The House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on the motion at report stage of Bill C-326 under private members' business.
Francis Scarpaleggia Liberal
Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)
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.
Department of Health ActPrivate Members' Business
May 23rd, 2018 / 6:45 p.m.
The Speaker Liberal Geoff Regan
The House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on the motion at report stage of Bill C-326 under private members' business.
The House resumed from May 10 consideration of the motion that Bill C-326, An Act to amend the Department of Health Act (drinking water guidelines), as reported (without amendment) from the committee, be concurred in.
The House proceeded to the consideration of Bill C-326, An Act to amend the Department of Health Act (drinking water guidelines), as reported (without amendment) from the committee.
HealthCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings
April 18th, 2018 / 3:20 p.m.
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.
April 16th, 2018 / 4 p.m.
The Acting Chair Liberal Sonia Sidhu
(Motion agreed to: yeas 6; nays 0)
We will proceed to the consideration of Bill C-326.
I'm pleased to welcome our two guests from the Department of Health. David Morin is the director general for safe environments, and Greg Carreau is the director of the water and air quality bureau. They're available should members have any questions about the bill or amendments. Thanks for being here today.
Pursuant to Standing Order 75(1), consideration of the preamble is postponed. The chair calls clause 1.
(On clause 1)
March 28th, 2018 / 5:05 p.m.
Director General, Safe Environments Directorate, Healthy Environments and Consumer Safety Branch, Department of Health
Good afternoon. Thank you for this opportunity.
Drinking water is an important issue for Canadians. The responsibility for ensuring the safety of drinking water is shared between provincial, territorial, federal, and municipal governments. The responsibility for providing safe drinking water to the general public generally rests with the provinces and territories, while municipalities oversee the day-to-day operations of treatment facilities. In first nation communities, the Government of Canada works in collaboration with first nation band councils on the safety of drinking water.
While drinking water is primarily under provincial and territorial jurisdiction, the Government of Canada plays a central role in drinking water safety by providing the scientific basis for guidelines for Canadian drinking water quality and by leading their development. This consensus-based process provides a national basis for federal, provincial, and territorial requirements for drinking water safety.
For over 50 years, Health Canada has played a leadership role in undertaking scientific assessments of pollutants in Canadian drinking water to identify potential risks to Canadians. These assessments take the form of guidelines for Canadian drinking water quality. Health Canada works very closely with provinces, territories and other federal government departments, such as the Department of Indigenous Services Canada, to develop these guidelines and to support their implementation.
Canada's guidelines for Canadian drinking water quality are based on up-to-date, credible, peer-reviewed scientific studies. In developing these guidelines, we also take into consideration the science behind new or updated drinking water standards and guidelines developed by leading agencies around the world when they are relevant for Canadian drinking water. That is to say, Canada develops guidelines needed to address drinking water pollutants that may affect Canadians.
As part of its assessment process, Health Canada routinely monitors and reviews drinking water guidelines and standards developed by leading international agencies, including the European Union, the World Health Organization, and the United States Environmental Protection Agency, not to forget the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council.
The science supporting these international standards and guidelines is taken into consideration when identifying which substances are priorities for establishing future guidelines. The science is also taken into consideration in the development of those guidelines.
The development of standards and guidelines has evolved over the past 50 years in Canada and internationally. Throughout these changes, Health Canada has continued to work on establishing evidence-based guidelines to help ensure the safety of Canadian drinking water. Evolving scientific methods and studies can now provide a much better understanding of how pollutants behave in the body, enabling scientists to more accurately determine potential health risks.
As the science behind assessments of pollutants in drinking water gets more precise and sophisticated, the value of international collaboration becomes increasingly significant. All leading international agencies rely to some extent on the work of others, including Canada. All agencies consider the key studies that have been used by other agencies on pollutants of concern. However, each jurisdiction maintains its own considerations that are specific to its country.
Bill C-326 highlights the need to consider improvement to Health Canada's drinking water program by proposing to amend the Department of Health Act.
If adopted, this bill would, for the first time, set out in legislation the role of the minister with respect to drinking water quality. Specifically, the bill would require the Minister of Health to prepare and table a report in Parliament that reviews the drinking water quality standards in OECD member countries.
Health Canada, however, already focuses on reviewing leading international agencies' standards and science for pollutants that may be of concern in the Canadian environment, such as those of the U.S. EPA. This is because the quality of drinking water standards depends on the quality of water in the environment. 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.
We identify the issues that are specific to Canada and take them into consideration when developing guidelines designed to protect the health of Canadians. The science generated as well as standards developed in other global authorities are not ignored. However, many of the other international agencies rely heavily on the work of the World Health Organization, and the risks from drinking water in these areas are very different from those in the Canadian context.
From a reporting perspective, Health Canada currently identifies which guidelines were finalized, which of them underwent public consultation, and which were in progress in the Canadian Environmental Protection Act's annual report that is tabled each year by the Minister of Environment and Climate Change. However, we do recognize that there is an opportunity to enhance the transparency of drinking water information through existing reporting mechanisms. In particular, information from international comparisons could be added to the report.
