Mr. Speaker, I see that the Minister of the Environment has managed to influence the hon. member for Lachine-Lac-Saint-Louis. He speaks the same language as the Minister of the Environment. He now engages in petty politics.
It is with great interest that I rise tonight during private members' hour. Motion M-425 put forward by the hon. member for Comox-Alberni deserves a few minutes of consideration since it deals with an issue that affects us very closely, municipal sewage.
If I understand correctly, the purpose of the hon. member's motion is to prevent municipal sewage from being dumped back directly into the environment without undergoing at least primary treatment, as the motion says.
I, for one, am totally in favour of this. Sewage must undergo a minimum level of treatment. We no longer think that we can flush our sewage directly into bodies of water without negative consequences. We, unfortunately, did this for too long, and we must now pay for our carelessness and stupidity. Today, we must live with and clean up polluted lakes and rivers. Of course, at the time, we thought that our hydrographic system could absorb a certain amount of sewage. Perhaps it could, but did we have the right to do this?
Since then, however, the amount of sewage has grown by leaps and bounds, so to speak, and it now contains an increasing variety of products whose long term effects are totally unknown. At the present time, if we dumped all municipal sewage without treating it, our hydrographic system would be totally devastated and become unusable for no good reason.
Fortunately, some 30 years ago, I would say, we became aware of how big the problem is. The small facilities then in existence quickly became outdated and inefficient, even obsolete.
It is then that it was decided, in Quebec in particular, to modernize existing systems and build more sophisticated and efficient equipment that could absorb and treat large amounts of sewage.
Significant amounts were invested. Provincial funds and municipal taxes were spent through specific programs. Of
course, there were major flops. Some of the plants that cost a lot to build did not live up to expectations. But on the whole, we can say that it was a success.
Much work has been done and much money has been poured into this since, but we are still far from being able to draw our drinking water directly from our lakes and rivers or dip our big toe into certain waters that bathe our urban or semi-urban areas. In that regard, is it not somewhat paradoxical that we treat our sewage before discharging it and have to treat water again before using it?
That being said, it is clear that efforts are required in that area. So far, all the efforts have come from the provinces and municipalities.
Municipal sewage is therefore and undeniably an area of provincial and municipal jurisdiction. So, when the hon. member for Comox-Alberni talks about a country-wide program and a minimum standard, I cannot help but wonder and worry about what he wants exactly.
Does he want the federal government to come and impose, because of its spending power, standards in a jurisdiction clearly belonging to other levels of government? If that is what he wants, I think that he is mistaken. The federal government is certainly no guarantee of a better environment. As media reviews and environmental groups have been telling us regularly these days, the federal government is backing off in matters of the environment. It is cutting funding, abandoning the Green Plan, showing its inability and blatant lack of willingness to meet its own targets and failing to honour every one of its international undertakings under various treaties.
In the face of this abdication, I think that the federal government should stay in its backyard with respect to municipal sewage. Not in my backyard, as the popular saying goes. The government could nonetheless provide funding to carry out this great plan of discharging clean sewage into our waters. A resource envelope divided equitably among the provinces would certainly help achieve this objective. Do not get me wrong. All I am talking about is funds divided equitably, period.
If the federal government starts imposing standards, as it tends to do more and more, its attempt will have to be quashed. Finally, I wish to underline the good intention of the hon. member for Comox-Alberni. His motion reflects a genuine concern for the environment. Besides, the Reform Party's concern for the environment is made abundantly clear anytime we deal with an environmental issue. From Cape Breton, where we have the Sydney Tar Pond Projects, to the Standing Committee on the Environment and Sustainable Development, where the CEPA is being reviewed, the Reform Party contribution has shown exemplary concern for the environment.
In concluding, I should say that municipal sewage is only one element of the much larger pollution problem. It is essential that we immediately correct the problems and that we consider very seriously all the other sources of pollutants. If we do not act now, the condition of our planet will be such that in the future our children and grandchildren will not be able to survive. I would like to propose an amendment on behalf of the Bloc Quebecois to the motion of the hon. member for Comox-Alberni. I move, seconded by the hon. member for Hochelaga-Maisonneuve:
That Motion M-425 be amended by adding, at line 2, after the words "a country-wide program" the following: "with opting out provision and full financial compensation for all provinces".