Mr. Speaker, it is now 12.35 in the morning and it is a privilege to speak to the motion put forward by my colleague from Comox-Alberni. The motion says:
That, in the opinion of this House, the government should support the undertaking of a country-wide program of improving the treatment of municipal sewage to a minimum standard of at least that of primary treatment facilities.
The motion put forward is to improve sewage treatment facilities, part of what I might call need to haves rather than the like to haves, which are often put forward by the government in its infrastructure program.
This is not a western issue. It is a national issue. It is also an issue raised by the Liberals in their red book, an issue that now seems to have been put on the back burner.
I want to read the promise in the red book word for word. I encourage my colleagues from across the floor to listen closely. It states: "One of the country's biggest sources of water degradation is untreated municipal sewage, aggravated by decades of neglect of sewage and water treatment infrastructure".
This sounds very similar to the motion so I would assume its mover would have the full support of all the members on the government side on this one.
The lack of basic sewage treatment is a serious problem. According to the Sierra Legal Defence Fund report: "If the annual volume of untreated sewage were piled on the trans-Canada highway, all 7,800 kilometres of it, it would cover the road to a depth of nearly 9 metres from coast to coast".
Running on the boundary of my riding of New Westminster-Burnaby is the Fraser River. British Columbians realize that the Fraser is in serious jeopardy. Unfortunately most do not truly understand why it is in the condition that it is in. I am sure there are many answers, complex scientific ones, but certainly one answer is that it is how sewage is handled in and around the river.
Just last week the Fraser River Management Program issued a report card on the Fraser basin. Sewage treatment plants on the river were singled out as the biggest problem, receiving an f grade, a fail. Dumping of under treated sewage is benefiting no one and is endangering once abundant fish stocks.
The Outdoor Recreation Council declared that the Fraser River, which supports about a $300 million a year salmon fishery, is British Columbia's most endangered river.
We realize that the cost of upgrading or building new treatment plants is rather expensive. We also realize what our priorities are. Our priorities should always be for the well-being and health of Canadians.
A ribbon cutting ceremony for a new sewage treatment plant may not make for great photo opportunities but photo ops are not what will keep the country environmentally sustainable. We all know the Liberal government is more into photo ops than it is into environmental cleanups.
The government implemented its grand infrastructure programs soon after they were elected. They talked about funding going toward roads, sewers, bridges and water mains, except here is where some of the funding is actually going: $15 million for renovations to a coliseum; $21 million for a convention centre; $173 million for a trade centre; $50 million for an arts centre; $24 million for a tennis stadium; and almost $15 million for building a circus training facility.
This is only a portion of the list. I believe the list I just read will give an understanding of how wasteful this government has become. Among the legitimate projects there is also a lot of Liberal pork. These are misplaced priorities from misguided Liberalism.
Our motion clearly calls for the federal government to improve municipal sewage facilities to a minimum standard of at least primary treatment. With only three types of possible treatments available, this is the second from the bottom for effectiveness yet it would be far greater than some Canadian cities currently have. Some of them have nothing at all.
In Halifax, Nova Scotia the city dumps all of its raw sewage down the pipe into the ocean. That is 250 years of pumping untreated sewage right into the Halifax harbour. The same method is used in Victoria, British Columbia. In both places proponents hope that the cold tidal waters will be capable of carrying the waste out to sea. I believe both cities are realizing that there is only so much that the waters are able to neutralize.
So many promises have been made that people are having trouble keeping track of which level of government actually said what. For Halifax, the federal, provincial and municipal governments apparently earmarked $200 million to build a new treatment facility yet residents of Halifax are still pumping over 100 million litres of untreated sewage into the harbour each day. While Nova Scotia waits for its much needed facilities, Montrealers will be serving up aces in their new tennis complex and doing somersaults in their new circus tent, all part of infrastructure money.
This country's deficit and debt are ballooning larger every day. The federal government must be frugal on how it spends its money. My constituents have told me that when their bank accounts are low, they spend according to priority. They only purchase what is most necessary and they expect the government to do the same.
Like many of my constituents, Canada has basic necessities like education, health and the environment. When my own personal bank account is low, I do not go out and purchase a painting but when the federal government's bank account is low it goes out and builds an art gallery. Something just does not make sense here.
The Minister of the Environment talks of sustainable development but talk is insincere when the words are not put into action. British Columbia's Fraser River is the greatest salmon producing river in the world. People living along the Fraser have always had a close connection with the river, relying on it for water, food, transportation and livelihood. However this river system cannot be sustained if municipalities along the river are forced to release untreated sewage.
My colleague from Comox-Alberni is not proposing anything new with his motion. He is simply reminding the government of its commitments for sustainable development. I hope that the revenue minister as well as the member for Halifax are listening closely to this debate because Victoria and Halifax are the two Canadian cities that are dumping untreated sewage into our waters.
I note that the revenue minister is quite aware of the situation. In February 1993 he wrote a column in the Globe and Mail entitled:
The benefits of dumping sewage in the sea''. In the article he wrote:When the waste water leaves the pipe, it is immediately subjected to vast quantities of cold, fast moving sea water high in oxygen which would result in a biological, bacterial and chemical change''. Strangely enough, he does admit there is the possibility that something dangerous but unknown may be in the discharge water and might become a problem in the future.
Finally it should be noted that in 1989, 70 per cent of Victorians supported treatment for all waste water coming out of Victoria's capital regional district. I hope that the minister will have the courage to listen to his own electorate.
The government was so proud of the red book during the election. I often heard the Prime Minister tell Canadians that if his Liberal government was not following the red book promises to notify him and make him accountable, not that the red book was so great anyway.
Someone mentioned to me recently that the Deputy Prime Minister said a similar thing but added that if promises were not kept that they should give her a good swift kick. After the next election, the voters will not be able to kick the minister around any more for she will not be around.
The Reform Party through this motion is asking the government to live up to its basic promise and to support improvements to municipal sewage facilities. Should it fail to do so it will be conveying a message to Canadians that the red book was merely an election pamphlet which was long ago forgotten.
I urge the government to take care of the basics, to do at least the minimum and quickly act positively in response to the motion presented today.