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Evidence of meeting #4 for Environment and Sustainable Development in the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was regulations.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Ian Shugart  Deputy Minister, Department of the Environment
Alan Latourelle  Chief Executive Officer, Parks Canada Agency

9:35 a.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

It's nice to have you before us, Mr. Minister. I would simply say that I support the issues raised by my colleagues and I look forward to getting into more of the details on climate change when you come to defend the new budget.

What I would like to have you respond to today is the overall mandate of the department and the slippage in seriousness of the federal government taking on its environmental responsibilities. It's been a great concern over the last 20 years, and we're seeing extreme slippage. We're seeing extreme slippage in movement on the regulation of serious toxins. I don't intend to ask you specific questions. I look forward to quizzing your officials on particular regulations that don't seem to be seeing the light of day.

What I'm particularly concerned about are the comments in the fiscal update of last fall. You yourself stood up in the House and spoke to those. You said that when we look at the coming budget, when we look at the supplementary estimates, we need to look to the message of the fiscal update: that we were going to work toward clean electricity. While the Prime Minister has said we're not going to pick favourites, the Government of Canada has picked favourites by singling out nuclear power and coal-fired electricity as a purported source of clean electricity for the future of Canada.

Coal-fired power, as we well know, is probably the largest source, if not one of the largest sources of greenhouse gases in Canada. It is the single largest source of industrial mercury in Canada. In fact, it's the single largest source of industrial mercury in North America, if you're looking toward North American action.

It's very important, when you look at the regulation of mercury, that you not simply pick on the United States. When you're controlling a neurotoxin, it isn't the volume. In other words, it doesn't matter if we are emitting less than the United States; they should be serious about it. That substance bioaccumulates in the local environment. We have proven that in Alberta, and as a result we have introduced provincial regulations.

So I welcome your addressing how you are going to move forward. You're saying we shouldn't give up environment for energy security, and yet your whole plan of action is to continue to put more support into those dirty sources. Where is the money in this supplementary budget for incenting renewables? Where is the money for moving on a coal-fired mercury regulation?

February 12th, 2009 / 9:35 a.m.

Conservative

Jim Prentice Conservative Calgary Centre-North, AB

I'm pleased to respond to that question. It's fairly far-reaching, so let me do the best I can.

First, in terms of the regulatory agenda, I disagree that there is any slippage. If you look, for example, at the chemical management plan, we are proceeding apace with our commitment to deal with chemicals that have been backlogged in our system for decades in terms of the review of the health and environmental impacts. That is well on track in the objective we outlined in 2007.

In terms of your comment about the government seeing nuclear and coal-fired electricity as the way to achieve our targets, I wouldn't agree. The targets that we have espoused are to ensure that, by 2020, 90% of Canada's electricity is derived from non-emitting sources. At the present time, we derive 73% of our electricity from non-emitting sources.

Frankly, we don't give ourselves enough credit for what we have achieved. Canada has one of the cleanest electricity systems in the world. I think we're sixth or seventh on that scale. Assuming we're able to do what we have aspired to as a target—90%—we would have in effect the cleanest electricity system in the world, with the arguable exception of France, which is nuclear, and Norway.

We will get there not with coal-fired plants but with nuclear, with hydro, and with renewables, and I'm very optimistic that on all those fronts that's achievable. Canada, in the North American context, has some of the most significant hydro possibilities that remain to be developed, and once a price is put on carbon, many of those hydro projects will become quite competitive.

I welcome your interest in mercury. This is something that you and I have spoken about extensively, and you've drawn my attention to the possibility of good work that can be done to carry on the work we've done as a country.

Over the last several decades, Canada has actually done a very significant job of reducing mercury emissions. You are quite right that it is a neurotoxin. It is of real concern to me. And there is evidence that airborne mercury that is not originating in Canada but basically comes to rest in Canada is one of the more significant pollutant concerns in terms of the health of Canadians, particularly people who eat country food that is exposed to airborne mercury.

In the time since you and I spoke, we are of course proceeding to the UNEP conference in the next two weeks. At that conference there will be discussion about the work that the international community will be doing on mercury. Canada intends to be a strong, outspoken voice on this, again because although we have brought our house largely in order, major mercury emissions continue internationally.

