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

November 15th, 2016 / 4:25 p.m.

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

Thank you, Madam Chair, and thank you to the committee for the invitation to appear here today to contribute to its study of Bill C-238, the national strategy for safe disposal of lamps containing mercury act. Thank you to Mr. Fisher for bringing forward this bill.

Before focusing on Bill C-238, I would like to provide a brief overview of how mercury is currently managed in Canada, as it may be helpful context to your study.

As you are likely aware, and as Mr. Fisher has pointed out, mercury is a potent neurotoxin that poses a risk to Canadian ecosystems and human health. Although mercury occurs naturally in the environment, it is also released as a result of human activities, such as the combustion of coal and the use and disposal of consumer products such as lamps.

Because of the dangers posed by mercury to the environment and human health, mercury is listed as a toxic substance under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999, or CEPA.

In 2010, Environment Canada, along with Health Canada, released “Risk Management Strategy for Mercury”, and I believe a copy was provided to the committee. The strategy provides a comprehensive description of the Government of Canada's plans and progress in managing the risks associated with mercury. One federal action outlined in the strategy that may be of particular interest to you is the promulgation of the products containing mercury regulations, which came into force about a year ago, in November 2015. These regulations prohibit the manufacture and import of products containing mercury or any of its compounds, with some exceptions for essential products that have no technically or economically viable alternatives. In the case of lamps, the regulations set mercury content limits for fluorescent and other types of lamps and require labels to inform consumers about the presence of mercury, as well as safe handling procedures and options available for the end-of-life management of these products.

In addition to the broad range of domestic measures included in the risk management strategy, the need for global action on mercury was also highlighted. Since 2010, Canada has been active in the international negotiations for the Minamata convention on mercury, which our government signed in 2013 and recently tabled in Parliament. Once the necessary compliance requirements are in place, the government will be in a position to ratify the Minamata Convention on Mercury.

I will now turn to Bill C-238 and how it would contribute to the government's ongoing efforts to address mercury.

The bill addresses one source of mercury pollution: lamps. Mercury is an essential component in some energy-efficient lamps, such as fluorescent tubes and light bulbs. These lamps contain a small amount of mercury, which may be released when the lamps break or are improperly disposed of as regular garbage.

There are four aspects of the bill that I want to mention specifically.

First, the bill speaks of “safe disposal”. In the waste-management context, the term “disposal” often means final disposal in a landfill or incineration. However, the environmentally sound management of lamps at end of life includes a range of activities, such as collection, transportation, processing, and recycling, as well as final disposal. I note that the discussion of the bill in the House of Commons, as well as the remarks made by Mr. Fisher today, seems to acknowledge that the national strategy is intended to cover the full range of these activities to ensure the environmentally sound management of these lamps at end of life.

Second, the bill would require the Minister of Environment and Climate Change to develop and implement a national strategy for the safe disposal of lamps containing mercury in co-operation with representatives of provincial and territorial governments. It is important to keep in mind that the jurisdiction over the protection of the environment, including matters related to waste management, is shared among different levels of government in Canada. Other governments, including provincial, territorial, and municipal, have an important role to play in the management of lamps containing mercury. Therefore, a national plan of this kind would build on the existing areas of responsibility and the respective strengths of the various government levels in order to effectively address gaps and make timely progress on this issue.

Third, the bill would require the minister to engage with environmental groups and industry in developing and implementing the national strategy. However, consultations with a range of other interested parties, including indigenous groups, would also be important in order to create an effective national strategy, as the protection of the environment is a responsibility shared among all Canadians.

Fourth, Bill C-238 sets out three elements that a national strategy must include, in paragraphs 2(a) through 2(c). Our experience working with our provincial and territorial partners suggests that flexibility is important when developing national approaches to issues that are of shared jurisdiction, in order to accommodate existing initiatives.

At this point, allow me to provide you with a very brief overview of some related initiatives currently under way.

On April 8, 2016, Environment and Climate Change Canada published the proposed code of practice for the environmentally sound management of end-of-life lamps containing mercury, for public comment. The code is intended to address reducing mercury releases and emissions to the environment from these lamps, and also includes options for diverting used lamps from landfill and managing them in remote and northern areas. We are currently working to finalize the code of practice for publication later this year.

It's important to note that all provinces and the federal government have committed to implementing the Canada-wide action plan on extended producer responsibility. This plan, approved by the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment in 2009, aims to divert products from landfill and increase the recycling of a broad suite of products, including mercury lamps. One important aspect of extended producer responsibility programs is the enhanced financial responsibility that manufacturers and importers in the management of waste would assume. As a result, all provinces now have in place the necessary authorities to implement programs, and work continues to explore options for northern territories. Four provinces have implemented specific mandatory programs to collect and recycle mercury lamps, and as Mr. Fisher noted, those are British Columbia, Manitoba, Quebec, and Prince Edward Island.

Although a number of initiatives to address lamps that contain mercury are already under way in Canada, co-operation among all levels of government will promote a consistent nationwide approach to the safe and environmentally sound disposal of lamps containing mercury.

