Mr. Speaker, it is always a privilege and a pleasure to rise to address issues that come before the House. This is an interesting issue, I must say. I do not have very much background knowledge on it, but I have been able to look at it to try to get a better understanding. Bill C-579, known as the urban heat islands act, is something the Liberals support. We feel it would be good for it to move forward. Ultimately, as I say, we support it.
Perhaps I could illustrate what it really means by using a graph. If we were to look at a graph comparing hot air in city centres versus rural communities or suburban areas, we would find that where there are heavy concentrations of people or industry—huge industrial parks, for instance—the air temperature versus the surface temperature varies depending on where one is situated. People living in rural communities where there is very little or marginal development, such as on farms or in marshy areas or among the literally thousands of lakes, would find that the air temperature is not much different from the surface temperature.
However, in higher-density communities the gap starts to widen. In Canada, for example, if we were to compare a rural setting, where the air and surface temperatures are close together, to downtown Toronto on a summer day, we would find that it is considerably hotter on the surface than it is 1,000 feet up in the air. In other words, when we talk about urban heat islands, what we are really referring to is the difference between the surface temperature and the air temperature.
What can we do as a government to try to minimize the negative impacts of heat islands? There are negative impacts that we should be aware of, such as lower water quality, higher air pollution, increased heat stress that is very real, and improved conditions for the spreading of airborne diseases.
We have seen some extreme examples of this in the past in some of the cities. Again, if I look at Toronto, which is not alone, we have an extended number of days during the summertime when it will get quite hot. When we look at that heat around the downtown areas, highly industrialized areas, or very high density communities, we will find that it is significantly hotter. Those heat records, such as we experienced a few years ago, have a fairly profound impact on the living conditions of people. We have seen that in a number of examples that have occurred over the years.
One of the things that encourages me, personally, is that we have a generation of young people in our schools today or recently graduated, who place the environment as a very high priority. I remember, a couple of years back, walking into Sisler High School and a number of students took me to what was, in essence, the centre of the high school where they had opened up an outside patio door and were taking away bricks, which they were replacing with vegetation. That is one of the ways we can combat the heat island effect, if I can put it that way.
If we take a look at what we have in our urban centres, we see certain things that draw in the heat. Things we can do to marginalize that, or lessen the effect of it, are very strong positives.
As I said, walking through Sisler High School a few years ago, it was great to see students who were very aware of the positive impact. They had virtually dead ground that was in the centre of the school compound, if I can put it that way, with buildings all around it, and they had the wisdom and the vision through the support of some of the teaching staff to make a change. That change does have a very strong message.
Like all MPs, I am afforded the opportunity to fly considerably. When I fly into my home city of Winnipeg, I cannot help but notice the new subdivisions versus the areas that are more established. In the areas that are more established, the first thing I notice is the trees. There are a lot more trees in some of the older, more established communities. If we compare those types of communities to areas where there are no trees, or very little vegetation, we will find that there is an impact on the difference between the surface and air temperatures.
In the last decade or so, through city planners, we have often found that there are minimum standards right down to the footage of green space that has to be incorporated into the development of suburbs. That is a positive thing. Ponds are put in place. Mandated tree planting is something else that has a positive impact on the amount of separation between the air and ground temperatures.
If we look at some of the ideas that are out there and are prepared to act on them, we will in fact be able to make a difference.
There have been international conferences dealing with this particular issue. In some countries, the impact on communities is more profound. We need to recognize that Canada does have a role to play, not only locally but also internationally by playing a stronger leadership role and taking certain action. We could be more proactive.
What is also being suggested, and I would really encourage, is that we think outside of the national government. We do need to incorporate that into our thinking and planning and in coming up with a strategy. Hopefully, with the passing of the bill, there would be more of a strategy or plan and some sense of accountability that would come back to the House and demonstrate the degree to which we have moved forward as a nation.
Having said that, it is critically important that the Minister of Health and the Minister of Finance work with our partners at the provincial level and those ministries that are having an impact. Hopefully, we would be able to come together and develop some ideas to improve the conditions for generations after us, which ultimately will have to live in the environments we are creating.
I have found it amazing the degree to which some of our municipalities have grown over the last 20 years, whether Vancouver, Calgary, my own city, or other cities out east. We are still relatively young as a country. We have some highly intelligent individuals who can play a strong role in future urban planning.