House of Commons Hansard #262 of the 44th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was housing.


Affordable Housing and Groceries ActGovernment Orders

6:20 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Chris d'Entremont

I declare Motion No. 3 carried.

Affordable Housing and Groceries ActGovernment Orders

6:20 p.m.


Soraya Martinez Ferrada Liberal Hochelaga, QC

moved that Bill C-56, An Act to amend the Excise Tax Act and the Competition Act, as amended be concurred in at report stage with a further amendment.

Affordable Housing and Groceries ActGovernment Orders

6:20 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Chris d'Entremont

The question is on the motion.

Affordable Housing and Groceries ActGovernment Orders

6:20 p.m.


Steven MacKinnon Liberal Gatineau, QC

Mr. Speaker, I believe if you seek it, you will find agreement to apply the results of the previous vote to this vote, with Liberal members voting in favour of the motion.

Affordable Housing and Groceries ActGovernment Orders

6:20 p.m.


Chris Warkentin Conservative Grande Prairie—Mackenzie, AB

Mr. Speaker, the Conservatives agrees to apply the vote, with Conservatives voting yes.

Affordable Housing and Groceries ActGovernment Orders

6:25 p.m.


Claude DeBellefeuille Bloc Salaberry—Suroît, QC

Mr. Speaker, the Bloc Québécois agrees to apply the vote. We will be voting yes.

Affordable Housing and Groceries ActGovernment Orders

6:25 p.m.


Heather McPherson NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, the NDP agrees to apply the vote, and we will be voting yes.

Affordable Housing and Groceries ActGovernment Orders

6:25 p.m.


Kevin Vuong Independent Spadina—Fort York, ON

Mr. Speaker, I agree to apply the results of the previous vote, voting in favour.

(The House divided on the motion, which was agreed to on the following division:)

Vote #474

Affordable Housing and Groceries ActGovernment Orders

6:25 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Chris d'Entremont

I declare the motion carried.

6:25 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Conservative Chris d'Entremont

I have the honour to inform the House that a communication has been received as follows:

Rideau Hall


December 5, 2023

Mr. Speaker,

I have the honour to inform you that the Right Honourable Mary May Simon, Governor General of Canada, signified royal assent by written declaration to the bill listed in the Schedule to this letter on the 5th day of December, 2023, at 5:11 p.m.

Yours sincerely,

Ken MacKillop

Secretary to the Governor General

The schedule indicates the bill assented to was Bill C-48, an act to amend the Criminal Code (bail reform).

The House resumed from June 14 consideration of the motion that Bill C-219, An Act to enact the Canadian Environmental Bill of Rights and to make related amendments to other Acts, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Canadian Environmental Bill of RightsPrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.


Angelo Iacono Liberal Alfred-Pellan, QC

Mr. Speaker, I rise in the House today to speak to a private member's bill, Bill C-219, the Canadian environmental bill of rights, brought forward by the member of Parliament for South Okanagan—West Kootenay.

Before I speak to the bill, I would like to take this opportunity to recognize former MP Linda Duncan for her important work on this bill in previous Parliaments.

I would also like to acknowledge that, much like the bill's former sponsor, the bill's current sponsor, the member for South Okanagan—West Kootenay, has dedicated much of his career to being an educator and proponent of conservation and environmental protection. I thank him for his important work in these areas.

Returning to Bill C-219, the bill proposes to recognize the right of every person residing in Canada to a healthy and ecologically balanced environment and to amend the Canadian Bill of Rights to include this right as part of the right to life, liberty and security of the person. The bill also sets out a number of procedural rights. These include the rights to access information and participate in environmental decision-making, request reviews of federal environmental laws and policies, and access courts and tribunals for matters regarding the protection of the environment.

While the purpose of Bill C-219 and its proposals are intuitively appealing at first glance, upon deeper reflection and examination, they raise a number of significant legal, practical and policy concerns.

The government recognizes that environmental stewardship is essential for the well-being and prosperity of Canadians, and it is devoted to working with the sponsor and all members of Parliament to secure a healthy environment.

The Minister of Environment and Climate Change has been mandated by the Prime Minister to follow the clear direction given by Canadians, to take bold, concrete action to build a healthier and more resilient future. More specifically, the Minister of Environment and Climate Change was tasked with recognizing the right to a healthy environment in federal law and introducing legislation to require the development of an environmental justice strategy.

We have taken action to meet these commitments. On June 13, a right to a healthy environment was recognized under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999, known as the CEPA. With the passage of Bill S-5, work is under way to begin developing an implementation framework, which must be completed within two years of royal assent. It would set out how the right must be considered in the administration of the CEPA and, thus, bring the lens of a right to a healthy environment to the programs that the CEPA enables.

The government has also committed to making an environmental justice strategy a reality by supporting a private member's bill, Bill C-226, an act respecting the development of a national strategy to assess, prevent and address environmental racism and to advance environmental justice. Instead of introducing its own bill, and in line with the government's support of Bill C-230, the government reaffirmed support for Bill C-226.

If Bill C-226 passes, the national strategy would provide an opportunity to examine the link between race, socio-economic status and exposure to environmental risk, as well as to discuss how best to address environmental risks faced by historically marginalized communities.

It would help structure discussions on addressing these inequalities and discrimination, which are the root causes of many vulnerabilities. It would also complement other efforts that contribute to advancing environmental justice in Canada, even where the cause of environmental injustice or environmental racism may not have been directly identified or acknowledged. Supporting and advancing these initiatives is where our focus should be now, especially given the flaws in Bill C-219.

