Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to be here today, even though I had a bad week last week. Labour rates for the number one employer in Alberta are going crazy, the Oilers lost, the Flames lost, and the Stampeders lost. However, this bill is a winner, and I am happy to stand here today to speak to this bill. I thank the member for Dartmouth—Cole Harbour for introducing this bill. We sit on the environment committee together, and this is a winner.
As a member of the Standing Committee on the Environment and Sustainable Development, I am pleased to speak today to Bill C-238, a national strategy for the safe disposal of lamps containing mercury act. The bill would establish a national strategy for the safe disposal of lamps containing mercury, guidelines regarding facilities for safe disposal, and the creation of a plan to promote public awareness.
Mercury has been identified as a toxic substance under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999. The release of mercury poses a significant risk to the Canadian environment and public health. Canada-wide standards for mercury-containing lamps were developed by the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment and endorsed in 2011.
I want to spend some time on the plan to promote public awareness. I know a lot of younger members in the House probably grew up during the Star Wars era and played with florescent lamps of sorts. They probably broke them. Hopefully they put some protection on their hands, but no one thought about protection from what they were breathing in when they broke.
I remember, a little before that era, that school teachers used to bring out mercury during science classes. We would play with the mercury hand to hand and roll it back and forth. No one knew any better. In fact, I remember a friend of mine putting it on his tongue to taste it. Think about that. I am not sure if he is around anymore, and I do not really want to inquire. That is how ignorant we Canadians were a number of years ago. We are not ignorant today, and we need to address it.
Going back a number of years, I was a young police officer in the mid-1970s, and I went to a community called Fort St. James in the interior of British Columbia. About 25 miles north of Fort St. James was an area called Pinchi Lake. There was a mercury mine on that lake. The mercury mine opened in around 1941, operated through the 1940s, closed for about 10 or 12 years, started up again in the late 1960s, and shut down again in the mid 1970s. There was contamination from that mercury mine. There was an open-pit mine and an underground mine.
Pinchi Lake is a beautiful lake on the outskirts of the mine. I remember driving there in the spring of 1978 to have a look at it, as I had heard about it. There was a town there too, a ghost town now, because no one lives there. There were people fishing on the lake, but on the shore, about every 300 yards, there were signs saying, “Mercury contamination. Do not fish”. Yet there were people out there, aboriginal people, fishing. I stopped to talk to some of them. They said it would not hurt them and that the signs were just to keep them off the lake.
That is why we need to educate people. It was wrong then and it definitely would not be acceptable today.
Mercury is an essential component in some energy-efficient lamps, such as florescent tubes and light bulbs.
At home I have a fairly large shop. I like to play around with motorcycles and cars. As I get older, I cannot see as well as I used to. I hate glasses when I am working on something, because they always fall off and then I bang my head when I bend over to pick them up, so I decided to get the best lights out there, mercury vapour. I have these big vapour lights in my shop.
I went to a recycle shop in Edmonton, because I believe in recycling, to see if I could buy some. It probably was not so much being a real environmentalist; I am a little cheap and I could buy them a lot more cheaply used than new.
I bought mercury vapour lights, and I put them in my shop. I remember when I went over to pick them up, the guy was testing them. One did not work. Crash. One worked, so I bought that one. He did it about two times in a row. They did not work, and he threw them. I said, “You get half a dozen, which I need, and I will come back in a few hours”. It was not a healthy atmosphere to be in.
Again, it is ignorance. People do not know the significant dangers of mercury lamps.
Why am I using them? I know better. Again, I am using them because they are very efficient. The use of fluorescent bulbs or mercury vapour bulbs lowers energy use, thus reducing the mercury that would come from power plants. That is why a lot of people use them. Plus they are more cost-effective and last 10 times longer than a normal light. That is why people in industry and people in shops use them and why they are in skating rinks across the country. They use them for that reason.
When our former Conservative government was in power, we were very active in negotiating the Minamata Convention on Mercury in 2013, as mentioned earlier by the last speaker, which called for tougher measures to reduce mercury emissions. In 2014, our government followed up with regulations prohibiting the broad import and manufacture of products containing mercury.
Even prior to that, in 2001, the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment, which I mentioned earlier, got together and came up with a set of guidelines. The target was a 70% reduction in the average mercury content of all mercury-containing lamps by 2005, compared to 1990 levels, and an 80% reduction by 2010. Industry jumped to meet it, and the lamps passed the 80% standard by 2006.
Industry, when it is challenged, will comply and will work very hard to meet the guidelines set by government.
Much of the work and cost of implementing the strategy in Bill C-238 would actually be done at the provincial and municipal levels, which is where these recycling and disposal facilities would be located.
Prior to my role as an MP, I sat as the mayor of the city of Fort St. John and as a director on the Peace River Regional District board, which is the area encompassing all of North Peace. One of my portfolios was garbage disposal and garbage dumps. I travelled throughout the North Peace area.
I feel I am a bit of a trash expert. I know that much work needs to be done by bringing in this bill, Bill C-238. We need to educate the people running our garbage disposal dumps, although probably not so much in our larger urban areas, because those garbage dumps and facilities are very well organized and have professional people. I am talking about rural Canada and the Northwest Territories. In these small areas, most of what I will call waste disposal sites are unmanned. They are run by the counties. They may be manned one day a week by someone who comes in to look after them during a special day. However, at these sites, there are usually just garbage bins. Most people today probably bring their fluorescent lights or their mercury vapour lights, if they burn out, and toss them in. That is not good. That is bad, because we do not know where they are going.
We need to make sure that we educate the people managing these facilities to make sure the facilities have proper containment for mercury vapour lights. That will not be a big cost, but it is a cost. We must ensure that the government works with all levels of government to make sure they are there so that when people bring in mercury vapour lights for disposal, there is a safe place to put them and none of the mercury escapes.
Although a number of initiatives to address the lamps that contain mercury are already under way across Canada, co-operation among all levels of government will promote a consistent nationwide approach to the safe and environmentally sound disposal of lamps.
Our Conservative Party supports Bill C-238. The bill would ensure lamps containing mercury would be safely disposed, and it would be in line with the party's previous efforts to keep Canada's environment clean and control harmful toxic substances.