Madam Speaker, today we start second reading of Bill C-94, an act to regulate the provincial trade in and the importation for commercial purposes of certain manganese-based substances. More specifically, Bill C-94 is aimed at banning the addition of a substance called MMT to unleaded gasoline in Canada. This bill would allow the Minister of the Environment to rid Canada of MMT, a substance which, I would like to remind you, has been added to our gasoline since 1977.
The minister is tabling this bill as the session is drawing to a close, and she appears eager to have it passed as quickly as possible. The minister's approach denotes a certain uneasiness in this matter, an uneasiness that may be due to pressure from automotive manufacturers who, coincidentally, are concentrated in her region. Far be it from me to think that the minister has decided to ban MMT in Canada for the sole purpose of addressing the automotive industry's concerns. I am convinced that she is acting in the public interest and that her first concern in making decisions is for the environment. At least, that is what we should expect from the minister.
However, in the case of MMT, the minister's intentions are not clear and she appears unwilling to disclose the real motivation behind this decision. Her arguments seem lame and questionable. The minister also acts in similar fashion in several other matters. What she is saying in this and other cases and the information she spreads are not likely to reassure the public, let alone environmental groups.
Her knowledge of the issues appears deficient and inadequate, robbing her of the credibility that is needed if not essential in such a position. This, incidentally, reminds me of the raising of the Irving Whale , the barge belonging to the Irving company, which has been lying at the bottom of the Gulf of St. Lawrence since 1970 with 3,100 tonnes of bunker C fuel oil on board. In this matter, the minister has said all kinds of things on how the barge will be removed. Recently, the minister and her press secretary even came up with their own raising technique, which is not mentioned anywhere in the bidding documents.
I listened to a recording of an interview with the minister on this subject on CBGA, a CBC radio station in the Magdalen Islands. What I heard was utterly ludicrous. Informed people must have shuddered when they heard the minister talk about using something like a rubber dinghy, a sort of enormous condom to enclose the barge 200 feet under water. That is totally ridiculous. Who will tell the minister to stop saying the first thing that comes to mind? Who will tell the minister to familiar-
ize herself with the issues, to look at them before spewing out incorrect information? Who from the cabinet or her department will ask the minister to be more careful in her rhetorical outbursts which are so nefarious for the environment?
I will now close my comments on the Irving Whale with my sincere wishes that its salvaging, which will take place this summer, will not turn into an ecological catastrophe. The devastating effects would be felt for years to come and, by and large, the minister would be held personally responsible. There are similarities between the Irving Whale, the MMT issue and many others. The links between all of these cases and decisions are haste and a lackadaisical approach.
Add to that a rather murky transparency and a lack of will to provide pertinent information, and we find ourselves in very worrisome situations and we find that the Minister of the Environment is increasingly challenged by specialists in the field.
Judging from the minister's actions, one would almost conclude that she is in a leadership race and that she is feeling ignored by the media. One would almost believe that she is suddenly suffering from a lack of visibility and that it was absolutely necessary for her to present us with something: statements from the minister, bills and new policies unexpectedly introduced in the House with no rhyme or reason. They are presented to us piecemeal with no real indication of any will on the part of the minister to draw up a game plan or to create a cohesive environmental policy.
Why is the minister acting this way? Why does she always want to introduce initiatives as if she were pulling a rabbit out of a hat? The answer is simple: the environment is not on the Liberals' list of priorities. The evidence is clear. Since the Grits came to power, important environmental issues have not been dealt with. The promises in the red bible have been thrown out in the garbage, hardly appropriate in this case.
In fact, this comes as no surprise, since the whole red bible has been shelved. The abdication of responsibility is deplorable. The Liberals, starting with the Deputy Prime Minister, have not done much to improve, preserve and protect our environment.
However, some hon. members opposite are very concerned about the environment. We know them well. The hon. member for Davenport, himself a former minister of the environment; the hon. member for York-Simcoe; and the Quebec member for Lachine-Lac-Saint-Louis, former minister of PCBs in Quebec, are all great environmentalists. Like us, they must be aware of their government's abdication of its responsibilities. But what can they do if their hands are tied and they do not have the ear of the minister and the cabinet?
Yes, the minister did shout right and left, and she did spout some high sounding ideas here and there. The minister even went so far as to believe and to say out loud that Canada was a world leader on environmental issues. Now that was rather unfortunate, because when we consider the Liberals' record in this area, it is clear all this is just window dressing. The minister creates a diversion to camouflage the government's lack of commitment.