I will now turn to outlining a few specific issues with Bill C-219. Although both bills recognize a right to a healthy environment, the approach in Bill C-219 is at odds with the approach that was taken with Bill S-5, which is now in the amended CEPA.

I will first talk about the path we are currently on following the passage of Bill S-5 and then address how Bill C-219 clearly departs from it. As we know, Bill S-5 recognized that every individual in Canada has a right to a healthy environment under CEPA, the cornerstone of federal environmental protection laws. The right to a healthy environment is a new concept in federal law. Given this, Bill S-5 included clear and robust provisions on the process to describe how this right would apply under CEPA and how it would be reported upon annually.

Bill S-5 proposed that the meaning of the right under CEPA be developed in consultation with Canadians and elaborated upon through a concrete implementation framework to ensure that the right is meaningful and tailored to the regime at hand. That framework, which is now under development, will set out how the right will be considered in decision-making. It will also describe how related principles, such as environmental justice, nonregression and intergenerational equity, will be considered. I believe these additional details are very important.

Bill S-5 provided a concrete path for clarity and greater certainty over time on what adding a right to a healthy environment to CEPA will mean. It also included related amendments that would support the protection of that right, built from established procedural rights and specific provisions for public participation, including public comment and notice periods and the right to request investigations into alleged offences.

While we are already on this well-considered path, which has been carefully studied here and the other place, Bill C-219 proposes a very different path. The approach in Bill C-219 is unclear. It would likely lead to uncertainty in its application and we would have to resort to the courts to resolve the issues. The bill recognizes the right to a healthy environment, which is still a novel and undefined concept, but it does not set out its meaning or provide a process, such as the implementation framework in Bill S-5, to work out the definition and how it applies. That very likely means it is the courts that will determine what it means in the course of litigation.

The right to a healthy environment in Bill C-219 is broad and applies to all federal laws, and it is difficult to predict how it would be interpreted by the courts. We must avoid environmental rights being so unclear that timeliness and certainty in federal decision-making are compromised and the right becomes a burden falling on litigants to operationalize.

The approach already adopted via Bill S-5 is different, and I will remind the House that it is also better. Our approach is centred on public consultations and proposing a concrete way to elaborate on the meaning and the content of the right through an implementation framework. It applies only to CEPA, the pillar of federal environmental protection laws. This is what an issue of this novelty and complexity demands.

If Bill C-219 goes ahead, we would end up with two different versions of the right to a healthy environment in federal statutes, one set out in CEPA through Bill S-5 and another set out in Bill C-219. This would result in two different framings of the right and two ways to implement it. The misalignment between the two approaches could hamper progress on this important and complex issue and slow down decision-making across government. If the main objective is to truly secure a healthy environment for Canadians, moving forward with the approach that is now set out in the amended CEPA is the only prudent approach. We cannot just suddenly endorse and bring in the new and uncertain elements of Bill C-219.

Bill C-219 would also make changes to the Federal Courts Act and the Canadian Bill of Rights. The Canadian Bill of Rights is not an appropriate statute for a new environmental right. As I said earlier, our government is committed to taking bold, concrete action to build a healthier and more resilient future with measures that are clear and effective. The proposed Canadian Bill of Rights amendment could provide neither clear nor effective guidance on this front.

The Canadian Bill of Rights only codifies pre-existing rights as they were understood in 1960. For more than 60 years, that has been its sole purpose. Its interpretation always refers back to those historical origins. With the proposed amendment, Parliament would recognize and declare, through section 1 of the Canadian Bill of Rights, that there “have existed” historical rights that have already included a right to a healthy and ecologically balanced environment.

It is uncertain how courts would attempt to interpret this new but backward-looking right, what pre-existing content they would find in it and where they would look for it. Not only would the amendment be wholly unclear, but it would introduce significant uncertainty into the interpretation of the Canadian Bill of Rights itself.

Canadian Environmental Bill of RightsPrivate Members' Business

6:35 p.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker NDP Carol Hughes

The hon. member's time is up. I gave him the one-minute signal a little while ago and was trying to get his attention.

Resuming debate, the hon. member for Yellowhead.

Canadian Environmental Bill of RightsPrivate Members' Business

6:35 p.m.


Gerald Soroka Conservative Yellowhead, AB

Madam Speaker, today we address Bill C-219. This legislation, regarding environmental rights and protections, is an important topic for discussion. It reflects a commitment to the environment that Conservatives share and strongly advocate for. Our party has consistently supported effective environmental measures, recognizing the crucial role of a healthy environment in the well-being of Canadians and for the future.

However, while we stand in agreement with the underlying goal of protecting our environment, we have reservations about certain aspects of Bill C-219. Our philosophy toward environmental legislation is to find a balance between safeguarding our environment and implementing practical policies. It is essential that our efforts to protect the environment are matched with a realistic understanding of economics and policy. Our concerns with this bill lie particularly in its approach to environmental governance and the legal implications it may entail. It is crucial that any environmental policy not only achieves its intended goals, but also aligns with our principles of democratic decision-making.

