Jobs, Growth and Long-term Prosperity Act (Bill C-38)

On Monday, June 11th, 2012 in Speeches

Elizabeth May: Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak at report stage on Bill C-38, a bill that many other colleagues in the House have accurately described as an affront to democracy.

I heard my hon. colleague say that somehow we, in the opposition benches, should speak to the content of the bill. I propose to do so, but I also must point out that it is the appropriate role of the Parliament of Canada to review legislation. It is not a mere process that gets in the way of the grand aims of the particular Conservative who is ruling Privy Council. The role of Parliament is, at its essence, to review legislation.

In this case we have before us a bill of over 420 pages repealing, amending and changing over 70 different laws. We now have before us hundreds of amendments grouped into 159 votes, but we know that this legislation will not receive adequate review.

I am going to direct my comments to those aspects of part 3 that are changed in Bill C-38, but I note that my amendments cover things that are changed in part 1 under the Income Tax Act, changed roles that are important, for instance, for the various agencies that are being ended, such as the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy, which does not end up in part 3, which is generally reviewed as the environmental changes that are hidden within Bill C-38.

There are many changes within this legislation that will have long-term, serious and negative repercussions for Canada, for Canada’s society and, yes, for Canada’s economy. It is a false piece of rhetoric.

We have to beware. I do not like to be Biblical very often, but let us beware of the wages of spin. We are told a lot of spin in the House all the time, told that this is going to bring great jobs and prosperity. By asserting our rights to examine Bill C-38, we are not threatening the economy; we are trying to protect the integrity of Canadian institutions and our ability to forge policies that protect the environment and develop our resources at the same time.

In that light, I want to turn to some of the evidence we heard. I was not a member of the subcommittee on finance, but at its essence the repeal of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act is appalling. It has served Canada since 1993 and was working well up until these amendments, according to industry sources I have already cited in this House. We will repeal, under Bill C-38, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, and we will see a whole new act in its place.

That new act, on the basis of expert evidence to the subcommittee on finance, will not work well. It will not work well for proponents who want to build projects. It will not work well for Canadians, who have an interest in the proceedings and wish to come forward to present their concerns. It will definitely not work well in respect to first nations and their inherent and treaty rights, which the federal government has an obligation, a fiduciary duty, to respect, as numerous court decisions make clear. As well, It will not work well for industry.

We have an entirely new scheme of legislation put forward without adequate review. We have had less than 14 hours of hearings, combined, on the changes to the Environmental Assessment Act, the Fisheries Act, the Species at Risk Act, the Navigable Waters Protection Act. I do not blame those in the legal departments who drafted this bill, clearly without adequate time and without adequate preparation. The drafters of Bill C-38 have taken a sledgehammer to environmental law and policy that have served this country well for decades, and that sledgehammer approach has left environmental law and policy in ruins.

I hope the Conservative members of Parliament will examine and consider voting in support of the amendments I have put forward today in order to make Bill C-38 serve the purpose they themselves say they want: to protect the environment while pursuing economic development.

In specific cases, the proposed co-called Canadian Assessment Act 2012 fails to define what environmental screening is. It fails to describe what an environmental assessment is. The Conservatives have done so much damage to the scheme of the legislation that they have created new chasms of uncertainty. Anyone who is about to do a project will not be able to tell from reading the new so-called CEAA 2012 what it will cover and what it will not cover.

I have heard the hon. members for Wellington—Halton Hills and Dufferin—Caledon call numerous times on the floor of the House for a federal review of the appalling megaquarry proposed for Melancthon Township, and I applaud them for doing so. However, if Bill C-38 passes, we should watch out. We would not want a federal review. That is the last thing we would want, because the only thing the environmental assessment panel would be able to examine would be the effect of the megaquarry on fish, marine plants and migratory birds.

The essence of the threat posed by the megaquarry is to the water table, to the surrounding farms and to the fertility of the soil, which is absolutely world-beating. No one can grow better potatoes than they do in the soils of that area of Melancthon County, yet if that megaquarry had a federal assessment, it would be restricted to looking at the impact on migratory birds and fish. It has the effect of a sledgehammer.

The witness I want to mention, whose testimony people can read in Hansard, is Stephen Hazell. He worked as a member of the legal staff of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency and said exactly this: that this change will lead to greater uncertainty, more economic losses and mistakes that will cost us well into the future.

The same point was made by National Chief Shawn Atleo with the Assembly of First Nations. These changes will lead, in his words, to greater conflict, greater uncertainty, conflicts in the courts and conflicts in terms of direct action. If we are interested in democratic processes that respect all parts of society, this is not the way we want to go when we embark on large new projects.

The other pieces I must speak to in the limited time I have are my amendments, which attempt to repair the damage done by the sledgehammer to the Fisheries Act, particularly subsection 35(1). I know that the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, in addressing the House numerous times, has claimed that the municipalities of Canada were clamouring for these changes so that when they installed various municipal works, they would not have to worry about whether there was a habitat for fish in the vicinity. That claim is belied by the vote last weekend in Saskatoon, when the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, representing hundreds of municipalities, passed a resolution on an emergency basis calling upon the Prime Minister to stop, rethink this and remove the Fisheries Act changes.

In the same tone, we have the words of four former fisheries ministers. I can mention their names in this place because they no longer sit among us. They are fine and honourable public servants. They are former fisheries minister Hon. Tom Siddon, the Hon. John Fraser, Hon. Herb Dhaliwal and Hon. David Anderson.

It is not just by chance that I stand here as the only leader of a federal political party from British Columbia. I note that those four former fisheries ministers all hail from British Columbia, where people understand that wild salmon are as important to British Columbians as the French language is to Quebeckers. It is part of who we are as British Columbians to defend our salmon when there could be changes that would allow the wholesale destruction of fish habitat that supports the sockeye, the endangered wild salmon runs and the coho. Why would we make changes in this place that would do such damage to the linchpin of environmental protection in Canada?

Subsection 35(1) of the Fisheries Act does not protect just a few fish. It is a fundamental piece of legislation and is part of federal jurisdiction in the Constitution that leads to the protection of fresh water. It leads to the protection of grizzly habitat, of forests and of ecosystems. Without subsection 35(1) of the Fisheries Act remaining intact, we open up the gangway to reckless destruction not only of our extraordinary natural resources but of nature itself.

We are constantly being told that we have a false choice, that we have to choose hell-bent-for-leather economic development with no attention to what it means to first nations rights and sustainability of natural capital. As I mentioned in the House before, we are told that the planet is a business in liquidation, and everything must go as quickly as possible.

I beg my Conservative colleagues in this place to reflect on the voices of their former colleagues, people like the former member of Parliament for Red Deer, Bob Mills, who pleaded that we keep the national round table, and people like the former fisheries ministers and scientists right across Canada. Report stage is the time to rescue Bill C-38 from being a bill that destroys the environment over the long term to one that respects it.

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