Madam Speaker, I would like to begin by thanking the hon. member for Edmonton Strathcona for her work in introducing this bill and also for her advocacy and passion on environmental issues. We crossed over for a very short time when I was a brand new member of Parliament on the transport committee. I admired her intelligence, her work ethic and her ability to bring a perspective that represented her constituents' interests to every issue.
The proposed bill would establish a Canadian environmental bill of rights, and procedural rights would be built into that. Before I get too deeply into my remarks, I would like to advise the hon. member that the government is supportive of this bill at second reading to send it to committee. Of course, as the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands raised, there is a limited amount of time in this Parliament.
As the sponsor of the bill recognized in her remarks, our party membership at our convention in April 2018 was also behind this idea. It is deserving of an analysis so that we can better understand how adding a level of justiciability to environmental protections would enhance the quality of our environment for Canadians.
I note in particular that as a result of the committee study on CEPA done in 2017, the government tabled a response indicating that it would be undertaking consultations that would identify how to implement adding a rights-based approach to environmental protections under that piece of legislation. Those consultations are ongoing.
Before we get into the technical aspects, it is important to reflect on why this is important.
The environment is an important priority for any party that might find itself in government and for all Canadians. We rely on it for our livelihoods. We rely on it for our health.
It is not just us. Nature is important to protect for its own sake. I note in particular what an eye-opening experience it has been for me to serve in this capacity as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Environment and Climate Change. One of the things that has jumped out at me every time I have read an article or visited a community that has seen the impact of wildlife loss is that since the 1970s, we have seen 60% of the world's wildlife lost. Canada, along with four other countries, represent three-quarters of the world's remaining wilderness. We have an opportunity, and in my mind an obligation, to do something about it.
I note in particular the historic investment of $1.3 billion we have made toward protecting nature. This is the single largest investment in protecting our natural environment in the history of our country. We are seeing projects roll out that are protecting critical habitat. They are protecting spaces for multiple species that will benefit for generations. We have examples in my own riding, along the St. Mary's River or the Musquodoboit Valley, which are home to important ecosystems that house species at risk. They also serve as important climate-mitigation infrastructure that occurs naturally, and perhaps more effectively than mankind is able to develop on its own.
Of course, a healthy environment is not just about protecting nature and biodiversity. We have the looming threat of climate change as well. We cannot depend on human health if we do not have environmental health. When I see coal plants continuing to burn, potentially for decades, we know that we are putting our communities at a heightened risk for lung disease and for childhood asthma, among other things. When I see the storm surges on the east coast that pose a physical risk to the residents who live there, the heat waves that have taken lives in Ontario and Quebec and the forest fires that continue to rage in western Canada, I know that we have a responsibility to take action. It really does impact our right to live if we do not have an environment that allows that to take place.
That is why we have embarked on the implementation of an ambitious agenda to reduce our emissions. It is so we can reach the level of reductions to prevent the worst consequences of climate change.
We know that Canada is warming at twice the rate of the global average and that we are feeling the consequences today. That is why we are moving forward with a plan that includes over 50 measures to help reduce our emissions.
We talk at length in this chamber about the government's initiative to put a price on pollution. What we are seeing is that by 2030, we are actually going to have 90% of our electricity generated by non-emitting sources.
We have made the single largest investment in the history of public transit in Canada. At the same time, we are taking advantage of the opportunities in the green economy by protecting our environment.
If we are to believe Mark Carney, the governor of the Bank of England, there is a $26-trillion global opportunity in the green economy. By positioning ourselves in the front of that wave, we can do the right thing by our environment, protect the health of our communities and capitalize on economic opportunity. It would be irresponsible not to take these actions, based on the crass economics alone. We also know that there is a moral obligation to take this action.
Turning more directly to the issue of the substantive and procedural protections that could arise under an environmental bill of rights, I want to point out that substantive and procedural rights exist under federal legislation and policies today that provide important rights to Canadian citizens that could potentially be complemented if we better understand how a bill of rights could add to the protections, both substantive and procedural, that already exist.
I note in particular that under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, CEPA, there are opportunities for public participation when it comes to the pollutants we deal with in our society. We also know that there are protections for whistle-blowers who report those who violate the federal laws that are on the books. There are obligations around transparency for companies that use pollutants and there is an opportunity for individuals or groups to take civil action against offenders against the obligations laid out in that piece of legislation, and we are making efforts to enhance our transparency through proactive disclosure of information relating to the pollutants that we know are making their way into Canada today.
Good information is necessary. If we are not basing our decisions on facts, science and evidence, we cannot have much faith that the decisions we are making are going to lead to the outcomes we want.
It was disappointing for me during the last Parliament, before I got involved, to see that there was an effort to limit how much federal scientists could talk about their own research. In Nova Scotia, it was a big deal at home when we saw that the research that existed on the books at the Bedford Institute of Oceanography was being disposed of. This kind of information exists for a reason, and it is to help legislators make good policy that will improve the quality of our environment.
I note that there are other pieces of legislation at play as well that provide rights for the public to take part in discussions around the quality of our environmental laws. If we look at the Species at Risk Act, we see that any person can apply for a status assessment of a given species. A person could also request an assessment of imminent threat, and there is a duty on the government to make public the information about the status of different species. These are rights to allow the public to understand what information is out there and what research the government has done so that people can better understand what policies are being implemented, or perhaps not being implemented, and advocate changes that will help protect our environment.
Bill C-69 has come up over the course of the debate already. One of the things that this piece of legislation was designed to do was improve public participation in the decision-making process for major projects, including the need for early engagement. That gave the public an opportunity to take part before all of the decisions had been made, decisions that would eventually be litigated on the back end. In particular, we made a serious effort to help bring in the voices of indigenous communities across Canada to ensure that they have an opportunity to participate as well.
Bill C-69 would improve the public registry so that the public can have access in a timely way to the information about projects that are being proposed and can understand not only the opportunities for participation but also the current status of projects and the potentially adverse social, health or environmental consequences that could arise as projects go forward. It is all about making sure that good projects can proceed and that the economy can grow at the same time that we are making sure that the social outcomes we want—in particular, the protection of our environment—are not lost.
There are also laws, such as the Federal Sustainable Development Act, that put obligations on the government to enhance the accountability and transparency of the work of federal departments when moving forward with laws or policies that could have a negative impact on our ability to live sustainably in our environment.
The question is, why do we need to advance this piece of legislation to the next stage to better understand the consequences that could arise? The protections, substantive and procedural, that I just laid out exist, quite frankly, in a scattered way. The idea of having a central bill of rights that could allow the public to better understand where their substantive and procedural rights exist is appealing to me and deserves to be better understood.
There are people who are disproportionately impacted by decisions around the environment, whether it is elderly people, children who will disproportionately bear the consequences of climate change or expectant mothers who will experience a different impact on their personal health and the health of their child. These are serious things that we should be considering, and I think that this bill is worth sending to committee so that we can better understand how to best implement the procedural and substantive rights.
I look forward to continuing the conversation with my hon. colleague off-line to ensure that we do not lose the momentum behind this idea because, quite frankly, it is an important discussion to be had in determining whether we should move forward with an environmental bill of rights.
I want to thank the folks back home in Central Nova who have raised this with me. It is important, and I welcome their advocacy.