Madam Speaker, once again we are considering the bill to regulate interprovincial trade in and the importation for commercial purposes of certain manganese-based substances. The purpose of this bill is to prohibit the use of MMT as a fuel additive.
Bill C-29 before the House today is a reincarnation of Bill C-94, which died on the Order Paper when Parliament was prorogued. The government nevertheless found a way to resurrect a number of bills, including Bill C-29, which has now come back to us for third reading. Bill C-94 did not make it through all stages during the previous Parliament because someone put on the brakes. For some rather vague, unspecified reasons, the Liberals decided not to pass this bill at the time. Today, the Liberals, headed by the Minister of the Environment, have brought the bill back to the House without providing any further clarification of those reasons. The same doubts remain, the same questions persist and the same issues are being raised.
One wonders about the real reason why the Minister of the Environment insists on passing a bill that arouses such controversy. You may be sure that the lobbies from Ontario are a major factor in the minister's decision. If that is not the case, he should come out and say so.
This bill has two major industries warring against each other. On one side we have the Ethyl Corporation, which produces MMT, supported by the oil industry, and on the other side the association of automobile manufacturers.
The lobbying done by these two players is considerable and unceasing. Both groups are leaving no stone unturned to win their case. The minister was exposed to all this lobbying and seemed to be at a loss at what to do so far. And today, he brings back C-29. The minister probably feels he should show up from time to time. So far, however, his legislative menu has been pretty meagre, and the same applies to what he has achieved.
We can hardly say the present minister is handling major issues these days. The environment is losing popularity, and the minister seems to be increasingly isolated within cabinet. Aside from a short visit to the Gulf of St. Lawrence this summer to watch the refloating of the Irving Whale , the minister is not seen very often, because he has no important issues on his plate. So to make an appearance in Parliament and not disappear altogether, the minister brings back Bill C-29.
If you ask me, this is not the way to go about increasing one's visibility. The minister would do well to go back to the drawing board and do his homework on the whole MMT issue.
The former Minister of the Environment, which she was in name only, in my opinion, if we consider her very mediocre record, made a present of this rather hot potato to her successor.
And he is no surer of his fact than his predecessor. That is the problem with this bill.
The government is not sure that banning MMT is a good thing, whether in environment, economic or legal terms.
The fault here rests mainly with the former minister, the minister of broken promises. At the time, the minister had asked both industries to work together to find a solution to the MMT problem, indicating-which was not very clever-that in the event a basis of agreement could not be found, she would put forward a bill to ban MMT.
From then on, it was clear that the negotiations were strongly biased and would be unproductive. So much for the former minister's fantastic skills as a maestro.
Another rather surprising aspect of this issue is the need for a Minister of the Environment to pass legislation regarding a given commercial product, in this case MMT.
If the minister firmly believes that MMT is a health hazard, why does he not just ban this substance under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act? Why take this roundabout way, through commercial or trade legislation?
There is no scientific evidence that MMT in fuel constitutes a health hazard. Studies on the neurotoxicity of manganese have been conducted and indeed show that a health risk exists. However, these results were obtained for major exposure to manganese, for workers exposed to very large concentrations and for prolonged periods.
It is therefore difficult to see the connection between the effect of overexposure and the effect of manganese emissions from car exhaust, the amount and concentration of which are not comparable.
The former Minister of the Environment, whose departure was noted-almost as a relief-by the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment, had used harmonization with the U.S. as an argument to justify introducing this bill. Since then, and as early as first and second reading, this argument has taken a dive. While the product had been banned for more than 15 years south of our border, the Ethyl Corporation, involved in a long-standing battle over this issue, was winning its case to have the product reintroduced in several American states. All this to say that harmonization with our neighbours to the south does not weigh very much in the balance.
We could ask ourselves the following question: What would happen if MMT was produced in Canada? What would happen with Bill C-29, which does not ban the use of MMT per se, but does ban its import? If MMT were produced, say in Ontario, would the
minister take the same action? He could certainly not ban the import of MMT. Would he then prohibit the product itself?