In addressing Bill C-219, it is crucial to discuss the implications this bill has on the judicial system and its role in environmental governance. The bill proposes a significant shift in decision-making power from elected representatives to the judiciary. This approach, while intended to strengthen environmental protection, raises substantial concerns regarding the balance of powers and the appropriateness of the judiciary in policy-making roles. The foundation of our democracy is built upon the separation of powers among the legislative, executive and judicial branches. This structure ensures that no single branch overextends its authority, maintaining a balance that is vital for a functioning democracy.

Bill C-219 's proposal to transfer environmental decision-making to the judiciary disrupts this balance. It places judges, who are not elected and therefore not directly accountable to the public, in the position of making key policy decisions. This shift risks undermining the role of the legislative branch, where such decisions are traditionally debated and made.

Moreover, the judiciary' s primary function is to interpret and apply the law, not to engage in policy-making. Judges are legal experts, but they may not have the specialized environmental knowledge. Decisions on complex environmental issues require a nuanced understanding of scientific, economic and social factors, which are typically outside the judiciary's expertise. Relying on the courts to make these decisions could lead to outcomes that are legally sound but may not be the most effective or practical from an environmental or policy standpoint.

Furthermore, involving the judiciary in policy-making can lead to increased legal disputes and litigations, potentially clogging our court systems and delaying environmental action. Environmental policy decisions are often complex, involving various stakeholders with differing interests. Addressing these through the legislative process allows for more comprehensive consideration and debate.

Another aspect to consider is the precedent this sets for other policy areas. Extending the judiciary's role into policy-making in the environmental sector could open the door for similar shifts in other areas, further blurring the lines between the branches of government.

While the goal of enhancing environmental protection is one we share, the approach taken by Bill C-219 raises significant concerns. It is imperative that we maintain the integrity of our democratic system and ensure that environmental policy-making remains in the hands of those elected to represent public interests. Effective environmental legislation should balance the need for protection with practicality and respect for our democratic institutions.

In considering Bill C-219, it is also important to reflect on Bill S-5, the strengthening environmental protection for a healthier Canada act. Bill S-5 shares several objectives with Bill C-219, particularly on environmental protection and sustainable development. Both bills seek to modernize our approach to environmental governance, but they do so in a way that may infringe on different jurisdictions and that leaves too much of the decision-making power to the courts. Furthermore, this overlap between the two bills raises questions about the necessity and redundancy of Bill C-219.

Bill S-5, which has already received royal assent, makes amendments to the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999. Although it addresses many of the same environmental concerns outlined in Bill C-219, it also contains the same deficiencies, such as its overreach in the way of jurisdiction and leaving much to be decided in the courts.

In terms of redundancy, it is not just a matter of legislative efficiency; it also pertains to the clarity and effectiveness of our environmental laws. Having overlapping legislation could lead to confusion, complicating the implementation and enforcement of environmental protections.

As we aim to strengthen our environmental framework, it is essential that we do so in a manner that is clear, coherent and efficient, avoiding duplication of efforts and ensuring that our laws are as effective as possible in protecting our natural heritage. The Conservative Party firmly believes in adopting common-sense policies that effectively address environmental concerns while fostering economic growth.

A key component of our environmental strategy involves supporting innovative industries in Canada, particularly those developing clean technologies. By investing in these sectors, we aim to lead the way in sustainable development, demonstrating that economic prosperity and environmental stewardship can go hand in hand.

Our approach is grounded in the principle that innovation, rather than heavy-handed regulation, is the key to achieving long-term environmental goals. We advocate for policies that incentivize research and development in the clean energy, sustainable agriculture and green technology sectors. This not only helps in reducing environmental impacts but also positions Canada as a global leader in the emerging green economy. It is about creating jobs and opportunities in fields that will define the future of both our economy and our environment.

In contrast, the Liberal government's approach to environmental policy has often been marked by inefficiency and red tape. A prime example is the carbon tax; not only is this policy ineffective in reducing carbon emissions, but it also imposes an undue economic burden on Canadian families and businesses. This tax affects every aspect of Canadians' lives, from heating their homes to fuelling their vehicles, without offering a viable solution to environmental challenges. It is a policy that penalizes rather than incentivizing, hindering economic growth without delivering the promised environmental benefits.

Furthermore, the Liberals' environmental policies often fail to strike a balance between environmental protection and economic realities. This one-size-fits-all approach overlooks the diverse needs and circumstances of different regions and sectors, leading to policies that can be more harmful than helpful.

The Conservative Party's vision for Canada's environmental policy is one that values practical, innovative solutions. We support fostering industries that contribute to a cleaner, more sustainable future, emphasizing the role of technological advancement and market-driven solutions. Our approach stands in contrast to the Liberals' reliance on taxation and regulation, highlighting our commitment to policies that are both environmentally responsible and economically sensible.

In summary, the Conservative Party champions a balanced approach to environmental policy, prioritizing innovation and economic viability. We stand for practical, effective solutions over burdensome regulations, striving to protect our environment while ensuring prosperity for Canadians.

Canadian Environmental Bill of RightsPrivate Members' Business

6:45 p.m.


Caroline Desbiens Bloc Beauport—Côte-de-Beaupré—Île d’Orléans—Charlevoix, QC

Madam Speaker, the Bloc Québécois supports the principle of Bill C-219, which was introduced by the NDP member for South Okanagan—West Kootenay, British Columbia. We want to examine the bill in committee.

