Mr. Speaker, I have worked on this legislation since 1994 and it has been a long five years. I can attest to that.
We have before the House not just a set of amendments but a fundamental decision on the direction in which we will take the country with regard to environmental and health protection.
In this place we are the elected representatives of a free and a democratic nation. This is a privilege and a responsibility which we must take very seriously.
We have a huge responsibility to honour, respect and protect those things that Canadians cherish the most. The preservation of the natural environment and the protection of human health are two such things that Canadians feel very deeply about.
A dear friend of mine has said that the issue of the environment will be the defining issue of the 21st century. I say to my hon. colleagues in this place that over the course of this debate and the ensuing vote on the amendments to Bill C-32, the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, what we say and how we vote will define us.
I want to address one of the issues that an hon. member has already raised and that is the amendment to make changes to section 77(3), which deals with the removal of inherent toxicity. The government response in 1996 agreed with the standing committee that virtual elimination can be proposed for substances that are inherently toxic. Bill C-74 in 1996 also agreed with that. When the current bill, Bill C-32, came before the committee it also agreed with this point.
I made a lot of arguments on the issue of including inherent toxicity within the CEPA toxic definition. I was told that that was unacceptable and it could be handled in other ways, for example, in section 77(3). Therefore, I am very concerned that inherent toxicity has been taken out of this section. In the words that have already been uttered in this place by someone who has worked as a consultant and an environmental lawyer on this very legislation, this proposed amendment is very significant and would gut the bill of the significant direction taken in this clause toward inherent toxicity.
Two other issues that I would like to address deal with Motions Nos. 1 and 2, the phase-out of generation and use, and the motions dealing with virtual elimination.
The original definition of virtual elimination, as worded in Bill C-32, was seen to be too convoluted, conflicting and confusing to be effectively implemented. Under the advice of the Deputy Minister of Environment Canada, the government moved to amend the wording of virtual elimination in Bill C-32. This change adopts word for word the definition used in the 1995 toxic substance management policy, a policy adopted by the government in a multi-stakeholder process.
I would like to underscore for the House that it has been acceptable to industry for the past four years, yet in recent weeks and months industry lobbyists have mounted an assault on this provision.
The new amendment to Bill C-32 , if accepted, would diverge from the toxic substance management policy. Virtual elimination, as defined in the bill, will not shut down plants as asserted by industry. If this policy has been in effect for the past four years, why is investment not flooding out of this country? It is not.
I would also like to remind colleagues that while we are making decisions on a national piece of legislation, the effect of our decisions on virtual elimination will affect an international process that we are currently undergoing around the issue of persistent organic pollutants.
The title of this bill is the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, an act respecting pollution prevention and the protection of the environment and human health in order to contribute to sustainable development. This is not a sustainable development bill as asserted by the Reform Party. Get it straight, guys. This is a bill about the protection of the environment and human health. It only contributes to sustainable development. It is not a sustainable development bill.
The motion that deletes “generation and use” from the preamble will make it difficult to prevent pollution. By focusing only on the reduction of the release of pollution, it will make it difficult to work toward preventing pollution. Disasters such as Bhopal and other minor but more frequent incidents such as accidental discharges and spills result from the misguided notion of relying on containment only.
Various international toxic initiatives which have been taken, for example, by the UN, the OECD and the North American Commission for Environmental Co-operation, recognize that this is folly. They are moving toward use reduction and not just focusing on release.
Pollution prevention is a stated policy of the government. The bill, as it is before the House, with the inclusion of the reduction of generation and use, would better ensure pollution prevention. Its approaches, as I have mentioned, are closer to what is happening in the U.S. and Europe. If we allow this amendment to go through simply focusing on release will not be good enough.
I would ask hon. colleagues to consider how they want to define themselves and what it is that they want to stand for. If we want a bill that actually works toward the protection of the health of Canadians and the environment of Canadians we have to defeat the amendments that weaken this bill.