An Act to amend the Department of Health Act (drinking water guidelines)

Sponsor

Francis Scarpaleggia  Liberal

Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)

Status

Second reading (Senate), as of Oct. 4, 2018

Subscribe to a feed (what's a feed?) of speeches and votes in the House related to Bill C-326.

Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment amends the Department of Health Act to require the Minister of Health to identify any foreign government or international agency that, in the Minister’s opinion, has standards or guidelines respecting the quality of drinking water that should be compared to those

that are being developed in Canada. Every fiscal year, the Minister shall publish the results of the comparison of various aspects of those standards or guidelines.‍

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Votes

Oct. 3, 2018 Passed 3rd reading and adoption of Bill C-326, An Act to amend the Department of Health Act (drinking water guidelines)
May 23, 2018 Passed Concurrence at report stage of Bill C-326, An Act to amend the Department of Health Act (drinking water guidelines)

Department of Health ActPrivate Members' Business

September 28th, 2018 / 1:30 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Francis Scarpaleggia Liberal Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

moved that C-326, An Act to amend the Department of Health Act (drinking water guidelines), be read the third time and passed.

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased that Bill C-326 has moved past second reading and committee stage and is back in the House for third reading. Although the scope of the bill is narrower than what I had hoped as a result of the amendments proposed in committee, the fact remains that the bill is another important lever that will ensure greater transparency when establishing drinking water standards and that this process will look to the future, that is the study and control of emerging contaminants.

When developing and drafting the bill, I borrowed elements of the American system for drinking water. I use the term elements only because, in general, here in Canada we favour an approach to regulating drinking water that is a little different than that of the U.S. For example, we do not favour adopting uniform standards that are enforced by law across the country. Instead we use a regional approach, that is a provincial one, which in reality places greater importance on the efficient management of water purification plants than on attaining certain specific limits or thresholds for a large variety of water contaminants. In other words, our approach gives regulatory bodies greater flexibility.

Ironically, the stricter approach can make the work of plant operators more complex and can even be detrimental to the objective of ensuring quality drinking water. I sincerely believe in the Canadian model, which, according to the experts, is becoming more prevalent internationally for the regulation of drinking water.

That being said, the United States is actually being more proactive and transparent about studying and regulating drinking water contaminants, especially those known as emerging contaminants. The United States amended its Safe Drinking Water Act in 1986 and again in 1996 to give the U.S. EPA additional responsibilities regarding drinking water.

These amendments included the requirement that the U.S. EPA develop and manage a candidate contaminant list every five years. In other words, every five years, the EPA must select at least five contaminants from the candidate contaminant list and make decisions on whether to make regulations pertaining to them, in a process that is called regulatory determination. Moreover, the EPA is also now required to monitor at least 30 unregulated contaminants every five years. In the event that it decides that a new contaminant will be regulated, the EPA has two years following that decision to draft a regulation and an additional 18 months to finalize it. There is thus a well-structured, forward-looking and transparent process in place in the U.S. with respect to managing contaminants in drinking water in that country.

Publishing the candidate contaminant list is a key strength of the U.S. system. Making the list public enhances transparency regarding the future regulatory direction of the EPA. It provides important information that researchers can then use to make decisions, namely, regarding the contaminants for which they would want to collect primary data to inform the regulatory process. Moreover, this proactive approach spurs research and innovation, including in the area of water filtration processes.

In essence, Bill C-326, both in its original and current forms, aims to encourage that same kind of forward-looking and transparent approach. The amended version of Bill C-326 calls on the minister “to identify any foreign government or international agency that, in the Minister’s opinion, has standards or guidelines respecting the quality of drinking water that should be compared” to Canada's. This determination, which until now has not been legally required, nor, to my knowledge, made public, if the minister has in fact considered such a comparison, will necessarily elicit questions from those with an interest in the quality of our drinking water, and questions, of course, are the very currency of accountability.

In other words, civil society, including NGOs and researchers, will be able to seek clarification and justification publicly through Order Paper questions, oral questions, correspondence to the minister or other means, of the minister's decisions with regard to the agencies and/or countries she has chosen as a basis of comparison to Canada in regard to drinking water guidelines. Civil society will in turn be able to offer its own opinion as to the validity, or conversely, the lack of validity of the minister's choices.

Furthermore, Bill C-326 requires the minister to identify which standards set by the chosen agencies or countries should be compared to the standards being developed in Canada. Again, civil society will get a chance to critique or support the minister's choice. This will help us look ahead and look at other countries or international agencies that may have more stringent standards than ours, as well as at specific standards outside Canada that may be higher or stricter than ours.

This bill highlights gaps, and as budget analysts and scientific analysts both know, gaps are what stimulate reflection, research and corrective action.

I also hope that this bill—if passed—and the debate it has stimulated so far will spur the government to focus more on emerging contaminants in its Canadian Environmental Protection Act annual report.

In the interest of increasing transparency, promoting research and innovation, and ultimately improving human and environmental health, I ask the House to support this bill.

Department of Health ActPrivate Members' Business

September 28th, 2018 / 1:40 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Marilyn Gladu Conservative Sarnia—Lambton, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-326, an act to amend the Department of Health Act with regards to drinking water guidelines. I am truly grateful to the member for Lac-Saint-Louis for introducing this bill. I also want to thank him for his ongoing work on this issue.

Bill C-326 would require the Minister of Health to examine existing drinking water standards in 35 OECD countries and, if necessary, make recommendations to change Canada's drinking water standards.

Canada is currently a World Health Organization collaborating centre for water quality and has an active role in drafting the WHO guidelines for drinking water quality.

Canada also shares information on this subject with other intergovernmental organizations such as the agency that handles these matters in the United States.

It is important to note that developing water quality guidelines falls under provincial and territorial jurisdiction. However, I believe the federal government should contribute to the conversation and has a role to play in standardizing those guidelines nationally.

All Canadians must have access to drinking water of the highest quality no matter where they live, their history or their income. Drinking water in Canada should be available to everyone, and the fact that entire regions do not have consistent and permanent access to water is unacceptable.

Federal oversight and the clear responsibility of the Minister of Health to report to the House will greatly improve this situation and hold the government to account on its commitments to Canadians.

As with all other matters pertaining to health, we must ensure that changes put forward come from up-to-date sources and scientific data.

As always, I expect that the federal government will use the best data possible when developing these measures.

Now that we have a bit of background on the intent of this bill, I would like to outline exactly why I think the bill may actually be a bit redundant. The committee heard that the Minister of Health and the Department of Health already, on an annual basis, review the World Health Organization's standards on water quality and check back to ensure that they are implemented. The problem is not that the check is not happening. The difficulty is in making sure that we adhere to those standards across the country.

There is some difficulty with that because there are so many layers of standards. It would be great to get to a place where we would say that the World Health Organization's standards are the ones we want to meet and that federally, provincially and municipally we would all line up to the same thing. Some effort to get there is time well spent.

With respect to our first nations people, there was a commitment on the part of the government to eliminate the boil water advisories and $8.4 billion was pledged. There are some statistics on that. Since 2015, 40 boil water advisories were lifted, but another 25 were added to the list and a total of 91 boil water advisories remain in effect. We need to make sure the water quality standards we have in place federally make their way across the country and that we address the issue of water on reserve.