This is the point I made earlier about the strange way the environment minister is targeting this additive. He is attacking the sale of the product, not the product itself. And what about the prohibition against provincial trade in this product?
You will agree that the minister is acting in a strange manner on this issue. His predecessor did the same and she goofed in many other issues.
This bill is clearly in response to the representations made by the automobile industry, which claims that the MMT additive hinders the functioning of anti-pollution systems, including the OBD-2 system. The purpose of the OBD-2 is to detect any malfunctioning in the exhaust systems. The automobile industry claims that MMT can trigger the illumination of a red light on the panel, thus indicating the existence of a problem, when in fact there is no problem.
Consequently, the car owner would have to go to a garage to have a non-existent problem corrected, which has generated unnecessary costs to the consumer. The red light that comes on for no reason was one of the automobile industry's last arguments. Before that, the industry had claimed that MMT had an adverse effect on oxygen probes, spark plugs, catalysts, etc.
In fact, none of the points raised by the automobile lobby are supported by scientific evidence. The auto industry was never able to come up with serious studies supporting its claims.
Based on our information, the automobile industry is currently conducting tests to see if, indeed, MMT has all these negative consequences for anti-pollution systems. Would it not be better for the minister to wait for the results of these tests, so that car makers can finally support their claims?
Car makers have also threatened to impose on Canadian consumers a $3,000 increase in the cost of automobiles, to reduce the coverage provided by the warranty, and to simply disconnect the OBD-2 detection device. This pressure exerted on the minister has paid off. However, it should be noted that they have more to do with economics than with health or environment concerns.
Ethyl Corp. is the only one to have provided the results of tests conducted on its product. The company conducted serious, independent tests, in co-operation with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the EPA. The results of these tests totally contradict the claims made by car makers. In fact, the EPA itself recognized that the concerns of the automobile industry regarding the clogging of anti-pollution systems are not justified.
Given the results of serious tests conducted by one party and the unfounded claims made by the other, you will agree that it is difficult to support this bill. The MMT lobby was the only to provide data. We are anxiously waiting for the automobile lobby to do the same. In the meantime, is it appropriate to pass this bill? If the tests of the auto lobby revealed that MMT does not cause the claimed effects, will the environment minister change course and remove the ban on MMT?
The Bloc Quebecois is definitely concerned about this metal that is being added to gasoline. We are not indifferent to the issue. We too, of course, want to see 100 per cent clean fuel and cars that do not release emissions into the air we all breathe. In this regard, if the automobile industry truly wants to produce cars that are 100 per cent clean and emission free, why does it not build cars that use electricity or, better yet, water?
You will agree that it is somewhat difficult to follow the logic of the automobile industry regarding MMT when the automobile itself uses fossil fuels and is therefore one of the greatest sources of pollution on the planet. While we are at it, the automobile industry should be true to its own logic and also ban the use of gasoline in cars.
I would just like to digress briefly at this point to talk about the Liberals' failure in this area. Members will recall that in 1994 Senator Kenny introduced a bill to reduce smog and greenhouse gas emissions. This bill was passed in June 1995 and concerned the entire government fleet of vehicles.
The bill requires the government to phase out these vehicles with vehicles using an alternative fuel, such as propane or natural gas, and, by April 1997, that half of new vehicles bought must use alternative fuels.
The results to date are nonexistent. The Liberal government has not implemented this bill. Furthermore, the Senate recently denounced the government's slow progress in converting its vehicles. What is the environment minister doing about this? Can he not get his own government to do its duty and thus set an example?
I would like, if I may, to cite a passage from the report of the Senate committee that looked at the progress made in the implementation of Bill S-7. I quote: "The committee is of the opinion that one of the obstacles to the rapid conversion to vehicles using alternative fuels in automobile fleets is that members of the federal cabinet do not seem to be leading the way. Ministers should preach by example and have their cars converted. In fact, all ministers received offers of conversion from methane and propane suppliers. To date, only three have taken advantage of these offers. The
committee urges the others to follow their example in order to underscore the importance the government attaches to this bill".
