It being 3:45 p.m., pursuant to order made on Monday, January 25, the House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on the motion at second reading stage of Bill C-269 under Private Members' Business.
Andrew Scheer Conservative
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 Fisheries Act in order to exclude raw sewage from the definition of deleterious substance so as to entirely prohibit its deposit in water.
Fisheries ActPrivate Members' Business
June 23rd, 2021 / 3:45 p.m.
The Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota
It being 3:45 p.m., pursuant to order made on Monday, January 25, the House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on the motion at second reading stage of Bill C-269 under Private Members' Business.
The House resumed from June 16 consideration of the motion that Bill C-269, An Act to amend the Fisheries Act (prohibition—deposit of raw sewage), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Fisheries ActPrivate Members' Business
June 16th, 2021 / 6:15 p.m.
Marilène Gill Bloc Manicouagan, QC
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to be speaking today about Bill C‑269, an act to amend the Fisheries Act, which I can summarize very quickly as being a good idea only at first glance. My colleague from Avignon—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia agrees with me completely.
There have been at least 10 sewage spills in Quebec in recent years. Consider the spill of millions of litres of waste water in the Richelieu River in Saint‑Jean this past March. It was the fourth such spill in three years. The same thing happened in Longueuil in 2018, when 150 million tonnes of polluted water spilled directly into the St. Lawrence River for eight straight days. It is also impossible to forget “flushgate” in Montreal in 2015, when no less than eight billion litres of waste water was dumped into the St. Lawrence.
These examples are only some of the many similar incidents that have occurred, since sewage spills are unfortunately not a rare occurrence. In Quebec alone, Fondation Rivières counted 60,660 spills in 2019, adding up to a total of 471,300 hours of overflow. That is a lot.
Considering all of the data and the pollution in our waterways, we might have expected a far more ambitious bill. That is why I called it a good idea only at first glance earlier.
It is true that Bill C‑269 has given the House the opportunity to talk about the environment and the protection of our waterways. The Bloc Québécois is certainly not going to complain about that. However, Bill C‑269 does not offer any real solutions to the complex problem of sewage spills.
Unfortunately, it does not cover all waste water or all the harmful substances that could be discharged into the environment. It does not contain any real solutions for municipalities that are forced to release their sewage into our rivers, including the St. Lawrence, because they do not have adequate treatment systems.
The first fundamental problem with Bill C‑269 is that it contains only half measures. The first clause of Bill C‑269 excludes raw sewage from the definition of “deleterious substance” in the Fisheries Act. That is the problem.
Bill C‑269 prohibits the deposit of raw sewage, which could prevent another “flushgate” in Montreal. However, it permits the deposit of several other substances that are just as deleterious, meaning the Conservatives' bill opens the door to discharges of all kinds in our waterways. Allow me to list a few substances that the Conservatives forgot: petroleum products, chemicals, pesticides, heavy metals, industrial effluent, paint, and cleaning products like bleach.
If we want to truly protect our waterways, we need to go much further. Prohibiting the discharge of waste water is one thing, but allowing the deposit of all sorts of other equally dangerous substances is quite another. If the Conservatives want to prove that they care about protecting our waterways, they should revise their bill to avoid creating two categories of pollutants.
I would like to mention another problem with Bill C‑269. How do the Conservatives plan to prohibit the discharge of waste water if the municipalities do not have adequate water treatment facilities to stop doing it?
Let us consider the facts. Le Devoir recently reported that 80 Quebec municipalities do not have waste-water treatment plants. The article also mentioned a report by the Réseau Environnement that estimated we will have to invest at least $17 billion just to upgrade existing treatment facilities, which are beginning to show their age. Even with $17 billion, we will not achieve the miracle solution the Conservatives think they are proposing.
For the Bloc Québécois, until effective regulations against waste-water discharge are implemented, the problem will never be fully resolved. The real solution is clear, but it does not appear in the bill. It is so simple: The federal government must make substantial, regular investments, with dedicated, multi-year funding, to help the municipalities, which should not have to cut corners when it comes to protecting our waterways.
The federal government must invest in order to allow municipalities to build adequate waste-water treatment infrastructure.
In conclusion, if the Conservatives want to look good and burnish their green credentials by showing concern for the health of our waterways, including the St. Lawrence River, they must be bolder and propose real solutions, none of which appear in Bill C‑269.
If the Conservatives really want to solve the problem of sewage spills, they must think about including all harmful substances, and the federal government must help municipalities build adequate treatment systems, or the problem will resurface and will never be totally resolved.
For these reasons, the Bloc Québécois will vote against Bill C‑269.
Fisheries ActPrivate Members' Business
June 16th, 2021 / 6:05 p.m.
Dan Albas Conservative Central Okanagan—Similkameen—Nicola, BC
Mr. Speaker, I must admit that during my time in this place, I have always found great value in private members' business. It is our opportunity as members of this place to bring forward legislation that we believe will ultimately better serve this great country. Yes, there is a lottery system in place, but there is also nothing to stop the government of the day from taking a great idea in a private member's bill and incorporating it into government legislation. Indeed, we have witnessed this practice before.
Another aspect of private members' business is that often members in this place will vote more freely than on government bills. That can add a very interesting dynamic, particularly during a minority government.
Given my passion for private members' business, I must state in advance that I am speaking in support of the bill before us, as it is important to me.
The bill proposes to exclude raw sewage from the definition of “deleterious substance” so as to entirely prohibit its deposit in water, which is a critically important environmental protection we can pass in this place. Indeed, I suspect that if we asked Canadians, most would believe that this is already a banned practice in Canada. However, as we know, the minister can sign off and essentially provide an exemption to it, just as a former environment minister of the Liberal government has done previously, and that should concern us all.
Increasingly, what we see with the Liberal government is that environmental policy is being applied in a discriminatory manner. While I could provide a number of different examples, I would much rather not. Politicizing this issue is ultimately not helpful in this debate. I would like to think that if there is one thing we can all agree on in this place, it is that it is never a good thing to dump raw sewage into fish habitat. I hope that we would all agree on that point. It should be a basic guiding principle of environmental stewardship that we do not contaminate fish habitat.
While I believe there is much we can agree on in principle with the bill, I also recognize that there are criticisms.
Critics have raised the cost to municipalities as one of the criticisms. It is a fair point. However, it also acknowledges that some municipalities are currently adding to the problem, and that a lack of revenue to fix the problem is the primary reason.
On that note, I will point out that the bill proposes that it will not come into force until five years after the day on which it receives royal assent. That is five years to take action, five years to ensure that this becomes a bigger priority for the federal government and five years to work out the details with local governments. Yes, I realize that there are many challenges and many reasons why some can argue this cannot be done in five years. However, to those people I would ask a very simple question: Does anyone want to argue that this should not be done? On that point, I would like to think we can all agree.
I am hopeful about it. If we can agree that it should be done, let us ask ourselves how. If we do not start taking steps in that direction, it would be fair to say that this bill is not perfect, but few ever are.
Having said that, we need to send the message that fish habitat protection is a priority. Critics raise valid points: It might be difficult and it does involve costs. On the issue of costs, it is important to say that we must also consider the cost of inaction.
In my former riding, the water supply for a small rural community was contaminated with fecal matter, which made the drinking water supply unsafe.
To secure the drinking water supply, the source of the contamination had to be found. The process is not as simple as it sounds. They changed the source of the water supply. Costly, unpleasant and heavy chlorination in the water treatment system was to blame.
Back-flow valves were installed. All of that cost a lot of money. Finally, a proper sewage treatment plant was installed. That occurred under a former Conservative government, but that is not the point. The point is that today that community water system is no longer contaminated and, more importantly, the groundwater is not contaminated.
This all matters because the Okanagan River system passes through this unincorporated community, where currently local indigenous communities have been working in partnership, and very successfully I might add, to restore lost salmon habitat. It is an incredible success story. Obviously, it also speaks to the importance of not dumping raw sewage into fish habitat.
To those who raise the valid concerns of cost to local government, I point out that there are many costs of inaction that can result from the situation. More importantly, critics aside, I come back to one simple point: While some have raised concerns over getting this done, I have yet to hear anyone suggest that it cannot be done or that it should not be done. I have only heard that it could be challenging.
Current government members, in 2015, told Canadians, hand on their hearts, that better was always possible. I submit that Bill C-269 proposes better protection for our fish habitat than is currently available. This bill is an important next step in moving forward to better protect our environment.
Before I wrap up, I would like to thank the member who sponsored this bill, the member for Regina—Qu'Appelle, for his ongoing leadership and commitment to seeing this gap in our governance addressed. This gap, whether it was intentional or not, exists. We cannot let this go by saying there is a cost. We need to count the current costs to the environment. There are challenges here, but it is because of members like the member for Regina—Qu'Appelle that we are debating this important subject, adding a spotlight to an issue that has haunted this country for too long.
