Mr. Jim Fulton (Skeena) moved:
That, in the opinion of this House, the government should consider establishing the public right to sue government institutions for failure to protect the environment.
He said: Mr. Speaker, on four occasions this week I have given speeches and on leaving the Chamber I had my hand shaken as members said: "That was a great speech. It is good to see you go, pal".
I am reasonably certain that this is my last speech, this being the last order of business. I am honoured to have the opportunity to move the last motion to be debated in this 34th Parliament particularly as it concerns an area and a topic very close to my heart. That is protecting the environment.
The motion to establish the public right to sue government institutions for failure to protect the environment is something we have long needed. I will demonstrate in the next 20 minutes why the House should, as soon as it
Private Members' Business
resumes sitting, pass legislation in order to have this occur.
The intent is to protect and conserve the ecological systems of Canada, obviously not all of them entirely intact in their wilderness state, but certainly to maintain them in an ecologically functioning state. This is something we know is not occurring with the contamination of the Great Lakes, the St. Lawrence, the Fraser River and most of the fresh water systems in Canada. There is contamination even into the Arctic, into the polar bear populations and so on.
Only those in this House needing remedial education would fail to realize that we are on the brink of a precipice. We must turn away from the kind of institutional operation I have seen here for more than 14 years and that we see throughout the whole of this country and around the world.
The principle that would be invoked by this opportunity to sue government institutions for failure to protect the environment is that it would promote environmentally sound decision making. That is something one does not find in government departments or on the floor of this House.
It would facilitate meaningful public involvement, something that does not occur in this country. We do not have the well-funded and well-integrated environmental organizations and foundations that the United States and other countries have. Our environmental organizations are small. They are poorly funded and are certainly excluded from the political and institutional decision making.
It will provide for government accountability, something which there is little if any of at the moment. It will protect intact every ecosystem in Canada through the development of an environmental registry. I recall recently a witness before a committee said that if you have a dream and you have a timetable, then you have a plan.
With this motion I am suggesting the dream of a protected ecosystem for the whole planet. A timetable was attempted to be put in place at the world summit in Rio a year ago. Regrettably that was not adopted by the major developing or developed countries in this world. We have to hope that at least Rio triggered a new
political awakening. It certainly has not triggered a new environmental consciousness as yet.
This proposal would trigger reviews. It would give the public the opportunity to get involved. It would trigger investigations. It would provide a trigger for public prosecutions. Most particularly, it would provide for access to the courts and the potential for not only the polluter to pay, but for the regulator and the enforcer to pay. Of course it is the government itself that is responsible for most of the lax regulation and lax enforcement and the destruction of our environment.
Before carrying on with the specifics of this motion, I would like to take a moment to thank the many people in my constituency for sending me here and for helping me here and in the constituency. They know who they are and I am grateful. I also thank my staff here in the House of Commons and in the constituency for the endless hours of diligent support they have provided to me.
For my education in politics and in life skills I thank my father Blair and mother Margaret who live in Vancouver and put up with a wild and almost always thankless son. Their support has been total and that has made me a proud son.
For putting up with the endless hours of travel, late nights and stress, I thank my wife Elizabeth. She has borne the brunt of this job and has borne two wonderful children along the way, our son Blair who is now 11 and our daughter Katie who is 9.1 plan in the years ahead to make up for the parenting they have missed in the busy parliamentary years since 1979.
It is for the love of family, friends, constituency, this great country and this wonderful planet that I have served and I am proud for having done so.
This motion is an attempt to put in perspective a monitoring process for government institutions to provide for the enforcement of laws and regulations that have been passed by legislatures of this country and to speed a new process.
There is significant non-compliance with regulations and laws to protect the environment and this is epidemic in Canada. I recall only two years ago in British Columbia that in some areas of the province more than 80 per cent of certain types of waste disposal and waste discharge permits had been in significant non-compliance
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by large industry for more than a year. Giant corporations like the Alcan Corporation were simply flouting the law. Any fines they would get were simply considered to be the cost of doing business. That is no way for Canada's environment to survive.
Let me give another example right in the backyard of Parliament. A company by the name of Tioxide has just closed, one of the worst toxic contaminators of the entire St. Lawrence system. Over the last 10 years its operations in Europe have been under intense scrutiny and regulation by the governments in Europe. It has recently been given environmental awards for being so environmentally appropriate. Elere in Canada because of significant non-compliance, lax enforcement and weak-willed politicians it remained one of the worst polluters in Canada. When it was actually told to start cleaning up even a little bit, it simply shut its doors, gave the flying fickle finger of fate to Canada and moved its operations offshore.
