House of Commons Hansard #23 of the 41st Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was prison.


An Act to amend the Federal Sustainable Development Act (duty to examine)Private Members' Business

11 a.m.


Pierre Jacob NDP Brome—Missisquoi, QC

moved that Bill C-481, An Act to amend the Federal Sustainable Development Act (duty to examine), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to present Bill C-481. Years ago, I joined an increasing number of Canadians who have become aware of the urgent need for action on the environment. It is now absolutely crucial to develop sustainable development policies to address the many challenges of our time.

I also want to pay tribute to our environment critic, the member for Halifax, who works so hard to defend our world and the quality of life of her constituents. She is a role model who inspires me every day. As for me, I was elected in 2011 to make Canada greener, more prosperous and fairer for all.

Some people would say that Bill C-481 does not go far enough. However, I feel it is a step in the right direction. My colleagues on the other side and I should support it. Indeed, it is an amendment to an act that the Conservatives themselves passed unanimously in June 2008.

My bill seeks to ensure that any future acts and regulations introduced by a federal minister comply with the principles of the Federal Sustainable Development Act. The Minister of Justice will then report any inconsistencies to the House of Commons, at the earliest possible opportunity. The Department of Justice already has an obligation to examine all bills and regulations before the House to verify compliance with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. All that Bill C-481 does is link this process with what has already been created by the Federal Sustainable Development Act.

I would point out there was nothing in the throne speech on sustainable development. However, the idea that human activity can cause serious and lasting damage to our ecosystems is now a key part of policy.

My bill is a reminder that Canadians want sustainable development to be included in the decision-making process of their representatives in the House of Commons. Placing sustainable development at the heart of all federal public policy is the best way to make Canada greener, more prosperous and fairer for all.

What is sustainable development? It means creating policies that meet the needs of the present without compromising the needs of future generations. Sustainable development must also be guided by long-term thinking that takes into account the inseparable nature of the environmental, social and economic impacts of development activities. Unfortunately, we are leaving our children with the worst economic, social and ecological debt in the history of this country. We cannot afford to let this situation continue.

The planet's temperature is already rising. This is an undeniable reality that is hitting Canada hard. Since 1948, the average annual temperature in Canada has risen by 1.3oC, a rate of warming that is higher than in most other parts of the world. Heavy precipitation and flooding have increased in most Canadian cities. Researchers with the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy have noted an increased number of heat waves in every major Canadian city as well as more droughts, particularly in the west. There have also been more forest fires. Moreover, the serious lack of water is affecting land productivity, and that will only get worse.

Insurance plans are not adapted to these situations. In Quebec alone, the compensation paid by insurance companies as a result of storms and flooding has increased by 25% since 2001.

Lastly, scientists have documented deteriorating biodiversity conditions in all of the main types of ecosystems in Canada. Biodiversity is a cornerstone of Canadian competitiveness. It is key to continued growth in ecotourism and recreation. Falling behind on the protection of land and wildlife could lead to the disruption of valuable resource sectors like forestry and fisheries.

Our trading partners see Canada as a steward of globally significant resources. Canada’s success as a trading nation depends on continued leadership in meeting international expectations for environmental protection, expectations that are increasingly enshrined in international trade agreements.

Negligence is getting expensive. The effects are being felt across the country, and it will only get worse if we do not act now. For many years, a number of provinces have said repeatedly how important it is that Canada take a leadership role in establishing sustainable development policies. Sustainable development means creating policies that meet the needs of the present without compromising the needs of future generations. This principle must be extended to all decisions made by the federal government, especially those made in the House.

Informing people and building awareness alone will not make Canada greener. We need leadership. The government and MPs must foster change that stimulates progress and prosperity in our communities.

My bill will give Canada a mechanism that encourages MPs to act in accordance with sustainable development principles. Bill C-481 is one more step in the right direction toward placing these principles at the centre of our decision-making process. By encouraging MPs to develop bills that are in line with the federal sustainable development strategy, Bill C-481 will help them make good decisions and build a greener, more prosperous and more just Canada.

The Federal Sustainable Development Act was the outcome of a private member's bill, Bill C-474, which was passed unanimously in June 2008. In passing the bill, the Government of Canada recognized the importance of making decisions that take environmental, economic and social factors into account. The bill set up a legal framework for the development and implementation of a federal sustainable development strategy.

The purpose of the strategy is to make the decision-making process more transparent in terms of the environment. It is updated every three years with a progress report and public consultations. Within a year of the strategy coming into effect, the main federal departments have to prepare their own sustainable development strategies. These must comply with the guidelines in the federal sustainable development strategy, which has four priority themes.

The first is about addressing climate change now that weather events have become more frequent and severe. We must also improve air quality to combat the growing number of respiratory illnesses.

The second is about maintaining water quality and availability, because even though our bank account is full and oil resources are everywhere, water quality is still the most critical factor for life.

The third is about protecting nature, plants and animals. The fourth is about shrinking the environmental footprint, beginning with government. The goal is to reduce polluting emissions, recycle, and set a good example for the private sector and individuals.

As it stands now, this legislation does not do much, since the current government lacks any political will.

This fall, the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development's report criticized the government for missing most of its targets. Most of the targets lack clarity and measurability, which makes it difficult to assess progress over the short and long term.

Well thought-out strategies and effective action to implement them are fundamental to both the credibility and the impact of the strategies. Although the Federal Sustainable Development Act is weak and does not have teeth, I think it provides an excellent tool for us to coordinate our massive bureaucracy in order to implement sustainable development policies.

Bill C-481 will help strengthen this act by ensuring that the House of Commons knows whether a bill is in line with the federal sustainable development strategy. The Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development noted that the efforts to integrate the sustainable development strategy are incomplete. Bill C-481 would fix that.

We want to show Canadians that we take sustainable development into account in our decisions. If Bill C-481 passes, bills that are inconsistent with sustainable development will pay a political price. I hope that members of the House of Commons will make more of an effort to include sustainable development in their bills.

We must not be leaving environmental, economic and social debts for future generations. We must be concerned with the quality of life of our constituents; focus on prevention instead of repression; provide value-added for small businesses by giving them green infrastructure; promote buying local, which stimulates the regional economy and reduces our greenhouse gas emissions; and there are many more examples. Together, we will build a fairer, greener and more prosperous Canada.

In conclusion, I would like to share a quote from Frédéric Back's film The Man Who Planted Trees. This film served as an inspiration to me in developing this bill. Here is an excerpt:

...It is a desert no more. In these [formerly] arid regions...magnificent forests have slowed the winds, retained water and restored life. All this is the result of the quiet perseverance of a single man.

On that note, I urge all members to vote in favour of my bill.

An Act to amend the Federal Sustainable Development Act (duty to examine)Private Members' Business

11:15 a.m.


Megan Leslie NDP Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, I love that movie. I watched it when I was taking French classes in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu.

I would like to thank my colleague for introducing this worthwhile bill. We were chatting earlier and I joked that I wished I had thought of it.

In all seriousness, this bill is founded on a simple and elegant idea. It ensures that development is always part of our work as legislators.

I would like to know what my colleague's constituents are saying about the environment. Are the people of Brome—Missisquoi concerned about sustainable development and future generations?

An Act to amend the Federal Sustainable Development Act (duty to examine)Private Members' Business

11:15 a.m.


Pierre Jacob NDP Brome—Missisquoi, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague, the hon. member for Halifax, for her excellent question.