Internationally, Canada is considered to be a leader in the development of drinking water quality guidelines. Health Canada is recognized as a collaborating centre for water quality by the World Health Organization. This highlights Canada's international prominence and expertise. As part of this role, the department has been a contributor to all of the World Health Organization's drinking water quality guidelines for the last several decades. We also collaborate with Australia and the United States Environmental Protection Agency, and in particular, our collaboration with the the U.S. EPA has resulted in risk assessments that form the basis for standards or guidelines in both countries.
In conclusion, Canada's collaborative, science-based, and consultative process for developing drinking water quality guidelines is among the best in the world. However, we recognize that the drinking water program in Canada needs to continue to evolve, given how important safe drinking water is to Canadians. In particular, we need to continue to consider the standards and guidelines from other leading international organizations, and also tp assume a leadership role by developing new science and sharing it with other organizations. For example, our science has formed the basis for 12 of the World Health Organization's drinking water quality guidelines in the past 10 years. The program also needs to continue to find ways to enhance transparency and communication with stakeholders.
This is why we are very much looking forward to the discussion on Bill C-326 that is aimed at considering ways in which the drinking water program in Health Canada can be improved to ensure that we continue to safeguard the quality of drinking water for Canadians.
Thank you very much.
March 28th, 2018 / 4:30 p.m.
Grand Chief Joel Abram Grand Chief, Association of Iroquois and Allied Indians
[Witness speaks in Oneida].
That was a greeting in my language of the Oneida Nation.
I'm the Grand Chief of the Association of Iroquois and Allied Indians. We're an advocacy organization. We serve the seven first nations of the Batchewana in and around southwestern Ontario. The members we serve are Batchewana First Nation in Sault Ste. Marie, Hiawatha First Nation near Peterborough, Oneida Nation of the Thames near London, Delaware Nation near Chatham, the Wahta Mohawks north of Orillia, the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte near Belleville, and also as far south as Caldwell First Nation near Leamington. We represent around 20,000 first nations members.
Thank you, committee members, for hearing me today.
With regard to Bill C-326, it appears to have few teeth in raising national drinking water standards, besides the Minister of Health justifying why the standards are where they are. Also, because it's a provincial jurisdiction constitutionally, except for first nations, there are already drinking water standards for first nations passed in the Safe Drinking Water for First Nations Act. That act is not adhered to either, due to lack of capacity in first nations, as our previous speaker alluded to. Also, there is the failure of any legislation to include guaranteed funding triggers for first nations when water does not meet the standards.
We recently lobbied the federal government on the water issue. There's a lot of concern among first nations. Three-quarters of the boil water advisories in first nations are within Ontario, yet the Ontario region receives only 12% of the capital nationwide.
If this bill is passed, it will not have an impact on first nations drinking water. That is worth raising in itself, as first nations' drinking water standards are a federal responsibility. Once the national drinking water standards are raised, the standards in the first nations drinking water act will also go along with that. We think it probably should, in having a bare minimum that the rest of the country is going to enjoy. First nations should hopefully enjoy that too, as drinking water is a basic human right.
Right now, as it stands, the drinking water of several of our first nations does not meet the drinking water standards of the province; it's not even close. For instance, Oneida Nation of the Thames and Delaware Nation both have GUDI water systems, meaning groundwater under the direct influence of surface water. Our aquifers flow underneath the Thames River. We're downstream from London. Every time they have a storm surge, millions of tonnes of partially treated sewage goes directly into the Thames, which also affects the aquifer we take our water from. The filtration doesn't meet the standards to take a lot of that stuff out, so there are a lot of odours in the water and some.... There's a lot of concern about that.
We are looking to co-develop a new regulatory framework for drinking water that would ensure that funding for first nations is triggered as soon as the water does not meet quality standards. We saw a situation with the Municipality of Swan River where they had an issue with their drinking water facility, and within 24 hours a federal-provincial task force was looking into solving the issue. Within 48 hours, they had it identified and a solution was well under way. Another criterion is that you have to be on a boil water advisory for at least a year to even get on the page for possibly getting funding sometime in the future. In the meantime, other first nations who do have treatment facilities but do not meet the provincial drinking water standards are left in the lurch. By the time funding appears for them, they may be on boil water advisories also.
Federally there is not enough of a press forward to address first nations issues. We understand that there should be a good minimum drinking water standard federally, but how does that tie into first nations drinking water standards? Right now it doesn't appear that it does through this bill or through the Safe Drinking Water for First Nations Act either.
We need to remove the federal ranking system as a formula for capital allocations. It's very unclear. We established a needs-based budget to ensure safe drinking water in all first nations. Also, we need established budgets again for operation and maintenance to ensure that the water standards are maintained. Again, there is very little support in terms of the human resources needed. Right now in Ontario, the Ontario First Nations Technical Services Corporation does provide training to first nations water operators. However, the funding to actually pay the water operators does not exist in a lot of cases, and so first nations are forced to rob Peter to pay Paul in order to have a good number of drinking water operators so that they can have safe water. Again, that impacts other areas of our budgets.
