Mr. Speaker, I move that the second report of the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development, presented on Wednesday, February 5, 2014, be concurred in.
I want to thank my colleagues for such a warm welcome. We have been here for so long that it is hard to be warm these days.
I am moving concurrence in the report from the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development. I am a member of that committee. The report is called “Terrestrial Habitat Conservation in Canada”. Why did we study this? That is a good question. I am going to go back a bit on why we even have a report on terrestrial conservation.
I do not actually remember which throne speech it was, but a couple of throne speeches ago, there were some hints that the government was going to have a conservation strategy. That is not bad news. It is ostensibly good news, so we were excited to see what was going to happen with that. Then the environment committee was tasked with doing a study on what a conservation plan would look like.
On the face of it, that actually seems like really good parliamentary procedure. We have an idea from government. We are going to task a committee to study something and get some really good information so we can give advice to the minister. As I said, on its face, that seems wonderful and it is exciting to actually do good parliamentary work at committee, but what happened is it went off the rails a little bit. I know it is hard to imagine in this environment.
Where we started was with a general conservation study. My colleagues and I would show up and we would be keen. We had done our research. We would ask questions of the witnesses about conservation, what a conservation plan would look like, what that kind of strategy would look like. It was interesting. There were moments when it was very frustrating, because for some reason the Conservatives did not want to hear anything about climate change when it comes to conservation. It is interesting because conservation actually is a good solution to climate change on a lot of fronts. For example, if we are preserving large tracts of land, we are keeping the vegetation that is there. It is basically a natural carbon storage.
We heard some interesting testimony about climate change and how conservation would actually help us deal with the effects of climate change and prevent climate change from advancing. We also heard some really interesting testimony about the impacts of climate change on conservation efforts, the fact that we are going to have to adapt a little bit. If we are going to create parks, for example, we need to think about extreme meteorological events. We need to think about the impact of waves, tides, and storms on our infrastructure. It was good testimony. Remember that this is not the current report on which I moved this concurrence motion; it was the report before.
There was good information, good testimony about climate. None of it is in the report. We have to remember that Conservatives do have a majority on these committees, so what comes out in the end, although we can fight in camera and try to get stuff in a report, it does not end up in the report. There was nothing about climate change. The report was absolutely silent on that subject.
Getting back to this idea of studying conservation generally, as I said, there was good testimony. We were pretty excited. We were thinking that this was our way to contribute to the parliamentary process, the democratic process. We were going to give some advice to the minister. Despite the fact that climate change did not make it into the report, there were some other positives about the report. We had these moments of feeling that we were part of a parliamentary project, that it was a worthwhile endeavour.
Then we went in camera to decide the next committee business. All kinds of ideas were put forward. The NDP has all kinds of ideas. We put forward so many motions. We put forward a motion that our committee review the government's sectoral approach to greenhouse gas regulations, and review the delays in establishing those regulations for the oil and gas sector. We put forward a motion on the Great Lakes and how climate change is impacting the water levels. We put forward a motion about the Arctic, to study the impacts of climate change and resulting new resource development and transportation routes on the Arctic, its environment, species and ecological balance. We came armed with so many good ideas.
We went in camera, where the majority rules, and we came out with a study on urban conservation. We went from conservation to urban conservation. We tried to be optimistic and full of energy and said, “Okay, another conservation study. Here we go.”
Maybe there is a point to the urban conservation study, because in some musings that the government members had, they also talked about the creation of Rouge Park, a national park that would be an urban park. I think it would be North America's first urban national park. That is pretty exciting stuff. Again, there is a glimmer of this ability to contribute to the parliamentary process and government decision-making. That means there would be another study on conservation, but at least it would be on something where maybe there is a hope that the minister would be listening and we could talk about some important issues that we would see the results of in a bill about Rouge Park.
We started our study. There was some great testimony from people about urban conservation, the way that people can connect with the natural environment while living in cities and urban environments. We heard really good testimony about climate change, the way we can mitigate the impacts of climate change, and that we can mitigate the fact that climate is changing, and there are things we need to do to adapt when we are looking at urban conservation and climate change. Of course, none of that ended up in the report, because we cannot talk about climate change at the environment committee. It is quite amazing.
