House of Commons Hansard #63 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was information.


Canadian Environmental Bill of RightsPrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.


Christian Ouellet Bloc Brome—Missisquoi, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak to Bill C-469, introduced by my colleague, the member for Edmonton—Strathcona. I congratulate her on this excellent bill. I will start by saying that we are very happy with this bill and we will support it.

I hope that all members in this House will support this bill, even though the member for Papineau just told us that this bill will unite Canada, using the phrase from coast to coast.

We think that the provisions of this bill should apply in every region of the country. In Quebec, we think this bill would be a good idea because of the principles it sets out, which I will be discussing. I think it is important to talk about what is in this bill.

I will be a bit more down-to-earth than the member for Papineau. I will hold back on the rhetoric, but I will talk about this bill that would create a Canadian Environmental Bill of Rights.

This bill states:

Whereas [people] understand the close linkages between a healthy and ecologically balanced environment and [Quebec's and all of] Canada’s economic, social, cultural and intergenerational security;

Whereas [people] have an individual—it is good to clarify that—and collective right to a healthy and ecologically balanced environment;

Whereas action or inaction that results in significant environmental harm could compromise the life, liberty and security of the person and be contrary to section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms;

Mr. Speaker, it is quite interesting that in your ruling on the royal recommendation, you also tied this bill to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It seems that doing so makes this already interesting bill stronger.

I will continue to read:

Whereas the Government of Canada has consistently made commitments to the international community on behalf of [everyone] to protect the environment for the benefit of the world;

We know how much this government just ignores these agreements. The previous Liberal government did more or less the same thing and put things off as long as possible in order to do nothing at all.

I will continue:

Whereas the Government's ability to protect the environment is enhanced when the public is engaged in environmental protection;

That is essential and I am pleased to see that it is in the bill.

This bill defines the term “environment” and I would like to look at that, because it is truly well done.

The bill says:

“environment” means the components of the Earth and includes (a) air, land and water;

(b) all layers of the atmosphere;

(c) all organic matter and living organisms;

(d) biodiversity within and among species; and

(e) the interacting natural systems...

I truly applaud my colleague's work on this definition of the environment. I think it is excellent.

Another interesting thing about this bill is that it defines the principles. There is the principle of environmental justice. The bill also defines the precautionary principle. In my opinion, the French translation is not quite right. The French should read, “principe de précaution”. That is the more commonly used term.

This is how the precautionary principle is defined:

“precautionary principle” means the principle that where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage to the environment, lack of full scientific certainty should not be used as a reason for postponing action to protect the environment.

Including such a principle in legislation is unprecedented. Currently, in my own riding, we are wondering about the potential impact of the Trailbreaker project, which would carry oil from the oil sands to the United States.

Such a provision would clearly indicate whether decisions should be made immediately, because of the potential threats.

The bill goes on to talk about the principle of intergenerational equity. We know how important it is that future generations have the resources they need and that life on earth be worthwhile. The bill also refers to the polluter pays principle, which we are quite familiar with. It would finally be written into this legislation, which is extremely complex. We admire how well drafted the bill is. There is one last principle I have not mentioned, and that is the principle of environmental justice.

So there are these five principles. Then there is the conclusion of part 5, which is a masterpiece, in my opinion:

the right of the individual to life, liberty, security of the person, including the right to a healthy and ecologically balanced environment, and enjoyment of property, and the right not to be deprived thereof except by due process of law;

We find this charming. We vote for what is good for Quebec, and we are certain this bill is good for Quebec, so hon. members can be sure we will support the bill.

In conclusion, I want to say that this bill can be applied in very practical ways. Look at what the Secretary-General of the United Nations suggested to the leaders of all countries in 2008: they should adopt a green New Deal, meaning head in the direction of new energies. We, with a Conservative government like our current one, have continued with a brown Old Deal. It is too bad. Many countries responded to this appeal and devoted a considerable share of the funds in their economic recovery plans to green investments.

The Bloc Québécois made some very practical suggestions. None of them was taken into account. In other countries such as Korea, though, 70% of the economic recovery package was devoted to green energy. The United States spent five times as much per capita on green energy in its recovery plan. That is not what was done in Canada because they are not really convinced.

Take the example of Europe. It has something called the 20-20-20 plan. It is amazing. No one believes that the Conservative government might some day adopt this kind of program and align itself with Europe. This 20-20-20 plan means 20% more energy efficiency, 20% more renewable energy, and a 20% reduction in greenhouse gases by 2020. It is realistic, it is doable and we really could set this target.

Bill C-469 could underpin some regulations of this kind. I am sure we could be doing something other than developing nuclear energy and coal-fired plants in Canada. If we set off in the direction of a green New Deal, we would be showing a lot more respect for Bill C-469.

I hope all members of the House will want to defend this bill and everyone will be proud of passing it because it is essential for our environment.

Canadian Environmental Bill of RightsPrivate Members' Business

6 p.m.


Megan Leslie NDP Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am so thrilled to rise in the House today and speak to Bill C-469 that would create an environmental bill of rights.

This bill was tabled by my friend and colleague, the MP for Edmonton—Strathcona, herself a tireless advocate for the protection of the environment for all Canadians, but in particular for future generations. Thanks to her vision, we have a bill that addresses not just a solution for one environmental issue or another, not just a policy position on climate change or toxins or land protection, but a true bill of rights, a historic federal bill that would enshrine the right of all Canadians to a healthy environment. I applaud my colleague for her efforts which have been crystallized in this piece of legislation.

