House of Commons Hansard #235 of the 36th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was c-32.


Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999Government Orders

10:45 a.m.

Some hon. members


Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999Government Orders

10:45 a.m.


Jocelyne Girard-Bujold Bloc Jonquière, QC

Mr. Speaker, we have now reached the third reading stage of Bill C-32.

We are at this stage because the government has decided once again to put a gag on a bill, in order to push its interests ahead of any others, without any consideration for the arguments of the opposition parties.

It is very important to give an overview of the events leading up to Bill C-32. On December 15, 1995, the Liberal government proposed revising the Canadian Environmental Protection Act.

The proposal by Sheila Copps, the minister of the environment at the time, was the government's response to the fifth report—

Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999Government Orders

10:45 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

The hon. member knows very well that she must not refer to a member by name, only by title. I hope that she can comply with the rules in this regard.

Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999Government Orders

10:45 a.m.


Jocelyne Girard-Bujold Bloc Jonquière, QC

This announcement 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”.

At the time, the Bloc felt that a majority of the report's recommendations 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 the government only.

The Bloc Quebecois firmly believes that the provinces, including Quebec, have greater knowledge of the specifics of the 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.

Our position remains unchanged. Bill C-32 was tabled at first reading on March 12, 1998. It renewed the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, formerly Bill C-74, which died on the order paper with the last election call. It was, moreover, a promise in the Liberal Party's red book.

At this stage of Bill C-32, it is important to underscore for the federal government the reasons why Quebec refused to sign the harmonization agreement of the Canadian council of environment ministers. With what we have just seen in recent days, Quebec's decision seems to validate them even more. Canada wants to go it alone, without giving any thought to the responsibilities afforded the provinces.

At the meeting of the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment of January 29, 1999, the Quebec minister of the environment, Paul Bégin, refused to sign the agreement so long as the conditions set by Quebec were not met by the federal government.

These conditions include among others recognition of Quebec's exclusive or at least primary jurisdiction in the areas assigned to the provinces by the Constitution. They also include the firm commitment by the federal government to pass the legislative amendments required, and of course the adoption by Quebec and the federal government of a bilateral agreement on environmental assessments.

Moreover, Minister Bégin also stressed that the declared intentions of the federal government as to the review of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, which would lead to a significant increase in federal powers, contravene the spirit and objectives of the environmental harmonization negotiation process, particularly that of preventing duplication and intergovernmental disputes.

This position of Minister Bégin reinforced the position taken by the Bloc Quebecois in its dissenting report of December 1997.

On November 20, 1996, the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment agreed in principle to the Canada-wide environmental harmonization agreement and to two subsidiary agreements on inspections and standards. The subsidiary agreement on environmental assessments was negotiated during the winter of 1997.

This agreement was to enhance environmental protection in a sustainable development context, while respecting each government's jurisdiction, in a more effective way. It was to have contained the general principles to be implemented more specifically through subsidiary agreements.

The Bloc Quebecois has always supported harmonization between the federal and provincial governments when it would serve to eliminate administrative and legislative overlap and duplication between the two levels of government.

We therefore supported environmental harmonization so long as it did not serve to screen the federal government's continued meddling in provincial jurisdictions.

It is essential that harmonization recognize the exclusive or primary jurisdiction of the provinces in the areas entrusted to them by the Constitution. The spirit of harmonization must be reflected in the changes the federal government is making to existing legislation.

Several recommendations were made in committee to improve this bill. I will mention a few in the course of my speech.

The committee recommended that ratification of the agreement and the three subsidiary agreements be postponed, first until all documents, namely the agreement and the 10 subsidiary agreements proposed, were available so the public would have a real opportunity to contribute and, second, until the committee's concerns and recommendations had been fully considered.

The committee also recommended that the consensus requirement in the agreement and subsidiary agreements be replaced with a two-thirds majority vote.

With respect to these two recommendations, the Bloc Quebecois believes it is premature for the federal government and the provinces to endorse the harmonization agreement and subsidiary agreements, and for the committee to report to the House of Commons, because we have not had the opportunity to observe any real desire on the part of the Liberal government to harmonize with the other provinces.

It would be better to wait until the endangered species bill, the fisheries bill and the Canadian environmental protection legislation have been introduced. We will be able to fully assess the harmonization agreement when considering these bills.

Also, before considering any new subsidiary agreements, it would be better for the federal government and the provinces to deal first with the three existing agreements on environmental assessment, inspection and standards. In addition, we are proposing that the agreements be ratified by a unanimous vote instead of a two-thirds majority vote.

In another recommendation, the committee suggested that a provision be included in the environmental assessment agreement stating that it will not require any changes to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. The subsidiary agreement will also have to specify that the objectives and requirements of the environmental assessment must meet the strictest standards and must meet or exceed the prescribed objectives and requirements.

This recommendation is contrary to the principles of the general agreement, which states that governments may change their respective legislation as required.

Finally, the Bloc Quebecois believes that only the Quebec environmental assessment process should be applied in Quebec. The federal government's willingness to achieve harmonization is supposed to be reflected in the legislation, and we consider that Bill C-14, an act respecting the safety and effectiveness of materials that come into contact with or are used to treat water destined for human consumption, does not reflect this spirit of legislative harmonization between the federal government and the provinces and represents another intrusion by the federal government in an area under provincial jurisdiction.

Therefore, the Bloc Quebecois is of the opinion that several recommendations in the Liberal majority report are contrary to Quebec's historic positions in the area of federal-provincial harmonization and that recent interference by the federal government does not respect the spirit of the accord.

What the Bloc Quebecois deplores is that the federal government refuses to give legislative expression to its good intentions with regard to environmental harmonization and chooses instead to hide behind the centralizing screen of the Supreme Court of Canada.

Need I remind the House that consideration in committee of Bill C-32 began in the fall of 1998 and concluded in April 1999?

The bill was studied over the course of some 60 sittings, and 580 amendments were introduced. The Standing Committee on the Environment and Sustainable Development therefore broke a record for the length of time any bill has been studied in committee.

The committee adopted about 160 of these amendments. All of this work seems to have been cancelled out by a government that is blowing with the wind, without any consideration for the environment. As a result, the bill now before us is inconsistent in many regards.

It must be kept in mind that many amendments were added in committee, but this government has decided either to not even consider them, or to alter their meaning and substance. It is somewhat ironic to think that a process this lengthy has culminated in a gag order from the government and major changes to what was done in committee. It is clear that the government has not respected what was done in committee.

I will now address the two main changes made to the bill at committee stage, which were not respected by this government. First of all, a new definition of virtual elimination in clause 65 has been adopted.

Clause 65 now reads as follows:

—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).

This new definition allows the federal government to change the limit according to the ongoing changes in scientific tests and measurements. The ministers are the ones to draw up the list of levels for each substance but they must take into consideration all pertinent social, economic and technical factors.

We could see there was a problem of harmonization among the various provisions in the bill relating to virtual elimination. The new definition has not been uniformly applied to all clauses concerning this issue. Accordingly, the Bloc Quebecois proposed amendments to respond to these inconsistencies in Bill C-32.

Second, the committee eliminated all references to the 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 governmental measures are to be cost-effective. In addition, federal departments are already subject to Treasury Board policy on the cost-effectiveness of federal regulations.