For instance, the Sierra Club published its environmental report card at the beginning of this month. The result: The minister got a B+, the threesome consisting of the ministers of Foreign Affairs, Finance and Industry got an F, for failing, and finally, the Prime Minister got a D with a reprimand that he had failed to instruct his cabinet to achieve the red book's objective to reduce greenhouse gases 20 per cent by the year 2005.
All this confirms what we in the Bloc have maintained since the very beginning, which is that the Liberals are all talk but no action. The cabinet's strategy consists merely in putting the minister on stage to make a lot of high sounding promises. The cabinet has no compunction in sacrificing the minister and, what is worse, the environment as well.
The minister should feel somewhat embarrassed about playing this role at the behest of cabinet. In playing this role, which suits her very well given her verbal facility-she might be called a motor mouth-, the minister is losing a certain credibility, however.
In addition, however, given the rather mixed results in environmental matters, it is clear the minister is no cabinet heavy weight. The ministers who got an "F" from the Sierra Club are the uncontested leaders establishing the environmental agenda. The environmental cause is certainly not advanced by those with the lowest mark.
This inaction and lack of environmental will leads in the end to trivialities, essentially no results. It started off well enough with actions being chosen that required the government itself to carry out internal measures, if I can put it that way, but we have seen no external measures, which would have greater benefit.
Our government therefore shows little interest in the environment and lacks an overall vision and policy. We have a government and a minister that can act only within the system and, on a few occasions, outside it, as in the case of the bill before us today.
The Liberals are favouring a piecemeal environment policy, which is a definite step backwards and a shameful reduction on their part. The best example of their throwing in the towel is undoubtedly their dropping the green plan. This plan, which was introduced in 1990, was an overall action plan. It was spearheaded by the Department of the Environment, which was responsible for various aspects of its implementation, and inspired by an environmental philosophy. The dropping of this plan represents an unprecedented withdrawal. We are going back many years because of the lack of sensitivity and will on the part of decision makers who deal with the environment as if it were a fashionable issue. Polls reveal that the environment is no longer a hot topic. Decision makers react stupidly, putting this issue on the back burner and withdrawing from initiatives already under way.
By dropping the Green Plan, they are definitely saying no to a co-ordinated approach. The minister is replacing a coherent plan, which was spearheaded by a department with a specific budget, by a system which leaves every department free to do what it wants. It is as if someone had decided to scatter pieces from a puzzle all over the place. There would no longer be any relationship between them, and the final objective would become unattainable. This is what the government is doing now, it is dividing up the environment, much to its detriment.
I will remind you that the Green Plan, for which the initial budget was supposed to be around $3.5 billion over five years, never amounted to more than $800 million. This is far short of the initial goal. Those responsible for backing away from this ecological commitment are the people on the other side and the Conservatives who preceded them. The ministers, whether blue or red, did not have the will to pursue this innovative plan, to modify it and to perfect it, to make it responsive to the needs of the environment. Therefore, the budget melted like new snow in May, without anybody paying any attention. What a pity. What irresponsibility and lack of respect towards our environment. Sincerely, I do not believe that this is the way to proceed if we want to leave our children a sound and natural environment capable of answering their needs. The nice sounding principles of sustainable development, biodiversity, and ecosystemic approach people use when they talk about environment, are far from reaching the decision makers and therefore very far from having a chance of being implemented.
The bill we are considering today deals with something that will take place outside of government. With this bill, the government will be able to prohibit the importation and interprovincial trade of certain substances containing manganese. The first targeted product is MMT, a chemical added to unleaded gasoline to increase its octane rating. For a start, the bill raises a number of questions as to its appropriateness and timing.
Let us remember that on April 5 of this year, the Minister of the Environment announced in a press release her intention of introducing this bill as soon as possible. Indeed, it received first reading on May 19 of this year. In her press release, the minister said and I quote: "This initiative will allow Canadians to continue to enjoy the benefits of technical advances in the area of car emission control, and to receive a protection equal to the one received by citizens in the United States".
With this bill, it is obvious that the minister is specifically responding to auto makers who claim that MMT additive clogs up the pollution control equipment. And to bring more pressure to bear, auto makers said that if MMT was not banned, it could cost $3,000 more to buy a car, warranties could be reduced and the pollution control system could even be disconnected. We might see in this some sort of blackmailing by the industry but, according to the minister, it seems to be serious.
The Minister of the Environment then decides to take this prohibiting measure, not because of the polluting or toxic effects of MMT, but because of its effects on an anti-pollution system that will be incorporated into cars in 1996.
The proof that MMT in itself is not recognized as a toxic or dangerous product is that the minister cannot regulate this product under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, the CEPA, which applies specifically to toxic products. So, she has no other alternative than to pass separate legislation.