As the NDP health critic, I want to use my time to talk about the links between environment and health because the two issues are so inextricably linked that I actually consider this to be somewhat of a bill of rights for health as well.

The purpose of the Canadian environmental bill of rights is to safeguard the right of present and future generations of Canadians to a healthy and ecologically balanced environment, to confirm the Government of Canada's public trust duty to protect the environment under its jurisdiction, and to ensure that all Canadians have access to adequate environmental information, justice in an environmental context, and effective mechanisms for participating in environmental decision-making.

I see this bill of rights as linked to health because, according to the World Health Organization, one-quarter of all preventable illnesses can be avoided through environmental management programs because those illnesses are directly linked and directly caused by environmental factors.

The health risks resulting from damage to the environment include the exposure to physical, chemical and biological factors. If we look at, for example, just air quality, human health is affected by air pollution, ranging from mild changes in respiratory function to increased mortality from respiratory and cardiovascular morbidity. For children, air pollution is of particular concern, as it raises the risk for acute lower respiratory infections, asthma and even low birth rate.

When our water, our air or our soil is affected, it in turn affects our bodies in terms of the development of illness and disease, the spread of illness and disease within populations and our ability to fight them off. Think of what it could mean for people's lives if the air, the water, and the soil that they interacted with, that their food grows in, and that their children play in was toxin-free and pollution-free.

Food production is also an incredibly important part of the environment and health. Biodiversity has to be a goal of ours, as well as sustainable food practices. This is how we can look at both the environment and health, and protect them both. We need to start thinking about the interaction between climate and health, and the negative effects that climate change renders on our planet and the health of our population.

According to the World Health Organization around the world, 13 million deaths annually are due to preventable environmental causes. Preventing environmental risk could save as many as 4 million lives a year in children alone, mostly in developing countries. This is a piece of Canadian legislation, but this bill shows leadership and it would set an example around the world.

We have heard quite a bit about this bill in the House already, but there are two parts of the bill that I would in particular like to highlight.

First, this bill provides legal protections for employees who exercise their rights under the bill in the name of environmental protection, potentially by providing evidence contrary to commercial interests or of their employer. This is incredibly important, as we want to encourage people to protect their fellow citizens, and not allow corporations and industries to make decisions and take actions that are dangerous and contrary to the public good, something that has been going on for years with disastrous consequences.

Second, this bill mandates that the Auditor General is obligated to review bills and regulations for violations of the environmental bill of rights, and to report any such violations to Parliament. This is exactly the accountability that is required to protect the health and the environment of Canadians.

Not too long ago in Halifax, I met with some amazing young people who live downstream of the tar sands. They were in Halifax raising awareness about their situation and the realities of living downstream from the largest industrial project on the planet.

Jada Voyageur is a young mother and activist who lives in Fort Chipewyan, a community that has been hit hard by cancer and other health impacts linked to contamination of water and wildlife. Simon Reece is the downstream coordinator for the keepers of the Athabasca, a group dedicated to uniting peoples in the Athabasca River and lake basins to secure and protect lands in the watershed. I met with both of them when they were in Halifax.

Ms. Voyageur and Mr. Reece were in Halifax to talk to people about how the operation and development of the tar sands is driving our national agenda on climate change. It comes at a very high cost to the surrounding environment and their people. They pointed out that as the G8 and G20 meet this summer in Toronto to discuss, among other matters, maternal and child health, our leaders are ignoring the health of mothers and children right here at home in Canada.

I was touched by their stories, moved by their passion, and inspired by their courage to take on the economic and political power of tar sands developers. When my colleague from Edmonton—Strathcona told me about her bill, the environmental bill of rights, I thought about Ms. Voyageur and Mr. Reece. I thought about the calls I have received in my office from people living around the Sydney tar ponds and dealing with the health impacts of that.

I thought about the people in Sydney who have been fighting for justice for decades. I thought about the Hillside-Trenton Environmental Watch Association in Nova Scotia, who are crusaders in linking health to the coal fire power plant in the middle of the community. I thought about mercury in our fish and toxins in our water. I thought about my hometown, a town built on a lake that does not exist anymore, a lake that was filled in with mine tailings just like so many lakes around it.

I thought about how this bill would change everything and I was very hopeful. It is with great pride and hope that I support the environmental bill of rights. I strongly urge all members of the House to do the right thing, to do the just thing, and support it with me.

Canadian Environmental Bill of RightsPrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.

Langley B.C.


Mark Warawa ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak to Bill C-469.

Surveys with Canadians regularly rank environment and economic issues as number one or number two and what they want the government to place on the government's agenda. It is their high priority, as it is with this government.

These two issues, the environment and the economy, also have an important link in C-469.

First, we understand that the bill's intention is to ultimately provide better environmental protection in Canada. However, although it is a good objective the effectiveness of these rights compared to those which already exist still need to be proven. Canadians have watched as Parliament and successive governments have passed several laws and regulations to protect the environment. However, without a serious enforcement of the laws and regulations, environmental protection remains theoretical.

To achieve real goals in environmental protection, we need to have better enforcement of the laws and regulations that we already have. Our government is proud to have concentrated its efforts in the area of enforcement, notably through the adoption of the Environmental Enforcement Act nearly a year ago. We are already seeing a positive effect from that legislation.

