Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to rise today to represent and serve the good people of Etobicoke North, where I was born and raised, and to fight the shameful cuts to the environment to be found in Bill C-45.
The government's record on the environment is atrocious, as recognized by its bottom of the barrel environmental performances. The 2008 climate change performance index ranked Canada 56th of 57 countries in terms of tackling emissions. In 2009 the Conference Board of Canada ranked Canada 15th of 17 wealthy industrialized nations on environmental performance. In 2010 Simon Fraser University and the David Suzuki Foundation ranked Canada 24th of 25 OECD nations on environmental performance.
The government learned nothing from last spring's hue and cry against the omnibus budget implementation bill, Bill C-38: concerned Canadians, demonstrations across the country, the 500 organizations that joined the Blackout Speak Out campaign to stand up for democracy and the environment, 3,200 pages of correspondence and extensive international criticism.
The voices of Canadians concerned about democracy, the environment and the health of our children and grandchildren has once again fallen on deaf ears.
This past week the government tabled the anti-democratic and draconian Bill C-45, its second omnibus budget implementation bill. The bill would alter the Indian Act and reduce protections contained in the Fisheries Act and the Navigable Waters Protection Act, foundational Canadian laws to steward a sustainable environment, clean water and health oceans. It would also weaken the Canada Labour Code in ways that were not even hinted at in the budget. In total, the bill takes aim at some 60 pieces of legislation.
Bill C-45 hides big changes to environmental laws, subverts democracy and weakens protection of water and ecosystems. West Coast Environmental Law describes the lowlights of Bill C-45 as follows.
The Navigable Waters Protection Act of 1882, considered Canada's first environmental law, has been changed to the Navigation Protection Act and dramatically limits the number of waterways protected. Of the roughly 32,000 lakes in Canada, just 97 lakes and 62 rivers will now be protected.
This means the construction of bridges, dams and other projects would be permitted on most waterways without prior approval under the act. It is important to note that the original budget says nothing about restricting federal controls over lakes and rivers. Astoundingly, however, pipelines are directly exempted from this law. Under the act, pipeline impacts on Canada's waterways will no longer be considered in environmental assessments.
According to Ecojustice's executive director Devon Page:
Simply put, lakes, rivers and streams often stand in the path of large industrial development, particularly pipelines. This bill, combined with last spring’s changes, hands oil, gas and other natural resource extraction industries a free pass to degrade Canada’s rich natural legacy....
It is important to remember that when the government came to power it inherited a legacy of balanced budgets but soon plunged the country into deficit before the recession ever hit. It is absolutely negligent and shameful that the government would now gut environmental safeguards in order to fast-track development and balance its books.
Other lowlights of Bill C-45 include giving industry the option to request that its existing commitments to protect fish habitat be amended or cancelled, or that it be let off the hook for promised compensation for lost or damaged habitat. It would also eliminate the Hazardous Materials Information Review Commission, an independent body charged with making science-based decisions to protect Canadians from toxic chemicals and hazardous materials in the workplace.
Bill C-45 needlessly tinkers with the Fisheries Act and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012 to correct obvious drafting mistakes made during the ramming through of Bill C-38. Changing the same bill twice in one year underlines the value of debating specific bills through appropriate committees.
Jessica Clogg, the executive director and senior counsel for West Coast Environmental Law, stated:
So much for the federal government’s promise that the bill would focus on budget implementation and contain no surprises.
The Bill C-45 ‘budget bill’ is a wolf in sheep’s clothing that will have major implications for the environment and human health.
John Bennett, executive director, Sierra Club Canada, said:
Today’s killing of the Navigable Waters Act, along with further gutting of what’s left of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act and Fisheries Act, will inhibit the ability of Canadians to protect their natural environment for their children, grandchildren and future generations.
He went on to state:
This assault on the environment is deeply offensive and undemocratic. I don’t remember the Prime Minster campaigning in the last election on a platform of laying waste to the Canadian landscape.
Many of Canada's leading environmental organizations, including the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, the David Suzuki Foundation, Ecojustice, Environmental Defence, Équiterre, Greenpeace, Nature Canada, Pembina Institute, Sierra Club Canada, West Coast Environmental Law and WWF Canada, issued a joint statement decrying the fact that, once again, the federal government is proposing to make significant changes to environmental legislation without proper democratic debate.
The government has repeatedly abused Parliament by ramming through outrageous omnibus bills. For example, two years ago the government introduced the 880-page omnibus bill, a grab bag of bills that the government wanted to pass quickly. In fact, it was half of the entire workload of Parliament from the previous year. As a result, the government was severely condemned for turning the legislative process into a farce.
Most recently the government introduced Bill C-38, the 400-plus page omnibus budget implementation bill. Through the bill, the government sprung sweeping changes on our country, affecting everything from employment insurance, environmental protection, immigration and old age security, to even the oversight that charities receive. None of these changes were in the Conservative platform. They were rushed into law by “an arrogant majority government that's in a hurry to impose its agenda on the country”.
According to one newspaper, omnibus bills are “political sleight-of-hand and message control, and it appears to be an accelerating trend. These shabby tactics keep Parliament in the dark, swamp MPs with so much legislation that they can’t absorb it all, and hobble scrutiny. This is not good, accountable, transparent government.”
The government's actions reek of hypocrisy. In 1994, the right hon. member for Calgary Southwest and today's Prime Minister criticized omnibus legislation, suggesting that the subject matter of such bills is so diverse that a single vote on the content would put members in conflict with their own principles, and that dividing the bill into several components would allow members to represent the views of their constituents on each part of the bill. The right hon. member is now using the very tactics he once denounced. It is a shame that he changed his tune when he was elected to the highest office in the land.
Canadians should be deeply concerned by yet another of the government's end runs around the democratic process and the potential for even more destruction of critical habitat and greater pollution. The government did not campaign in the last election on gutting environmental protection. Canadians should therefore rise up, have their voices heard, and stop the Prime Minister's destruction of laws that protect the environment and the health and safety of Canadians, our communities, economy and livelihoods. Canadians are entitled to expect much more than they are witnessing today in the protection of our environment and democratic values, which our beautiful country was built on.