Thank you, Mr. Chair and members of the committee.
It's my pleasure to be here today to discuss a number of environmental issues, including our new government's commitment to protecting the health of Canadians and their environment.
I'd like, first, to begin my presentation today as I had indicated last week, discussing the report of the Commissioner of the Environment.
I would like to thank the commissioner for her report and her recommendations, which she released last week. This report is very timely, as it comes at a critical juncture for Canada.
I would like to thank the environment commissioner for her report. Our government accepts all of her recommendations.
We are now at a crossroads in terms of the protection of our health and the environment of Canadians. We are also at a crossroads when it comes to environmental protection and enforcement, which have long been talked about but not acted upon.
As everyone knows, the commissioner's report demonstrates that to tackle climate change, neither advertising campaigns nor preening on the international stage can substitute for strong domestic action. What Canadians got from the old government was a lot of talk but few results.
Fortunately, Canadians have elected a new government, and what they are getting from us and will continue to get from us is action.
The commissioner commented in her report that she was troubled over the previous government's long-standing failure to make progress on the issue of climate change. The commissioner clearly stated that there was a lack of credibility, a lack of monitoring, and a lack of reporting in the previous government's plans.
The most disturbing thing, however, is that after spending over $1 billion, there were still no results on the environment.
Last week, I think some were surprised to hear the harsh truth from the commissioner that due to Liberal inaction, Canada is not on track to meet its obligations under the Kyoto Protocol.
When I first was appointed Minister of the Environment, I was, with great honour, also appointed by the Prime Minister to become the president of the Conference of Parties to the framework Convention on Climate Change of the United Nations. I made a very early decision, albeit a very difficult one, to inform our international partners in the Kyoto Protocol—and subsequently informed the Canadian people—what the environment commissioner conveyed to Canadians last week, which was that Canada was not on track to meet our Kyoto commitments. I was honest. It was a difficult message to deliver to Canadians. We told Canadians, though, that this was something we needed to address.
I said very clearly at that time that it is impossible for Canada to reach its Kyoto targets. As the environment commissioner stated, we need new targets. This does not mean an abandonment of Kyoto. In fact, Canada works very closely within the Kyoto process and the Kyoto Protocol with our international partners to move forward, to look beyond what the next stage of Kyoto will be beyond 2012. However, the commissioner confirmed, as you know, what we already knew and what I stated early on in the spring.
On Tuesday, when the commissioner appeared before this committee, she said:
It has become more and more obvious that Canada cannot meet its Kyoto Protocol commitments to reduce greenhouse gases. In fact, instead of decreasing, greenhouse gas emissions in Canada have increased by 27% since 1990.
She also has concerns about the arbitrary target that was set by the previous government. Let me quote again from what the commissioner said on Tuesday:
...when we looked at where this 6% below 1990...came from, it was obvious that there was no sound analysis to support that. ... The federal government picked that number based on what the U.S. was going for. So that's clear. There's no doubt about it.
It also appears that about as much thinking went into the target as went into the expensive programs that the previous government developed to help Canada meet that target. Setting a target that was unachievable set in motion, I believe strongly, a set of subsequent bad policy decisions to actually try to reach the target.
It's time for a brand new approach to the environment. This new approach is going to address the real priorities of Canadians in a tangible and accountable way. Our approach will deliver clean air to Canadians to protect their health while also making genuine progress on reducing greenhouse gas emissions as well as other contaminants that are harmful to our health.
I'm looking forward to announcing very soon a real and responsible approach that actually delivers a healthy environment for all of us. I know Canadians want to see progress on the environment. Canadians understand full well the challenges that face us. They do not expect answers overnight, but they expect action and they expect progress.
As Commissioner Gélinas has recommended, a new approach is needed based on leadership, accountability, and measurable results. We agree with all of her recommendations. These are the key dimensions of our approach, and that is why we will succeed where the previous governments have failed.
The commissioner also identified a number of areas we need to focus on, and our government is already taking those into consideration and taking action. In the area of leadership, environment is a government-wide priority led by our Prime Minister. As the Minister of the Environment, I am in the lead on all issues related to the environment, whether it's climate change, clean water, or clean air and air pollution. I am working also, though, with a strong commitment from a number of my cabinet colleagues around the cabinet table, including the Ministers of Health, Natural Resources, Transportation, Infrastructure and Communities, Industry, and also the Minister of Finance and the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, as we move forward with our environment agenda.
Commissioner Gélinas has also pointed out the need to take into consideration energy and climate change. As she pointed out, the previous government had difficulty working between the two departments, Natural Resources and Environment. I can tell you those days are over. Energy and climate change must be dealt with together, because they are linked. It's important that all sectors be involved in addressing this issue facing us, particularly the energy sector, and we will continue to consult and collaborate with all economic sectors moving forward.
She also talked about the need to reduce greenhouse gases, and our approach will see reductions not only in air pollution but also in greenhouse gases.