As I mentioned in my introduction, Canadians also place an importance on the economy. In particular, Canadians expect the government to manage public funds effectively and with the greatest of care. However, we see that the impact of the rights proposed in Bill C-469 on Canada's economic growth and especially on the government's budget have not yet been documented.

With the perspective of sustainable development, it is imperative to evaluate each legislative measure so as to ensure the best possible synergy between environmental objectives and economic security. However, the creation of individual environmental rights could, depending on how they are written, lead to high cost and significant delays resulting from legal battles that would unduly delay the achieving of the planned objectives.

Furthermore the litigiousness of the environmental protection caused by Bill C-469 should in our view be questioned. The creation of individual rights to a healthy environment could cause in the transfer of environmental decisions from elected members of the government to non-elected members of the judiciary branch, who are not required to report to Canadians.

It should be remembered that Bill C-469 essentially proposes the creation of three types of environmental rights.

First, the bill proposes the creation of a right to a healthy and ecologically balanced environment for each Canadian resident in addition to creating a corollary obligation of the government to protect this right and to act as a trustee for Canada's environment. Legal actions would allow Canadians to enforce the execution of the obligations.

Second, the bill proposes a series of procedural environmental rights, including measures for the public's participation in the decision making process and the right to demand inquiries and access to information rights.

Third, the bill proposes civil action where any Canadian resident can ensure environmental protection from another person who has violated or who may violate the law, regulation or any other federal regulatory test.

In the first hour of debate, my opposition colleagues placed a lot of emphasis on the first type of right in Bill C-469 as proposing to create; that is to say the right to a healthy and ecologically balanced environment. The opposition colleagues gave a grim picture of the current situation in Canada. It was mentioned several times that, unlike Canada, more than 130 countries had included environmental rights in their constitution. The member for Edmonton—Strathcona notably quoted the example of India and Bangladesh, which have incorporated such rights in their constitutions. Given the serious impact of this bill, this comparative analysis needs to go a bit further.

First, it should be remembered that Bill C-469 would do nothing to amend the current lack of environmental rights in the Canadian Constitution. Rather the bill proposes to add the right to a healthy and ecologically-balanced environment to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and to add this right to the new Canadian charter of environmental rights.

Second, it should be pointed out that of the 31 member countries of the OECD, 19 have not included any explicit right to a healthy environment in their constitution. Among the countries that have not explicitly recognized environmental rights, there are Australia, Denmark, Germany, Mexico, The Netherlands, Sweden, the U.K. and the United States. Furthermore, even in the number of OECD countries that have inserted explicit environmental rights in their constitution, this right is sometimes subject to limitations.

When we take a closer look at Bill C-469, we realize that it is an original proposal, different from most environmental right instruments being used currently around the world. For example, the obligation that would be given to the government to protect the right to a healthy and ecologically balanced environment and the corollary recourse by which legal action could be taken against the government because it did not ensure the enforcement of its law in a specific case is unprecedented. The discretion to enforce a law usually rests with the government.

During the first hour of debate, the member for Ottawa South referred to the Yale-Columbia environmental performance ratings. The ratings have countries, such as Bangladesh and India, ranked 139th and 123rd respectively in terms of environmental performance. In contrast, other countries which do not have environmental rights included in their constitution are countries such as Iceland, Switzerland, Sweden and the U.K. and they are ranked first, second, fourth and fourteenth in the report.

Without making any statements on the accuracy the Yale-Columbia rankings, it is obvious to me that whether environmental rights are included or not in the constitution is not in itself a determining factor on the state of the country's environmental protection measures. That is why we think we need to be very careful making a comparative analysis of Bill C-469 with the environmental rights placed in other jurisdictions.

Bill C-469 is unique because it is placed within a specific context, the Canadian legislative system, a system that already includes several environmental laws and several environmental protection measures. A thorough analysis of Bill C-469 requires participation from legal and scientific experts in order to evaluate the true impact of the bill on environmental protection, economic growth and social fairness in Canada.

By comparison, it should be pointed out that in France, the adoption of the environmental charter in February 2005 was done after four years of preparation from the Coppens commission, a commission composed of two committees, one legal, the other scientific. The commission also consulted more than 55,000 stakeholders during the course of its work.

It should also be mentioned, by the way, that the French environmental charter stipulates procedural environmental rights, such as access to information and participation in public decisions that have an impact on the environment, but only under conditions and limits defined by law. This type of express limitations is reminiscent of the environmental rights inserted into Ontario and Quebec law, which were defined within the limits stipulated by law.

We believe the measures included in Bill C-469 are unique and complicated, making it a bill whose consequences on the environment and the economy are not known. It would therefore be essential to wait for the stakeholders involved in this bill, including legal and scientific experts and economic stakeholders before making a final judgment.

Canadian Environmental Bill of RightsPrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.


Jim Maloway NDP Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I must admit that I am enjoying this debate a lot and I have not even started speaking to the bill.

I want to point out for the voters in the riding of the member for Edmonton—Strathcona that they certainly got a bargain when they chose her as their member. She is extremely energetic. I do not think she ever sleeps. She constantly works and puts top effort into it.

It is interesting to note that the government has used every means at its disposal to try to derail this bill. On May 6, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons told the Speaker that the bill required a royal recommendation. That is a government manoeuvre to slow down a bill because a private member's bill cannot call on the government to expend money. Governments draw long bows in many cases and look for obscure arguments to try to get bills ruled out of order on the basis that they need a royal recommendation.