In light of such comments, it is difficult to detect any real resolve on the part of the Liberals with respect to air pollution. I find it paradoxical to say that MMT must be banned because it is a source of pollution, and yet do nothing oneself to reduce this same source of pollution. That is Liberal logic for you. Hard to follow, you will agree.
I draw your attention to the environment minister's press release from last April 18, in which he announces that the bill will be tabled again. In the fourth paragraph, the minister states, and I quote: "Of importance to me, as the Minister of the Environment, are the potential harmful effects on air quality of the interference of MMT with automobile diagnostic systems monitoring exhaust emissions".
What strikes me in this paragraph are the words "potential harmful effects". Let us admit that it is hardly a strong case for legislation. Can a bill seriously be tabled using words like "potential"?
In this business of MMT, where we must base our decisions on scientific data, the minister's choice of words is vague to say the least. This shows the government's spinelessness and hesitation where this bill is concerned.
This press release goes along with an information sheet in which we are informed of the five key points on which the minister has based his decision. The first concerns the automotive industry. Of course, the minister rehashes all the same old stuff from the automotive lobby about the harmful effects of MMT on pollution control devices, particularly the diagnostic systems commonly called OBDs, and about how this in turn results in increased atmospheric pollution and health hazards.
All of these real impacts end up as mere statements. At the end it is written down in black and white that the automotive industry is so convinced of the negative effects of MMT that it is currently involved in a test program in the U.S. at the cost of $10 million, in order to obtain definitive proof to back their position.
That statement takes some of the wind out of the sails of the auto lobby, and of the minister as well. No test completed as yet, no definitive proof either. I am not the one saying this, the Minister himself is. How, then, can the minister table Bill C-29 while the auto lobby cannot as yet, as I have just said, prove its argument? We must admit that this is not a very effective approach for a Minister of the Environment to take.
This is a source of concern, for the minister and the government are showing that lobbies hold more weight for them than concrete evidence, verified facts, and definite results. That is not, however, any real surprise. We all know how those people across the way operate, and where their motivation comes from.
We have seen how, in many other sectors, the most powerful lobbies gain the upper hand over their little Liberal buddies. The minister has also been pressured by another group in this matter: the Ontario Corn Producers Association. This group wrote to the minister on April 24, as follows:
"The Ontario Corn Producers Association with a membership of 21,000 Ontario farm families congratulates you for your decision to reintroduce proposed legislation to ban the importation of MMT for use in Canadian gasoline".
Further on we read that other, more environmental octane enhancers exist, including ethanol. As you know, ethanol is now being used and is produced from corn, hence Ontario's eagerness to congratulate the minister and to see MMT prohibited. Imagine the size of the new market for ethanol if MMT were to disappear.
I would say this is of major importance for Ontario farmers and the processing industry that would develop as a result.
If I remember correctly, in December 1994, the former Minister of the Environment and the Minister of Agriculture launched a development program to encourage the production of ethanol from biomass material. In fact, the major projects for the construction of plants to produce ethanol from corn are all in Ontario, if I am not mistaken. And as the ministers said on December 21, 1994, in a press release, ethanol offers an excellent opportunity to diversify the economy and stimulate economic growth. It opens up a vast market for agricultural products, thereby increasing the incomes of farmers and making them less dependent on farm income protection programs.
I would not want to question the motives of the present minister nor those of the former minister, who resigned and has just returned to the House, saved by the voters of Hamilton East, but there are some strange coincidences in this dossier. The two main economic lobbies, automobile manufacturers and corn ethanol manufacturers, are from Ontario, and the two ministers who have been involved in this issue happen to be from Ontario as well.
Is there a connection? As I said earlier, the Liberals are very sensitive to lobbying. Unfortunately, there is still no product like SPF 35 sun cream, for instance, to protect us from lobbying. Also it is becoming increasingly clear that both ministers have met the expectations of lobbies from their own province. We need look no further.