Those are the main issues I have, and there are first nations that may want to enter into municipal partnerships for drinking water. Again, we'd like to raise our first nation issues with Bill C-326, because if a national drinking water standard is raised because of this bill, the first nations drinking water standards need to at least go along with that. The province doesn't really have much to do with first nations in terms of their drinking water right now as it is.
I remember in Oneida that we tried to have the Ontario Clean Water Agency come to do an assessment of our treatment facility. They declined, saying that we were a federal responsibility. We kept pressing them on the issue, and they agreed to do it and to just issue a report to us to let us know where the plant was in relation to the provincial standards. Again, the report came in that the plant did not meet the standards, basically due to redundancy, in terms of having any type of backup system, and because the filtration system was getting quite old as well.
There are a lot of infrastructure needs that first nations have with regard to water, and this bill doesn't seem to do a whole lot in terms of being able to enforce anything. I do think human capacity is an issue, but for first nations, it's more about the infrastructure monies that are available, and about making sure that the standards within a first nation drinking water act match what's happening nationally and provincially.
March 28th, 2018 / 4:25 p.m.
Professor Emeritus, Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry, University of Alberta, As an Individual
Honourable members of Parliament, I truly appreciate this opportunity to share with you my experience and knowledge about drinking water as you review Bill C-326. I've outlined my qualifications and experience in my written brief, so I won't repeat them here. My evidence is based on authentic experience with drinking water safety. I hope to make a case that you'll want to ask questions about. My written brief contains many published references that elaborate on the evidence for the case I'm going to argue.
Bill C-326 appears to aim at ensuring safe drinking water for Canadians. That aim is praiseworthy, but based on a substantial body of evidence, I am obliged to testify that Bill C-326 is most likely to be misinterpreted and, as currently drafted, may only distract from achieving its noble aim.
Almost 18 years ago in May 2000 in Walkerton, Ontario, Canadians witnessed seven consumers die and over 2,400 made ill—many seriously so—because their public drinking water became contaminated. If it had been law before May 2000, Bill C-326 would not have prevented that disaster. You may well ask why not? Walkerton was a failure to meet the numerical regulatory limits that were specified. Requiring a more stringent numerical limit would have made no difference.
Justice O'Connor, in his landmark inquiry reports, recognized that ensuring operational competence is the critical factor for ensuring safe drinking water, not specifying more stringent numerical limits. Justice O'Connor was informed in his judgment by parallel international advances made by the World Health Organization and the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council. These are now captured in what's called a “drinking water safety plan” approach that focuses on operational competence rather than just tightening numerical limits. Those numerical limits are already set with considerable margins of safety. Failures like Walkerton are caused by inadequate operational competence to ensure safe operations.
Despite the Walkerton incident being 18 years in the past, such fatal operational errors have continued to occur in affluent nations. Just last year I was retained by Water New Zealand to give evidence to a government inquiry into a drinking water disaster in a community called Havelock North that caused four deaths and 5,500 cases of illness in August 2016. This disaster occurred in a modern, suburban community of about 15,000 residents for reasons similar to Walkerton's disaster—because the operational personnel responsible for drinking water failed to do what needed to be done.
In my evidence for New Zealand, I reported on case studies of 38 outbreaks of serious drinking water disease that have occurred in 13 affluent countries: nine in the U.S.; seven in Canada; six in England; three in Finland; two each in Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland; and one each in Australia, Ireland, Japan, New Zealand, and Scotland. These resulted in a total of 77 fatalities in nine fatal outbreaks and caused over 460,000 cases of gastrointestinal disease.
While the majority of Canadians are routinely provided high-quality drinking water that is safe by any international standard, assurance of that achievement is less secure as we move to smaller and more remote communities, including first nations communities. The bottom line for ensuring safe drinking water is the competence—the training, knowledge, public health awareness, commitment, and functional capacity—of the water provider. The smaller the entity charged with providing public drinking water, the more difficult it becomes to ensure adequate competence.
Consider the following example to illustrate my point. Would you be comfortable as a passenger travelling in a plane flown by a pilot being paid minimal wages and who has minimal training and negligible technical support? I expect not. Yet, in many small communities in Canada we place responsibility for delivering safe drinking water upon personnel who are often undertrained, and are mostly underpaid and undersupported for the enormous public health responsibility they must discharge. Adopting more stringent numerical criteria in the guidelines for Canadian drinking water quality, which are already intentionally cautious, will do nothing to improve drinking water safety in these communities.
I'd like to thank member of Parliament Scarpaleggia for the references he made to some of my writings. We had a discussion on these issues, and I'm pleased that they've been taken note of. However, I'm commenting on what's in the bill.
Thank you for your attention to this important matter. I welcome your questions about what is needed and what will improve safety.