Like the road runner in the cartoon, the member for Edmonton—Strathcona has gone through the government's defences. The Conservatives lost their request to the Speaker. The Speaker ruled in favour of the member for Edmonton--Strathcona, so it is now onward and upward with this bill. I believe the Liberals, the NDP and the Bloc are all united in support of Bill C-469. The government's best laid plans have gone awry and that is good news.

Bill C-469, An Act to establish a Canadian Environmental Bill of Rights, would be a first for Canada. I support this historic federal bill, which would enshrine the right of all Canadians to a healthy environment.

Rights are a reflection of what matters most to a society. At this point in history, few things pose a greater risk to the health and well-being of individuals and communities than the health of our planet. We only have to look at what is happening in the Gulf of Mexico right now. If that is not a wake-up call, then I do not know what is.

Recognition of environmental rights is a global phenomenon. National governments are stepping forward to recognize some form of right to a healthy environment in national constitutions. It has been pointed out that 130 countries recognize the right to a healthy environment in their constitutions.

We only have to look back to the recent past to see what happened after the fall of the Soviet Union. Rivers were polluted and the Chernobyl meltdown caused much devastation. We discovered that the military was dumping nuclear waste into the ocean. Even the American military has done such things in the past.

People demanded changes. They realized we cannot sustain ourselves in a toxic environment. There have been rising cancer rates among farmers across this land. There have been increasing movements to restrict cosmetic pesticides, to identify chemicals in things like perfume.

People are taking a positive approach to the environment and holding industry to account, and that rankles the Conservatives. Big business dislikes any type of tough environmental regulations because it hits it on the bottom line. Many businesses would like to move all production to the Third World, and they have certainly done a lot of it, but they cannot just pack up and take everything away. They will fight all attempts to hold them accountable in terms of tough environmental laws.

International bodies, regional authorities, and local municipalities all over this planet are declaring the right to clean air, clean water, and uncontaminated land. In fact, our environmental rights are enjoyed in over half the countries in the world, through either international agreements or the provisions of national constitutions.

The first document in international law to recognize the right to a healthy environment was only written in 1972, just a short time ago. The Declaration of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, also known as the Stockholm Declaration, was adopted June 16, 1972 at the 21st plenary meeting of the United Nations.

The first principle of the Stockholm Declaration states:

Man has the fundamental right to freedom, equality and adequate conditions of life, in an environment of a quality that permits a life of dignity and well-being, and he bears a solemn responsibility to protect and improve the environment for present and future generations.

Since the adoption of the Stockholm Declaration, the world has seen a huge shift toward confirming environmental rights. Today a proliferation of international law agreements and at least 85 national constitutions recognize some form of right to a healthy environment. Environmental rights are also enshrined in the sub-national constitutions of many nations, such as state constitutions and provincial charters.

I might point out that it is disasters like the BP experience in the United States that will actually drive the agenda. We cannot see a lot of good coming out of a disaster like this, but it will actually set the legislative agenda, certainly in the United States, and probably in other countries around the world. It will pull a lot of people, a lot of politicians who are in the middle, onside and will make them recognize that we have to take a very tough position against the corporations.

In many respects, we cannot blame the corporations for wanting to maximize profits, as long as we have a system in our country that rewards the maximization of profits at all costs and rewards the executives with bonuses based on how efficient the system is and how lean and mean they run the company. They lay off the inspectors. They lay off the professionals. They operate with skeleton staff at the lowest possible cost to maximize profits so that they can get bigger bonuses. Any kind of environmental consideration is basically thrown by the wayside. Clearly, appealing to their good sense and corporate responsibility is not going to work. To rein in these corporations, they have to be legislated, and the legislation has to be followed up with proper enforcement and proper penalties.

These rights are further upheld by the national and sub-national legislation of many nations as well as by the declarations of countless local governments. Despite this global trend, environmental rights remain largely unconfirmed in Canada. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms does not address environmental protection or environmental health. In fact, environmental rights are recognized by only four provincial and territorial laws: Quebec, Ontario, Northwest Territories, and Yukon.

Environmental rights recognize and seek to protect the quality and health of the environment that is essential to human life and dignity. For example, the constitution of Argentina recognizes that all inhabitants should enjoy the right to a healthy and balanced environment that is fit for human development so that productive activities satisfy current needs without compromising those of future generations. They also have the duty to preserve the environment. Damaging the environment generates the obligation to repair it, and as a priority, in the manner established by law.

I had another example from the Philippines. A court in the Philippines has ordered a cleanup of the highly polluted Manila harbour, based on the constitutional right to a balanced and healthy ecology. There is also a case from Costa Rica, where a constitutional court ordered a halt to the unsustainable sea turtle fishery based on the constitutional right to a healthy and ecologically balanced environment.

As we can see, it can be done if we have a will to do it, and I think that we are getting there, little by little. We are getting there.

Canadian Environmental Bill of RightsPrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.


Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank all of my colleagues in the House who spoke to my bill. I appreciate all of their comments and I appreciate their ongoing support in moving forward stronger environmental laws and their enforcement at the federal level. I greatly appreciate it.

In closing, as Dr. David Boyd, a renowned environmental lawyer in Canada, has documented, there has been a remarkable and ongoing shift toward constitutional recognition of the importance of protecting the environment. As my hon. colleague mentioned, since 1972 with the Stockholm Declaration, more than 40% of the world's national constitutions now include some reference to environmental rights and environmental responsibilities.

