Mr. Speaker, I have the opportunity today to speak on 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.
I would say that this bill is something like an apple pie. No one can be against apple pie: the only thing is, apple pie does not solve all our problems. I say this because we are talking about standardizing the framework for monitoring environmental legislation and imposing harsher fines on polluters. This is all very good, and I think everyone will be in favour of it.
That being said, it is clearly not enough because, even though the potential fines provided for in the bill would be staggering, if there is no one to enforce the law, if there are not enough resources in Environment Canada and not enough commitment from the government to implement these laws, then quite simply no one will be fined, and so the deterrent effect that is sought will simply not be there.
On this subject, I would direct your attention to the report by Hélène Buzzetti in Le Devoir of March 5, 2009, that officials in the environment department had admitted that since 2000 there have been an average of 3 to 14 charges relating to enforcement of environmental legislation by the federal government, one to five convictions per year, and the maximum fine of $1 million has been imposed only once in 20 years. We think this is inadequate, even though the principle of the bill is most praiseworthy.
This bill entirely avoids the most glaring and most urgent environmental problem on the planet, namely, global warming and the increased concentration of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere.
I would like to offer a little scientific reminder of what is happening to illustrate the difference between greenhouse gases and pollution. I remember hearing at the beginning of this government’s mandate, when we were studying the budget in the Standing Committee on Finance, that pollution would be tackled in order to reduce greenhouse gases. It must be clear that these are two different things. Once again, here we have a bill that aims to raise environmental standards and make them uniform—here this refers to pollution—but does not specifically target the greenhouse gas issue.
What is the difference? Pollutants are substances that are harmful to the environment, to human beings—in many cases—or to ecosystems. This includes oil spills, emissions of toxic products of all kinds and land development that is detrimental to an ecosystem's functioning. Wetlands are a good example; they are environments with very high biodiversity but where the ecological balance is also very fragile. There is a need for intervention on this issue.
Now, one might think that this bill is going in this direction. That is not entirely false, but at the same time—I repeat—this is only a way to paint things green. There must also be a real will to apply and enforce the law. However, all of this does not relate to the issue of the increase in greenhouse gas emissions.
When I heard the Conservatives confuse greenhouse gases with pollutants, I was a bit surprised because carbon dioxide, CO2, is not a pollutant. It occurs naturally in the environment and has no effect on the human body, provided it does not displace oxygen. Nothing changes. CO2 enters the lungs and comes out just the same.
The problem with greenhouse gases, as their name indicates, is that they reflect the sun’s rays back into the atmosphere, where the warmth is captured, like in a greenhouse. We are not talking about a pollutant here but an inert gas. There are other gases, too, but the main one is CO2, which is not affected by the legislation on toxic substances, spills, or any other legislation. It is not regulated because it is not a pollutant as such.
The Bloc Québécois has been asking for years for a plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions because, even if they are not really toxic, they can have a dramatic impact on our planet, on humanity, and on the citizens of Quebec and Canada. We need to take action and take it quickly. This is the greatest environmental issue of the day, and there is nothing in the bill before us to tackle it.
Canada is divided on this. Both the Liberals and Conservatives want Canada to be an oil-producer, an energy superpower when it comes to non-renewable fossil fuels. This primarily benefits the western provinces and some maritime provinces. In Quebec, there is a strong consensus instead that we should proceed with the Kyoto protocol and base our economy on non-renewable, non-polluting resources that do not emit greenhouse gases. We could speculate for a long time on how attached Quebeckers are to the environment versus people in the other provinces, but I think their contrasting positions are based more on some very concrete realities.
The Prime Minister obviously does not believe in the Kyoto protocol or even really in global warming. His counterpart, the Liberal opposition leader, argues in favour of the tar sands and is a firm believer in them. Why? Because it is in Canada’s economic interest, at least in the short term, in my opinion. If everyone in Quebec thinks we should follow the Kyoto protocol instead and abandon the other path, it is because this is in Quebec’s economic interest. Why? There is one very simple reason: Quebec produces no oil and very few hydrocarbons. Quebec is made poorer by oil and our dependence on it.
Some federalist parties have the temerity to come to Quebec and say that Alberta’s tar sands are making us richer. I fail to see how Quebec can be enriched by purchasing oil from outside its boundaries. I would make the following comparison. When someone goes to the gas station to fill up, he is made poorer not richer. Every time a barrel of oil enters Quebec, money flows in the other direction out of Quebec. It is in Quebeckers' economic interest to reduce our dependence on oil.
This is not just an economic issue. For a long time, the main political parties in Quebec, both the Parti Québécois and the Liberal Party which forms the present government—I want to be clear that I am referring to the Liberal Party of Quebec, for the Liberal Party of Canada wants to promote and develop the tar sands—have formed a strong consensus on complying with the Kyoto protocol. Basically, this means we have to set an absolute greenhouse gas reduction target relative to 1990 levels.