March 28th, 2018 / 4:20 p.m.
Francis Scarpaleggia Liberal Lac-Saint-Louis, QC
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
I will begin by sort of echoing Mr. Attaran's comments in saying that, in Canada, drinking water is generally of good quality, with the exception, of course, of the drinking water in many rural or first nations communities.
Bill C-326 does not address the issue of boil water advisories in first nations and other communities. Resolving these issues requires a political will, a significant commitment of financial resources and highly likely, in my opinion, new governance structures in some cases. Fortunately, the government is dealing with this challenge with great determination, and so far, the results have been promising.
When any changes are made to the drinking water standard development system, we must make sure not to unduly increase the burden on Health Canada or, perhaps more importantly, on public water services and their operators. To do otherwise would be counterproductive to achieving the objective of Bill C-326, which aims to reduce Canadians' exposure to harmful contaminants in drinking water. Interfering in how Health Canada and public water services are fulfilling their mandate of providing quality drinking water unintentionally compromises the quality of our drinking water.
Bill C-326 aims to be a small practical step. It's objective is to modestly increase the rigour and accountability of the process of developing Canada's guidelines for drinking water quality, hopefully resulting in Canadians being able to access the best drinking water in the world on an ongoing basis, even as new contaminants are identified over the long term.
The bill seeks to do this by requiring Health Canada to systematically scan the international environment to compare Canada's drinking water guidelines with those of other comparable nations, and report on discrepancies. Such an exercise would provide the public, NGOs, and the media with the information needed to judge whether the government is being timely and thorough in recommending maximum allowable concentrations for contaminants in drinking water.
Bill C-326 is inspired by the work of the environmental NGO Ecojustice, namely by its report entitled “Waterproof”, which is a report card on Canada's drinking water guidelines in comparison to those of the U.S., Australia, and European Union countries and guidelines recommended by the World Health Organization.
According to the report, published in 2014, there are 189 substances regulated in other countries for which Canada has no standard. This gap, however, is justifiable in 84 cases, where Canada has either banned a particular substance or the substance is otherwise not in use here. That leaves 105 substances that are regulated in at least one other country, but for which a guideline does not exist in this country. For example, Canada lacks a guideline for styrene, a possible human carcinogen, but the U.S., Australia, and the World Health Organization have set maximum allowable limits for this substance in drinking water.
Furthermore, according to the Ecojustice report, there are 27 substances for which Canada has the weakest standard of the countries that do have standards, or is tied for the weakest standard. For example, the standard for the herbicide 2,4-D is 1.5 to 3 times stronger in other countries than it is in Canada.
It is important, in my view, to note the distinction between microbial pathogens known to cause human disease through drinking water, and contaminants that, because of their low concentration, pose very little risk to human health. This doesn't mean that low-risk contaminants should not be assigned maximum allowable concentrations. This should be done on precautionary grounds, in my view. However, care must also be taken to avoid diverting plant operator attention from those pathogens that provide a clear, quick, and certain risk of harm if not properly monitored and controlled in drinking water systems.
There may be legitimate reasons why a Canadian guideline remains weaker than that of another comparable country. Guidelines are a function of risk, and risk depends on many factors. A contaminant's presence—arsenic would be an example—may pose an insignificant risk in a particular geographic area, and thus, pouring large sums into eliminating that risk could come at the expense of other important health priorities. To quote Dr. Steve Hrudey in a paper he wrote for the C.D. Howe Institute:
...there needs to be acceptance...of the reality that all risks to drinking water safety are not equal and that drinking water treatment strategies must address the important risks before limited resources are substantially diverted to dealing with the hypothetical issues.
Some believe we should move further in the direction of a cookbook or numerical approach to regulating drinking water as in, for example, the U.S. with its stricter emphasis on legally binding standards for drinking water contaminants. However, it may be better, and in line with emerging international practice, to put a strong emphasis on ensuring the highest operational standards in water utilities. To again quote Dr. Hrudey, speaking of over 70 case studies of outbreaks since 1974 from 15 different affluent nations:
Despite having the most detailed and onerous regulatory regime for drinking water in the world, the US accounted for 23 of the 70 disease outbreaks....
Owing to our constitutional division of responsibilities with respect to drinking water, where the provinces select guidelines to enforce, our system of regulating drinking water has built-in flexibility that prevents an over-reliance on a rigid numerical approach at the expense of focusing on ensuring good operational standards in drinking-water plants. While stricter guidelines can be recommended, provinces can decide on their relevance given local conditions and other factors to be considered in evaluating risk.
Canadians have the right to know how Canada's drinking-water guidelines measure up against international standards and whether there are valid reasons for any observed discrepancies. Such analysis could prove transformative for the process of updating Canada's drinking-water guidelines.
Bill C-326 thus imposes a statutory requirement on the government to conduct a comprehensive analysis of Canada's drinking-water guidelines in comparison with international standards and report on the results.
