Madam Speaker, it is always a pleasure for me to rise on behalf of the Bloc Québécois and the people of Avignon—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia, particularly to talk about the environment.
I want to begin by thanking my colleague from Cumberland—Colchester for her work and for introducing this bill. I want her to know that the Bloc Québécois has big ambitions when it comes to the environment. We welcome bills that address this issue.
Her bill touches on a particularly worthwhile issue, a concept that has not been very well known until now, and that is environmental racism. I myself had to read up on this concept before I spoke about it, and I have to say that I learned a lot. I think it is important to talk about what this concept means.
Environmental racism is a grassroots concept, but that does not make it any less real. It is a concept that exists in the broader context of the environmental justice movement, which originated in the United States. It is based on the connection between nature and social factors, such as class, gender and race.
The Canadian Race Relations Foundation defines environmental racism as follows:
A systemic form of racism in which toxic wastes are introduced into or near marginalized communities. People of colour, indigenous peoples, working class, and poor communities suffer disproportionately from environmental hazards and the location of dangerous, toxic facilities such as incinerators and toxic waste dumps. Pollution of lands, air and waterways, often causes chronic illness to the inhabitants and change in their lifestyle.
According to this definition, the concept of environmental racism is intrinsically linked to that of systemic racism. At the same time, it is not exclusively linked to minorities because it includes more varied vulnerability criteria, so is calling it exclusively a form of racism justified?
There is without a doubt good reason to add environmental factors to the social determinants of health. Essentially, the definition of the concept of environmental racism seems vague. Without a clear definition of this concept, I think it is difficult to develop a public policy.
More pragmatically, the fact that this concept is linked to a wide range of social phenomena poses a real challenge in terms of public policy development. In this specific vision of environmental justice, policies have to adapt continuously to the variety of situations encountered.
The concept of environmental racism was popularized in Canada by Dr. Ingrid Waldron, a professor at Dalhousie University. According to her, every community experiences these issues in its own unique way, which makes it challenging to take concerted action for social, economic, political and environmental justice.
It is one thing for social movements to adapt their political battles to the realities on the ground. Just look at the opposition to pipeline projects like Energy East or the Coastal Gaslink pipeline.
The challenge is quite different for lawmakers who have to draft legislation that serves justice and has to apply to all citizens. A good policy is a universal policy that serves the common good and applies to the entire population. Universal public policies dismantle unequal structures and discriminatory practices. That seems to be the purpose of Bill C‑230, but that will not be the result.
Whether in Quebec, France or elsewhere, the social policies that have best served the advancement of rights, social protections and reduced inequalities are universal policies that apply to everyone. I would like to remind the House that the Bloc Québécois strongly believes in the principle of universality, which involves promoting the economic and social well-being of all members of society.
The best way for the government to avoid discriminating based on differences is to blind itself to differences. If we institute new policies based on new rights, such as the right to a clean environment, everyone should have them. If the policy is well thought out, those who suffer the most from injustice will receive help and support from the government. If the rights and the eligibility criteria for government protection and support are universal, then the policy will eliminate inequalities based on differences. Unfortunately, Bill C-230 does not meet these criteria of universality.
The second problem with this bill is that it is a direct infringement on Quebec's environmental sovereignty. One striking example is the following clause: “assess the administration and enforcement of environmental laws in each province”. In other words, the federal government would no longer respect Quebec's environmental legislation. It would give itself the right to assess the administration and enforcement of environmental laws in Quebec and every province. I am sorry to say that the Bloc Québécois cannot agree to such a clause. Quebec's territory belongs to Quebec, and it is up to the Government of Quebec to protect it.
Bill C‑230 puts the Minister of the Environment in charge of the national strategy. The choice of the minister is not bad in itself, but we need to first consider the intersectionality of environmental racism, which requires a horizontal approach involving multiple departments. For example, the environment is a shared jurisdiction, and social policy is not a federal responsibility.
Next, who is to say that the federal government has the constitutional jurisdiction to implement the measures in this bill?
