Mr. Speaker, it is of great interest to be entering this afternoon's debate. I think it is precipitous also for the timing. Just this afternoon, Canadians saw the Auditor General of this country and the Commissioner of the Environment release their extensive report, which turns into a condemnation of the government's own ability and willingness to enforce the laws, their own laws, that are on the books.
Here in Bill C-16, which is substantial in size, one must be given over to the question of whether this is actually going to take place. These rules and regulations, this set of fines and penalties that the government has little or no intention of actually enforcing, are no laws at all.
There are number of themes that are recurrent in Bill C-16, which is, in a sense, a housekeeping bill that tries to gather together a number of environmental penalties and set minimums and maximums for those infringements on the environment.
I myself represent Skeena—Bulkley Valley, which is the northwest quarter of British Columbia. It is absolutely rich in resources but also a conduit for some of the most volatile and dangerous goods in Canada and a place where some of the most dangerous projects are being pushed by the government, and hopefully the former government in British Columbia, such projects as coal bed methane and offshore oil and gas.
While the government promotes these projects, what is relevant to Bill C-16 is that they say Canadians should rest assured that if we are going to roll the dice on this oil and gas project in a sensitive ecosystem, in the Hecate Strait, which is the windiest, waviest place in Canada, it is okay to put the rigs up because we have strong environmental laws.
That is what has been proposed and Canadians can sleep well and rest assured, but lo and behold, when the auditor of the country comes forward and takes a look at the enforcement of those laws, the measurement of the pollution, the accountability and transparency of government, the laws do not become worth the paper they are written on. This is what calls into question the efforts of the government in Bill C-16.
There was good work done by my colleague, the member for Edmonton—Strathcona, on the bill at committee in trying to augment the penalties, because we see a rise in penalties to individuals who pollute the environment but we do not see the same concurrent rise in penalties for corporations.
We see that businesses, in a sense, are meant to keep the status quo, while individual Canadians, heaven forbid if they were to do the same thing, would see an increase of four times and more in the penalties.
The enforcement of any of these rules is absolutely essential and critical, because again, the government could give a wink and a nod to industry in saying it will put out a bunch of regulations.
I do not know if members of the House or the public remember when the minister announced the bill. It was quite a flashy display. He spent tens of thousands of Canadians' hard-earned dollars, taxpayers' dollars, to walk down the street some several hundred metres to a five-star hotel to announce that this bill was coming up.
He could not do it here in Parliament, which was sitting that day. We have many nice rooms in which to announce bills. The minister thought it was very important to show the seriousness of the government's intention. He actually had enforcement officers. I always feel sorry for these men and women of the force, because they have to do it. They have to stand there as props for the government, to show how tough the minister was going to be on environmental polluters, meanwhile in full knowledge of the audit going on in his own department showing that there was no enforcement intention from the government. It was not going to bring these penalties or any such penalties.
Whether it is straight out pollution we are talking about, oil spills, toxic spills, leaks, sewage and all the rest, we see the government stripping environmental regulation after regulation. It includes the loopholes for assessments, saying more and more projects of greater size and potential impact are going to be exempt from assessments.
We saw the absolute travesty that was in the budget. There were many, but there was one in particular with respect to the environment. The government used the budget as a Trojan horse. It wheeled the thing in here saying it was all about the economy, and it slipped inside it a little piece about the Navigable Waters Protection Act.
In the Navigable Waters Protection Act, the government stripped out a whole lot of regulations. Conservation groups have been coming to me and other members of the House with serious and deep concerns, not only about the effect that this stripping of the Navigable Waters Protection Act will have on our environment and the conservation of our environment but the fact that there was no debate and discourse whatsoever.
This is a government claiming transparency and accountability, and it slides into a bill about the budget a piece about the environment and navigable waters and the protection of our streams and rivers in this country. Conservation groups such as the B.C. Wildlife Federation got involved, and Mountain Equipment Co-op, for goodness sake. All these groups raised a concern in a coalition scrambled together at the last minute, because they never thought a government would do this kind of thing and strip out a 100-year-old act.
It was one of the first acts put forward and brought to full comprehension in this country to protect navigable waters, the waterways that Canadians relied on for trade and commerce and now rely on for a whole assortment of reasons. The government chose a budget, in which to fundamentally change the act.
The government claims, and it goes to Bill C-16 again, that there was too much red tape and it was holding up all those shovel-ready projects that we now know the government has hardly spent $1 on. I asked the government, if this was so important and there were so many projects being held up, to provide Canadians and members of Parliament with a list of all the projects, of all the jobs that were not being created because of the terrible Navigable Waters Protection Act, to show us the proof and evidence as to why it had to strip out this bill.