As well, one of the issues you have raised with me is the concern that we need to look federally at a regulatory standard that is modelled on one of our Canadian provinces, specifically Alberta, which has the toughest standards for mercury being emitted by coal-burning thermal plants. This is something the department is examining. I have asked my deputy to schedule a meeting with all the CEOs of coal-burning thermal electricity companies in Canada. We have a number of issues to discuss, but one of them will certainly be that regulatory aspect and what's involved in terms of Canada moving to that standard. So this is something that we are pursuing very seriously.

9:40 a.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Mr. Minister, I'm encouraged that you're looking into it, but frankly, time is of the essence. We're talking about a bioaccumulative neurotoxin. I find it very reprehensible that you'd be reaching out to Canada's industrial CEOs. What about the public? What about the people who live around these lakes where the mercury is bioaccumulating?

There is no cause for delay. Alberta has already shown that regulating mercury from coal-fired plants is cost-effective. They've already done it in the U.S., waiting for the demise of Bush, and we're finally getting a federal government of the United States that is willing, nationally, to move forward on this.

We need to have a regulation now. We need to have Canada going to the international table and reporting that we are about to put in place a federal regulation and that we're committed to a global treaty.

9:40 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative James Bezan

Your time has expired.

Very briefly, please.

9:40 a.m.

Conservative

Jim Prentice Conservative Calgary Centre-North, AB

We certainly will be outspoken at Nairobi. In terms of the individuals we're speaking to, most of the thermal operators we're speaking of are public companies. These are publicly owned, provincially owned corporations in most cases. The challenge ultimately remains that we have differing provincial standards. One province has aspired to a higher standard—that's Alberta—and we're investigating whether that should be the national standard.

9:40 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative James Bezan

Thank you.

Mr. Warawa.

9:40 a.m.

Conservative

Mark Warawa Conservative Langley, BC

Thank you, Chair. Thank you, Minister, for being with us today. It's quite unusual for so many ministers to come to the supplementary estimates. Normally there are four or five. In this case, I believe most of the ministers of the government have come. I personally know how busy you are, so thank you for adjusting your schedule to be here today.

I have a question for you on regulations for industrial greenhouse gas emissions. Under the 13 dark years of the previous Liberal government, when they were going to get it done, or they were just about to take some action that was going to turn Canada around in the commitments it had made....

In the last three years a lot has happened, and you've described that in your opening comments in a lot of detail, but there have been questions here from all three opposition members, critics, regarding the Turning the Corner plan.

Of course, our Turning the Corner plan began with the notice of intent to regulate in 2007, as you said. This is the updated document of March 2008, and I'll have a copy for each of them so they can get up to speed.

You've said that we are on track for the regulations to come into force, so again, congratulations on the good work in that respect. Previously the regulations that Canada had were voluntary. Again, under the Turning the Corner plan, we move from voluntary to mandatory.

You did touch on the change now in the world with the United States' change of presidency, with President Obama. Could you elaborate on the importance of having a coordinated way of fighting climate change?

Also, in light of the world economic crisis, are we staying committed to one of the toughest targets in the world--20% reduction by 2020? Are we staying committed to that?

9:45 a.m.

Conservative

Jim Prentice Conservative Calgary Centre-North, AB

Well I might just respond in a couple of ways, and I won't get into the 13 years of inaction. In terms of our approach in dealing with greenhouse gas emissions with our American neighbours, we need to focus on the source of emissions. That includes, first, the transportation sector. I think it's fair to say that President Obama has taken some steps there, and we should speak to what we are doing that's commensurate with those steps. Secondly, we need to deal with the emissions from industrial sources, and I will speak to that. Thirdly, there are other aspects of emissions that relate to all of us as consumers.

However, I think it's important to begin with the targets. You're quite right that the targets we have put forward as a Canadian government of minus 20% by 2020 are in fact more aggressive than the targets that have been put forward by President Obama. This is from a 2006 base. The objective, the level of ambition that the new President has spoken of, is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the United States to 1990 levels by 2020. If you do the math and convert it, it equates to something like minus 14, from a 2006 base. The Canadian and the American targets are similar. They're not identical. The Canadian targets are slightly more aggressive in the shorter term. In the longer term they're commensurate with one another, although at 2050 the American targets are expressed slightly more ambitiously.

Broadly speaking, we have similar targets. I think what is also important is that the principles that our government has espoused in dealing with this are virtually identical to the principles that President Obama has espoused.

First is the importance of balancing economic progress with our responsibility to be stewards of the environment.

