Mr. Speaker, as the member of Parliament for Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, I take great pleasure in speaking in favour of the speedy passage of Bill C-45, jobs and growth act, 2012.
I am also pleased to congratulate the Minister of Finance for the outstanding job he is doing on behalf of all Canadians.
Canada is recognized internationally for the sound economic and fiscal policies of our Conservative government. Leadership on the economy is something that average Canadians who work hard, obey the law and pay their taxes understand.
While there are many benefits to passing Bill C-45 for the people of Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, in the short time I have, I intend to focus on those aspects of this second budget implementation bill that are of interest to my constituents.
I intend to focus my comments on the Navigable Waters Protection Act. I've listened to a number of comments, starting with those of the Leader of the Opposition, which are ill-informed at best and misleading at worst, about this part of the budget bill and I believe it is important to set the record straight. Historically, the impetus behind the Navigable Waters Protection Act of 1882 was the result of representations made by Ottawa Valley lumbermen looking to protect the principal means they had at the time to bring their product to market.
In the 19th century, when the Navigable Waters Protection Act was legislated, rivers played an important role in the commerce of our great nation. The lumber trade of the upper Ottawa Valley relied upon rivers to bring the logs to market. Twelve years before the Navigable Waters Protection Act became law and three years after Confederation, Parliament passed An Act Respecting Certain Works on the Ottawa River. This act gave the federal government exclusive legislative authority in the construction of any works to ensure the Ottawa River is navigable. This was done to protect commerce and done years before the Navigable Waters Protection Act. That legislation is still on the books today.
What Canadians find misleading is when opposition members read things into the legislation that do not exist. Environmental protection for such things as pollution and fish habitat is covered by other legislation, not the Navigable Waters Protection Act. It was never intended for that purpose when it was written 140 years ago. The opposition may wish to stay trapped in the past, but our government believes it is time to leave the 19th century for the 21st century.
The public right of navigation is a common-law principle that dates back to Roman times. To my paddling friends, nothing in Bill C-45 detracts from the right to navigation in Canada. We respect the navigable qualities of any body of water that is indeed navigable, recognizing that any contemplated works need not compromise or undermine the recreational status of any body of water that is now or was previously the domain of paddlers.
This brings us to the Petawawa River. The decision by the federal government to include the Ottawa and Petawawa rivers in the list of 62 rivers retaining navigable waters constitutional jurisdiction protection was based in part on the real concern, on my part as well as that of my constituents, that the provincial environmental assessment process is being manipulated by the Ontario government to match a hidden agenda called the Green Energy Act. We needed to take an extra step to protect the Petawawa River.
In the province of Ontario the so-called Green Energy Act has been used to stifle democratic debate at the local level, running roughshod over the objections of local residents who are now being forced, through their power bills, to pay for unwanted and unnecessary power projects. Projects are being promoted under the guise of so-called green energy, when in fact the only green is in the pockets of the Liberal Party insiders who lobbied for 20 years to have industrial wind turbine contracts at outrageous financial subsidies. The collapse of the Liberal Party of Ontario and the resignation in disgrace of its leader led to the migration of these same individuals to Ottawa into positions of influence with their federal cousins.
The town of Petawawa unanimously passed the following motion at its September 4, 2012 council meeting:
That the Town of Petawawa advises the Premier of the Province of Ontario and his Ministers of Energy and Infrastructure, the Environment and Natural Resources that it does not and will not give any support or sanction to any project that is seeking or will be seeking ministry approval under the 2009 Green Energy act and in particular its “feed-in-tariff” provision.
To quote councillor Treena Lemay, who moved that motion: “The act promoted 'fast tracking' of environmental approvals for all electricity infrastructure projects, removed the long-established local planning process and left rural residents without effective noise complaint protocols and municipalities with no voice in their own community development”.
I thank councillor Treena Lemay for her leadership on this issue at municipal council.
In the case of the Petawawa River, plans to construct dam-like structures would destroy the fish habitat as well as recreational activities, including whitewater kayaking that now takes place on the river. I support the residents of Petawawa and their town council in objecting to the damming of the Petawawa River and will continue to object at the federal level until this proposal is withdrawn.
I share the concerns expressed by the Ontario Rivers Alliance about the fate of our other Ontario rivers, like the Vermilion. To quote the alliance:
We all want Green Energy, but let’s ensure it is truly Green, and not the “Green-washed” version that is being proposed for many of our Ontario rivers.
While I appreciate the concerns of Ontario residents and groups like the Ontario Rivers Alliance about the need for a federal presence in certain instances to provide a system of checks and balances to ill-conceived legislation like the Ontario Green Energy Act, these checks and balances remain in place with the passage of Bill C-45.
When the Navigable Waters Protection Act came before Parliament previously in 2009, I was honoured to welcome Jack MacLaren, a seventh generation Renfrew County orchard farmer, to appear before the Standing Committee on Finance. Mr. MacLaren contacted me after he ran into trouble with the Navigable Waters Protection Act. In his case what should have been a simple matter became a complicated issue because of a piece of legislation dating back to the 1980s.
I had also been contacted by municipalities that complained to me about the time and expense to clean out a municipal drainage ditch because of the Navigable Waters Protection Act.
In short, it is clear that changes are absolutely necessary to this act.
The other issue I intend to respond to is the criticism by the opposition that Bill C-45 is too detailed and complicated for them to understand. The opposition call Bill C-45 omnibus legislation, hoping that Canadians will buy into its delay tactics because it would rather complain than do its job.
Bill C-45 is the second budget bill. Here, I draw members' attention to a debate in the House that took place on June 13 of this year on the first budget bill between the opposition member for Markham—Unionville and the hard-working Conservative member for Etobicoke—Lakeshore. In that exchange the opposition member complained about a program he claimed was cancelled by our budget. Our government member responded with shock at what he had heard. He proceeded to set the record straight, reading directly from the budget that the program in question, the Canadian innovation and commercialization program, had not only been funded for another three years but had also been built up and made permanent. This led the member for Etobicoke--Lakeshore to ask the opposition member if he had even read the budget. The opposition member obviously had not read the budget, which brings me to my last point.
The opposition has had a copy of our budget for months, with plenty of time to analyze the budget document. If they were doing their job, they would be ready to debate and scrutinize all aspects of the budget now. Opposition for the sake of opposition is not acceptable to Canadians. The Library of Parliament can help out with a legislative guide for all things not understood, like the history of the Navigable Waters Protection Act. This is why it is so important at this time to modernize a 140-year-old piece of legislation and proceed with the passage of Bill C-45.