For instance, under key item 5 of the minister's information sheet, which is headed: "Possibilities for cleaner fuels", it says that the withdrawal of MMT from gasoline will create opportunities for the introduction and use of ethanol and other substitutes that may become a major component of a comprehensive national policy on the nationwide production and use of renewable energy sources. This policy, we read, would reflect the commitment made in the red book of the Liberal Party of Canada to an agricultural policy that would eliminate MMT, and it would be in line with U.S. federal policy designed to create new markets for renewable fuels such as ethanol.
No need to look any further to see what the Liberals have in mind. Ontario will be the great beneficiary of the withdrawal of MMT. That is crystal clear. The minister also indicated that this will be in line with the promises made in the red book. So now we have a political decision.
I agree that ethanol seems to be a useful additive. But ethanol produced from corn also bears a major economic and environmental cost. From the environmental point of view, corn is a crop that causes considerable pollution and soil depletion. Economically speaking, the cost of production is high. Consider that today, the federal government provides an excise tax exemption of 8.5 cents per litre on ethanol sold on the market to make this product competitive. Some provinces have followed suit, including Onta-rio.
These negative aspects are never mentioned by the Minister of the Environment. A crop that causes pollution and depletes the soil should give the Minister of the Environment some cause for alarm. I think the minister should consult people on these negative aspects of using corn. Can you imagine a Minister of the Environment being in favour of a crop that pollutes?
This bill still raises a number of questions. But instead of finding the answer to these questions, the minister prefers to blindly accommodate the lobbies from his province. What will the minister do when automobile manufacturers who, I may remind him, want gas that is 100 per cent pure, ask him to prohibit ethanol as an additive? Will he come and tell us that ethanol is a hazard to our health and that it contaminates antipollution systems in cars? The withdrawal of MMT as an additive will indeed have certain consequences.
According to the Ethyl Corporation and the oil industry, there will be three major consequences, which I will list for you without blindly considering them. We in the official opposition have some reservations about the lobby group's arguments. We certainly would not want to fall in the same trap as the minister, who, influenced by the other lobby group, has lacked foresight and rigour in this matter.
First of all, according to Ethyl, MMT reduces smog-causing nitrogen dioxide emissions by 20 per cent. If MMT really reduces urban smog, why would we want to remove it from gasoline?
Of course, the auto industry tells us that cars will pollute even less in the future and that improved performances will more than make up for the loss of current MMT benefits. Of course, department officials told us that the urban smog problem was not as bad in Canadian cities. But who is telling the truth?
Another consequence of MMT's removal is that refineries will require costly modifications. According to the oil companies, these adjustment costs combined with other operating costs will raise the price of gas at the pumps. The oil companies' assessments show some $100 million in capital costs and tens of millions of dollars in operating costs. Can we ask the oil industry to make such changes to their refineries to respond to the other party's claims, which are not based on any scientific evidence?
Can the minister seriously initiate all these changes simply to increase his visibility and respond to the pressures exerted by his province? I know that the Minister of the Environment and his Liberal colleagues, who are blindly following him in this matter, will accuse us of being impertinent, of being anti-health, of objecting to the reduction of air pollution. They can shout themselves hoarse and say whatever they want about us, we do not care.
If MMT is so harmful, the Liberals should ban it as a hazardous product. The Liberals are saying that MMT is harmful so they should act accordingly and ban the product itself.
The third consequence we must look at has to do with the oil refining process. MMT increases the octane level in gas, thus requiring less oil refining. We know that refining causes pollution. So, if MMT is removed, the oil companies will have to do more refining in order to increase the octane level and will therefore cause more pollution. Is the minister ready to contribute to the increase in direct pollution caused by refineries? Are the Liberals, who are trumpeting their health concerns, ready to increase pollution?
The question the Liberals should ask themselves is whether it is more important to create a market for Ontario corn or to consider the economic, agricultural and environmental impact of this bill seriously and rigorously. They should carefully determine if the expected benefits will indeed be achieved, check and quantify these benefits, and align them in two columns for comparison purposes. At present, the Liberals are going nowhere. It may be for the best, but it is not very responsible.
These are claims made by the MMT lobby that still raise questions, and these questions warrant the minister's undivided attention. But the minister prefers to bury his head in the sand, just like the Deputy Prime Minister did before him. The minister keeps
repeating that MMT is a health hazard, while Health Canada assures us that it does not represent a significant hazard to human health.