The Bloc Quebecois wanted to make changes to the bill, which were not passed either in committee or at the report stage in the House. One of the main changes concerned the systematic presence of an agreement with the provinces prior to federal intervention.

Moreover, 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 therefore proposed the deletion of the word “endeavour”, as Bill C-32 currently stipulates, but to no avail.

At clause 9, the bill provides that:

9.(1) The Minister may negotiate an agreement with the government ... with respect to the administration of this act.

However, the Liberal majority on the committee decided to make this agreement subordinate to the new clause 9(9), which would trivialize any future equivalence agreement with the provinces.

Clause 9(9) reads as follows:

No agreement made under this section shall limit or restrict the carrying out of any action the Minister deems necessary for the administration and enforcement of this Act, including the conduct of possible inspections or investigations.

With this clause, the federal government is giving itself the powers to go over the heads of the provinces, even after reaching an agreement with a province. This is totally incomprehensible and unacceptable on the part of a government that claims to want to work in partnership with the provinces.

While in theory Bill C-32 recognizes the environment as a shared responsibility between the federal government and the provinces, in reality, this bill does not delegate any power to any province, including Quebec, which, of course, is contrary to what true environmental harmonization between the various levels of government should be.

Bill C-32 confirms that, with the latest supreme court ruling on environmental matters, the federal government is trying to broaden its powers in this area. Although the federal and provincial governments share responsibility for the environment under the Constitution, the Liberal government clearly wants to subordinate the role of the provinces to that of the central government.

The emphasis is on pollution prevention as a method of priority intervention with the power to require pollution prevention plans, which are mandatory for substances included in the list of priority toxic substances and optional for others. A direct partnership must also be developed between the federal government and industrial sectors that are already partly covered under Quebec programs, such as the industrial waste reduction program that has been implemented in the pulp and paper industry.

The measures contained in Bill C-32 will allow the federal government to establish national priorities for intervention. Therefore, the provinces will have no choice but to adopt federal regulations, otherwise they will be forced to see the federal government serve the same clientele.

The legislative and regulatory powers that the federal government is giving itself are very important. While the Liberal government constantly talks about its willingness to work in partnership with the provinces, it nevertheless institutionalizes its powers in order to play a paternalistic role towards the provinces. That is one thing the Bloc Quebecois deplores.

The Liberal government's claims about the importance of a national approach to environmental protection are contrary to the spirit of environmental harmonization. It is sad that the supreme court is further contributing to the Liberal government's centralizing tendencies.

Finally, and contrary to the Liberal government, which argues the notion of the double safety net, two levels of government acting within the same jurisdiction, the Bloc Quebecois feels that this system diminishes the accountability of both levels of government by seriously complicating the assignment of responsibility.

The Bloc Quebecois is opposed to the bill because, in addition to imposing a centralist vision, the federal government is making a grab for new powers and is interfering in provincial jurisdictions, when what it should be doing is working to further harmonization among the various levels of government.

Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999Government Orders

11:05 a.m.


Hélène Alarie Bloc Louis-Hébert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I feel it is rather special and significant to rise in this House during Environment Week to speak to Bill C-32.

Bill C-32, which proposes to renew the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, is now at third reading. We are opposed to this bill because it has all the aspects of a centralizing legislation and neglects certain areas of jurisdiction we find it very important to defend.

I will begin by congratulating the hon. member for Jonquière for the work she has done on this issue. After 60 sittings, the clause by clause study of the bill by the environment committee, 580 amendments were introduced and 160 of them passed. Much work was done in the standing committee on the environment, but with dubious results. One must wonder why so.

Because only one-quarter of all those amendments were retained, and in many ways the result has been a kind of patchwork.

The bill has its inconsistencies, but what is even more troublesome is the lack of harmonization between the provinces and the central government. This lack of harmonization results in duplication and in overlapping legislation and regulations.

The environment is an intrinsic part of the lives of every person in this country, for it affects us all. Whether it be water, land or air, we all depend on these three elements. Harmonization is necessary so that everyone may feel a part of a large-scale project to make the environment healthier.

We have reservations about this bill because it denies the basic principle whereby the more people, municipalities and provinces involved, the greater the chances of interesting results.

The inconsistency in this bill leaves us perplexed, and I might add that the lack of harmonization and of agreements with the provinces may be very costly for the country. I am not inventing this lack of agreements, because I read the commentary from the Office of the Auditor General of Canada, which provides clearly that federal-provincial agreements on the environment do not provide the results expected. It basically says:

The audit revealed that key elements of agreements were simply not implemented. In certain cases, the federal-provincial committees that were to manage agreements were never set up. In other instances, the federal government lacked the information it needed on provincial activities in order to be able to determine whether federal regulations had been applied.

So, where do we go with results like that? It is rather embarrassing. In his report, the commissioner recommends that Environment Canada assess existing environment agreements and incorporate the lessons learned into new agreements.

The government has not advanced very far, if you want my opinion, and the Bloc Quebecois recognizes that the federal-provincial agreements on the environment are not perfect. They must be improved. That is vital. They are, however, an improvement over unilateral action by Ottawa, as proposed in Bill C-32, given the benefits of eliminating overlap and establishing a single window.

These are the recommendations of the Bloc Quebecois. They are not to be found in text of the bill. These are good reasons to oppose it.

I would like to continue my speech to cover three areas: the agri-environment, biotechnology and air pollution. We are trailing somewhat in agri-environmental projects, and I will quote from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada documents to show what the government is looking for in this area.

The document entitled “The Health of Our Soils” states in essence:

In the context of sustainability—which is what the environment is all about—land management means that the land is used so as to maintain productivity without exhausting the resources or adversely affecting the environment. This type of management implies a change of mentality and attitude.

The soil should be considered like a bank account. If we treat it like an inexhaustible resource, that is if we constantly withdraw money from our account, we will exhaust our reserves. On the contrary, if we use appropriate stewardship and renew the resources used, our account will continue to be balanced and to provide a good return.

Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada supports sustainable land management. Productivity, stability, protection and viability, these are the pillars of the approach suggested to preserve our land.

We are proposing a comprehensive agricultural plan. What does this mean? First, we should make an inventory of the operating resources and practices, and then answer various questions.

These questions include the following: Does the farmer participate in a government agricultural plan? From what source does the farmer get the information on which he bases his decisions? Does the farmer have resources that he is currently not using? What obstacles impede the use of soil conservation methods?

As for this year's proposal by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada with respect to soil health, I am delighted to say that Quebec has already been practicing this for several years.

An example is the agro-environmental portrait of farms in Quebec: 17,937 of them responded to a request from their union to analyse their operations. This represents 88% of farms invited to participate. This is a first in Canada, in Quebec and in the world. This is where the commitment to saving our farms, our soil and our environment must begin.

By agreeing to answer questions about their practices, producers have shown that they are genuinely interested in protecting their resources. Anyone familiar with this sector will know that farmers are not necessarily thrilled about answering such questions. Farming practices are always kept secret.

This response was an indication of a growing awareness that the future of generations to come depends on each one of us. I keep mentioning harmonization, decentralization and the need to work together. This is the only way to obtain results.

The farms surveyed were those affected by the regulations on reducing agricultural pollution, as well as apple growing and greenhouse growing operations. This was a large step forward and will be pursued. With results, one does not need to talk through one's hat, but can implement specific measures that are often very effective and much less costly.