As of last year, two-thirds of the $2 billion that was allocated to address water systems in budget 2016 is unspent, so it is important to make sure that if we put money in place to address issues, we spend the money,

The other point I would make is we are three years into the mandate and have not yet made the progress we wanted to make on those boil water advisories, so I encourage the government to make tracks to see that happens.

There is a lot of technology in place. I took note that the government is shipping bottled water into many reserves. There is technology available today, where for $300 we could supply a family of five for a day. It is a water filtration system that filters both organic and inorganic materials, and just requires a cartridge filter change every 10 years. This is the kind of significant technology that could be brought to bear, along with water treatment systems that the government is putting in place.

There are other things I wish we were talking about in terms of water. Many of my constituents, when they found out I would be speaking on this, had issues they wanted to bring forward. Nick Young sent me some information about Nestlé and the withdrawal of millions of gallons of water from our lake system for mere pennies. He is concerned we are not adequately protecting our resources.

Similarly, I had input from people in the community who said the government should weigh in on the issue of whether or not we should be fluorinating our water. There was quite a volume of data provided to me. If we looked around the world to different places, some fluorinate and some do not, and there actually is not much difference in terms of dental health and some of the determinants that happen there. However, because there are municipalities that are constantly seeing this issue come forward, it would be good for the government to complete the research and come with an answer on how we could standardize across Canada. There have been cases in Calgary where they took the fluoride out of the water and now we are seeing an increase in dental health problems that they believe are related to that,

In addition to these issues, we should do some work on updating some of the guidelines. There is a lot of inconsistency between jurisdictions. Sixteen of the 94 Canadian drinking water guidelines are consistently applied across all provinces and territories. A very small percentage of what we say we want to have is in place. Only eight Canadian provinces and jurisdictions have legally binding drinking water standards. Obviously, we want to include that as part of the law.

I want to thank the member for Lac-Saint-Louis, because I know he has done a lot of work in the area. There is still more to be done, not just in setting the standards but in the work to clean up and remediate our water. In Sarnia—Lambton, we are part of a binational effort to clear up the areas of concern. When the work began between Michigan and Sarnia, a lot of the industries have been there over the years and there was a lot of cleanup to be done. The efforts have resulted in most of the areas of concern being cleaned up and the blue flag status being returned to the water in Sarnia—Lambton, so it is great to swim and enjoy the beaches there. However, there still remain areas of concern.

I was speaking with the Minister of Environment today about finding money to finish up that remediation. They have extended those areas of concern now from Sarnia all the way down to Niagara, and there are five remaining areas of concern to be addressed. I encourage the government to do that, in addition to drinking water standards. We have some of the most beautiful lakes in the world. We have the largest volume of water on the planet. We should be leaders in setting the standard in making sure that everything we have here is kept for generations to come.

That said, I appreciate the member bringing this forward. It would put into law the practice that the government currently has of checking with the world standards every year and making sure it brings those back to try to get some coordination and implementation across all of the provinces and territories.

Department of Health ActPrivate Members' Business

September 28th, 2018 / 1:45 p.m.
See context

NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

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.

Department of Health ActPrivate Members' Business

September 28th, 2018 / 1:55 p.m.
See context

John Oliver Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health, Lib.

Mr. Speaker, I would like to sincerely thank the member for Lac-Saint-Louis for his hard work and insights on Canada's drinking water guidelines, which he introduced through Bill C-326, and also for his leadership in this area over many years. I know that all members in this House come from ridings that pull their drinking water from multiple sources. In my community of Oakville, we pull it from Lake Ontario. Therefore, drinking water guidelines are essential and important to every one of us.

Canada has a long history of developing guidelines to ensure that Canada's drinking water is among the safest in the world. In fact, the first guideline was published 50 years ago. Today over 100 guidelines are maintained and renewed. If passed, Bill C-326 would help ensure that Canada's drinking water guidelines are protective of health and are comparable to those in leading jurisdictions internationally. Furthermore, it would improve transparency on how drinking water quality guidelines are developed in Canada.

It is important to understand that drinking water quality is the responsibility of all levels of government, from federal to municipal. While drinking water is primarily under provincial and territorial jurisdiction, the Government of Canada plays a central role in drinking water safety. Health Canada works in close collaboration with the provinces and territories to establish science-based guidelines for Canadian drinking water quality, which are published by Health Canada. Each of these guidelines is specific to a contaminant found in Canada. These guidelines are in turn used by the provinces and territories as a basis for establishing their own drinking water quality standards, in accordance with their respective public health priorities. The guidelines are also used to ensure the safety of drinking water in areas of federal jurisdiction.

This collaborative approach between federal, provincial and territorial governments is applied consistently throughout the process, from identifying priorities and assessing risks to developing draft guidelines to consulting with Canadians and working toward implementing the guidelines across Canada. This process is based on robust science, national and international peer review and the consideration of standards and guidelines from other international jurisdictions. This harmonized approach helps ensure consistency in the levels of protection across Canada while respecting the existing constitutional division of responsibilities.

Canada takes an approach to the development of drinking water guidelines that is similar to what many other countries do. Health Canada develops guidelines for substances of concern that are found in Canadian drinking water supplies at levels that can pose a risk to human health. A drinking water contaminant in Australia, for example, is not necessarily a concern in Canada because of differences in industry and geology. This means that the substances needing guidelines or standards will vary internationally. Canada identifies issues that are specific to Canada and takes these issues into consideration when developing guidelines designed to protect the health of Canadians. The science generated, as well as the standards developed by other global authorities, are used to help inform the development of drinking water quality guidelines in Canada.

Every four years, Health Canada, in collaboration with the provinces and territories, conducts a comprehensive review of chemical substances, including new or emerging potential drinking water contaminants. This review aims to assess whether there is new science related to the potential health impacts of a contaminant, new information on Canadians' level of exposure, and any new treatment technology developed nationally or internationally. On the basis of this review, a list of prioritized contaminants is created. This collaborative, science-based process ensures that federal and provincial resources are directed at substances most likely to pose a risk to the health of Canadians.

Internationally, Canada is considered a leader in the development of drinking water quality guidelines. Health Canada is also recognized as a collaborating centre for water quality by the World Health Organization, highlighting Canada's international prominence and expertise. The department has been a contributor to all the World Health Organization's drinking water quality guidelines for the last several decades, and over the past 10 years, the World Health Organization has used Canada's drinking water assessments as the basis for developing its own guidelines for 12 chemical substances and has requested specific input from Health Canada on a further 10.

As part of its assessment process, Health Canada routinely monitors and reviews the drinking water guidelines and standards developed by other key organizations. The science supporting these international standards is taken into consideration when developing our Canadian guidelines.

This approach ensures that Canadian drinking water guidelines are based on credible, science-based criteria and also take into consideration the science behind new and updated drinking water standards developed globally.

The Government of Canada also works closely and shares information with international government agencies. Health Canada recently collaborated with the United States Environmental Protection Agency to develop a risk assessment on blue-green algae, also harmful algae blooms, which affect a growing number of drinking water sources in Canada and the United States. This risk assessment was used as a basis for a Canadian guideline and for a U.S. health advisory on blue-green algae.