Thank you again for inviting me to appear today. I would be pleased to respond to your questions.

4:30 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Deb Schulte

Thank you very much, Ms. Poter.

The first one up to ask questions is Mr. Amos.

4:30 p.m.

Liberal

William Amos Liberal Pontiac, QC

Thank you, Ms. Poter. I appreciate the testimony. I appreciate you being here today. It's a privilege to have the opportunity to ask questions.

Is Environment Canada supportive of this bill?

4:30 p.m.

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

Virginia Poter

I'm here to provide facts and context. I am not representing a position. A policy approach comes from the elected officials.

4:30 p.m.

Liberal

William Amos Liberal Pontiac, QC

Thank you. I understand that.

Does this bill mesh well with existing initiatives?

4:30 p.m.

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

Virginia Poter

I think it might be helpful to provide a bit of context around what we see as current gaps today, and how a strategy might help fill those gaps. As was noted, there is extended producer responsibility in four jurisdictions in Canada, and there are other voluntary take-back programs across the country as well. A strategy could look at how you would harmonize those types of requirements that currently are, perhaps, a bit different across jurisdictions.

4:30 p.m.

Liberal

William Amos Liberal Pontiac, QC

That's helpful, because the bill itself, I think, arguably could be improved by making specific reference to extended producer responsibility and the importance of ensuring harmonization. Would such a reference to federal, provincial, and territorial support for EPR be appropriate in the context of such legislation?

4:30 p.m.

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

Virginia Poter

The bill as written now, and with the amendments that I understand have been proposed to this committee, looks at how you would develop a strategy and who you would involve, taking advantage of what currently exists. To come up with an approach that is dictated from the start, I think, undermines, perhaps, a bit of the intent that it appears was put forward in this bill, which is to collectively develop a national strategy.

4:35 p.m.

Liberal

William Amos Liberal Pontiac, QC

I appreciate the deference to other jurisdictions' responsibilities as regards waste management. I understand the sensitivities in that regard. But is it not the case—and you indicated this in your speech—that in 2009, governments across the country signed on to EPR as a guiding principle? So that's already agreed upon. I'm trying to figure out if there would be anything controversial about making reference to this, for example, in a preambular statement. We're thinking, of course, of clause-by-clause in which amendments may be considered.

4:35 p.m.

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

Virginia Poter

I don't think it's my place to propose wording and amendments to the bill. I take your point that there was endorsement by provinces and territories through the Canada-wide action plan on extended producer responsibility back in 2009. There are other constituencies that Mr. Fisher has, I think, flagged in his bill, including other interested parties and other interested governments that might go beyond the provinces and territories that have already signed on to the Canada-wide action plan. That would be something for the committee to think about.

4:35 p.m.

Liberal

William Amos Liberal Pontiac, QC

Okay, thank you.

Just looking at the way this is drafted, you will note that after the short title it goes straight to the national strategy. There is no preambular section in this bill. Is it common for federal environmental statues to have preambles? Would it be common for an environmental statute to have preambular language?

4:35 p.m.

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

Virginia Poter

I don't think I'm an expert on that.

4:35 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Deb Schulte

I'm not sure it is appropriate to discuss how to craft a private member's bill.

4:35 p.m.

Liberal

William Amos Liberal Pontiac, QC

I'm not asking how to craft it, Chair. I'm simply asking if it is common, in her sphere of expertise, for legislation to have preambular statements. I don't think I'm asking for guidance on what preambular statements it should contain.

4:35 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Deb Schulte

I don't know if she has the background to give you an answer to that. She is not a lawyer or.... This is crafting legislation, right?

4:35 p.m.

Liberal

William Amos Liberal Pontiac, QC

Sure.

4:35 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Deb Schulte

That's not really your expertise, right? It's crafting legislation.

4:35 p.m.

Liberal

William Amos Liberal Pontiac, QC

I think a senior official can be presumed to understand a variety of environmental statutes within the line of her—

4:35 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Deb Schulte

Sure, but you're asking for an opinion on how to craft legislation.

4:35 p.m.

Liberal

William Amos Liberal Pontiac, QC

No, I'm not asking for an opinion. I just refuted that. I'm asking whether or not it's common in a statute. I'm not asking for an opinion on whether it should be in there or what it should contain. I'm just asking if it's common.

4:35 p.m.

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

Virginia Poter

I wouldn't profess to speak for all legislation across the government. There is quite a bit. I referenced the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, previously. I'm trying to remember, because it's a very large bill, but I believe it has a preambular section. I wouldn't want to go beyond that, so I can't comment properly.

4:35 p.m.

Liberal

William Amos Liberal Pontiac, QC

Okay. My follow-up question was about whether there are particular environmental principles that are typically contained in Canada's federal environmental statutes, but I won't go there just out of deference to that.

Chair, am I out of time?

4:35 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Deb Schulte

You are, actually. Sorry about that.

4:35 p.m.

Liberal

William Amos Liberal Pontiac, QC

I figured I was pretty close.

4:35 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Deb Schulte

Mr. Shields.