Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak strongly against the government's omnibus budget bills and their repeated affronts to democracy, and, specifically, to the gutting of environment legislation in Bill C-45.
Previously, through economic action plan 2012 and Bill C-38, the government severely cut the budget to Environment Canada, gutted environmental legislation and cancelled the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy. The Conservatives have also silenced dissent from environmental non-governmental organizations and have continued to muzzle government scientists. In so doing, they affect our economy and environment today and in the future.
Through Bill C-45, our world-renowned natural heritage is being further imperilled by a government that fails to understand that water is the foundation of life and that it is essential for socio-economic systems and healthy ecosystems.
The World Bank states that, “water is at the centre of economic and social development”, and is elemental across economic sectors including agriculture, energy and industry. Good management of water resources is fundamental to moving to a green economy.
In Canada, we depend on water for drinking, fishing, swimming. This precious resource further supports farming, recreation, tourism and economic growth.
Unfortunately, water management is becoming more challenging with climate change. Bob Sandford, lead author of Simon Fraser University's adaptation to climate change team, warned in 2011 that:
The days when Canadians take an endless abundance of fresh water for granted are numbered...Increasing average temperatures, climate change impacts on weather patterns and extensive changes in land use are seriously affecting the way water moves through the hydrological cycle in many parts of Canada, which is seriously impacting water quantity and quality.
As a result, the team called for a dramatic reform of Canada's water governance structures and made many recommendations: the recognition that water is a human right integral to the health and security of Canadians; the development of a new Canadian water ethic; the creation of a national water commission to advance policy reform; an improved understanding of the importance of water to Canadians' way of life; national water conservation guidelines and improved monitoring; and co-ordinated long-term national strategies for sustainably managing water in the face of climate change.
In stark contrast to those recommendations, the government would strip federal oversight from thousands of Canadian waterways through its latest anti-democratic and draconian omnibus legislation, Bill C-45. Specifically, the government would abolish the Navigable Waters Protection Act, which currently requires federal approval for development on the thousands of bodies of water across the country that are large enough to float a canoe.
The Navigable Waters Protection Act of 1882, considered Canada's first environmental law, would be changed to the navigation protection act. The focus of the law would no longer be to protect navigable waters but, rather, to protect navigation.
Canada has a huge number of lakes. The exact number is unknown. However, of the roughly 32,000 lakes previously protected under the old act, just 97 lakes would now be protected under the new act. Sixty-two rivers and three oceans would also be protected under the new act. Construction of bridges, dams and other projects would be permitted on most waterways without prior approval under the new act.
Needless to say, the original budget said nothing about restricting federal controls over lakes and rivers.
Jessica Clogg, executive director and senior counsel, West Coast Environmental Law, stated:
The Bill C-45...is a wolf in sheep’s clothing that will have major implications for the environment and human health. So much for the federal government’s promise that the bill would focus on budget implementation and contain no surprises.
The rewritten law would strip environmental protection once provided by the mandatory federal review. Ecojustice's executive director, Devon Page, said:
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.
Astoundingly, 90% of the lakes that would still be designated as protected are in Conservative ridings, 20% are in NDP ridings and only 6% are in Liberal ridings. Unbelievably, pipelines would be directly exempted from this law. Under the new act, pipeline impacts on Canada's waterways would no longer be considered in environmental assessments.
Instead of killing the old Navigable Waters Protection Act, the government should reverse the changes that would strip previous environmental protection of lakes, work to protect Canada's coastline, establish a network of marine protected areas in Canada's waters, encourage the sustainable use of coastal and marine resources, prioritize clean water, restore our freshwater ecosystems, clean up contaminated sediment and protect and restore essential habitat.
The government must stop repeatedly abusing Parliament by ramming through massive omnibus bills and turning the legislative process into a farce.
Two years ago, the government introduced an 880-page omnibus bill, representing half the entire workload of Parliament from the previous year. This past spring, the government introduced Bill C-38, a 425-page omnibus budget implementation bill that made sweeping changes to employment insurance, immigration and old age security. An astonishing 150 pages were devoted to destroying 50 years of environmental oversight. None of these changes were in the Conservative platform. This time, Bill C-45 is a 443-page omnibus bill that would alter some 60 pieces of legislation, including the Canada Labour Code, the Fisheries Act, the Indian Act and the Navigable Waters Protection Act.
Canadians are tiring of the government's omnibus bills. Last spring there were demonstrations across the country to protest the omnibus budget bill, Bill C-38. Five hundred organizations joined the BlackOutSpeakOut campaign to stand up for democracy and the environment. Three thousand two hundred pages of complaints flooded the office of the finance minister and there was extensive international criticism.
In 1994, the MP for Calgary Southwest, our current Prime Minister, criticized omnibus legislation suggesting that the subject matter of such bills was so diverse that a single vote on the content would put members in conflict with their own principles. He said, “Dividing the bill into several components would allow members to represent the views of their constituents on each of the different components in the bill.”
The Conservative government's action reek of hypocrisy. The Prime Minister is now using the very tactics he once denounced. Bill C-45 hides large changes to environmental laws, subverts democracy and weakens the protection of ecosystems.
The government's record on the environment is appalling, as recognized repeatedly by its bottom of the barrel environment performances. The 2008 Climate Change Performance Index ranked Canada 56th out of 57 countries in terms of tackling emissions. In 2009, the Conference Board of Canada ranked Canada 15th out of 17 wealthy industrialized nations on environmental performance. In 2010, Simon Fraser University ranked Canada 24th out of 25 countries. This week we have been ranked 58th out of 61 countries on climate policy.
Under successive Conservative governments, the economy has been repeatedly pitted against the environment. Laws have been weakened and repealed to fast-track development with the environment and the health and safety of Canadians being put at risk. When did the debate change from protecting the environment in order to safeguard human health and well-being to gutting environmental protection in order to streamline expanding growth? Is it not time we made human health, particularly for our most vulnerable, our children, a consideration in the environmental debate?