Mr. Speaker, it is a real privilege to speak to Bill . It is an issue close to my heart and the hearts of many Canadians.
The bill amends nine environmental bills, and it creates a new act. It builds on the work the Liberal Party did in 1995 on the environmental damages fund. I want to thank the Liberal critic for the hard work he has done in trying to move these issues forward in the House.
The march to extinction is something all of us are aware of. It receives short attention in the House, but we have never seen this rate of increase in the destruction and elimination of our species in the history of our planet. The cause of it is human activity. Seven billion people on our planet are having an indelible impression on our world. Some of it is good; some of it is bad. Between 8 million and 14 million species exist on our planet today, and the rate of extinction in those species is truly frightening.
This bill creates increased penalties for violators. It forces violators to not only pay fines but to also pay money to repair the damage they have done. It is a welcome change. We, in the Liberal Party, support the bill moving forward to committee to strengthen it and make it even better.
This bill is good but it flies in the face of actions by the government, which have been extraordinary. Many members on the other side do not know that the government has been removing critical funding to various species programs that have been established by some of the finest scientists in Environment Canada and NGOs across our country. The Conservative government has been eviscerating programs that are critical to the protection of habitat and species.
I will provide some hard facts and numbers. The national wildlife area protection program protects critical habitat. What did the Conservative government do? It carved off $2 million, a huge chunk of its funds.
The budget for the migratory bird program, which monitors the health of bird populations, was cut by 50%. This is at a time when the change in bird populations has been truly frightening. I am going to get to that later on. There has been a massive reduction in bird populations in Canada, and many of the birds that migrate from points south to the Arctic make a stopover on our territory. The government has been eviscerating programs necessary for monitoring their activities.
The Ecological Monitoring and Assessment Network analyzes the health of ecosystems. It is incredibly important. The government cut an astonishing 80% of its funds, for heaven's sake. I ask that the environment minister put that money back for these programs. If the government cares about biodiversity in Canada and cares about our environment, I ask that it put the money back.
This happened in the face of the red list that was done by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. The IUCN is a body that started in 1943. It has over 11,000 scientists around the world, and it does the most comprehensive assessment of biodiversity on our planet. In fact, the IUCN started the World Wildlife Fund. It is the premier organization that interacts with and integrates environmental groups, NGOs, and government bodies all over the world.
The International Conservation Caucus Foundation was very happy to host Julia Marton-Lefèvre, who is the director general of the IUCN, earlier this week. She eloquently spoke to government members, government ministries and members of the ICCF, telling us about the catastrophe that has befallen the species of our planet. She is asking that Canada be a leader in this area.
The Liberal Party's former environment minister, who is here today, did an extraordinary job in his work internationally. He is a member of the ICCF, and he is making incredible contributions here in the House and internationally based on his extraordinary and unparalleled experience. The government would be wise to listen to the former minister of the environment in these areas. There are many things it can do.
I will outline some of the problems we have right now.
What is the unprecedented rate of increase in extinction that I mentioned? According to IUCN, 44,837 species have been assessed and 38% are threatened with extinction. There are 22% of all mammal species and 31% of all amphibians that are threatened with extinction. That is a very important group; I think this is the year of amphibians, if I am not mistaken.
Amphibians are very important because they are the proverbial canary in the mine shaft. They are amphibians in a mine shaft, if you will. They are so sensitive to our environment that when they go it is a harbinger of things to come. It is not good.
With respect to birds, 14% are threatened with extinction. Regarding warm water reef corals, the corals that build up reefs in warm waters, 27% are threatened with extinction. With respect to fish, 90% of the fish species we are harvesting right now are at the limit or beyond the limit of their carrying capacity. We are overfishing the earth's oceans.
What can be done? As I mentioned before, seven billion people on our planet are having an indelible effect. The IUCN and the WWF and others will tell us there is a basic principle we have to look at.