As I said before, I hope we can all agree in this place that dumping raw sewage into fish habitat is wrong and that we need to do our part, in partnership with communities, local government, the provinces and indigenous communities, to make this problem go away so that we all can have clean water and feel proud of the contributions we have made to this issue.
I thank the member for Regina—Qu'Appelle for helping to elevate this argument and for this debate. I hope that all members will put aside partisanship and say yes to his proposal.
Fisheries ActPrivate Members' Business
June 16th, 2021 / 6 p.m.
Kristina Michaud Bloc Avignon—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia, QC
Mr. Speaker, first of all, I must say that the Bloc Québécois welcomes the Conservatives' desire to engage in a debate on water quality and the pollution of our rivers.
At first glance, it might be surprising to see the Conservatives interested in the issue of water pollution. Let us not forget that, during the last campaign, they promised to take action on the dumping of waste water in waterways.
It must be said that the Conservatives happily rode the wave of Montreal's “flushgate”, when the city was forced, in 2015, to dump eight billion litres of waste water into the St. Lawrence.
It was probably to fulfill this promise that the former Conservative leader, the member for Regina—Qu'Appelle, introduced Bill C‑269. Again, we welcome the Conservatives' willingness to look at ways to reduce water pollution.
It is true that the debate on Bill C‑269 is an opportunity to draw attention to an important environmental issue: the problem of sewage being discharged into our waterways. This is not the first time the Conservatives have focused on this issue.
I would like to return briefly to the promises around sewage treatment and, in turn, federal inaction on this issue.
In fact, in July 2012, Stephen Harper's government enacted the wastewater systems effluent regulations. This was the first Canadian standard for sewage treatment.
At the time, the federal government estimated that 75% of existing waste water facilities met the new standard. For the remaining 25%, the government promised to provide funding to help them comply, and it established three categories of facilities.
The first category includes the highest risk facilities, which must comply with the new standard by 2020. The second and third categories are those facilities that pose less of a risk and have until 2030, as is the case for Montreal, or 2040 to comply with the new standard.
The then minister of transport, infrastructure and communities, Denis Lebel, promised that Ottawa would invest for the long term and would work in partnership with the provinces. For its part, the Union des municipalités du Québec estimated that it would take $9 billion to upgrade municipal facilities in order to bring them into compliance with the new federal regulations. That was in 2012.
According to a recent Réseau Environnement report, it will actually cost at least $17 billion just to upgrade the existing treatment facilities, which are beginning to show their age.
This amount does not include waste-water treatment plants that do not comply with federal regulations, nor does it include the investments required to build treatment plants in municipalities that do not have any. In March, Le Devoir reported that 80 Quebec municipalities still do not have waste-water treatment plants.
Ten municipalities in the Lower St. Lawrence and Gaspé region, the region I represent, still do not have treatment plants at the outlet of their sewer systems. It is 2021. That is unbelievable. This is a serious, ongoing problem, but the federal government is slow to get involved financially.
Sewage spills happen frequently in Quebec, I am sad to say. The Fondation Rivières counted more than 60,000 spills in 2019, which added up to a total of over 470,000 hours of sewage flow into Quebec rivers and streams. The water pollution problems do not stop there.
The most recent research has brought to light the adverse health effects of endocrine disruptors in water. When these chemicals are present in the environment, they can enter the bodies of animals and humans, interact with their hormones and affect all systems in the body.
This is often harmful for both animals and humans. Even small quantities of these substances in the environment can have a significant impact. The adverse effects of endocrine disruptors have been observed in fish and mollusks in the St. Lawrence River, as well as in amphibians in rivers in southern Quebec.
Many scientists agree that endocrine disruptors are a contributing factor in certain cancers and can cause reproductive issues in humans, though few studies have been conducted in this area.
Research is currently focusing on the endocrine disruptive potential of several chemicals, such as parabens, polychlorinated biphenyls and pesticides.
The presence of microplastics is another problem that demonstrates the importance of addressing waste-water discharge into our rivers and streams.
Scientists at McGill University published a study in 2020 in the well-respected journal Environmental Pollution that found that microplastic pollution in the St. Lawrence River is of the same order of magnitude as that measured in waterways near densely populated cities in China. The researchers found, on average, 832 particles of plastic per kilogram dry weight of sediment. That is four times higher than the levels found by another team in the Ottawa River a few years ago. This finding places the St. Lawrence among the worst waterways analyzed to date. One of the problems is that microplastics linger in the environment for a long time. Since they remain in the sediment, many organisms are at risk of ingesting them and passing them up the food chain.
In short, all of this data about endocrine disruptors and the presence of microplastics shows that there is a a significant and disturbing amount of pollution in our waterways as a result of sewage spills, and we must do something about it.
Let us get back to Bill C‑269. Unfortunately, this bill does not contain a solution to the problem of sewage spills. Why not? Because it is inconsistent. It will still allow certain hazardous materials to be discharged. In short, Bill C‑269 is not as good as it looks.
It is true that, to reduce water pollution, we need effective regulations to stop sewage from being released into the environment. However, this bill allows the discharge of certain “authorized” substances, including petroleum products such as oil, gasoline, diesel and grease, chemicals, pesticides, heavy metals, fertilizer runoff and more.
Consequently, even if it were passed, Bill C‑269 would allow industry to discharge waste water contaminated with petroleum products from their facilities into our rivers, provided that the discharge complies with the Wastewater Systems Effluent Regulations. This means that waste water contaminated with chemicals like the ones I mentioned earlier would be allowed, but effluent from municipal waste-water systems would not. What will municipalities do then?
Montreal has been talking about building an ozonation plant to treat waste water for the past 15 years. The project was first announced by the Gérald Tremblay administration with a completion date in 2012, which was later pushed back to 2018. In 2019, Radio-Canada revealed that it should finally be completed in 2023 at a cost of half a billion dollars.
In February 2020, Valérie Plante's administration published a notice of interest for the construction of the plant. So far, however, there have been no developments. It is safe to say that the 2023 target may once again be postponed, but the City of Montreal has until 2030 to comply with existing federal regulations.
It is all well and good to draft regulations, but if a municipality is unable to build a water treatment plant because it simply cannot not afford it, what will the federal government do?
The solution for keeping sewage from polluting our waterways, including the St. Lawrence River, does not lie in arbitrary, unenforceable obligations or prohibitions. It lies in meaningful investments to help municipalities fulfill their waste-water treatment responsibilities.
The Bloc Québécois believes that, if we want to solve this problem together, we must demand that the federal government invest in waste-water treatment infrastructure through targeted, substantial, multi-year funding. Otherwise, neither municipalities nor Quebec will be able to fix the problem.
In conclusion, I will reiterate that the Bloc Québécois is in favour of having a debate on water quality and pollution in our rivers. We must admit that the debates on Bill C‑269 are drawing attention to this important environmental issue. However, for all of the reasons I mentioned, the Bloc Québécois will be voting against the bill.
Again, this bill does not contain a solution to the problem of sewage spills. The health of our waterways requires financial commitments that are not included in Bill C‑269. It requires a solid, long-term commitment on the part of the federal government. The government must invest heavily in municipal waste-water treatment infrastructure by means of appropriate transfers to Quebec and the provinces.
Fisheries ActPrivate Members' Business
June 16th, 2021 / 5:50 p.m.
Winnipeg South Manitoba
Terry Duguid LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Economic Development and Official Languages (Western Economic Diversification Canada) and to the Minister of Environment and Climate Change (Canada Water Agency)
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-269, an act to amend the Fisheries Act (prohibition—deposit of raw sewage), and to reiterate the key issues with this bill.
The government opposes Bill C-269 for multiple reasons. It would reduce environmental protections. It would negatively impact current federal, provincial and territorial collaboration on waste water. It would impose significant financial and practical challenges on all levels of government. It would be redundant and could weaken existing federal pollution prevention powers.
As the member for Regina—Qu'Appelle knows, the Fisheries Act is the federal government's most effective tool to prevent and set strong controls for the management of waste-water releases. The tools created through the Fisheries Act combined with our government's historic investments of $2 billion in support of over 1,700 water and waste-water projects across the country have made significant progress in protecting the water quality of our lakes, rivers and oceans.
The Fisheries Act already prohibits the release of deleterious substances, pollution into water unless the release is specifically managed under federal regulations. The Fisheries Act also contains strong regulatory controls requiring notification of pollution releases and that every effort is taken to prevent a release or to mitigate potential adverse impacts, if one is unavoidable.
We all want to end releases of raw sewage. That is why our government has invested nearly two and a half times the amount of federal funding for waste-water projects compared to the previous Conservative government over the same period, the same Conservative government that in 2012 gutted the Fisheries Act's most powerful pollution prevention tools and severely underfunded investments in water and waste-water infrastructure.