Specifically, Bill C-326 would require the health minister, within three months after the end of each calendar year, to conduct a review of the drinking water standards in OECD member countries in the previous year, and prepare a report on the review. The minister would be required to table the report before the House and Senate essentially within 15 days of the report's completion. The report would also have to be published on the department's website within 30 days from the day the report is laid before the House and Senate. If the Minister of Health is of the view that standards in an OECD country provide for a higher level of water quality than the Canadian guidelines and that it would be in the interests of Canadians that those guidelines be amended accordingly, the minister would be required to include such a recommendation in his or her report.
Bill C-326 creates a process analogous to the one by which pesticide regulations are updated in Canada. Subsection 17(2) of the Pest Control Products Act states:
...when a member country of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development prohibits all uses of an active ingredient for health or environmental reasons, the Minister shall initiate a special review of registered pest control products containing that active ingredient.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
March 28th, 2018 / 4:10 p.m.
Professor Amir Attaran Professor, Faculties of Law and Medicine, University of Ottawa, Ecojustice Canada
Thank you. It's good to see you again, Mr. Chair.
Thank you all for inviting me and having me around to discuss Bill C-326. As you've just heard, I'm a Professor in the Faculties of Law and Medicine at the University of Ottawa. I'm a biologist by background, educated abroad at Berkeley, Caltech, and Oxford, and then I said “enough of that”, and I became a lawyer and got my law degree at UBC.
My work at the University of Ottawa—and before that in other faculty positions I held at Yale and Harvard—has to do with law, public health, and human or environmental security. That is the focus of my research and my litigation. It is also a set of goals shared by Ecojustice, which is a really quite remarkable environmental law organization. It's a charity, the largest of its kind in Canada and one that is partnered with our law school at the University of Ottawa.
In Canada, a simple glass of water, like the one before me now, should be safe to drink anywhere in the country. If Canada were a perfect country, it would be safe to drink this anywhere, but we're not perfect. Our country is definitely not perfect on water. Most Canadian cities have relatively sophisticated water treatment facilities. Many rural parts of the country or first nations communities do not, and they rely on untreated or minimally treated water. That said, here in the national capital region, just a few days ago there was a boil water advisory up in the Pontiac, so it presses in on our cities as well.
For Canada 150 last year, a time of celebration for most of us, there were also over 150 first nations communities with boil water advisories, which is a disappointing fact. The longest of those boil water advisories had been going on for over 8,000 days—over 20 years. I can honestly say from my research that there really is no other developed country as lagging and as backwards as Canada is on drinking water, and that's a tragedy.
Ecojustice, the charity, has a long-standing interest in this area through representing groups in litigation or regulatory proceedings, but also in research, and particularly in publishing a series of reports call “Waterproof”. I'm going to take you through the highlights of the 2014 report.
In that report, Ecojustice looked at the Canadian guidelines for drinking water quality, which are basically the maximum levels of chemical, radiological, or microbiological contamination that are tolerable in drinking water in Canada. Ecojustice compared those Canadian safety levels to the standards in the United States, the European Union, and Australia, and also to the global standards from the World Health Organization.
They found that the Canadian standards quite frequently lag behind. While Canada has reached first place or tied in first place in 24 instances, more often than not we're in last place for 27 different substances compared to the U.S., the EU, Australian, or WHO standards. In fully 105 cases of substances that those others regulate, Canada does not have a water safety standard at all—nothing. There are well over 100 cases where Australia, the EU, and the U.S. have standards and we simply don't, of any kind or of any level.
An example is a herbicide called 2,4-D, which is very widely used. In those countries I mentioned, the safety threshold is up to three times more stringent than it is in Canada. In Ontario and Quebec, for example, there's a ban on using 2,4-D as a cosmetic herbicide, for instance to make golf courses pretty. It's prohibited. However, there's no standard for it in our drinking water at all.
Let's take styrene, the key ingredient in polystyrene, which I'm sure you've heard of. We have no safety standard for styrene in drinking water. The World Health Organization classifies styrene as possibly carcinogenic in humans. A derivative of it, Styrene-7, 8-oxide, is classed by the World Health Organization as probably carcinogenic in humans. Those are found in drinking water at unregulated levels because we have no standard.
Along with poor safety standards—and I've just given you two examples—Canada also has no requirement to treat surface water, or groundwater that is mixed with surface water. Other countries directly or indirectly legislate to require such treatment. We do not. No wonder we are up to our eyeballs in drinking water advisories and boil water advisories. It's as simple as that.
With regard to what to do, the “Waterproof” report has a number of recommendations. It's good reading, if you'd like to see it.
However, for today's purposes, the most important thing to discuss is the special review policy in Bill C-326. What that bill calls on the minister to do is conduct a special review any time that an OECD country passes up Canada with a newer or tougher safety standard in drinking water. The basic idea there is that the minister has to watch the OECD. We would tend not to fall into last place if we were watching what the rest of the OECD is doing. You get in first place in a race by watching the guys a little behind you and trying to run a bit faster. That's the philosophy behind the special review requirement in the bill. If the minister thinks it's in Canadians' best interest to adopt a tougher OECD-inspired standard, she has the option of doing so. She has the option of adopting that, and making a recommendation in an annual report that she gives to Parliament.