At first glance, this bill appears to be well thought out and well drafted, in stark contrast to the far too many bills, including some from the NDP, that all too often amount to mere statements of principle and contain no provisions that are likely to truly benefit the public. We believe that this bill about the right to a healthy and ecologically balanced environment will have just such an effect. We cannot say it often enough: It is high time we took meaningful action on environmental issues. We are lagging behind in many respects. Today's COP28 report is a grim reminder of this, with its assessment of the failure of the Paris Agreement.

Since 2006, the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms has established that “[e]very person has a right to live in a healthful environment in which biodiversity is preserved, to the extent and according to the standards provided by law”. The Bloc Québécois is therefore in favour of recognizing the right to a clean, healthy, sustainable environment as a universal human right. It is better late than never. It was not until July 2022 that the United Nations General Assembly adopted an historic resolution declaring access to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment to be a universal human right.

Obviously, Bill C‑219 will not make the right to a healthy environment a fundamental right like the rights guaranteed under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Ultimately, its scope might be less powerful than that of Quebec's charter of human rights. That said, the bill will amend the Canadian Bill of Rights to provide that the right of the individual to life, liberty and security of the person includes the right to a healthy and ecologically balanced environment, which could make this right quasi-constitutional in scope.

In any event, this bill creates a true right under Canadian environmental laws. It is a right that citizens could avail themselves of in order to require the government to investigate potential violations of environmental laws, to bring an environmental protection action against a person who has allegedly violated federal environmental laws, to file a petition for the review of any federal environmental law, and to file an application for judicial review, even if the applicant is a person not directly affected by the matter in respect of which relief is sought, if the matter relates to the protection of the environment.

We also believe that this bill, as drafted, will apply to federal environmental laws without prejudice to Quebec laws or Quebec's environmental sovereignty. With regard to environmental protection, respecting our sovereignty is the one condition that must be fulfilled in order for the Bloc Québécois to support a bill.

On April 13, 2022, Quebec, which was once again ahead of its time, saw parliamentarians from all the parties represented in the Quebec National Assembly unanimously adopt a motion affirming the primacy of Quebec's jurisdiction in environmental matters. Quebec's elected representatives unanimously opposed “any intervention by the federal government in matters of the environment on Quebec territory”.

The Bloc Québécois fully endorses that position and strongly advocates for the interests and values of Quebec in the federal political arena. In fact, the Bloc Québécois believes that the Quebec nation has sole jurisdiction over public decisions concerning the environment and Quebec's territory. We must not bury our heads in the sand. Quebeckers are not fools. Canada is far from being the best country in the world when it comes to the environment. We know that for certain.

That said, in the existing legal framework, the federal government has certain environmental protection responsibilities, including controlling toxic substances. The Bloc Québécois intends to do everything in its power to ensure that the federal government carries out its duties properly.

Strengthening the right to a clean and balanced environment, by establishing measures and recourse that apply to federal environmental laws, fits into the federal government's responsibilities within the bounds of its jurisdiction with respect to environmental protection.

Although we want to carefully review Bill C‑219 in parliamentary committee to ensure that there is no way it will allow Quebec's environmental laws to be violated, we can already state that the member for South Okanagan—West Kootenay was clearly guided by a concern for respecting the jurisdictions of Quebec, the provinces and the territories on environmental protection, and we appreciate that so, so much. We believe the people of Quebec need to be able to control their own environment, protect it and protest against or even challenge the federal government when necessary, if it does not meet its environmental obligations.

When we discuss and pass laws here, we must always keep in mind that they must benefit the generations that come after us. A healthy environment is a critical issue for future generations and, as elected members in the House, we must guarantee the future well-being of this bountiful and generous planet. As we mentioned the other day, our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren have to be able to rely on our support and leadership when it comes to environmental protection.

Some elected officials in the House still question the climate crisis, and yet it certainly is a crisis. Sure, there is the fisheries crisis, the housing crisis or the financial crisis, but on top of all of those crises sits the absolute worst crisis of all: the climate crisis. One has to wonder what planet these people are living on when they do not believe in the urgency of taking action.

I can say that, for my part, I saw first-hand what the climate crisis could do to a community when the floods hit the town of Baie-Saint-Paul, in my riding, on May 1. People there were in distress, feeling anguish and uncertainty because they did not know whether their homes would be salvaged. Not to mention the fact that two people died. An entire village was hit by climate change, by a deadly current of water that swept away hundreds of homes. Never before have we witnessed a climate event like that in Charlevoix. An entire community suffered the horrors of the climate crisis and its radical, dramatic changes. I d not want anyone telling the people of Baie-Saint-Paul that the climate crisis is a sham, an invention or a hoax. I challenge anyone to try.

This bill needs to be studied further in committee to make it the best possible bill to the benefit of future populations. However, again, it all needs to be done in accordance with provincial jurisdictions. Quebec has come too far for the federal government to bypass all of the efforts made by Quebeckers. The lucidity of the Quebec people is a significant advantage when it comes to talking about solutions for the environment.

We have wasted too much time. We need to have the political courage to deal with the oil lobby. We need more money for the green transition and much less for fossil fuels until we achieve zero greenhouse gas emissions. We do not have the right to abandon our future generations on this issue. We must instead open a path for them to be able to live safe and healthy lives in the world that will belong to them.

Canadian Environmental Bill of RightsPrivate Members' Business

6:55 p.m.


Laurel Collins NDP Victoria, BC

Madam Speaker, I am so glad to rise today to speak in support of the MP for South Okanagan—West Kootenay's Bill C-219, the Canadian environmental bill of rights.