I would also point out that, as the former leader of the Conservative Party, the member for Regina—Qu'Appelle proposed cuts to billions in public infrastructure funding, the same funding that helps support critical water and waste-water projects in communities across the country.
Prohibiting raw sewage, as this bill prescribes, would not prevent all untreated waste-water releases from occurring. Due to years of chronic underfunding in public infrastructure under the previous Conservative government, our government has had to step up and invest in critical waste-water treatment to minimize the occurrence of such releases.
Let me be clear. There is already an effective and responsible approach in place to address this problem. Releases of raw sewage are already managed under the federal regulations for waste water, or they are prohibited under the Fisheries Act. Our government has been clear in its commitment to protect Canadian waters. That is why in 2019, we strengthened protections in the Fisheries Act by restoring lost protections and incorporating comprehensive and modern safeguards.
If enacted, this bill would mean taking several steps back. The bill does not introduce any new protections, enhanced monitoring or regulatory controls to address waste water beyond the strong measures that already exist within the act. This bill would not increase, but would reduce, environmental protections, and would have significant and harmful impacts on the ability to prevent and manage pollution under the Fisheries Act.
If enacted, this bill would take raw sewage out of the definition of deleterious substances, thereby removing raw sewage from all other critical protections and requirements that the Fisheries Act currently provides. In addition, by removing raw sewage from the existing prohibition of deleterious substances in the Fisheries Act and excluding northern waters from the proposed bill's scope, this would create a gap where raw sewage could legally be released in the north. This is unacceptable.
While our government's current national strategy effectively targets the most significant sources of pollution, this bill would impose enormous fiscal and practical challenges to all levels of government for a minimal environmental benefit. Eliminating raw sewage within five years would mean replacing the underground plumbing networks in over 700 cities across Canada at a cost of over $200 billion.
Aside from the unprecedented cost, it is simply not possible to design, plan and build new or upgraded waste-water treatment facilities in over 700 cities across Canada in under five years. A typical planning and construction cycle for waste-water infrastructure would usually take 10 to 20 years.
We need to acknowledge that many communities are already making investments to reduce the environmental impacts associated with waste-water infrastructure. This includes projects to advance waste-water treatment, green infrastructure and converting waste to energy. These projects are a much more cost-effective way to achieve environmental outcomes than spending hundreds of billions of dollars on a small percentage of reductions.
The government cannot support such a poorly thought-out bill. It does not add value to the existing strategy to address waste water in Canada. Instead, it actively threatens it. Furthermore, our government already has a robust national strategy in place that establishes achievable and predictable timelines for communities to complete the necessary treatment system installations and upgrades. While upon first glance this bill would appear to offer environmental benefits, a closer look reveals that its proposed legislative changes would create considerable negative environmental and economic consequences.
To wrap up, our government is making historic investments in critical waste-water infrastructure to support our comprehensive national waste-water strategy, which combined will keep Canadian waters safe and healthy.
Fisheries ActPrivate Members' Business
June 16th, 2021 / 5:40 p.m.
Nelly Shin Conservative Port Moody—Coquitlam, BC
Mr. Speaker, it is my privilege to rise today to speak to Bill C-269, , an act to amend the Fisheries Act (prohibition—deposit of raw sewage), which was tabled by my colleague, the hon. member for Regina—Qu'Appelle.
As the Fisheries Act currently stands, there is no definition of raw sewage. Bill C-269 would amend the act by adding raw sewage to denote the following:
raw sewage means sewage that has not yet been processed or treated to separate and remove contaminants, and includes
(a) used water from sanitary appliances that contains human fecal matter or human urine,
(b) used water, other than the type of water described in paragraph (a), from sanitary appliances or from other appliances in a kitchen or laundry, and
(c) surface runoff and stormwater that is mixed with the type of water described in paragraph (a);
The bill inserts a statement in section 34 of the act that would not allow raw sewage to be eligible for an exemption permit from the minister.
Bill C-269 amends section 36 of the Fisheries Act by adding, “No person shall deposit or permit the deposit of raw sewage in water frequented by fish.”
The bill also states non-application for Canadian fisheries waters located in the Northwest Territories, in Nunavut or north of the 54th parallel in Quebec or Newfoundland and Labrador.
The bill also indicates that anyone dumping raw sewage in water frequented by fish is guilty of an offence and liable.
The act would come into force five years after the day on which it receives royal assent.
Bill C-269 is simple and straightforward. It calls for accountability and urgency of action. For me, personally, it triggers a vision for improved environmental protection and infrastructure.
In 2015, when the member for Ottawa Centre was the minister of environment, she allowed the City of Montreal to dump eight billion litres of raw sewage into the St. Lawrence River. Regardless of any justification, that is an unfathomable amount of toxic matter that was dumped into the water. I cannot even imagine what the repercussions of that were.
According to Environment Canada, from 2013 to 2017, more than one trillion litres of untreated waste water is known to have leaked or been purposely dumped across Canada. The City of Victoria and surrounding municipalities finally became one of the last major communities to stop dumping sewage into water in 2020. According to Mark Mattson, president of non-profit water protection organization Swim Drink Fish, Canada still has ongoing sewage pollution problems.
Bill C-269 is necessary to protect our waters from contamination and for wildlife species in water to be able to survive and thrive. It is time there was no more ambiguity on this. Being the member of Parliament for Port Moody—Coquitlam, Anmore and Belcarra, I have the privilege of being an advocate and steward for many environmentally sensitive places within my riding. This privilege brings responsibility. Today, I would like to highlight a very special and globally significant creek, which is Stoney Creek, which some of the rivers in my riding feed into.
Stoney Creek is the environmental lifeline for countless wildlife, as well as an urban oasis for both my riding and the neighbouring riding, Burnaby North—Seymour, and the greater region. Countless hours and decades of work by stream keepers from the Stoney Creek Environmental Committee, as well as local residents, has resulted in the return of salmon to Stoney Creek.
Today, Stoney Creek is the most successful Vancouver area urban creek for returning salmon. Stoney Creek is the spawning grounds for chum and coho salmon, as well as steelhead and trout. It is also significant on a global basis as it is home to the endangered Nooksack Dace. Approximately 10,000 Nooksack Dace remain.
It is very moving to watch the salmon on their spawning journey. I see their long, upstream and painful journey of perseverance ending in sacrifice for the next generation. It is very emotional to watch. I was shocked to learn that after torrential rainfalls, sometimes raw sewage overflows from Coquitlam sewers and makes its way to the celebrated Stoney Creek where the endangered Nooksack Dace have made their home and the coho and chum salmon come to spawn.
It is troubling for me that sewage overflow coming from my riding in Coquitlam is contaminating the aqua ecosystem in the riding of Burnaby North—Seymour in Stoney Creek. Upon discovery, I officially offered my assistance to the mayors of Coquitlam and Port Moody to seek federal infrastructure funding for their sewer systems when they seek upgrades.
However, I am perplexed as to why the member for Burnaby North—Seymour, who is the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, who has been in office longer than I have, has not taken any action on this troublesome issue or championed funding for sewage infrastructure when the harm is being done to wildlife in his own riding and reports of sewage being dispensed into Stoney Creek have been happening under his watch for years.
According to obtained records, since 2014 at least nine documented discharges of sewage have occurred in the Stoney Creek watershed. Raw sewage has spewed from manholes in my riding and flowed into the creek, and some experts believe that raw sewage is also escaping through exfiltrating from the Metro Vancouver Stoney Creek trunk line and flowing into the groundwater and ultimately into Stoney Creek.
The Metro Vancouver Stoney Creek trunk line was constructed in 1959. Over time, concrete piping and gaskets will tend to deteriorate, increasing the likelihood of both infiltration of groundwater into the pipe and inflow from surface water entering collectively inflow and infiltration, or I and I, as well as exfiltration of sewage into the groundwater and creek.
Records obtained via freedom of information requests show the following levels of E. coli in Stoney Creek. On September 18, 2020, there were 8,664 colony-forming units per 100 millilitres of water. In August there were 7,701, and in October there were 4,611. Samples exceeded 1,000 colony-forming units per 100 millilitres on six days. Ultimately, to solve the problem, new sewage infrastructure needs to be built. From obtained records, it is apparent that Metro Vancouver trunk line is over capacity, a very common phenomenon.
Meanwhile, the catchment's population is projected to increase 15,000 to 50,000. Constituents and other nearby residents are concerned that not expanding the sewage infrastructure promptly will result in increased contamination of Stoney Creek as well as situations where new home purchasers will not be able to move into their new homes due to lack of sewage capacity. Something similar recently happened in Campbell River, another B.C. community.
The topic of sewage is not a glamourous one, but waste elimination is a basic health and safety issue that needs to be dealt with. As we have seen, a microscopic virus like coronavirus has done much damage in our lives and to our establishments. Development of residential homes is a natural part of urban sprawl. Building more affordable housing is necessary to allow young families and first-time homebuyers to break into the housing market and have a home, but development without proper infrastructure is dangerous for the community and surrounding ecosystems.