All of the people in my riding of Brome—Missisquoi are asking how we will change things and ensure that sustainable development is taken into consideration. What good is a bank account full of money if there is no economy, no social justice and no environment? I live in a beautiful riding in the Appalachian corridor, where organizations are working very hard to protect the environment, so I would answer the member's question by saying that the environment is an everyday concern.

An Act to amend the Federal Sustainable Development Act (duty to examine)Private Members' Business

11:15 a.m.


Hélène Laverdière NDP Laurier—Sainte-Marie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would also like to join with my colleagues in thanking the hon. member for this excellent bill, which I feel is very important.

The Federal Sustainable Development Act received royal assent in 2008, and the House passed it unanimously. However, as we know, talk is not enough. The same is true for any law. We need to ensure that there is follow-up and that meaningful action is taken.

I would like to ask my colleague if he feels that the bill is a crucial part of truly implementing the Federal Sustainable Development Act.

An Act to amend the Federal Sustainable Development Act (duty to examine)Private Members' Business

11:20 a.m.


Pierre Jacob NDP Brome—Missisquoi, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for Laurier—Sainte-Marie for her very good question.

A law on sustainable development has indeed been in place since 2008. I have read it. That legislation does not have any teeth. That is why omnibus bills and budget implementation bills have undermined environmental rights in many areas. Nothing can be done.

My bill will ensure accountability and make a first step toward transparency. The Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development will have to take this legislation into account. The Minister of Justice, who plays a symbolic role, has to ensure that legislation is in line with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. What is more, whether we are talking about a bill or proposed regulations, the commissioner will ensure that all departments concerned work in accordance with the Federal Sustainable Development Act. If not, he will quickly inform the House. The department in question will have to pay the political price.

An Act to amend the Federal Sustainable Development Act (duty to examine)Private Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

Oshawa Ontario


Colin Carrie ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment

Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak to Bill C-481. In the next 10 minutes, I will explain how the bill would create a massive new and wasteful bureaucracy that would serve no purpose other than to waste taxpayers' money. I will demonstrate how the bill is just more evidence that the NDP shows a complete lack of respect for taxpayers' money. I will show that although the bill would purport to achieve sustainable development objectives, it would actually only duplicate work that is already being done by the government.

Bill C-481 would amend the Federal Sustainable Development Act to require that the Minister of Justice examine bills and regulations to ensure that they are not inconsistent with the purposes and provisions of the act. However, rather than meaningfully doing anything, it would just add another layer of red tape, which is redundant and unnecessary in light of the actions the government is already taking.

As members are aware, the purpose of the Federal Sustainable Development Act is to establish a legal framework for developing and implementing a federal sustainable development strategy that will make environmental decisions more transparent and accountable to Canadians. It requires developing and regularly updating a whole-of-government federal sustainable development strategy, which the government began in 2010 and continues to do so.

The first main point I would like to discuss is whether the amendments proposed in the bill are necessary. They are not. As I have already pointed out, the bill would be completely redundant in light of actions the government is already taking to achieve federal sustainability objectives, as well as transparency and accountability. The government already has tools in place for assessing and reporting the environmental effects of its actions, including two particularly significant ones: strategic environmental assessments and regulatory impact analyses.

Strategic environmental assessments, which are required by a cabinet directive, identify and evaluate the potential environmental effects of government proposals. Strategic environmental assessments also involve considering whether further action could be taken to optimize the positive environmental effects of initiatives and minimize or mitigate any negative effects.

Cabinet requires that a strategic environmental assessment be undertaken for all proposals intended for approval by a minister or by cabinet whenever its implementation could result in important environmental effects, either positive or negative. The results of strategic environmental assessments inform the development of new policies, plans, and programs, and support decision-making.

In 2010, in conjunction with the release of Canada's first federal sustainable development strategy, the government further strengthened strategic environmental assessment by requiring departments to consider potential impacts on the strategy's goals and targets when conducting their assessments in the context of a broader consideration of environmental effects.

We see strengthening the strategic environmental assessment process as an important step in advancing the integration of environmental, social, and economic considerations in government decision-making. Departments are now expected to consider the potential effects of initiatives on achieving the government's environmental sustainability priorities.

I should note that unlike the government's approach to strategic environmental assessment, Bill C-481 does not include any assessment against any specific priorities or measurable objectives, such as the federal sustainable development strategy's goals and targets. This just further highlights how the bill would be a wasteful use of taxpayers' money.

In addition to requiring analysis and assessment of the environmental implications of policies, strategic environmental assessments also promote transparency and accountability in decision-making. Whenever the government conducts a strategic environmental assessment, any potential environmental effects identified are expected to be summarized in a public statement that communicates the results of the assessment to Canadians.

To provide a broader view of strategic environmental assessment practices and results, the strengthened assessment process also requires departments to describe how policies subject to strategic environmental assessments have affected or are expected to affect progress towards the federal sustainable development strategy's goals and targets. We will continue to advance implementation of this new strengthened assessment process over time.

The other major mechanism I want to mention is the regulatory impact analysis statement, or RIAS. A RIAS is created for proposed regulations, and its preparation is required by the cabinet directive on regulatory management.

A RIAS summarizes the regulatory development process and the analysis conducted in support of a regulatory initiative. It describes the issues to be addressed, a cost-benefit analysis with distributional impacts of a proposed regulation, and the results of consultations. The results of a regulation's cost-benefit analysis summarized in the RIAS includes the cost or benefits to Canadians, the environment, and businesses, as well as impacts on human health and safety. Like a strategic environmental assessment, the RIAS process makes an important contribution to transparency as RIASs are made available to the public in the Canada Gazette, along with proposed regulations.

I would also like to highlight the federal sustainable development strategy as another means by which the government is making environmental decisions more transparent and accountable to Canadians.

The strategy required by the Federal Sustainable Development Act provides a whole-of-government picture of federal actions and results to achieve environmental sustainability. These actions support goals and targets under four priority theme areas: one, addressing climate change and air quality; two, maintaining water quality and availability; three, protecting nature and Canadians; and four, shrinking the environmental footprint beginning with government.

Regular federal sustainable development strategy progress reports from the government enable Canadians and stakeholders to track results achieved on the strategy's goals and targets. FSDS indicators are primarily drawn from the Canadian environmental sustainability indicators program, which provides comprehensive and objective information on environmental trends. The government has expanded these indicators to a total of 36.

Canadians are now able to get more information on what their government is doing with respect to sustainable development than ever before. We are continuing to move forward with the second three-year federal sustainable development strategy, which was tabled on November 4.

The second strategy demonstrates the government's ongoing commitment to the transparency and accountability of environmental decision-making. It has strengthened targets introduced in the first strategy. Examples are those on nutrient loading in the Great Lakes, Lake Simcoe, and Lake Winnipeg. The new strategy also reflects the results of public and open consultations. For example, in response to Canadians' comments, we have made targets more specific and measurable through clear timelines, baseline information, and quantitative benchmarks; identified indicators and actions with social and economic dimensions; and added detail on the important role that others outside government play in achieving environmental outcomes.

Taken together, these improvements, along with the previously mentioned tools in use by the government, provide Canadians with an unprecedented amount of information on the sustainable development decisions being made by the Government of Canada. This is all being done without the massive new bureaucracy the NDP would like to create and the new spending and taxes that the NDP would like to implement through Bill C-481.

As I have described, the government has already taken action to apply sustainable development in decision-making and ensure that Canadians have information on the potential environmental effects of government initiatives. By taking these legislative and regulatory initiatives, our government in ensuring that environmental factors have been fully considered in decision-making processes.

