is to support and feel kinship to the people of the north and to seek and understand our Arctic through many possible means.

As the member said, living in the north, I mentioned years before it became a hot issue that it was accelerating faster than anyone believed. Those of us who live in the north see the permafrost melting, the species moving, new species coming up, the ice melting a lot quicker and the terribly expensive effects on our infrastructure with ice bridges melting, sewers crumbling and roads crumbling that are not frozen. We are depending on winter ice roads. As an example, we had to rent the biggest helicopter in Russia for one of our diamond mines at a huge expense because the ice bridge melted too quickly.

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5 p.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, I welcome the comments by the hon. member for Yukon and I share his love of the north. I had the pleasure of living and working in Yukon for three years. I share his concern with what will happen to the way of life up there because of the lack of action in addressing climate change.

I, therefore, put the same question for the hon. member. Will he be supporting the private member's bill, Bill C-311, so that we may actually hold the government accountable for the next actions necessary to address climate change?

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5 p.m.

Liberal

Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, that is the second member of the NDP to ask that question. I have not yet read the debate to see the pros and cons but I think it is the same as the bill that was there before. If that is the case, we passed the bill before and the government has done nothing about it.

What I would like to see from members on this side of the House, the NDP and all the other members, is what we can do when we pass bills and the government refuses to acknowledge that. When the government members were in opposition they called it an affront to democracy and an insult to Parliament that we would pass certain bills, like enforcing Kyoto provisions or the one we did on the Kelowna accord which was so important for aboriginal people.

We pass motions or bills and there is no reasonable respect for the democracy in the House for those bills. I look forward to various strategic solutions to this problem that we have with the government.