Mr. Speaker, I would like to split my time allocation with another member from the government side.
I am speaking today in support of the species at risk legislation, a piece of legislation that has been, believe it or not, nine years in the making. Throughout that nine years much has happened. The provinces and territories have joined the federal government in making a strong commitment under the accord for the protection of species at risk.
We have moved forward on the habitat stewardship program to assist with co-operative and partnership efforts on the ground in species recovery and habitat protection. We have also established the ecogifts program, which encourages land donations. We also have recovery programs underway. The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada, COSEWIC, has assessed more than 233 species against new criteria, a daunting task that was attacked with vigour and with good results. We have not stood by waiting for this piece of legislation.
However, now the time has come to put in place the law that will reinforce these many different actions of the past nine years. There are a number of precedents in the proposed species at risk act, but in my mind the most compelling is the rigorous and independent scientific process to assess species, operating at arm's length from the federal government.
The proposed species at risk act provides for a listing system based on sound science. It is the job of scientists to provide the determination of what species are at risk. Governments, though, must decide what actions to take on the scientific list because there could be major social and economic impacts. That is why the Government of Canada will make the decisions regarding the application of the prohibitions proposed under the bill. Let me explain how this will work.
By asking specific questions COSEWIC determines if a species should be assessed. These include determining if the species is native to Canada. Then a subcommittee of specialists develops a list of species to be considered for the assessment. When a decision has been made to assess a species, a status report is commissioned. These are very detailed reports that can take up to two years to prepare. COSEWIC then uses the status report to assign the species to one of seven categories: extinct; extirpated, which means the species is no longer present in the wild in Canada; endangered; threatened; of special concern; and species that are not at risk because there are data deficiencies.
The COSEWIC assessments are at the very core of Bill C-5. The completed assessments are presented to the Minister of the Environment and the Canadian Endangered Species Conservation Council. The COSEWIC list is also placed in the public registry established under the legislation.
Let us look at this process. Clearly scientists and scientists alone will make decisions about the assessments of species and where they should be placed on the list of those at risk.
The weight of the COSEWIC assessments is further enhanced by the fact that the organization is recognized legally in the legislation as part of the assessment and listing process. This is a huge step forward. Clearly the assessment will be done at arm's length from the government. It will not be subjected to any economic or social pressures. The COSEWIC decisions and findings will be published in a public registry for everyone to see at any time. This will be totally transparent.
When the government decides to add species to the legal list, then a number of provisions in the proposed species at risk legislation kick in. For instance, the bill contains automatic prohibitions against the killing or harming of individual species and the harming of their residences. It also stipulates that there would be mandatory recovery strategies put together, within specific timeframes, on recovery of the species from its dangerously low numbers.
Finally, and just as important, the process under the proposed law allows for authority to take emergency action to protect habitat.
We can see that the decisions involved are extremely serious. They involve both the economy and some of our social structures in a carefully balanced manner. For that reason the elected representatives of the government will make the decision on what constitutes the legal list. We have been unequivocal on this for some time and we know this is the prudent approach. Many scientists know this is the right approach and, having understood this process, agree with the government.
However, the work of COSEWIC will not end there. There are timelines for the development of the ministerial response to a COSEWIC assessment. That will happen within 90 days and the minister is fully accountable to respond. Every single year the minister will report to parliament on each COSEWIC assessment and the response the minister has made. This will happen one by one on every species put forward for protection. If this is not transparency, if this is not accountability and if this is not a fair, science based system, then I really do not know what is.
The public registry is but another example. Anyone will be able to track government action on species that have been found to be at risk following COSEWIC's scientific assessment.
The protection of endangered or threatened species is a responsibility that the government takes very seriously. We agree that COSEWIC species assessments must be addressed in a timely manner and the government is taking steps to do just that. There are 233 species in schedule 1 of the bill. This means that statutory obligations apply on proclamation of the act to 233 species that have been assessed by COSEWIC using the new and updated criteria. Each and every one of them, without exception, will be reported on. This is a very significant indication of the federal commitment on species at risk.
The assessment and listing of species is a perfect partnership: the scientists with the expertise to determine the threats and status and the elected members of parliament who will move forward on actions that address those threats and their status. It is a partnership that will work well, but it is not the only partnership.
Throughout the entire strategy for the protection of species at risk, which includes the bill, the accord and the habitat stewardship program, there are other partnerships that can be found. For example, they can be found in the work between a farmer and a conservation group on the loggerhead shrike. They are found between fishers and sightseers with respect to the protection of whales. They are found between scientists and government in listing and assessment. They are found between mining companies and forestry companies and municipal governments with provinces and territories. Partnerships are important to this strategy because they are what will work.
The proposed legislation backs up this process with strong prohibitions, but it depends first and foremost on co-operation. As I have said before, this is the approach that is required and that will work. We know that because we have seen what happens when the heavy hand of the law comes down first. From the beginning over nine years ago, this fundamentally Canadian approach has finally achieved a consensus for action. This is the strategy we have formed.
The missing piece is the species at risk act. It is time now to fill in the final building block and get on with the job of creating a sustainable and natural legacy for future generations.