My second main point relates to the examination process proposed in Bill C-481. The examination process that the bill proposes is vague and redundant, and it is a wasteful use of taxpayers' money. I note that this examination process would go well beyond legal analysis and would constitute a significant departure from the current responsibilities of the Minister of Justice with regard to examining bills and regulations. For example, the Department of Justice currently does not have expertise in the area of sustainable development. Thus, the bill would require the government to waste taxpayers' money by creating and developing a new massive bureaucracy to duplicate the measures that I have already highlighted.

Undoubtedly, the NDP wants to pay for all this by increasing taxes on hard-working Canadian families.

In conclusion, given what the government is already doing, Bill C-481 would be a complete waste of taxpayers' money. The bill would add a layer of wasteful bureaucracy and oversight that is simply not needed.

Here I return to the most problematic part of Bill C-481, which is, of course, its true intention of creating a massive, new, and wasteful bureaucracy. This fact, I am not afraid to say, reflects the NDP's priorities completely. Here we have the NDP, which stands for nothing other than creating a massive new bureaucracy while increasing taxes on hard-working Canadian families.

This raises important questions for all Canadians. How exactly does the NDP intend to pay for those new and wasteful measures? Will it be through a $20-billion carbon tax, or does it plan to create new taxes to burden Canadian families? These are important questions the NDP has to answer that the member did not answer earlier.

An Act to amend the Federal Sustainable Development Act (duty to examine)Private Members' Business

11:30 a.m.


John McKay Liberal Scarborough—Guildwood, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am thankful for the opportunity to participate in this debate. It is indeed true that Canada has been blessed with incredible natural resources. With those blessings come responsibilities. Over the years, a number of measures have been introduced in this House to protect the environment. The attempt is always to balance the protection of the environment with the economic interests of the nation.

When the Liberal Party was in power, we committed our government to the principles of sustainable development and passed legislation that required each department to submit with any new legislative proposal the sustainability and environmental impact of the legislation or regulation. We also, at that time, insisted that ministers provide a gender analysis of each proposed piece of legislation.

I have noticed that the government has dropped the fiscal analysis of each proposed piece of legislation. This is particularly true for the justice section. There is no fiscal analysis attached other than bromides submitted by ministers from time to time about how this would not cost us anything at all.

As well, the Liberal Party created the office of the Commissioner of the Environment, which is attached to the Auditor General's department. It comments on and does analyses of the various environmental strategies the government puts forward from time to time.

We, along with the NDP, are truly disappointed with the government and its continuing erosion of environmental policies. The Conservative government has systematically reduced the environmental review process in resource development since taking office in 2006.

I note the parliamentary secretary's speech, which is all about taxpayers. It seems that it is all about taxpayers but never about citizens. It is the classic cost of everything and the value of nothing.

Environmental review is about the rights of citizens to know how the environment will be impacted by any initiatives. This has been systematically eroded by the government. Citizens are entitled to know, because these have environmental impacts, economic impacts, and consequences for our international reputation.

We understand and are sympathetic to the impetus of this bill, considering reports put out recently by various international bodies with respect to GHG emissions. One report ranks us dead last out of 27 developed countries in terms of GHG emissions and what we are intending to do. A UN report ranks us 55 out of 58. We beat out Iran, Kazakhstan, and Saudi Arabia. I am sure that will make us all feel a great deal better.

Dr. Chu, the former U.S. Secretary of Energy, was in Calgary last week. With several senior government ministers in the audience, he started off his speech by saying that surely to goodness, we can agree that there is climate change. How the United States views its partner in North America is that it is having a dialogue with the deaf.

In my view, Bill C-481 is a well-intentioned piece of legislation. It is not clear at this point what the costs will be. We can certainly see the benefits. I do not believe my colleague, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment, that this would create a massive bureaucracy or that it would cause all the fearmongering nonsense he repeated toward the end of his speech. It would not create massive costs. In fact, if the government were doing the job in the first place, the bill would probably not be necessary.

However, when there is profound mistrust among the Canadian population of the attitude and the actions of the current government toward the environment, we get bills like Bill C-481 as a consequence, because at root, the mover of Bill C-481 does not believe that the Government of Canada is actually doing the job. He does not believe that legislative, regulatory, and economic initiatives are actually receiving a full environmental review.

I have some questions with respect to, in my judgment, the overly broad application of the bill. It says that all bills presented to this House would have to undergo a sustainability review.

At one level, it is a good idea. However, suppose the government puts forward a bill entitled the Prime Minister's award for ethics, accountability, and democratic excellence.

I know that might be amusing to some in this House, but it is possible that the Government of Canada would put forward such a bill on ethics, accountability, and democratic excellence. Would Bill C-481 apply to that bill or to a bill, for instance, on a more serious subject, such as cyberbullying and various things?

We have some questions with respect to the overly broad application of the legislation. Nevertheless, we take the view that this is a bill that is well motivated. It would address a deeply held view that the government has not addressed the environment in a sustainable fashion and that the government's actions to date have had economic impacts, have been negative on the environment, and are negatively impacting our international reputation abroad.

At this point, we in the Liberal Party will be supporting the bill, and I urge all members to have it sent to committee.

An Act to amend the Federal Sustainable Development Act (duty to examine)Private Members' Business

11:40 a.m.


Megan Leslie NDP Halifax, NS

Mr. Speaker, I would like to start by congratulating and thanking my friend and colleague from Brome—Missisquoi. His work on this bill shows that he is an ardent defender of his constituents' interests. As an educator and an MP, he is in regular contact with the members of his community and he understands that the people he represents are concerned about our environment.

The hon. member for Brome—Missisquoi also stands up for the interests of all Canadians. This initiative not only benefits his constituents, but all of us.

I would like to congratulate him on taking this initiative and introducing a well-thought-out and carefully crafted bill in the House of Commons. He began an important debate in the House on the type of government that we want and what we expect from our government.

We must always take into account the impact that our decisions could have on future generations. Bill C-481 serves to remind us that we cannot be shortsighted when it comes to environmental issues. We are responsible for ensuring that any bill introduced in the House meets the needs of today without compromising those of the future.

As my colleague explained, this bill will ensure that we remain committed to the Federal Sustainable Development Act, which was passed unanimously by the House in 2008.

It is a very simple idea and something that all Canadians expect from their government. If we pass a law that says that we support sustainable development, then all of our laws will be in line with those principles.

My colleague from Brome—Missisquoi's idea is beautiful in its simplicity.

Not only would the bill put sustainable development at the forefront of all federal government decision-making, it would integrate sustainable development principles with the policy-making process itself. It would guarantee that all government decisions were in line with the principles of sustainable development that we all seemed so committed to just five years ago.

Bill C-481 does this by reinforcing legislation that already exists. It turns our current strategy for sustainable development into an effective strategy. Unfortunately, the Conservative government does not share my priorities on the environment or, I think, the priorities of a majority of Canadians, for that matter.

The Conservatives have spoken several times about the importance they give to the Federal Sustainable Development Act. Past ministers of the environment, and by now there is quite a roster, have said that the act ensures that the federal decision-making process on matters of the environment is done in a transparent and coherent manner. However, while Conservatives like to mention the Federal Sustainable Development Act, they are all talk and no action.

The government has not been interested in the principles of the act, but it does like to use it as a talking point to distract Canadians from its dismal record in promoting sustainable development and from its failure to act on the environment. Much like Conservatives like to use the word “conservation” without acting or to talk about their missing-in-action oil and gas regulations, it is all about drawing attention away from their failure on these issues. As I have said in the House before, what we need is less rhetoric and more meaningful, forward-looking action.