Of course, the government provided nothing, not a single project anywhere in the country that condoned this. Then one begins to question the philosophy and to suspect what the government is truly about when it comes to protecting our environment.
This bill has a whole series of thoughtful comments and amendments to eight other acts in Canada. As I said, it is quite a hefty tome and quite complicated, but is it worth the paper it is written on if the government does not actually intend to enforce it?
We see this again in the auditor's report. A private member's bill was brought forward by the official opposition and was worked on by all members of the House in the last Parliament. The government is just choosing not to abide by a Canadian law.
It is here, in the government's own words and text, where Environment Canada says it does not need to actually monitor greenhouse gas emissions, but here is the irony. It can measure the emissions that it is going to count on in the government's own plan in the future, but it cannot take account of anything that has happened in the past. How are Canadians meant to have confidence in the government's ability to negotiate anything, what to order for lunch, never mind a serious agreement like what will happen in Copenhagen?
According to the Auditor General, and I will quote in order to get it right, “In the plans prepared to date, the department has not explained why expected emissions reductions can be estimated”, so those are the estimated reductions in the government's own plans, “in advance but actual reductions”, meaning what is actually happening in the environment, “cannot be measured after the fact”.
The government feels totally confident in saying to Canadians that it will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by such-and-such by such-and-such a date. It can measure that and get that accurate, but it cannot measure the things that have already happened because it is too complicated and not cost-effective to measure.
Going back to the idea of enforcement and penalties, this comes from a party that has prided itself on being tough on crime and on pushing every criminal to the letter of the law. It campaigns on it every time, but it only means it for certain types of criminals, not ones who pollute our environment. Those ones get off the hook. For those ones, it will not press the letter of the law. It has been shown time and time again.
This is a government that picks what criminals it will go after. Some are truly criminal, while there are others who, say, tip over a railcar and dump it into a lake and pollute the rivers or put out greenhouse gases that endanger future generations, who break the government's own regulations and laws, and the government may or may not enforce those penalties. Those criminals, the government is not planning to get tough on.
One cannot help but wonder about the collusion at the moment of the crime, when the government puts forward Bill C-16 and other such bills and says it will quadruple the fines for individuals but it will leave the fines for corporations the same. Then the Auditor General says, with regard to the few regulations that exist for pollutants under the greenhouse gas emission acts that exist as law in this place, the government is unable to enforce them, unable to account and does not provide the penalties. How can Canadians have confidence in the government when it cannot follow through on such simple measures?
The very industries that are doing this polluting, or those that are suspected to, have asked the present government and the previous government for certainty. They want to know what the rules are.
Industry wants to know what the actual carbon emissions limits and pollution costs will be, because it can put that into its actual budgets. Industry can figure out what the cost of doing business will be.
Instead, the government slipstreams in behind the United States and is just waiting, forming a talk shop with the Obama administration.
The actual regulations are two years late in terms of the government's own promised commitments to bring them forward to industry and to Canadians. They are two years late by the government's own fault and admission. Nobody here is holding them up. These regulations are done in-house. They do not even have to be brought to Parliament.
For two years, industry and Canadians have been waiting and have received nothing. There is no excuse for the government. There is no logistical problem. There is no problem with the data. There is no problem with knowing what regulations to put in place, because all the other industrialized nations in the world have gone ahead of Canada and put the rules in place.
The fact of the matter is that the government is still stuck in a place where it is either the environment or the economy; it has to be one or the other. This is where the government is going to have to give itself a shake and wake up.
These are the same characters who would look at a GDP result and say it is the only measurement and number they need in order to know how the economy is doing.We in northwestern British Columbia know that after the Exxon Valdez spill, which occurred just north of where I live, the GDP went through the roof. It did fantastic that year for Alaska. Business was booming. According to the government's systemic failure to manage the economy, that was seen as successful.
The regulations that the government proposes in Bill C-16, which is now before the House on its third and final reading, take small steps. However, at the basis of the philosophy of whether Canadians can feel confident about the government's sincerity and ability to actually enforce its own laws, it is found wanting time and again.
When the government sets the limits and the penalties so low, as it did in Bill C-16, it allows business to slide them in as a cost of doing business. I do not see the government proposing such penalties in other areas of criminal law. With a $5 fine for a break and enter, a criminal could sit back and say, “Well, if that is the penalty to break into a house, that seems worth it.” The government understands in that case that it must present a penalty that is a deterrent, so that perhaps the criminal will not break into Canadians' homes and will not steal things.
Yet when it comes to the environment, the government provides paltry fines that a lot of the biggest and most profitable companies will look at as a cost of doing business. If the cost of making their production safe is x, as opposed y, which is the cost, maybe, of a fine, then if y is smaller than x, they will just not do it and will let the pollution run forth.