Before I speak to the bill, I want to acknowledge that I am grateful to the Algonquin Anishinabe people and that we are here on their unceded territory. I am grateful for their environmental stewardship and the leadership of many first nations, Inuit and Métis communities and individuals who continue to advocate for stronger environmental protections for present and future generations. I also want to acknowledge the work that a fellow New Democrat and former MP, Linda Duncan, has done to make the bill a reality.

I am so glad to be speaking to a Canadian environmental bill of rights. While I was thrilled to be able to push for, strengthen and pass a right to a healthy environment, under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, or CEPA, unfortunately, the government rejected many of our amendments and actually ended up limiting the scope of Bill S-5 so we could not tackle the enforcement. CEPA lacks the force and scope to fully protect Canadians' right to a healthy environment.

However, Bill C-219, the environmental bill of rights, would ensure that the right to a healthy environment is applied across Canadian legislation. It would give Canadians legal tools so that, first, they would have the power to hold the government accountable on effective environmental protection, including ensuring that they have standing before the courts and tribunals. Second, it would give them a voice in decisions impacting their health and the environment. Third, it would affirm the duty of the government to protect the environment for present and future generations. I want to touch on each of these three elements.

First, the ability to hold the government accountable is critical, because while the Liberals are willing to say the right things, more often than not they refuse to do the right thing. People are tired of and disappointed with broken Liberal promises. The bill would provide concrete mechanisms for accountability, which would enhance public confidence in the administration and enforcement of environmental laws, including by allowing individuals to request reviews of laws, to apply for investigations of offences and to bring environmental protection actions.

Second, the environmental bill of rights takes a more comprehensive approach to safeguarding our right to a healthy environment and would make sure that people have a voice in decision-making, which is critical. The bill would ensure that all Canadians have access to adequate information regarding the environment, to justice in an environmental context and to effective mechanisms for participating in environmental decision-making.

Third, the bill would address the government's responsibility to protect the environment for present and future generations of Canadians. The right to a healthy environment for future generations was something that the Liberals and the Conservatives teamed up to vote against. Despite the advocacy of environmental organizations, first nations leaders and many Canadians, the government refuses to acknowledge its duty to future generations. Ensuring a healthy environment for present and future generations requires hard work. Ensuring a healthy environment means taking proactive measures to tackle the effects of our warming planet and to reduce our emissions.

I want to take a moment to talk about a related New Democrat proposal, which is to establish a youth climate corps. Like President Biden's American Climate Corps, a youth climate corps in Canada would engage young people, create jobs, support conservation and address climate change. Bill C-219 states that “Canadians have an individual and collective responsibility to protect the environment for the benefit of present and future generations”. Young people, whose futures are most impacted by the climate crisis, feel this intensely. They have marched in the streets and have staged climate strikes, and they want to be part of the solution. A youth climate corps would be a way to harness the passion and the power that young people have to protect and uphold Canadians' right to a healthy environment.

The New Democrats' vision of this would create jobs in three sectors. First, there would be jobs in emergency response during extreme weather events like wildfires, heat domes and flooding. Second, it would create jobs in strengthening community resilience, with things like making forests more resilient to fires, enhancing natural ecosystems, and wetland protection. Third, it would also create jobs in greenhouse gas reduction, including things like apprenticeships in renewable energy, installing solar and wind power and heat pumps, doing building retrofits and building public transit systems.

This past summer was devastating. It was the worst wildfire season on record. We are seeing not only enormous forest fires every summer now but also floods, hurricanes and heat domes, which have killed hundreds in British Columbia. If we want a healthy environment for all, we need to take our responsibility to future generations seriously. We need to take strong actions. We need to meet this moment with actions that match the scale and the urgency of the crisis we face.

Therefore, I urge the Prime Minister to implement a youth climate corps and I urge my colleagues in the House to pass the environmental bill of rights. The House of Commons legislative team has confirmed that it is constitutional since it would simply build in tools for accountability to pre-existing federal legislation. We need to give Canadians the mechanisms for individuals to request investigations of unlawful activity that harms the environment and to ask the courts to enforce federal environmental laws.

The Liberal members who have spoken to this claim they cannot support it because the Canadian Bill of Rights is not the appropriate place for the right to a healthy environment and that their approach is better because it only applies to the Canadian Environmental Protection Act. However, legal experts, environmentalists and citizens from coast to coast to coast are calling on the government to apply the right to a healthy environment more broadly and, critically, to build in accountability. We cannot allow government members to keep throwing up their hands when it is time to roll up our sleeves.

Establishing a youth climate corps goes hand in hand with an environmental bill of rights. To guarantee a healthy and safe environment for all, we have to respond to the changing climate and extreme weather events, lower greenhouse gas emissions, mobilize climate action, strengthen community and environmental resilience, invest significantly in renewable energy and have strong regulations that protect the right to a healthy environment. This must be done in partnership with indigenous peoples, frontline and vulnerable communities, labour unions, worker co-operatives, civil society groups, academia and business, and it must include a whole-of-government approach.

Earlier this year, we won a huge victory in establishing the right to a healthy environment in CEPA, the Canadian Environmental Protection Act. Bill C-219 would extend this right beyond CEPA to apply more broadly. Even more important, it would give people in Canada the ability to hold polluters to account when environmental laws are violated.

