Madam Speaker, this morning I am releasing for consultation a discussion paper outlining a proposed Canadian policy for the management of toxic substances.
The policy proposes that Canada introduce the most advanced toxic substances strategy in the world. It would be the leading approach taken by any nation. The document is based on the most up to date international scientific findings and is consistent with the conclusions recently reached by the world's leading scientific experts at a meeting of the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry.
Although the document I am tabling today contains some very complex information, the objectives of the policy document are quite straightforward. We want to eliminate from the environment, as completely as possible, all substances that are the result of human activity, take a long time to break down in the environment, accumulate in living organisms and are toxic.
The bottom line is that the Canadian government wants to see no measurable release of toxic substances into the environment. We want to clean up what is there now and we want our international partners to do the same.
In the case of all other substances that meet only one or more of these criteria, we propose to put in place a system for the integrated management of their life cycles.
We propose to take a leading edge approach to toxics, those that are currently being used in Canada and those that may be introduced in the future.
If we cannot find ways to prevent toxics from being released into the environment, we intend to take steps to prevent their manufacture and use.
The new policy involves a principle of reverse onus. It is a very simple principle, a principle that applies now when we deal with issues like medication. It basically means that the onus is on industry to satisfy Canadians that a substance is safe rather than vice versa.
When a substance is targeted for virtual elimination, the onus will be on industry to prove that it will achieve no measurable release into the environment.
According to our proposal, the most hazardous toxics should not be allowed in the environment at all, and management of any other substance that causes problems should be subject to the strictest possible controls.
The policy would provide a clear framework for all federal laws, regulations, policies and programs dealing with toxics.
In the coming weeks, our government will consult all the provinces and territories, business sectors and environmental groups on the subject of the process and about any improvements they would like to see in the policy and the discussion paper. We want to find out what Canadians think by November 30, because time is of the essence where the health of Canadians is concerned.
I want to make it clear that our ultimate goal is to have a national policy on toxic substances that is the best in the world. We need a healthy environment, both for our economic well-being and our personal well-being. We must concentrate on preventing environmental damage instead of taking action once the damage is done. More efficient management of toxics means that the federal government must take a militant approach.
In the red book we said:
Canada needs a new approach that focuses on preventing pollution at source. Timetables must be set for the phasing out all use of the most persistent toxic substances. Manufacturing innovations are needed to avoid the use or creation of pollutants in the first place; for example, through raw material substitution or closed-loop processes that recycle chemicals within the plant. There is no alternative if Canadians wish to stop long-term toxic pollutants from entering our air, soil, and water.
A new policy that will be the focus of Canada's position on toxic substances in our negotiations with the rest of the world. We want Canada to lead the way in a movement for international action.
The simple reality is that Canada is open to the world on the Arctic, the Pacific and the Atlantic. We cannot solve our toxic problem alone. We must encourage our American neighbours and indeed the whole world to clean up their act. Airborne toxics do not respect borders. The milk of nursing mothers in Inuit communities that have never been touched by industrialization is contaminated by toxins used literally thousands of kilometres away. Toxics dumped in the sea do not respect borders.
I had a meeting earlier this week with Canadian and U.S. members on the International Joint Commission who advised me that when we move to a policy of zero discharge in Lake Superior, which should be in the not too distant future, that lake will still suffer from levels of toxicity up to 25 per cent because of airborne toxins that come from countries around the world.
If we are to protect Canada and Canadians we need local action. We need global action. We need a global agreement. We will only be in a position to reach that agreement if Canada leads from a position of strength. If we have the best policy in the world, if we clean up our own toxic act, we will be able to encourage other countries to follow suit.
Canada must take the lead to establish its position to influence the international agenda on the reduction and virtual elimination of toxins. To that end we intend to host an international conference on airborne toxins in Vancouver. We hope, along with other countries, to pull together an international agenda for joint action on the reduction and virtual elimination of toxins. We need to seize that opportunity to present a model program to the world.
The proposed policy would control the entry of toxic substances into Canada from sources outside our country through commerce and long range transport. If we can move our country ahead in managing toxics we can be at the vanguard of new environmental technologies, new green jobs and new opportunities. Sooner or later the world will move to control toxic substances, and we want Canadians to be in the best position to capture the new markets for green alternatives.
Within the next few weeks, I will be announcing new environmental initiatives to be taken by the government.
I hope, whatever other disagreements we may have, that all members of Parliament will agree on the importance of moving forward on our country's environmental agenda.
All members of Parliament must agree on the importance of moving forward on the country's environmental agenda. I think we all agree that we need to take very serious action to deal with toxic substances that are potentially a poison to our children.
Some of the proposals in the discussion paper may seem harsh, but we really must stop poisoning ourselves, our children and our world.
I know the 60-day time frame is a tight one. I also know that the time to end toxic substances is rapidly running out. That is why I look forward to not only the discussion but the resolution of the toughest toxics policy in the world.