Madam Speaker, I thank the member for Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke for introducing this bill. I know that it is an extremely rewarding experience since I recently introduced a private member's bill myself. I thank her and commend her for her work.
I want to begin by indicating where the Bloc Québécois stands on this bill on expropriation. I must say that it is a very unusual bill. Unfortunately, the Bloc Québécois will be voting against Bill C-222, and I will explain why.
Contrary to what is being proposed, Bill C-222 is not a way to protect owners from arbitrary and abusive expropriation. In reality, all it seems to do is deny the fact that climate change can lead to disasters that require emergency action. In some cases, that unfortunately may require expropriation. I say unfortunately because expropriation is always a loss for those whose property is being expropriated, even if such action is justified.
Section 11 of the current Expropriation Act states that the government has the authority to carry out rapid expropriation when urgently required under certain special circumstances. If Bill C-222 passes, the government will never be able to categorize an expropriation as urgent if its purpose is to restore historical natural habitats or address, directly or indirectly, climate variability. As we all know, climate change affects natural phenomena. Climate change has caused, is causing and will cause disasters.
The spring floods we used to get every 100 years are happening more and more often. These floods have become more sudden and severe and require more and more urgent intervention. Last December in Gaspé, the Matane river flow was recorded at over 300 cubic metres per second, which is almost 10 times its average annual flow.
Laval University researchers studied the effects of climate change on floods caused by ice jams. They found that damage could increase by 30% on average because of climate change.
My riding in the Lower St. Lawrence has two rivers. Over the next 50 years, flood damage could increase by 50% along the Matane river and by 75% along the Matapédia river. That is not only cause for concern, it is a fact we need to consider when discussion the topic of expropriation.
Many people will never forget the spring of 2019 in Sainte-Marthe-sur-le-Lac, a municipality in the Lower Laurentians built largely in a flood zone and protected by a dike. The dike, which was poorly adapted to the high volume of flood waters in the context of climate change, collapsed and the municipality was flooded by the icy waters of the Lake of Two Mountains. A third of the municipality, in other words 6,000 people, were under emergency evacuation orders. Some 800 houses were flooded. We heard the testimonies of desperate residents who, in some cases, lost everything. The Quebec government had to act quickly, in just a few months, to raise and reinforce the dike to prevent this tragedy from happening again the following year. This operation involved encroaching on certain private properties and probably decreased the value of several waterfront homes by obstructing their view of the lake. The matter is currently before the courts to determine the amount of compensation to which the shoreline residents are entitled.
I mention all of this to highlight the fact that, if the provisions of Bill C-222 had been incorporated into Quebec law at the time, local residents could have prevented the Quebec government from taking action to avoid losing parcels of land or losing their views. By doing so, they would have put the entire municipality at risk of another flood.
Expropriation for the common good is nothing new. It can be found in the Old Testament, ancient Greece, Roman law. It was born out of the necessity to create major public works for the good of all. Even in societies that recognize and protect private property, it is legitimate for the public interest to give way when required by public utility or general interest.
However, the current Expropriation Act allows for objections to expropriation. The property owner can object to the expropriation within 30 days of receiving the expropriation notice. The government appoints a hearing officer, who will hold a public hearing at which the owner will present the reasons why they believe that the expropriation is not justified or illegal. The owner in question can then argue that the reason why the government wishes to expropriate has nothing to do with the public interest or that the expropriation notice does not comply with the law. The hearing officer submits a report to the government, which can amend the notice, abandon the expropriation or simply ignore the officer's opinion. We can see that the process for objecting to the expropriation is more symbolic than real, because the government can unilaterally reject the owner's arguments. We can also see that this objection process ends up delaying the expropriation.
Subsection 10(11) of the current Expropriation Act allows the government to skip the appointment of a hearing officer and a public hearing if it is of the opinion that the expropriation is, by reason of special circumstances, urgently required and that to order a public hearing would occasion delay prejudicial to the public interest.
However, the bill before us this evening, Bill C-222, adds a paragraph stating that subsection 10(11) “does not apply if the interest or right...is intended to be expropriated by the Crown for the purpose of restoring historical natural habitats”, as I was saying earlier, “or addressing, directly or indirectly, climate variability”.
This addition would prevent the government from categorizing an expropriation as urgent if it is related to environmental protection or climate change. In a way, this bill is saying that climate change cannot cause disasters requiring an urgent response, such as expropriation or even partial expropriation.
If Bill C-222 is adopted, the people affected will have the luxury of objecting to an emergency measure related to climate change that affects the value of their property, which will limit the government's ability to deal with it. The Bloc Québécois cannot abide by the government being limited to that extent in dealing with climate disasters. That is why we will not support Bill C-222.
Let us not forget that the Expropriation Act is essentially procedural legislation. It determines the procedures the government must take when it proceeds with an expropriation, the deadlines it must respect and the recourse the expropriated has in the case of an objection. Under the Expropriation Act, a person who is the subject of the expropriation has two rights. They can challenge the amount of compensation or they can challenge the expropriation itself.
Last February, when she introduced her bill, the hon. member for Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke issued a press release to explain the scope of the bill. On reading the bill, we saw a few discrepancies with her explanations, which is rather unusual.
First, Bill C-222 was explained in such a way as to suggest that expanding environmental regulations were tantamount to disguised expropriations. To the hon. member, the protection of private property is compromised by this trend, which would justify the bill. With all due respect, I tend to disagree.
Public authorities do pass regulations that prevent a landowner from enjoying or disposing of private property as they wish. For example, when a municipality that passes a by-law preventing the construction of buildings on a flood plain for environmental reasons, it is considered an indirect or disguised expropriation. The owner can then turn to the courts to be compensated for the loss of the asset.
However, the proceedings do not stem from the Expropriation Act but from Quebec's Civil Code or, if the owner lives in English Canada, from common law. It is not covered by the Expropriation Act or by Bill C-222. That is why we wonder about the real reason behind the tabling of this bill.
The member also said that her bill would give Canadian property owners the same rights that foreign investors are afforded under NAFTA. I am referring to the investor's right to oppose environmental regulations that diminish the value of their investments. My colleague may have missed the fact that the Expropriation Act deals only with the expropriation of property by the state. It has nothing to do with environmental regulations.
I also remind members that the chapter of NAFTA that allowed an American investor to sue the government when an act or regulation diminished the value of their investment does not exist in the new agreement, CUSMA.
Lastly, the member said that, because the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms does not protect property rights, these rights are covered by the Expropriation Act. However, private property is protected by the Civil Code, not federal legislation. Section 92.13 of the Constitution states that property rights are a provincial jurisdiction. The Expropriation Act does not protect private property. Rather, it stipulates how the government must proceed for any expropriations of property.
Bill C-222, which would amend the existing Expropriation Act, will not protect private property and will only prevent the government from dealing with climate-related emergencies. Climate change is exacerbating the natural phenomena that pose a danger to the health and safety of Canadians and Quebeckers, so the Bloc Québécois cannot agree with restricting the government's ability to deal with environmental disasters.