Health Canada has also co-operated with Australia in the development of an online risk assessment tool. The online tool is developed to help operators in small communities with small drinking water systems to evaluate their level of risk and prioritize areas for action.

To summarize, Canada's effective, collaborative, science-based process for developing drinking water quality guidelines is among the best in the world. However, are improvements possible? The answer is yes. If passed, Bill C-326 would, for the first time, formalize in legislation the role of the federal government and specifically the Minister of Health to coordinate the development of national drinking water quality guidelines and to consider the guidelines and standards developed in other jurisdictions. This represents a significant step toward improving federal accountability on the issue.

The intent of Bill C-326 is not to question the quality of the work that is being done by Health Canada and our provinces and territories. The intent is to maintain Canada's status among the world's leading agencies on drinking water quality. It highlights the need for our scientists to review the work of other leading agencies to keep abreast of new scientific approaches and studies. It demonstrates the need for having open and transparent scientific processes and to better communicate our work and its importance to Canadians on an ongoing basis.

If adopted, Bill C-326 would strengthen federal accountability by improving the transparency of the process by which drinking water guidelines are developed.

Health Canada is already moving in this direction. In addition to being posted on the Government of Canada's website, new and updated guidelines for Canadian drinking water quality are now published in the Canada Gazette under the authority conveyed to the Minister of Health under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act.

Each guideline published in the Canada Gazette will include a comparison between corresponding guidelines or standards of leading international jurisdictions and agencies. If passed, Bill C-326 would build on these efforts and enhance information that is available to Canadians on drinking water quality guidelines.

Publishing the guidelines for Canadian drinking water quality under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act will help enhance the government's transparency and outreach to experts, stakeholders and interested Canadians, and formalize the consultation process on all guidelines.

In conclusion, Bill C-326, if adopted, would strengthen Canada's efforts to ensure our guidelines are among the best in the world, that they are based on up-to-date science and that they are protective of the health of Canadians. It will inform Canadians and stakeholders of the process used to develop guidelines and how our drinking water quality guidelines compare to standards and the guidelines of leading international agencies.

I am pleased to advise the House that the government will be supporting Bill C-326. Once again, I would like to thank the member for Lac-Saint-Louis for his work on this important issue and for his leadership past and ongoing in ensuring strong drinking water guidelines for all Canadians.

Department of Health ActPrivate Members' Business

September 28th, 2018 / 2:05 p.m.
See context

NDP

Gord Johns NDP Courtenay—Alberni, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to rise today to speak in support of Bill C-326, an act to amend the Department of Health Act (drinking water guidelines).

My colleague from Edmonton Strathcona did a great job of talking about things that are missing in this piece of legislation and also what is important.

Before I get started, I want to talk about some of the water defenders in my riding. I want to recognize Linda Safford and the great work that the Comox Valley Council of Canadians do. I want to recognize Dan Lewis and Bonnie Glambeck from Clayoquot Action, and my friend Sarah Thomas, who has fought so much for the Alberni Valley and the protection of the watershed there. I also want to recognize Tsimka and Gisele Martin from Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation for their defence of Meares Island and protecting our water there.

It is really important that we have water defenders in our communities. We are fortunate to have eight Nuu-chah-nulth nations in my riding, the Qualicum nation and the Comox people. They are always there to defend what is important and that is our water.

We rely heavily on clean water in our riding for our water supply. Comox Lake is something we are looking at as a water supply in the Comox Valley to ensure that we have clean water. Meares Island supplies the water for Tofino and Ucluelet is looking at getting its water from Kennedy Lake.

We all know that water makes life possible on our planet. We learn this as children. If we are fortunate to live near the streams, rivers, lakes and oceans of our country, we learn that it is fundamental to our local economies, our culture and our food security.

Too often we take this knowledge of water as the essence of life for granted as we live our lives. We waste it and we pollute it with industrial waste and debris such as single use plastics, which I have raised repeatedly here in the House.

Protecting and preserving our water is urgently required through a national ocean plastics strategy, including filling the legislative and regulatory voids that are required to ensure effective stewardship.

At the same time, there is no question that water is a human right. Nothing can survive very long without it. We can live up to a month without food, but only for a week without water.

Most of us also take the right to safe drinking water for granted because most of us have access to an abundance of fresh water like I just spoke of. I live in a temperate rain forest so we do take it for granted. However, this is not true for two-thirds of all indigenous communities here in Canada. These communities have been under at least one drinking water advisory at some time in the last decade and people in many municipalities as well face repeated drinking water advisories.

This is true, for example, of the Comox Valley in my riding which has been subjected to multiple boil water advisories covering a period of 126 days just over the past three years. We have an application for the Comox Valley water treatment project and we desperately will need federal and provincial support to establish that and ensure that we do not have these boil water advisories and that we know that our children, our elders and all citizens will have access to clean drinking water.

During the last election campaign, the Prime Minister promised to end drinking water advisories in indigenous communities within five years. The government is three years into its term and we are far from that. According to a recent report from the David Suzuki Foundation, the Liberal government is not on track to fulfill this promise and, sadly, it has no plan to get there. The government has two years left in its five-year promise and there is no plan to fulfill this promise. This is completely unacceptable. It is disappointing and frustrating. Frankly, it is embarrassing.

According to a 2014 Ecojustice Canada Report, drinking water standards in Canada continue to lag behind international benchmarks. The report compared the guidelines for Canadian drinking water quality with corresponding frameworks in the United States, European Union, and Australia, as well as standards recommended by the WHO. While Canada has, or is tied for, the strongest standard in 24 instances, it has, or is tied for, the weakest standard for 27 substances. That is unacceptable.

In 105 other cases, Canada has no standard at all where at least one other country does. There is no regulatory framework holding the federal government accountable for safe drinking water in indigenous communities. This is largely because provincial laws and regulations that apply to municipalities do not apply to reserves, which are considered federal lands under federal jurisdiction.

The federal government's unacceptable failure to provide clean drinking water in indigenous communities is still unacceptable, and its funding continues to be inadequate for addressing urgent, immediate drinking water and wastewater and waste management treatment.

While the mandated guideline reviews called for in this bill are important, more stringent national objectives and standards in line with the European Union, United States, Australia and the WHO are clearly required.

In closing, all Canadians clearly do not have equal access to clean drinking water. It is time for Canada to establish a national water policy to secure the principles of water as a human right and as a public trust. We need a plan to implement that strategy.

HealthCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

April 18th, 2018 / 3:20 p.m.
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Liberal

Bill Casey Liberal Cumberland—Colchester, NS

Mr. Speaker, we acknowledge the comments by the Conservative member. Certainly the report does not have all the answers, but it is a great first step.

I now have the honour to present, in both official languages, the 15th report of the Standing Committee on Health in relation to Bill C-326, an act to amend the Department of Health Act, drinking water guidelines. The committee has studied the bill and has decided to report the bill back to the House with amendments.

I want to thank the member for Lac-Saint-Louis for developing this private member's bill. It calls on the government to conduct a review of drinking water standards and to make recommendations on our national guidelines.