In the past few years, because of this inaction, we have seen a regression. We are actually moving backward. The Conservative government has been systematically dismantling environmental protection laws and has been using the least transparent methods available. For proof of that, we do not have to go back too far, just to 2012, when the government's infamous omnibus budget bills, Bill C-38 and Bill C-45, were passed, two of the most destructive pieces of legislation I have ever encountered.

The government has consistently disregarded the principles of sustainable development by using omnibus legislation to weaken environmental protections and by passing that legislation without proper examination or debate. Gutting the Fisheries Act, ransacking the Navigable Waters Protection Act, muzzling scientists, completely obliterating the national round table on the environment and the economy, and continuing to subsidize the oil and gas industry with $1.3 billion a year does not sound like sustainable development to me. Neither does denying the science behind climate change, wilfully ignoring the effects of global warming, or failing miserably to meet low emissions targets that we committed to in international climate negotiations.

What else does not sound sustainable? Since coming into power in 2006, the Conservatives have cut Canada's targets for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 90%. That is not sustainable; it is actually irresponsible. Our actions now mean we are burdening Canadians who will come after us.

The Federal Sustainable Development Act was supposed to signal a change in how the government makes responsible and environmentally conscious decisions on behalf of Canadians. However, it has been five years since this legislation came into effect, and the government has failed to make this crucial transformation.

Implementing an effective sustainable development strategy is an attainable and necessary goal. It is about time that we respect the commitments we made to Canadians in 2008 by passing Bill C-481. We already agreed unanimously to the principles of the bill, so let us give it some teeth.

The bill offers an efficient strategy to achieve this by giving the Department of Justice the responsibility for reviewing bills and ensuring that all proposed legislation responds to the criteria laid out in the Federal Sustainable Development Act, which we all passed. We are not asking for a complete overhaul here. This is not about red tape or another level of bureaucracy; it is a change we can actually implement now.

Bill C-481 should be implemented. The Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development noted that the integration of sustainable development in decision-making is an incomplete process. Enabling Bill C-481 would help us to bridge that gap. Operationalizing an effective approach to sustainable development has worked well in Canada, and it has already been done at the provincial level in Quebec.

My leader, the leader of the NDP, in his role as Quebec's minister of the environment, sustainable development and parks, wrote North America's first sustainable development law and amended Quebec's human rights charter to create the right to live in a clean environment. That is not a privilege but a right. That is the attitude we should have in this chamber when we talk about legislation and debate ideas and think about how to work together to create a better Canada. It is a right that we need to work toward. It is a right we need to work hard to protect.

In my last few moments, I would like to turn our attention to the people who live in our ridings, whom we as members of Parliament, represent. These are families in every riding across the country in Victoria, Yellowknife, Winnipeg, Toronto, and my own riding of Halifax. As legislators, we have accepted the responsibility to represent the hopes and dreams of our constituents. For many of those people, their hopes and dreams are better lives and brighter futures for their kids and their families.

However, as it stands now, our children and grandchildren are set to inherit the worst environmental, social, and economic debt the country has ever seen. This is not intergenerational equity. It is not a future that is bright or shining with promise; it is a future that I am afraid of. It is an injustice to leave this legacy behind to the generations that follow ours.

The reality of the situation is that if we do not go forward sustainably and we do not legislate for the future instead of just thinking about the short-term gains, then we are not working to defend the hopes and dreams of our constituents or the people they care about most. We are not doing our jobs as legislators.

We owe it to future generations of Canadians to pass this bill. For them, sustainable development should not be an afterthought, window dressing, or a buzzword. An effective sustainable development policy demands that the principles of sustainability be a part of the policy-making process from the start.

An Act to amend the Federal Sustainable Development Act (duty to examine)Private Members' Business

11:50 a.m.


Francine Raynault NDP Joliette, QC

Mr. Speaker, Canada has had a deplorable environmental record for quite some time. When compared to other OECD countries, Canada is ranked second last. It is very urgent that we adopt a set of measures to help us do better. That is primarily what Bill C-481 would do if it were passed.

The situation is urgent and although some would prefer to ignore the scientific evidence behind global warming, it is a factor that could adversely affect our economy, our health and the future of our children.

Since 1948, the average temperature in Canada has increased by 1.3°C and much more quickly than in other parts of the world. To get a sense of what that means for the economy, the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy estimates that this will cost $5 billion by 2020 and between $41 and $43 billion by 2050.

Of course, a number of us will not be around in 2050 to see the impact for ourselves. That is precisely why sustainable development is important. I will say it again: sustainable. With all the scientific tools available, not only is it irresponsible to take no action to counter global warming, but it is also unfair because it deprives our future citizens of a world that we enjoyed.

That may be difficult for some to understand, but we have an urgent duty to attack a problem that will go down in history as one of the greatest challenges of our time. One day, our children and grandchildren will ask themselves, what did we do?

First, we must recognize that the House passed Bill C-474, Federal Sustainable Development Act unanimously in 2008. Thus, we can say that everyone agrees that something must be done. As for exactly what to do and how far to go, not everyone agrees on how to handle the challenge of climate change.

Bill C-474 did not stop the Conservative government from getting rid of dozens of climate research scientist positions, from getting rid of the Canadian census form, or from subsidizing a polluting industry at enormous cost to the taxpayers. As the saying goes, you have to walk the talk. When the House says it is going to do something, it would be good if the general public could actually see something happen.

Unfortunately, at this point, this is not the case. The Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, a position created by virtue of Bill C-474, states that Canada is not doing what it should to establish real sustainable development practices. It was to respond to this problem that my colleague from Brome—Missisquoi introduced C-481, which in fact does nothing more than give real power to Bill C-474. If Bill C-474 is the talk, Bill C-481 is the walk. It only remains to be seen whether this government will dare to put on its shoes.

There is nothing magical about Bill C-481. In fact, it is really only logical. It would make it possible for the justice minister to draw the attention of the House to any inconsistency between bills that have been passed and the Federal Sustainable Development Act. This way we would have a tool for measuring our commitment to sustainable development, so that we might take tangible steps toward making Canada greener, fairer and more prosperous.

In my view, the principal argument in favour of the bill currently under consideration is the fact that the justice minister already verifies all the bills. Making it possible for him to report any potential inconsistencies with the Federal Sustainable Development Act will not require any additional resources and will make it possible for the bill to be something more than just window dressing.

It must be said that sustainable development covers a great deal. It can be used for almost everything, without much regard for its real meaning. However, if we thought about this a little more, we would see that it is a vision of development that is likely to encourage green, job-creating industries, as well as increased citizen participation in public affairs.

The three pillars of this theory are as follows: a vision of economic justice, a balanced social perspective and, of course, the conservation of nature for future generations. By applying this reasoning to all our legislation, we could make a promise to our children that they too will be able to enjoy a world where there is room for everyone and where there are the resources they need to live.

In the current circumstances, I think it is urgent to improve the Federal Sustainable Development Act, because we believe that it does not have any real teeth. For instance, how is the government meeting its commitments when it gives money to the oil industry, which is already rich? How is this good for the environment? Has any consideration being given to the fact that development of the oil sands artificially inflated the value of the dollar and resulted in the loss of tens of thousands of jobs in the manufacturing sector? Have the communities that live near oil sands developments even been consulted?

