moved that Bill C-305, an act to amend the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (inventory of brownfields), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Madam Speaker, in the short time that I have to defend my bill, Bill C-305, I will try to address four key areas: a definition, an explanation, the need for and approaches to remediation, and the reasons why this legislation should be deemed votable.
What is a brownfield? According to the 1998 report by the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy, entitled “State of the Debate on the Environment and the Economy: Greening Canada's Brownfield Sites”, brownfields are defined as:
—abandoned or underused properties where past actions have caused real or suspected environmental contamination. Although they are classified as a subset of contaminated sites, these sites exhibit good potential for other uses and usually provide economically viable business opportunities. They are mainly located in established urban areas, where existing municipal services are readily available, or along transportation corridors. They may include, but are not limited to: decommissioned refineries, railway yards, dilapidated warehouses, abandoned gas stations, former dry cleaners and other commercial properties where toxic substances have been stored or used.
I am only guessing but I dare say each and every one of us in the House of Commons has a brownfield site or two in our ridings. Redevelopment of brownfields is often paralyzed due to a variety of reasons, including uncertainty regarding liability and ownership, and provincial and federal liens. Since brownfields are normally located within urban areas, municipalities are the main drivers of brownfield development.
The concept of brownfields is in contrast to that of greenfields, that is, low cost virgin land on the urban fringe which is often more attractive for industrial or commercial relocation or expansion.
Why do we need to remediate and what are the approaches to remediation? The advantages to the remediation of brownfields are obvious: job growth, the revitalization of our downtown cores and the reversal of urban sprawl, as well as the cleanup of potentially environmentally hazardous sites right in our own backyards.
What we are seeing in many cities today is the growth of the urban doughnut, where the city expands ever outward while the once vital core becomes nothing but a hole.
I do not need a police study to convince anyone in this place of the high crime rates in brownfield areas. They can be dangerous places, not only for environmental reasons but also because of the threat to personal safety. Vacant lots and abandoned sites become lairs for drug users and violent criminals. Perfectly good commercial and residential land which just happens to be nearby such an area drops in value because of its proximity to the abandoned sites. In short, these sites are dangerous, ugly and wasteful.
As we begin this new millennium, we need to adopt the new virtues of reduce, reuse and recycle in ways that are more than just putting newspapers and pop cans in the blue box. The three Rs hold a lesson for city development as well. All of our cities and towns are stuck in the wasteful habit of growing outward and ignoring their cores. This trend cannot continue.
By encouraging brownfield remediation and reclamation, cities and towns can capitalize on infrastructure already in place, such as roads, sewers, et cetera. The strain on public transit systems will be eased by putting people to work in town rather than in newly developed areas. Increased construction, commerce and real estate transactions will return to where they were, to where they are most needed, to downtown.
In Toronto in April 1998, an international symposium was held, entitled “Redeveloping Brownfields: A Different Conversation”. I would like to pass on to my colleagues the findings of the executive summary of that comprehensive symposium. Ten recommendations were made.
First, there is no single generic approach. Best practices for brownfield redevelopment are not so much a list of directions or a prescription as much as a new way of thinking. The best redevelopment approach is closely related to a site's competitive advantage, its marketability, the intended use and location. The key is to integrate site restoration and the land redevelopment process in a way that fosters reinvestment.
Second, a project is nothing without a vision. It is important to be able to imagine and articulate the possibilities, to describe what others cannot yet see, because brownfield redevelopment is about protecting and revitalizing the very heart of our communities.
Third, integration makes it happen. Planning, design and environmental issues should be addressed together in an integrated, transparent process.
Fourth, a decisive set of players is needed. Project teams must have diverse skills and experience. In addition, brownfield redevelopments benefit from collaboration among players, regulators, citizens, investors, bankers, technical experts and other members of the design team. Getting the right players involved at the right time saves money and effort.
Fifth, every brownfield project requires partnerships to make it work. Those partnerships can result in consensus about the next use and site design as well as innovative financing strategies, formal agreements regarding cleanup and monitoring, and ongoing communication and community development initiatives.
Sixth, local government and its citizens know best what is needed to spark reinvestment in brownfields. The local spark may come from the public sector, such as a city department, agency or politician, or the non-profit sector such as, for example, the local economic or community development corporation. Improving the investment climate by clarifying and streamlining the decision process and articulating the community vision are two areas where local government can play a key role.
Seventh, risk based decision making is about managing change, ensuring that environmental and human health are protected in cost effective ways and making sound economic investments.
Eighth, broadening the scope of the decision leads to better understanding and better decisions. Effective communication should be seen as a priority task for all members of the project team.