Department of Health ActPrivate Members' Business

October 30th, 2017 / 11:10 a.m.
See context

Conservative

Garnett Genuis Conservative Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is great to have an opportunity to speak this morning.

I trust that members had a good weekend, perhaps putting their final Halloween preparations together and getting their costumers ready. I hear the Minister of Defence has a good architect costume ready to go, the Minister of Finance is going to dress himself up as a champion of the middle class, and the Prime Minister is going to work as hard as possible to look like a feminist. I am sure we will be seeing good costumes on display this week, and I wish members well in the celebrations. If the costumes do not go well, do not worry, nothing is going to scare our children more than the deficit projections.

Now, Bill C-326 is an act to amend the Department of Health Act, establishing drinking water guidelines. For those who are just joining the debate, the bill would amend the Department of Health Act to require the Minister of Health to conduct a review of drinking water standards in other OECD countries. It is a requirement to conduct that review. If appropriate after conducting that review, though it is not required of the minister, it would empower the minister to make recommendations for amendments to the national guidelines respecting drinking water.

I know what members might be thinking, but the bill is not as controversial as it might sound at first. The bill would give the minister the added encouragement to conduct this review and gather this information based on best practices in other countries within the OECD. On that basis, we think it is a reasonable bill. It is something we in the opposition are pleased to support. I think the bill will find support throughout the House as a way of moving forward and bringing more information into the assessment in terms of what we are doing with respect to drinking water.

With that explained in terms of the context of the bill, I will make a few points with respect to it in terms of water quality, the federal role, and the question of ministerial discretion. Then, finally, I will talk about how we incorporate the best science and information into the policy decisions we make.

First of all, of course, in the Conservative caucus, we strongly support high-quality drinking water. We think that governments at all levels should do as much as they possibly can to ensure that water is safe to drink. We recognize, especially for indigenous communities, that there is a great deal of work that still needs to be done in that respect. However, it is a basic principle that all people should be able to access this fundamental necessity of life. They should be able to access water in a clean and safe way.

We live in a country that is geographically dispersed. It is very large. That can potentially create some additional challenges, but it is fundamental that people be able to access clean water. I do not think that is a point on which any member would disagree.

One of the things that the bill invites us to consider is the federal role in establishing standards. Certainly under the previous government, we believed in a federal role for establishing clean water standards. At the same time, the practical implementation of those guidelines, for most Canadians, happens through other levels of government, at the provincial and municipal level. Of course, the federal government has more direct involvement with respect to indigenous communities. There is still a role for the federal government to be reviewing this information and working to establish guidelines, even though the implementation happens at other levels. The way we can think about this balance is under the principle of subsidiarity, which is something I believe in, and that we in the Conservative caucus believe in.

Subsidiarity is the idea that services should be delivered at the level closest to the people affected that is practical for the service delivery to happen. It means we should be concerned about legislation or policy that involves the federal government taking over responsibility that can be done more effectively and competently at the community or provincial level. We should trust local communities. However, where there is a certain scale and efficiency, then it makes sense for the federal government to be engaged.

There is not the scale or effectiveness in having every individual community, without the support of overarching guidelines, come up with its own guidelines independent of that federal support.

This case is an example of where the federal government can play to its strength, which is to gather information from different jurisdictions around the world, where it can conduct the legality of information, and make that information available to other levels of government, while at the same time seek to empower them and not take away their ability to make decisions on their own and across areas of government.

Our approach to federal government activity in general is to look for those competencies of it where the scale makes sense for it to play that coordinating role but not to have it take authority away in areas which can be better done at the provincial or the municipal levels.

Unfortunately, right now we have a federal government that does not trust sub-national governments to make decisions in certain policy areas and seeks to dictate in areas outside of its jurisdiction. I could bring up many examples of that, such as its approach to the carbon tax, where it has told provinces that if they do not do exactly what it wants them to do, it will impose a jurisdiction-specific tax on them. That is very much out of step with the principles of the Constitution and the principles of subsidiarity.

When we see legislation that might seem to involve the federal government interfering in provincial and other sub-national governmental jurisdictions, we are inclined to ask additional questions. Nonetheless, in this case, the bill gets the balance right. The federal government can play a study and coordination role, while still respecting the decision-making role of other levels of government. This is the balance our caucus looks for in legislation, and that is exactly right in the bill.

The next point I want to talk about is the way in which certain legislation fetters the discretion of a minister.

This bill would marginally fetter the minister's discretion but in an appropriate and reasonable way. It is worth noting that the existing framework allows the minister to do these kinds of activities already. Perhaps the government member who has proposed the bill is concerned that the minister will not do these things otherwise and needs legislation to have that direction. Nonetheless, it is legitimate for legislation in this case to identify specific areas where this study is important and beneficial with respect to what happens around the world and drawing that information in.

In general, our caucus takes the view that it is legitimate and important for there to be certain actions of the legislature to limit the discretion of ministers when it sees it as important to do so.

The government is more philosophically inclined to try to give the maximum discretion to ministers and really minimize that tie-in of legislative accountability. There is a balance to be struck there, that when there is something important like studying different systems around the world for maximizing health through drinking water, there is a legitimate role for the legislature to establish those guidelines and to put those things in place.

The final point I want to make is that the bill asks us to incorporate the best science and information possible in the decisions we make, and we in the opposition strongly support that. We hear the terms many times of evidence-based policy, of science-based policy bandied back and forth. It is a real slogan that the government likes to use, but there are many examples where we do not see the government actually drawing on the best science at all. The whole debacle over electoral reform showed how the government was willing to completely ignore the science around public opinion research tools when it suited its purpose. However, in this case, the bill incorporates the best scientific knowledge as part of the framework to be established, and we can support that.

With respect to the issues I have raised of subsidiarity, how to fetter ministerial discretion, and the incorporation of science and policy, the bill strikes the right balance. Again, it will hopefully help us take some further steps toward ensuring high quality drinking water in Canada.

Department of Health ActPrivate Members' Business

September 22nd, 2017 / 1:30 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Francis Scarpaleggia Liberal Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

moved that Bill C-326, an act to amend the Department of Health Act (drinking water guidelines), be read the first time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague, the member for Charlottetown, for seconding this bill.

Water is a solvent. That means it picks up lots of substances and contaminants, some of which can be hazardous to public health, while others may be benign.

Water is a universal solvent. There is much that dissolves in water. Therefore, it is important to understand what and how much is in the water we drink that is capable of causing us harm. No doubt the popular assumption is that every glass of treated water is the same, that it is has the same composition and quality. In fact, the contents vary depending on the specific source water, and water sources vary geographically.

A 2006 report by the David Suzuki Foundation found that 53, that is 75%, of the guidelines for Canadian drinking water quality for chemical contaminants have weaker acceptable limits than at least one of the countries included in the comparison or than the World Health Organization's limits. In other words, Canada's maximum acceptable concentrations were lower than at least one country in the comparative survey. The most substantial differences were observed in comparing Canadian guidelines for pesticides to those in Australia and the European Union. The aim of Bill C-326 is to strengthen the quality of Canada's drinking water over the long term by requiring that Health Canada, in developing its recommendations for Canada's drinking water guidelines, takes account of any higher standards in any OECD country.

