Thank you very much, Madam Chair and honourable MPs. It's a pleasure to be joining you here today.
It is now 30 years since the Progressive Conservatives under Prime Minister Mulroney pledged to introduce a comprehensive new environmental law for Canada. The Canadian Environmental Protection Act, in their words, was to be the world's toughest pollution legislation and include an environmental bill of rights for Canadians. Unfortunately, neither of those visions has come to pass, but I think they offer objectives that are still relevant to Canadians today: to have world-class legislation that protects human health and ecosystem health from pollution and toxic substances.
I am going to start with an overview of the problem we are trying to solve. Much of what I say today is drawn from my most recent book, called Cleaner, Greener, Healthier: A Prescription for Stronger Canadian Environmental Laws and Policies. If any members of the committee are interested, I am happy to provide complimentary copies of that book to you.
Let me start with the big picture. The environmental burden of disease in Canada, which is the proportion of premature deaths and illnesses caused by exposure to environmental hazards, is strikingly high. The best estimates of the number of premature mortalities in Canada every year range between 15,000 and 25,000, and we have millions of preventable illnesses caused by exposure to environmental hazards. The areas of greatest concern are probably cardiovascular and respiratory illnesses caused by exposure to air pollution, and cancer caused by a whole range of toxic substances from air pollution to asbestos, radon, and so on.
To make matters worse, this environmental burden of disease in Canada is not equitably distributed. There are vulnerable and marginalized populations that are currently bearing a disproportionate share of the burden of pollution. Indigenous people in Kitimat, B.C., Fort McKay, Alberta, and Sarnia, Ontario, are exposed to high levels of air pollution. Water contamination faces Grassy Narrows First Nation, and there is extensive pollution in the three northern territories.
It is not just indigenous peoples who bear the brunt of disproportionate pollution in Canada. A striking study revealed that one out of every four low-income Canadians lives within one kilometre of a major source of industrial air pollution, resulting in higher levels of hospitalization for heart disease and lung disease.
These are the problems we are trying to solve. The environmental burden of disease in Canada carries a major economic cost, ranging between $3 billion and $7 billion a year in direct health care costs, and between $3 billion and $8 billion a year in terms of lost productivity. When we try to put a dollar figure on the pain, suffering, and premature loss of life, we get a figure exceeding $70 billion.
What I hope to do in my 10 minutes with you today is lay out eight principled approaches that will enable you to strengthen CEPA, prevent these premature deaths, prevent these preventable and unnecessary illnesses, and save the Canadian economy billions of dollars.
With no further introduction, let me turn to my first recommendation.
Number one is the polluter pays principle, something that I'm sure all of us agree is an important principle of environmental law. Everyone, from economists on one side to environmentalists on the other, agrees that the most efficient way to implement the polluter pays principle is through pollution taxes, yet Canada ranks dead last among wealthy industrialized countries in the use of pollution taxes, according to a 2013 study from KPMG.
My book compares pollution taxes on fuel, energy, pesticides, air pollution, and water pollution and finds that in each of these categories, we lag behind our industrialized peers. My first recommendation for you is to amend CEPA to explicitly authorize the use of pollution taxes, which is not currently in the law, and to mandate the creation of a national pollutant tax, using the data provided to the Government of Canada through the National Pollutant Release Inventory. That's number one.
The second principle is substitution, which is a very simple principle. It just means we should eliminate and phase out toxic substances and replace them with safer alternatives. This was a principle pioneered by Swedish legislation in the 1990s. It's now the bedrock of the European Union's REACH chemicals legislation, but it is not found at all in CEPA.
My second recommendation is that CEPA should be amended to include the substitution principle, and that in part 5 of CEPA, every time we list a toxic substance, we should go through a rigorous assessment of the alternatives and mandatory substitution of safer substances.
My third principle that I would like to share with you is the precautionary principle. Again, the precautionary principle is already found in the Canadian Environmental Protection Act; it's the implementation that's been lacking. For example, when I compared drinking water rules and regulations across the OECD for 65 different chemical contaminants, Canada's voluntary guideline for those contaminants is weaker than that of another jurisdiction for over 80% of those chemical contaminants. It's not only that: most countries have legally binding standards for drinking water quality, whereas Canada only has voluntary guidelines.
To really ensure that we are applying the precautionary principle, I have two recommendations. One is that CEPA be amended to require the suspension of the manufacturing, import, export, or use of any toxic substance that has been banned by another OECD nation. The second is to use a hazards-based approach for substances of very high concern.
This is emulating the European Union. The assumption would be that we would prohibit those substances unless industry can provide evidence that they can be safely used and that there are no feasible alternatives.
My fourth principle is world-class standards. I believe all Canadians should be protected by world-class standards. In my book I review Canadian rules governing both indoor and outdoor air quality, drinking water, pesticides, and toxic substances, and we consistently lag behind other countries. I'll give you just one very important example: air pollution and air quality. Canada is the only western industrialized nation that does not have legally binding national standards for air quality. We have voluntary guidelines. We call them standards, but let me be clear: they are not.
Even our voluntary guidelines are much weaker than those in other countries. For example, Canada's guideline for sulphur dioxide is more than four times weaker than the corresponding American standard.
My recommendations in terms of world-class standards are that CEPA should be amended to require Canada to put in place standards that are as strong as or better than any other OECD nation and to mandate the development of national standards that are legally binding for air quality and for drinking water safety.
The fifth principle I came to talk to you today about is the right to live in a healthy environment. This was intended to be included in the original CEPA back in the 1980s. That didn't happen. The right to a healthy environment is a right to clear air, to safe drinking water, to a non-toxic environment, and to flourishing biodiversity. It's accompanied by procedural rights, including access to information, public participation in decision-making, and access to justice.
This right is found in the environmental laws of more than 100 countries around the world, such as France, Finland, Norway, Costa Rica, and Brazil. It's also found in the environmental laws of five Canadian jurisdictions: Ontario, Quebec, and the three northern territories. In the past two years, more than 150 Canadian municipalities have passed resolutions recognizing their citizens' right to a healthy environment and calling upon the federal government to do the same, so my fifth recommendation is that CEPA be amended in part 2 to include environmental rights and responsibilities.
For all of these recommendations I'm putting forward today, I will submit a much more detailed brief, because obviously I can't cover them in 10 minutes.
My sixth recommendation has to do with environmental justice. I mentioned at the outset that a disproportionate burden of pollution is being borne by vulnerable and marginalized populations. This principle needs to be added to part 2 of CEPA, and in all decisions and actions taken by the federal government, special consideration for these populations needs to be included.
Canada should also follow the urging of the World Health Organization, so CEPA should require a national environmental health equity assessment to be done on a regular basis, every five or 10 years, to define the scope of the problem and outline potential solutions.
My seventh recommendation has to do with the effective enforcement of CEPA. I can tell you that the enforcement of this law has been a disaster from the get-go. For my book I calculated that the first 23 years of enforcement under CEPA resulted in a smaller number of fines than one year of enforcement of an overdue book in the Toronto Public Library.
CEPA 1999 includes an environmental protection action that citizens can use to enforce CEPA. It has never been used.
My recommendation here is to provide citizens with the opportunity to bring civil actions to enforce the Canadian Environmental Protection Act. There are successful models in the United States and Australia that we can build on that will help ensure greater compliance with this very important law.