Industry knows that fines are not coming from the government, that enforcement is not coming. How do they know this? It is evidenced by the Auditor General of Canada, a non-partisan and unbiased officer of Parliament who looked at the government's own laws. It applied the test of those laws to the government and found it wanting yet again.
The only reason the government thinks it can get away with this is because it thinks there is no political consequence. The government thinks that presenting these laws with press announcements at the five-star hotel down the road will somehow replace actual effect, spending thousands of Canadian taxpayers' dollars to rent the place and send the whole press corps down the road so the minister can look tough standing in front of a bunch of enforcement officers, for what? Could it not have done the same thing 50 feet down the hall?
This reminds me of the previous environment minister who spent $85,000 to announce a plan in Toronto that he could have announced right here. He held three different press conferences: one for business in one part of the city, one for the media in another part of the city, and another one for the environmental groups. Tens of thousands of dollars were spent on this little charade. What was announced? It was the Turning the Corner plan.
What a fantastic plan, which was actually talked about in the auditor's report today, which the government cannot account for. The government has had three plans, three ministers, three years, and all have failed to get the job done.
So the government comes forward with Bill C-16, an amalgamation of old acts and old bills that it wants to combine. It tells us to rest assured that it is going to get serious about the environment, finally. It is going to go after the polluters. The Conservatives shake their heads and rattle their sabres, but unfortunately, nothing changes.
I will go back to the point around certainty because it is important for Canadians to understand that this is the actual intersect between business and the environment.
Businesses consistently said to us that they were frustrated with the Liberal Party and the Liberal government because it announced Kyoto. The Liberals went to Kyoto, signed onto Kyoto, ratified Kyoto and promised rules. A great number of businesses, in good faith and good intention, went forward and made some of the changes that would be required under a carbon-constrained economy, which is in Kyoto and which other countries have actually done. They would make the change and the government would come up with another plan and say that it would get to the regulations later. They would make more changes, spend more money, make their businesses less polluting, hoping to get some credit for it and the government would say “later”.
Then the Conservatives came in and the same movie started again. They said that they would get serious, that this was their climate change plan. Because the first two failed, now they would turn the corner, and they called the document “Turning the Corner“. The Conservatives are turning the corner so many times they are walking in circles.
The fact is when we look for regulations, when we look for the hard evidence of what businesses can count on and account for in their own ledgers as to where they spend the money, what the price of carbon will be, how they trade on the carbon markets with the U.S. and the international community, there are none. There are promises that are now two years old, and industry is still waiting.
The minister pretended today, during the question and answer period, that he would somehow show up in Copenhagen with some ability to negotiate. How can the we negotiate without credibility? The other countries know Canada's record. They know the government's intensity-based plan is used by no one else. Not one country in the world uses intensity to measure its carbon emissions.
Does that not give Canadians pause? Have we stumbled upon some unique solution to climate change with which the other countries will jump on board? No one else uses it because it does not work. It is not effective. We cannot measure, we cannot manage, we cannot control under an intensity regime. We told the Conservatives, when they first came to government, that it was a farce.
Finally, two weeks ago the Minister of the Environment stood and said that maybe the intensity regime would not work, that maybe the government needed an actual hard limit. Two years were wasted again. Why? Because the government is interested in only taking policy, not making it.
When it comes to protecting our environment, when it comes to being responsible on greenhouse gas emissions, the Conservatives are found wanting, not simply by New Democrats, who proposed a comprehensive bill. The government asked for policy. We proposed Bill C-311, which passed through the last Parliament, which the government killed by proroguing Parliament again. The Conservatives are addicted to this. How democratic and accountable is it when the government of the day, because it does not like what is going on, Parliament, shuts Parliament down and locks the doors.
It is getting to be a habit of the Conservative government. Three times it has done that. Three times it has killed its own legislation. The members will scream out “coalition”. Twice the Conservatives did it with no threat of anything other than laws that were in this place, put forward by elected people meant to represent the people of Canada, not the will of the Conservative Party of Canada.
Time and time again, Canadians have sent parliamentarians forward to do something about climate change, to bring legitimate legislation forward. It is no longer good enough for the Conservatives to sit on their moral high ground talking about transparency and accountability when the auditor of the country says that it is a lie, that it is otherwise, that it is a mistruth.
This cannot continue. The government has to own up to its responsibilities. It is the Government of Canada, not the government of the Conservative Party of Canada. When the Conservatives get that through their heads, they will finally start to bring legislation forward that matters, that makes a difference and that Canadians can start to believe in this place again and know this place can fix a problem that we all created.