Madam Speaker, over the last three decades, high profile events and reports focused the world’s attention on the global environment and its needs and the international action necessary to improve the situation: the 1987 World Commission on Environment and Development: Our Common Future report; the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer; the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro and its Agenda 21; the 2000 Millennium Summit in New York and its millennium development goals; the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg; and the 2005 Kyoto protocol to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, just to name a few.
Thirty years ago sustainable development was defined as development which met the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. It was commonly understood that we did not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrowed it from our children.
Twenty years ago more than 178 governments signed Agenda 21, which reads:
|Humanity stands at a defining moment in history. We are confronted with…the continuing deterioration of the ecosystems on which we depend for our well-being. However, integration of environment and development concerns and greater attention to them will lead to the fulfilment of basic needs, improved living standards for all, better protected and managed ecosystems and a safer, more prosperous future. No nation can achieve this on its own; but together we can – in a global partnership for sustainable development.|
With one fell swoop, through Bill C-38, Canada is abandoning sustainable development and returning to the 1950s way of thinking and acting, namely fast tracking development at any cost. Canada is also abandoning its fair share for a global partnership for sustainable development, particularly through walking away from Kyoto.
For 25 years, I fought for an improved environment, consulted to Environment Canada and served on the intergovernmental panel on climate change. Like millions of Canadians, I am devastated by the government abandoning the environment, sustainable development and its international responsibility, muzzling scientists and silencing the voices of its critics.
Last week more than 500 organizations across Canada, for example, the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, David Suzuki Foundation, the Pembina Institute spoke out for democracy and the environment in Canada. The Black Out Speak Out website states, “Our land, water and climate are all threatened by the latest federal budget. Proposed changes will weaken environmental laws and silence the voices of those who seek to defend them. Silence is not an option”.
While the government claims a balanced approach to protecting the environment and promoting economic growth, its actions are in direct opposition. Bill C-38 repeals the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act and the Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act. It weakens several environmental laws, including protection for species at risk in water, and nearly eliminates fish habitat in the Fisheries Act. It gives the federal cabinet authority to overrule the decision by the National Energy Board and eliminates the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy.
We have environmental legislation to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past. For example, the pea soup sulphur dioxide fog that killed 4,000 people in London, England in 1952; minamata disease that poisoned thousands of Japanese with methyl mercury, beginning in 1956; and the oil slick and debris river that caught fire in Cleveland, Ohio in 1969.
During the subcommittee’s review of part 3 of Bill C-38, Ms. Rachel Forbes, staff council, West Coast Environmental Law, said that she did not believe the proposed amendments in the new legislation as currently drafted would accomplish any of the government’s four pillars, namely: more predictable and timely reviews; less duplication in reviewing projects; strong environmental protection; and enhanced consultation with aboriginal peoples and may actually hinder them.
The hon. Thomas Siddon has repeatedly voiced concerns regarding Bill C-38 saying, “They are totally watering down and emasculating the Fisheries Act…they are making a Swiss cheese out of [it]. At the subcommittee he reported:
|The bottom line…to take your time and do it right. To bundle all of this into a budget bill, with all its other facets, is not becoming of a Conservative government, period.|
Mr. Stephen Hazell, senior counsel, Ecovision Law, agreed:
|My recommendation is that this subcommittee remove the proposed CEAA 2012 from Bill C-38, and propose to the overall finance committee that it be referred to the House of Commons environment and sustainable development committee for its review|
The environment sections of Bill C-38 should be removed, presented as a stand-alone bill and be sent to a legislative committee for clause-by-clause study.
The government should also ensure that any change to existing environmental laws and regulations be made in a manner that respects aboriginal peoples and treaty rights of aboriginal peoples in Canada that are recognized and affirmed in the Constitution.
National Chief Shawn Atleo reported during subcommittee hearings:
|To date, first nations have not been engaged or consulted on any of the changes to the environmental and resource development regime proposed within Bill C-38…In its current form, Part 3 of C-38 clearly represents a derogation of established and asserted first nations rights.|
The Union of BC Indian Chiefs voiced similar concerns in an open letter:
|The federal government’s unilateral and draconian approach to amending the environmental assessment process is not being quietly accepted by First Nations, environmental organizations, or the general Canadian public.|
Canadians should know that after a mere 16 hours of study of what the environment commissioner calls some of the most significant policy developments in 30 to 40 years, the subcommittee is left with many questions regarding the legislation. In light of these, the government should, for example, table in the House of Commons: what types of projects will be included or excluded under the proposed changes to CEAA, and specifically, the proportion and types of current assessments that will no longer receive federal oversight; assessments of the environmental assessment process in each province and territory, how the government will define whether or not a provincial process is equivalent to the federal process and how assessment of cumulative impacts will be undertaken; and the projected cost of changes to the CEAA for each province and territory.
Governments worldwide are concerned with making the shift to the green economy, to stimulate growth, create new jobs, eradicate poverty and limit humanity’s ecological footprint. One of Canada’s reforms must be a shift to the green economy. It is therefore extremely unfortunate that the bill pits the economy against the environment and that the debate is so polarized. Canadians deserve a real discussion.
Going forward, the government should recognize that it does not face a choice between saving our economy and saving our environment, but rather between being a producer and a consumer in the old economy and being a leader in the new economy. It should initiate discussions with provinces, territories, municipalities, labour organizations, industry sectors, first nations and others to develop a green economy strategy for Canada, with goals for 2015, 2020, 2025 and 2030. It should ensure that its development strategy includes skills development, training programs, certification courses and transitional policies for workers and communities.
Finally, the government is waging an unprecedented war on science and on the environment with uncertain consequences for nature and society. As in the baseball adage, “It’s the top of the ninth”, the government has been hitting nature hard, but nature always bats last.