Bill C-269 is a good place to start to trigger more accountability and action to upgrade all the infrastructure needed. Development is inevitable, but without the proper infrastructure, we could see a host of problems, of which the impact could be the contamination of our waters and harm to endangered species and salmon. It requires a concerted effort among all tiers of government to solve this problem effectively of aging sewage infrastructure and innovating new systems to meet the demands created by growing development in urban and suburban centres like my riding, and extreme weather events from climate change. If done with efficacy, a simple bill, like Bill C-269, could instigate the unfolding of a larger vision to yield greater protection of vulnerable fish, species and water habitats and improve public health and safety and job creation to help reopen our economy.
This is a problem across our country, and municipalities are aware of it, but they are stuck. They have so many other pressing matters they have to get to that without the funding, it gets shuffled under the pile. With Bill C-269, accountability would be placed. We can keep talking about the environment with trumpet blasts, but without deadlines and rules and a plan to accomplish these goals, it is still talk and no action. We know, as humans, we all need a deadline and some rules to get anything done. I see this bill as one that has great potential to help us literally clean up our act.
One thing I did discuss with the member for Regina—Qu'Appelle was the five-year term clause. In discussing it with him, it is something that should be debated and discussed with fulsome conversation so that we are helping the municipalities set themselves up for success and not failure. It should not be punitive. It should be something to help them get things done efficiently.
In closing, I feel that this is an issue that has been around for a long time and everyone is aware of it, but it is one of those things that nobody wants to tackle because the money is not there. We know that with the Canada Infrastructure Bank, the minister promised $35 billion, but how much of that is used for things like this?
Moving forward, as we discuss Bill C-269, I hope that we can come to the table, bring our different ideas, and use this as a starting point to break that cycle of all this aging infrastructure not being dealt with, so that we can protect the environment, so that we can move forward with positive, prudent development that does not create other problems, and so that municipalities do not feel like they are alone but that they have the support of other tiers of government.
Fisheries ActPrivate Members' Business
June 16th, 2021 / 5:30 p.m.
Charlie Angus NDP Timmins—James Bay, ON
Mr. Speaker, I am very proud to rise tonight to speak to Bill C-269, an act to amend the Fisheries Act regarding the prohibition of the deposit of raw sewage. It is a bill from the member for Regina—Qu'Appelle, who also has been Speaker. I probably have not agreed with many of the things the member for Regina—Qu'Appelle has said over the years, however the issue of raw sewage in our water system is a very important thing to be discussing and I am glad we have an opportunity here to do so.
We know an element of this is under provincial jurisdiction, but people should be able to know we have a top quality environmental system in this country to keep people safe. It should be an issue we are all deeply concerned with. My hon. colleagues can probably speak of many municipalities that have issues with raw sewage being pumped into waters and rivers.
However, one of the things I am not really seeing in the bill is the effect in areas under direct federal jurisdiction, which are of course first nations reserves. It is really important for Canadians to understand that across Canada there is a two-tiered system of infrastructure, a two-tiered system of health, a two-tiered system of education and a two-tiered system of rights.
Those are the rights that exist for citizens of this country under provincial or territorial governments, and the rights of those citizens living on the reserves of our nation and who are under the mandate of the Department of Indigenous Services, the old Indian Affairs and the ultimate colonial system. For them, there is chronic underfunding for basic infrastructure.
When the Liberals ran in 2015 on getting rid of the water crisis and told everyone they would have the mission accomplished by the beginning of 2021, it inspired and galvanized Canadians. Canadians asked themselves how it was possible that in a nation as rich as Canada, in a country with the greatest water resources on the planet, so many people could not turn on their taps and drink safely. Dirty water is also tied to sewage and broken sewage systems.
When the Prime Minister was elected on that promise, people believed he would follow through. What would be an easier thing for the incoming Liberal government to do than to ensure we have proper water? What the Liberal government did not promise to do was deal with the water systems, which include sewage. Why is it important to understand that distinction? It is because the government decided it was going to do it on the cheap.
I remember the terrible Kashechewan water crisis, and Kashechewan is in a terrible crisis right now with COVID. The Minister of Indigenous Services sat on his hands and did nothing until the COVID crisis blew up out of proportion. It took me back to when I was first elected in 2005 and there was an E. coli outbreak in Kashechewan. We saw the same lack of action then.
At that time, the sewage system in Kashechewan was built near the water treatment plant because it was done cheap. When the rain came and the sewage treatment settling ponds overflowed, they flowed into the water system. Kashechewan did not even have a proper backup system so that if something came into the outtake it would actually stop the incoming sewage. The government did not bother to put that in because it was done on the cheap. We need to think about it in that perspective, because the water crisis that caused E. coli in that community and led to the mass evacuation of the entire community was the result of the failed sewage system.
When the Prime Minister failed on his latest promise on water, people asked how it was possible. The Prime Minister's number one promise was supposed to be that he was going to deliver clean water. If we look at community after community and at the Indigenous Services list of communities with safe water, the Liberals are always focused on the press release and not actually assessing the real problems.
They spend a lot of time saying they have gotten rid of this boil water advisory and that boil water advisory. I have been in communities that were told they got rid of six boil water advisories. That is because at the very edge of town there was a building that had a well and now that well was clean, but the rest of the community was not safe. That is not a comprehensive solution.
I asked the Parliamentary Budget Officer to cost out the Prime Minister's promises, and he was very clear that the government was deliberately underfunding the training that is needed to run a water treatment plant. The government was deliberately underfunding maintenance. Only the Department of Indigenous Services could cut a ribbon at a plant, walk away and think that there was never going to be a need for maintenance. Any municipality would say that things break.
There are isolated communities like Marten Falls' Ogoki Post, where the sewage lifts are hit by lightning and the boards “kack out”. Residents call and tell the department their sewage lifts are not working anymore and the feds say that it is not their issue. How is a community of 300 going to fix the fried-out sewage lifts? What happens? The sewage gets into the water, the water treatment plant starts to go down and then the feds say they are not going to fix that because it is not in their capital budget, but they will spend upwards of $2 million a year on bottled water. That bottled water money is not new money. It comes from another community where infrastructure was supposed to be built. They are taking money from an infrastructure project in one community that desperately needs it and they are buying bottled water for another community because they refuse to fix the issue.
When Liberals look at fixing the water situation, they look at what is cheapest, what is easiest and how to get out of it without having any more costs. I will give the example of the community of Attawapiskat. The water supply is a stagnant pool. It does not matter how many chemicals are pumped into that water: It will never be good, clean, safe water. The more chemicals that are pumped into the water, the more caustic it becomes and the more damage it does to children's skin. It is really something to see children living in Canada with open wounds all over their bodies. Anyone can go to any northern first nation and see the effects on these children.
Every now and then the media will pay attention and the government will say it does not understand the mysterious cause of these illnesses and rashes. It is obvious. It is because a stagnant pool of water gets chlorine dumped into it to make it drinkable and when the children are bathed in it, it damages their skin. Their skin starts to open and that is when the infections get in. This has happened in so many communities. I have had to medevac children out because of these conditions.
Another example is Neskantaga, which has gone 26 years without water. The Minister of Indigenous Services keeps scratching his head. He cannot figure out why he cannot get clean water to Neskantaga. It is because Liberals are willing to build a plant, but not willing to build all the infrastructure that supports the plant. A municipality needs a proper water plant, a proper source of water and proper pipes. It needs an entire system in order to get water to the community. Someone from Neskantaga said what the Liberals are offering to do is put a new engine in a rotted-out Ford vehicle, thinking we can drive it down the road. It cannot be done without the proper infrastructure. There needs to be proper piping, a proper water source and a plant that is actually built for the needs of the community. This is something the Department of Indigenous Services will never do.
We also see the same companies getting hired over and over again. In any other municipality, if a company built a water plant and the plant failed, there would be an investigation. Does anyone think that company would get the contract the next time? Not a chance. However, when a water plant fails, the Department of Indigenous Services says, “Oh well, whatever. It is just another day at the office.” The bonuses still go out to the senior bureaucrats and things do not change. These are the fundamental inequities that people are facing. There are communities like Maniwaki, just 100-and-some kilometres up the road from Ottawa. The Kitigan Zibi reserve cannot get clean water, but beside it the municipality of Maniwaki has clean water.
Why is that? One is under a provincial system and under that provincial jurisdiction, there are clear standards. There are obligations. There are rules in place. They have to deliver clean water to their community. However, the neighbouring reserve is under the federal government, so there is no obligation or standards. The feds do not want to put the standards in place because they do not want to spend the money.
That is what systemic discrimination looks like. It is in the water. It is in the sewage. It is in the school systems. It is in the failed health.
I am very interested in this bill and I am very glad that I had a chance to speak. I will be here all week taking questions.