Second is the importance of technological innovation. We are talking about essentially step changes in the technological basis of our society. Whether you're speaking of bringing on hydro projects or advancing carbon capture and storage or new generation nuclear, these are significant step changes in technology, so we need to make investments to have that happen.

Third is the long-term nature of this. This will not be accomplished overnight. There is real importance to proceeding very quickly, but to make the kinds of changes that we're talking about, we need a longer-term horizon. Everyone has agreed on that, increasingly.

Fourth is the importance of engaging all major emitters. There's an old saying that if you're going duck hunting, you go where the ducks are. If you're trying to deal with emissions, you're going to have to deal with all of the major economies that emit greenhouse gases. That includes the United States, China, India, Russia, and the so-called BRIC economies. The new President has spoken with clarity and determination about that and so have we.

Finally, the new President has indicated a change of American policy in that he will engage in a very constructive way in the international climate change process. We have similarly said that that's what we are committed to. In terms of our targets and principles, we are on a common footing. In terms of dealing with the transportation sector, one of the first executive orders that President Obama signed.... There were two orders, in fact. One was to direct the American EPA to proceed with the “35 mile per gallon by 2020” vehicle fuel consumption standard. The other was to allow California, essentially, to pursue the California standard.

In Canada we have been in front of this for some time. In January of last year we actually indicated that we would move to the stringent, dominant North American standard for vehicle fuel efficiency. We have been working with and frankly waiting for the U.S. administration to make choices in terms of when they would bring that into place. Now that we know where the new President is going, harmonization of our vehicle fuel consumption standards is not only doable but well under way.

In terms of our industrial emissions, we continue with the Turning the Corner plan. However, I think it is important, as I said earlier, to emphasize the complexity of this and the effects it has on competitiveness. When you talk about regulating the industrial sector, you're speaking of 350 Canadian facilities that emit significant volumes of carbon dioxide. As I recall, that is more than 100,000 tonnes. These are distributed across the country. They involve everything from steel manufacturing facilities to coal-burning electricity plants and certainly oil and gas facilities. It's everything we essentially do as part of our industrial structure.

The way in which these regulations are brought into law and the competitive effect they have, as between Canada and the United States, all require careful consideration. That's why we are seeking additional dollars in the supplementary estimates, to carry on with that work.

I would emphasize that what we are doing, as Canadians, is second to none. No one else has brought in a regulatory industrial framework of this nature.

9:50 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative James Bezan

Thank you, Minister. Your time is up.

Mr. Scarpaleggia, please kick us off on a five-minute round.

9:50 a.m.

Liberal

Francis Scarpaleggia Liberal Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

Thank you, Chair.

Welcome, Minister. I must humbly apologize. I didn't realize all this time that your government had been framed for an Obama victory.

But going back to the transit pass, I recall it being sold through heavy radio advertising before the last election. I don't recall it being sold as a gift to seniors and students; I recall it being sold as an environmental policy.

In terms of the $13 billion you're requesting for work on regulations on climate change, I think that's an admission that you missed your fall deadline to come out with climate change regulations--though I understand we needed to take time out for an election. But I digress.

In the fall of 2006, I introduced a motion to the House calling on the government to introduce a national water strategy. In its 2007 budget, the government paid lip service to the idea of creating a national water strategy, but then did nothing. In the 2007 throne speech that followed, the government again paid lip service to creating a national water strategy--still nothing. Then last spring I introduced a bill based on the work of the Munk Centre at the University of Toronto, calling for safety net legislation to prevent water exports, among other things. This idea was picked up in the fall 2008 throne speech.

Given that you still haven't come up with a national water strategy, why should we believe you will proceed with such a bill, and if you do proceed with it, that it will have any teeth?

9:50 a.m.

Conservative

Jim Prentice Conservative Calgary Centre-North, AB

First, I would compliment you on your involvement in the subject of water. I think it's extremely important. It's something we need to be world leaders on.

One of my first acts as Minister of the Environment was to ensure that we maintained the GEMS program in Canada, which is an international initiative we've been part of for many years and that has Canada in the forefront of water testing in other countries. There will be more said about that in the days ahead.