As the parliamentary secretary pointed out, every nation has approached this in a different way, as is their power. However, it is important to point out that many nations in the world, though not ours, have moved forward to take the additional step to actually enshrine in their constitution the right to a clean and healthy environment. In no way does this bill set about amending the Constitution; that is not possible, but it does set forth to provide and extend rights to Canadians to ensure that they have a healthy environment.

I appreciate the remarks from my colleague from Halifax to the effect that we can no longer separate environmental protection from the right to health in the future, particularly for future generations. That is what this bill hopes to do, to extend to potentially impacted communities and their children the opportunity to have their rights to a clean and healthy environment enshrined in law and their right and opportunity and the tools to hold the government accountable.

It is also noteworthy that nations belonging to the OECD, the Commonwealth, la Francophonie and the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries have all adopted these kinds of rights to a certain extent across the Americas, except the United States and Canada, Africa, Asia Pacific, Europe and the Middle East.

Over the past decades, a number of Canadian provincial governments have also enshrined some of these rights to a limited extent. My hon. colleague mentioned some of those jurisdictions. To their credit, they have stepped up to the plate and entered the next century.

I would also like to take the time to thank the many communities across Canada that have contacted me to thank me for introducing this bill and to express their strong support. I cannot possibly mention all of them. I heard from more than a dozen communities in Saskatchewan. They endorse this bill and hope that it will pass. I heard from well over 15 communities in my province of Alberta, everywhere from North Star to Deadwood, Edmonton, Red Deer, Beaumont, High Prairie, St. Paul, Wabasca, Spruce Grove and St. Albert to mention only a few. I heard from Vancouver. I heard from Kitchener, Ontario. I heard from Corner Brook, Newfoundland. I heard from Fredericton and Petitcodiac, New Brunswick.

I am happy to be hearing from Canadians across the country from every small corner. They realize that they need these protections. They need these rights. They need the powers to hold the government accountable to protect their community.

I do not think I have the need to outline the specifics of the bill again. Essentially, the purpose of the bill is to extend to every Canadian resident the right to a clean, healthy, ecologically balanced environment and the right and the tools to hold the government accountable to enforce the laws.

A former Conservative minister of the environment first tabled the Canadian Environmental Protection Act in the mid-1980s. At the same time in the House, that minister tabled the first enforcement and compliance policy, and in so doing said that it is of no value to pass a law unless there is the political will to enforce that law.

That is exactly the reason I have brought forward this bill, to hold the government accountable to enforce the very laws it has enacted with the support of the House and to give the citizens of Canada the opportunity to hold the government accountable to protect them and their children.

Canadian Environmental Bill of RightsPrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

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

Canadian Environmental Bill of RightsPrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

Some hon. members



Canadian Environmental Bill of RightsPrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

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

Canadian Environmental Bill of RightsPrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

Some hon. members


Canadian Environmental Bill of RightsPrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

All those opposed will please say nay.

Canadian Environmental Bill of RightsPrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

Some hon. members


Canadian Environmental Bill of RightsPrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

In my opinion the nays have it.

And five or more members having risen:

Pursuant to Standing Order 93, the division stands deferred until Wednesday, June 16, 2010, immediately before the time provided for private members' business.

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

June 15th, 2010 / 6:30 p.m.


Lise Zarac Liberal LaSalle—Émard, QC

Mr. Speaker, on several occasions just a few weeks ago, I asked the Conservative government and the Prime Minister about their position on maternal health. To be specific, on May 27, 2010, I asked this government about its decision to impose its own approach at the G8 and G20 summits, an approach that completely ignores global priorities and isolates Canada on the international scene. Medical authorities and scientific communities in all the G8 countries are calling for the inclusion of adequate measures to reduce the number of unsafe abortions and to improve family planning services.

The Minister for the Status of Women tries to reassure us with arguments that ignore the reality, a reality that makes our skin crawl. The statistics on maternal health are astonishing: there are 20 million unsafe abortions each year and over 70,000 women die every year, that is, 186 women a day, because of these unsafe abortions. Some 13% of maternal deaths are the result of unsafe abortions. Experts in the area of maternal health have also reported that a disproportionate number of the women who die are between the ages of 15 and 19. When these young mothers die, their children become orphans, and as one might expect, this leads to development problems. Also, these orphans are 10 times more likely to die prematurely.

Ignoring the advice of Canadian and international specialists including CIDA, UNICEF and World Vision, this government excluded abortion funding from its G8 maternal and child health initiative. The Conservative government has only one goal in mind: pleasing its religious right electoral base.

We need to make it very clear that the Conservative government is isolating Canada from other developed countries and breaking with a 25-year-old Canadian tradition by imposing its anti-abortion ideology on developing countries. Last April, while visiting Canada, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed her disdain for the Conservative policy, as did the British foreign affairs minister and other G8 partners, who feel the same way.

This change in Conservative policy also led to the elimination of funding for Canadian NGOs that provide a range of essential, life-saving services to women and children in poor countries and promote appropriate family planning.

Furthermore, this change in policy has brought about a new child and youth strategy in the Canadian International Development Agency that does not include the sexual health of adolescents in developing countries even though sexual abuse, sexual exploitation and the risk of pregnancy figure prominently in their day-to-day lives.

By failing to include sexual health in the strategy, this government is ignoring the reality that the sexual health of adolescents in all developing countries is a key component of their health.

