Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to the report stage of Bill C-32, and to have an opportunity to show you just how many shortcomings there are in this bill.
This was my first experience with a clause by clause study of a bill in committee. I must say it was a most disconcerting experience for me, to say the least.
The process was a lengthy one, and introducing and withdrawing hundreds of amendments was very confusing. To top it all off, for a number of clauses, the English and French versions did not correspond. We adopted more than 160 amendments, and no doubt there would have been more if we had not got fed up.
Still today, at the report stage, the hundreds of amendments before us prove without a doubt that this bill needs to be totally reworked, not just changed here and changed there, but totally reworked. Otherwise, we will end up with a bill that lacks rigour, consensus and vision.
Throughout this committee process, I noted this government's flagrant lack of good will. Here we are, stuck with an unfinished bill for the next 10 years. This is not a process that is undertaken every year.
We in the Bloc Quebecois wanted to do this. Here are a few examples to show our good will on this issue.
First, public participation: what a lovely expression. Unfortunately the government is letting cumbersome administrative and legal procedures take precedence over the public's legitimate demand for a healthy environment.
Second, toxic substances: once again, the government is putting off updating the list of toxic substances. It will wait seven years. When will the new substances be analyzed? This is urgent. Why procrastinate?
Third, enforcement: with this bill, the federal government wants to set new rules for the environment. How can it enforce them? Even with the current legislation, it has cut staff drastically. There are fewer inspectors, so there is less enforcement. The government cut the department's budget by several million dollars. It should seek to enforce what is already in force before thinking of extending its power to interfere in areas under provincial jurisdiction.
Some facts must be pointed out. We will recall that, on December 15, 1995, the Liberal government proposed revising the Canadian Environmental Protection Act. The proposal by the Minister of the Environment at the time was the government's response to the fifth report of the Standing Committee on the Environment and Sustainable Development entitled “It's About Our Health—Towards Pollution Prevention”.
This response set out the broad lines of a proposal to renew the federal government's main legislative measure on environmental protection, CEPA. This was a promise made in the red book.
The Bloc opposed the report, and made that perfectly clear by tabling a minority report. Most of the recommendations in the majority report supported the centralizing tendency of the federal government in environmental protection matters.
The Bloc Quebecois refutes the theory of the double safety net and contends that the environment would be better served if responsibility for its protection were given to one level of government only.
The Bloc Quebecois firmly believes that the provinces, especially Quebec, have greater knowledge of the specifics of their natural environment and are in a position to arouse the interest and encourage the participation of local residents, are more open to the claims of environmental groups, are able to conclude significant agreements with national and international partners and have indicated their desire to find solutions to environmental challenges and to contribute actively to sustainable development.
The government introduced Bill C-74, but the bill died on the order paper when the election was called in 1997. After the election, the government introduced a new bill, Bill C-32, born from the ashes of Bill C-74, at first reading on March 12, 1998.
It should be noted that the Canadian Environmental Protection Act is required to undergo a review every five years, and that deadline is already past.
Does the renewed Canadian Environmental Protection Act give powers to Quebec and the provinces? Definitely not.
In theory, Bill C-32 recognizes the environment as a shared responsibility between the federal government and the provinces. Unfortunately, all the rhetoric and pious wishes are not matched with action.
The bill does not delegate any power to Quebec or any of the provinces, which is contrary to what true environmental harmonization between the various levels of government should be.
With Bill C-32, now at report stage, the Liberal government is reinforcing the federal government's supremacy in the area of environmental protection.
This bill opens the door to duplication of federal and provincial powers. To this end, the government even dares to hide behind the latest supreme court ruling on an environmental issue, in P.G. Canada v. Hydro Quebec.
I will now address the four main changes made to the bill at committee stage.
A new definition of virtual elimination is provided at clause 65.(1). It reads:
In this part, “virtual elimination” means, in respect of a toxic substance released into the environment as a result of human activity, the ultimate reduction of the quantity or concentration of the substance in the release below the level of quantification specified by the ministers in the list referred to in subsection (2).
Before we create new definitions devoid of meaning, we must make sure we can achieve the highest standards in the world. By way of example, the harmonization of federal environmental standards with those of European countries, such as Germany, would be a big step in the right direction.
We could see there was a problem of harmonization among the various positions in the bill referring to virtual elimination. The new definition of virtual elimination has not been uniformly applied to all the clauses concerning this issue. Accordingly the Bloc Quebecois is proposing amendments to respond to these inconsistencies in Bill C-32.
The committee eliminated all references to cost-effective measures the government was to take under Bill C-32. The committee based its decision on the fact that the government did not want to explicitly define the word cost effective in the bill.
In the face of this legal void, the committee decided it was simply preferable to eliminate the term, considering that in the context of sustainable development, it is understood that government measures are to be cost effective. On this issue, the Bloc Quebecois' position was the same as that of the committee. We should delete a term that has not been defined in the act.
Hormone disrupting substance means a substance having the ability to disrupt the synthesis, secretion, transport, binding, action or elimination of natural hormones in an organism, or its progeny, that are responsible for the maintenance of homeostasis, reproduction, development or behaviour of the organism.
The bill now specifies that the federal government shall conduct research or studies relating to hormone disrupting substances for preventive and abatement purposes, to deal with the negative effects of these substances on health.
In this regard, we think the federal government should limit its activities to conducting research and studies in this area. All the other aspects mentioned in the bill should come under the provinces' responsibility.
The greatest concern about Bill C-32 is undoubtedly the issue of harmonization with the provinces. Under the original version of Bill C-32, the federal government was going to act in accordance with the intent of intergovernmental agreements. The Liberal majority softened this requirement by adding the word endeavour before the verb to act.
The Bloc Quebecois maintains that the federal government must always keep in mind the prospect of harmonization with the provinces, to avoid duplication and overlap in the legislation and regulations. By trivializing federal-provincial harmonization agreements, the Liberal government clearly shows that it lacks the will to respect the jurisdiction of the provinces with regard to the environment.
The Bloc Quebecois will table amendments, including one to have the term “endeavour” deleted from the current version of Bill C-32. I hope the government will give us its support.
As for the agreements respecting the administration of the act, clause 9 of the bill provides that the minister “may negotiate with a government with respect to the administration of this act”.
Considering all the issues raised, the Bloc Quebecois is opposed to this bill at report stage.