The House resumed from May 10 consideration of the motion that Bill C-269, An Act to amend the Fisheries Act (prohibition — deposit of raw sewage), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Fisheries ActPrivate Members' Business
May 10th, 2021 / noon
St. Catharines Ontario
Chris Bittle LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Environment and Climate Change
Madam Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-269. Ultimately, the government opposes the bill for multiple reasons, including because it would actually reduce environmental protection. The bill would negatively impact current federal, provincial and territorial collaborations on waste water, it would impose significant financial and practical challenges on all levels of government and it would be redundant and could actually weaken existing federal pollution prevention powers.
Our government is committed to protecting and managing water quality in our rivers, lakes and oceans. We recognize the critical importance of removing raw sewage from our waterways to keep our environment clean and healthy. That is why our government is already implementing a robust and effective approach for addressing waste-water pollution, an approach that is achieving results.
This approach implements the national waste-water strategy that was developed after 10 years of extensive negotiation, co-operation and agreement with provincial and territorial partners. Under this strategy, municipalities and indigenous communities are working hard to build and upgrade important public infrastructure that can safely address significant sources of pollution and protect the environment using predictable and achievable timelines.
In contrast, the bill would impose an arbitrary and unachievable five-year timeline for communities to conduct additional work, while incurring significant new costs, only to address the least significant source of pollution, such as maintenance or storm-water releases. The bill would jeopardize the current national strategy by unilaterally imposing unanticipated requirements upon our provincial and territorial partners, risking a decade of close collaboration and negotiation.
At a time when we are focused on critical national issues such as dealing with COVID, economic recovery, charting a path forward toward a net-zero future, this bill would put significant pressures on federal-provincial—
Fisheries ActPrivate Members' Business
May 10th, 2021 / 11:45 a.m.
Ted Falk Conservative Provencher, MB
Madam Speaker, it is a real honour to speak to this private member's bill, Bill C-269, which was presented by the member for Regina—Qu'Appelle. I think it is a fantastic bill and I am going to tell the House why.
Nine hundred billion litres of raw sewage were dumped into Canada's waterways over a five-year period. It is a number that is nearly impossible to wrap one's head around, but a CTV article helpfully described this amount in more visual terms: It is “enough to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool more than 355,000 times”. That is a lot of raw sewage. That particular figure is actually a couple of years old, so we know that it has probably climbed even higher than that. We also know that this data does not necessarily capture the full picture, and that the amount of raw sewage being vented increases each year. Regardless of what that final figure looks like, we clearly have a problem on our hands.
This represents one of the largest sources of pollution in Canada's rivers and oceans. Dumping raw sewage into waterways is putting the biodiversity value of our land, waterways and marine environments at risk. Raw sewage from Canada's largest city ends up in Lake Ontario so often that Toronto city officials advise people to stay away from the city's beaches for at least two days after it rains. In my province of Manitoba, folks who go out on the Assiniboine River regularly see more debris and smell an odour after rainstorms. These are realities that have too often been ignored. It is something we cannot afford to do any longer.
Canada is a big country, and with our sizable land mass come a great number of water resources. We have around 20% of the world's freshwater here within our borders, flowing through some two million lakes and rivers. For some Canadians, the Great Lakes will come to mind, while others will think of the 1,200-kilometre St. Lawrence River. Many folks in my province of Manitoba will think of Lake Winnipeg, which holds some 284 cubic kilometres of water. That is a lot of water.
Whatever body of water or waterway comes to mind, each one is invaluable for the well-being of the communities that rely on it. Each one represents a remarkable natural inheritance and is worth protecting. This is where Bill C-269 comes in. This bill, which proposes to prohibit the dumping of raw sewage in Canadian waterways, will help all Canadians preserve and protect the rich natural heritage that we enjoy. It is a meaningful, common-sense way to protect the environment and waterways that are such big parts of our lives.
As with most of the matters we consider in the House, protecting Canada's waterways is a complex, multi-faceted matter, so much so that it could perhaps be overwhelming for the average person wanting to make a difference by protecting our oceans, lakes and rivers. I really appreciate the simplicity of Bill C-269. It is not flashy. It is not showy. It offers us a tangible, achievable solution. It is a good first step, but let us step back for a moment and talk about the problem. Why is Canada dumping so much raw sewage into our waterways?
Much of the problem can be attributed to Canada's antiquated city and municipal sewer systems. In some communities, older water systems carry both household water and stormwater through the same pipes. When rain or melting snow overwhelms these systems, they tend to be designed to vent the diluted sewage into the nearest waterway. Some cities dump raw sewage into our waterways just to undertake repairs.
Whatever the reason, billions of litres of raw sewage end up in Canadian waterways because municipalities do not have adequate infrastructure or the support to deal with it. No one likes to talk about it. It is sewage that we are discussing, after all, but we need to recognize that the water and waste water produced by residential and commercial establishments, including both human and industrial waste, will continue to find their way into our waterways untreated unless we push for a change to the status quo.
Bill C-269 changes the status quo. Some have argued this morning that it is not comprehensive enough and that it does not include everything it should. It is a great first step. Our previous Conservative government was an early challenger of the status quo. In 2012, Conservatives set new standards for treating waste water. We introduced the Wastewater Systems Effluent Regulations to address the largest point source of pollution in Canadian waters. The goal was to reduce the threats to fish and fish habitats, and also to protect human health by making sure the fish we eat had not been exposed to toxins.
By decreasing the levels of potentially harmful substances vented into Canada's waterways, we were able to move in the right direction to improve water quality, protect fish ecosystems and ensure Canadians could enjoy freshly caught fish without concern for their health.
While this remains an important policy adjustment, with the passage of time it has become clear that more needs to be done. The Liberals' 2015 platform told Canadians their party would “treat our freshwater as a precious resource that deserves protection and careful stewardship,” yet when the Liberals formed government in 2015, one of their first decisions was to authorize the City of Montreal to dump eight billion litres of raw sewage into the St. Lawrence. An online petition at the time saw more than 95,000 people express their objections to this plan, but the Liberal environment minister gave the City the green light. The Liberals abandoned that platform commitment in record time, but it would be the start of a pattern of the government talking big while refusing to do the hard thing and fix the problem.
By choosing to support this bill, the Liberals could demonstrate to Canadians that they would honour their commitments respecting Canada's water. With the Montreal sewage dump top of mind, maybe it is time we removed the power of federal ministers to give permits to municipalities to dump raw sewage into Canada's waterways. Bill C-269 would have this effect. This would go a long way toward restoring Canadians' confidence in how this and any future government would manage our waterways.
I want to take a moment to advocate for our municipalities. Municipalities have rightly noted that sewer systems need to be updated to ensure they can better protect Canadian waterways. As we discussed in Bill C-269 today, we recognize that partnerships with municipalities would be vital to achieving lasting change: one that would see the end of raw sewage being dumped into waterways. Federal support for local infrastructure priorities is paramount to that end. Unfortunately, we have seen the current government struggle to get the critical infrastructure support that municipalities need out the door.
Just recently, the Auditor General said that the Liberal infrastructure plan has been beset by setbacks, leaving billions unspent or delayed until later this decade. I find it frustrating, and I think many Canadians would agree, that although once again the Liberals are so quick to talk about the importance of caring for our environment, they are so focused on talk that they fail to do the work.
Of course, we know that not every infrastructure dollar will end up constructing water and wastewater infrastructure: Roads, bridges and other projects must be built too, but when the Liberals fail to properly manage billions in infrastructure spending, there will be valuable projects that simply are not built, including those helping to protect Canada's water and waterways. Recognizing the Liberal government's failures in this area, Bill C-269 takes into consideration that municipalities need time to upgrade their wastewater systems. The coming-into-force component of this bill would give municipalities that may not have the capacity to fully treat the water they expel the time to do so. Passing this bill is part of the equation, but Canadians also need the Liberals to get their act together on infrastructure to support the improvements needed to make this happen.
Sometimes, other parties accuse the Conservatives of being stuck in the past, but there is nothing wrong with looking to the past to better understand who we are and how we should move forward. When we look at Canada's past, we see the enormous role of our waterways in the development of our nation. For indigenous peoples they were highways connecting their communities. They brought people together for religious, cultural and economic events. The waterways guided the paths of early European explorers, and helped them out of a vast territory. For fur traders, waterways were trade routes, fostering economic activity. All of our forebears recognized and respected our waterways, and we have benefited from the healthy waterways they left for us.
As we look back, we see that Canadians have relied on our waterways over generations for many things, including transportation, commerce, food, resources and recreation. The past reminds us of the ways in which our waterways have served us, and is a reminder that we must serve as stewards of them as well. I want to encourage all my colleagues to support Bill C-269, so that we too can leave a rich natural inheritance to future generations.
I have heard previous members discuss at length how the previous Harper government did not do something, or how the municipalities do not have enough money. This is a partnership that looks forward to protecting—
Fisheries ActPrivate Members' Business
May 10th, 2021 / 11:35 a.m.