The Conservative government's about-face on the longstanding Canadian tradition of support to aid groups that provide—

6:35 p.m.


6:35 p.m.

Kootenay—Columbia B.C.


Jim Abbott ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Cooperation

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member opposite for the opportunity to be in the House yet again speaking to this important issue. In addition, I would like the member to know that I have heard the opposition questions on this issue over and over again, even during the adjournment proceedings. She undoubtedly has listened to my answers so I trust she will not have any objection to me repeating the answer again.

Our government's track record on foreign aid is impeccable. We have doubled our aid to Africa and have doubled our total aid to a record $5 billion. We are making our aid more effective, focused and accountable. Our goal of foreign aid is obvious. It is to reduce poverty in developing countries. Improving the lives of mothers and children is the foundation to achieving sustainable poverty reduction.

Every year, three million babies die within their first week of life. Almost nine million children in the developing world will die before their fifth birthday from largely preventable causes. The most tragic fact is that there are simple solutions to address all of these problems. The G8 initiative is about simple solutions, not unnecessary debates like this one.

We worked with World Vision, UNICEF, Results Canada, CARE Canada, Plan Canada and Save the Children. These NGOs support our initiative because they know through their expertise that it is an excellent initiative. The experts support Canada and, as the minister said in question period, the opposition should get on board too.

Our G8 initiative is about saving lives. Our G8 initiative is about low-cost, results-driven solutions that will help mothers and children in an effective, focused and accountable manner. We heard testimony identifying Canada's unique expertise with regard to midwifery and micronutrients. Our contribution to this initiative will bring that expertise to the world. Our G8 partners will make their own decisions with respect to their expertise and contributions.

Canadians want to see us operate on the world stage in a manner that brings people together. Canadians want their government to be a world leader and the Prime Minister has taken it upon himself to get the job done on maternal health.

Before the member opposite stands to respond to this answer, I urge her to actually listen and contemplate some of the important details I have just shared. I would ask her to answer these questions. Why does she relish provoking needless debates? Why will she not listen to world leaders in their support of our maternal health initiative?

6:40 p.m.


Lise Zarac Liberal LaSalle—Émard, QC

Mr. Speaker, in his response, the parliamentary secretary left no doubt about the irony of the Conservative government's position. The government says all the right things and claims that it wants to save the lives of thousands of women and children in developing countries. But unfortunately, the Conservative government is not ready to take the necessary steps to achieve that.

The Conservatives' new policy on maternal health condemns African women to back alley abortions and continues to chip away at and marginalize Canada's influence on the world stage. How are we supposed to trust that this Prime Minister and his government will respect women's right to choose when their actions take that right away from African women in defiance of the international community's position on the matter?

The Conservative government's interference in the medical decisions of African women is strictly ideological and intended to please its religious right voting base. All we have to do is look at the scientific data on maternal health. One in seven mothers dies because of an unsafe abortion. Even the threat of bearing the responsibility for such an awful situation is not enough to persuade the government to reconsider.

6:40 p.m.


Jim Abbott Conservative Kootenay—Columbia, BC

Mr. Speaker, this initiative is about simple solutions that will help us reduce the unnecessary deaths of mothers and children. No one should die from a mosquito bite, no one should die from diarrhea and no one should die while we can do something to help.

Melinda Gates said, “Canada is proposing a bold but achievable plan”. Secretary of State Clinton said, “We commend the Canadian government”. Who supports Canada on this issue? World Vision, UNICEF, CARE Canada, Results Canada, Plan Canada, Save the Children, the Gates Foundation, the WHO, and the list goes on.

It is just about time for the opposition to stand with the world as the world has stood with us on this issue. We are getting the job done.

6:40 p.m.


Michael Savage Liberal Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak tonight and follow up on a question I asked about the Canadian Council of Learning.

Earlier this week, my colleagues from York Centre and Winnipeg South Centre held a round table which was attended by a number of organizations whose funding had been cancelled by the Conservative government or, in some cases, whose funding was threatened to be cancelled.

CCL is one of those organizations whose funding was cancelled for absolutely no sensible reason. It was set up by the Liberal government in 2004 for five years, entirely renewable, to do an assessment of education in Canada. It produced some of the most remarkable and innovative documents in terms of understanding where we are as a nation in terms of education, particularly post-secondary, but also looking at aboriginal education, early learning and child care, and a number of things.

The government said that it was only a five year project and that it would never be renewed and yet, in a letter dated May 8, 2009 to the chair of CCL from the minister, the minister said, “I share your assessment that knowledge and skills are particularly important in these turbulent economic times and I agree that CCL has played a key role in supporting efforts in the area. Your desire for a clear and immediate resolution on the question of the council's future is understandable. I understand that HRSDC officials began discussions with CCL about stabilizing strategies for the organization”.

The government cannot say that it was never going to be renewed. What it can say is that it was killed for two simple reasons: first, that it was a Liberal initiated program; and second, that it worked. Who was watching this with amazement? A number of people were.

Arati Sharma of CASA said:

Without the research of groups, such as the Canadian Council on Learning, Canada will continue to lack the knowledge needed to improve access, persistence and quality in our post-secondary institutions. ,

The Toronto Star had an editorial saying:

...the learning council's work was of value to Canadians, particularly at a time when our economic future depends more than ever on our ability to compete with other knowledge-based economies....

We had an associate professor from the University of Alberta say:

This is a terrible, short-sighted action on the part of the Conservative government and I am so sorry to hear about it.