Now, as for my thoughts on this, the idea of comparing us to the OECD is very good. Parliament has done this before. We have used the OECD as a comparator for pesticides and toxins in the Pest Control Products Act and in the Canadian Environmental Protection Act. However, here's the difference. Those laws make it mandatory for the minister to take action on a special review when Canada is behind its OECD peers; Bill C-326 makes it optional. This is obviously an area of potential improvement. The ministerial action could be mandatory instead of optional.
That said, do I urge the committee to recommend the passage of the bill? Of course I do, but with amendments, if you'd like to, including the amendment I just discussed. That's an option, as well. That's what you do here.
I'll leave it there. Thank you for making time, and I look forward to your questions.
March 28th, 2018 / 4:10 p.m.
The Chair Liberal Bill Casey
I'll call the meeting to order. Welcome to meeting number 98 of the Standing Committee on Health.
We are continuing our study on the order of reference made on Monday, October 30, on Bill C-326, An Act to amend the Department of Health Act (drinking water guidelines).
We have two panels today, with three witnesses on the first panel. Then we'll take a break and go to the next panel. Our first panel will have opening statements of 10 minutes maximum.
I'll introduce the witnesses. First, I believe it's Mr. Francis Scarpaleggia, Member of Parliament, who instituted this motion. With him is Ecojustice Canada's representative, Amir Attaran, Professor in the Faculties of Law and Medicine, University of Ottawa. Thank you.
By video conference, we have Dr. Steve Hrudey, Professor Emeritus, Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry, University of Alberta. I like your backdrop, Dr. Hrudey. It looks very good.
March 26th, 2018 / 4:10 p.m.
Sonia Sidhu Liberal Brampton South, ON
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Thank you to all the witnesses for the very touching comments.
My first question is for Mr. Odjick. What barriers are there to implementing Bill C-326? How can we address those barriers?
Could each of you give your views?
March 26th, 2018 / 4:05 p.m.
Professor Graham Gagnon Professor, Centre for Water Resources Studies, Faculty of Engineering, Dalhousie University, As an Individual
Thank you, committee members and Mr. Casey, for providing me this opportunity today to talk about Canada and drinking water.
I’m presently the Director of the Centre for Water Resources Studies, a professor, and NSERC Industrial Research Chair at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
In our lab I supervise and engage with students and research projects that touch drinking water research across Canadian communities. In particular, our work focuses on some of our partners, such as Halifax Water and Cape Breton Regional Municipality, but I also have the opportunity to work with many municipalities across Canada. Last week I was dealing with a project in Regina, Saskatchewan, and an emerging issue that folks in Regina are addressing.
As the director for the centre, I've also had the opportunity to work with the Atlantic Policy Congress of First Nation Chiefs, headquartered in Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia. The chiefs in my region are adamantly concerned about drinking water, and one of their approaches is to develop a first nation water authority, an innovative approach to address drinking water challenges they face in the region through aggregation, combined services, and management structures that are truly innovative within the paradigm of Indigenous Services Canada.
As the centre director, I've also had the opportunity to work with many of our provincial and federal agencies. I finished a project recently with Health Canada; I'm working on a project with the Government of Nunavut, a project with Nova Scotia Environment, and Ontario and Alberta as well. Throughout that work, and through the work with municipalities, there is clearly a need, particularly in the municipality group, to strive for best-in-class information. Many of our municipality units across Canada are members of an organization called the American Water Works Association. AWWA is headquartered in Denver, Colorado. As you might imagine, many of our large metropolitan cities reach out to AWWA to find best-in-class information. The proposed bill to look for best-in-class information for the federal government through the OECD annual review would be something that I could see would be welcomed by municipalities from the standpoint that many of the them are already doing this; and to push the envelope and think about new ways and new innovation to manage drinking water would only be welcomed by many municipalities.
In addition, I work with a number of clean tech companies. The clean tech economy in Canada and Atlantic Canada is robust for drinking water. One of the companies I work with regularly is a company called LuminUltra. It's based in Fredericton, New Brunswick, and it's a leading biotech company that is striving to develop new assays to measure bacteriological quality in drinking water. Much of its work is pushed by offshore needs, as many Canadian clients don't necessarily see the value of the business case. However, looking at other instruments for regulatory paradigms or regulatory regimes in Canada would strive to find new ways to measure bacteriological quality and engage biotech companies like LuminUltra.