In her press release of April 5, the minister indicated that this decision was taken after almost two years of discussions with the petroleum and automobile industries. We could question the relevance and value of these discussions, since the minister told the parties at the outset that failure to reach an agreement would result in legislation to ban MMT.
By disclosing this intention, did the minister not introduce a significant bias in the discussions? Had she not just told the automotive industry: It is not necessary to discuss everything at length, since I already support you and intend to introduce a bill. The minister showed her clear bias in favour of the automotive industry, which wants to get rid of MMT and all other additives. In that regard, I wonder what will happen to ethanol, a star additive for which the government has just launched a $70 million investment program.
If the automotive industry does not want any additives, why does the government want to develop this product? Is there not a flagrant inconsistency in the decision to ban an additive and the intention of developing a different one, when the automotive industry does not want any additives? Who can assure us that the automotive industry will not soon ask the government to ban
ethanol because of its negative effects on car parts and equipment? I think that prudence is called for in the development of ethanol.
Ethyl, the maker of this additive, has responded to the automotive industry's arguments on MMT with its own arguments, which seem quite valid. Let us have a look at them.
Removing MMT from gasoline would aggravate the urban smog problem by increasing nitrogen dioxide emissions by 20 per cent. According to Health Canada studies, MMT presents no notable danger to human health. Independent lab tests show that, contrary to statements made by auto industry officials, the MMT used in Canada is perfectly compatible with the new anti-pollution devices, including the OBD-II diagnostic system.
Again, according to Ethyl, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is about to reintroduce MMT in that country, following a decision made on April 14, 1995, by the U.S. Court of Appeal for the district of Columbia, which instructed the American agency to lift the MMT ban and allow its use in lead-free gasoline. The use of MMT at the refining stage results in fewer emissions of some pollutants. Replacing MMT will cost refineries about $100 million in capital costs, as well as tens of millions in operating costs.
These are the arguments put forth by the producer of MMT and the oil industry. Given all this, it is not easy to make a decision in favour of one party or the other. The arguments used by both sides seem valid. However, they are also hard to evaluate and verify.
These arguments give rise to a series of questions, and the answers to these questions are not obvious. This is why Bill C-94 generates so much ambivalence and reservations.
The first question we must ask ourselves, and this is very important, is whether or not the automobile industry will indeed go ahead and increase the cost of cars, reduce the guarantees provided, and disconnect the monitoring system and other anti-pollution devices as early as August 1996, if MMT is not removed from lead-free gas.
You can imagine the harmful effects of such a decision on Canadian consumers. That possibility is based on the position of auto manufacturers, who feel that the MMT clogs their systems and makes them less efficient. This malfunctioning of the anti-pollution systems is said to result in more pollutants being released, thus affecting air quality.
This is certainly not what we hope for, after making encouraging progress regarding exhaust emissions. According to a recent study sponsored by the Canadian Automobile Association, the new emission standards helped to significantly improve air quality. This study also showed that, over a distance of 1 kilometre, a 1970 car caused more pollution than twenty 1995 cars.
The credit for part of the progress made must go to the automotive industry. Through R and D, it has improved its pollution control devices. The industry knows everything there is to know about the devices installed on their products. So, if it tells us that MMT is bad for its systems, then, we must certainly agree with them or at least give them the benefit of the doubt.
But there is a snag. Ethyl Corporation indicates that some independent tests performed on cars have shown that MMT is not harmful to pollution control devices, despite what the automotive industry has said.
In fact, the Environmental Protection Agency in the United States has recognized that the automobile industry's concerns over the fouling of the devices were groundless. So, what should we make of the allegations made by the motor vehicle manufacturers? To the question, does MMT make the pollution control devices defective, the answer, Madam Speaker, is not that obvious.
We should also ask ourselves the following question. Is MMT a pollutant in itself and will its elimination from gasoline sold in Canada increase smog in urban areas, as the Ethyl Corporation would have us believe? First of all, according to a Health Canada study, dated December 6, 1994, MMT does not have any adverse health effect. Second, experts say that there is no evidence that the elimination of MMT from gasoline would increase urban smog. It seems that, in Canada, conditions contributing to urban smog, including sunshine and temperature, are not combined often enough for the elimination of MMT to cause an increase in this phenomenon.
According to Ethyl, MMT reduces by 20 per cent nitrous oxide emissions that contribute to the formation of smog. But here, in Canada, it is not clear that increased nitrous oxide emissions meet the necessary conditions to contribute to the formation of urban smog.
If MMT is so effective in reducing smog, why is it banned in large American cities where smog is much more of a problem than in Canadian cities? I think we should ask ourselves this question. Why would the United States ban a product that would be beneficial?