The ninth point is best viewed as a shared responsibility of private and public sectors. When we speak of education around the issue of brownfields the decision has traditionally been focused on public education. The question of education and learning must be more comprehensive and should include all stakeholders, such as risk assessors, lenders, landowners, purchasers and developers.
Finally, the last point is that many successes have resulted from upfront public sector investment in environmental restoration, infrastructure improvements and job creation. Setting a new standard for design and land use can go a long way to improve the investment climate.
I would ask that members present consider these recommendations as they listen to the details of my proposed legislation and evaluate it accordingly. I have endeavoured to take these recommendations to heart in my consideration of the problem of brownfield remediation and I believe that this bill, Bill C-305, is an effective first step toward this goal.
In summary, the bill would amend the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act to expand an existing registry that is already there. Any member of the public can report suspected contaminated sites with the express purpose of building an easily accessible national registry of brownfields. The registry would accept voluntary reports of contaminated lands according to regulations which would determine how much evidence of contamination is required.
The bill would also allow the federal government, together with provincial, municipal and private partners, to assist with the often prohibitive costs of environmental assessments.
To solve a problem, we first need to identify the problem. Ultimately I see this as a three stage process: identification, assessment and remediation. The bill addresses the first two stages directly. First, we identify the extent of brownfields right across the country and once we know where these sites are we can begin to assess the costs of the cleanup. Having this information open and available to all levels of government and private enterprise would foster co-operative and innovative solutions.
The bill is a small but crucial step toward reclaiming these commercially useful sites, revitalizing our city centres and combating urban sprawl. The existing public registry system, under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, was set up to facilitate public awareness to ensure convenient public access to records on projects requiring environmental assessments.
One of the impediments to brownfield remediation is the reluctance to report a site due to the expense involved with the assessment. By expanding the registry to include not only projects requiring an environmental assessment, in other words sites already in the process of remediation, but also suspected sites, the public will have access to information about sites that are lying dormant. This is the key difference between the existing legislation and the changes I am proposing in Bill C-305.
At the moment there is little or no concerted effort by the federal or provincial governments to address the issue of contaminated property that is cheaper and legally safer for the owner to ignore and let lie fallow rather than clean it up or sell it to someone who will.
Another aspect of the legislation would permit the federal government to fund projects before the environmental assessment is completed, in other words to pay for the assessment. Bill C-305 would exempt projects from one component of the environmental assessment process. No assessment would be required before the federal government provides any funding but only as long as the funds are used to pay for the actual assessment.
As I mentioned before, one of the impediments to remediation is the prohibitive cost of environmental assessments. What I propose is that the federal government be allowed, be allowed I say especially to the Bloc who I know has a concern about jurisdiction, not obligated, to fund the assessment possibly in co-operation with the provincial and municipal governments and private partners.
Why should the legislation be deemed votable? I believe that my bill meets the five criteria which the standing committee responsible for private members' business has set out: First, the bill is clear, complete and effective; second, the bill is constitutional and concerns only an area of federal jurisdiction; third, the bill concerns a matter of significant public interest; fourth, the bill concerns an issue that is not part of the current legislative agenda and has not been addressed by the House; and fifth, the bill is not of a purely local interest and certainly is non-partisan.
By virtue of its voluntary nature, the registry would not encroach upon provincial jurisdiction. What the registry would do is collect and share voluntarily submitted information, thereby fostering intergovernmental and private co-operation.
There are no punitive measures associated with being on the list. In fact, it would be in the interest of a brownfield site owner to be on the list, as it would open up opportunities for remediation.
The issue of brownfields remediation is a matter of highly significant public interest. This is a problem of enormous magnitude which is long overdue for some kind of a solution. According to the redeveloping brownfields symposium, it is estimated that there are 2,900 such sites in Canada with an estimated cost of $3 billion.
Permit me to read from a part of the report from the symposium. It states:
By far, the overriding success stories in the United States Brownfields program have turned on the ability of the parties to engage all appropriate decision makers and for all decision makers to have a common goal of redevelopment using flexible decision making authority. The cooperative approach, very consistent with the Canadian style of regulation, will be the key to the success of redevelopment in any jurisdiction.
My proposed legislation, without overstepping federal jurisdiction, can do just that, by initiating a co-operative movement between all levels of government and the private sector.
I conclude by re-emphasizing my earlier statements. To solve a problem we must first identify the problem. Ultimately, I see this as a three stage process: identification, assessment, remediation. The bill addresses the first two stages directly. First, we identify the extent of brownfields right across the country. Once we know where these sites are, we can begin to assess the costs of the clean-up.
Having the information open and available to all levels of government and private enterprise will foster co-operative and innovative solutions.