Unfortunately, all too often the answer to these many questions is no. The omnibus bills introduced recently by the Conservative government have proven that the government does not listen to anyone and that it is not even living up to its own commitments.

Many measures included in these bills would fail miserably if they were put to the test of the Federal Sustainable Development Act. For instance, people can no longer oppose the installation of a pipeline for environmental reasons unless the pipeline goes directly through their property.

The government is ignoring the concept of the common good and trampling on our communities' ability to mobilize by allowing the democratic process of a vote only once every four years. Just because the government won a majority with 38% of the vote does not make this a democratic country; quite the contrary. Claiming so much power with so little support is appalling enough, but preventing communities from having their say when it really counts is completely unjustifiable from a democratic standpoint.

Since many of the Conservative government's decrees are bad for the economy, the environment and the survival of Canadian democracy, I strongly urge the House to give this country a regulatory tool, a safeguard, that will bring us closer to our goal of sustainable development.

Accordingly, I fully support Bill C-481, which will help Canada to better meet its own commitments and allow us to give our children a society in which they will want to live, thrive and participate actively.

Let us give ourselves the means to be responsible, and we will finally be able to say that we did what was needed to ensure the sustainability of our communities. At the risk of repeating myself, any attempt to limit enforcement powers regarding the environment makes anything that could be said on the matter sound superficial.

We have a serious responsibility to the future. I would like to be able to tell myself that we are doing everything we can to ensure that Canada moves in the direction of sustainable development, which will provide new opportunities that are worthy of a developed economy in the 21st century.

An Act to amend the Federal Sustainable Development Act (duty to examine)Private Members' Business

11:55 a.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

Before resuming debate, I would like to inform the hon. member for Laurier—Sainte-Marie that she will have four minutes to make her speech. The remaining time will be available once the House resumes debate on the motion.

The hon. member for Laurier—Sainte-Marie.

An Act to amend the Federal Sustainable Development Act (duty to examine)Private Members' Business

11:55 a.m.


Hélène Laverdière NDP Laurier—Sainte-Marie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have a few minutes to voice my support for Bill C-481, which I believe is very important. It is not as complicated as my colleague opposite previously suggested.

There is nothing complicated about it. Bill C-481 is intended to make sustainable development a key part of public federal policy. This is not done as if by magic. Rather, this process is based on the Federal Sustainable Development Act.

The purpose of this new bill is to ensure that this act—which, I must stress, was unanimously passed by the House—is actually implemented. Why should it be implemented? To ensure that all our acts and regulations comply with Canada's principles and strategic agenda for sustainable development and the protection of our environment.

I listened to the member opposite, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment, repeatedly talk about the massive bureaucracy that will be created to implement this bill. I am not sure how many times he said that. That will not happen. Indeed the Minister of Justice is already responsible for examining all bills and regulations before the House. What we are asking for, through this bill, is that he examine the regulations and the bill in question to verify whether they are in line with the federal sustainable development strategy.

This represents a relatively minimal investment of time and money, especially when we consider the cost of doing nothing.

The members opposite talk all the time about the costs associated with environmental protection. This always reminds me of the old saying that if you think education is expensive, try ignorance. The same principle applies here. Yes, we must protect the environment, and yes, we must provide ourselves with the appropriate tools for sustainable development, thereby minimizing human, social and financial costs, sooner rather than later.

We cannot ignore our planet. We cannot ignore the land we live on. This bill is very important to ensure that no more restrictions are imposed on our environmental regulations under omnibus legislation.

An Act to amend the Federal Sustainable Development Act (duty to examine)Private Members' Business



The Acting Speaker Conservative Bruce Stanton

The hon. member for Laurier—Sainte-Marie will have six-and-a-half minutes when the House resumes debate on the motion.

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired, and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.

Offshore Health and Safety ActGovernment Orders



Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to stand in the House to speak on behalf of the NDP caucus and New Democrats across the country, and indeed all Newfoundlanders and Labradoreans and Nova Scotians on Bill C-5.

Bill C-5 is about 260 pages long. It has some very useful information and some important policy directions in terms of occupational health and safety and is a very important first step. However, in all 260 pages, and we will find New Democrats speaking about this regularly today as we engage in the debate, we will not find three words that are extremely important for Newfoundlanders, Labradoreans, Nova Scotians, and, I think, all Canadians. Those three words are “independent safety regulator”.

Despite the fact that we have been able to drag the government, kicking and screaming, to take action on occupational health and safety in the offshore, we still find resistance from the government to Justice Wells' recommendation number 29 in the Wells inquiry document and to recommendations that have come from throughout Atlantic Canada, particularly from Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia, to put in place an independent safety regulator for the offshore. We do not really understand where that resistance comes from or why.

Despite the fact that we will be supporting the bill and despite the fact that there are some good elements contained within it, the fact that the independent safety regulator has not yet been put into place by the government is an appalling weakness and shows real disrespect to the offshore workers.

I will start today by saying that I think all of us in the House of Commons owe a real debt to the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour, the Nova Scotia Federation of Labour, the NDP government in Nova Scotia under Darrell Dexter, and the Newfoundland and Labrador government, because those governments and those federations of labour were instrumental in putting the bill forward.

After a series of tragedies in the offshore area, basically about 14 years ago, there was a real call and push to put in place occupational health and safety standards in the offshore. That ball was dropped by the former Liberal government. When the Conservatives came in, they did make commitments that they would address this persistent problem that could lead to the deaths of offshore workers and that has in fact led to the deaths of offshore workers. The Conservatives said that they would put measures in place.

Tragically, it took the combined weight of those two federations of labour I cited, as well as the Newfoundland and Labrador government and the NDP government in Nova Scotia, to actually push the Conservative government to finally introduce this important legislation.

This is no small thing. Even though we are talking about offshore workers, who are perhaps a small proportion of the overall Canadian economy, the reality is that offshore workers have been hit by a series of tragedies and deaths, ranging from the Ocean Ranger in the l980s through deaths in the 1990s to the most recent and tragic deaths, the 17 Canadians who were killed in the Cougar crash in 2009.

That tragedy was a wake-up call for many Canadians. It told us that work had to be done, and the Nova Scotia government, the federations of labour, and the Newfoundland and Labrador government were able to push the government to finally put into place what is simply a matter of good sense and a matter of common decency: occupational health and safety standards.

We have also had very strong advocates in the House of Commons. I would like to pay particular tribute to the member for St. John's East, who has done a remarkable job of raising these issues. He has been phenomenally eloquent. He is normally a very eloquent gentleman, but he has been even more eloquent on this issue and has spoken up for the offshore workers in Newfoundland and Labrador and in Nova Scotia. I say to the member for St. John's East—through you, Mr. Speaker—that he has done a phenomenal job and really deserves the thanks of Canadians across the country.

I am citing the work of the member for St. John's East, the work of the member for Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, the provincial governments of Nova Scotia and of Newfoundland and Labrador, and those two federations of labour that I mentioned earlier because the government has shown no leadership whatsoever when it comes to offshore safety.

Coming from British Columbia, I can cite three facts that are appallingly bad examples of poor judgment on behalf of the government since it has come to power.

In British Columbia, on the other side of the country, we have seen first-hand how irresponsible this government has been. That is why the introduction of this bill, which takes some significant steps, although it does not go all the way to the independent safety regulator, is an important contrast to what the government's trend has been, generally speaking.

Last year in British Columbia, after a phenomenal public outcry from British Columbians, the City of Vancouver, and a whole range of municipalities throughout the lower mainland, we saw that the government was not listening to their call to keep in place the Kitsilano Coast Guard station.

