Mr. Chairman, thank you for welcoming me to the committee to talk about Bill C-469, which I introduced in the House of Commons in October 2007 and the purpose of which is to amend the Canadian Environmental Protection Act.
I am pleased to be here because I come from the riding of Berthier-Maskinongé, where there are approximately 700 lakes and a number of rivers. There are also a lot of recreational and tourist activities. In summer, people swim and take part in other aquatic activities. Last year, in the same riding, five lakes were hit hard by cyanobacteria, as a result of which a number of aquatic activities were compromised.
As you know, this bill proposes a ban on the manufacture, import and sale of laundry and dishwashing detergents containing phosphorus, in order to halt the spread of cyanobacteria, so-called blue algae, which we have experienced in the past few years. The bill we are studying today is in fact the logical extension of the decisions made by your committee.
On June 12, 2007, considering that there was an urgent need to take quick action to combat the spread of blue algae, the member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, on behalf of the Bloc Québécois, tabled and had adopted by your committee, a motion requesting that the government act quickly to amend its regulations to prohibit the use of phosphates in detergents.
Seeing that the government refused to respond favourably to the motion at that time, and still concerned to combat the phenomenon of blue algae, on October 25, 2007, in response to pressure by citizens in my riding and an increase in the phenomenon across Quebec, I introduced Bill C-49 to ban the manufacture and import of detergents containing phosphates within a 180-day time period, as well as the sale of such products within 360 days.
Through the bill, we asked the government to act in its own area of jurisdiction. Since Ottawa is responsible for regulating imported products, the federal government has a duty to act in order to have a real impact on manufacturers and to force them to change their practices. Furthermore, if the ban applies across Canada, no business has any interest in manufacturing, importing or selling detergents containing phosphates.
In the meantime, it should not be forgotten that, on September 25, 2007, the Government of Quebec announced that it intended to introduce a government program to combat blue algae, which would include, in particular, a ban on phosphates in dishwashing detergents. Quebec's environment minister urged the federal government to do the same by amending its regulations to increase the commercial impact of the ban on dishwashing and laundry detergents containing phosphates, and thus to reinforce the legislation Quebec intended to pass and make it more effective.
Lastly, it was not until Bill C-469 was passed on second reading, on February 13, 2008, that the federal government finally presented its plan. On Friday, February 15, the government announced that it would follow in lock step with the governments of Quebec and Manitoba by restricting phosphate concentrations in various detergents.
Consequently, according to the announced plan, the federal government intends to impose a phosphate limit of 0.5% by weight on dishwashing and laundry detergents by 2010.
We have observed that the federal plan is similar to the Quebec plan. However, the government could have been more ambitious, because the ban is not total and, more particularly, will not come into force until 2010, whereas replacement products, as you know, already exist.
I think it is important to repeat that there is an urgent need to act as soon as possible to address this issue, in order to halt the spread of blue algae.
From the outset, we decided to intervene in this matter because we can all see the extent of this spread. The phenomenon is not new, but it has expanded in recent years. Cyanobacteria were detected in 50 lakes in Quebec in 2005. The following year, that number doubled to 107 lakes affected by cyanobacteria. In 2007, more than 200 Quebec lakes were affected by the same phenomenon. So there have been four times as many lakes affected in two years.
There is no indication the phenomenon will decline in 2008. On the contrary, it should increase, hence the importance of acting quickly. The longer we delay implementation of these measures, the faster the situation will deteriorate, and more waterways will be affected.
That is why we are asking that the new regulations apply starting in 2009, particularly since, as I've already mentioned, large quantities of replacement products are already accessible on the market.
I am entirely aware that the ban on products containing phosphates in detergents will not be enough to completely eliminate blue algae from our waterways. We all know that surplus phosphorus in waterways comes from many human activities, such as the discharge of untreated or insufficiently treated waste water, defective septic facilities and, especially, agricultural activities.
However, it should not be forgotten that, in certain regions, fewer agricultural activities are carried on near waterways. For example, people are increasingly choosing to live permanently on the banks of waterways, which I can see in the riding that I represent. Many people who occupied so-called secondary residences at the time are choosing to occupy them permanently. These are no longer summer cottages, but rather principal residences equipped, for example, with dishwashers that use phosphates, which amplifies the cyanobacteria phenomenon, hence the importance of this bill and the need to act quickly.
But as I said, removing phosphates from detergents will not completely solve the problem. Other action will be necessary, such as preserving or restoring vegetation and the natural character of banks and lakes—action that is currently being taken to a greater extent in Quebec—avoiding the use of chemical fertilizers and ensuring that septic tanks operate properly and are maintained.
All these issues, which concern land use and agricultural practices, are the jurisdiction of Quebec and the provinces. Moreover, the Quebec government's action plan proposes a series of regulatory prevention and awareness tools and is making them available to the municipalities to help them address these challenges.
Mr. Chairman, I will close by repeating that the ban on phosphates in detergents can easily be implemented by the federal government. From the very start of this process, we have been open to discussion and proposals to improve the bill, like the possibility of adding an amendment that would avoid penalizing hospitals, if there are no replacement products.
I believe it is fundamentally important to repeat that it is important that we take action quickly and ensure that the regulations apply as soon as possible in order to prevent the situation from worsening.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.