The rise of emerging contaminants, some potentially cancer causing, others possible endocrine disruptors, requires that the government consider best practices in comparable countries when developing Canada's drinking water guidelines. Also, it is imperative that the public be aware of whether and why the government may have rejected a superior standard from another OECD country.

Bill C-326 aims to instill more rigour, accountability, and transparency in the development of drinking water guidelines in Canada by requiring Health Canada to conduct periodic reviews of drinking water standards in other advanced countries. The bill would require that the government, after comparing specific Canadian standards with another country's higher standard for a particular contaminant, publicly justify why Canada is not adopting that other country's superior standard, or conversely why we need to.

Bill C-326 is inspired by the work of the environmental NGO Ecojustice, which produces report cards on the state of Canada's drinking water. It has called for Canada's maximum allowable limits, or MACs, for specific contaminants in drinking water to be as high as the highest in any OECD country.

The intent of this bill is not to make Canadians worry about the quality of their drinking water. Of course, we all know that there are problems with the water supply in first nations communities, and I am very proud that the government has decided to commit the resources to end all drinking water advisories for first nations by 2021.

Municipal tap water is safe. Major multinationals like Coke and Pepsi, which sell bottled water under the Dasani and Aquafina brands respectively, actually get their water from publicly owned municipal systems, not from glacial lakes or pure groundwater. They draw water from the municipal systems of Mississauga, Brampton, Calgary, and Vancouver.

However, it will come as a surprise to many watching this debate that there is no national drinking water legislation in this country that guarantees all citizens a legal right to clean drinking water. What is more, drinking water standards are not consistent across the country. They vary by province and territory.

Our unique federal system makes addressing a matter of national concern as vital as ensuring consistent and high drinking water standards for all Canadians a challenge, which calls on us to smartly and creatively address the issue within the existing constitutional framework. In Canada, water is constitutionally a provincial resource. Authority and responsibility for water, including drinking water, falls to the provinces. The federal government's jurisdiction is limited to drinking water in first nations, on ships, planes, and trains, national parks, and in National Defence facilities.

While Health Canada does not enjoy authority to impose legally binding drinking water standards across the country, it does have a role to play in developing provincial and territorial standards, namely through research, analysis, and evidence-based recommendations. This is why Bill C-326 invokes the Department of Health Act.

Briefly, Health Canada and the federal-provincial-territorial committee on drinking water develop and publish the guidelines for Canadian drinking water quality. Provincial and territorial governments then voluntarily adopt these guidelines, which they manage and enforce at their own discretion.

A specific guideline may include a number of different elements, including a maximum allowable concentration, which is a numerical value that describes a safe level of exposure to a particular contaminant over a lifetime of water consumption. In other words, this is the threshold above which human exposure to a contaminant in drinking water is deemed unacceptable in terms of known or suspected adverse health effects.

In establishing MACs, Health Canada relies almost exclusively on the review of published literature that includes toxicological information on a contaminant, and information on the treatment options that exist with respect to that contaminant. For this purpose, the department gathers information from academic articles, conference proceedings, and materials produced by other other jurisdictions. Consequently, guidelines may not necessarily be developed based on the most relevant or latest scientific evidence. In cases where there is no usable evidence available, there may be no guidelines at all.

Drinking water committee members, namely the provinces and territories, provide input to the discussion on guidelines. They will, for example, raise the technical and economic feasibility around achieving a specific guideline value or raise the real risk that the contaminant poses. In some cases, it may not pose a significant risk, and therefore a guideline may not be in order.

In reality, what we have in Canada is a patchwork of laws and regulations in an area that intuitively, to most Canadians, should involve a standardized national approach. Thus, only eight of Canada's 13 provinces and territories have established legally enforceable drinking water standards. What is more, only 16 of 94 guidelines are applied uniformly across the country. Also, discrepancies exist along rural and urban lines where larger communities test for a wider range of contaminants than do smaller communities.

What we have here in Canada is a federal system tailored to our geographic, cultural, economic, and regional realities. This system, which is uniquely ours and is tailored to our needs, is something we need to learn to live with. Bill C-326 aims to work within our current constitutional framework.

The current constitutional framework is the context in which I have introduced Bill C-326, a bill that works to move us closer to more or less consistent high-quality drinking water standards for Canadians, wherever they may live. The nature of Canada's drinking water regime can also be understood by comparing it with the drinking water regimes in other countries, notably the United States and European Union countries.

In the U.S., drinking water is regulated on a federal level through the Safe Drinking Water Act. Legally enforceable national regulatory limits exist for many contaminants. Some call this the “cookbook numbers approach”, because the system is focused on implementing specific numerical thresholds for an array of contaminants. In addition to legally binding limits, the EPA has non-enforceable guidelines for contaminants with aesthetic and/or cosmetic impacts.

Importantly, the EPA is required every five years to publish a contaminant candidates list for contaminants that may require future regulation. Every five years, the EPA must select five contaminants from the list and make decisions on regulations pertaining to them. The agency is also required to monitor at least 30 unregulated contaminants every five years. Publishing this list is a major strength of the U.S. system, from the standpoint of ensuring transparency, accountability, and progress in improving drinking water.

The EPA bases drinking water regulations on the results of scientific studies. This may have something to do with the more litigious nature of the American legal system, which provides an incentive to use science to better defend against possible future court action. While the EPA only regulates contaminants for which it has sufficient data, it continues to collect information and conduct research to fill data and information gaps where it lacks sufficient information to make a regulatory determination.

The European system uses the precautionary principle to establish drinking water guidelines. The general premise of the precautionary principle is that substances with unknown health effects should be kept to the lowest possible exposure, especially in cases where health- and environmental-impact data are lacking.

Canada's drinking water standards are not firmly rooted in the precautionary principle. It has been said that Canada uses the precautionary principle selectively. In general, drinking water regulations and management activities in Canada prioritize contaminants that pose the greatest risk to public health; that is, microbial contaminants such as E. coli, whose effects are immediate and can be deadly. In Canada, the monitoring of known and emerging contaminants in drinking water pales in comparison to the U.S., the EU, and Australia, even though Canada and Australia take similar approaches to drinking water at the national level in that they both establish mere guidelines, as opposed to legally binding standards.

In particular, Canada lacks drinking water guidelines for suspected endocrine-disrupting compounds found in plastics, pharmaceuticals, and personal care products, such as cosmetics and toothpaste. One reason Canada lacks guidelines for many pharmaceuticals and personal care products suspected of being endocrine disrupters is related to Health Canada's needing scientific information on health effects and the capabilities of treatment technologies before it will initiate a process to establish a MAC. Hopefully, by encouraging more study and analysis of discrepancies in contaminant standards between Canada and other advanced countries, Bill C-326 would encourage Health Canada to commission more primary studies on emerging contaminants with, say, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council or Canadian universities. Even where MACs exist in Canada's drinking water guidelines, these appear to be less stringent than those of peer countries.

Simple measures are sometimes the most effective in creating change in complex areas of public policy. Sometimes it is not the most elaborate, detailed, and legal solution that bears fruit. I do not mean to elicit a partisan reaction, but I think this is an interesting example. The government decided to change the way senators are appointed as a way of bringing broad change to the nature of the Senate. This was a very simple measure. It was very simple and very different from the many elaborate models that had been proposed over the years that were seemingly not workable.