I don't agree that we are not proceeding as we need to on our national approach to water. I would advise that in the coming week there's a meeting of the Canadian ministers of the environment, and one of the agenda items will be a major initiative on waste water. For the first time we'll try to achieve a consensus amongst the provincial ministers on regulatory standards for waste water. This is something our country has not addressed for decades. It is an area where we need to work together, federally and provincially, to ensure that we have waste water standards. There's been some truly fine work done by officials on this subject, and I'm very hopeful about where it will go.

In terms of the record of our government, I think it stands on its own. The extensive investments that have been made in the Great Lakes, Lake Simcoe, Lake Winnipeg, the work that's being done under the Building Canada Fund to invest in water facilities--

9:50 a.m.

Liberal

Francis Scarpaleggia Liberal Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

Excuse me, Minister, I only have five minutes. May I continue?

9:55 a.m.

Conservative

Jim Prentice Conservative Calgary Centre-North, AB

Please.

9:55 a.m.

Liberal

Francis Scarpaleggia Liberal Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

I don't think that Canada's foremost water experts, whether we speak of Ralph Pentland or Frank Quinn, believe that the government has a national water strategy. As a matter of fact, a year ago, at a presentation here on Parliament Hill, Frank Quinn, who was a former Environment Canada public servant, said, “Nobody in Ottawa knows where water is any more”. That statement, to me, expresses the government's disarray on the issue.

On another point, I'd like to get to the idea of water infrastructure, because I think the more we reflect on this recession the more we realize that, as in every recession, certain industries are going to lead us out of it. I think, quite frankly, it's going to be the green industries. I think one of the industries that can do a lot of work is the water infrastructure industry, if you will, the filtration industry, the engineering firms.

There was a report that came out back in December that suggested that $1 billion invested in addressing the water infrastructure deficit in Canada would create 11,500 to 47,000 jobs. How much are we going to spend on water infrastructure in the next two years? How much is the federal government going to spend on water infrastructure in the next two years? I would posit that it's not nearly enough.

We all love hockey. It's good to build arenas, but arenas are not a global growth industry, whereas it's estimated that the global market size of the water industry is U.S. $360 billion and it's forecasted to rise to U.S. $1.6 trillion in 10 years. If you look at the market, the water portfolios are the ones that are outperforming the market. So why aren't we doing more to encourage this industry in Canada?

9:55 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative James Bezan

I'd appreciate it if you could keep your response brief because time has almost expired.

9:55 a.m.

Conservative

Jim Prentice Conservative Calgary Centre-North, AB

Thank you. I would just counsel you to withhold judgment on whether we're spending enough until you find out how much we're spending.

9:55 a.m.

Liberal

Francis Scarpaleggia Liberal Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

That's what I'm asking, how much?

9:55 a.m.

Conservative

Jim Prentice Conservative Calgary Centre-North, AB

The point is that we need to invest money particularly in waste water treatment in this country. That is what the Canadian environmental ministers will be speaking about next week. We have set $1 billion of green infrastructure dollars aside in this budget.

Quite apart from that, the Building Canada approach is the largest infrastructure build that our country has seen since the Second World War, and significant--

9:55 a.m.

Liberal

Francis Scarpaleggia Liberal Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

With all due respect, I don't think you want to go to the Building Canada fund.

9:55 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative James Bezan

We're going to move on to Mr. Braid for five minutes.

9:55 a.m.

Conservative

Peter Braid Conservative Kitchener—Waterloo, ON

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

Minister, thank you for your presence here this morning and for your leadership on this very important and complex file.

I'd like to spend my time speaking specifically to environmental initiatives and support for your department and for the environment that we see in the economic action plan, Budget 2009.

It's clear since the inception of our government in 2006 that the environment has been a clear, stated priority--the protection of the environment. Despite these challenging global economic times, as I read the economic action plan, that commitment to the environment remains strong. Although I have some specific questions about specific initiatives in the economic action plan, I wanted to ask if you could just start generally by speaking about support for the issue of the environment in the economic action plan.

9:55 a.m.

Conservative

Jim Prentice Conservative Calgary Centre-North, AB

Thank you.

9:55 a.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Mr. Chair, I have a point of order.

Are we not here discussing the supplementary estimates and were you not told to stick to that?

9:55 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative James Bezan

The estimates are deemed to have been ordered reported. As I announced, we are on Standing Order 108(2), which is fairly broad based, and also the minister's opening comments were quite broad.

9:55 a.m.

Conservative

Mark Warawa Conservative Langley, BC

Can I speak to that point of order?