We did this study on urban conservation. What was interesting is that on Friday last week the government tabled a bill on the creation of Rouge Park in Scarborough. I believe it may be on the docket to talk about today, so I have been madly prepping to speak to the bill. It has been really difficult. I read the bill yesterday during my caucus meeting. We had a briefing on it from the minister's office yesterday afternoon. We are scrambling to give some feedback on the bill and we have not had the time to do a proper analysis. I have read it, but I have not digested it. I have not had time to reach out to stakeholders to get their advice on what is in the bill and if it is doing what it purports to do. However, I will say that I have had the time to look at our notes from that urban conservation study. There was a small section on Rouge Park that we did in that study. I looked at the bill, and it is not apparent to me where those suggestions from our witnesses are in the final bill.
At the time I felt a bit discouraged that we were doing urban conservation right on the heels of a conservation study. However, I thought that maybe we would have an impact on the legislation, that maybe we are giving advice to the minister, which is what committees are supposed to be doing, and maybe it would be in the bill. I have the bill. Perhaps it will become clearer to me later when I listen to the minister's speech, but I do not see that good advice from the witnesses that we heard at committee reflected in the legislation.
I have gone from being a little disheartened by doing two studies in a row on the same subject to wondering what is the point of us even doing these studies if the minister is not listening. We did not choose the study topic. I will leave it to everyone's imagination, but a majority on the committee probably made the decision to study these topics. I wanted to study climate change. I wanted to study some other topics, but let us make the best of it if we are doing conservation, and then the results of our report are not even reflected in the bill. There were two studies on conservation.
We finished the study on urban conservation. If my memory serves me correctly, I think we managed to work in a rare show of collaboration with the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment. I think we had a unanimous report on urban conservation. There is nothing egregious in it. We pointed out that it is missing a lot of things, but the information that was in there was accurate. There was no discussion on climate change, which we pointed out.
Then we went in camera and we made decisions about what we would study next. It is on the public record that the NDP put forward some incredible motions, such as doing a study on the Species at Risk Act, its implementation and funding. That is a really important issue right now. It is one of the only pieces of environmental legislation that was not gutted in the 2012 omnibus budgets.
Speaking of budgets, we put on the record that we wanted to do a study on the impacts of budget cuts on the operations, sustainability and accessibility for visitors, and sustainability impacts for the surrounding communities to Parks Canada. That is a great idea. Why are we not looking at the fact that we have seen all these job losses and all these budget cuts at Parks Canada?
Time passes. Also, in 2013, we had motion to receive a briefing by the official Canadian delegation to the climate change convention negotiations prior to the meetings in Warsaw in November 2013 to detail Canada's negotiating priorities. It sounded good to me. We are still waiting for that briefing.
An hon. member: 2014.
Ms. Megan Leslie: It is 2014, I know, Mr. Speaker. There is no point any more.
We come out, and what is on the docket for us to study? Terrestrial conservation. Do we not wish we were on environment committee? Talk about demoralizing. I think there are good reasons to talk about terrestrial conservation, but there are so many other issues, and we have already done two studies on conservation. Now we are doing terrestrial conservation, and that is what this report is, for which I moved concurrence today.
Why terrestrial conservation? Why not marine conservation? We would not want to study marine conservation because then we would have to talk about fish habitat. This is a way of excluding the important legislation that government gutted back in 2012. The House will remember there was a budget announcement in 2012 and then there were two bills after that in 2012. Those two bills, both of which passed, were remarkable in many ways. They were omnibus pieces of legislation. The first one touched over 70 pieces of legislation: it amended or repealed in some way or added to 70 pieces of legislation, all wrapped up in one bill that was over 400 pages long. Then we had a second one in the fall. This is really significant.
It is a little hobby horse of mine that the first bill, a budget bill, made changes to assisted human reproduction. Whether or not I can be a surrogate, whether or not I can sell my eggs was in a budget bill. My reproduction has nothing to do with the budget.
We have these giant omnibus bills. What happened on environment? A number of things. The Environmental Assessment Act was repealed. It was not tweaked or amended; it was pulled off the books and replaced with another one. What are the problems with it? For example, we have had what is called a trigger system with environment assessment. If a project touched a federal issue, such as migratory birds or waterways that crossed provincial boundaries, it would trigger an environmental assessment.
That makes sense. We can wrap our head around why it would be that way. However, now we have a list of things that mean environmental assessment. If something is not on the list, there is no environmental assessment.
