Mr. Speaker, we are here again this morning to discuss Bill C-5 one more time. As the saying goes, this bill is uglier than 40 acres of burning stumps but we continue to debate it and continue to work our way through it.
The bill has been introduced a number of times. I asked some MPs, who have been here for awhile, how many times they had seen this bill and they said that they were not sure, but it keeps coming back again and again. In fact in a lot of ways this has a longer gestation period than many of the animals that it purports to support.
The bill was introduced last summer and was sent to the committee last fall. It is interesting to note that the committee spent four months working on the bill and did so much work on it. It heard 120-odd witnesses and made over 300 amendments to the bill.
While we opposed the bill from the beginning, we felt that the committee had done some good and strong work and that it had done what it was supposed to have done. The hypocrisy that comes back to the bill through what the government has done to it is enough to appall anyone.
The government members and the opposition members spent months working on the bill. It seems that the committee was used to keep its members busy more than it was to do productive work. I would suggest that the government, and the minister in particular, has shown disregard for the MPs and their work in the House.
Who is setting the direction of the legislation and the government? It is clearly not cabinet. If it was, one would think it would allow the committees to do their work. I would suggest that the bill is being run by the bureaucracy and the bureaucrats behind the scenes. We see that in many other areas as well. One has to do with the new agricultural policy framework. We clearly see that someone other than the minister is running the department.
I would like to quote from an article in the Leader -Post on April 3 that talks about the agricultural framework policy discussions that are supposedly taking place and what a sham they are. The article reads:
Consultations about the most significant shift ever in Canadian agriculture policy are nothing more than a poorly-organized public relations exercise, say angry Saskatchewan farm groups.
The province's agriculture organizations are confused about why it took so long to set up meetings, why they aren't open to the public and why Ottawa hired a “heavyweight” international consulting firm to facilitate the sessions.
[These organizations] also complain they have had little time to prepare for the meetings about Ottawa's plan to overhaul agriculture, currently underway around the country...
Denise Treslan, executive director of the Western Canadian Wheat Growers, said the meetings are so disorganized she found out third-hand that one of the organization's directors is scheduled to appear at a [meeting].
“It seems like a free-for-all,” said Treslan. “We've had no contact whatsoever with the group that is putting together the meetings. We don't know if we are supposed to make a formal presentation or if we show up and it's a roundtable or what.”
Farm groups are also concerned the meetings are not a meaningful attempt at consultation, noting the sessions are coming nine months after the policy revision was announced in June of 2001.
This is a pattern we see in the government. When it comes to consultation, it is not sincere in what it does. We will talk a little about that this morning with these amendments to Bill C-5.
With regard to Bill C-5, farm groups have been under pressure for 10 years to support the bill and most of them have continued to oppose the bill. I have talked to a few of them and they have been told by the minister that they should support the bill because, and these are his words apparently, “It could be worse”.
I am not sure if that is how we make legislation in the country now. Also I am not sure if this is a promise or a threat from him. Either he is saying that he is in control and he can make the bill much worse if he wants to. If that is the case and that is his attitude then it is probably time for him to go. Or he is saying that he cannot control his bureaucrats or the people who are running his department. If that is the case then he probably should be removed from his post.
Yesterday I noticed that he was doing a good job at PR as he spent some time applauding our Olympic athletes. Perhaps that would be a better place for him than to be heading up this bill.
The Group No. 4 amendments deal with two main issues: stewardship plans and public consultation and whether that is an active part of the bill or not.
The committee worked hard to put together a process for planning. It talked a lot in its work about recovery plans, action plans and stewardship plans. From that four months' work, a national stewardship action plan was agreed to.
I have the format in front of me of what that would have been. The national stewardship action plan made commitments to a number of things. It made a commitment to using the tax system, subsidization and the elimination of disincentives to help landowners protect species at risk.
It was a strategy for public education and information sharing. An awards and recognition program was built into the action plan. It had ways to formalize land agreements and provide technical and scientific support directly to landowners and people who were concerned with species at risk. It also had a consultation strategy.
By the time the minister was done with this part of the bill through Motion No. 25 he had done a few things to it. He eliminated the idea of using the tax system to support conservation. That was taken completely out of the bill. He offered to provide information about species at risk but no program of public education. I presume that means people would get government brochures rather than actually having a program of public education.
It committed to share information but not to develop a program to carry it out. It did keep the awards program. The government agreed to provide information about programs related to stewardship rather than to commit to setting up those programs. It agreed to provide information about technical and scientific support rather than providing the support.
It considerably weakened its commitment to the stewardship action plan through the amendment. It is no longer a plan at all. It ends up being a public relations exercise in the stewardship action plan and that is not adequate.
There is one thing that really bothers me. Where are the Liberal backbenchers on this bill and these amendments? Many of them are extremely concerned about the minister's action with regard to the bill. Many of them have done a lot of work on the bill. They did a good job in committee and had reached a bill that they could support and be happy with.
It went to the minister and came back completely gutted. Yet I hear little noise or attempts to address those issues from the backbenchers of the government. I suggest that they have a responsibility. If the government and cabinet were to bring forth poor legislation and provide poor leadership to Canadians the government backbenchers have a responsibility to have the guts to step forward and say they do not agree with it and that the legislation needs to be stopped. I do not see much of that happening and I am disappointed.
I would like to discuss the second part of the stewardship action plan which is dealt with in Motion No. 29. The amendment removes the requirement that stewardship agreements must be made public so that the public can discuss them. It seems by definition that the stewardship agreement would have to be put out into the public so that consultation and discussion can take place. It is interesting that the minister has chosen to remove the requirement that these agreements be made public before they become legislation.
It is necessary to get broad based support through public discussion. The minister clearly does not allow that in the amendment. That is absolutely unacceptable. Landowners are affected but so too are neighbouring landowners. It is interesting that if wolves were introduced into an ecosystem in a national park people around the park would also be affected. It is important that we take that into account.
I will point out one more amendment that has removed the effectiveness of the bill. There was a five year review built into the bill and amendments were made in committee to have subsequent five year reviews. The minister has clearly chosen to take that out. One review would be allowed and that is it. This reflects one more time the attitude of the government toward working with people.
I opened with a statement about the bill being uglier than 40 acres of burning stumps. At the end of my speech it has as much chance of survival or success as a one-legged grasshopper in a chicken coop. The bill is flawed more now than ever. More now than ever we need to stop it and to do whatever it takes to do that.