However, within the context of Canada, developing policy on drinking water requires both a local and a regional perspective. In Canada, the Canadian government uses the Federal-Provincial-Territorial Committee on Drinking Water, or the FPT, as a collaborative approach by federal agencies and provincial partners to achieve drinking water safety. However, one voice is critically missing from this committee, and that is an indigenous voice. While I recognize that Indigenous Services Canada serves on the FPT, this is not the same as a technical expert or a community member from a first nation community. Consistent with what my colleague Mr. Odjick said, I think the representation and views of a community member are critical for this type of federal agency or this type of federal committee. Many of our provincial partners live and breathe and raise families in the provinces they represent when they attend as a committee member. A first nation representative would provide that sense of place that doesn't exist right now on the FPT. It would provide an Inuit voice, a Métis voice, or a first nation voice that would be critical in understanding drinking water issues in communities.
I would strongly urge the present committee members to think about this as they reflect on the current policy and Bill C-326. Ask yourselves how this would affect first nation communities and whether an indigenous voice in particular would be welcome on the federal-provincial-territorial committee.
Thank you very much for providing me this opportunity. I welcome any questions today.
March 26th, 2018 / 3:55 p.m.
Jason R. Odjick As an Individual
[Witness speaks in Algonquin]
Hello. My name is Jay Odjick. I'm an artist, writer, and television producer from the Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg community, about an hour and a half up the road.
I'd like to talk about a few different things. I'm here primarily to talk about the state of drinking water in first nations communities. I'd also like to talk about opportunity. I'd also like to talk about belief.
Belief is a very important thing. At times, for me as well as many other first nations people, I believe it can be hard for us to believe in government. I am looking around the room, though, and I'm seeing people. I believe in you, because I believe that if we were to reach out we could touch one another. Tangible things are things that I can believe in.
As it relates to opportunity, I'd like to thank you all for the opportunity to be here and to recognize that we are on unceded Algonquin territory. It's an opportunity for me to speak because I'm not an elected official of any first nations community, or group, or organization, but I am a community that has had a long-term no-consumption advisory.
The reason I'm a bit nervous to speak is that our community of Kitigan Zibi is not exactly representative of the problems many first nations communities face as related to their drinking water. Many communities are faced with a bacteria-based problem, whereas in Kitigan Zibi our problem has always been radiation—and I'll talk about that a bit more. I'll also talk a bit about the other first nations communities and the issues they face.
Insofar as the situation or state of first nations' drinking water goes, it's important to note that we have seen progress. We've seen progress due to diligent work, including the erection of facilities designed to handle these problems, the current government's commitment to eradicating drinking water advisories in first nations communities by 2021, and the hard work of people in first nations communities and the testing that's been done.
It can be hard to find accurate numbers, and I think for a lot of people that's a major thing because you really have to know where to look. In terms of progress, I know for us in Kitigan Zibi the uranium in our water was identified in approximately the mid-1990s—1994, I believe. Along with that, radon has been a major problem for us as well.
In terms of progress, in 2015 there were approximately 100 to 135 long-term drinking water advisories in first nations communities. Now, it's important to note that 135 number does not mean nations or communities; that's the total number of advisories. Some communities have more than one. I'm familiar with the few that even have two or three.
According to the INAC website, as of March this year the most contemporary numbers are that there are 78 long-term advisories, and that 57 of them have been lifted in the last couple of years. That's good. I think that's really encouraging. The thing we have to take into account is that while many of us are encouraged, many of us are still angry. I think what we have to understand is that anger is justifiable. It's hard to look at pictures, for example, of kids from Kashechewan with the skin conditions that been identified as being caused by exposure to their own water. If there's one thing we're supposed to be able to trust in this world, I think it's our water. They say water is life. That should be true, but it isn't always the case.
To be more encouraging, I believe that Bill C-326 could potentially play a role in meeting the 2021 goal. When I read the bill there were a few questions that came to mind. The bill is about meeting Canada's guidelines for drinking water and the standards of the other OECD member countries. My question question is primarily whether Canada can do that if we include first nations' drinking water and the state of it in our reports. I don't know the answer to that. I'm just some guy. The secondary question would be about it being a lofty thing to aspire to. It's a lofty aspiration, especially with the 2021 deadline of eradicating those DWAs, and there are people who are dubious about it. Speaking for myself and no one else, I'd rather have lofty aspirations than the opposite.
I think that with Bill C-326, it's important to look not only at the drinking water standards of nations outside of Canada but also at the status of drinking water of the nations within Canada, and by that I mean our first nations. I hope Bill C-326 can play some role in that.
The other thing that's important to note is that one of the major challenges facing first nations as far as drinking water goes is the jurisdictional quagmire, the same one we face in so many other regards, of what jurisdiction it falls under, whether it's provincial or federal. I think the message we'd all like to send is that the federal government must claim responsibility.
The other question as it relates to first nations drinking water, at least from what I've seen in my own community, is the most relevant thing: what are we testing for? As I said, our problem is not bacterial in Kitigan Zibi; our problem is based on radiation. I'd like to speak a little bit to the realities of that.