We know that the corporate-controlled Conservatives will not vote for it. Their national executive is mostly lobbyists for industries such as oil and gas. What we have seen from the Liberals is equally disappointing. Despite saying that they believe in climate change and the right to a healthy environment, when it comes down to it, they put the needs of rich CEOs over people and the planet. They water down, greenwash and delay real action. They invited oil and gas executives to help write their climate policy, and they do not have the courage to stand up to big oil. Only New Democrats are willing to take on wealthy CEOs, who are gouging Canadians while raking in record profits and destroying our planet.

The Prime Minister himself voted for this bill when the NDP put it forward in 2010. Now that he is in power, what is he going to do? I urge my colleagues to vote in favour of this bill, give Canadians access to the legal tools to protect the environment, give young people hope for their future and give future generations a chance at a livable planet.

Canadian Environmental Bill of RightsPrivate Members' Business

7:05 p.m.


Ziad Aboultaif Conservative Edmonton Manning, AB

Madam Speaker, a Canadian environmental bill of rights sounds like a great idea. Who could possibly think a healthy environment, especially with clean air and water, is a bad idea? Certainly not me.

That said, Bill C-219, an act to enact the Canadian environmental bill of rights and to make related amendments to other acts, falls far short of what we as a country need. It is my hope that, working together, we can make amendments to this legislation to make it something Canadians can be proud of.

None of us in this House lives in a vacuum. When we consider legislation, we know what we are doing is not an academic exercise in political science. What we say here and what we do here have implications that go beyond this room. That is why we debate proposed legislation and policies. We need to try, within the best of our abilities, to get things right, and there is probably no issue on which there is a greater need to get things right than when we are dealing with the environment.

As a father, l want to do what is right and to set an example for my two sons. I want them to be able to look back on my time in Parliament and feel their father spent his time doing good, that he was working for their future and for the future of Canada.

Of course, there are sometimes things over which we have little or no control. Climate change, for example, is a global issue. The parties in this House, though we may differ on our approach to the issue, are in agreement that Canada is a very small player when it comes to dealing with climate change. That does not mean we should not do our part. Rather, we need to understand that our best will only produce positive results on a global scale if we can convince other nations of the seriousness of the need for immediate action.

Let us take a look at Bill C-219, what it would do and what it would not do and consider how we can improve it.

Bill C-219 would enact the Canadian environmental bill of rights, which provides that all residents have the right to a healthy and ecologically balanced environment; the right to reasonable, timely and affordable access to information regarding the environment; the right to effective, informed and timely public participation in decision-making regarding the environment; the right to bring a matter regarding the protection of the environment before courts or tribunals; and the right to request a review of any act of Parliament respecting the environment, any instrument made under such an act or any environmental policy of the Government of Canada.

Bill C-219 would also amend the Canadian Bill of Rights to provide that “the right of the individual to life, liberty and security of the person includes the right to a healthy and ecologically balanced environment”. It is important that we safeguard the right of present and future generations of Canadians to a healthy and ecologically balanced environment. We also need to confirm the Government of Canada's duty to protect the environment so as to protect the collective interests of Canadians in the quality of the environment for the benefit of present and future generations.

It is also important to ensure that all Canadians have access to adequate information regarding the environment, justice in an environmental context and effective mechanisms for participating in environmental decision-making. This is to enhance public confidence in the administration and enforcement of environmental laws, including by allowing individuals to request reviews of laws, to apply for investigations of offences and to bring environmental protection actions.

Protection of our natural environment has long been a core Conservative principle. We want to conserve and strengthen what is good. As we know, it was a Conservative prime minister, the right hon. Brian Mulroney, who took strong action to stop the acid rain problem. When confronted with a climate problem, Conservatives know how to get the job done.

I am encouraged that Bill C-219 calls for increased transparency in information relating to environmental matters. Conservatives have long called for government transparency and access to information.

However, I am concerned that, under this bill, decision-making power on environmental matters would be transferred from the legislature to the courts. This seems unwise, as I am not convinced that the judiciary has the necessary expertise to delve into policy issues.

To my friend opposite, who I am sure is about to suggest that many in this House are also not policy experts, I say that the responsibility still resides with us. I would suggest that we spend more time considering policy than most judges. Policy debates should happen through representative institutions and electoral politics. Courts are not well equipped to examine policy instruments, nor do they have the expertise to evaluate the consequences of various policy options. Not only do they not have the expertise to do so, but they are not elected officials either, and it is not within the purview of the court to make such decisions.

We have a very recent example of the problems that can ensue when the House delegates its responsibility to someone else. The Liberal government, in its wisdom, or more accurately, in its lack of wisdom, has tasked the CRTC with implementing provisions of the Online Streaming Act. As a result, streaming companies are restricting what Canadians can access online, and the government does not know what to do as it tries to force them to pay what amounts to a tax.

Furthermore, the CRTC, which has no expertise in these matters, has announced that it is putting all new radio licence applications and any complaints relating to radio on hold for two years. Meanwhile, it is trying to figure out how it is supposed to regulate what Canadians can and cannot see online. It is abandoning its core functions to take on this task, because this government had no idea of the effects of its legislation or what it is doing. Given that experience, is it any wonder that I have concerns about transferring decision-making functions on environmental matters to the judiciary? We have judges to enforce our laws. This bill, it seems to me, transforms them into a legislative authority. That is going too far.

