Mr. Speaker, before getting into the Bloc Québécois's reasons for not supporting this bill, I want to emphasize a few points.
First, we recognize that problems related to geographical disparities affect people's standard of living and their access to a quality environment. Second, we are concerned about the fact that newcomers and indigenous communities are more directly affected by these disparities. Last, we fully support government measures to rectify inequalities experienced by the entire population vis-à-vis the environment.
However, Bill C-230's provisions create a lot of problems, starting with a direct attack on the environmental sovereignty of Quebec and the provinces. It will therefore come as no surprise that the Bloc Québécois will oppose anything that undermines Quebec legislation and its jurisdiction. Also, it is not at all clear that the federal government would have the constitutional authority to implement the measures proposed in this bill.
That is not all. As my colleague just outlined, there is no definition. As we understand it, there is no definition of environmental racism. When a new concept is introduced into a law, especially when it comes from a very specific theory, it must be clearly defined. In society and in academia, the meaning of concepts may change over time, but the meaning within the law must always be clear, known and recognized.
For instance, Bill C-230 makes extensive use of the word “race”. We understand the hon. member's anti-racist and anti-discriminatory intent, and we are not in any way questioning that intent. However, we do have some concerns. The sociological construction of race from such a perspective is not a process on which there is scientific or social consensus.
This concept, yet another one that comes to us from the United States, is based on the analysis of a relationship between the social, that is, the classes, gender and race, and nature. Some folks might remember the film Erin Brockovich. It was about a woman fighting an industry, but she was talking about financial precariousness. Today her struggle continues in Greece, but she is still talking about poverty.
Ingrid Waldron, a professor and author who has high hopes for Bill C-230, looks at the real and important issue of environmental discrimination through the lens of race and colour. I do not want to contradict Dr. Waldron, but we must recognize that environmental injustice, which disproportionately affects minority communities, is more in line with a fundamentally anti-capitalist ideology.
Furthermore, in her research she addresses the conditions that fuel environmental racism:
The combination of sociopolitical factors that enables environmental racism include poverty, lack of political power and representation, lack of protection and enforcement, and neoliberal policy reform.
She does recognize that there are many vulnerability factors. Why talk about racism, then?
The term “systemic racism” is politically and theoretically charged. If we are to have an open debate, we must not be already attached to restrictive theoretical premises influenced by sociological approaches that are firmly rooted in activism. As my colleagues know, I was a teacher and a union president. I am well versed in activism. I will be the first to say that it is important. However, activism must not be the motivation for introducing a bill in Parliament.
Dr. Waldron cites the inequalities between minority languages, including indigenous languages, of course, and the majority language of English as one of the factors contributing to the environmental burden:
While some provinces and territories have “environmental bills of rights” and legal frameworks for addressing environmental rights, gaps remain in areas related to federal jurisdiction.
Here we are. There certainly are gaps.
Last week, I spoke to Bill C-225 introduced by my colleague from Jonquière. The public engagement I was referring to and the social movements that lead to political battles have the desired impact on government action. These battles are often quite distinct from one another depending on the realities experienced.
However, the legislator faces an entirely different challenge. The legislator's responsibility is to make laws that serve justice, of course, but that must apply to all citizens. A good policy is a universal policy. It serves the common good and applies to the entire population. Moreover, universal public policies also end up dismantling inequality structures and discriminatory practices. Choosing the parameter or the lens of race to look at an intersectional phenomenon such as environmental discrimination seems inappropriate in a legislative context.
Quebec's Commission des droits de la personne et de la jeunesse has ruled on the matter as follows:
The idea that socio-economic, cultural and political differences between groups of individuals can be based entirely or in part on biological and genetic disparities has been widely rejected by most researchers in the social sciences.
The commission added that, in its view, the relationship between the social sciences and the notion of race is a dangerous one.
Canada needs to do some soul-searching, given the reality of the work described by Dr. Waldron, if only with respect to indigenous peoples and the unacceptable conditions that exist in far too many communities across Canada.
It is hard, very hard in fact, to explain how Bill C-230 can include a provision that puts “the administration and enforcement of environmental laws in each province” back into the hands of the federal government, when we have clear examples of the federal government demonstrating its indifference to the legislative mechanisms that are already in place in other administrations. That once again brings me back to Bill C-225, which we debated last week, and to the sad reality of the undue precedence federal legislation takes over environmental concerns and provincial laws.
Canadian laws are much more permissive than Quebec's laws when it comes to environmental protection, and yet they take precedence over Quebec's laws. We will not give the federal government another opportunity to have even more precedence over the provinces. It already has too much. Canada needs to examine its priorities when it comes to protecting its population from climate change, pollution-related issues, health impacts and all of the inequality that permeates its environmental action. Yes, the federal government needs to address the gaps that Dr. Waldron referred to.
Like her, I call on members to think about the sad legacy of neo-liberal policies, those that adversely affect the welfare state. We need to be firm in our legislative intentions of looking out for and eliminating discrimination, but we must do so from a perspective of unity, not division. Take, for example, pay equity, gender equality, universal access to life-sustaining resources, such as drinking water in indigenous communities, and access to justice. In short, we must continue to always fight to ensure that we stop the divide from growing.
I want to remind members that the right to live in a healthy environment has been enshrined in a multitude of constitutions and national charters. The member noted it in her introduction. Why could we not consider the same thing in Canada, that is, including the right to a healthy environment alongside other fundamental legal guarantees, regardless of our biology, the community to which we belong, our socio-economic status or where we live?
Would this be another argument for discussing the Constitution? We are ready.