Mr. Speaker, I welcome the opportunity today to speak to Bill C-275, an act respecting the protection and rehabilitation of endangered and threatened species, standing in the name of the hon. member for Davenport.
The paddlefish, the swift fox and the black-footed ferret have one thing in common: They no longer exist in the wild in Canada.
As for the Labrador duck, the sea mink and the blue walleye, all three have ceased to exist.
The Eastern cougar, the Salish sucker, the right whale, the white Prairie gentian and the spotted owl are endangered in Canada.
The white-headed woodpecker, the blue ash, the western Atlantic harbour porpoise and the spiny softshell turtle are threatened. The polar bear, the eastern bluebird, the orange-spotted sunfish, the pug-nose minnow, the prairie rose, the blue whale and the trumpeter swan are vulnerable.
Canada now has 244 animal and plant species on the endangered list. These species are affected by the loss of essential habitat, excessive harvesting, introduction of exotic species, climatic change and contamination by toxic products.
The time has clearly come for the federal government to release a legislative proposal for a Canadian endangered species protection act. The government has decided to ask for public comment on this proposal before introducing a bill in Parliament because it wants as much input as possible from as many Canadians as possible.
The document is short and straightforward. We have eliminated as much of the legalese as we could in order to allow Canadians to participate in constructive discussions before the final drafting of the bill.
Protection of endangered species is the responsibility of all groups in our society and each and every citizen in this country. We need legislation that will make the Canadian public feel directly involved.
The bill before the House today seeks to regulate the following activities: the killing, wounding, capture, collecting or disturbing of endangered species, including plants, birds, fish, mammals and their embryos. The bill also seeks to establish Canadian controls over the purchase, sale and international trade in endangered species. To me it is quite clear that Canadians want the maximum penalty imposed on anyone who tries to make money by unlawfully importing or exporting endangered species.
The committee on the status of endangered wildlife in Canada, an arm's length scientific body, would assess the species at risk on an annual basis. The Minister of the Environment would be required to establish a list of species at risk in areas of federal jurisdiction.
Response statements outlining a plan of action would be mandatory. Recovery plans, if required, would be prepared within two years for endangered species and within three years for threatened species.
The proposal would also permit emergency measures to be taken to conserve and protect species requiring the equivalent of emergency ward treatment.
The proposed legislation would authorize the Minister of the Environment to enter into financing or conservation agreements in partnership with other governments, agencies and property owners for the purpose of preserving endangered species.
The bill would also provide for strict enforcement and severe penalties.
The federal government has a responsibility to set a benchmark for effective endangered species legislation in all of Canada's jurisdictions, but that is not enough. We also have a responsibility to work with the provinces and the territories to ensure a comprehensive national approach to the protection of endangered species in all parts of Canada. The federal government is committed to doing its part in this shared enterprise. Acting alone however, the federal government cannot come close to solving all of the problems.
I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick for previously adopting
legislation to protect endangered species. I am convinced that in the coming months we will be able to sign a document setting forth a formal, national approach. And I am fully supported in this conviction by the fact that Canadians expect us to pool our resources for this common cause.
Over the last year of consultations leading up to this legislative proposal, the Minister of the Environment has especially benefited from the wisdom of the Endangered Species Conservation Task Force, a group with representation from wildlife experts, environmentalists, farmers, fishermen, foresters, and the mining, pulp and paper, and petroleum industries. They are the people on the front lines. They have acted in good faith despite their often divergent interests.
She has asked the task force to reconvene to provide advice on some outstanding issues, including a strategy for education programs and the application of the legislative proposals to crown corporations. She would also like further advice on issues of cost and compensation. She is particularly concerned that farmers and aboriginal peoples, the stewards of the land, are treated fairly by a new law.
The minister asked the task force to give thought to how we can ensure the active participation of the maximum number of Canadians in protecting endangered species. In effect, how do we ensure that there is a national safety net for species at risk?
As we prepare for new legislation on the protection of endangered species in Canada, we should feel particularly grateful to the young people in this country. Students across the country have kept up the pressure on the minister. They have circulated petitions and sent thousands of individual letters into which they put a great deal of thought.
The minister means what she says when she wants Canada's young people to continue to help her write this legislation. The bill will be available on Environment Canada's green line on Internet, and the minister urges everyone to send their comments. We want to have the best possible legislation that will support economic growth while protecting genetic diversity and the species and ecosystems that constitute the biological basis of our world. We owe it to endangered species and to future generations of Canadians.