Madam Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak today to the issue of environmental rights and Bill C-469, An Act to establish a Canadian Environmental Bill of Rights.
Bill C-469 proposes to create a number of environmental rights and government obligations related to the protection of the environment. The bill stipulates that five emerging principles of environmental law would guide its interpretation: the precautionary principle, the polluter pays principle, the principle of sustainable development, the principle of intergenerational equity and the principle of environmental justice.
Those principles are already supported and implemented through existing government legislation and policies. For example, the Species at Risk Act, the Oceans Act, the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999, and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act all refer to the precautionary principle. Through this principle, the government may, in certain situations, where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, take cost effective measures to prevent environmental degradation even if there is a lack of full scientific certainty.
In 2008, Parliament also passed the Federal Sustainable Development Act, which requires the Government of Canada to develop comprehensive federal sustainable development strategies based upon the precautionary principle.
In March of this year, our government presented to Canadians a consultation paper outlining a proposed federal sustainable development strategy for Canada. That strategy will both strengthen how government promotes environmental sustainability and improve the transparency and accountability of how we do it. The proposed strategy constitutes an effective and balanced approach for the government to meet many of the principles and goals advanced by Bill C-469. These include the precautionary principle, transparency and accountability, and the goal of sustainable development.
The proposed federal sustainable development strategy represents a major step forward for the Government of Canada by including environmental sustainability as an integral part of its decision-making processes. It replaces a system that was established in 1995 when amendments to the Auditor General Act required key federal departments and agencies to table in Parliament their individual strategies and other actions for sustainable development. That system lacked an overarching, government-wide strategy. It lacked the key elements for government-wide goals, targets and common ways to measure federal accomplishments.
The three key elements of this strategy represent the first major improvement in the system since 1995. First, the strategy will provide an integrated, whole of government picture of actions to achieve environmental sustainability in Canada. Second, we are linking sustainable development and planning and reporting with the government's core expenditure planning and reporting system. Finally, we are establishing effective measurement, monitoring and reporting in order to track and report on progress to Canadians.
Our government welcomes this opportunity to improve planning and reporting for environmental sustainability. Taking into account international best practices and the purpose of the Federal Sustainable Development Act, Canada's first federal sustainable development strategy will take a pragmatic approach based on key priorities.
The proposed approach is one of responsible, practical progress. It will deliver a significant advance in terms of sustainable development in Canada and will also allow the government to build on it as we learn over time. It will allow the government to address environmental sustainability in a clear and coherent way, while at the same time placing an emphasis on getting the framework correct. It will help Canadians and Parliament identify whether there are gaps in the system and how effective government has been in hitting the targets it has set. It also will become a valuable tool to help governments set ambitious goals that will lead to a more sustainable Canada.
The strategy will streamline the way departments and agencies report and put sustainable development at the heart of government decision-making throughout the body of government. It will enhance transparency for Canadians, hold government departments and the ministers more accountable and will deliver better results.
Our government is also supportive of another principle advanced by Bill C-469, the polluter pays principle. This principle, also known as principle 16 of the Rio declaration, provides that national authorities should endeavour to promote the internalization of environmental costs and the use of environment instruments, taking into account the approach that the polluter should, in principle, bear the cost of the pollution they create with due regard to the public interest and without distorting international trade and investment.
In June 2009, Parliament passed the Environmental Enforcement Act, an act that amends the offence, penalty and enforcement provisions of nine environmental protection and wildlife conservation statutes. These include the Canadian Environmental Protection Act , 1999; the Migratory Birds Convention Act, 1994; Canada's trade in endangered species legislation; and the Canada National Parks Act.
The Environmental Enforcement Act would ensure that enforcement and sentencing of environmental offences achieve the goals of deterrence, denunciation and, of course, restoration. This last goal reinforces the polluter pays principle by ensuring that offenders contribute to the restoration and remediation of the damage that they have caused to the environment.
Reflecting on the polluter pays principle, the Environmental Enforcement Act introduces minimum fines for offences that involve direct harm or risk of harm to the environment and obstruction of authority, not just the harm they caused but the harm they potentially could have caused. The act also adds a purpose clause to the sentencing provisions of the statutes it amends which would set out the fundamental purposes of deterrence, denunciation and restoration of that harmed environment. The act also emphasizes the importance of accounting for aggravating factors when determining appropriate penalties. It ensures that courts take into account damage to both the use and non-use values of the environment, ensuring that polluters pay the full value of any environmental damage they cause.
The Environmental Enforcement Act also directs environmental fines to the environmental damages fund, a special account in the accounts of Canada, from where they will be available to the community and other organizations for environmental restoration, improvement, research and development, and public education and awareness. This is a suiting penalty for someone who causes such degradation to our environment.
In closing, by its proposed federal sustainable development strategy and by the introduction of the new Environmental Enforcement Act, our government has already shown great support for the key principles of environmental law that Bill C-469 proposes to adopt as its guiding principles.
Therefore, our party, would like to see the debate on Bill C-469 continue in order to see how the bill would complement these and other existing measures and laws.
As an elementary school principal, a new school that I built was environmentally friendly. It was called a green school. It was one of the most modern green initiatives built by any federal or provincial government in Nova Scotia. The children who attended that school were versed in the green abilities of that school: the ability to take rain off the roof and use it to flush the toilets; and the ability to hydrate itself by taking moisture out of the air, reconstituting it and putting it back into the air of the school.
The children who go to school in a building like that will emerge from that school, after years of education, with a sound sense of protection of the environment and what a green school can do, what a green country can do, what a green nation can do and what a green world would do.
The next generation is something we need to concentrate on, which is why we are here in Parliament today talking about the environment and about protecting the sustainable development for the future. Anyone who chooses to ignore the next generation and to pollute our environment will have to pay. They need to ensure that any damage they do to our environment is restored by them. They may also have to pay penalties for the harm, not only that they have committed, but the harm they could have potentially committed. Those are the principles our government has put in place in several pieces of legislation. Those are the principles that are also contained in this bill.
On behalf of our government, we wish to see the debate on this bill continue. There are many good principles in this bill, many principles in this bill that our government supports.
However, there is a question we need answered? Would this bill cause redundancy in the other bills that have already been produced, both by our government and previous governments? How would those redundancies be overcome? Would they put unnecessary issues at work so that our government and future governments would have to deal with redundant statutes, redundant bills and redundant policies?
Not only must we ensure that we support the principles contained in Bill C-469, we also must ensure that any redundancies in current legislation or in current statutes do not impact the future of our environment, our children's environment and their children's environment. It is our responsibility to work together in this House to ensure, not only that the environment is safe and green for this generation and the next, but for all future generations in this country. Stewardship is very important.
As a parliamentarian, I ask us all to take a good look at the--