Mr. Speaker, in Bill C-326, the member for Lac-Saint-Louis proposes a number of measures related to empowering the federal Minister of Health, under the Department of Health Act, to investigate and report on the need to update regulation of toxins in drinking water.
I want to say again that I am aware of the long-standing interest of this member in calling for greater action to protect Canadian water quality, including safe drinking water, and I commend him for this dedication. I also wish to echo the calls by the MP for Sarnia—Lambton for the comments she has made on the concerns about the continuing boil water advisories in our indigenous communities.
However, the member for Lac-Saint-Louis' specific reforms appear at odds with, and may actually conflict with, recommendations made by the parliamentary committee on environment and sustainable development in a number of reports tabled in this place in 2007, 2008 and as recently as 2017, which have still not been acted upon.
Certainly, repeated calls have been made for greater action at the federal level to protect water quality, in particular from contamination from harmful toxins. Strengthened measures have been demanded by parliamentarians, government officials, scientists, physicians, lawyers, environmental advocates and our own commissioner of the environment and sustainable development.
Indeed, during our committee study of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, we heard testimony that Canadian drinking water standards often lag behind international benchmarks. CEPA, or the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, is the federal law that has been in force since 1988 for regulating toxic substances, including those that may be found in drinking water or potential drinking water sources. It is also important to note that it is this law that extends powers to both the Minister of Environment and Climate Change and the Minister of Health for the control of toxins.
Following an extensive study that heard testimony from government officials, the commissioner of the environment and sustainable development, industry, scientists, legal experts and environmental advocates, the committee tabled a report calling for substantive reforms to this law to ensure improved control of toxins, including in water.
Bill C-326 proposes that the Minister of Health be empowered to review drinking water standards to ensure consistency with standards imposed by other OECD nations. Our committee was advised that in some instances, Canada has in place the lowest standards among OECD nations for 27 toxic substances. While the committee recognized the need for the reforms, they do not appear to coincide with those the member recommends under Bill C-326.
In fact, the committee recommended amending CEPA to require a mandatory assessment of any substance where an OECD country has placed restrictions on it and more. It also called for action where there was an increased use of that substance or any new scientific findings came to the attention of the Minister of Environment and Climate Change. The committee recommended that CEPA be made the principal statute to regulate any products containing toxic substances, not the Department of Health Act.
The parliamentary committee did recognize the need to enhance the powers of the Minister of Health in recommending controls on a toxin where it may pose risks to health. However, it was noted that the law must require dual reviews by both the health and environment ministers to ensure that risks to both health and environment are assessed.
A recommendation was also made to ensure that any assessment consider risks to vulnerable populations. The committee went a step further than Bill C-326, recommending automatic listing of any substance once it is determined to be toxic, not simply that it be reported to Parliament. It called for immediate action where there is information that a substance may be harming human health or the environment. However, we still await action by the government on these languishing critical calls for reform to protect our environment and human health.
Finally, many have called for the current national guidelines for Canadian drinking water to be made binding in law, as is the case in many other western nations. Further, they have called for communities, including indigenous communities, to be granted the right to participate in risk assessments and the setting of standards. This would be consistent with Canada's having recognized, at the UN conference on sustainable development in 2012, the right to water. Such calls have been made for decades by Ecojustice, the Forum for Leadership on Water, the Centre for Indigenous Environmental Resources, the David Suzuki Foundation blue dot campaign and indigenous leaders.
Should Bill C-326 be passed, it will be important that the proposals be considered in tandem with the recommendations by the parliamentary committee.
I call on the government to table amendments to the Canadian Environmental Protection Act this year. That would enable them to be debated and implemented as expeditiously as possible to ensure the protection of Canadians.
As my colleague from the Conservative Party noted, yes, the government is showing a greater commitment to removing boil water advisories in aboriginal communities, but no community in 2018 should be suffering under a boil water advisory. Yes, there may be certain gizmos that can be attached to taps, but frankly, many of these communities do not even have water from taps and have to go to a well.
A number of years ago, I wrote a handbook for indigenous communities to ensure that they had protections for their safe drinking water, because there was a law proposed by the Conservative government to regulate safe drinking water in indigenous communities. Regrettably, essentially what that law did was simply transfer liability to indigenous communities.
It is absolutely critical that the resources be given to our indigenous and rural communities so that they can, in fact, be granted the same opportunity many of us have to simply turn on the tap and have clean, fresh water. I have had the privilege of working overseas in a number of countries, such as Bangladesh and Indonesia, and on those occasions, it was not necessarily safe to drink the water from the taps, so I recognize in a very small way what is being suffered in many of the communities.
I again commend the member for his attention to this issue and the initiative he is taking, but I would encourage the government and the committee, when considering this bill, to look at it in the context of the report done by the parliamentary committee.