I wanted to mention this project because I believe it is very important. Some of the federal-provincial arrangements for agriculture are very interesting. Minister Rémi Trudel said that the agro-environmental plant health strategy support program was developed as a result of the Canada-Quebec agreement on the St. Lawrence Vision 2000 action program. This five year program has a yearly budget of $2.5 million.

Its purpose is to support technology transfer and development projects dealing with major crops, such as potatoes and apples. Its goals are very straightforward: to reduce pesticide use by 50% and put 70% of cultivated land under integrated pest control. This is a tall order.

Having worked in this field I know how difficult it is to convince people to take part in this kind of initiatives. They have to completely change their farming practices. However these are concrete measures. Out of 49 projects submitted for 1998-99, 37 got accepted, and partners are contributing financially to the study.

Projects are based on local needs and linked to strategic teams' action plans. Because they are simple, these projects are useful, and people get on board. They are called pesticide free and pesticide reduced projects. They give a lot of visibility. These technology transfer and development projects deserve to be better known.

In Quebec we had the Green Plan and technology transfer committees. In 1997 the Liberals did not renew the only program through which the federal government was funding agri-environmental projects. The agricultural component of the Green Plan expired on March 31, 1997 and nothing replaced it. This is regrettable because these initiatives produced very positive results.

I said I would also address biotechnology, because the essence of the Group No. 3 motions is to remove the powers of the Department of the Environment and the Department of Health to give the governor in council the exclusive responsibility for decisions on biotechnology projects concerning animate substances.

Biotechnology is on everyone's lips and a major source of concern to many. Its results are often very interesting, but sometimes also very worrisome.

In February of this year, the federal government decided to renew its biotechnology strategy, which dates back to 1983. Last April, the Standing Committee on Agriculture undertook to hold hearings on agricultural biotechnology.

It subsequently tabled a report entitled “Capturing the Advantage: Agricultural Biotechnology in the New Millennium”. The fifth of its sixth recommendations addressed the necessity for parliament to undertake a review of the Canadian policy on labelling with the participation of all the stakeholders.

The official Canadian government response to the agriculture committee was as follows “Canadian policy provides for consumer choice by allowing food companies to voluntarily label whether or not their products have been derived from biotechnology”.

By allowing free choice to everyone, we end up without a code of ethics and also without labels for products derived from biotechnology. The Bloc Quebecois is in favour of a complete re-examination of labelling policy, particularly where genetically manipulated foods are concerned.

The applications of biotechnology are multiplying constantly and at an increasingly rapid rate. We therefore feel it is necessary to address this important matter more seriously, with a view to keeping an eye on the changes that are affecting our lives at present and those that will do so in future.

I do not know if my colleagues experience the same thing but, almost every day, I receive letters from people in every region of the country, including western, central and eastern Canada. These people say “We realize that genetically modified products in foodstuffs are here to stay. In that case, the label should tell us what is in the food item, because we want to preserve our health and the health of our children”.

I want to add something about biotechnology. There are some rather disturbing things going on. Members are all aware of the cloning of goats by a company called Nexia. Such cloning raises once again the ethical issue relating to that procedure. These goats were cloned by using a technique similar to the one used with Dolly the sheep, in 1997. The same DNA was used in what was the first stage to develop a spider silk called biostyl from goat milk.

This scientific breakthrough generated admiration, but also concern in Canada. It may mean that it is probably not that difficult to clone human beings. Fortunately, we just learned that Dolly is aging twice as rapidly as she should be. This may make cloners think twice.

When Nexia officials appeared before the Standing Committee on Agriculture, we asked them “Do you have a code of ethics? How do you operate? Is there an international or national code of ethics?” They told us, literally, that they were voluntary members of the Canadian Council on Animal Care. This is like saying “The humane society will give you an outline of the course of action to follow. Comply with it”. This makes no sense, from both a scientific and human point of view.

In my opinion, this makes for a rather dangerous situation.

I will cut short my comments on this issue, because the hon. member for Palliser already said a lot about biotechnologies and I agree with the warnings he gave.

I now come to my third point, which is air pollution. I have another document on the quality of the air that we breathe. I did not get my information from just anybody. It is from the Department of Agriculture and Agri-Food, so we can all relate to it.

This document deals with how we manage our lands and produce food and fibres. This is not negligible in the context of air pollution.

Atmospheric pollution has a direct effect on all plants and animals on the earth, as does the climate, which governs productivity, human activity and the arrival of catastrophes such as droughts, floods and storms.

Some atmospheric changes may be inoffensive or even beneficial to humans and plants. However others are disastrous, and their negative effects will be felt ever more frequently, unless we change our way of managing our energy, our food and our fibres.

In Bill C-32, the government does not act on recommendations from another federal government department, when in fact it should. The government would be advised to refer to biological agriculture. There are no codes yet on biological agriculture, and I think they will be a long time coming.

I will close by mentioning another article which I read in the document “Taking our Breath Away: The Health Effects of Air Pollution and Climate Change” published by the David Suzuki Foundation.

It contains some very interesting points, such as the following:

According to a recent opinion survey, pollution, including air pollution, is Canadians' main health concern, and Quebecers are worried about it most—

I am not inventing this, I read it in the David Suzuki Foundation document.

as was demonstrated by over 800 people attending a recent forum in Montreal.

Quebecers' interest in this area should not surprise us. Air pollution and climatic changes make victims of the people of this province and cost their health care system dearly.

Air pollution kills prematurely some 4,000 Quebecers and 12,000 other Canadians every year.

Higher temperatures, climatic changes and the ozone layer are the focus of the Kyoto commitments and underlie the changes that we should be making.

I am not satisfied with the motions presented and passed with respect to Bill C-32 on agriculture, biotechnology and air.

What we must remember is that the environment is not a government matter, it is an individual matter. Without a solid partnership and a solid harmonization agreement, we may not achieve our objectives and the primary goal—that of saving the planet.

Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999Government Orders

11:25 a.m.


Rick Laliberte NDP Churchill River, SK

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to clarify our role as Canadians and to highlight the whole journey of getting the Canadian Environmental Protection Act to where it is now at third reading.

I would first like to say that we were quite discouraged with government members during the voting last night and with Reform members who voted with the Liberal cabinet in support of watering down environmental protection in the country.

One of my hon. colleagues said that the youth of the country and the world are very cognizant of the environmental damage that the industrialized revolution and the industrial ways of living have diminished our health and our environment. They are very conscious of changes that have to be made. The youth are telling us this.

We have received letters in these last few days and hours telling us that a mistake was made last night in watering down the environmental protection of the country. Then an hon. member said that there was a mistake, that when the standing committee was formed and the way it did its parliamentary duties was overly environmental.

To Canadians, the youth who are listening, environment is life. We live off this land, off this water, off this air. If we do not protect our environment, there is no future for us.

In industry, trade and manufacturing, people make their daily profits while they pollute and put their garbage into our environment. It impacts on us. If we want these people to sit on our environment committee and empower it on a balanced situation, future generations will struggle.

Our youth are environmentally conscious. They will dominate this House of Commons. They will dominate all committees, including the industry committee and the trade committee. Youth are our future.