Gord Johns NDP Courtenay—Alberni, BC
Madam Speaker, I wish you and all the mothers right across Canada a belated happy Mother's Day. It is an honour today to rise on Bill C-269, tabled by the hon. member for Regina—Qu'Appelle and I am joining you today from the home of the Nuu-chah-nulth people on the unceded traditional territory of the Hupacasath and Tseshaht people, who have a long history as protectors of coastal communities in my riding, which guides my decisions as a member of Parliament every day while I sit in the House of Commons.
We in the New Democratic Party strongly support stopping the flow of raw sewage into our oceans and waterways. We all want to see an end to the dumping of raw sewage and as I stated, we are strong supporters of initiatives that would stop this practice.
However, the bill penalizes those communities that cannot afford to upgrade their systems. We absolutely support the intent of the bill, but it is deeply flawed in its approach. We cannot abandon communities like the Harper government did for a decade and the Liberal government is falling far short.
We know, according to the FCM, that it would cost over $18 billion for communities right across Canada to improve their waste-water systems to stop raw sewage dumping, but the bill does not do anything positive to help get them there. It is in this spirit that I rise to speak to Bill C-269 and express my deep reservations about supporting this legislation. It is not simply a matter of banning raw sewage dumping, but rather how we as communities and as a country support one another in keeping our oceans clean for this generation and for generations to come.
I think about the implications in my riding, because people across my riding are rightfully concerned about our coastal waters and want to take measures to support them. It goes without saying that whether they are environmentalists or people who care about the health of fish or the health of coastal ecosystems, they want to make sure that there are no dangers to the water that surrounds their communities and our communities.
The water in Courtenay—Alberni is not just a source of food, whether it be wild salmon or other fish, but also a refuge for swimmers, boaters and recreation. Ensuring it is clean is critical and crucial to our local economy, our way of life and our food security. It attracts recreation fishers and boaters who invest their money into our restaurants and shops, so it is part of tourism. It draws tourists to stay in our hotels and bed and breakfasts. It grounds us every day and reminds us as residents that we are part of an ecosystem that depends on us to make the decisions that we need to to protect our families, the species and the biodiversity where we live and that surround us.
I think about the bill's impacts not only on the cleanliness of the water, but also on the communities that will be affected. I think about the municipalities that need to have clean water systems, but do not have the resources to build them as well. I think about the boaters and their families who would be impacted by its sweeping generalizations. I think about the decision-making processes we have in place when enforcing environmental regulations and some of the better options we have to make real impacts on the health and safety of our waterways.
I sat in local government in Tofino, British Columbia, so I am very familiar with the challenges in dealing with waste water. The bill literally pits the federal government against these small communities and it shows again that the Conservatives are out of touch with municipalities. I wonder how much consultation the member and the Conservatives have done with these communities that are lacking support to get their waste-water infrastructure in place. Everyone wants that.
We know costs are soaring. We need mechanics, electronics and specialized crews to build waste-water treatment. Obviously we have to pay for work camps in rural or remote communities and inflation is skyrocketing. We know that there is new risk in pricing due to COVID. Again, modern waste-water treatment depends on very modern producers and these producers are highly specialized and they are very expensive.
I talked to the former mayor of Tofino, who is now the minister of municipal affairs in British Columbia. She sat as the mayor for seven years and her number one priority each year in council was getting waste-water treatment in place. They still have not broken ground. It was a deep commitment by their local government.
In fact, in the early 2000s, it was projected that it would be a $12-million cost to build waste-water treatment. When I sat on council in 2008, it was $18 million. When the City applied for funding, it was for $40 million. It rejigged that plan and the figure came back at $57 million. The City put it out for tender and the bids came back at $82 million. It would take a tax increase of $1,000 a household every year for literally over a decade to pay for that.
I think about a small community of 500 people in Newfoundland that has really good staff but is very unlikely to have the capacity to develop an $18-million or $20-million waste-water treatment centre. I know the member who just spoke said the lack of coordination cannot be the problem, but it actually is the problem. We need the government and all parties, not just the Conservative Party because it has tabled this bill, to coordinate and commit to filling the gaps so these communities can get there.
We have heard that people are considering not even running for office in Newfoundland and small communities because they are concerned about the liability around the legislation that is in place currently. We know that in big cities such as Toronto and Montreal, a lot of the infrastructure is old. They would literally need to rip up a lot of their infrastructure to meet the goal of this bill, because the sewer and stormwater systems are integrated. Without understanding the costs and obstacles to meet the goals set out in this bill and the way they are going to meet them, it is actually a big gap and a big problem.
We talked about municipalities. This legislation would immediately punish those communities that have no choice but to dump raw sewage right now. Instead of helping to build the water treatment systems they need, this bill directs sparse municipal resources away from water treatment toward paying the inevitable fines it would create.
We know that between 2013 and 2017, approximately 96% of municipal waste water underwent some form of treatment before it was discharged. This means that around 4% of municipal waste water was discharged untreated, which is still significant, but it is worth examining the reasons this amount of money is dumped into our water waste, such as leaks or dumps of water, which occur for a number of reasons.
For example, in Toronto, more than 7.1 billion litres of raw sewage leaked into Lake Ontario because of the capacity of the city's waste-water system. Much of this occurred because of rainwater amounts, something that even big cities like Toronto are not capable of controlling right now. The systems need serious investments. It would be almost impossible, the cities have cited, even if funding came from the federal and provincial governments, to get facilities up and running by 2030 and to complete those upgrades.
This bill comes into effect within five years of its passing. It is unreasonable to expect communities such as these, which have said they cannot meet its targets, to get there. Small communities that do not have the same resources as bigger cities would incur fines that would be absolutely devastating, and would seriously hamper the work they are doing.
I think about the concerns we have talked about around recreational boaters and commercial boaters. There is a huge concern with this bill's impact on these vessels and the economy. My colleague, the member for St. John's East, is a lawyer. He looked over this legislation and pointed out that every single commercial and recreational vessel that has a waste-disposal system built in would be impacted by this bill. The way it is written, this bill leaves open the possibility of imposing fines on commercial and recreational vessels that dump waste while they are on the water doing any form of business.
At best, this bill conflicts with regulations under the Canada Shipping Act. At worst, it would severely hurt these vessels and the economy. This really has not been looked at closely. We have serious reservations about this regarding the hundreds of thousands of commercial and recreational fishers who would all have to update their vessels, buy new boats or significantly change their operations in order to comply with this bill.
I will touch again on what we want. My friend and former colleague, Tracey Ramsey, introduced a private member's bill to develop a national freshwater strategy. Her bill would have ensured that the federal government consulted and worked with the provinces, municipalities, indigenous peoples and stakeholders. This is what we are asking for. I hope the member takes into consideration what we are offering today. Again, the member missed out on banning toxic substances, which are going into waste-water stream catchment areas, capturing plastics as I have talked about in the past, and ensuring that these systems are upgraded.
Fisheries ActPrivate Members' Business
May 10th, 2021 / 11:25 a.m.
Monique Pauzé Bloc Repentigny, QC
Madam Speaker, I wish everyone a happy Monday.
I think that we all agree that water is life. Although we commend the member for his attempt to initiate a debate on water quality and the pollution of our rivers, which is an important subject, the Bloc Québécois cannot support the principle of Bill C-269 because it does not offer any real solutions to sewage dumping.
Yes, effective regulations may be part of the solution to this problem, but what is really needed is major investments in waste water infrastructure.
What is more, the bill is inconsistent. It would allow the regulated dumping of hazardous materials and prohibit the dumping of fetid waste water from urban areas. I will come back to that. Also, clause 2 of the bill, which would add two new subsections, would make it so that the prohibition would not apply in Nunavut, Newfoundland and north of the 54th parallel in Quebec. I am wondering what the rationale for that is, because it does not make any sense.
Basically, Bill C-269 is a bad idea masquerading as a good one. In 2012, the Conservative government established the Wastewater Systems Effluent Regulations, Canada's first waste water treatment standard. At the time, the federal government estimated that 75% of existing waste water treatment facilities complied with the new standard, and it committed to providing funding to help the remaining 25% achieve compliance.
It created three categories of facilities. The first included the highest-risk facilities, which had to comply with the new standard before 2020. The second and third categories included lower-risk facilities, which had until 2030 and 2040 to comply with the new standard.
The infrastructure minister at the time provided no details about the funding formula that would be introduced to support the new regulations. The Union des municipalités du Québec estimated that it would take $9 billion to upgrade existing municipal facilities and bring them into compliance with the new regulations.
Around that time, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and McGill University conducted a study. According to estimates, the municipal infrastructure deficit, which is what it would cost to upgrade existing infrastructure to meet current standards, was about $31 billion. That was 10 years ago.
Let us fast-forward to today.