Bill C-326 takes a similar approach. By requiring that Health Canada better monitor and publicly report on comparisons between Canada's drinking water guidelines and those in countries similar to Canada, the bill aims to spur progress in achieving, in the words of Dr. David Boyd, in the Suzuki Foundation report entitled The Water We Drink, “national standards for drinking water quality that are equal to or better than the highest standards provided in any other industrialized nation.”

Hopefully, Bill C-326 would, at the same time, contribute to the goal of ensuring that first nations, like all Canadians, can access drinking water that meets the highest international standards. The Safe Drinking Water for First Nations Act, adopted by the previous government, essentially defers to provincial regulations for drinking water for first nations. Provincial regulations are influenced by the guidelines for drinking water quality. It is intended, therefore, that through its influence on these national guidelines, Bill C-326 would, among other things, impact positively on the quality of first nations' drinking water in the long run.

Department of Health ActPrivate Members' Business

September 22nd, 2017 / 1:45 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Bob Saroya Conservative Markham—Unionville, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to discuss Bill C-326,, an act to amend the Department of Health Act, drinking water guidelines, a private member's bill sponsored by the member of Parliament for Lac-Saint-Louis.

I would like to touch upon a few reasons why I stand in favour the legislation.

We all know that suitable drinking water is necessary for human life. Without water, there is no life. The average adult human body is made up of 65% water. We can all agree that all Canadians deserve better than the bare minimum, especially when it comes to their health.

When we think of Canada, we think of a country that is clean, healthy, and thriving. That is why it is essential our drinking water be of the highest quality.

My riding of Markham—Unionville depends on Lake Ontario for all our drinking water. We are blessed to have one of the Great Lakes at our disposal. In Markham, we have the great fortune of being able to enjoy clean drinking water straight from the tap.

Unfortunately, not everyone has this great fortune. We know all too well the tragedies that come from contaminated water. Far too many examples come to mind when I think of the dangers of a contaminated water supply.

As of July 31, in 101 first nations communities south of the 60th parallel there were 48 short-term drinking water advisories, meaning there was a temporary water quality issue on a specific water system; and 102 long-term drinking water advisories, meaning the advisory had been in place for more than a year.

Among Canada's first nations communities, Ontario has seen the highest number of drinking water advisories. This problem hits close to home for many of us. Reasons for inadequate drinking water include E. coli, inadequate disinfection, and source water contamination, among many others. This is simply unacceptable in Canada.

Many parts of Canada rely solely on ground water for their day-to-day needs. The legislation would ensure that those people have better drinking water. Access to safe, clean, and reliable drinking water is an important priority for Canadians, which is why the previous Conservative government passed the Safe Drinking Water for First Nations Act in 2013.

No matter where we live, every Canadian should have access to safe, clean, drinking water. I am a very proud Conservative member of Parliament, and I stand in agreement with my colleagues on this legislation.

Bill C-326 will include that the Government of Canada recognize that national guidelines respecting drinking water would be required to ensure such quality.

The bill would amend the Department of Health Act to require the minister of health to conduct a review of drinking water standards in 35 of the member countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and, if appropriate, to make recommendations for amendments to the national guidelines respecting drinking water.

The creation of a federal-provincial-territorial responsibility will ensure a higher standard of drinking water for Canadians from coast to coast to coast. The federal-provincial-territorial committee on drinking water is designed to protect the quality of drinking water in Canada. This will be done by developing and maintaining national guidelines.

The bottom line is that Canadians need to have access to safe drinking water. We can all acknowledge the need for the national guidelines to be in keeping with the highest international standards respecting drinking water, keeping in mind that the best interest of Canadians is essential to every parliamentarian.

Accountability is essential to this process. The legislation would require the minister of health to ensure that a review conducted on drinking water standards would be the best deal for our constituents and Canadians overall. Further, the bill would create a stronger partnership between OECD countries and share the best practices which would ultimately allow Canada to have a higher standard of drinking water.

Bill C-326 would require the minister to compare Canada's water quality standards with other OECD countries. This practice currently does not take place. Moreover, Bill C-326 seeks to have the Government of Canada recognize that national guidelines respecting drinking water are required to ensure the highest quality. As well, it seeks to ensure that the main responsibility of the federal-provincial-territorial committee on drinking water is to protect the quality of drinking water and to develop and maintain national guidelines.

Ultimately, the bill would lead to the creation of better guidelines and the goal of safer water for all Canadians. However, there are a few observations I would like to address.

The first is that some OECD countries do not currently base their guidelines on science, and many contaminants found in other countries are not found in Canada or are already banned. This has potential to become problematic.

The second observation I want to draw attention to is that Canada also shares information with other government agencies, such as the United States Environmental Protection Agency, in the area of drinking water quality. We already share best practices with our southern neighbours, but we can do better.

Third, I would like to highlight that Canada is a World Health Organization collaborating centre on water quality and participates in the development of World Health Organization guidelines for drinking water. As a nation, we hold ourselves to a high standard when it comes to water health and safety. The legislation would make water quality in Canada better.

Finally, I would like to add that implementing water quality guidelines falls under provincial and territorial authority. This could hinder the process and create an issue of authority.

Our country has an abundance of fresh water, yet water in many indigenous communities is not safe to drink. Small towns and villages across the country face the issue of accessible water. The water on many first nations reserves is contaminated or hard to access. Oftentimes the treatment systems and infrastructure in place are not acceptable. Supporting the legislation is taking the right steps to address this crisis.

I will always be in favour of sharing best practices and having working partnerships with other nations around the world, especially if the issues in these discussions pertain to my health, that of my family, my constituents, and Canadians as a whole.

The previous Conservative government worked with provinces and territories to establish guidelines to ensure high-quality drinking water in Canada. However, this new legislation would ensure reviews would be done that would keep our drinking water standards among the highest in the world. Canadians deserve that. We need to keep Canadians safe and healthy.

I am confident in speaking in favour of this legislation. Canadians rely on their drinking water, and it must be safe and clean.

My colleagues and I are supporters of the legislation. I understand the bill is widely supported by members of aboriginal communities as well human rights advocates.

Canada is the best country in the world in which to live. We deserve the highest standards when it comes to our most basic necessity, water.

Department of Health ActPrivate Members' Business

September 22nd, 2017 / 1:55 p.m.
See context

NDP

Romeo Saganash NDP Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, QC

[Member spoke in aboriginal language]

[Translation]

Mr. Speaker, I thank you for this opportunity to speak about an issue that is very important to me, and that is water. Bill C-326 seeks to amend the Department of Health Act so that we may set out guidelines respecting drinking water.

This bill seeks to require the department to ensure that existing drinking water standards in member countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development are upheld and to make any necessary recommendations for Canada in that regard. I wonder why only OECD countries are mentioned. I think that there is also reason to consider including members of the intergovernmental economic organization, namely the World Health Organization. I think we might be able to add them in the future.

When we talk about the major challenges of our time on this planet, when it comes to climate change, protecting the environment, or developing our natural resources around the world, we often forget one aspect that is essential to human survival on earth: water.