I think everyone in the House agrees on the need for a healthy and ecologically balanced environment. We also agree on the need for more transparency and public input. Where we disagree is on how to combat climate change. The Liberals believe that they can tax Canadians until they can no longer afford to heat their houses or drive their cars. They think that will solve Canada's emissions problem. In Canada, with our cold weather climate, our options are not as varied as they are in some other countries. It is important that we focus on the development of new technologies and Canadian ingenuity as the key to lessening, then eliminating, our dependence on fossil fuels.

Conservatives believe that, in order to have a strong economy and maintain good health, Canada must have strong, coordinated and achievable environmental policies. The Conservative Party believes that responsible exploration, development, conservation and renewal of our environment are vital to our continued well-being as a nation and as individuals. An environmental bill of rights is a nice idea in theory. This bill, though, needs a lot of work to make it acceptable.

Canadian Environmental Bill of RightsPrivate Members' Business

7:15 p.m.


Heather McPherson NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Madam Speaker, I am so delighted to be standing here today speaking to the bill from the member for South Okanagan—West Kootenay.

I want to start by saying how proud I am to be his colleague in the House. He is one of the nicest parliamentarians in this place, if not the nicest. I think if we asked members from any party, they would agree with me on that statement. He is also such an unbelievable champion for the environment. He has been his entire parliamentary career, and even before then.

I was at a bird sanctuary just outside my riding, the Beaverhill Bird Observatory. The member for South Okanagan—West Kootenay is like the Wayne Gretzky of birds. The people there were very excited that I actually know him in person.

He has also been a very big environmental mentor for me. I brought forward a bill earlier on in this Parliament that would stop coal mining in the Rocky Mountains, something that is very important to the vast majority of Albertans. In fact, it was his advice that helped me draft that legislation.

I also have to say I am now succeeding the amazing and incredible Linda Duncan, who was the member of Parliament for Edmonton Strathcona, the seat I now hold. She brought forward this bill many times. The first time was in 2009. Before Linda was elected as a member of this House, she was an environmental lawyer.

Since she left the House, she has continued to be an absolutely incredible advocate for the environment. Her dedication and her commitment to environmental conservation, and the absolute tenacity she brings to her work, is nothing short of remarkable. I am deeply proud to be her successor in this place.

This bill does three things. It confirms the duty of the Government of Canada to uphold its public trust duty to protect the environment. It creates a new human right for Canada, which would be the right to a clean and healthy environment. It also gives legal tools to all residents of Canada.

I am going to talk as an Albertan. The reason we need an environmental bill of rights could not be more clear right now. Right now, in the province of Alberta, the provincial regulation of our polluting industries has been completely inadequate. We have a regulator that works directly with polluters to cover up the seepage of toxins into the environment downstream of indigenous communities.

Right now, Imperial Oil's Kearl site seepage and spill is the latest example of how this is happening. The Alberta regulator has approved a massive oil sands development on the McClelland Wetlands. These are wetlands, which are very important environmental sites, and it has approved putting a wall in the middle of the wetlands. That is how it is intending on protecting our water from the tailings ponds. What could go wrong?

In addition to that, we have Danielle Smith from the UCP, a Conservative premier, who is putting coal mining back on the table. Every Albertan thought that this was behind us. We thought we had won this battle. We thought that we had made it very clear to our government that we did not want to rip down our Rocky Mountains so that we could mine coal to ship to China to make a whole bunch of Australians really wealthy, all while undercutting our steel industry. We thought we made that clear. Clearly, we did not because that is back on the table. It is another reason we need to have this environmental bill of rights.

In northern Alberta, where much of this industry is happening, that is where the indigenous communities need to have more tools. They need more tools to protect their communities from toxic pollution. They are counting on the federal government to protect their treaty rights.

We had chiefs from the Mikisew Cree First Nation. Chief Tuccaro came to committee and he said, during the hearings on the Kearl site seepage and spill, “One of the clearest lessons from this crisis that grew is that it has reconfirmed the AER is a captured regulator that is simply not a trusted partner in protecting federal interests in our community.”

I am only speaking of the province in which I live. In Alberta, there are so many gaps where people are not being protected and where industry is not being held responsible for the pollution that it is putting into our environment. The legislation that the member has brought forward is long overdue. I am delighted to support this piece of legislation. I strongly urge all members to stand with the NDP to fight for the human right to a clean environment for all people, now and into the future.

Canadian Environmental Bill of RightsPrivate Members' Business

7:20 p.m.


Richard Cannings NDP South Okanagan—West Kootenay, BC

Madam Speaker, it is once again a real honour and a pleasure to rise here to speak to my private member's bill, Bill C-219, the Canadian environmental bill of rights.

I would like to thank, once again, Linda Duncan, the former MP for Edmonton Strathcona, for drafting the bill and tabling it in, I think, four successive Parliaments, starting in 2009. She is such a real champion for environmental justice in Canada, and an environmental lawyer who knows how to draft bills, despite some of the aspersions we have heard tonight. This is a good bill and a really necessary bill. Her bill, the same bill, basically, passed second reading in 2010. The Liberals and the Bloc Québécois joined the NDP in supporting the bill, so it was passed at second reading. Unfortunately, it died when the election was called in 2011. I am hoping that the Liberals will join the Bloc and the NDP in voting for the bill tomorrow when it goes to a vote.

I would also like to thank everyone else who has supported the bill over the years, especially by helping me understand the legal ramifications of it. I know a lot about ecology, but environmental law is not my specialty. I would like to thank people like Lisa Gue from the David Suzuki Foundation, Stephen Hazell from Nature Canada, Josh Ginsberg and Melanie Snow from Ecojustice, Joseph Castrilli from the Canadian Environmental Law Association, and many others.