There is a mechanism whereby a corporation, province, state or territory that exceeds its objective, performs better than its assigned target, can sell emissions credits to an institution, organization, state, province or territory that has not met its targets. This trading principle derives from two things. First, this is a global problem. Reducing a tonne of GHG in Chapais or Djibouti changes nothing, since the objective is one less tonne of GHG on our planet. Global reduction is the objective. On the other hand, reductions may be less expensive in some places than in others, and so this mechanism is put in place.
When the Kyoto protocol was devised, 1990 was set as the base year. The Conservatives and Liberals want to change the base year, to move it ahead to 2003 or 2006. Why? This may seem very technical to those watching us. This is often the misfortune of the political issues we have to debate, for often they are not very sexy or entertaining. What can it change if the year on which our calculations are based is 2003 or 2006 rather than 1990? It changes everything. It is no longer the same concept at all.
Since 1990 industry in Quebec, particularly the manufacturing industry, has made substantial efforts to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. Meanwhile in the rest of Canada the emissions rate has simply exploded, reaching levels never seen in any other western country. That increase occurred under the Liberals, who did nothing to reduce greenhouse gases, and it has continued under the Conservatives. Unfortunately, we must acknowledge that it will probably continue, whether the Conservatives remain or are replaced by the Liberals. There is a consensus in Canada on developing the oil industry. The two parties have even supported a budget in which the main so-called environmental measures consist in helping out the oil companies, which you will agree are in great need of help. You will of course have noted the sarcasm in my words.
By setting the base year at 2003 or 2006, as the government would do, we wipe out all of the efforts that have been made by Quebec industry. At the same time, we wipe out all the economic potential and any possibility for these companies such as Alcan, which are asking the federal government to set up a system based on the Kyoto protocol with 1990 as the base year, to sell greenhouse gas emissions credits and to be somehow compensated for the efforts they have made to reduce their emissions.
Conversely, by moving from 1990 to 2006, we also wipe out the entire explosion of greenhouse gas emissions caused by the industrial sectors that made no effort, and in fact even increased their pollution levels.
The oil sands sector is the perfect example. Since the first efforts in any process of industrial rationalization are always the easiest, instead of it being polluter-pay, it is polluter-paid. Those who have made the least effort since 1990 will be economically rewarded now while those who have done their part, most of them in Quebec, the only province that has made absolute reductions in greenhouse gases, will be punished.
The government also wants to move from an absolute greenhouse gas reduction to a relative one in terms of intensity. What does this mean and what difference does it make? Are these not just highly technical terms that are the stock in trade of environmental specialists, and lack much effect? Absolutely not, they are not trifling in any way. On the contrary, they are very important.
The absolute targets set out in the Kyoto protocol say that there is a limit to what this planet can withstand, and that there is no connection between that limit and the economy. The planet cannot withstand more greenhouse gas emissions because the economy is in better shape. There is no connection between the two. Mankind has to reduce emissions, we must go from x tonnes to y tonnes, and we must not exceed that. Period. On the other hand, the government's approach, with Liberal backing, is intensity targets. They say we must not product more than x tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions per production unit. This means that a province, a company, or some other entity, with twice as much oil sands development, for instance, would be authorized to pollute twice as much.
Once again, a greater effort is being demanded of the manufacturing sector, when it has been experiencing economic difficulties and has the same or even lower production volume, than of industrial sectors that are in full development.
Clearly, there is a conflict between two visions that are not guided, at least not solely, by environmental issues. They are closely tied to economic interests, which is also the case for many of the decisions made by every other company in the world. The problem that Quebeckers are dealing with is that they are and always will be in the minority in this Parliament. The Conservative Party, with the support of the Liberal Party and the NDP, have ensured that a shrinking proportion of members of Parliament will be here representing Quebec. Fortunately, the Bloc Québécois members, who make up two-thirds of the members from Quebec, are still here to take a stand for Quebeckers. Unfortunately, Quebeckers are getting less and less representation in the other parties, and their voices are being drowned out in caucuses that care only about the Canadian majority's interests. Not because they are mean-spirited or because they dislike Quebeckers, but because the national parties are bound to defend the interests of the majority of citizens.
There is no way for Quebeckers to escape this situation other than by taking control of their own fate and becoming the majority in their own country. Once we become a sovereign country, we will develop our own environment and green energy policy, one that considers our future and the planet we will be leaving to our children, an environment and energy policy that is in line with our economic and development interests.
The Bloc Québécois is also working hard to help Quebeckers understand that it is impossible to advance Quebec's interests on a regular basis in the federal Parliament. The only solution available to Quebeckers in the medium term is to become a sovereign country and to make our own decisions according to our own values and our own interests.