Why is that problematic? Members should think about the oil sands. If we had had a definitive list 70 years ago, oil sands exploration would not have been on that list because we would not have known it was in the realm of the possible. We would not have considered that we should put oil sands development on the list. A trigger is important, because it is the situation that causes the assessment, not this definitive list. The other thing about the list is that it is cabinet that makes up the list. It is trouble, because the list is narrow. Seismic testing in the Gulf of St. Lawrence is not on that list. I think that is pretty problematic. We have moved from the trigger to the list.
We also had the environment commissioner testify at committee about this list. There used to be three stages of environmental assessment. The lowest stage was like a paper stage, where one would submit documents and get feedback on them, but it was still effective. Forgive me if I get the numbers a little bit wrong because I am tapping into my memory. We asked the environment commissioner how many environmental assessments were being done. My memory says he said 4,000 to 6,000 per year. My next question was how many will be done now that the Environmental Assessment Act has been replaced in this regime. He said 10 to 12. I actually thought he meant 10,000 to 12,000, but he said it was just 10 to 12 for the country. These are incredible changes to our environmental assessment regime. It practically does not exist anymore.
There are also all of the changes to consultation, where people now have to be directly affected. What does “directly affected” mean? If I live 10 kilometres downstream, am I directly affected? If I live 100 kilometres downstream, am I directly affected? If I am a scientist living in Vancouver who has expertise about the Douglas Channel, am I directly affected? There is no definition of this, and it completely curtails who can testify and be a party to these hearings.
In addition to the changes to the Environmental Assessment Act in 2012, there were changes to the Fisheries Act. The Fisheries Act was one of the strongest pieces of environmental legislation that we had here in Canada, because it talked about the protection of fish habitats. If we are going to protect our fish and our fisheries, we have to protect our fish habitat. That makes sense.
In 2012, the protection of fish habitat was taken out of the legislation. What does that mean?
An hon. member: Incredible.
Ms. Megan Leslie: It is incredible, Mr. Speaker. Now we are not protecting fish habitat. We are protecting fish, but not all fish. We are only going to protect fish that we name, and they are going to be fish that are of commercial significance, first nations significance, and recreational significance.
An hon. member: What about all of the other fish?
Ms. Megan Leslie: What about the other fish, Mr. Speaker? That is a great question. They are not protected. What about the fish that the protected fish eat? They are not protected. If we talk to anybody at the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, they cannot tell us what fish are on the list. It does not exist. They do not know which fish are protected. It is a secret. Secret fish are being protected. Their food stock is not being protected.
An hon. member: It is a conspiracy.
Ms. Megan Leslie: It is a conspiracy, Mr. Speaker. We are not protecting fish. We can destroy their food source, we can destroy their breeding grounds, we can have a fish with three heads and that is okay, as long as we do not kill them. We can kill a lot of fish, just not the protected fish that do not exist and that are secret. It makes no sense that we have done this to one of the greatest environmental protections that we had.
We did a study on terrestrial conservation. Why? We do not want to talk about fish habitat because it agitates the Conservatives when people come and say that it was a bad decision, that we are not going to have a fishery anymore if we do not protect fish habitat.
We have a very narrow study on terrestrial habitat. The terrestrial habitat conservation in Canada report that came out had no mention of fish habitat. I will say that the New Democrats were crafty. We talked about that liminal space between the terrestrial habitat and the marine habitat, and we managed to get some soggy land in some of the testimony. We asked, “What about that soggy area in between the lakes and the land?” That soggy area can sometimes be fish habitat. We were tricky and we managed to get in some important information about fish habitat.
We have a supplementary opinion to this report. It is a dissenting opinion that is on the record. It is worth a read. It is two pages. I want to point out that one of the things we said clearly was that there is no greater threat to our ecosystems or barrier to habitat conservation than climate change. There was significant consensus from witnesses on the need to address climate change issues in order to protect our biodiversity, and to design strategies for habitat conservation and the preservation of biodiversity in the context of a changing climate.
The Conservatives can control the reports. They can control the outcome. They can control what it is that they say happened at committee, but they cannot change committee witness testimony. They cannot change the fact that we had witnesses saying that we need to address climate change if we are going to do anything about habitat conservation in Canada.