On the issue of increased nitrous oxide emissions, it seems that, thanks to a more sophisticated system, 1996 car models will help further reduce exhaust gas emissions, which, according to some people, would compensate largely for the increased
nitrous oxide emissions caused by the elimination of MMT, but this has yet to be proven.
It must be noted that all these arguments are put forward by the concerned parties. Therefore, it is not easy to make a fair evaluation of them since it is in the best interest of the parties to present them to us in a favourable light.
I mentioned earlier that urban smog is not a problem in Canadian cities, but the temperatures we have had these past few days certainly prove me wrong. Because of the heat wave, there has been a smog advisory in effect in Toronto for the last two days. The Montreal area has also been suffering from an increase in air pollution. The present situation in these two large cities is certainly food for thought.
If it were true that MMT reduces nitrous oxide emissions by 20 per cent, what would be the air pollution level in these large cities if this additive was not present in gasoline?
If Ethyl's argument turns out to be right, can we knowingly and legally allow the quality of the air we breathe to be adversely affected? Another important question is whether the Environmental Protection Agency is going to reintroduce MMT into gasoline in the United States in the very near future, as Ethyl claims? Preliminary indications are that the EPA may indeed allow MMT back on the market. In fact, the United States court of appeal for the District of Columbia has issued a mandate ordering the EPA to grant a waiver permitting the use of MMT.
However, certain sources tell us that concrete action is still far off and that, for a number of years now, Ethyl has been returning regularly to the charge with the EPA. Until now, Ethyl's demands were always turned down. This time, however, it seems that the chances are much better. Ethyl conducted a battery of tests on a significant number of automobiles and met the EPA requirements. According to Ethyl, the tests carried out prove that MMT does not clog the spark plugs, catalytic converters, or exhaust gas oxygen probes, nor is it dangerous to public health. It will be interesting to see where our neighbours to the south go with this issue.
The impact on the petroleum industry raises another important question. According to this industry, removing MMT from their unleaded gas will result in relatively high conversion costs. Furthermore, the industry claims that MMT is a good additive which is easily mixed with gas and is making no bones about its support for the additive.
Therefore, if we do away with MMT, what kind of additive will take its place? This is another interesting avenue of inquiry to consider. If we drop MMT, a very good additive according to the oil industry, we will have to replace it with something else. Currently, it appears that the Liberal government favours ethanol as the replacement. We know, in fact, that a big plant is being built in Chatham, in southern Ontario. This plant, which will be built in two phases at a cost of $270 million, would have a production capacity of 300 million litres of ethanol from corn annually.
It would appear that this construction project is just waiting for the go ahead from Treasury Board. An article which appeared in the London Free Press on June 14 clearly said the following: ``The paperwork sealing the federal government's ethanol policy, essential for the construction of a massive ethanol plant here, is expected to be signed imminently''.
There you have it. The ethanol plant in Chatham is waiting for federal assistance. But is this plant which will produce ethanol, an additive, connected in any way to the bill prohibiting MMT, another additive? Is the government favouring ethanol produced from corn grown in Ontario, the very red Liberal province in this Parliament? Please note that producing ethanol from corn is financially and ecologically costly. The government is cutting taxes associated with ethanol and is considerably reducing the production capacity of our land, all the while increasing pollution, given the fertilizers and pesticides used to grow corn. It is therefore most desirable that the Liberals make the right choice when opting for ethanol.
After thoroughly analyzing all of the arguments regarding MMT and all of the related issues, it is clear that we have to shed more light on the whole issue. I firmly believe that all hon. members who are evaluating this bill need more information, more details from all of the parties concerned and also from all concerned parties who have no stake in the issue. We would then be in a better position to weigh the pros and the cons. At this stage in the debate, despite everything, we look favourably upon this bill. However, we have many serious reservations which will have to be laid to rest when the bill is studied in committee.
In concluding, I would like to add, after having spoken to the hon. member for Davenport, that it is imperative that the chairman of the committee, assisted by his clerk make every effort to hear as many witnesses as possible, whether they are for or against the bill, and to give us enough time with them so that we can really find out what the best solution is from the environmental point of view.
Should we use MMT? Should we ban MMT? Should we use ethanol? Should we concentrate on another product? We need clarification. I ask that we be given enough time to meet all the witnesses concerned.
From what I have heard, it seems we will proceed with third reading very soon. I do not think we will be ready to start third reading unless we have shed some light on these issues and until we are really convinced that banning MMT in Canada-the United States may do so six months from now-is the right decision and that we are not merely putting the oil companies or
other businesses to additional expense just to pass a bill that looks good to the public.