Don Drummond indicated on a number of occasions his very strong support for CCL, even at a time when he was actually doing a review for HRSDC.

I will quote an article from The StarPhoenix in Saskatoon which says, among other things:

The council's groundbreaking composite learning index to Canada and its online adult literacy assessment tests so impressed the OECD that its secretary general wrote to the Prime Minister last May praising the government for supporting the council's work and urging that it continue to be funded.

The Ottawa Citizen said, “The decision to cut funding to the CCL is very worrisome”.

Don Drummond's direct quote was, “It is disturbing. Even the scant information we have is not adequately funded”.

At a time when we say that we are interested in education, innovation, research and all those things that were started by the Liberal government early in this century, it makes no sense to cut this. This is one of the few tools that we had to measure how we were doing versus other countries. In fact, now that the funding has been cut, other countries want to fund CCL. Other countries have seen the value of it and yet our own country is so short-sighted that it has cut the funding to CCL and would not even let it carry forward the few million dollars it had when this year ended. It is a desperate situation. Students, universities, professors, economists and business organizations all know the value of CCL.

It appears that the government, for purely political reasons, decided that it would not continue to fund CCL and we are much the worse off for it.

6:45 p.m.

Souris—Moose Mountain Saskatchewan


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

Mr. Speaker, I will take a moment to respond to the hon. member for Dartmouth—Cole Harbour.

The Canadian Council on Learning was provided with one-time funding of $85 million in 2004. It was always clear that this funding would expire after five years. In fact, the council had not used all of its funding by year five and we did extend the funding agreement an additional year to ensure maximum benefit.

I know the hon. member and the Liberal Party feel entitled to Canadian tax dollars and they have no concern for whether the money is being used effectively or efficiently, but some things have to come to an end. There are many applicants and not everyone can succeed in the application. Our Conservative government knows Canadians work very hard for their money, which is why we are committed to ensuring value for taxpayer dollars.

Canadian workers, businesses and economists have told us that there is a need for stronger labour market information. The Liberals ignored the need for this important information for 13 long years and, as a result, they left a very large gap.

Canadian workers want to know what education or skills training they need to ensure they have a good job in a sector that will continue to thrive. Canadian businesses want to know what is going on with global competitors and want to be confident that they have the workers with the skills they need to fill the jobs of the future. In other words, there is a need for a more comprehensive learning information system than CCL can provide.

That is why we are focusing our efforts and funding on working with the provinces, which have the primary responsibility for these issues, to provide this vital information to Canadian workers and businesses.

The fact is that in its recent report, the expert advisory panel on labour market information, which includes Don Drummond, to whom the hon. member referred, stated that the government needs to better use its funding to improve labour market information.

Speaking specifically to education information, the report states:

The current gaps in education data collection resulted in Canada being unable to report on 73% of the data points in the recently released OECD Education at a Glance report. This result is starkly at odds with the aspirations of a knowledge-based economy and society.

The entire expert advisory panel on labour market information agrees that previous investments were not working. Our government is taking steps to fix that.

The Liberals' record is abysmal. They cut transfers by $25 billion, which drastically affected access to education. The Liberal leader and the Liberal members for Markham—Unionville, Kings—Hants and Toronto Centre, among others, have said that these Liberals cuts were devastating to Canadians.

In contrast, our government is making unprecedented investments in education and we have provided provinces with predictable and growing funding through the Canadian social transfer for the first time in history.

There is a lot of evidence that shows our investments are working. For example, the 2009-10 Conference Board of Canada report gives Canada an A grade when it comes to education and skills training.

With our investments in education, along with our work to improve labour market information, our Conservative government is ensuring that Canadians and their families are benefiting from our recovering and growing economy.

The funding was set up for five years and the five years have concluded. There are other applicants. I know it may have been the Liberals' initiative but they cannot run things in perpetuity and add new applicants and new ways and means of addressing the problem. They cannot continue doing the same old thing when things have changed and it is time they realized that.

I would ask the member to get behind us and support the initiatives that have been taken and the initiatives that have been funded.

6:50 p.m.


Michael Savage Liberal Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Mr. Speaker, with respect, the comments of the parliamentary secretary are complete and utter hogwash. He could not find any reputable person in Canada who would say that CCL was not doing a good job. He quotes Don Drummond but Don Drummond said that it was a disturbing thing to cancel the funding to CCL.

The parliamentary secretary talked about cuts to education in the 1990s. His side wanted much deeper cuts and said in this House that we did not go far enough in terms of cuts to the transfers. It is the most hypocritical thing we could ever imagine.

CCL is necessary. The Conservatives say that we need surveillance in education but then they take it away and replace it with nothing. There is nothing and they cannot produce something as cheaply and effectively. CCL was all about value for money.

The best thing we could say about this decision is that it is stupid, stupid, stupid. The worst thing we could say is that it is another example of political cronyism and reaching back into the past to kill anything that was not initiated by the present government.

There is not one credible person in education in the country who would say anything bad about CCL, not one. I would ask the parliamentary secretary to quote me one.

6:50 p.m.


Ed Komarnicki Conservative Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Mr. Speaker, we want to be sure that Canadians are getting value for their money and that their tax dollars are treated with respect.

This particular member's party, the Liberal Party of Canada, did cut transfer payments by $25 billion, which affected education, municipalities and health care. Not only that, but the Liberals took $50 billion or more from the EI fund for various political projects. They think they can tax and spend and tax and spend and it does not matter whether a program is effective, is delivered effectively or not.