I do not know if my colleagues have had the chance to fly over the northern regions of our country. I do almost every week since I have the privilege of representing one of the largest ridings in the country, which covers 54% of Quebec. I like saying that half of Quebec listens to me when I speak. This resource we call water, I see it every time I fly over my riding.

It is important to remember every day that access to drinking water for humans, for Canadians, is a fundamental right. In fact, enforcing this right is part of the mandate of the institution we are all a part of because, which is a public policy mandate. It is important to remember that. We have such an abundance of fresh water in Canada that we must find ways to protect this resource.

During the last election, the Prime Minister of Canada promised to end drinking water advisories in indigenous communities within five years. However, anyone who has ever been in an indigenous community knows that water treatment facilities there are in terrible condition. The promise to fix everything within five years did not take into account the complexity of such an endeavour. There is no easy solution to this problem, a stark reality faced by indigenous communities in a country like Canada. Canada is one of the richest countries on the planet, but its first peoples' living conditions, in many cases, are akin to fourth world conditions.

Members do not need to take my word for it; the hon. member for Lac-Saint-Louis quoted a report from the David Suzuki Foundation that confirms exactly what I am saying, which is that the government is not on track to keep its promise to solve this issue within five years.

That is why I said that that was not a reasonable timeframe. As someone across the way pointed out, the promised investments need to be paid out. After the 2015 election, there were 159 boil water advisories and today there are 172. Despite investments, why is the situation worse now than in 2015, when this government first came to power? I have an answer to that, which I will come back to later.

One thing that people need to understand about indigenous communities is that there is no legislative or regulatory framework that guarantees access to clean drinking water in those communities. As strange as that sounds, it is true. Of course, the previous government passed the Safe Drinking Water for First Nations Act, but there is no obligation to implement the provisions of that act, given the complexity of the situation, including training people to maintain the facilities that exist in those communities. These things are so complicated that it would have been a long shot to think that the Liberals could keep their election promise from 2015 within the timeframe they had set, unfortunately.

We need to set a number of long-term objectives. We need to have standards similar to those that exist in other countries, for example, standards governing the maximum allowed concentration of microbiological, physical, chemical, and radiological contaminants. Canadians have a right to that as a country. We need to take urgent action to put an end to the boil water advisories in first nations communities. That must be done in co-operation and partnership with indigenous people, not imposed on them as the previous law sought to do. As I have been saying all along, access to clean drinking water is a fundamental right. We could draw from the standards that exist elsewhere, for example, in the European Union, the United States, and Australia.

Earlier, it was said that budget 2016 allocated $1.8 billion for infrastructure. As the member for Lac-Saint-Louis said, money has been allocated. I will admit that that is true.

However, the fact that this is still a problem should indicate that those investments were not enough. There is not enough money. In fact, that additional funding represents less than half of what Neegan Burnside estimates is necessary to put an end to the boil water advisories.

I think I can quote Clayton Leonard here, the lawyer that represented Alberta first nations in this matter:

How many times do you get to reannounce the same amount of money? If you spent $2 billion, and then you find that 73% of first nations still face serious drinking water issues, it's a pretty clear indication it's not enough.

This is not only about boil water advisories, although that is what we hear about most often. A number of communities are under do not consume orders, including Potlotek, Kitigan Zibi in Quebec, Bearskin in Ontario, and Wahta and Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation in Saskatchewan.

We need to address this problem for all Canadians, but we must never forget this country's first nations.

Department of Health ActPrivate Members' Business

September 22nd, 2017 / 2:10 p.m.
See context

Winnipeg North Manitoba

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, first I want to compliment my colleague. Over the years, I have been able to get to know our caucus chair, and one of his passions I have witnessed is that he truly cares, in a very real and tangible way, about Canada's environment and anything related to water. I have had the opportunity in the past, as have a number of my colleagues in the province of Manitoba, to talk about Lake Winnipeg and how important it is not only to the residents of Winnipeg or Manitoba, but indeed to all of Canada. That water basin crosses international borders.

The member has a very strong passion on this particular file, and I have had the opportunity to ask him, in a nutshell, what he is hoping to achieve with this piece of legislation.

I respect the fact that Canada, most people would think, sets a fairly high bar in terms of water quality, but sticking to what the Prime Minister often says, we can always do better. When I reflect on what the member has brought forward for us to debate this afternoon, he is accepting the Prime Minister's challenge. We can do better.

We think of Canada as a wonderful, vast nation with literally thousands of lakes, rivers, and creeks. We are a water nation in a very real sense. Many would think that we have the best water in the world, and in certain areas of our country I suspect that we do. However, the member brings up a valid concern. Other jurisdictions in the world tend to have different criteria, higher criteria, for ensuring that the quality of their drinking water is of a high standard. It raises the question of whether Canada has some standards or criteria that are lower than those of some other countries, whose standards may be a little better than ours.

I respect the fact that we should not be taking our guidelines for granted and that we should be looking at what is happening here in Canada. We need to recognize that we live in a federal society where we have different levels of government, all of which play an important role. The national government has a leading responsibility in many areas, but it would be irresponsible of us to think that this is solely the national government's responsibility. Provincial jurisdictions also have a very important role, and even our municipalities.

Winnipeg just got a new water system, which was finalized around 2009-2010, and it is an amazing facility. Winnipeg, as a community, has been very blessed in terms of water, such as with Shoal Lake and the beautiful, crystal-clear water that is coming down a pipe based on gravitational pull into the city of Winnipeg. It has been providing water for generations of Winnipeggers and Manitobans. We have been very fortunate with that. It is one of the reasons we have some of the lowest water bills in North America. I still drink from the tap, which is something we can all be somewhat proud of, because in many jurisdictions that is the case. In fact, there are some who would argue that drinking from the tap can be healthier than drinking bottled water.

The point is that we have to take into consideration that, yes, Ottawa plays a role, but provinces, municipalities, and people as a whole all have something to contribute to this area of concern.

We have a fairly competent and able Department of Health. It has been working with the different stakeholders, the provinces and territories, and will continue to do that through the federal-provincial-territorial committee on drinking water, for example, with the idea of developing and updating guidelines for the quality of Canadian drinking water.

My colleague across the way raised some valid concerns with respect to indigenous people and the important role we play in working in co-operation with their leadership to ensure the quality of water is equal and fair in all regions. The Prime Minister and our government are committed to doing just that. Wherever we can improve the quality, we need to do so.

Members know that we encourage private members of all political stripes to generate ideas and bring them to the floor of the House to challenge us as legislators.

Looking at the specifics of Bill C-326, the government is saying that we need to take into consideration Canadian context and priorities before conducting an internal review, and that is important. My colleague and our caucus chair is very much aware of that.

We need to limit any review of standards and guidelines to those considered to be of leading international agencies and to the guidelines designated as priorities for development in Canada. These are two concerns we need to at least attempt to get more clarification on and possibly address. This could enhance my friend's private member's bill.

There is a lot to be gained on this. If we can tweak the legislation so we can get widespread support within the House of Commons, we would be doing a great service to Canadians.