Last night we made a major mistake. We watered down this country's basic environmental protection law by adopting amendments that were proposed by industry. The Reform Party was lobbied. The Liberal cabinet was lobbied. The parliamentary secretary and the ministers were lobbied. They buckled and they watered down our environmental protection act. It is the third reading debate today and the vote will be held tonight.

I want to put some quotes on the record and I will submit them to the Clerk. This letter which was circulated highlights the key problems with Bill C-32 as revised by the committee. The committee worked on this for years under public review. In its report “It's About Your Health”, the standing committee made its recommendations to strengthen pollution prevention, not pollution control or pollution management, but pollution prevention, to stop pollution.

This is what industry had to say about the committee's work:

Application of virtual elimination. For reasons that are unclear to us, the Department of Environment proposed to the committee significant changes to the virtual elimination construct initially proposed in Bill C-32. The new construct changes the virtual elimination definition so that it is now based on achieving releases below the limit of qualification, and incorporates two distinct measures to achieve virtual elimination:

The release number should be set by the governor in council and not by the ministers alone—

Virtual elimination planning based on achieving below limits of qualification releases is faulty public policy as it is fraught with operational uncertainty and would impose a huge regulatory overhang without any demonstrable reduction in environmental or health risks.

Virtual elimination is a working qualification that we can continue to pollute to a measurable amount in this country. The minister will allow these limits.

In the preamble of the bill we wanted to have a phase-out of the toxic chemicals and toxins in this country. We wanted to phase them out. We did not get that in the operational side of the bill but we were successful in getting it in the preamble. The front side of the bill says that we want to phase out eventually; the operational side says that the minister recommends virtual elimination.

What happened after the industry put its foot down in sending out these documents is that “achieving virtual elimination” in the bill has been taken out. It is only “limits of qualification will be set by the minister”.

This country is in a loophole. Canadians want to phase out chemicals and toxic substances. The government says we will virtually eliminate. Industry says just set the limit and let us continue to do our business. This whole issue of pollution prevention has been eliminated, completely phased out from Bill C-32 as it is before us.

I would also like to highlight that the integrity of the standing committee has been tested not only by industry but by this government and the minister. The minister challenged us that in committee we should not change major clauses in the bill. We made changes and she put forth many amendments to repeal the changes.

In terms of getting even, so to speak, she also put an amendment that the next review of Bill C-32, the CEPA, would not be exclusively done by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development. The exclusive review could be taken by the committee responsible in the other place. The Senate could review the next bill if it is approved. That is a major detriment.

I raise this issue for all hon. members, my colleagues to my right, who speak on behalf of seeing an effective and elected Senate. All members should be aware that the Senate does not have the exclusive right. It does not have the democratic representation to review these acts.

This country has a process for creating acts and laws. The House of Commons standing committees have the first right to make recommendations and review ministerial drafts. Then the bill goes through this House before it goes to the other place. This process could be sidestepped with the amendment that was introduced last night and which is now in place. I draw this to the attention of all parliamentarians.

Another issue I raised and which the hon. minister highlighted was scientific certainty. Cost effectiveness was a major concern for industry, that any measure taken to protect our environment should be cost effective. The committee had eliminated this. It was brought back in with an amendment by the Reform Party and the Liberal cabinet. They want cost effective measures to ensure that industry has the profit driven derivatives as a priority over the environment and the health and safety of Canadians. Cost effective was a major battle in committee and inevitably industry won.

The other side of scientific certainty is aboriginal traditional knowledge which is a bold inclusion, but there is an oversight. We introduced an amendment yesterday which was defeated. Aboriginal people are not defined in the bill. We put forward a constitutional definition of who the aboriginal people are: the Indian, the Metis and the Inuit of this country, but the amendment was not approved.

A lot of the aboriginal people in this country have lived a sustainable life on the land. Their intrinsic knowledge is oral based. They know the plants, the animals, the waters and the effects on the environment. All of this is an oral based tradition. It is not a science based tradition. Giving that equal weight is a bold move under CEPA. We encourage that.

A huge group of aboriginal people have been taken out of the definition. The Metis have been overlooked under the Indian Act, under the land claims and again under this bill. It would have been an opportunity for them to contribute to the betterment of our environment. We wanted to raise that issue.

Another amendment that was soundly defeated last night was the protection of our children. We asked that CEPA consider the child specific reviews, studies and assessments of the toxic impact on our children in the school yards, at the beaches, in the parks, in the many shopping malls and playgrounds they frequent. These are child specific areas. We asked that Environment Canada and Health Canada specifically study what impacts those areas.

A child's growth is more vulnerable than that of an adult with an immune system that is well in tact. Children are still developing and toxins such as endocrine disrupters impact on them. If they are exposed at the wrong time at the wrong place the effects could be detrimental.

Public participation is certainly a big section in this bill, but the public right to know and the public right to sue have been watered down because of industry's interests of cost effectiveness. If any toxins were released into our environment, the minister would have to prove the industry had knowingly polluted before she could publicly sue. In terms of a loophole somebody could simply say that they did not know they were polluting. That would eliminate all the laws put forward in CEPA. “I did not know I was polluting” could be a statement of defence that would let every polluter off the hook. Any cost recovery required by the minister would not carry any weight.

The issue of biotechnology was highlighted in the bill. Under the committee process we empowered the environment and health ministers to take effective decisions on biotechnology. It is a growing and very cautious industry. It is also a very non-transparent industry. Industry and government are at one end of the issue and the public and consumers are at the other end. Government has to protect the public and the consumers, not just the needs of industry. We wanted the Minister of Health and the Minister of the Environment to look at the public interest.

In terms of biotechnology we are going to be exposed to organisms that have been altered genetically in our food, in our environment, in our bodies. The wish of the industry lobby all along has been to have these issues considered and the decisions made by the governor in council. Then industry would have a small group of people to lobby. The cabinet ministers are a small group and they would be an easy target, but to lobby the 301 MPs in this House is too much of a task. This parliament has lost its power by giving the governor in council too much decision making on biotechnology which is a growing issue.

In terms of the whole issue of the governor in council and the industry lobby, the precautionary principle was a major concern for industry. I quote from the section on cost effectiveness:

The original bill generally incorporated the notion of “cost effectiveness” in a number of sections (Administrative Duties, Information Gathering provisions and Pollution Prevention Planning provisions) and these references have been systematically deleted by the Parliamentary Committee. The Committee has also introduced provisions into the Administrative Duties section ... that require the government to consider the benefits of taking environmental action, do not require it to consider the costs and even specify that if there are no benefits identified, this should not stand in the way of taking action. This creates an imbalance in the Bill that is inconsistent with the principles of sustainable development whereby environmental, economic and social considerations all have to be integrated. The original balance in the Bill needs to be restored by reinserting the previous references ... to actions having to be cost effective.

Ladies and gentlemen, parliamentarians, cost effective—

Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999Government Orders

11:40 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I know the hon. member intends to refer to Mr. Speaker rather than to ladies and gentlemen in his speech. I know that was his intention and I would invite him to comply with the rules in that regard.

Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999Government Orders

11:40 a.m.


Rick Laliberte NDP Churchill River, SK

Mr. Speaker, I am consumed by this emotional debate and I tend to forget to look at the Speaker. Sometimes it is Madam Speaker or Mr. Speaker and that is to whom I was referring.

