Evidence of meeting #35 for Environment and Sustainable Development in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was amendment.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Virginia Poter  Director General, Industrial Sectors, Chemicals and Waste Directorate, Department of the Environment
Olivier Champagne  Procedural Clerk

4:35 p.m.

Conservative

Martin Shields Conservative Bow River, AB

Thank you, Madam Chair.

Thank you to Mr. Fisher for bringing this bill today.

Thank you, Ms. Poter, for being with us today as an expert witness. I know you said that policy is not yours to make decisions on, but you referred to flexibility in multiple levels of government, so when you talked about recognizing different levels of government and how things are affected, that sort of got into it for me. That's why I want to ask you the question.

Mercury has been kicking around as a bad thing for a long time. As a high school kids, we used to steal it and put it in our pockets and take it home. That's what we did. The science teachers would go nuts when they didn't have any at the end of the year.

There is this sense of voluntary versus something.... In this piece here, we've taken out the “shall” and we have “may”. The word “must” is gone. There is no end mandate for something to be done. When there's legislation, in your world, that has a mandate versus being all voluntary and grassroots, what is the difference in end result? How long does it take? Is there a difference between having a mandate that says “in five years you will have something” from one level of government versus saying “we're going to work at this until we get something”?

4:40 p.m.

Director General, Industrial Sectors, Chemicals and Waste Directorate, Department of the Environment

Virginia Poter

That's a fairly broad question. I'll try my best to answer it.

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

Martin Shields Conservative Bow River, AB

Thank you. We've had great questions. What are we left with?

4:40 p.m.

Voices

Oh, oh!

4:40 p.m.

Director General, Industrial Sectors, Chemicals and Waste Directorate, Department of the Environment

Virginia Poter

With regard to flexibility, I was trying to indicate that when you're dealing with multiple levels of government, you need to understand how different parts of the country operate, There are different pressures, different economic profiles, and different types of industries operating on that land base, so that does change the context in which a particular region is thinking about how to best manage an issue.

The other thing I would say is that a principle in risk management under CEPA, but with other acts as well, for us at Environment and Climate Change Canada is to look at what we call the best placed act or the best approach. We think about the objective we are trying to achieve and then use the instrument that achieves that result with the lightest touch possible while still ensuring that we achieve our aim.

Voluntary instruments can be very effective, and sometimes regulations are less effective than you might assume. It always depends on the context. It depends on the type of risk you're trying to manage. The notion that's in the bill is that you develop a strategy and engage with the various interested governments, partners, and stakeholders to understand the issue and how best to manage it. Considering all of the activities involved in managing mercury at the end of life, I don't know it there's any one jurisdiction that has those completely nailed. It would be interesting to be able to pull from the best ideas from across the country.

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

Martin Shields Conservative Bow River, AB

You answered that very well, but I probably would quickly go to the other extreme. We all have a driver's licence test to pass, and we do that in every part of this country, because there's a risk if we don't. Mercury is a risk. There has to be a deadline to do something here, or I see it being out there too long.

If I have any more time, I'll give it to Jim.

4:40 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Deb Schulte

Yes, you have two minutes.

November 15th, 2016 / 4:40 p.m.

Conservative

Jim Eglinski Conservative Yellowhead, AB

I'd like to first thank Darren for bringing Bill C-238 forward. I do have some concerns as a former municipal mayor, as a councillor, and as a county councillor who looked after the dump situation we had. In a county, unlike a municipality, you may have 15 or 20 facilities that you need to consider. My concern is with the disposal of the mercury vapour lights. In my shop, I have five of the largest ones you can get. When I was buying them, I watched the guy say, “Oh, this one doesn't work”, and throw it in the garbage, where it smashed. I didn't want to hang around there very long. I grabbed the ones that did work and left.

I wonder if you can give me an example of another similar chemical that we have out there that is put into voluntary waste disposals, and tell me how those work. I'm wondering how we transport these things. The little farmer takes his mercury vapour lights over to the county dumpsite that's not occupied by anybody, but eventually somebody comes and moves the stuff. I wonder if you can think of any other examples, for other chemicals, of voluntary systems that work, or of compulsory systems, that do disposal through a dumpsite.

4:40 p.m.

Director General, Industrial Sectors, Chemicals and Waste Directorate, Department of the Environment

Virginia Poter

I'm not sure I have one top of mind. I'm thinking about lead batteries, but I honestly don't know enough to speak properly to it. I can't answer that question.

4:40 p.m.

Conservative

Jim Eglinski Conservative Yellowhead, AB

Is there legislation out there forcing people to dispose of these types of things in a set format that the public has to adhere to?

4:40 p.m.

Director General, Industrial Sectors, Chemicals and Waste Directorate, Department of the Environment

Virginia Poter

What might be helpful is to explain a bit of context around waste management and how the various levels of government interrelate in this fairly important issue.

The federal government has focused quite deliberately on the interprovincial and international movement of hazardous waste. We implement the Basel Convention, and we have a very strong permitting regime. As was mentioned by Mr. Fisher, the provinces and territories put in place regulations and other tools, and they monitor the operation of waste management facilities. The municipalities are the ones that are collecting the waste from homes, as well as from local businesses, and they're the ones that are overseeing the management of particular landfills. At the federal level, the best understanding we have is of the interprovincial and international movement of hazardous waste. We also engage with provincial and territorial partners through a task group under the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment, or CCME, looking at various waste issues. We contribute, or sometimes we'll lead on an issue, but there is very much an acknowledgement that the provinces and territories quite often are the ones that have a lot of that type of expertise, and they would have that type of information.