In the September 12 issue of La Presse , the Minister of the Environment was quoted as saying the following.
But the Government of Canada can act as well to protect the environment and public heath.'' I will remind the minister that, on December 6, 1994, Health Canada published the results of an independent risk assessment based on new epidemiological studies and data on exposure in Canada entitled:Risk assessment for the combustion products of MMT in gasoline''.
Health Canada's study concluded that there was no health risk for any segment of the Canadian population associated with the use of MMT in fuel. More specifically, it was reported that: "Airborne manganese resulting from the combustion of MMT in gasoline-powered vehicles is not introduced in the Canadian environment in amounts or under conditions that would pose a health risk."
The study also concluded that no relationship exists between ambient air manganese levels and MMT sales or its use in unleaded fuel, regardless of the region or the time of year.
What else does the Minister of the Environment want to tell us about the adverse health effects of MMT, when Health Canada says that there are no adverse effects? He should consult his colleague, the health minister, provided of course he is not even more isolated than he is believed to be in Cabinet. The Minister of Health could run over the findings of theses studies for him, to refresh his memory so that he can finally tell us why he really wants this bill passed.
There is no shame in backtracking for a minister. Again, his colleague could remind him of his own experience with the famous issue of cheese made from raw milk.
To fuel the controversy about this bill, on September 10, the American parent company Ethyl Corporation gave notice of its intention to file a complaint and have the Government of Canada pay the company US$200 million under NAFTA for damages sustained by its subsidiary Ethyl Canada.
Ethyl argues that Canada is not fulfilling its obligations under the North American Free Trade Agreement. According to Ethyl Corp., Canada does not comply with Articles 1110, 1106 and 1102, which deal respectively with expropriation, compensation, performance requirements and national treatment.
Ethyl Corp. is seeking US$200 million US in compensation, and the minister seems to take it lightly, saying that the government of Canada has the right to take measures to protect the environment and public health and that the company is entitled to its opinion. If I were the minister I would quickly put Bill C-29 on hold, at least for a while, and I would have in-depth discussions with my legal advisors, to make sure that Canada is in a strong bargaining position and can win its case.
The minister seems rather casual and nonchalant about the company's intention to sue. At a time when cuts are being made to the health, welfare and UI sectors, the minister should ask himself whether Canada has the means to throw away US$200 million. Should Canada lose its case before the arbitration tribunal, how would the minister justify his bill, which looks more and more like a measure designed to favour a specific interest group? Would he send the bill to car makers, or to corn producers in his province?
Canadian taxpayers have a right to expect fair and rigorous decisions on the part of their ministers, not partisan choices that could cost them a great deal.
NAFTA is not the only agreement that would be violated by Bill C-29. The whole issue of interprovincial trade is also affected, since Bill C-29 prohibits such trade. Some provincial ministers feel this is a case of federal interference. Bill C-29 would also contravene the federal-provincial agreement on trade in Canada.
In fact, no less than six provinces openly oppose this measure. Can the minister turn a blind eye to the provinces' appeals, when his cabinet colleagues are extolling the virtues of the federation and of co-operation in this country? Is the Minister of the Environment that isolated in cabinet, when it comes to this issue?
The minister's decision to go ahead with Bill C-29 has no solid basis. His arguments are not supported by any scientific evidence. The minister naively but willingly relies on the claims made by car makers, and on the hope that the anticipated income growth of his province's corn producers who, coincidentally, account for three quarters of Canada's corn production, will materialize. The minister's decision is also a source of concern for the future. It is not reassuring, for the future and for the environment, when an environment minister who has access to all the tools of a department is so lax regarding a major issue.
I will conclude by tabling an amendment to the bill. I propose:
That the motion be amended by deleting all the words after the word "That" and substituting the following:
"Bill C-29, An Act to regulate interprovincial trade in and the importation for commercial purposes of certain manganese-based substances, be not now read a third time but that it be read a third time this day six months hence."