Integrated human activity and conservation can be done, but it requires an integrated approach. If we simply say we have to protect and conserve places without taking into consideration the needs of human populations, we do not preserve the areas we want to preserve. In fact, unless the areas generally have value to people, there is a much greater risk of those areas being destroyed.
The best bet is to ensure that those areas have value for people. Some areas have to be protected by not allowing any human activity. But most areas can be managed in a way that ensures the human environmental footprint and activities are minimal so there is a benefit to humans and a benefit to the areas that are important in terms of critical habitat.
CIDA has an enormous opportunity to do this. Personally, I have been to Africa 26 times. I have had a great opportunity to spend time at the KwaZulu-Natal Nature Conservation Service in South Africa
I am bringing that up for a reason. Back in the 1890s, the KwaZulu-Natal province in South Africa had the second-largest land mammal in the world, the great white rhino. Sixty of these animals were situated in one small area, in Umfolozi reserve in South Africa. The South African government said it was the custodian of this extraordinary species for the world and it had to preserve the rhinos' critical habitat. The government did that.
The government also recognized that if it was going to expand the numbers, it would have to expand habitat. So, the KwaZulu-Natal Conservation Service has expanded the habitat, and it has created conservancies. There is a benefit for people, but there is also a way to generate funds that can be shared for people in primary health and education and infrastructure, particularly for rural populations. There is also money to create and protect habitats, do scientific assessments, pay for game guards and expand and buy new territory to protect more habitat. There are lessons there for all of us.
The result, if I can use the example of the white rhino, is that now there are more than 18,000 rhinos. The population went from 60 to 18,000 in less than a century. It was an extraordinary act. The principle I am driving at is that we can do this.
CIDA does not get this. I do not understand why. They can, and they should, have a department in CIDA that could actually integrate conservation, environmental protection and human development. They could fit wonderfully together. To look at them as two separate parts is illogical, unworkable and ineffective. To combine them both would be very effective.
The should call on the relevant cabinet ministers, those involved in the environment, health and international development and have a working group to integrate these actions. The silo does not work. And I am going to get to some of those other principles later on.
Alanna Mitchell was also part of the international conservation caucus. She was a Globe and Mail reporter, who was named by Reuters as the top environment reporter in the world. As a Canadian, this was something to behold.
She has written a book called Sea Sick, in which she eloquently describes the effect of humans on our oceans. She made a very poignant point: if ocean life dies, life on the land will die too.
The reasons for this are complex, but part of the reason is global warming. When the temperature in the ocean rises, there is acidification that causes a change in the pH level. This change affects the living creatures in the ocean, resulting in a massive die-off. This causes a feedback mechanism where the rising temperature of the ocean reduces the ability of the living creatures to absorb carbon dioxide. We get this terrible feedback loop that we do not want.
As I said, the former environment minister, the former leader of my party, has fought hard for Canada to take a leadership role. He set extraordinary benchmarks for the world to follow. The Conservative government has dropped the ball. It is looking at intensity targets. The government has no concept, no plan whatsoever to deal with the Copenhagen conference that is going to take place at the end of this year.
The world climate conference is going to be held in Geneva, on August 31 to September 3. Canada should play a prominent role at this conference. We should also be going there with an effective plan of action to deal with this issue. It is not good, it is not effective, and it is irresponsible for the government to simply put its head in the sand and say that others will deal with it. That is not good enough. The government's failure to develop an effective program would be a huge act of irresponsibility towards the citizens of our country. The government should be listening to members of the Liberal caucus and other political parties who have great ideas and can help make Canada a leader in this area.
I want to talk about carbon sinks. We have to look at carbon sinks as areas with value. Take a forest, for example. We cut down the trees and those trees are sold. But those carbon sinks have value now. A hectare of tropical jungle, for example, will take out about 200 tonnes of carbon every year. If a value is put on carbon, at say $10 a tonne, that is $2,000 a hectare. That is a huge amount of money to a developing country. That money would convince the country not to cut down the trees in that jungle.