In highlighting the interest of cost effectiveness and balance we have to look at the beneficial side. Some of the initiatives taken under the precautionary principle can lack scientific evidence and certainty. We cannot balance everything through a cost effective screen. We have to look at the beneficial screen.

Some of the beneficial screens might be for children's health. It might be that the plastics in soothers or the nipples of bottles are not safe. This is a very small population compared to the adult population of the world. However, if we do not look at the benefits of introducing measures for this small, susceptible subgroup, we cannot go forward and say that the sustainable development of the country and the world is protected under the bill. Everything is measured under cost effectiveness and we cannot accept that. We did not accept it last night and we are not prepared to accept it tonight.

In the past week we have received evidence from the Commissioner of the Environment that the Liberal cabinet has taken the environment issue very lightly. Since the 1993 election we have seen evidence of a decline in the program review of the Department of the Environment. This department has gone from one of the top ten departments in the country to being one of the last. Even ministers do not want to become the Minister of the Environment.

This is a far cry from what the new millennium should be. We should be preparing the environment for the future of our children. We should be empowering the Department of the Environment to be holistic in its cabinet affairs. It should be part of the social caucus and economic caucus. However, it is being shoved to the side and belittled every day.

Today we are discussing the pesticide issue. One of the major goals of the pesticide industry is to support and protect industry in the country. However, its first goal should be to protect our health and our environment. We cannot water down our responsibilities.

This all goes back to cost effectiveness. If we put cost effective measures in the environmental bill nothing could take place. We could end up with an economic disaster in the future if cost effective screens are not in place.

The unfriendly environmental lobby that has taken place in the last few days was certainly successful in getting the votes. However, I want to put on the record, for parliamentarians and Canadians, the letters that were submitted to us. People can see that the changes made in the bill reflect the needs of industry not the needs of Canadians or the environment.

Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999Government Orders

11:45 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

John Herron Progressive Conservative Fundy Royal, NB

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to final reading of Bill C-32, an act respecting pollution prevention and the protection of the environment and human health in order to contribute to sustainable development.

The bill has come a long way from its first reading back on March 28, 1998 and I believe it faces a long road ahead in the Senate. The environment and sustainable development committee spent eight months alone hearing witnesses and reviewing the proposed amendments in an attempt to improve the bill. However, there is still a lot that can be done to make pollution prevention the cornerstone objective in the act.

Eleven years ago in 1988, the Canadian Environmental Protection Act was first introduced by the Progressive Conservative government. It was a significant part of our environmental record and part of over a decade of environmental progress from 1984 to 1993.

While the government promised “A Liberal government will lead in protecting the environment” in the red book, the truth of the matter is it has never had a plan to turn that promise into action. This was empty election rhetoric coming from a party that no longer has any credibility on this file.

It has taken six long years to get this significant piece of environmental legislation to third reading. It had to get there by invoking the dreaded debate killing, time allocation hammer, something the government has done 53 times since it has taken office in 1993.

One wonders what the Liberals are afraid to hear. I have news for them. There was no need to kill the debate. The secret is already out. Canadians already know the government does not intend to put consideration of the environment and human health first. There is no need to pretend any more or to make any other promises. The truth of the matter is that Canadians do not expect leadership on the environment from the Liberal government.

Last year's report tabled by the Commissioner of the Environment stated:

Vision and leadership are the two essential ingredients for tackling environmental challenges that face the government...While Canada has demonstrated vision, it is failing in implementing it...The government is not keeping the promises it makes both Canadians and the world.

The government's lack of commitment to the environment is painfully obvious to Canadians. Part of the problem is reflected in the cuts to the environment ministry budget and human resources. It has gone from being the eighth largest department when the Progressive Conservative Party was in government to the smallest now of all 21 departments.

In contrast, our decade of governing is marked by significant progress on the environmental agenda. We established a strong national voice for the environment and showed world leadership on sustainable development.

Let me take a moment to remind Canadians what environmental progress really sounds like. It was the government of the Progressive Conservative Party, the party of Tom MacMillan, Lucien Bouchard and Jean Charest, three consecutive environment ministers, which actually played a significant role with respect to the environment.

The Progressive Conservative's initiatives included developing international leadership known as the Montreal protocol. This led to the international community signing an accord to eliminate or phase out ozone depleting gases. Canada was a principle player in this 1987 accord.

The Conservatives also eliminated lead in gasoline. They signed an air quality accord with the Americans to control international air pollution. Perhaps the achievement I am most proud of is the signing of an acid rain protocol with the Americans to ensure that factories located mainly in the United States do not contaminate the rivers, lakes and ponds located primarily in eastern Canada. We did that by doing one initiative first: we cleaned up our own act at home.

The Conservatives also set up a UV advisory program. They eliminated the excise tax on methanol and ethanol in blended fuels. They signed a revised Great Lakes water quality agreement and introduced the first CEPA, the Canadian Environmental Protection Act. As the member for Davenport pointed out in committee, it was a pioneering bill in 1988. It is the principle bill for control in the use of toxins in the environment.

During the time we were in government the Prime Minister was once quoted saying:

At an unprecedented rate, we are stripping the earth of its forests, washing away its soil, creating vast deserts, eradicating untold species of plants and animals, despoiling our oceans and poisoning our skies.

Elizabeth May, director of the Sierra Club of Canada, wrote an article on June 22 of last year saying:

Five years after he (Brian Mulroney) resigned as Prime Minister, I think of the amazing pace in environmental progress made by his government. Those days are long gone.

The Sierra Club of Canada stated in its Rio report card last year the following about the Liberals:

—with this sixth set of marks for performance by the federal government in meeting its Rio targets, it is clear that environmental issues have never been at such a low point on the political agenda.

I will now draw on the history of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act. The original CEPA was a pioneering bill enacted to control the adverse effects of toxins in the environment; a concern first highlighted in Rachel Carson's thought provoking novel A Silent Spring . CEPA also included the need to review the bill and its effectiveness after five years. This progress began in 1994.

The first stage was an extensive review by the environment and sustainable development committee. Its findings, detailed in a document entitled “It's about our Health”, reported 141 recommendations for the government to consider in drafting the revised bill.

The government responded in December 1996 with Bill C-74, a piece of legislation that was so flawed and raised so much controversy that the government elected to let it die on the Order Paper at the dissolution of parliament in 1997. Some individuals are concerned that this may actually be the fate of this particular bill should the House prorogue this fall.

The government decided to try again by tabling Bill C-32 in April 1998, 10 years after the passage of the original act. It is simply amazing that it has taken the government 11 years to get here and it still does not have the full support of the House for the bill. I would like to point out that it does not even have the full support of its own caucus.

When the bill was sent to committee, it had a possible record number of amendments put forward for discussion and debate. Some 400-plus proposed amendments were examined over a period of eight months.

Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999Government Orders

11:55 a.m.


Paddy Torsney Liberal Burlington, ON

Five hundred and sixty.

Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999Government Orders

11:55 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

John Herron Progressive Conservative Fundy Royal, NB

As the parliamentary secretary has pointed out, 560 amendments were actually tabled with respect to Bill C-32. I will take the opportunity to point out to the parliamentary secretary that alarm bells should go off in people's heads. If there are 560 amendments to a particular piece of legislation before we actually get a chance to review it clause by clause, maybe the bill is just a little bit more flawed. If the parliamentary secretary wants to feed me a bit more information throughout my speech perhaps she can actually help me to bring those points forward. I am very appreciative of her comments.

Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999Government Orders

11:55 a.m.


Paddy Torsney Liberal Burlington, ON

There were 150 government amendments.

Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999Government Orders

11:55 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

John Herron Progressive Conservative Fundy Royal, NB

The parliamentary secretary again chooses to be an asset to my remarks by saying there were 150 government amendments. After six years of being in government and two tries at actually doing the five year review of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, what did the government have to do? At the eleventh hour, 911 environmental management, it had to put another 150 amendments at the clause by clause stage. I was actually shocked to hear about that.

In six years the government has not had one piece of environmental legislation. It had two cracks at CEPA and it was still trying to amend it.

I know that you, Mr. Speaker, were paying attention last night when we voted on the report stage of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act. Not only was the government doing 150 amendments at the clause by clause process, it was still adding more at the report stage. I am shocked. I do not know exactly what is going to take place.

A lot of the amendments came from a number of individuals who are concerned about the environment. We had an environmental coalition at committee in order to try to ratchet up the environmental protection aspects of the bill to protect the environment and human health.

I would like to pay tribute to the members for Churchill River and Jonquière, critics from the NDP and the Bloc, who worked with the Progressive Conservative Party and some very devout, environmentally conscious members of the Liberal Party who sat on the committee. Those individuals were the member for Davenport, the member for York North and the member for Lac-Saint-Louis. I think Canadians should pay tribute to their personal sacrifices in that regard. We know they took a fair amount of political heat from their own party members for their support in trying to ratchet up the protection aspects with respect to human health and the environment.

During the review process I asked the Minister of Health if he supported the provisions in the bill which would enable him to control endocrine disrupters. The parliamentary secretary said that I had prejudged the clause by clause process. Perhaps at that time I had prejudged it. Upon review, I may have actually had a bit of foresight in terms of what was going to happen at the clause by clause study.

What worries me is the fact that the parliamentary secretary responded to that particular question. There are two co-sponsors of the bill: the Minister of Health and the Minister of the Environment. However, the Minister of Health chose not to respond to that very important question which indeed has human health aspects involved.

I do not believe for a minute that the Minister of the Environment, the member from Northumberland, and the government lack the political will to address the environmental concerns in terms of what we were trying to do at the committee and what her strong officials were trying to do at the departmental level. It is not her political will by any means. I think it is the political will of the government.

The fact that the Minister of Health did not respond to that question sends a signal to me. He is a primary player in cabinet. For him not to respond to that question, and to allow the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment, who was quickly on her feet, to respond, makes me think, if he really is the co-sponsor of the bill, why would he not defend the quality of the bill with respect to human health and the environment.

The reason, as most members of the House and the media have seen over the last number of weeks and months, is that this bill is under attack from all sides. Whether they be environmentalists, concerned Canadians or industry advocates, this bill has made absolutely no one happy, especially before it went through the clause by clause process.

The fact is that the government made the Minister of the Environment bear the brunt of the political pressure on this issue all the way along. The Minister of Health was absent and, to a large degree, the Prime Minister was absent as well.

Yesterday when the Prime Minister responded to my question in question period concerning the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, it was the first time he had stood to respond to a question with respect to this bill. The members for Churchill River and Jonquière, as well as myself, have asked a number of questions with respect to this bill. I know the critics for the Reform Party have asked questions, but still we have only had one response from the Prime Minister.

If we can do one thing for Canadians, we need to find more political support for the Minister of the Environment so that she will have more clout and more of her cabinet colleagues will pay attention to this very important file.

Never in my short time in elected office, in my lengthy parliamentary career of about 23 months, have I ever witnessed such flagrant attempts by the government to deny the parliamentary process the chance to operate and I hope I never see it again.

The member for Lac-Saint-Louis, a former environment minister for the province of Quebec and a former parliamentary secretary to the minister of the environment, was repeatedly denied access as a voting member of the committee. If we review the transcripts of the committee we will see that this situation came up time and time again. He brought to the table a wealth of knowledge and experience, and the committee in many cases relied upon his wisdom and guidance.

Instead, during the excessive eight month period it became a challenge for the government to fill its needed nine committee seats with anybody but the member for Lac-Saint-Louis. Other Liberal members used the clause by clause process to catch up on correspondence, read the newspaper and even take a nap. It was the “anybody but the member for Lac-Saint-Louis campaign”, where even the government's deputy whip had to take her seat at the table when no other caucus members came forward to fill the much needed nine spots. All the while the member for Lac-Saint-Louis, rarely missing a meeting, was continuously told he could not participate. He could participate in discussions only. He could not move amendments. It is obvious the government was afraid that his amendments might succeed in making significant improvements to the bill.

Despite those attempts, in some cases we succeeded in improving the bill. The government is now obliged to gather information on endocrine disrupting substances. This would not have been included in the act had it not been for the pressure placed on the government to recognize the harmful effects of these dangerous substances. It was a small victory for the environment and human health.

I would like to point out that it was the definition of the member for Churchill River which was accepted under the information gathering clause of the bill. It was his amendment, the amendments of the Progressive Conservative Party and those of the Bloc as well which challenged the government to put forward its own definition. I am proud to say that it was the NDP definition that actually carried the day at the time.

Maybe that is how the political system is supposed to work. Something was left out of the bill, the opposition parties challenged the government to include something, and it was added. In that aspect I maintain a degree of faith in the system.

Canada is already a world leader in research on endocrine disrupting substances. The strong definition and enshrined research clause that obligates the minister to act will set a new standard for other nations to measure against. However, a significant shortcoming is that we have no means to ensure that the ministers will act upon any of their findings.

The precautionary principle has now been institutionalized in the administrative duties section of the act. This means that the minister will carry out his or her responsibilities in keeping with the precautionary principle where absence of clear science will no longer be a reason to postpone action. This was first included in the Rio declaration, a document our government fully endorsed in 1992.

The act includes provisions allowing for civil suits. Individuals can now hold industries accountable for failing to abide by the law. This is an initiative brought forward by the government and I applaud its initiative in that regard.

The legislation also includes provisions for pollution prevention plans, which was another initiative by the government, to challenge industries to ensure that their actions do not have a harmful effect on the environment and on human health. This is a voluntary scheme that promotes pollution prevention by requiring certain industries to publish plans in order to curtail releases into the environment. The affected industry is then left to find a workable solution to the problem. If it does not, the minister is empowered to act.

A pollution prevention plan is really a voluntary regulation. The government can say to industry “You know your industry better than we do. We want you to control the releases that your process is causing”. In that regard, if a pollution prevention plan does not do the job, the government is empowered to bring forth regulations. It is a very valuable concept for the government to work in conjunction with industry, but industry must know that the government can act.

For the most part, individuals who work in industry understand that it does not matter how much money they make because, ultimately, if we cannot drink the water, breathe the air or live in the environment, it does not make much sense. Most industry officials subscribe to that concept, but it is up to us to ensure that we challenge them not to cheat in that regard.

I am also concerned about the residual nature of the bill. I would have preferred that the Minister of the Environment, the Minister of Health and one other minister would have the capacity to make a decision which would apply with respect to overlap and duplication as opposed to going to governor in council. I think that would have been a better option.