According to an article published in the daily Le Devoir in March, 80 Quebec municipalities still do not have waste water treatment plants. According to a Réseau Environnement report cited in the same article, at least $17 billion is needed just to upgrade the existing treatment facilities that are suffering the effects of aging. That amount does not include the investments required to ensure that waste water treatment plants comply with the 2012 regulations and to build treatment plants where they are needed. That being the case, what should the government do? If regulations exist, we must comply, but no one should be expected to do the impossible.
Waste water spills happen frequently in Quebec, so much so that Fondation Rivières has created a rather impressive interactive map using a data set. Furthermore, it identified 60,660 spills in 2019, which lasted a total of 471,300 hours. While the Conservatives brought up Montreal's “flushgate”—when eight billion litres of sewage were dumped into the St. Lawrence River—every chance they got during the 2019 election campaign, people should not assume that the issue of dumping is any less serious anywhere else.
The 2019 campaign also highlighted the fact that Canadian municipalities had dumped 218 billion litres of sewage into waterways without any political party proposing solutions to the problem. Toronto confirmed that, in 2018, more than 7.1 billion litres of waste water leaked into Lake Ontario and other waterways because the combined sewer and stormwater system could not handle the volume of rainstorms.
Furthermore, last year, Canada's National Observer presented Environment Canada data indicating that 900 billion litres of waste water and runoff were discharged in 2018. That figure was for the rest of Canada and did not include Quebec. The 900 billion litres most likely was a conservative figure given the inconsistent monitoring among different municipalities.
In short, this is a significant problem for which we must find real solutions and it has been a concern for the Federation of Canadian Municipalities for many years now. I will say from the outset that the $1.5 billion allocated for the waste water file by the government between 2015 and 2019 is peanuts compared to the real need. It is just a drop in the bucket.
I do not wish to downplay the fact that human waste and runoff are a significant problem, but I must also speak about other worrisome substances. The most recent research has brought to light the health problems caused by endocrine disruptors and the constantly rising presence of microplastics in our waterways. I have mentioned the worrisome presence of these two substances to make the contradiction in Bill C-269 very clear to everyone. In fact, it would continue to allow the discharge into our waterways of all manner of substances as long as it is done in accordance with the 2012 Wastewater Systems Effluent Regulations.
I will read a short but incomplete list of the deleterious substances that could still be discharged into our waterways even if Bill C-269 is passed: petroleum products, including oil, gas, diesel and grease; chemical products. pesticides, heavy metals; industrial effluents; cleaning products, such as bleach and detergents; wood preservative products; paint; chlorinated water.
All of the substances I just mentioned could be discharged, but not urban waste water. I have a hard time believing that continuing to allow these substances to be discharged is less harmful to the environment and less detrimental to the health of our waterways than discharging urban waste water.
Any proposed regulations to bring infrastructure in compliance and to deploy 21st-century technology in existing facilities will require a rigorous and integrated approach. Bill C-269 does not meet these criteria, however.
Money is the lifeblood of all infrastructure projects. Nothing happens without money. Just take a close look at the tax system to see how much each level of government collects and how much their fair share should be. The federal government takes 50%, Quebec gets 42% and the municipalities get 8%. Municipalities' share of responsibility for infrastructure went from 30.9% in 1961 to 52.4% in 2002, while the federal government's went from 23.9% down to 6.8% for that same period. This is why I am saying it is impossible for municipalities to keep up.
Now, 20 years later, there is a good chance that the figures are even more telling. There is no doubt that infrastructure spending is required and that making arbitrary and unenforceable prohibitions is not the solution. This is the real way to help municipalities fulfill their waste water treatment responsibilities.
I do want to say that there is some potential for progress on this issue. However, every level of government will have to do its share. We must not only prevent overlapping jurisdictions and confusion, but we must also provide stability for municipalities so that they are in a position to build the best infrastructure to comply with sanitation standards.
No municipality derives pleasure from waste water spills. They want to comply with the standards but simply do not have the means to do so.
Fisheries ActPrivate Members' Business
May 10th, 2021 / 11:20 a.m.
Francis Scarpaleggia Liberal Lac-Saint-Louis, QC
Madam Speaker, I would like to begin with a few questions, especially about Conservatives taking real, practical actions.
First of all, why now? Why did the Conservatives not propose this in, say, 2012, when they were drafting and gazetting the waste-water systems effluent regulations? Were they guilty of an oversight at that time? Second, why did the member not introduce his private member's bill in 2015, after he was no longer Speaker. Third, why, four years later, when the member was leader of his party, did he not include this proposal in the 2019 Conservative election platform?
The Fisheries Act already prohibits the deposit of deleterious substances, including sewage, into fish-bearing waters, unless expressly allowed by regulation. The fact is that the Harper government's waste-water regulations gave a de facto exemption to municipalities under the Fisheries Act to deposit a deleterious substance, namely waste water, into fish-bearing waters. This exemption was not carte blanche, however. It came with limits on how much of a regulated substance can be released into the environment. The waste-water regulations also impose deadlines on municipalities for building and upgrading their systems to meet the standards of secondary treatment, a biological process that can remove up to 95% of contaminants.
By way of background, six billion cubic metres of waste water are discharged into marine and freshwater ecosystems in Canada every year. Of this amount, approximately 72% is treated to the level of at least secondary treatment, 25% is under-treated and the remaining 3% is untreated, coming from continuous discharges in communities without a waste-water plant, from releases from combined sewer systems where waste water and storm water flow together in the same pipe and can overflow during heavy rainfalls, from spills due to equipment failure and negligence, and finally, from occasional planned releases deemed necessary to allow for system construction or maintenance.
I would be remiss if I did not point out the Harper government's bungling of the 2015 waste-water release in Montreal, which caught the government off guard in the middle of an election campaign. The planned release was needed to allow maintenance on a key interceptor in the city's waste-water system. It should be noted that Montreal has a single massive waste-water plant, the largest in North America and the third largest in the world, providing primary and secondary waste-water treatment. The city is introducing ozonation, which will allow it to achieve tertiary treatment by 2023, at which time the city will have the largest ozone waste-water plant in the world.
A belt of sewers runs around the island. The whole system is on a slope from west to east, with the treatment plant located at the eastern tip of the island. Gravity draws sewage from all around the island to the plant, reducing the need for energy-consuming pumping stations along the route. There are no alternative waste-water plants on the island, no safety valves, as it were. If the plant gets damaged, that's a huge problem for the city and communities downstream.
In 2015, the city applied to the province for a permit for a planned release and obtained Quebec's authorization to do so. The city also contacted Environment Canada twice, in September 2014 and September 2015, but, as I understand it, was met with radio silence. The Conservative government only realized there was an issue when the story hit the headlines, in Canada and internationally, at which point it cleverly punted the matter until after the election.
On November 9, 2015, the new Liberal government issued a ministerial order under section 37 of the Fisheries Act to require Montreal to make adjustments to its initial release plan. These adjustments were based on the recommendations of an expert panel. It should be noted that the Liberal government did not authorize the release, even though the province had. Section 37 of the act, while not giving the federal government the power to authorize a release like Montreal's, allows the minister to “require any modifications or additions to the work, undertaking or activity or any modifications to any plans, specifications, procedures or schedules relating to it that the Minister considers necessary in the circumstances”. That is what the new minister, the member for Ottawa Centre, did. She ordered changes to the plan to minimize impacts based on the recommendations of an expert panel.
Environment and Climate Change Canada is holding consultations with a view to making improvements to the temporary bypass provisions in sections 43 to 49 of the waste-water systems effluent regulations. Currently under the regulations, a bypass authorization for a release of untreated waste water can only be given for maintenance work that is being done at a waste-water plant, that is, at a final point of discharge, not at other points along the system.
The objective of upcoming amendments to the regulations is to allow the government to provide bypass authorizations for work being done beyond the plant itself, thereby creating a regulatory framework that would encourage better planning of emergency releases such as the one that occurred in Montreal.
Enter Bill C-269, which seeks to make it an offence to proceed with any releases of raw sewage into fish-bearing waters. It sounds great, but as is often the case with private members' bills, they are not drafted with the benefit of appropriate expertise and are often designed more for political effect than to achieve a constructive objective.
If passed, Bill C-269 could have serious unintended consequences for the environment.
First, the proposed prohibition would apply to waste water that is already treated to a high standard. This is because even effluents that are subject to advanced levels of treatment still contain contaminants from raw sewage that have not been separated and removed, as required by the bill. Therefore, all communities across Canada would be in potential violation of the proposed law, notwithstanding their high degree of waste-water treatment in most cases. In effect, they would have to shut down their waste-water plants.