This is important, because the two great lungs of the world, in Amazonia and the Congo Basin, are being destroyed as we speak. Once they are destroyed, we cannot get them back. There is an urgency on this matter that I cannot overstate. The failure to deal with this now will affect the health of this planet for generations to come, and there is no going back.
Canada should take a leadership role in supporting the REDD program. The carbon sinks in the world have a value, and the REDD program convinces countries not to destroy what really belongs to all of us.
There was another innovative program, which took place in Cameroon. It has an area between two national parks that is crucial habitat. Cameroon is a poor country and it does not have the money to protect that habitat. But if that area is leased out, it could be protected and a larger area could be created that is crucially important for the migration of animals.
Canada should take a leadership role in convincing the international development community that part of the money for official development assistance should go into these programs. Areas could be preserved by leasing them at a small amount of money, thereby protecting critical habitat and preventing them from being destroyed. These areas are really part of a legacy for everyone around the world; they do not belong to one country. If we protect these areas, we protect the health of our planet.
I would also like to speak on the issue of trafficking. Most Canadians know about the trafficking in guns, drugs, people, alcohol and cigarettes that takes place in our country. What they probably do not know, and this is a shocking embarrassment, is that Canada is one of the top conduits in the world for trafficking in endangered species. It is true. Organized crime benefits from this illegal product.
We are a conduit of products, whether it is products from big cats, the various tiger species existing in Asia, our own bear gall bladders, bear paws, a host of different animal products, that are trafficked through Canada.
There is also an online trafficking process that takes place now. In fact, the International Fund for Animal Welfare did a great assessment of this and it was frightening. It took a look at 7,100 auctions taking place online for the trafficking and selling in endangered species products.
These were animal parts, as outlined in appendix I and appendix II. These animals are threatened with extinction. As I said before, appendix I lists at all the big cats species, such as the Bengal tiger, the Siberian tiger and the Sumerian tiger, which is down to 300. There has been a massive decrease in the Bengal tiger. All the various tiger subspecies are being destroyed.
Canada has the trafficking of bear products and other animal products, both large and small. Let us not forget reptiles and birds are trafficked illegally all over the world.
The government needs to take these issues seriously. It must look at working towards developing effective legislation to address the trafficking of these products on line. The failure to do this will contribute, and has contributed, to a massive change and effect on the ability of these animals to survive.
Part of the solution is to have robust domestic legislation, enforcement of that legislation and awareness. We can work with our partners in the NGO community and in others. We have a lot of extraordinary environmental groups in Canada. In fact, the International Conservation Caucus Foundation has hosted the IUCN, the WWF and Alanna Mitchell on the effect on our oceans, and we will host others. COSEWIC was here recently also.
The lack of attention the government has given to the environment is an abrogation of its responsibility to protect environment.
Another mismanagement on the part of the government is the Navigable Waters Protection Act. I do not know why the government attached changes to the Navigable Waters Protection Act to the budget bill, Bill . This has caused enormous concern among Canadians. It has nothing to do with the economy.
This is a various serious problem in my riding of . There are concerns about access, environmental protection, projects moved forward without any interest whatsoever on the effects those projects will be on our areas.
Right now we have a mega marina project proposed for the inner harbour in Victoria. In my view this project is a recipe for a human disaster. Without the proper assessments, the project will cause a safety hazard, which will potentially cause the death of Canadians.
Canada has an enormous opportunity. The march to extinction is occurring now. Our biodiversity is linked to our survival. Once this is gone, it will never come back.
If we fail to deal with this problem now, if we fail to integrate conservation and human development, if we fail to integrate economic interests and preservation, if we fail to take an international approach to protect the large carbon sinks in the world, if we fail to have an effective plan to deal with global warming, if we fail to protect the our areas of critical habitat, if we fail to do these things, then our species will be doomed too.
Mr. Speaker, although I rise in support of this bill, I would like to take this opportunity to expand on some key points and concerns. We feel that Bill , an act that relates to the environment and enacts provisions respecting the enforcement of certain acts that relate to the environment, is a step in the right direction. For this reason, we are supportive.