Throughout her report, Commissioner Gélinas pointed out the importance of the transportation sector and industry sector to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. She noted that the previous government failed in this respect, and by contrast, our government is committed to succeeding by bringing forward legislation.
Specifically, I was encouraged to see that the commissioner saw the inadequacy of the previous government's approach, which relied on unaccountable, voluntary measures. She also highlighted the need to address adaptation.
I was privileged to host the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference on adaptation in my own hometown of Edmonton.
We need a realistic and effective plan to reduce air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, but it must also include appropriate policies, strategies, and measures to build upon Canadians' capacities to actually adapt to what already is a changing climate. Environment Canada is in a position to lead and collaborate with others on scientific, technical, and socio-economic impacts.
On governance and accountability, that is another issue on which the commissioner placed a high priority. The committee members know full well that accountability is also of paramount importance to our government. Canadians demand accountability on all files of the government, especially on the environment, and we will deliver. Accountability on the environment consists of having clear goals, being able to measure progress, and transparently reporting on your results to Canadians.
On monitoring, Canada doesn't currently have a systematic way of measuring air quality. The previous government did not make use of leading technology that could measure the pollution released into the environment in real time. The previous government also didn't develop a systematic way to link environmental performance in Canada with the impacts on human health, especially with respect to air pollution. This is why our air is in poor condition and why our health is suffering. This is unacceptable to Canadians and it's unacceptable to our government.
On reporting, Canadians have not been provided in the past with clear, comprehensive information on environmental performance. This is simply unacceptable. Through clear reporting, our government will be able to show real progress to Canadians.
On enforcement, accountability also means that when the rules are broken, polluters are held accountable. For years, prosecutions and violations were rare under the previous government. In the isolated cases of conviction, the penalties were weak and often inconsequential. Cases were frequently settled for absurdly low amounts of money. For too long, federal prosecutors gave the environment too low a profile and made it too low a priority. Enforcement only consisted of issuing warnings rather than taking action. All Canadians agree that this is unacceptable. It's also unacceptable to our government.
While the commissioner's report highlighted a number of key issues and recommendations moving forward, I also want to address a number of other issues that are of importance to Canadians.
Canadians are concerned about growing rates of asthma and are concerned about cancer from environmental sources. The commissioner's report focused on climate change, and our government is addressing that issue. However, in addition to the previous government's lack of action on climate change, another troubling aspect was the lack of political will to address air quality, which is the number one environmental concern of Canadians. That is why my main priority is to protect the health of Canadians.
Canadians do have reason to be concerned. We all know someone who suffers from the effects of air pollution. It's an issue that has touched every family in Canada. The Lung Association has confirmed that air pollution has a significant impact on health. It irritates, inflames, and destroys lung tissue, and it weakens the lungs' defences against contaminants. Even low levels of air pollution can cause health problems. In the Lung Association's national report card on pulmonary disease, which includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema, the association stated that pulmonary disease is caused not only by smoking but also by exposure to outdoor air pollution. Smog and poor air quality continue to cause thousands of deaths each year and hundreds of thousands of severe episodes of asthma and bronchitis, particularly among children and the elderly.
During an average year, exposure to air pollution results in an estimated 60,000 emergency room visits and 17,000 hospital admissions in Ontario alone. Air pollution is now a factor in one out of every twelve deaths in Canada. Poor air quality also remains one of the most serious threats to biodiversity, forests, and freshwater ecosystems.
We know the direct and indirect costs of air pollution on health and the environment are in the billions of dollars.
A recent study by the Ontario Medical Association estimated damages in Ontario alone at $374 million in lost productivity in work time, $507 million in direct health care costs, $537 million in pain and suffering due to non-fatal illness, and $64 billion in economic loss due to premature death. This total in Ontario alone is expected to increase to over $11 billion by 2026. These are all very compelling reasons for us to take action to reduce air emissions and to make our air cleaner.
A report issued in August by the David Suzuki Foundation, called The Air We Breathe, stated the following:
There is strong evidence that air pollution is the most harmful environmental problem in Canada in terms of human health effects, causing thousands of deaths, millions of illnesses, billions of dollars in health care expenses, and tens of billions of dollars in lost productivity every year.
It is why our government is taking a strong stance on removing the pollutants from our air by introducing national legislation. Unfortunately, in the past decade, Canada's performance on the environment has lagged behind that of our international counterparts.
The Sustainable Planning Research Group at Simon Fraser University completed a study in 2004 using data from the OECD. The study examined 29 key environmental indicators, and Canada's environmental performance ranked an embarrassing 28 out of 30 countries.
In the same study, the United States performed better than us in a number of areas, including the emissions of sulphur oxides, nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds, and carbon monoxide. Canada's performance on greenhouse gas emissions since 1990 has also lagged behind that of the United States in terms of a percentage increase in greenhouse gas emissions.
