I apologize, I did not have enough time to get my presentation translated.
I got the notice and invitation only yesterday. So I have provided it in English.
French-speaking MPs can ask their questions in French but I will answer in English.
Time today, unfortunately, is not sufficient for me to provide a detailed analysis of CEPA's strengths and weaknesses, but I hope a cursory review of some of the long-standing issues that the environmental community has had with the act will provide context to committee members who might otherwise be discouraged from undertaking a comprehensive and substantive review.
It is the broadly held view of Canada's environmental community, supported by pollution data, internal assessments at Environment Canada, and our nation's abysmal environmental performance ranking among OECD members, as Kapil recently shared with you, that implementation of CEPA is failing in key areas and is in need of a substantive, comprehensive review if it's to serve its purpose to protect the environment and human health. Pollution is up almost across the board in this country.
The following five key areas suggest the committee would be ill-advised to relegate the current review to a simple bureaucratic tinkering of the act's mechanics. A more substantive review is needed.
First of all, pollution prevention is defined in the act as the “use of processes, practices, materials, products, substances or energy that avoid or minimize the creation of pollutants and waste and reduce the overall risk to the environment or human health.” Pollution prevention is legally Canada's priority approach to environmental protection.
Unfortunately, application of the act to date has done little to avoid or minimize the creation of pollutants in favour of end-of-pipe controls to capture pollutants for storage, incineration, transfer, or landfill. Although the government has requested flexible rather than prescriptive pollution prevention plans for major industries, we are aware of only five plants that have plans in place, and none that has implemented its pollution prevention plan. In the absence of honest efforts to reduce the production of toxic pollutants, air and water transfers are on the rise based on data made available through the NPRI, the National Pollutant Release Inventory.
Monitoring and enforcement direction is needed to realize effective pollution prevention plans that will foster the reduced use and production of toxic substances rather than transferring them from one medium to another. Industrial engineering resulting from the application of pollution prevention plans will enhance Canada's long-term competitiveness and productivity in the continental context.
On the issue of international agreements, I'd like to point out that CEPA has the potential to significantly reduce the use and release of toxic substances if the progressive principles in the act are implemented. As Canada moves to reassert its international presence, it is important to understand where CEPA comes from and how the act relates to the global policy framework for regulating toxic substances generally.
Important concepts such as virtual elimination and the precautionary principle that eventually found their way into CEPA's lexicon originated, in the continental context, in large part in the Canada-U.S. Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement as part of a cooperative binational effort to protect the world's largest freshwater ecosystem. Despite having roots in the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, CEPA has failed to protect the Great Lakes from toxic emissions of all sorts across the Great Lakes basin.
Beyond the North American context, Canada has ratified important global agreements such as the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal, the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, and the Rotterdam Convention on Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade.
CEPA should include provisions for meeting international commitments for protecting the Great Lakes--i.e., the shared stewardship of more than 20% of the globe's accessible surface water--and other international agreements intended to regulate the trade and movement of hazardous substances. To date, it simply is not supporting those initiatives.
On the issue of toxics management, current management approaches for toxic substances have proven time-consuming and ineffective, and the act's focus on toxic substance use, manufacture, and release means the toxic substances contained in consumer products are ignored. Landfilling of light switches containing mercury, for example, would not be addressed. Other jurisdictions, such as Boston, have successfully implemented simplified approaches that are more comprehensive in reducing toxic emissions.
While CEPA prescribes timelines for categorization of substances, the act does not outline a timeframe for completion of the assessment nor what is considered adequate data to determine toxicity. Furthermore, the use of section 71, which requires data from industries, has not been fully utilized to assist the government's efforts in making a determination of toxicity. The government's voluntary approach to data collection and industries' confidentiality concerns have handicapped the government's ability to effectively determine toxicity.
This ambiguity critically undermines the development of management tools for toxic substances. We are unaware of any plan of action developed by Environment Canada and Health Canada to screen level risk assessments on substances found to meet criteria for categorization.
CEPA should capture consumer products and be amended to enhance the burden of proof on industry to demonstrate that commercial products are safe for use and disposal. It would seem that, as it stands, the bureaucracy is not equipped or is ill-equipped to do the full categorization on its own.
On the issue of the precautionary principle, once a substance has been declared toxic, it usually takes another three years to have a risk management strategy instrument in place. Further, waiver and time extensions may be granted. Timelines for development of management strategies are far too long to support a precautionary and preventative approach to environmental stewardship within CEPA.
Enforcement of the act has been its biggest failure. For years the Office of Pollution Prevention relied on voluntary programs to foster action, with the explicit commitment to use the act's regulatory backstop as needed. Despite the broad and accepted failure of those voluntary programs.... I'm thinking here of such programs as the accelerated reduction and elimination of toxics, known as ARET, some years ago; bilateral environmental performance agreements with industry; and the past environmental leaders program. Those programs have all failed and yet no appetite exists for regulation. CEPA implementation must include regulatory intervention where voluntary initiatives are known to have failed.
We understand that Environment Canada's current capacity to oversee a review is compromised by recent structural changes. However, a relatively small redirection of resources would allow the department to draw on its existing expertise to realize the review necessary to protect human health and the environment.
Members of CEN Toxics Caucus have been tracking this file and have been formally consulting with decision-makers over several years in the evolution of the domestic substances list, the priority substances list, the NPRI, and on several key delegations to international treaties, such as the POPs Treaty, the Basel Convention, and the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement. I encourage the committee to use the CEN in its pursuit of expert testimony of a more substantive nature.
And I invite your questions.