Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak this evening to Bill C-469, which arose from two or three sessions the Standing Committee on the Environment and Sustainable Development held last spring—a committee of which I am a member. This bill is modelled on a private member's bill that I tabled shortly beforehand, Bill C-464, which shares the same objective as the Bloc bill.
My colleagues and I support Bill C-469 and we will vote to refer it to the Standing Committee on the Environment and Sustainable Development to be studied and amended. My own Bill C-464 is more detailed. I hope a few amendments will be made in the Standing Committee on the Environment and Sustainable Development to add more detail to Bill C-469.
There are some shortcomings with this bill. I would like to go over them briefly. It is normal for private members' bills not to be entirely perfect, because of course private members do not have the same resources at their disposal as governments and ministers introducing legislation. It is very normal and understandable that bills might need some amendments and a bit more work in committee.
My own bill, Bill C-464, would technically eliminate phosphates from dishwashing detergent. In fact, it would reduce the phosphate level to 0.5% by weight. The main reason for this is that it makes virtually no sense to completely eliminate the phosphate levels in dishwashing detergent, because, number one, there are phosphates, I am told, in the packaging of detergents, which is what keeps the packaging firm. There will always be a trace amount of phosphates in any detergent.
When we get to committee, we will have to hear from industry representatives and technical experts from the Department of the Environment, but I am surmising that we might have to amend the bill to allow 0.5% by weight.
Also, it is quite possible we will have to amend the bill to allow some exceptions. For example, a minimal amount of phosphates may be required for detergents that are used at the institutional level, for instance, in hospitals, nursing homes and schools, where there are obviously some potential public health concerns that would have to be alleviated by having some level of phosphates in the detergent. No doubt we will get to that issue in committee.
By way of history, it is very interesting to note that laundry detergents have had very low levels of phosphates for many years, because the regulations under CEPA for laundry detergents were created within the context of the Canada-U.S. Great Lakes water quality agreement. These levels were regulated long before dishwashers became popular and essentially ubiquitous. At the time, the government was focused only on laundry detergent. That is why the CEPA regulations at the moment do not include regulations for phosphates in dishwashing detergent. That is a bit of an anomaly of history and is something to take note of.
The issue of phosphates in laundry detergent is really not a pressing issue at all. It is the dishwashing detergent that we have to focus on and that is why my bill focused specifically on that.
We have to ask ourselves why we need this Bloc bill or my bill in the first place. I will give credit to my colleague from Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, who presented a motion to the environment committee to have discussions on the issue of phosphates. This was done many months ago and yet there has been no government action on this issue. This is why we need two private members' bills. Even if they are not perfect bills, we need private members' bills because the government has not acted on the issue, even though the issue of phosphates in dishwashing detergent made headlines all over Quebec almost a year ago.
Some people may say that the government is working on amending these regulations. There are two things wrong with that explanation. First, it does not take a lot to make a minor change to CEPA regulations to deal with phosphates. Second, three or four weeks ago when officials from Environment Canada appeared before the environment committee, I asked the question: why do we not have regulations in CEPA to deal with phosphates in dishwashing detergent?
Do members know what I was told? I do not blame the officials for this. In fact, the minister himself should have been present to answer the questions, but he could only stay an hour that day.
I was told that it was not a priority. They said that phosphates in dishwashing detergent is not a priority for them. That was two weeks ago. Then, of course, there was probably a bit of public pressure or some media attention given to the issue again and, lo and behold, we were told a couple of weeks later that the government will amend CEPA regulations.
This is endemic in the Conservative government. The government never acts on the obvious. It never recognizes the truth of the matter until public pressure is put on it. Then it reacts, but late. That is why we need two private members' bills: to put the government on notice that it should be doing the right thing.
Some people, especially on the government side, originally responded that phosphates in dishwashing detergent make up only 1.5% of the problem of phosphorus in water. Of course, there is the whole issue of agricultural fertilizers and runoff from agricultural lands that gets into the waterways, and of course that is a problem. There is also the problem of municipal sewage effluent, which leads to phosphorus in waterways.
So why devote energy to removing phosphates from dishwashing detergent when this is not a huge part of the problem? In politics, there are issues that are catalysts. They may sound simple and be simple, but they somehow allow us to open the door to a broad range of other related issues.
When it comes to climate change, we might focus on something like home renovations to make someone's home more energy efficient. The problem is much more complex than that, I agree, but when we talk about something that is concrete and understandable, we generate public debate. It creates the impetus or the political will to deal with the larger problem, which is a lot more complicated.
It is the same with the phosphate issue. It is a small part of the problem, but it gets discussion going about the quality of our water and also about the need for a national water strategy, which we still do not have. After it was mentioned in passing in the last budget and given lip service in the throne speech, we still do not have a national water strategy. Maybe we need to be talking about dishwashing detergent, because even though it is a small problem, it is something people can relate to and understand.
While the problem of dishwashing detergent is minor in some parts of the country, it is in fact major in Quebec, especially in lakes in the Laurentians, where much of the phosphorus is from cottagers using dishwashers.