That will continue to happen if we go the route of the North American free trade agreement, which my friend from Kamloops touched upon. Environmental standards will go to the lowest common denominator on the continent if that piece of legislation regrettably gets through in a majority Liberal or Conservative government coming to power later in 1993. The North American free trade agreement stands as the largest single danger that has ever been considered to the environment of North America.
Overwhelmingly Liberals and Conservatives are opposed to full cost accounting and in fact I must say many New Democrats are as well, principally as a result of misinformation within society generally.
Let us look at the integrated vertical ownership and structure of the media in this country which is in the hands of people like Conrad Black. Noam Chomsky has been mentioning this for years in his books, such as Manufacturing Consent. If we allow the private sector with certain vested interests to take raw resources and to use the environment simply as a waste disposal area and to sacrifice labour and if those same integrated economic interests control radio, television, newspapers and magazines, one does not have to be a rocket scientist to realize that the likelihood of having an educated population able
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to fight for their own rights and able to protect the environment is close to zero.
I regret to say that in the 14 years I have been here I have seen a continual and dismal decline in the coverage of environmental issues in this country by what is described as the mainstream media.
That includes the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation where since it was taken over by the Progressive Conservative Party as a mini Senate the control of the media is obvious to anyone who wants to look. It is not the issues and how they cover them, it is the issues that are chosen to be covered which is where the CBC management, the Tory management, managed to manipulate Canadians into thinking that everything is nice and warm and okay when it comes to the environment.
Regrettably it is only when there are disasters and catastrophes that we get a response from this House. There has to be a Nestucca spill or an Exxon Valdez or a tire fire before governments leap to action and enforcement agencies start to lay the plethora of charges they have at their fingertips.
Our environment continues to decline because those who believe that the institutional approach we are taking is working are those who believe that the solution to pollution is dilution which is the ultimate ironic lie. Those who believe that resources are solely for exploitation and not for protection and conservation are of a similar mindset. They are the same people who believe that the externalization of waste is of no cost or concern. Their eyes are only drawn to the balance sheet and the balance sheet of the world is already demonstrating as we know.
Just today while we give these speeches to close the House for this 34th Parliament, 40,000 children on this planet will die of preventable disease. Yet there is so little being done in this country to deal with that or many of the other crises that the planet faces. Naturally the environment will decline into the foreseeable future while Canadians are offered the existing political system in its unbalanced form as their only option based on go-for-it policies, election after election.
We heard a moment ago from a member from Alberta who said how great it is that the New Democrats have been wiped out in Alberta and Mr. Klein is now the
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Private Members' Business
premier of Alberta. I was bom in Alberta and regret to see what has happened there. One need only look at the rate of increase in the debt and the rate of exploitation of resources in that province to know that those who voted Tory again and elected a majority Tory government are opting for more of the same policies. There will be more of the gouging, destruction, abuse and over-exploitation of the Alberta environment for the now generation, never thinking of the future generations and that incredible environment that is being destroyed and pulped up for foreign benefit, foreign profit and to increase the debt of those who are now being bom in Alberta.
Let us think for example of another area where litigation would help if my motion was put into law. In 1987 the Prime Minister of this country and President Reagan of the United States signed into law a binding accord in terms of the Great Lakes that there would be zero tolerance and zero discharge of toxins into the Great Lakes. Here we are six years later and on every single day in every single year the amount of toxins going in has continued. The level of enforcement has been zero. That is the only zero that has come in this equation. The Love Canal is still there, the toxins are still pouring in from the U.S. side of the Niagara escarpment and the toxins have continued to pour through the St. Clair and other Canadian systems into the Great Lakes.
If we start to give some kinds of tools and powers back to the Canadian public and the people of this world to hold institutions accountable on a daily basis, we can go back to what we require which is full cost accounting. We need to know the real cost, not just of taking water out of a river. When Alcan takes all but 14 per cent of the water out of the Nechako, we need to know not just what the effect of taking that water out will be in running it down the Kemano River. We also need to know the full cost impact. What is the impact down the Fraser system? What is the impact on the Fraser River estuary, the Gulf of Georgia, the microclimates on the way down the Fraser? If we lower Hell's Gate by three feet by giving Alcan the power it wants to sell and export, what are the impacts on cattlemen who live along the plateau along the Fraser who want to pump water to feed their stock?