This is the Coast Guard station in Kitsilano, in Vancouver, B.C. It has actually saved lives over the entire period of its existence. The government, for reasons it has still not explained adequately in any way, decided it was just going to shut down the Coast Guard station.

That could mean that next summer we could tragically, but hopefully not, be looking at the deaths of British Columbians as a result of what was a very foolish, foolhardy, and reckless decision.

Everyone in British Columbia spoke out against it except Conservative MPs. Everyone in British Columbia, from those involved in the health sector to those involved in the boating sector, as well as municipalities and elected officials at the provincial level, said that closing that Coast Guard station was going to put lives in jeopardy, but the government did it just the same. It was inconceivable to me that it would be that reckless and foolhardy with public safety, yet it has been.

The government then moved on, after closing that down, to close down the marine traffic control centre in Vancouver. This facility is an important component of safety as well. We have seen similar closures in other parts of the country, both in the Coast Guard and in marine traffic control, in places like Quebec City. These are foolhardy, reckless, foolish decisions that put public safety at risk, yet the government has done it. It has closed the marine traffic control centre.

Closing off a series of appallingly foolish decisions on behalf of the government was the closure of the emergency oil spill centre. This is a government that does not want to listen to the public in British Columbia on the northern gateway project. It wants to ram the project through despite the fact that public opinion in British Columbia is about 80% opposed. It jeopardizes thousands of jobs, while at the same time it would create just 104 full-time jobs when it is actually built. It is absolutely foolish.

What was the government's response to the increased concerns about oil tankers on the coast and the government's inability to put in place a public safety regime? It closed the emergency oil spill response centre. That is unbelievable. It closed down the emergency oil spill response centre, and now there is a 1-800 number in Ottawa. If there is an oil spill, British Columbians can phone some 1-800 number in Ottawa. Maybe there will be somebody to answer, or maybe they will have to leave a message.

The contempt that the government has shown for the people of any coast, whether we are talking about the Arctic coast, the Atlantic coast, or the Pacific coast, is very palpable.

The Minister of Natural Resources, in an attempt to try to save face after a series of foolish, reckless, and irresponsible actions, held a press conference to say that the government was going to protect the coast. We can all recall the safety vessel that the government convoked for this press conference actually ran aground before the press conference was held.

It shows both the Conservatives' incompetence and a degree of irresponsibility. At the same time, it shows their reckless disregard for facts in their attempt to try to provoke spin, rather than put in place a regime that actually guarantees the environmental safety of the coast and public safety.

When we talk about Bill C-5 being an exception to a generalized rule, whether we are talking about Quebec City or the Atlantic coast or the reckless disregard for British Columbians on the Pacific coast, we can see on all coasts a similar attempt by the government to shut down institutions that should be there for the public safety. We have one bill that does show improvement. This is why I say that the exception proves the rule. Bill C-5, despite the fact that it does not put in place an independent safety regulator, is the only exception to what has been a litany of irresponsible, foolish, foolhardy, and reckless decisions by the government.

We are not just talking about marine safety. When we look at the number of pipeline spills, we see it has tripled under the Conservative government. When we look at the Transportation Safety Board of Canada's statistics, we see the number of leaks and spills under this government has substantially increased because it simply does not take public safety seriously.

When we look at rail safety, the tragedies and the number of fatalities increasing each and every year under the Conservative government, we can see that what we have is a toxic mix of a government that is reckless and foolhardy with public safety and the environment. It just does not seem to care about Canada, Canada's environment, or Canadians.

This brings us back to that singular exception, Bill C-5. It is the one thing the Conservatives can point to that they have put forward, thanks to public pressure from the federations of labour, from the governments in Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia, and from good NDP MPs.

However, it lacks the independent safety regulator that I mentioned earlier. How important is that? Let us hear from Justice Wells, who conducted the inquiry into the tragedy of the Cougar crash in 2009, when there were 17 deaths and only one survivor. That means there were 17 families in mourning, families that lost their breadwinner forever. We can imagine the intense mourning over these types of deaths, which do not need to happen.

One might say that 17 deaths are only part of the 1,000 workers who will lose their jobs this year, but our point is that we need to bring down the death rate across the country. We need to expand occupational health and safety. We need the federal government to show leadership in this regard.

What we have heard from Justice Wells and from key people in Atlantic Canada is that an independent safety regulator will be a key component in bringing down those deaths and reducing the number of families in mourning and that have to live with the indescribable tragedy of losing a loved one in the workplace, whether it is offshore or in any other workplace.

The Hon. Robert Wells in the 2010 Offshore Helicopter Safety Inquiry said:

I believe that the recommendation which follows this explanatory note will be the most important in this entire Report....I believe that the Safety Regulator should be separate and independent from all other components of offshore regulation and should stand alone, with safety being its only regulatory task....I believe the safety regulator should be powerful, independent, knowledgeable, and equipped with expert advice, hence my following recommendations...It is recommended that a new, independent, and standalone Safety Regulator be established to regulate safety in the...offshore.

That is clear. It could not be more clear. However, it is not only Justice Wells' voice that has been so eloquent in this regard. The Minister of Natural Resources in Newfoundland and Labrador said that while discussions had been ongoing with the federal government on the implementation of this recommendation 29 to establish an independent safety regulator, the federal government had not indicated any interest in establishing this separate safety agency.

Lana Payne, the president of the of the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour, said:

It's a positive step forward for health and safety for workers in the offshore, but it's not an independent safety agency, and that's ultimately what we do need for the offshore, and we'll be continuing to push and advocate for that.

The inquiry of Justice Wells is very clear. Workers are very clear. The governments in Atlantic Canada are very clear. The independent safety regulator is a best practice that other governments have put into place.

The member for St. John's East mentioned this in his speech a few weeks ago, when he talked about Norway, Australia, and the United Kingdom putting in place independent safety regulators. The workers deserve no less.

The steps listed in Bill C-5 would be initial steps, but without the independent safety regulator, which Justice Wells called his most important recommendation, the government is not putting into place the safety regime that workers deserve and that workers' families need to protect the offshore workers and to protect their families so that we do not see the tragedies we saw with the Cougar crash in 2009 or the tragedies we saw with the Ocean Ranger and with other deaths offshore.

Today in Canada, four workers will die at work. Four workers will go to work in the morning, either offshore for a few weeks or somewhere else in Canada, and four of them will pass away.

Tragically, the numbers since the Conservatives have come to power have increased. The average over the last 20 years was 900 deaths a year, which is an appalling level.

However, under the Conservatives, more recently, we have seen over 1,000 workers die every year. That is a substantial increase in the number of families mourning, a substantial increase in the number of workers' families that have lost a loved one and have been left with that indescribable sadness that never goes away. When a family, sons and daughters, lose a father or a mother, that loss never goes away. That tragedy is never something from which they can come back. When a husband loses a wife or a wife loses a husband, when they got married until death do they part, there is an undesirable level of sadness and tragedy.

Yet under the current government, we see a steady increase in the number of workers' deaths. It is simply because this government shows no leadership when it comes to putting in place the kinds of practices that will lower the number of workers who die in these needless tragedies.

The federal government should be showing that kind of leadership. The federal government should be taking Bill C-5 and saying, yes, that it is going to put into place, according to what Justice Wells has recommended and according to what Norway, Australia, and the United Kingdom have done, an independent safety regulator. Workers on the offshore deserve no less.