We supported the virtual elimination definition that was brought forth in Bill C-32 before the clause by clause consideration. We thought it was a very workable definition. It should not have been changed in the first place, but I am glad that we reverted to it last night.

It is our intention to support Bill C-32 tonight. We think it augments what the 1988 CEPA did. It is an improvement with respect to the precautionary principle, citizen suits, et cetera. However, having said that, there is still room for improvement.

Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999Government Orders

12:05 p.m.

Burlington Ontario


Paddy Torsney LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of the Environment

Mr. Speaker, the member opposite has made a number of claims which I could probably spend at least 10 minutes refuting.

He indicated in his comments that pollution prevention under Bill C-32 would be voluntary, which of course he knows is incorrect; it would be on the authority of the minister.

He also references Elizabeth May, who worked for a Conservative member, so that is always an interesting critique of this government.

Specifically he mentioned that this bill is not green enough. I wonder how he can say that when he voted for some amendments and introduced other amendments at report stage which were not environmentally friendly. How can the member stand and say that this bill is not green enough when he would have seen significant changes that would have altered this bill to make it less environmentally friendly?

Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999Government Orders

12:05 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

John Herron Progressive Conservative Fundy Royal, NB

Mr. Speaker, I will address the last issue which the member brought up first, which concerns the amendments on virtual elimination. I think those are the ones she is referring to.

In fact, the government brought forth its own definition which did exactly the same thing and it supported its own amendment. It is already on side. I hope the hon. member is not admitting that the government lacks environmental conscience in that regard.

With respect to pollution prevention plans, I would say that she is 100% right. They only come into play at the request of the minister, but it is a voluntary initiative whereby the minister can say “Hey, you guys tell us how you are going to clean up your act. If you don't, we will do it by regulation”. I did not mean to say anything different in that regard.

Elizabeth May, who is a leader of the Sierra Club, has not necessarily been the Conservatives' best advocate, but she has pointed out that when she compares our record to their record, there is no contest. Ours wins every time.

Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999Government Orders

12:10 p.m.


Werner Schmidt Reform Kelowna, BC

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member made quite a point of saying that this process has been undemocratic and that the procedure followed by the committee was undemocratic. I think he is a person who would advocate justice, ensuring that the decisions which are made are based on rational, good, solid scientific evidence.

The hon. member said something to the effect that this bill does not require, in every instance, a basis on scientific fact. On what basis would risk assessment take place if, in fact, it is not required that it be based on science? Is he suggesting that perhaps certain political, capricious or spurious reasons could be introduced to declare something to be environmentally damaging? What would be the basis on which a risk assessment would be done?

Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999Government Orders

12:10 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

John Herron Progressive Conservative Fundy Royal, NB

Mr. Speaker, I think the hon. member has brought forth a very constructive question. This is an issue on which members of his party and our party do not exactly agree.

We do agree on this issue, that science should be what drives the decision making process as to whether a government should act in a particular circumstance. Science should be number one. However, when the science is headed in a very clear direction, and when we think that the use of a particular toxin or a particular process is causing harm to the environment or human health, the government should not have to wait for the last i to be dotted or the last t to be crossed before taking action.

We do not necessarily agree on that particular point. We support the precautionary principle. If there is doubt, the government should be concerned with the environment and human health first before every i is dotted and every t is crossed. The government supports that concept, as do we. The Progressive Conservatives support that concept, as well as the NDP and the Bloc. With respect, I invite my friend from the Reform Party to embrace that aspect of the precautionary principle.

Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999Government Orders

12:10 p.m.


Rick Laliberte NDP Churchill River, SK

Mr. Speaker, I would like to raise a couple of questions. One deals with the beginning of the act and the other with the end of the act.

I would ask the hon. member how he could support the bill as it is. At the beginning of the bill, the preamble, which was amended last night, removes the phase-out period for toxic chemicals. The hon. member knows that highly toxic chemicals in this country do not require virtual elimination, they need to be phased out. The world is working toward that, but Canada will not be.

At the end of his remarks he talked about democratic integrity and that the integrity of the standing committee should be respected. It was not when all of these amendments were passed last night.

Also, at the end of the bill it states that the next review could be done exclusively by a Senate committee. I do not know if he understood that last amendment.

The phase-out aspect and the review this of bill are very crucial.

Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999Government Orders

12:10 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

John Herron Progressive Conservative Fundy Royal, NB

Mr. Speaker, I think it is a shame that the term “phase-out” was taken out of the preamble of the bill. We support the concept of virtual elimination. Having said that, the intent, the language and the spirit of the bill must embrace the concept that those most toxic substances that exist should not exist. When we are considering PCBs, DDT and those sorts of things, we need to empower the government to be able to completely phase-out those kinds of substances.

The system we use is a risk based system. That is how we manage our toxins. We need to embrace the concept of virtual elimination as long as we are challenging industry on an ongoing basis.

The word phase-out primarily addresses, as the member for Churchill River knows, issues such as POPs. We should not send a negative signal in that regard. It was an excessive reaction to a concern of industry. It was concerned that the virtual elimination concept could be changed in that regard. The minister should have the power in certain circumstances to make a call.

With respect to the humanitarian review of CEPA, whether it is done in the Senate or the House my biggest concern is the fact that it be done in a timely manner. We are reviewing CEPA 88 in 1999, some 11 years later.

The member raised another issue with respect to the Senate. I categorically support an elected Senate in every way, shape and form. The concern of many Canadians is that by allowing only the Senate to review something, it is being given to an unelected body. Until we have an elected Senate we actually water down the credibility of any parliamentary review which takes place, despite the fact that the senators engaged in the issue may be making a very valuable contribution on behalf of Canadians.

The alarm bells go off when it is given to an unelected body, which is something the country is ready to address and should address well into the future.

Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999Government Orders

12:15 p.m.


Peter Adams Liberal Peterborough, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order to advise the House that throughout this debate Liberal members will be splitting their time.

Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999Government Orders

12:15 p.m.


Yvon Charbonneau Liberal Anjou—Rivière-Des-Prairies, QC

Mr. Speaker, we are in the final hours of a four-year debate on Bill C-32.

When the time has come to pass a final and overall judgment on a bill, there are two ways to go about it: compare the proposed legislation to the most desirable ideal legislation, or compare the proposed legislation to the current act.

In the first instance, obviously there is a tendency to bemoan the fact that such or such an amendment was not passed because it would have improved the bill. In the latter, the question is whether the bill before us contains enough improvements to justify its being passed.

I will not keep members guessing any longer. I am one of those who will support Bill C-32 because, in my view, it represents a marked improvement over our current environmental act, despite a few uncertainties.

With regard to Bill C-32's renewal of our fundamental environmental act, it goes beyond pollution control, focusing essentially on its prevention.

It takes direct aim at toxic substances through the virtual elimination of those most harmful to the environment and health. It focuses on the cautionary principle. It sets out a tighter and more efficient process for the evaluation and management of toxic substances. Also it improves the control of pollutants and certain waste categories. It strengthens enforcement of the act by giving public servants the same authority as a peace officer, fostering and encouraging public participation, and better protecting whistleblowers.

Finally the bill deals more adequately with new realities such as biotechnology and long-overlooked historical realities, namely our relations with native peoples.

Since the original Canadian Environmental Protection Act was passed in 1988, our vision of the environment has become broader and richer. We have entered the sustainable development era or, more specifically, a time devoted to the research and development of an integrated management model for our habitat and resources, which will gradually enable us to integrate environmental concerns into our economic and social decisions both domestically and internationally.