We could certainly follow up, if you were keen to understand that.

4:45 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Deb Schulte

Unfortunately, there's so much to learn here, but we are out of time on that question.

We now go over to Monsieur Choquette.

4:45 p.m.

NDP

François Choquette NDP Drummond, QC

Thank you very much.

Ms. Poter, thank you very much for being here and for sharing your expertise.

My question is similar to the one I already asked about the existing code of practice. We already have the Products Containing Mercury Regulations, of course, which took shape in November 2015, and now the code of practice will be finalized in 2016.

Would this strategy not be somewhat redundant? What more could it add to what is already in place?

4:45 p.m.

Director General, Industrial Sectors, Chemicals and Waste Directorate, Department of the Environment

Virginia Poter

Thank you for the question.

The code of practice that was published in a draft back in April of this year, and which we hope to finalize this year, provides an overview of best practices to a certain level across a number of particular areas of environmentally sound management of lamps at end of life. It is a voluntary tool kit that would be made available to jurisdictions. They could draw upon it to help inform, whether they are going down a path of regulation or whether they are putting in place programs, and it could be used in various educational materials.

Some of the waterfront has been covered there, but important gaps remain. As I mentioned earlier, we do have different approaches to extending producer responsibility across the country, as number one.

Another gap is in detailed guidance for industry and those facilities that are operating the waste management facilities and dealing with these hazardous materials.

Public education and outreach is another area where we think there is currently a gap.

As well, our northern and remote communities don't necessarily have much access to programs or to guidance, and that's taking into account the somewhat different circumstances they face, as compared to more urban centres in Canada.

As a starting point, those are some gaps we see despite the fact that the code of practice is being developed and despite the fact that there is activity under way by various jurisdictions.

Gaps remain. Mercury is a toxic substance, and the more we can do to take action, the less we expose the environment and human health to risk.

4:45 p.m.

NDP

François Choquette NDP Drummond, QC

Ms. Poter, what percentage of mercury pollution is from these lamps? I certainly do not want to minimize the environmental impact of mercury lamps. If you do not know, we will move on to another question.

4:45 p.m.

Director General, Industrial Sectors, Chemicals and Waste Directorate, Department of the Environment

Virginia Poter

I don't have the exact numbers, but I would say, given the work I've done on the Minamata Convention on Mercury, that the vast majority of air pollution from mercury comes from foreign sources. About 95% of deposition comes from Asia, the U.S., and other countries, and it is deposited quite often in our north. The contribution from the domestic use of products would be on a somewhat different order of magnitude.

We do know from one study that an expected 200 kilograms of mercury was released to the air from products, and our numbers showed 1,300 kilograms deposited in landfill sites.

4:50 p.m.

NDP

François Choquette NDP Drummond, QC

Why did I ask this question? As you know, most mercury pollution comes from cement plants and coal-fired power plants. What is the government doing about this currently? Is something being done to address mercury pollution? I understand the benefit of this bill and strategy, but, in real terms, it is just a drop in the bucket given the effort the government has to make to deal with the health hazard that mercury poses.

4:50 p.m.

Director General, Industrial Sectors, Chemicals and Waste Directorate, Department of the Environment

Virginia Poter

I would say that on sources of mercury to air from coal-fired electricity, regulations have been passed. The intent behind them was not about reducing mercury, but there's a strong co-benefit already being realized and continuing to be realized from the promulgation of those regulations.

I'm not the expert in those regulations. I don't have all the—

4:50 p.m.

NDP

François Choquette NDP Drummond, QC

What about cement plants?

4:50 p.m.

Director General, Industrial Sectors, Chemicals and Waste Directorate, Department of the Environment

Virginia Poter

I don't have ready facts for that, but we could certainly follow up.

4:50 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Deb Schulte

You have about 30 seconds, but we are—

4:50 p.m.

NDP

François Choquette NDP Drummond, QC

I will take these 30 seconds to say that the principle of extended producer responsibility is indeed extremely important. We often hear about the life cycle of a product, from cradle to grave, although it should really be from cradle to cradle. Resources are in fact limited and we should always reuse them rather than burying them.

Since this bill is going in this direction, we will continue working toward this end.

4:50 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Deb Schulte

Thank you very much.

Go ahead, Mr. Fisher.

4:50 p.m.

Liberal

Darren Fisher Liberal Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, NS

Thank you very much. I'm using Mr. Aldag's time, but I only need 30 to 40 seconds.

I missed it when you were speaking about the Minamata Convention. In 2013 we signed on, but we've never ratified it, and I missed what you said as to why. It's supposed to take place by 2020, and we're now closing on 2017.

Why haven't we ratified that? I know you said it, but I missed it.

4:50 p.m.

Director General, Industrial Sectors, Chemicals and Waste Directorate, Department of the Environment

Virginia Poter

Thank you for that question.

Whenever you sign on to a treaty in international law, before you can ratify the agreement, you must have all the implementing measures in place before you would be able to ratify it in Canadian law. Some other countries, perhaps, take a slightly different approach.

In this case, most of our implementing measures are in place. The treaty is quite thick and covers many different types of areas in which you must take action. We have one remaining action in train, but we just have one more regulation to finalize.