Then beyond that we offer to work with the government to ensure we start to lower the tragic death rate that we have seen with workers across the country. We will continue to make this offer. Even though the current government seems not inclined to take workers' safety and occupational health and safety seriously, we will continue to offer that help.

However, the tragedies seem to be increasing. Very many people are saying, and with reason, that we need a new government, a government that would put workers' safety and occupational health and safety first, a government that would show that leadership nationally, working with the provinces, to dramatically lower the death rate.

One worker's death is too many. A thousand workers' deaths a year are far too many. We have to stop the tragedies. We have to show leadership. That is why we will continue to press in the House of Commons for real leadership, for independent safety regulators, and for addressing the tragedies that happen each and every day.

Four workers today will lose their lives. That is four too many.

Let us all work together so one day we can stand in the House and say that no workers lost their lives this day, this week, this month, and that Canada is succeeding in putting in place that occupational health and safety regime that all workers in Canada deserve.

Offshore Health and Safety ActGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.


Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

Mr. Speaker, the member's speech on safety, particularly in our offshore and in industry throughout Canada, was very passionate. I thank him for his kind remarks concerning my involvement in this.

I note the member talked about the recommendation of Mr. Justice Wells to have an independent safety regulator, what he called his “most important recommendation”. It was supported by the federations of labour in Newfoundland and Labrador and in Nova Scotia and the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador most strongly, but it is not implemented here.

I would point out another problem that we have discovered since the legislation has been tabled, which is the so-called “budget implementation act”, Bill C-4. I do not know what this has to do with budget implementation.

This bill is designed to give stronger powers to health and safety officers named in the act, with amendments to such in section 144 of the Canada Labour Code to give certain powers and immunities to health and safety officers. However, it is contradicted by Bill C-4, which also amends section 144, but, in fact, it takes the words “health and safety officers” entirely out of the Canada Labour Code and gives all of their powers to the minister or his delegates.

I am wondering about two things.

I know this is a technical point, but what does that say about the current government's approach to legislation when this bill, which is very much the same as Bill C-61 in the last Parliament and has been around a long time, can be thwarted by a budget implementation bill, one of these omnibus bills that would amend the Canada Labour Code and dozens of other acts? What does it say about the Conservative government's handling of these important matters?

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12:25 p.m.


Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for St. John's East for his ongoing work in promoting occupational health and safety for offshore workers. He has been a very strong and eloquent voice in the House of Commons about this.

The member is not raising a technical point, but a very important fundamental point. Indeed, workers across the country are now concerned about the impact of the budget bill.

One might ask why the government would put forward Bill C-5 to establish occupational health and safety, but then in the budget bill take away the health and safety officers who are part of the provisions of Bill C-5 and give those powers to the minister. That makes no sense. However, much of what the Conservative government does makes no sense whatsoever.

The Conservatives like to talk a good line about health and safety, but we have seen a number of tragedies in rail safety, pipeline safety, and grain safety increasing because the government is so foolhardy, reckless, and irresponsible.

The Conservatives say that they are against crime, but then they cut crime prevention programs. They say that they are for our police officers and firefighters, yet they refuse to put in place the public safety officer compensation fund that would compensate the families of police officers and firefighters when they pass away in the line of duty. This compensation fund was approved by Parliament.

Everything the government does seems to be clumsily implemented. The Conservatives just do not seem to understand the importance of getting it right in government, and we have seen this.

The member for St. John's East raised this point. We have seen bill after bill botched in the first attempts, which then have to be corrected later on.

This is not a small technical issue. The Conservatives have to come clean and explain why they are trying to cut Bill C-5 at the same time they are presenting it in the House of Commons. I hope somebody from the government will actually understand and explain these discrepancies and contradictions over the course of the debate this afternoon.

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12:25 p.m.


Murray Rankin NDP Victoria, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague, the hon. member for Burnaby—New Westminster, for his very passionate speech today on this important topic.

Could the member explain or perhaps speculate as to why the Conservatives would reject the need for an independent regulator?

I have a done a little research, and the British in 1992 created the Offshore Safety Act after the 1972 report of Mr. Cullen. In that act, one of the key aspects was an independent regulator. I then looked at Norway and found that the Norwegians have created what they call the Norwegian petroleum safety authority, another independent regulatory body. Last, our fellow federation commonwealth member, Australia, created what is called the national offshore petroleum safety authority.

All three of these countries have seen it absolutely essential to create such an independent regulatory body. Why is it that the current government, also in a federation like the Australians, could not see fit to create such a key element of this reform initiative?

Offshore Health and Safety ActGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.


Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, the member for Victoria is a new member, elected less than a year ago, but is doing an outstanding job protecting the coast and standing up for the safety of British Columbians. On all those issues I mentioned earlier about the foolhardy, reckless, and irresponsible approach on public safety of the current Conservative government, the member for Victoria has stood up in the House and has been fighting those mean-spirited attacks on British Columbia. I thank him for his work.

What the member has just raised makes no sense at all. The government is refusing to implement an independent safety regulator when other governments that seem to be a lot more responsible than the current Conservative government, whether we are talking about Norway, Australia, or the United Kingdom, have already put an independent safety regulator into place. That does not make any sense at all.

Here is something else that does not make any sense. In a speech from the member for St. John's East just a couple of weeks ago in the House of Commons, he talked about the Transportation Safety Board's recommendation following the Cougar crash. The Cougar helicopter was supposed to be able to run dry even if there was no gearbox lubricant for about half an hour. The pilots were unaware that there was an exemption given to the company and that the helicopter was unable to run dry for 30 minutes. After 10 minutes the helicopter crashed and killed 17 of the 18 people on board.

In February 2011, the Transportation Safety Board recommended that all class A helicopters be required to have that 30-minute run-dry capability, and asked Transport Canada to enforce that ruling. Therefore, we have the Transportation Safety Board recommending to Transport Canada to enforce the run-dry capability for gearbox lubricant to be half an hour, and that it is critical for safety to preserve workers' lives in the future. Transport Canada has not accepted that recommendation.

This is the government saying no to common sense, no to decency, and no to workers' safety. I do not think that workers or the people here are the only ones to hope that the current government will be gone as soon as possible, and that in 2015 we get a new government that takes safety seriously.

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12:30 p.m.


Matthew Kellway NDP Beaches—East York, ON

Mr. Speaker, it occurs to me, in listening to my colleague, that it is not just the current government that has not taken public safety seriously. The legislative gap the bill would address emerged 21 years ago in 1992. Negotiations to fill that gap began, as I understand it, in 2001. Therefore, there was a previous government too, a Liberal government from 1993 through to 2006, that seemed to have the same attitude to public safety as the current government does.

Perhaps my colleague could address the issue of our responsibility here in the House to the health and safety of Canadian citizens.

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12:30 p.m.


Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, the member for Beaches—East York is also extremely eloquent on these safety issues. He is absolutely right that the Liberal government was just as bad as the Conservatives. The Conservatives, at least, offered this one bill. They have contradicted it and are presenting other legislation that may eliminate the benefits of Bill C-5, but that is one bill more than the Liberals were able to produce in their years in power. It is a reckless disregard for occupational health and safety. It is a reckless disregard for workers' families.

It is an elitist attitude that somehow the increasing number of workers' deaths does not matter, that it is something that government should not be concerned about. New Democrats take a different view. Workers' safety is essential and every Canadian family, when they send their workers off in the morning to go to work, has the right to expect that at the end of the day those workers are going to come home safely. The NDP caucus is going to continue to fight for that, that all workers' families can expect workers to go to work and come home safely every day of the year.