In this regard, Bill C-32 is a real step forward, as witness the fact that the environment and health ministers will no longer have sole responsibility for the quality of the environment.

Many other ministers, and often cabinet itself, will to have to appreciate the importance of a number of complex situations affecting exports, international air and water pollution, aquaculture and biotechnology. This sharing of responsibilities is the only hope for the long term success of government management of sustainable development.

I would also point out that the bill creates a framework that will allow the federal government not only to exercise its public health responsibilities but also to strengthen the necessary co-operation with other levels of government.

This bill contains dozens of clauses requiring the federal government to consult its partners, but it also provides that, after two months, the government must act in the public interest with respect to pollution problems, which cannot wait for the Canadian constitution to change.

The House has listened to a series of speeches from the Bloc Quebecois suggesting that the federal government is bulldozing over everything in its path with respect to the environment, when what it is in fact doing is negotiating with the provinces harmonization agreements that Quebec is refusing to sign.

To hear the Bloc Quebecois tell it, the federal government should not be allowed to exercise its research, planning and regulatory responsibilities. It should not be allowed to draw up a list of priority substances, or a national inventory of toxic substances, or take action with respect to exports, biotechnology, aquaculture, fuel, and so on and so forth, without the agreement of the provinces.

Internationally, there is a consensus. Environmental issues require increasingly close co-operation between countries but, if we are to believe the leading lights in the Bloc Quebecois, interprovincial boundaries and constitutional arguments here in Canada would take precedence over our primary responsibility, which is to manage our habitat safely for our own good and for the good of our descendants.

Personally, I am pleased that Bill C-32 provides a framework that will allow the federal government to exercise sound leadership in a spirit of active co-operation, not sterile discussions and apathy.

Earlier, I mentioned that Bill C-32 also raised some uncertainties, which I want to discuss. I am taking this opportunity to emphasize the tremendous work of my Liberal colleagues who sit on the standing committee, and also the positive contribution made by several members of the opposition, who showed great tenacity regarding these issues.

These issues include the following: What would be the effectiveness of the very complex procedure governing the establishment of the priority list? Will the Minister of the Environment have the necessary resources to do his job within the prescribed timeframe? What will be the true priority given to the prevention of pollution control in the strategy to enforce the act? What will be the true priority given to the principle of caution when facing partially unknown situations? Will the use of cost effective measures make the situation so complicated that it will prevent the required actions from being taken? What will be the strategy of the industry lobby: will it fight tooth and nail or will it try to find ways to make businesses more environmentally friendly, while also making them more profitable?

As for the government, there are also questions that need to be asked: will the Ministers of the Environment and Health be given any more support by their economic colleagues in cabinet? Will those colleagues have an enhanced sense of responsibility as far as our resources are concerned, both economically and internationally? Finally, will the provinces really co-operate? Will the public reap the benefit of the new means at its disposal and require all the transparency and stringency of application this renewed legislation needs?

These are all questions the bill does not, and cannot, provide answers for. These are questions that time and people of good faith will answer. People like ourselves, in their businesses, in their roles as elected representatives at other levels, in their roles as public servants, or merely as enlightened and critical citizens, will decide that environmental management is a true priority and that it is worthwhile pursuing a societal model with sustainable bases and perspectives.

In closing, I would like to congratulate the Minister of the Environment for successfully bringing this bill to maturity. I would also like to thank all those who contributed to the drafting and passage of this bill, whether behind the scenes or in more public roles.

Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999Government Orders

12:25 p.m.

Peterborough Ontario


Peter Adams LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I listened with great interest to what my colleague had to say. I think I missed a small part of what he said about the matter of the responsibility of ministers other than the Minister of the Environment, and I think he mentioned the Minister of Health.

Just for my information, could he revisit that section of his remarks to give us some idea of the roles of ministers other than the Minister of the Environment in the legislation?

Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999Government Orders

12:25 p.m.


Yvon Charbonneau Liberal Anjou—Rivière-Des-Prairies, QC

Mr. Speaker, it concerns instances in the bill where decision making power will not rest with the Minister of the Environment and the Minister of Health, the two sponsors of the bill, but will be transferred to cabinet, which will have to assess a number of complex situations.

For example, when the time comes to reach agreements on the export of substances or dangerous waste with other countries, cabinet will have the final say. It is also true that there are issues relating to air pollution, internationally, when there are sources of pollution on both sides of the border. There are also issues involving international water pollution, binational water pollution in our case, by Canada and the United States. Here again cabinet will have to decide on the scope of agreements and of the measures to be taken.

The same is true in the area of aquaculture. If the government feels that other laws protect the environment sufficiently, the Minister of the Environment, at that point, does not have to intervene. This applies as well to biotechnology.

There are certain complex issues causing responsibility for environmental management by the government to be shared among a number of ministers. I know that some see this as a weakness, a potential source of conflict, misunderstanding, delay and blockage. This should be examined. I mentioned it in the series of questions I raised.

At the same time, if management of the environment is to take place within the perspective of sustainable development, all ministers dealing with these economic or international matters must themselves assume responsibility, which involves their staff and their department, for including environmental concerns in their decisions.

It would not then be just the Minister of the Environment or the Minister of Health, who would alone bear responsibility for the environment. Little by little, it would become a concern of cabinet as a whole. I gave this example as an illustration, I believe that this puts us on the road to sustainable development over the years. It will not be easy, but it is definitely the right road.

Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999Government Orders

12:25 p.m.


Rick Laliberte NDP Churchill River, SK

Mr. Speaker, I commend the hon. member on taking an active role through the whole review process. He was there and saw the evolution of the past year in what we have before us today at third reading. He made the bold statement that we do not have a perfect bill. Unfortunately that is what this process has created. He also highlighted the fact that the bill was an improvement to the existing CEPA bill.

Just before we departed on the journey of reviewing Bill C-32, the standing committee indicated that enforcement of existing CEPA laws was very much in question, that the enforcement of existing laws lacked financial and human resources.

Would the hon. member comment on the enforcement of the bill which includes additional responsibilities and additional duties? Does he see the need for a major improvement to be made in terms of additional resources required for the enforcement of this law?

Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999Government Orders

12:30 p.m.


Yvon Charbonneau Liberal Anjou—Rivière-Des-Prairies, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my NDP colleague for asking how the legislation we are passing will be enforced, a question that concerns us all.

As members of the committee, we all signed a report pointing out the weaknesses in the enforcement of certain aspects of the existing legislation.

Given the challenge of vigorous and rigorous enforcement, there are two concerns I wish to share with with the hon. member. First of all, the legislation must assign powers and provide for enforcement and, in addition, the government must set aside appropriate funding in the budget for the Minister of the Environment to enforce the legislation.

The bill creates more favourable conditions by allowing enforcement officers to perform the duties of peace officers and to issue summonses, as required, when they come across unacceptable situations.

Second, there is more encouragement for ongoing public vigilance with respect to enforcement. Ultimately, this holds out the most promise. There are also additional measures to protect whistleblowers. So much for the legal angle.

That leaves the financial considerations. The last two budgets set aside increased amounts for the Minister of the Environment to assume her responsibilities with respect to the analysis of toxic substances.