In the 1990s, when we found the uranium, we began working as diligently as we could. We had obtained funding from Health Canada to test for the uranium. Admittedly, I'm not the best person to speak to this, but this is what I know, what I've read, and what I've been told by people, my chief and people who've worked on this project. We've done a good job as well, with the aid of the federal government, in bringing this number down. Based on the information I have here, at the time, in the 1990s, radon was present in 43% of homes, with 8% of those homes being between three and ten times the safe levels. As of today, that number has gone down to around 17%, so we've seen success.
The way we treated the uranium in the water was to use a type of resin. The resin would basically take the uranium from the water. How does it do that? We began to be concerned that the resin was actually absorbing the uranium and thus becoming radioactive. At some point somebody asked, “What about septic tanks? What about septic fields? What about leach beds?” At that point, two or three wells in Kitigan Zibi were tested for the presence of radium, and we found it. To what extent? That's where things get interesting.
We went back to Health Canada and said, “Look, we treated the uranium. There is also radium. We don't know how much, and we don't know at what level.” Health Canada at that point said that the cheaper option would be bottled water. Since then, the majority of households in my community have consumed bottled water. The cost to the community is roughly, as far as I'm told, about $1,800 a week. Again, I'm not an elected official, and also for sure not a mathematician, but I think at some point, when you look at these costs and at the population rising, that will stop being the cheaper option. We have to go with the better option, the human rights option.
In closing, I'd like to say that I believe in people above all else. I believe that we could reach out and we could touch one another. I believe in you. I believe you're listening, and I believe you care, or you wouldn't be here. You wouldn't have the jobs you have.
I'd like to take a small moment to engage you all in a suspension of disbelief exercise. I'd like you to believe that this is actually a glass of water from Kitigan Zibi. As I said, I believe in you. If you were really thirsty, my question is, would you drink it? You don't know about the levels of radium in it, but you don't need to drink it, because you have bottled water. So my question to you is this. I don't know how many of you here have children. If I were to bring in a small tub of this water—and when I say this I believe in you as people, and I believe you care about the well-being of other people—would you bathe your babies in water from Kitigan Zibi as we do every day?
Although I believe in you as people, what I'm asking today is to give us a government we can believe in. Give us a government we can reach out to and touch and feel every time we turn on our tap.
March 26th, 2018 / 3:50 p.m.
Clayton Leonard Senior Counsel, JFK Law Corporation
Thank you for the opportunity to speak to the committee. As I understand it, Bill C-326 at its core simply requires the Minister of Health to conduct a review of drinking water standards in OECD countries, and to make recommendations for amending national guidelines for drinking water in Canada.
As you know, my work has been exclusively with first nations on safe drinking water, so all of my comments to the committee will be in that context. My overall opinion of the bill, having taken time over the weekend to review it, is that at best it's a distraction and perhaps a waste of time, and at worst, it may place additional burdens on first nations that they are not prepared to meet.
As the committee probably knows, in 2011 there was a national engineering assessment of first nation drinking water and wastewater systems that recommended roughly $5 billion in investment over 10 years. Although the former government and the current one have made additional investments, neither has come anywhere close to meeting that pressing and decades-long need in first nation communities.
It's been my experience that first nations across Alberta, British Columbia, and the rest of the country are already struggling to meet federal drinking water standards. Just to list off a few of these standards, first nations are already expected to comply with the protocol for centralized wastewater systems in first nation communities, the protocol for decentralized water and wastewater systems in first nation communities, design guidelines for first nation waterworks, guidelines for effluent quality and wastewater treatment at federal establishments, and Health Canada's guidelines for Canadian drinking water quality, as well as INAC's level of service standards for water and sewer systems.
As a practical point, when I read the bill, it's not clear to me how the recommendations from the minister's review would apply to, or impact, that long list of guidelines that first nations are already expected to meet.
Most first nations systems, as identified by the national engineering assessment, are struggling to meet those guidelines already. If additional reporting and monitoring requirements are placed on plant operators and those in the communities, they will just have to do more with less already.
There's also the question of what this means for the implementation of the Safe Drinking Water for First Nations Act. It's enabling legislation, and as I understand, the federal government has not yet taken significant steps across the country to develop regulations under the act. It's not clear to me how the review of drinking water guidelines that would happen under this bill would impact the development of those regulations.
There's also the question of whether the act is going to stay in place. I worked closely with first nations from Alberta, and former minister Bennett, when she was in opposition, actively coordinated and helped us oppose that piece of legislation, and committed to repealing it and replacing it with something developed in true collaboration with first nations across Canada. We haven't seen that yet. In fact, we really don't know what the fate of the legislation will be at all.
It's also unclear to me what all of the work put into this bill would really mean for the protection of drinking water. We have overlapping jurisdictions around the country with varying standards. In Ontario there's legislation that protects source water; in Alberta it's done by voluntary guidelines, as an example. Source water protection is really fundamental to protecting drinking water for first nations and non-first nations—it doesn't matter where you are in the country. It's probably the weakest component of the regulatory guidelines and legislation in this country. I think if any bill regarding drinking water is not sharply focused on the protection of source water, then it's not really worth the time.
Those are my comments.