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12:30 p.m.


Matthew Dubé NDP Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by saying that I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Beaches—East York.

It is not easy to take the floor after such a passionate speech. However, this is an issue that affects us all. Although Bill C-5 is especially important to the Atlantic provinces, we all have a role to play in the overall issue of workers' safety. We definitely need to do more to improve working conditions.

As my colleague said, it is unfortunate that other than this bill—and not to mention the fact that Bill C-4 is undoing some of the work of Bill C-5—the government is not listening to these concerns. I could list numerous examples to demonstrate why I am saying that.

The most important aspect for me is my own riding. When I am replying to people's letters or attending events, I often hear people saying that they get the impression that businesses in our communities are increasingly being given carte blanche. The example that comes to mind in the rail industry is this summer's tragedy in Lac-Mégantic. It is just one example of how deregulation can affect the public. I believe it is relevant because the issue of workers' safety is part of that domino effect.

The federal government is failing to provide leadership when it gives carte blanche to the oil and rail industries. Consequently, those industries will abandon their employees, the workers.

With that in mind, as legislators, it falls to us to ensure that regulations allow people to work in the safest environment possible. Will we ever ensure that 100% of people are protected and that there will be no workplace accidents? Of course not. There is always a potential for risk.

Still, that argument is not enough to convince us, as legislators, to abdicate our responsibilities. That is why we can be proud of the work done by various levels of government with respect to Bill C-5. This excellent example also proves to the government that it is a good idea to sit down with provincial governments from time to time to get results like the one before us today.

That being said, despite the good work that seems to have gone into this bill, it is important to note that there are still some shortcomings. The most significant of these is the absence of the well-known recommendation 29 from the Wells report, a recommendation that speaks to a situation that arises frequently with this government.

This recommendation sought to create an independent organization responsible for workplace safety. Every time anyone recommends setting up an independent organization to evaluate safety or anything else, the government seems to get nervous. We know how it treated the parliamentary budget officer, an independent officer of Parliament who had a job to do in Canadians' best interest. There are other examples too. I remember a bill on military police introduced about a year ago.

Even in that case, the government was not ready to include an independent ombudsman in the bill, a person who would have the power to conduct independent evaluations on behalf of the people. After all, as politicians, we are not always in a good position. Even within these institutions, and particularly within a company, people are not always equipped to make decisions that are not influenced by their own biases. That is why it is important to pay attention to this recommendation.

We would sure like to ask the government member why our recommendation was not included in the bill. Unfortunately, I do not think that we will get an answer unless a Conservative member finally decides to participate in the debate. Since returning to the House and since the Speech from the Throne marked the end of prorogation a few weeks ago, we have heard very little or nothing at all from government members about quite a few bills, including this one.

When the time comes to do our job as MPs, deal with such issues and speak to the shortcomings of a bill, even if we support it, we are unable to ask questions and to have a healthy debate. In the end, we are forced to point out flaws of a bill to government members who, in this case, remain silent.

The bill is at second reading stage. However, when we are in committee, I hope that we will hear more from government members and the parliamentary secretary who are on the committee. Our concerns might finally be addressed. Even though this is a step in the right direction, we would like to know why the government did not choose to follow through and implement all the recommendations in order to have a much tougher bill with respect to workers' rights.

When it comes to the rights, health and safety of workers, we cannot take half measures. However, we will not reject this half measure, as it does represent a step in the right direction. Nevertheless, the NDP believes that we must implement all of the recommendations. We firmly believe in this philosophy, and we will put it in place when we form the government. If a recommendation is found to be lacking, we will at least rise in the House, out of respect for workers, and explain the government's viewpoint, or why some recommendations were set aside.

In conclusion, I would like to use my last two minutes to expand on a point that I made in my speech. This issue primarily affects my colleagues from the Atlantic provinces, but when it comes to the people of Chambly—Borduas, legislators have the mandate to protect not just oil company workers but also the people who work for any of the big businesses that we welcome into our community. That is my first concern about this bill.

These companies have a business to run and it is good for the economy to welcome them into our communities. However, in my opinion, as the MP for Chambly—Borduas, if these companies are going to set up shop in our communities, they must be good corporate citizens and respect the legislators' intent to implement regulations so that they understand that our constituents are the ones working for them and who make it possible for them to do their job and make a profit. It is a symbiotic relationship, a two-way street. In that respect, I do not think that we are asking for much.

We hope that they will agree to this type of proposal and that they will play an active role in it. We often hear what labour federations have to say on this subject, but it is important that the companies play an active role in the health and safety of their workers, who are the Canadians that I have the honour of representing.

It is extremely important.

I am now prepared to take questions from my colleagues.

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12:45 p.m.


Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Madam Speaker, Bill C-5 is called the offshore safety act. It amends the Canada-Newfoundland Atlantic Accord Implementation Act and the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Resources Accord Implementation Act. Both of these accords require a serious overhaul in relation to their promotion of offshore petroleum development. I do not know whether the official opposition has had a chance to get a legal analysis of this.

Overall I am supportive of the bill, but the part that troubles me is that it seems to be creating new duties on employees. According to proposed section 205.026, “Every employee at a workplace...shall take all reasonable measures to protect their own health and safety....” That is certainly appropriate, but does it create a legal hurdle to an eventual court case? For instance, if we were to have a tragic replay of a helicopter crash, which I hope we never will, would the employees' conduct and execution of due diligence in protecting their own health stand as an obstacle to their pursuing a remedy?

Offshore Health and Safety ActGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.


Matthew Dubé NDP Chambly—Borduas, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague for her question. In these situations, we are really thinking about workers' compensation.

I am not a lawyer—that may be an answer we often hear in the House—but I know that we have conducted an analysis and that we have considered that question. For example, the hon. member for St. John's East has done a lot of work on this file.

When a bill seeks to make things easier for workers, the main thing is that they be given better tools. The legal processes that are in place will perhaps pose certain challenges, but once again, our priority is the health and safety of workers. In this regard, we are comfortable with the content of this bill, as long as the shortcomings that I mentioned in my speech and those that will certainly be raised in committee are taken into account. For now, this bill is a step in the right direction.

Offshore Health and Safety ActGovernment Orders

12:45 p.m.


Élaine Michaud NDP Portneuf—Jacques-Cartier, QC

Madam Speaker, I want to thank and congratulate my colleague for his excellent speech.

Bill C-5 is an example of the positive things that can happen when the federal government decides to work with the provincial governments. We do not see that enough from the Conservative government.

I would like to hear my colleague from Chambly—Borduas talk a bit more about what the Conservatives could learn from the kind of co-operation they were capable of with the New Democratic Government of Nova Scotia and the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador.

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12:45 p.m.


Matthew Dubé NDP Chambly—Borduas, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for her question.

I think that this is one of the most important points, especially since we know that, too often, this government fails to work with the provinces to achieve what is right for the public, whom all levels of government are supposed to represent.

In this rare instance, the federal government may have finally walked the talk when it comes to federal-provincial relations. Too often, the government says that it will consult the provinces but that does not happen.

The official opposition must also acknowledge the positives, and this is certainly one of those cases. We hope to see it again in the future. I do not want to get off topic, but I could mention the Minister of Infrastructure's silence on the Champlain Bridge and his unwillingness to work with the Government of Quebec. This is an example of a situation in which public safety is being jeopardized by a lack of communication. The Conservatives could learn from their own negotiations and their own bills. That is the case here, and I am concerned about my constituents.