However, it should be noted that this act is still lacking in several areas. Hopefully we will see many more improvements to this act in the near future. I think it is ironic that the government has tabled the bill claiming that it is committed to enforcing environmental laws, given the fact that it has failed to live up to its Kyoto commitments. Furthermore, let us not forget that this is the very government that is busy gutting federal environmental laws in order to expedite its so-called stimulus package.
It has relaxed the very requirements and laws pertaining to the Navigable Waters Protection Act, which could very well result in ecological impacts on some of our waterways. The Navigable Waters Act was gutted by the Conservatives during the 2009 budget and we think that is an exceptional shame. This underlines the fact that they have no long-term vision or real understanding of environmental issues. Improvements to be made include the need for enforceable regulations pertaining to greenhouse gases or for countless toxins and pollutants that are awaiting regulations under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act or the Fisheries Act.
Bill redefines penalties. However, the penalties are not increased for corporations. Under the bill, there is no jail time for corporations that break laws, yet it increases the financial toll and jail times for individuals. This is another example of how the government favours the big corporations. We saw that today with respect to the $90 million, based on the Auditor General's report, where the businesses are basically using Canada Revenue as an investment purpose as opposed to a way to pay their taxes. We think that is a shame.
The increases in individual punishments are, at times, five times those originally prescribed prior to Bill . Yet the same adjustments are not made in relation to corporations. Basically, Bill C-16 amends eight different acts to create a uniform system of punishment. However, it is noted that these particular punishments are flawed. The impact on individuals has been increased dramatically, yet the punishments for corporations are basically inconsequential.
Most of us remember, in April 2008, the incident pertaining Syncrude Canada Ltd. and the impact on environmental issues that it created. Improvements—
What does that basically mean?
Mrs. Carol Hughes: Mr. Speaker, the member across certainly has a lot to say, but let us see. They are the ones who have failed to act on the environmental impact.
We saw what it did to the wildlife when 1,600 migrating ducks flew into a toxic pond owned by Syncrude. The total amount fined to this company was approximately $800,000, which was a very small amount for such a large company, given the negative impact their actions had on our wildlife and environment. There is very little incentive to encourage and ensure that corporations commit to environmental laws. For these companies, the few thousand dollars they have to pay out are a small price to pay when they choose to turn a blind eye to environmental laws.
What is required is a suitable method of policing corporate environmental offenders. Consideration should be given to increasing fines to approximately four times the current amount. This would mean that, for first offences, these companies would be hit with a much more forceful punishment. Imagine if those dollars were to be reinvested in protecting our environment.
As previously mentioned, we support this bill; however, it is with some reservation. No matter how many laws and policies the government puts in place, the impact will be minimal unless there is the political will to actually abide by and enforce those laws and policies.
I understand the member for has a lot of rhetoric to offer, across the board. Obviously this just goes to prove how much the Conservatives are not in tune with the environmental laws that need to be put in place.
On that note, although this bill provides additional tools to officers who will enforce this act, providing that the government ensures there is enough funding to have the appropriate number of enforcement officers employed, there is still a dire need for amendments to eight different acts to harmonize the penalties. This is long overdue.
The bill will require publication to shareholders and the general public of convictions under environmental law. It will not require publication of all violations, warnings, orders and tickets issued, all agreements and all charges. That is exactly what we need to put out there.
On that note, I think it is important to really recognize whether the government is actually committed to ensuring we have the proper environmental laws in place, given the fact that it basically gutted anything that had to do with Kyoto.
I can tell you that Domtar in Espanola had ensured they would be up to date with regard to the Kyoto targets. They invested all their money to make sure it was going to get done. They wanted to make sure that their company was going to be at the forefront on this. Basically, all the other companies are being told, “No, it is okay. You don't have to abide by it”. I think it is a shame.
On that note, I am going to close. I would be glad to take any questions.