Mr. Speaker, parliamentarians have dedicated many hours and days to the consideration of federal species at risk legislation. In this process members of the House have heard from Canadians from all across the country. We will continue to listen, monitor progress, watch implementation, and we will do our jobs as parliamentarians in overseeing the legislation of the land.
Our work at this stage of forming the legislation is over. We can debate, delay, and listen to the same positions over and over again. While we do that we have no law. I do not think that is what any of us want. It is time to move on and get the proposed species at risk act into place. We have a science based process that is already at work. Let us get it verified in law.
We have discussed that science based process at great length. We must remember that under the proposed act the committee on the status of endangered wildlife in Canada would be recognized in federal legislation for the first time. COSEWIC would provide for rigorous independent and scientific advice regarding the status of species at risk. It is already doing so. It would continue to do so but this time with the full weight of the law that would recognize the importance of its role.
The assessment process would continue at an arm's length relationship from the government. This was and never would be in doubt. COSEWIC would keep its impartial scientific and expert judgment. Our approach depends on it. This law would verify it. Species and habitat would benefit from it.
Members will recall how the assessment works. First, COSEWIC would determine whether a species is eligible for assessment by asking specific questions. These include determining if the species is native to Canada. Second, a subcommittee of specialists would develop a list of species to be considered for assessment. Third, when a decision has been made to assess a species a status report is commissioned. These are very detailed reports that can take many months to prepare.
COSEWIC would use the status report to assign the species to one of seven categories: extinct; extirpated, which means the species is no longer present in the wilds in Canada; endangered; threatened, special concern; species not at risk; or data deficient.
The COSEWIC assessments are at the core of Bill C-5. Everything in the bill depends on what it says. That is why we have ensured it would be done using the best scientific advice we can find. COSEWIC would present its completed assessment to the Minister of the Environment and the Canadian Endangered Species Conservation Council. The COSEWIC assessment would also be placed in the public registry established under the legislation. Anyone can see them at any time.
The minister would use these scientific assessments as a basis for recommendations to the governor in council to add a species to the schedule attached to the law. In keeping with this process we have debated at great length the importance of accountability. When a species is added to the legal schedule things start to happen. There are automatic prohibitions, mandatory recovery planning and the authority to take emergency action to protect the habitat.
For that reason our democratic process demands that the government have the ultimate responsibility for making decisions on which species to add to the legal list should the situation arise where there would be serious economic or social implications.
The decisions made under the proposed species at risk act could affect the livelihoods of Canadians, for example, hunters and trappers. All aspects of the listing must be considered and we want to ensure the job gets done right, not just done fast.
Such decisions could affect the way in which these people make their living. With all due respect, they should not be made by scientists. They must be made by the people who can be held accountable for their implications and that is us, here in the House, the ones elected by the people of Canada, the ones accountable to the people of Canada.
Let me also address the issue of critical habitat. This is one of the most complex parts of the policy and has preoccupied us for years.
This protection must be applied in a manner that is in the best interests of the species. It must take into account Canada's constitutional structure. We must respect jurisdictions, and of course throughout all of these considerations we must ensure that the provisions for protection are workable, efficient and integrated with other Canadian law and conventions.
Not only would the bill protect the critical habitat of endangered and threatened species, it would also protect the critical habitat of extirpated species. These are species that exist elsewhere but are gone from the wild of Canada. Should an extirpated species be reintroduced in the wild in Canada, the provisions in the bill would give authority to protect its critical habitat if needed.
Part of the government's approach involves a proposal for automatic critical habitat protection in national parks, marine protected areas, migratory bird sanctuaries and national wildlife areas. Surely we must all agree that federal lands warrant such a measure.
The government has also proposed to require the competent minister to recommend protection of critical habitat anywhere else in federal jurisdiction that is not protected, within 180 days of being identified, in an approved recovery strategy or action plan. In this way we ensure nothing falls through the cracks.
These measures on critical habitat are reinforced by a further motion that requires all federal ministers to consider the possible impacts on identified critical habitat prior to issuing any licence or permit for any activity.
These measures are for every eventuality. Many of these may never arise but they are provided for in the bill. However all this has to be done in a way that makes partners of those involved, not criminals. It has to be done in a way that works on the ground and works quickly, not that grinds its way through the already overburdened court systems.
Coercion is not here. It is not our way. Stewardship and co-operation come first. That is the Canadian way. That is the way it works. Strong measures in case the co-operative approach fails are of course in the bill.
I summarize by saying that the legislation would ensure that there would be a rigorous and independent scientific process to assess species, operating at arm's length from the federal government. It would also create mechanisms and powers to do something about those assessments by mandating plans to help species recover. It is strong, it fosters co-operation and it begins the premise that Canadians will do the right thing. It is time to put it to work.