Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to speak on this bill, which is being read for the third time. We are debating Bill C-29, an Act to regulate interprovincial trade in and the importation for commercial purposes of certain manganese-based substances.
The main product affected by this bill is a fuel additive called MMT, which has been in use since 1976 to increase the octane rating in almost all unleaded gasoline. The Canadian General Standards Board has set the maximum quantity at 18 milligrams of manganese per litre.
I am not a chemist, but I think it is appropriate and legitimate for each and every one of us to wonder about the ongoing battle between two large industries, the oil industry and the auto industry, and about the nature and the effects of the products these industries are manufacturing and marketing. Often, catastrophes happen because of a lack of vigilance.
In my riding alone, we are still dealing with the problems of the lagoons in Mercier which were contaminated by stored toxic waste and with the Chateauguay River which was contaminated by chemical fertilizers.
The Bloc Quebecois was in favour of this bill at the second reading stage. This was to allow the government to proceed with a more thorough study of its bill. However, it did not take advantage of this opportunity. It is trying to ban a substance without demonstrating that this is a necessary and reasonable solution to a real problem. We are not convinced at all that it is right. Thus, the Bloc Quebecois is forced to oppose this bill.
We consider that the fundamental reasons of this bill remain obscure. The government and the industry suspect the manganese-based substances damage automobile anti-pollution systems. But nothing proves this beyond a reasonable doubt. Independent tests could not prove that MMT has a negative effect.
Here is what was concluded from a test program carried out by the EPA, the Environmental Protection Agency, in the United States:
As for the arguments put forward by the American Automobile Manufacturers' Association opposing the conclusions of the EPA to the effect that MMT does not alter "all or part" of the operation of the vehicle exhaust system, the court decided they were of absolutely no value. First, the court indicated that the EAP had established "that the additive used by Ethyl had easily passed the tests required for the study of the most severe requests ever made statistically speaking". Moreover, the court noted that the EAP had examined according to more severe criteria the Ethyl data on the use of the additive in the vehicles produced by the highest technology and had indicated that the APE could not detect any real increase of the emissions.
When we are talking about car problems, I think that all of us who have cars are the best experts. I have a car that reached 50,000 kilometres last week. Yet, after 50,000 kilometres, I get exactly the same distance per litre as when I first bought the car. My previous car, which I changed just 20 months ago, had 150,00 kilometres on it. It never needed major repairs or maintenance, just an oil change every now and then.
I understand perfectly well when automakers tell us that their research is secret, that they cannot say anything to us about it, that it is difficult to demonstrate that MMT is harmful to vehicles. I have proof. We all drive cars and we are all in a position to know if MMT is really harmful to vehicles.
Some say also that this product could be harmful to our health and to the environment. Nothing could be less certain. Until now, neither Environment Canada nor Health Canada has banned MMT. Ethyl Corporation goes even further, saying that MMT helps reduce nitrogen monoxide emissions, one of the causes of urban smog. If MMT was banned, this could result in an increase in the amount of smog in our cities.
Here is what was said about a series of tests conducted by Ethyl Corporation. It was said that, to satisfy the U.S. Clean Air Act requirements for the reintroduction of MMT in unleaded gasolines in the United States, Ethyl Corporation conducted the most extensive series of tests ever undertaken on a gasoline additive. The testing program was designed with the assistance of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. automakers to evaluate and document the effect of MMT performance additive on automobile tailpipe emissions and to determine the implications for air quality if MMT additives were used in the U.S. gasoline.
Four different pairs of cars were driven 75,000 miles with and without MMT to evaluate the effectiveness of MMT in oxygenated fuels (MTBE and ethanol). The tests showed that adding MMT to these fuels reduces nitrogen monoxide levels as well as the toxic and chemical reactivity of unburned hydrocarbons.
The testing carried out by Ethyl Corporation went far beyond the tests conducted by automobile manufacturers in Canada and in the United States, as confirmed by the United States Court of Appeal in its ruling handed down April 14, 1995, ordering the EPA to grant Ethyl an exemption.
The purpose of the bill is to ban manganese-based substances because they are apparently dangerous. Yet, this same bill allows the use of MMT in gasoline containing lead. If it is okay in gasoline containing lead, why is not okay in lead free gasoline?
The situation is not clear. In the United States, the ban on MMT has been the focus of a legal war with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which sought to have it banned completely. The Court of Appeal decided otherwise, which leaves me thinking that it has not yet been shown that MMT is a product dangerous to the health or the environment.
The following is a summary of the ruling handed down by the Court of Appeal ordering the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to issue an notice lifting the ban on MMT.
On April 14, 1995, the U.S. Court of Appeal for the District of Columbia handed down its decision in the case of Ethyl Corporation vs the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, in which Ethyl challenged the July 13, 1994 rejection by the EPA of the application by Ethyl to have the ban on MMT in lead free gasoline lifted.