We are all committed to doing better on all of these fronts. It is why this will be the first time the federal government will put in place a broad national framework to achieve real reductions in air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.
In the past, the government has relied on a patchwork approach, and this was a major failure. The previous government's strategy of throwing money at the problem and voluntary agreements simply did not work.
Canada's new government has promised a cleaner and a healthier environment. We will deliver strong legislation and a real action plan that achieves results and measurable reductions in air pollution and greenhouse gases.
Air quality is a national concern in Canada, and air knows no boundaries. Therefore, we need national legislation, we need national objectives, and we need national standards.
We have a mandate from Canadians to act and that's what we will continue to do, but we've already begun to deliver on a number of these areas.
As you know, and as the environment commissioner pointed out in her report, transportation is one of the leading causes of pollution and greenhouse gas emissions in Canada. Our new government has invested $1.3 billion in public transit and infrastructure. This funding will assist in the building of the infrastructure necessary to deal with increased ridership.
Starting July 1 of this year, our government provided a transit rider tax credit. This means transit riders who buy monthly passes will receive almost two free months of transit per year. For example, the credit could be worth as much as $635 a year for a commuter in Barrie who might travel to work in downtown Toronto.
Renewable energy has great potential for providing clean alternatives for power. This government is also helping Canadians make cleaner fuel choices by increasing the average renewable fuel content in gasoline and diesel fuels by 5% by 2010. This target is more stringent than the United States and it's on par with our European partners.
Increasing the renewable energy content of fuels can help us achieve numerous objectives. From the standpoint of environmental conservation, 5% renewable content in engine fuels will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
These actions alone, the transit rider tax credit, the transit infrastructure, and the 5% renewable content, all have tangible results that Canadians can see. They will promote increased public transit usage, which will help reduce congestion in our urban areas and reduce air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. These actions will be equivalent to taking 1.5 million cars off the road, year after year.
According to the Canadian Renewable Fuels Association, there will be a 4.2-megatonne-per-year reduction in net greenhouse gas emissions. There will also be 10,000 direct and indirect jobs created and $600 million of annual economic activity added to the Canadian economy when the ethanol and biodiesel production facilities are up and running.
On toxics, Canadians are increasingly concerned about their exposure to toxic substances, including the low-dose chemicals in their food and the pharmaceuticals in their water. Our government has already taken significant steps to protect the health of Canadians by taking action on a number of toxic substances. We have taken action to regulate two harmful substances used in the production of some commonly used stain repellants and fire retardants, known as PFOSs and PBDEs. We have introduced a measure to reduce the amount of mercury in Canada's atmosphere by ten tonnes over the next ten years by removing mercury switches from scrapped cars before they are recycled. As all of you know, mercury is a highly toxic substance that can cause serious human health and ecological effects.
In addition, Canada is the first country in the world to publish an action plan addressing certain toxic chemicals found to be sources of what's known as PFCAs. Such substances are commonly used as water and grease repellants for materials found in our homes, such as paper, fabric, leather, and carpets.
As many of you know, the Conservative Mulroney government took action in 1985 to begin removing PCBs from the environment. Our new government has set in place a regulatory plan that will remove 50% of the PCBs still in use and 100% of the PCBs that are currently in storage.
Many of these substances that we have taken early action on are linked to cancer, blindness, and birth defects, to name only a few of the health effects. It's clear that our government is committed to taking concrete action on toxic substances, and this is only the beginning. On September 14 of this year we became the first government and the first country in the world to complete a full review to assess the risk to human health posed by all 23,000 chemical substances in use or produced prior to 1994. This is a significant milestone to protect the health of Canadians.
In the very near future, our government will be releasing a comprehensive action plan to build on this tremendous achievement and take further action to protect the health of Canadians against toxic, cancer-causing chemicals.
Earlier this month, the Canadian Cancer Society applauded our government's action on this important issue, saying:
We welcome this action…. We believe that Canadians should not be exposed to cancer-causing substances in the environment…. It was heartening to see many groups come together on this important review and we hope this collaboration continues.
In conclusion, clearly it's time for action. We have already begun demonstrating to Canadians that we take this issue very seriously. Our new government is making progress on improving the environment in which Canadians live, work, and play, and we will continue to show progress to Canadians in tangible ways that they can see.
We've lagged behind our international counterparts for too long. That has to change, and it will change. The most important way we can make a contribution to these important international challenges is by putting in place a strong domestic agenda here in Canada.
Finally, before I open it up to questions, I would like to thank each of you for being here today and also for the hard work that I know the committee is doing on the CEPA review. The Canadian Environmental Protection Act is a very important piece of environmental legislation for Canadians, and I want to thank you. I have heard from my parliamentary secretary, Mark Warawa, all of the good work that you've been doing on the CEPA review and all the work you've been doing in scoping the issues for consideration. I appreciate all your cooperation on that and look forward to your questions.