Stealing from what I started off by saying, whether we listen to the Prime Minister or others who say we need to do better in different areas, this is an area we can do better in. We should look at what the sponsor of the bill hopes to accomplish. I believe this is an expectation that most Canadians would have of the different levels of government, that being a high sense of co-operation, working together to ensure Canada not only demonstrates strong leadership from within our boundaries, but even to countries outside of our boundaries that try to emulate some of the things we have done to provide good quality drinking water.

Often when disasters abroad take place, we will send our military and DART to provide good quality and clean drinking water. We have done this with a number of countries over the years. In good part Canada is perceived as a country that understands the importance of providing good quality water.

I look forward to seeing the bill head to committee. I understand the member is working with the government on ways we can improve the legislation.

Department of Health ActPrivate Members' Business

September 22nd, 2017 / 2:20 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Erin O'Toole Conservative Durham, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is my honour to rise today in debate on this private member's bill, Bill C-326, an act to amend the Department of Health Act. As some of my colleagues have been saying in debate so far on this subject, it is about proposing water quality guidelines for Canada.

As some members have mentioned, this presents a number of challenges because of dual or triple roles of jurisdiction involving water. I am going to talk a bit about why I think it is important, particularly as an Ontario MP who has followed water issues for many years and the challenges faced in Ontario. Then I am going to put forward some thoughts on some of the struggles that Canada is having, particularly with respect to indigenous peoples and access to water. That is something I have been talking about for several years as a member of Parliament.

This bill, in particular, would create guidelines that strive to be the best in the world. For the member to come up with guidelines that he feels are the strongest in the world, he is going to look to all of the member countries of the OECD. This bill would empower an analysis of best practices from those OECD members. The goal, then, is to have a regular review so that the Minister of Health and the federal government can produce guidelines that, by the standards of the OECD, are best practices around the world to ensure there is safety within our municipal water systems.

What is key here is that the federal government does not have jurisdiction over municipal water systems. It does have jurisdiction over first nation reserves and treaty arrangements around the country. Therefore, the federal government does have particular responsibility that it has not been living up to, both parties, going back decades, so that should be kept in mind.

A lot of Canadians take the safety of their water supply a little for granted. As a southern Ontario MP, we live on the shoulders of the Great Lakes, the largest single freshwater supply in the world. Canadians often do not see the true cost of getting that safe water to their taps. There are municipal systems, artesian wells, a whole range. This bill seeks to develop guidelines to try to get municipal levels of government and provinces, which can regulate directly, up to world standard.

We support that on this side. We think it is one of these interesting areas in which the federal government can use its unique role to try to promote best practices, standards, knowing full well it does not have direct jurisdiction for most homes. These standards would then be something that municipal townships, regional municipalities, and cities could benchmark their own performance on. If we follow some of the legislation that has been in some of our provincial legislatures in the last 10 years with respect to water quality, we will find that many have been pushing for more detailed explanation and direct cost recovery by consumers of the cost of getting them that water.

For many generations, we have taken it for granted that water is free. It is not free. The standards and quality assurance needed have a cost. That cost, for many years, in many municipalities, was absorbed into a general tax base assessment to property owners and businesses. However, more and more municipalities, including throughout the Durham region, which I represent, and I know in many other parts of this country, are now starting to itemize what those costs are for water, and in some cases sewer services for Canadians, so they can see that despite our abundance of water, there is a cost to quality assurance. The goal that the member has is to then make sure that all levels of government have an aspirational goal of making sure the country that is most blessed with fresh water also adheres to the highest standards, through comparison on a regular basis to the OECD. I support that aim and the member's work.

As an Ontario MP, I remember the Walkerton inquiry. I watched it closely as a young law student and lawyer to see what could happen when simple processes break down. In Walkerton, Ontario, in the year 2000, seven people died as a result of E. coli contamination of a rural water source.

Twenty-three hundred people fell ill as a result of the Walkerton crisis. That made national and international headlines because we do not normally see an outbreak like that from a municipal water source. Justice Dennis O'Connor, one of the most respected jurists in Ontario, was tasked with heading an inquiry into how that happened. The cause of the E. coli contamination was manure from one of the farm fields in the area getting into the water table and the system, and then chlorine levels and E. coli tests not being applied on a daily basis.

That inquiry showed quite simply how a standard community could have a water system that was taken for granted for years but suddenly becomes derailed and causes deaths. Mr. O'Connor's recommendation, among many others he made, was for more training. The brothers in that case who had run the Walkerton system for many years had little to no training. There was no chlorine testing done daily and there was no positive requirement on this small municipal township to publish to the province the E. coli levels when there was a warning or a bad indication. A positive reporting requirement in Ontario came into place as a result of that.

One of the other findings was that the warnings were not sufficient. Even early, when there was some indication that the water system was the cause of the E. coli sicknesses and death, there was not wide enough public education and warnings to people and so they continued using the water system.

I would invite the member and other members interested in the subject to consult the O'Connor inquiry report, because around the same time, North Battleford, Saskatchewan had a similar E. coli contamination of its water source and 5,800 people fell ill there.

The federal government can provide that aspirational guideline for municipal and provincial partners. Where is our jurisdiction with respect to water? It is with our first nations, and all parliaments in my lifetime have been failing on this front. My friend, the deputy House leader, said that we can do better. We can collectively do better on this front.

The Prime Minister outlined yesterday the challenges facing indigenous peoples in Canada, and there are many. What I would like to see with respect to water is a much more robust plan, because between 120 and 140 first nation communities at any one time have a boil water advisory of some type. Some, like the Neskantaga First Nation near Kenora in my province have had these advisories for years, in this case for 23 years.

There are some unique problems in this and the old ways of doing things are not going to solve them. I had the good fortune of putting out some ideas on this in the last year as a result of consultations with some young, dynamic first nation leaders. I appreciated their advice.

With the private sector, we need to unleash the potential of Canada to solve the problem, not wait for one or two ministers or this party or that party. We should be using crown agencies like Sustainable Development Technology Canada to empower innovative companies to come up with solutions. I sailed on a naval ship that was able to clean and provide drinking water in a confined space for about 300 people. Why do we not adapt these technologies for first nation and remote community use?

I also asked why we are not using Infrastructure Canada and P3 Canada to come up with P3 projects to tackle these more than 100 different projects. They will be different, but some of the same needs will be there. We should empower that approach and allow some of our large international contractors, defence contractors, security contractors to get industrial regional benefit credits for their investments in infrastructure.

This is an area where all parties can work together to acknowledge that we are not doing enough. I admire the Prime Minister's ambition, but so far, I have not seen tangible ideas to solve the problem.

What I would like to do is make sure we support this bill to provide guidelines but work together to make sure that first nations have an effective plan for safe drinking water in the future.

Department of Health ActRoutine Proceedings

December 5th, 2016 / 3:10 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Francis Scarpaleggia Liberal Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-326, an act to amend the Department of Health Act (drinking water guidelines).

Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to rise today in this House to table this bill, which would require the Minister of Health to conduct a review of drinking water standards in member countries of the OECD, and if appropriate, to make recommendations for amendments to our national guidelines here in Canada with respect to drinking water.

This bill is aimed at ensuring that our drinking water standards are the best in the developed world. It is a way for the federal government to have greater influence in the body that establishes national but provincially implemented drinking water standards in Canada.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)