What are all the impacts on other future potential developments? Without full cost accounting those on the inside track are the only beneficiaries. Future generations and entire ecosystems are the losers.
The public must be given the right to sue government institutions that fail to protect the environment. Political decisions must carry time, space and reality-measured price tags and at the moment they do not carry any of those.
As I leave this institution I can comment as someone who has worked hard in committee and on the floor of the House. I can say that the institution itself is out of step and direction with sustainable development. Maurice Strong, the chair of the world summit on environment in Rio was on the radio earlier today and confirmed my observation that we continue to hurtle institutionally toward extinction as though we did not know it.
This institution is not operating on full cost accounting and when I speak of the institution I do not speak solely of the institution of Parliament. I speak of all parts of the federal government, the provincial governments and the territorial governments responsible for the public interest. These institutions are not operating on full cost accounting nor is any legislature at the moment on earth, but there is no excuse for continuing on the road to an uninhabitable earth.
I am deeply grateful to my father Blair for educating me about real life and teaching me to understand that real politics is the politics of sharing and caring for all that is about us: people as well as birds, wildlife, clean water and clear mountain air. They have passed the torch to me and although I have made many friends here and both won and lost many major battles, I regret to report to them, my family, my constituents and all Canadians that we are losing the ecological gifts we inherited from time immemorial.
Our environment is a living universal memory and wilderness is our window back to the universe. We diminish ourselves when we diminish the natural world. As the list of endangered species of plants and animals grows in Canada and across the planet we must ask how we can stop this.
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Parks and conservation are merely holdout pockets. It is a new way of politics and thinking that we need. We know the causes of our problems and we know some of the effects but what about simple things such as global warming? It is the butt of jokes on most late night talk shows on television in the winter time, whether it is someone from Chicago saying: "I wish that global warming was here" or someone in the Canadian north saying "I wish we had more global warming this winter".
I sat for several years on a committee in this House and spent almost $1 million of public money looking into the issue of global warming. Our committee composed of Conservatives, Liberals and New Democrats came to a unanimous conclusion that global warming poses a greater threat to the people of Canada and the people of the world than anything other than all out nuclear war.
What has this 34th Parliament of Canada under our eighteenth Prime Minister done? We had a promise that greenhouse gases would be stabilized at 1990 levels by the year 2000. That promise was made two years ago and the studies are now in. Some of them are hidden by Energy, Mines and Resources but some have trickled their way into the public. It is now expected that we will be 13 per cent above 1990 levels by the year 2000.
This is a government response. This is an institutional response without a peep from most members of Parliament. It is a threat that is second only to all out nuclear war and we are doing nothing. The Pacific Ocean where I live has already started to rise and no one seems to care about it.
I leave one germinal idea, one seminal idea as one of the last speakers in this Parliament to speak on a motion. I hope the next Parliament takes the environment far more seriously than this one did and actually does something about the big issues such as global warming, ozone depletion and massive deforestation that are now starting to affect not only my province but other areas of the country. I hesitate to sound too negative or unhappy but I must reflect about how this institution could change for my constituents and Canadians in these last moments I have.
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My first suggestion was to give Canadians the tools and the opportunity to sue government institutions that fail to protect the environment because they are the regulators. Too many times in my life as a politician I have seen the Department of Fisheries and Oceans fail to prosecute themselves, fail to enforce and uphold regulations and statutes passed by this place.
Certainly we can continue to have the benches here and continue to elect people from constituencies, but if we fail to become more organic and more in touch with what is going on in the world around us there will not be a world.
People like David Suzuki and others who say this is the turn around decade are not fools. The scientists we all listened to in Rio are not fools. It is the unanimous opinion of the most senior scientists on this planet that we must turn around this decade and make a change to full cost accounting and sustainable development.
In closing I thank the pages and the staff of the House. I thank you, Mr. Speaker, the parliamentary library, the security staff and all those who have worked in this place in the years that I have been here, and in particular the Table who I have harassed many times over the years on matters sometimes trifling and sometimes not. It has been an honour to have worked here.
I wish those who are re-elected here and those who still serve the very best. They deserve luck.
Topic: PRIVATE MEMBERS' BUSINESS
Subtopic: THE ENVIRONMENT