Thank you for inviting us to present the position of the Montreal Public Health Authority.
As physicians specializing in public health, we are very much involved in these issues in our region. The population of Montreal, as you probably know, is 1.8 million. Working in the area of public health, we are of the view that action must be taken now. In Montreal, air pollution and climate change is already causing very significant public health problems. The future of climate change will exacerbate the situation.
More specifically—and you already have these figures—there are nearly 1,540 premature deaths associated with air pollution. We have done studies, especially of people who live near freeways. The results revealed an increase of 30% in the number of hospitalizations among the 50,000 to 75,000 people living within 15 metres of a freeway in Montreal. Heatwaves also increase the number of deaths. There have been three severe heatwaves over the past 20 years. During those periods, between 100 and 150 more people died per day than usual. According to the forecasts of a Quebec research consortium called Ouranos, the severity and length of heatwaves is expected to increase very significantly within 20 years. So we can probably expect situations like what we saw in Europe in the summer of 2003.
My first message to you is that we need to act now.
We know the solutions. You just have to look at what is being implemented right now in the European Economic Community. The State of California is also taking action. However, to implement those solutions, we need a very integrated approach at the local, regional, national and international levels.
We now know that for every dollar invested in clean technology or effective strategies, we get three dollars back in health benefits. That is what the experts in California told us when we attended an international conference on this topic. It pays to invest in this: the return on investment is really very high.
We would like to see Canada's Clean Air Act include quantifiable objectives for ambient air as well as for emissions of air pollutants and greenhouse gases. A second step would be to develop a management plan and clear timetables for implementation. We also would like to see assessment criteria and accountability to the public. Those are the basic pillars of an effective law.
Concerning clause 103.07 of Bill C-30, we recommend instead the use of WHO criteria dealing with, among other things, breathable particles, nitrate oxides, ozone and sulfur dioxide. This information is contained in the document that was provided to you today. There is a consensus regarding these criteria at the international level, and we find it hard to understand why Canada would not support those objectives. We know that doing so would reduce mortality in Canada by 15%. That is very significant.
Turning to another point, clause 103.09 states that the government may regulate. We suggest that the word “may” should be replaced by the word “shall.” The word “may” is much weaker from a legal standpoint. The word “shall” creates an obligation.
With respect to the release of air pollutants from fixed and mobile sources, there are three key sources, which are transportation, the electrical sector and power plants. If we are talking about GHG emissions under the Kyoto Protocol, these sources are just about the same: transportation, power plants and the oil industry. Those sources account for over 60% of our emissions.
If we look at the situation in Quebec in particular, 85% of nitrate oxides and 38% of greenhouse gases come from transportation sources. In Montreal, we are looking at 50% of greenhouse gases from transportation. So that is a key sector.
In order to take an integrated approach, there need to be several strategies: legislation, financial incentives, education and empowerment, especially for community groups. These strategies would involve the local, regional, national and international levels and various sectors of government (energy, transport, industry, agriculture and land use development).
In the transport sector, the main objective is to decrease the number of trips and the number of kilometres travelled, as well as to increase the efficiency of vehicles. To do this, we need to increase funding for public transit. In Canada, 85% of the population live in eight cities. We recommend that the federal government adopt the equivalent of the Marshall plan for funding public transit. What is needed in large cities is what is called a modal shift from the use of single-occupant automobiles to public transit.
We need to improve urban planning and move to transit-oriented development, which means that people would use public transit as well as active transport such as bicycles and walking, which connects with the idea of walkable cities.
It is also important to develop other alternatives to single-occupant automobiles and to make automobiles more efficient through regulation. The European Economic Community, for example, has just adopted regulations that cap CO2 emissions at 120 grams per kilometre. That is now the norm in the European automobile industry. The limit in California is 128 grams of CO2 per kilometre. I believe that the federal government can and should implement such provisions.
In order to influence consumer choices, it is also important to provide economic incentives to the public. The cost of public transit needs to be reduced significantly for students and low-income people, for example. In Perth, Australia, where I was two years ago, public transit was free in the downtown area. When that is the case, people use it.
Financial incentives can also be provided to encourage people to buy much more energy-efficient vehicles. Those kinds of incentives are very effective. These are what we call rebate programs. We need to slap heavy taxes on mega- horsepower vehicles and remove the taxes from small vehicles. I would go even further and say that we need to ban advertising of high-powered vehicles on TV. The anti-smoking strategies adopted by the federal government a few years ago worked along those lines. Financial incentives were increased and tobacco advertising was banned. It works, it is effective, and people do change their behaviour.
A number of European cities are in the process of adopting a transportation approach. It is clear that these types of measures produce health benefits, not only by improving air quality and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but also by making people much more active.
Health Canada considers obesity to be the most important epidemic it is facing. Obesity is very closely associated with the increased use of private vehicles. If people take public transit, they walk more; so they are more physically fit as a result. That reduces the rate of cardiovascular disease.
In conclusion, we recommend that a new clause be added to the bill specifying that the Government of Canada must ensure that all federal departments adopt the necessary policies to reach the objectives set out in the act and its regulations.
This means that each department would have a sustainable development policy, which would mean that we would have sustainable transportation, sustainable agriculture and sustainable energy.
That should lead to sustainable solutions for Canada.
In summary, we need to set quantifiable objectives for air pollutants and emissions, develop an action plan with specific timeframes, develop an integrated approach at all levels, and inform the public about attainment of the objectives. Every dollar invested results in three dollars in health benefits.
We need to act now because the health of Canadians is at stake.
Thank you very much.