Thank you, Mr. Chair.
It's nice to see you. Thank you for coming to meet with us again. I appreciated the briefing you provided previously. I thought we had a good dialogue then, and some follow-up.
I have a perspective probably slightly at variance from that of my colleague next to me. I think the federal government is failing to assert the jurisdiction it does have. The thing that troubles me is that in the past two excellent audits that your office did, the federal government has come back with increasingly narrow responses. Then what has happened is that the follow-up audits are on those increasingly narrow responses.
In your office's audit of 2005, before you came there, there was a recommendation that the federal government look towards an overall federal water framework. The federal government has a lot more jurisdiction and responsibility over water than is contained in the federal guidelines document. I noticed in your opening comments, Mr. Vaughan, that you specifically say: “The federal government is responsible for the development of the science-based Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality.” In fact, the federal government is responsible for the development of safe drinking water, period—not necessarily by guideline. They have chosen to do it by guideline.
That is an issue on which, in review after review over the last 35 years—and I've participated in many of them—the same recommendation comes down every time, including lately from the Gordon Water Group, saying that it is time to have some federal water standards.
I wonder whether you can comment on that. Your office has done excellent audits on aboriginal safe drinking water. You have done audits a number of times over on different aspects of safe drinking water in Canada. What has fallen between the cracks is the overall coordination and consensus within the federal regime of responsibility for regulating safe drinking water, including at tap and at treatment, and the source water. What I see as falling through the cracks is protection of the source water, which keeps down the costs to municipalities, first nations, or small communities to treat and provide safe drinking water.
Could you briefly comment on this movement away from actually addressing the bigger issue?
I can throw at you one more thing that you might comment on. It's a provision that troubles me that is never acted on. In the Canadian Environmental Protection Act there is a mandatory duty laid upon the federal Minister of Health to take action and to look into any situation upon which information has come to her attention that there may be a connection between a health impact and toxins. That's a mandatory duty. Among all of these statutes there is jurisdictionally quite a big mandate, and yet we don't seem to be moving this forward. I wonder whether you could comment on whether, despite seeing the department reporting on some of the narrow recommendations, we are moving forward or not on the bigger issue of what the federal responsibility and mandate are and, if we're not getting the cooperation of the provinces, on what the federal government can do to move this agenda forward.
I'm sorry, that's a big question.