Canadians are rightfully proud of their beautiful landscapes and clean environment. They do not want to have it degraded in any way. We have, of course, a number of pieces of federal legislation that protect the environment, including the Canada Environmental Protection Act, CEPA, which deals mainly with toxins. We have heard a lot about it tonight. There is the Fisheries Act, which speaks to aquatic ecosystems, the Pest Control Products Act and others that deal with biodiversity and other aspects of environmental health.

The revised CEPA, through Bill S-5, says that Canadians have the right to live in a healthy and ecologically balanced environment, but that right in CEPA is restricted to the protections within that act. It applies only to CEPA and not to other federal pieces of legislation. Bill C-219 would not add any obligations to the federal government with regard to environmental health. It would merely broaden what is said in CEPA, in terms of the right to a clean and healthy environment, to cover the rest of federal government legislation.

The bill is long overdue. Canada voted in support of a motion at the UN General Assembly last year, which said exactly that, that a right to live in a clean and healthy environment is a human right. The motion passed unanimously. Canadians provinces, Ontario and Quebec, have very similar legislation. The courts are not clogged, despite the concerns I hear from the Conservatives, and the sky has not fallen, although I hope the sky is perhaps a little clearer in Ontario and Quebec because of the rights that are in their pieces of legislation.

I have had discussions with the minister of environment about the bill, and he had some concerns about its constitutionality when we first talked. Therefore, I asked the House of Commons legal team for an opinion, and they were clear in their opinion that this is basically a human rights bill that would add no obligations on the government regarding the environment, other than living up to the obligations set out in other federal pieces of legislation. Because it is based solely on federal legislation, it would not in any way infringe on provincial jurisdiction. It is clearly constitutional. I would like to thank the Bloc Québécois for standing with me on that. It would carve out CEPA, so there would be no conflict with the powers set out in that act, despite what I have heard from members of the Liberal Party and the Conservative Party this evening.

I will close simply by saying that the vast majority of Canadians believe they should have the right to live in a clean and healthy environment. The government has international obligations to make this a reality, and my bill, the Canadian environmental bill of rights, would do just that. Let us get this to committee to make sure it works to ensure a clean environment for all Canadians.

Canadian Environmental Bill of RightsPrivate Members' Business

7:25 p.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker NDP Carol Hughes

The question is on the motion.

If a member participating in person wishes that the motion be carried or carried on division, or if a member of a recognized party participating in person wishes to request a recorded division, I would invite them to rise and indicate it to the Chair.

Canadian Environmental Bill of RightsPrivate Members' Business

7:25 p.m.


Richard Cannings NDP South Okanagan—West Kootenay, BC

Madam Speaker, we request a recorded division.

Canadian Environmental Bill of RightsPrivate Members' Business

7:25 p.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker NDP Carol Hughes

Pursuant to Standing Order 93, the division stands deferred until Wednesday, December 6, at the expiry of the time provided for Oral Questions.

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.

Correctional Service of CanadaAdjournment Proceedings

7:25 p.m.


Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston, ON

Madam Speaker, on November 24, I raised a question relating to corrections. I would like to restate my question tonight. I will simply read what I asked at the time, and then I will read the hon. Minister of Public Safety's response. I said:

Mr. Speaker, also on the subject of corrections, on a recent visit to Joyceville Institution, I was informed that personnel at Correctional Service Canada had been trying to introduce red seal apprenticeship programs so inmates can re-enter the workforce with real job training.

After eight years of a Liberal government and of the Liberals' running Correctional Service, how many federal inmates are enrolled in red seal programs? Which programs are they enrolled in, and how many are enrolled per program? How many have graduated, and from which trades? Finally, is there a plan to assist inmates to finish their respective programs upon release?

To this, the minister responded:

Mr. Speaker, I will be very happy to get those exact details and provide them to the member.

He then went on, adding the following comments:

I can tell him that, as the member of Parliament for Beauséjour, when I visited the medium-security prison Dorchester Penitentiary, I met inmates and CORCAN staff who work on exactly those programs. I share his view that if we can give inmates the skills and ensure that, for example, they complete their high school education or a trade, it will make them much more likely to successfully reintegrate into society when they finish their sentence. That keeps Canadians safe as well.

These are sentiments with which, of course, I agree. I would just observe that the nature of question period is that members get 35 seconds to ask a question and 35 seconds to give an answer. It goes without saying that it is not possible to answer the kind of detailed questions I was asking about Red Seal programs at that time. That is the purpose of these adjournment proceedings questions, where members have four minutes to answer, as well as some lead time to do the research.

Having said that, I am very hopeful that, tonight, we will learn something we cannot seem to find from the Corrections Canada website, which is the answer to those detailed questions: many federal inmates are enrolled in red seal programs? Which programs are they enrolled in, and how many are enrolled per program? How many have graduated, and from which trades? Finally, is there a plan to assist inmates to finish their respective programs upon release?

That information would be extraordinarily useful in dealing with the critical problem of inmates returning to the community untrained, unprepared to find a job and, in consequence, likely to reoffend. This causes damage to the community as a whole and, of course, to those former inmates themselves and their families.

I do not blame the current government for the fact that Corrections Canada has done such a poor job of making these records available. I do, however, hope that we will have clear answers tonight to the practical, factual questions I have asked.