In fact, the Liberal leader said, “I think we will have to raise taxes”. He said that raising the GST was not off the table. He said that he was a tax and spend Pearsonian-Trudeau Liberal. The nature of that party is to tax hard-working Canadians and ensure they keep working and paying taxes. Why? It is because the Liberals tax and spend and spend and they wish to continue to spend.

We want to ensure those dollars are used wisely.

6:50 p.m.


Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, nothing is more important to people than their food and knowing that they can feed their families. Yet, the minister announced that he was going to change the food mail program without saying what the changes were going to be. He left people for two months worried about their families and a lot of anxiety of whether they could feed them

On April 29 I asked for the details of the changes. Finally, we received those this afternoon at a committee hearing when we talked about food mail. The good news is we got the details. The bad news is that they may not be good details.

One of the good items though is that there is going to be an external advisory board that can deal with a number of the concerns I have outside the department. The chair is Elizabeth Copland from Arviat. Therefore, if anyone has concerns they should ensure to get them to her. The other board members are not presented. If anyone has ideas for board members, they can send their nominee to Patrick Borbey, assistant deputy minister of northern affairs at INAC or myself.

I just have time to deal with two of the concerns I have that are particular to my riding in the program. The first one deals with personal orders. The people of Old Crow, the Vuntut Gwitchin, use this quite often when they are in Whitehorse or their families are or they are in some other community outside Old Crow. They go into a variety of different stores to get best prices and the best selection of food. They take it to the airport, send it off or go with it to Air North which applies a mail subsidy. They get home and they go to their house, and they are very happy with this system. This was made quite clear in the consultations that people needed this system.

Unfortunately, in the new system there will only be certain retailers. They have to be accredited and the people then have to go to these particular retailers to get their food orders. I guess those retailers are going to have to ship it up themselves. The people will not be able to just go to the airport with their food, get off the plane, and take the food to their house.

It will limit their selection, limit their ability to go with the food, and it will add more administration for INAC now having to deal with all these retailers. The government said there are only 40 so far. That is the tip of the iceberg. Instead of just dealing with Canada Post, it is inefficient.

When I asked about this at committee, Jamie Tibbetts from INAC said that we may see a change in their buying patterns. They are going to have to buy from the local store.

During the consultation process, the government should have heard loud and clear that that was not acceptable in all cases. It is good for emergencies to have some local ability to buy locally, but also people definitely needed this personal mechanism that I just talked about. When we buy at the local store, it puts prices up for people who cannot necessarily afford it.

It costs a lot for electricity, for heating, for staff and so on, and all of that goes on to the price of the food or the store would not be economical. That is definitely not acceptable.

The other point I want to make is about transparency. Certainly, there were problems in the food mail program. That is why there were suggested changes. How do we know that those people who do buy from the local store, as opposed to personal orders, get the savings passed on?

When I asked at committee again today if each item would show the subsidy on the bill, I was told, no. Somehow the amount going to the community would be transparent.

The last problem that was not solved was that a lot of people, who did personal orders now, complained that they needed credit cards, so the lower income people who did not have credit cards could not buy food through personal orders, which of course is less expensive--

6:55 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Andrew Scheer

The hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development.

6:55 p.m.

Vancouver Island North B.C.


John Duncan ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development

Mr. Speaker, it is ironic that we are here talking about nutrition north Canada when the department officials and the chair of the advisory board attached to nutrition north Canada were in committee this afternoon.

The important task of helping people access healthy food is one the government takes very seriously. We recognize that having access to healthy food is vital to the quality of life in the north. We are committed to ensuring that we do this efficiently and effectively.

That is why in budget 2010 we have created a stable and secure funding base to support northern food security. Every year we are going to invest $60 million to help improve the health of northerners.

On May 21 the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development announced a new food retail subsidy program, nutrition north Canada, in Iqaluit. I would add, in response to the member for Yukon, we had the minister before committee and he answered questions. That was weeks ago. There has been no shortage of information provided. This has a long phase-in. It actually comes into effect next April.

The program is innovative and modern. It is a new program which will respond effectively to northern needs. We sought advice from the best possible source, and that was from the people living in the north. Northerners, including those in the community of Old Crow in Yukon, made it clear that in order to make the program sustainable and to maximize resources they were open to focusing the subsidy on the healthiest foods that must be shipped by air. For all those items that do not need to be shipped by air, retailers can use more efficient modes of transportation.

We know that marine service is not an option for Old Crow in Yukon. Accordingly, Old Crow will continue to receive a subsidy for the shipment of certain non-perishable and essential non-food items.

As far as Canada Post's role in the new program goes, the member for Yukon is correct. Rather than providing a subsidy to Canada Post, as the previous program did, in order to ship perishable food to isolated northern communities, this is a subsidy to retailers and wholesalers. They are in the best position to negotiate low transportation rates and to ensure food is shipped in a timely manner so that consumers have better quality and fresher food with a longer shelf life.

The new program will include a higher rate of subsidy for the most nutritious foods, like fruits, vegetables, milk and eggs. This will provide an incentive and affordability for families to make the right choices.

More than 80% of the goods that are shipped under the existing program will continue to be eligible under the nutrition north Canada program. An effective, efficient and responsive food subsidy program is essential for a strong and vibrant north. We will continue to work with northerners to realize this potential.