The Court established that the director had breached the conditions clearly set out in section 211 by turning down Ethyl's application to have the ban on MMT for public health reasons lifted. According to the Court, because Congress had given the EPA the mandate to evaluate solely in terms of emissions the implica-
tions of applications to have bans lifted, and because Ethyl had met the prescribed requirements, it felt that the director of the EPA had overstepped his authority by turning down Ethyl's request to have the ban on MMT lifted. In light of these facts, the Court issued a direct order to the EPA to grant Ethyl's request and lift the ban on the corporation's fuel additive.
Here are the very two points they would have us believe, and which are the reasons behind the tabling of this bill, that is, the damage that can be done to automobiles, and the health problems that can arise. In both cases, neither the automobile manufacturers nor certain courts in the United States have come up with conclusive evidence.
We are, however, entitled to wonder why the government is so bent on replacing MMT. The determination of the federal Liberals to ban MMT will cost Quebecers and Canadians several tens of millions of dollars, and possibly over $100 million. Gas consumers are going to pay the bill, largely through increases of probably 1 cent per litre in the price of gas at the pump.
The costs generated by this bill could escalate further. On September 10 this year, the Ethyl Corporation, an American company, filed a notice of intent to submit a complaint, with a view to obtaining compensation totalling $201 million in American currency or $275 million in Canadian currency, pursuant to section 1116 of the North American Free Trade Agreement signed by the Canadian government. The company claims that Bill C-29 violates certain provisions of NAFTA and that as a result, it subsidiary, Ethyl Canada, will suffer losses when the bill comes into force.
In the circumstances, it is surprising to see the government continue this exercise. The issue is divisive, and the debate still goes on, even within the government caucus. It would seem that with this bill, the Canadian government knowingly exposes itself to legal action, which today seems imminent.
Last February, the Minister for International Trade warned the Minister of the Environment in a letter of the possibility of legal action. With Bill C-29, Canada seeks to prohibit imports of MMT, without in any way restricting the domestic production, sale or use of this product. This is further evidence of the bill's lack of purpose.
The government continues this exercise regardless because some major interests are at stake. What is at stake is ethanol. We know that Ontario and western Canada, with a research budget of $70 million from the federal government, want to take over the production of ethanol and in the process replace MMT. The problems this may cause for employment are of minor importance to the federal government. We in Quebec have had a taste of this kind of medicine in the past.
Previously, the federal government caused a real disaster in the petrochemical industry in East Montreal, that benefited western Canada. The Borden line, established in 1963, led to Montreal's losing four of its six refineries in the seventies and eighties. Nearly 8,000 jobs were lost as a result. In fact, I would like to take this opportunity to renew an invitation from Quebec's Minister of Finance, Bernard Landry, to his federal counterpart and the Prime Minister of Canada, asking them to pay regular visits to Montreal east so they will remember the damage done by the federal government and the consequences that are still being felt today.
The same happened in the case of the Auto Pact in 1965. It led to a concentration of the automotive industry in southern Ontario, thus encouraging closer ties with the American automotive industry. I know the federal government will not admit that this industrial raiding is the cause of Quebec's current economic problems, but I can tell you it is the main reason why Quebecers want to see a sovereign Quebec.
Another example of disinformation: 76,000 lost jobs in Quebec in July and August, supposedly because of the political uncertainty. The Prime Minister of Canada made the effort to travel to Beauce this summer to voice his claim that Quebec's economic woes were the result of political uncertainty. Yet, in August, when Quebec created 41,000 jobs, or 50 per cent of the figure for all of Canada, no one in the federal government could be found to visit Quebec and talk to us about political uncertainty.
As for the sad fate of the other provinces, it did not occur to any Liberal MP to link that to political uncertainty. As well as operating from a double standard, the government is moving ahead with no concern for its partners in the federation. Six provinces already, in other words a majority, have made known their opposition to Bill C-29. The provinces have a say on the issue of gasoline additives.
In passing legislation on interprovincial trade, the government is again interfering in areas of provincial jurisdiction. What has become of the decentralizing federalism promised during the referendum campaign? We are still stuck with the never-ending centralization of powers and decisions on the federal level.
Since the Liberals regained power in Ottawa, the last thing in the government's mind is respect for the fundamental law of this country. For example, it systematically refused to comply with Alberta's request to include the subject of MMT on the agenda of the conference of natural resources ministers, which took place in Yellowknife recently.
In short, we are faced with a battle between two major industries; the automotive industry and the petroleum industry do not agree on the use of their products. Who will back off? Who is right? Who will win?
Who will pay? The user, I am sure. But I am equally sure that we would be able to predict the outcome if we were only able to see who has contributed the most to the slush fund.
In conclusion, we on this side of the House are going to vote against Bill C-29. It is more the result of efforts by lobbyists and corporate self-interest than a reflection of real public interest. As far as the content is concerned, nothing leads us to believe that MMT will be banned along with manganese-based products. As far as form is concerned, this is a hastily thrown together effort which is simply adding fuel to the fire.