Mr. Speaker, I want to start off by saying that the migratory birds convention in North America has a history dating back to 1916. The amendments that are taking place today are probably long overdue in terms of the relationship this country and the nation to the south of us called the United States have with aboriginal people. It would be more clearly rectified on the rights and the privileges that the indigenous populations have here in this country and this continent.
We sit in the House of Commons. The original protocol was signed in 1916 and was between the United Kingdom and the United States of America, which brings us back to recognize that Canada at the time was a colony of Britain. Under these perspectives I draw to the attention of the House that the indigenous and aboriginal peoples of this country should have been dearly respected right from the creation of this country as opposed to being marginalized by an Indian Act, by the crown defining who is an aboriginal person, who is an Indian child, or who is an Indian mother. All these terminologies are a grave mistake. To correct and update the migratory birds convention to May 30, 2000 is what we are debating in the House today.
I would like to draw to the attention of the hon. member who spoke on behalf of the opposition that we do not share some of these views. The views may change in light of respecting one's place and one's rights, Canada being a country which is part of North America. I wanted to jump up and say something at one point in time here.
We are dealing with the migratory birds convention and luckily so. Ducks may fly high enough that we do not get them all when we are harvesting or hunting, but we should have had a migratory bison convention. The buffalo were wreaked to the point of extinction on this continent for the mere purpose of marginalizing the dependency of aboriginal people. It is truly a travesty in our history.
Bison should still be roaming free on the prairies and plains but we did not have regulatory systems. There were no regulatory systems because they wanted to make the indigenous population dependent on the newcomers and their new foods. An independent nation or an independent people would be a lot freer to negotiate their way into this constitution or to any other constitution.
At this time in the year 2000, we now have a government that is willing to negotiate on behalf of the aboriginal people of this country, to negotiate with another country a rightful place for harvesting for food and sustenance, and down to protect ourselves from the winter cold. Down comforters are probably the best way to fight off the winter cold no matter where we live.
The snow goose and the cormorant are two contentious issues. I have never heard that the U.S. and Mexico migratory birds convention deals with cormorants as a recognized black duck. I call them Daffy Ducks because that is what they look like when they fly by. They do wreak havoc in the fishing population in our northern lakes and northern states.
The culling of the snow goose may have been too reactionary. I believe a proper harvest could have been planned without being detrimental to its habitat as was highlighted.
There is a need for an international convention and that is what this is. The protocol that was negotiated after some public consultations brought forward three provisions: to provide year-round access to migratory birds for food by qualified non-aboriginal residents of northern Canada living in a subsistent lifestyle; to allow for earlier opening of the fall hunting seasons for residents of the northern territories; to enable partnerships to be developed for migratory bird conservation and provide a mechanism for input by aboriginal communities into the continental management regime for migratory birds.
These are the major components of the protocol. A specific convention in this protocol states to be aware that changes to the convention are required to ensure conformity with the aboriginal and treaty rights of aboriginal peoples of Canada. As I mentioned, this is a long overdue amendment. It can be found in subsection 4, “In the case of Canada, subject to existing aboriginal treaty rights of aboriginal peoples of Canada under section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982, and the regulatory and conservation regimes defined in the relevant treaties, land claim agreements, self-government agreements and co-management agreements with aboriginal peoples of Canada”.
All this language is required today because there has been an evolution of different terminologies, different arrangements and also court decisions. I would also like to challenge the present environment minister to have a legal grasp of some of the recent decisions being made and to acquire an up to date knowledge on the matters of aboriginal rights and treaty rights that have been brought down by supreme courts and lower courts.
The other point I would like to raise is the signature at the bottom of the protocol. As we all know, in 1995 the then Minister of the Environment signed this protocol. We also have a history of some other protocols and agreements that the government has signed, one of them being on MMT. The hon. former Minister of the Environment had signed this agreement recognizing the international concern of MMT and banning the interprovincial trade of MMT as an additive in this country. Now the government has reversed its perspective on MMT. It has signed off, paying off the MMT Ethyl Corporation and has now sanctioned MMT as a fuel additive.
I would just like to stay on the record of the government for the time being. There might be differing opinions of our minister or some international criticisms that come his way. I just want to share this one with the House.
Recently an esteemed environmental guest visited our country. Robert Kennedy Jr. was here on the Hill speaking on issues of concern. He is an internationally respected and recognized conservationist. Upon reflection our minister stated that Mr. Kennedy should have perhaps thought about politicking and failed to understand the constitutional division of Ottawa's powers.
Our environment minister had high hopes of improving the environmental standards and the reputation of Canada. I say to the House that a lot of improvement is required in the present government.
The current federal government has had a lengthy record since 1993 of signing protocols and then not following through with its international commitments. This has been an embarrassment to Canada's once noble and honourable reputation on the international environment stage.
This government's limited effort to meet our limited protocol requirements is proven by the increase in our targets and our lack of hitting these targets.
There is also the government's refusal to sign the Basel convention side bar agreement to ban toxic waste shipments to the developing world.
There is the government's continual refusal to appoint a new ambassador for the environment, who plays a major leadership role in negotiating international protocols. The new ambassador of the environment should be named immediately.
That role is needed now for a protocol such as the precautionary principle. It was needed in the POPs protocol at a recent meeting in Bonn, Germany. The persistent organic pollutants treaty is an international United Nations protocol yet Canada neglected to follow its Rio protocol to which we are all signatories. Domestic law has included the precautionary principle but it is rarely followed in our country. The list continues.
We welcome this protocol to the Migratory Birds Convention Act. It is a much needed amendment to bring us to the point of recognizing aboriginal rights in dealing with migratory birds. But do we believe in our hearts that the government can ensure the commitments and timetables can be met?
There are commitments here that our country would stand by protecting the habitat. If pollutants have infiltrated the migratory birds' habitats, would our country uphold these obligations to stop polluting the habitats? The government has not recognized and has not been able to enforce the adequate habitat protection commitment. It is weak.
It is also highlighted in terms of the new legislation being debated in Canada now, the endangered species legislation. If the Americans are listening, we do not have an endangered species act in this country. Many Americans may be surprised to hear this since they have had theirs for many decades.
Our American neighbours would be more surprised to learn that specific recommendations of endangered species listings would be political as opposed to scientific decisions. If an endangered migratory bird flew from a rock on federal land and landed on a field outside federal land, it could be shot. These issues have to be resolved here in this country and by a government that has the will and the resources to enforce these protocols and regulations and the protocols we have with other nations.
With regard to an issue that is dear to our community, I just came back from my constituency. Many residents back home, my father included, for years have harvested duck eggs. Little did we know it was illegal. He is a Metis person and all his life he has been illegally harvesting eggs.
Birds are a good source of nutrition. Ducks are usually saved in the spring because they provide young ones. Nowadays a lot of hunters will not select a duck arriving in the spring because it comes from polluted areas down south. They prefer a cleaner duck that has been hatched and is ready to fly south in the fall.
The Migratory Birds Convention Act is certainly a much needed protocol between two countries to save the species. At this time this amendment has corrected the wrong by our country in overlooking aboriginal rights to harvest migratory birds, giving special preference to northern locations where the hunting and harvesting seasons might be different from those in the south.
At this time, I congratulate the former Minister of the Environment for boldly negotiating an issue that is really needed at this time. I also caution some of the hon. members who have raised a concern about specific rights, privileges and definitions. This continually requires a whole new will from the government and the House to find a rightful place for the indigenous and aboriginal peoples in the government, this parliament and the legislatures of this country.
I believe there is a time and place for that, and it is certainly a welcome opportunity to see these amendments come before the House.