This evening, I spoke in the Manitoba Legislature on Bill 24: The Red Tape Reduction and Government Efficiency Act. My speech is below:
I rise to talk in opposition to Bill 24, and also to clarify several issues:
In the Manitoba Liberal Party, we support the reduction of red tape and making things simpler for citizens and for businesses to deal with government. There are many ways of doing this – for example
- improved coordination between provincial and federal governments. I recall when I was the federal Minister responsible for Western Economic Diversification it was routinely much easier to get federal and provincial governments working together to help businesses in Alberta than it was to work with the then PC government in Manitoba. Mr. Speaker, things have not changed, the current PC government is always ready to criticize the current federal government but rarely ready to try to work together to solve the issues that citizens and businesses need addressed to improve the lives of all citizens and to help our businesses thrive.
- Using simplified forms which unable citizens and businesses to provide needed information.
But, decreasing red tape should not be used as a mechanism for reducing badly needed environmental protections. This bill, sadly, is to a considerable extent about the misuse of red tape to reduce environmental protections.
This government often says they want to make Manitoba more competitive. But instead of trying to compete on quality, and on being the best, they seek to outcompete other jurisdictions on who can have the lowest standards especially on the environment.
In this matter, the PCs are picking up where the NDP left off. Despite their posturing on the environment, when it came to oil exploration in Manitoba, under the NDP the only jurisdictions with weaker regulations and fewer giveaways to oil companies were Alabama, Mississippi, Kansas, Arkansas and Saskatchewan.
Alberta and Texas are among the jurisdictions that have a higher bar than was set by the Manitoba NDP.
It might be cheaper in the short run to run a ship without radar, without sonar, without lifeboats and without safety equipment, but in the long run it runs the risk of an accident that is far more costly.
For example, in today’s fast changing world where climate change is giving us less predictability as to what will happen, it is wrong, as Bill 24 does, to reduce the oversight and assessment of drinking water infrastructure and water sources from every five years to every ten years.
As another example, Bill 24 will remove the requirement to provide a report on ecological reserves every five years. The argument the government has made is that currently these reports are often late in being released, and they want to address what they see as a problem. That is hardly a way to improve the oversight of ecological reserves, reserves which protect rare and unique species and landscapes.
For many unique species and landscapes, we should in fact have some form of yearly monitoring. As the studies at the Experimental Lakes Area have shown gathering annual data on species provides a critically important window on species and landscape changes as a result of climate change or other factors. The work which I have been involved with, on a low budget, in northern Saskatchewan, to monitor bird populations including Bald Eagle populations annually for 50 years is another example of an important data set.
While it is not likely possible for government employees to do much of this work, there are people in Manitoba, who, given a framework for action, are likely ready and able to keep track of what is happening on the ground. Surely government should be able to work in partnership with people and organizations interested in monitoring species populations as occurs in breeding bird surveys, in annual Christmas bird counts and other exercises to keep an eye, annually, on critical habitats in our province. So this change by this government to decrease environmental monitoring is wrong. It is a continuation of the approach under the NDP when the NDP government lost track of what was happening with moose populations and failed to adequately protect moose populations.
The elimination of the prohibition on winter spreading of livestock manure is legislation is misguided and wrong. Though this may be still present in regulations, regulations can be easily changed and are not sufficient protection against the potential for a government, like the present PC government, which is not particularly concerned about the environment to act to change the regulations. Michael Stainton, representing the Lake Winnipeg Foundation put it well when he said:
The Environment Act, section 40.2, Prohibition of Winter Spreading, currently, The Manitoba Environment Act prohibits the spreading of any livestock manure on agricultural fields between November 10th and April 10th. This is widely recognized, and well-established best management practice supported by broad scientific consensus.
Arguably, the ban on winter spreading is the most important pollution prevention that has been put in place to protect Lake Winnipeg over the past two decades. When manure is spread on saturated, frozen or snow-covered ground, phosphorus cannot be incorporated into the soil. On the surface of the soil, this phosphorus is not available to support plant growth and is highly susceptible to runoff during winter storms; in particular, during the spring melt.
So what Lake Winnipeg Foundation urges is that Bill 24 be amended so as to not repeal section 40.2 of the Manitoba's environment act. The ban on winter spreading of all manure should be maintained in legislation, the highest form of protection for Manitoba's water.
When questioned by the Minister whether the regulations would not suffice He replied:
“a few lines of ink [in the Legislation] are not a high overhead to maintain”.
We would also argue that some form of transparency and accountability should be maintained with respect to Public Private Partnerships. Rather than end accountability, which seems to be a common approach from the present PC government, why not make changes to preserve some level of accountability where such partnerships are concerned – to ensure for example that the long run costs and benefits of the partnership are known, and risks are known and addressed ahead of time. Why is the government so keen to end any accountability?
Madam Speaker, we do not agree with the approach taken by the NDP to demonize the hog industry in Manitoba. Our approach is to ensure there are good regulations and enforcement to ensure good science-based environmental practices by those in the hog industry in our province and that phosphorous in hog manure is used to help in fertilizing crops and is not running off into our watersheds. Our environment is a crucially important natural infrastructure for all Manitobans that needs to be protected. At the same time the hog industry has provided good employment opportunities for many Manitobans and has resulted in the growth of many rural communities in our province.
Protection of Lake Winnipeg should not be addressed by abandoning the hog industry, or by putting the industry under a moratorium straightjacket which does not allow those in the industry to modernize and develop improved humane and environmental approaches to raising hogs. We believe that all hog manure, with very few exceptions should be injected into the land and that we can move the yardsticks to have more of the hog manure in Manitoba injected into the land instead of being spread on top of the land. We also believe that improved enforcement can help, and that much better monitoring is needed. To this end, we congratulate the Lake Winnipeg Foundation and its efforts to better monitor our waterways and encourage the government to support this citizen led effort to help our environment. Such monitoring can lead to better measures to reduce phosphorous in Lake Winnipeg. We can and must have conditions where the hog industry is not causing problems for Lake Winnipeg.
We also believe action to help Lake Winnipeg can and should proceed more quickly. There have been far too many delays under both NDP and PC governments in the removal of phosphorous from the sewage from the City of Winnipeg. The delays have continued and continued when action is needed. Concern for the future of Lake Winnipeg, which suffered severe algal blooms this past summer, should be much greater than it is, and action should be taken more quickly. Recent research of Diane Orihel shows that a considerable proportion of the phosphorous in Lake Winnipeg in the summer is phosphorous released from the sediments. A real action plan to address the future of Lake Winnipeg including the phosphorous in its sediments is badly needed.
Manitoba Liberals oppose Bill 24. We believe that elements of this bill misuse the approach of red tape reduction to remove important environmental safeguards.