Second, the definition of raw sewage in Bill C-269 is ambiguous and likely to include more than just effluent from human or domestic sources. The bill's definition could include industrial, commercial and institutional effluents that contain low or manageable levels of such sewage. The bill could therefore interfere with the development and implementation of regulations to control industrial effluents. For example, the bill could impede the ongoing process of updating the pulp and paper regulations, a process aimed at, among other things, capturing facilities producing non-traditional products from wood and other plant material, and also aimed at lowering current effluent limits as well as adding limits for additional substances.
Third, the bill would exempt the north, where, to all intents and purposes, the Fisheries Act prohibition against depositing deleterious substances into fish-bearing waters applies wholesale, absent the existence of a bilateral agreement with the federal government for creating an equivalent regulatory framework to the waste-water systems effluent regulations. This means that whatever pollution safeguards and monitoring mechanisms exist today in the north by virtue of a bilateral agreement with the federal government would be thrown into question if this bill passes.
There are many examples of how proposed measures like those in Bill C-269 that are intuitively appealing at first glance are, upon deeper reflection, clearly not the best way forward for either the environment or human health. As a case in point, I would like to refer to the late Dr. David Schindler's work at the Experimental Lakes Area, a real-life freshwater laboratory that garnered a great deal of national attention a few years back when the Harper government tried to close it down.
The conventional wisdom at one point was that nitrogen from waste water was likely causing algal blooms in lakes, suggesting the need for multi-billion dollar investments to alter waste-water treatment plants. However, a 37-year real-time, real-life experiment at the Experimental Lakes Area found that this was not the case and that the culprit was rather phosphorous. This subsequently led to the elimination of phosphates in detergents and avoided massively expensive yet futile investments to upgrade waste-water treatment plants across the country to deal with nitrogen.
In the end, I regret to say that, in reality, this bill may well be more a public relations exercise on a subject that deserves much more serious and well-informed attention.
Fisheries ActPrivate Members' Business
May 10th, 2021 / 11 a.m.
Andrew Scheer Conservative Regina—Qu'Appelle, SK
moved that Bill C-269, An Act to amend the Fisheries Act (prohibition — deposit of raw sewage), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, it is an honour for me to rise today to introduce my third private member's bill as the member of Parliament for Regina—Qu'Appelle.
The environment, like so many issues, is a subject on which the Liberals are all talk and no real substance. This Prime Minister has become world famous for this. In 2015, he ran on a very thin environmental platform. It was just a few paragraphs long with very few details and no modelling or costing, and was, of course, centred around a carbon tax. We now know that the carbon tax is not revenue neutral and is not actually working. Emissions pre-pandemic went up every year the government was in office.
It is not just on greenhouse gas emissions that the government has failed. The environment goes far beyond climate change. That is why in the last election, the Conservatives ran on a platform that included real action on a whole host of issues, including a very important plank that focused on cleaning up our lakes and rivers.
What do I mean by that? When it comes to the environment, the very first thing the Prime Minister did after taking office was to grant permission to the City of Montreal to dump billions of litres of raw sewage into the St. Lawrence River. The hypocrisy was astounding. The Prime Minister was very successful at portraying himself as someone who was serious about the environment. However, at the very first opportunity, he literally flushed that down the toilet by allowing Montreal, instead of treating that waste water and protecting our precious natural environment, to dump it, untreated and full of all the dangerous substances that were contained within it, into a vital water artery. The current infrastructure minister was the environment minister at the time, and she was directly involved in granting that permission as well. While she was trying to create the illusion that she was some kind of real-life captain planet, she was signing off on one of the biggest dumps of raw sewage in Canadian history.
That is a bit of background on why I have brought forward this bill today. This is a very simple bill, and I probably do not even need my full 15 minutes today to explain it and to talk about the details of it.
Under current legislation, there are various regulatory frameworks and laws that protect our water systems and fish habitat. My bill would amend the Fisheries Act to define raw sewage as what is called, under the act, a deleterious substance. Basically, any kind of substance that would harm fish habitats is prohibited from being emitted into our waterways. Given the background I have just gone over, that legislation also empowers the government to grant exemptions to authorize or issue permits, so to speak, to municipalities that need to emit those types of substances into our rivers, lakes and oceans.
My bill does things. First, it defines raw sewage as a certain type of deleterious substance. Second, it would amend the section that authorizes the government to issue these kinds of permissions and would exclude raw sewage from the list of exemptions. In essence, that means future governments would not be allowed to grant that permission. The bill is basically saying that of all the substances that one municipality or another may seek approval for, untreated waste water would not be allowed to be emitted.
It is a very simple fix. It is a very short bill, and it is very straightforward. I am hoping I can get all parties to support it, especially members of the Liberal Party in the back benches, who are probably frustrated at their own party's record on the environment.
We just have to look at a few examples where the Prime Minister has been all talk and no action. Do they remember the famous billion trees promise in the last election? Here we are, over a year and a half from the 2019 election, and not a single tree has been planted. I know that members of Parliament who come from municipalities where towns and cities have been forced, or feel like they have no choice, to emit these types of substances into the waterways are frustrated not only that municipalities are being allowed to do it but that the federal government has not been responding to the infrastructure needs of those communities. That is something else I would like to talk about for a few moments here.
I recognize that many towns and cities are dealing with an incredible challenge when it comes to their existing infrastructure needs. This new bill would obviously impose a requirement that municipalities have the capacity to deal with unexpected events, whether it is a weather event that adds a tremendous amount of unexpected water flowing through the system or aging and decaying infrastructure that needs to be replaced. This bill, by preventing future dumps of untreated waste water into our water systems, would impose a burden on municipalities.
We have done two things with the bill: One thing is in the bill and one is a future commitment. I have written in a five-year coming-into-force date. That means once the bill receives royal assent, towns and cities across the country would have five years to plan, invest and upgrade their water systems. This timeline is long enough that they would have time to do the necessary work, and is short enough that we can take real action on protecting the environment in the here and now, not just punt the ball years and years down the field.
There is a recent media report indicating that the current environment minister has given a 20-year timeline to municipalities before they even start talking about ending this practice. Of course, a lot of damage can be done to our natural environment in 20 years. That is why the five-year timeline that I have suggested in this bill is much more realistic and effective.
I probably do not need to go into a tremendous amount of detail as to why this bill is necessary and why it is necessary that we stop the practice of dumping untreated water into our water systems. I could cite numerous studies in which scientists and researchers have studied the impact on fish habitat, the depletion of stocks and the types of dangerous trace elements that have been discovered in fish whose habitat is near where the water is emitted.
This happens all across Canada; it is not just unique to the city of Montreal. There was a study done in Toronto in 2018 by an advocacy group called Swim Drink Fish. It had this to say about the state of Toronto waste water back in 2018: Regardless of rainfall, “there isn’t a day that we’ve gone to the harbour that we haven’t been able to find some evidence of sewage contamination.” Also, there were instances in Vancouver in 2016 where over 45 million cubic metres of raw sewage was leaked or otherwise dumped into nearby waterways.
We can all appreciate the importance of protecting our fish habitat. Canadians love our natural environment. It is part of our culture, part of our history and part of our social fabric. Taking all my kids fishing whenever I get the chance is something we really enjoy as a family. My daughters are probably better than I am and my two boys are asking for fishing gear for Christmas and birthdays.
I am very fortunate to represent the Qu'Appelle lakes in my riding, a wonderful area in the Qu'Appelle Valley, but unfortunately in recent years, incidents in Regina have led to the emission of waste water into the Qu'Appelle system. That has had a negative effect on the water quality in the Qu'Appelle Valley. Some of the best moments I have had with my family have been from taking the them to the Qu'Appelle lakes and going out for the day fishing.
I do not need to tell members who represent coastal communities how important the fishing industry is economically and culturally for indigenous populations as well. I missed out on having the benefits of being taken salmon fishing in British Columbia. The timing just did not work out, but of course my British Columbia colleagues in the Conservative caucus are passionate advocates for doing more to protect fish habitat and helping the stocks throughout British Columbia grow again. We all know the importance that the salmon fishing industry has recreationally, for tourism and of course commercially.
The same is true in literally every corner of the country. The ability to fish for fun, for sport, for food or for our livelihoods is incredibly important for all Canadians in every single province and every single community. It is something the government promised to take action on, but like so many promises during the last election, it has completely failed to do it. That is why this private member's bill is necessary.
I am proud to have the support of my Conservative colleagues. This is one more concrete example of where Conservatives take real, tangible and achievable action on the environment. If members look back throughout the history of our party, they will see John Diefenbaker's work on establishing parks and the amount of work the previous Conservative government put into the Clean Air Act, which is legislation that put in meaningful reduction targets. We can also look at the Conservative government in the 1980s, under former prime minister Mulroney, and its work on the acid rain issues. In all the work that Conservative governments have done, we take real, practical action on the environment.
The Liberals say a lot of things during elections, but when they have the opportunity to act, they never seem to do so. That is why this bill is necessary, and I am hoping that all parties will give it quick passage so that it can get to committee and we can take real action on protecting our rivers, lakes and oceans.