The fact that the federal government wants to consult other levels of government is not sufficient, in the context of Canadian federalism, to justify that same government's intrusion in areas that are the jurisdiction of Quebec and the other provinces. The federal government can legislate on environmental matters, but only in areas under its jurisdiction.
Bill C-230 does not concern fisheries or navigation and shipping and does not apply solely to federal public property. The bill makes no reference to any criminal matters, nor does it establish an obligation to adopt environmental mechanisms in conjunction with provincial governments.
Need I remind members that the clause about assessing the administration and enforcement of environmental laws in Quebec is unacceptable to us?
The federal government has a long way to go if it wants to respect Quebec's environmental sovereignty at long last. It should start by taking care of its environmental responsibilities, such as the management of dangerous goods. The federal government's practices with regard to the management of radioactive waste are particularly questionable.
Under the Constitution Act, 1867, the federal Parliament exercised its declaratory power to assert jurisdiction over nuclear energy. The federal government therefore needs to accept responsibility for its decision and live up to its responsibilities by ensuring that no human being in Quebec or Canada is exposed to the hazards of nuclear waste. As for the rest, as I said at the beginning, Quebec's territory belongs to Quebec, and it is up to the Government of Quebec to protect it.
If the current government really wants to fight climate change and social inequality, it does not need Bill C‑230 to do so. It does not need to bring up environmental racism.
There is already scientific evidence to show that it is the most vulnerable people, the most disadvantaged, the ones living in the poorest neighbourhoods, who experience the most direct harm from the environmental crisis. Yes, cultural minorities and immigrants are overrepresented in those neighbourhoods. Yes, indigenous people are among the hardest hit. The data is there. What we need now is political will.
We have known for more than 30 years that climate change affects our physical and mental health. Natural disasters, heat waves, floods, poorer water quality, reduced food quality and quantity, and the emergence or development of new diseases are all factors that affect human health. Not only are these phenomena getting worse, but they can also appear simultaneously. What happens then? Health risks skyrocket, and vulnerable people's lives are in jeopardy.
We can tell ourselves that the impact of climate change on health is felt elsewhere, far from home, but that is like burying our heads in the sand. Quebec and Canada are already feeling the impact of climate change.
Remember the 2018 heat waves. In and around Montreal, that heat wave killed 66 people. Mapping where those deaths occurred reminds us of the influence of social inequality on health, because the most disadvantaged neighbourhoods had the most deaths.
Other local examples include increasingly poor sanitation in indigenous communities. Rising waters and changing seasons are leading to a whole new set of mental health problems and food shortages.
The problems do not end there.
If we keep fuelling climate change with our polluting emissions, everyone's health will be compromised. Canada is already being hit with climate change events such as heat waves, forest fires and floods. They will certainly become more frequent in the coming years. The health risks of climate change include heat-related illnesses, lower air quality due to pollution, contaminated water sources, and diseases spread by insects, ticks and rodents.
The literature makes it quite clear that the least fortunate members of our society, which includes a huge proportion of indigenous peoples, racialized individuals and immigrants, will also bear the brunt of the consequences of climate change.
It is up to us as policy-makers to be aware of this and stop dithering over the need to immediately reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. If we do not, we will be contributing to jeopardizing the health of the public now and in the future.
That is why the Bloc Québécois position is not motivated by opposition to the will expressed in Bill C‑230 to resolve a real social problem, but by whether the bill could change anything. The Bloc Québécois is concerned about quality of life and access to a healthy environment for all Quebeckers.
Over and above Bill C‑230, the appalling living conditions in some of our communities, which have no access to a healthy environment, are unacceptable, and governments must live up to their responsibilities in that regard.
Environment-based human rights need to be developed. These rights, and the policies that stem from them, will have to be universal. Everyone must have them, regardless of their differences. Only then will we have powerful legal tools to address the inequities and discrimination caused by unequal environmental factors, such as exposure to pollution or lack of access to clean drinking water.
Unfortunately, Bill C‑230 cannot fulfill this vision.
The Bloc Québécois is working hard and pushing for an independent Quebec, one based on mutual recognition with indigenous nations, in which all citizens are equal and enjoy the benefits of social and environmental justice.