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.


Questions On The Order Paper
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10:10 a.m.

Some hon. members


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Christine Stewart Minister of the Environment

moved that Bill C-32, an act respecting pollution prevention and the protection of the environment and human health in order to contribute to sustainable development, be read the third time and passed.

Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by saying that there were times during the odyssey of this piece of legislation moving through the House of Commons that I and a few of my other colleagues wondered if we would ever arrive at this day.

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank you in particular, as well as the whips of the House for the very efficient way in which we dealt with the legislation at report stage last night.

Canada's first environmental protection act took effect in 1988. After a five year review of that legislation in 1993 by the then Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development, a considered government response and two presentations of amended legislation, we are close today to seeing a new Canadian environmental protection act passed through this Chamber.

The Senate will take its turn to review the legislation before it receives royal assent and is proclaimed law.

The current legislation which we are debating at third reading today was introduced in March 1998 and, as many in the House can attest, the challenges have been numerous and intense.

I would like to begin my comments at third reading today by thanking, first, my parliamentary secretary, the member for Burlington, for her diligence and commitment to the principles of the legislation and the legislative process. Her assistance has been invaluable.

Second, I thank all members of the standing committee for their persistence, especially my own caucus members who have worked with me to bring about some significant improvements to the legislation I introduced in March 1998. Thanks to their work, today we have a piece of legislation which is a significant improvement over the currently used CEPA legislation, new legislation of which we can all be proud.

Even the legislation we are debating today will be reviewed by parliament in five years and will once again be improved, for it is the role of ongoing science, the development of new insights, technologies and values, and the dedication of committed environment department staff working with society and parliamentarians which will create the demand for new improvements to legislation.

I would also like to take this opportunity to thank all of my officials in my department who helped us move the yardstick forward on this CEPA legislation.

What is the CEPA legislation all about? It is about protecting our environment and human health from the inherent negative effects of some substances currently in use today. The new CEPA legislation demands the screening of all 23,000 substances currently in use in Canada. The screening is to be completed in seven years.

For those substances found to be toxic, I will have the authority to require the creation and implementation of pollution prevention plans following a clear and predictable time allocated process. For those few substances found to be dangerously toxic, the legislation requires virtual elimination.

Today, of the 23,000 substances found in Canada, only 12 are considered to be dangerously toxic. Some, such as DDT, have been completely banned from use and production. Others, such as dioxins and furans, PCBs and hexachlorobenzene will be slated for virtual elimination.

The existing CEPA is based on the philosophy of pollution control. However, we know that it makes far more sense for industry to design its processes in ways that prevent pollution. It makes more sense to find ways to avoid creating waste in the first place than it does to figure out what to do with waste after it has been created, and it costs less too. We want Canada's industry to stop pollution before it happens.

Bill C-32 is on the leading edge of environmental pollution legislation worldwide. In fact, our review of similar legislation in the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands, New Zealand and Australia shows that none of them address virtual elimination. Only Bill C-32 commits to the virtual elimination of the most dangerous toxic substances.

Most of the 23,000 substances in use today in Canada do not appear to pose any threats to our environment or health. Synthetic chemicals and metals are a basic part of our world today, essential to products which we all use. The precautionary principle applied to their use is another important aspect of Bill C-32. Too many substances have proven to have been found too late to have significant and negative effects on the health of people, other living creatures and our ecosystems.

Rachel Carson, in her book Silent Spring , drew public attention to the links between toxic substances and their effects on birds such as eagles and gulls. I note that Time magazine recently ranked her as one of the most influential 100 thinkers of this century.

Science is at the heart of the new CEPA. It instructs us on our environmental problems and guides us toward solutions. Under the precautionary principle we will listen to the evidence that science reveals, but we will not wait for full scientific certainty before we take action.

Recognizing that Bill C-32 was imposing important and new demands to achieve compliance, the federal government announced $82 million in new funding in the budgets of the last two years in order to support our commitment. Last week I announced $11 million in project research funding from a $40 million research initiative looking into such key areas as endocrine disrupters, persistent organic pollutants, metals in the environment, urban air quality issues and the cumulative effects of toxic substances. A further $42 million will help us to manage toxic substances, including their assessment, regulation, tracking and enforcement.

In summary, we are determined to protect the health and environment of Canadians, for it is Canadians at the community level who are most affected by pollution. This bill obligates the government to provide more information to Canadians on pollutants, using vehicles such as the National Pollutants Release Inventory and the Environmental Registry on the Internet.

We are also expanding the mandate for increased public participation in other ways in this bill. We want to open the door for people to have the right to sue if there has been significant harm to the environment and they feel the federal government has failed to enforce this law. The legislation incorporates whistle-blower protection to employees and gives peace officer status to environmental inspectors.

This legislation enhances the intergovernmental partnership that we have already built in Canada. It ensures that aboriginal governments are participants in those partnerships and it values the traditional aboriginal knowledge that they will bring.

The new CEPA provides me with the authority to set engine emission standards for new vehicles and for other types of off-road engines, such as lawnmowers, generators and boat motors.

Bill C-32 reflects the evolving state of Canada's international environmental commitments. We will be able to step in to require pollution prevention plans to control Canadian sources of international air and water pollution. This legislation also gives us the legal authority to fulfill our obligations under a range of recent international agreements such as those that address hazardous wastes and the import and export of hazardous substances.

Through the bill's legislative process the government has successfully introduced 90 amendments and fully supported 60 other amendments made by the committee. The report stage amendments which I introduced are ones that serve to ensure internal consistency of the bill. They would ensure a proper degree of clarity throughout the act. They would respect existing ministerial responsibility because protecting the environment and the health of Canadians is a shared responsibility.

All of our polling indicates that Canadians care deeply about their environment, about the quality of the air they breath, the water they drink, their land and healthy ecosystems.

Bill C-32 will enhance Canadians' confidence in government oversight, control and protection of their environment and health from the effects of toxic substances. Our children's future security and well-being and our environmental health will be significantly improved with the passage of Bill C-32. In passing this legislation we all can be justly proud of our contributions to an important piece of legacy legislation that we leave as a building block to a cleaner, healthier and safer future.

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10:25 a.m.


Rick Casson Lethbridge, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise in the House today to address Bill C-32. We have been working on this bill for an awfully long time. There has been an awful lot of input from the many, many people who came forward. It is nice to see it come to fruition.

The environment issues facing us today are being addressed somewhat in Bill C-32, which deals with pollution control and human health. That encompasses almost every activity that takes place on this planet. Every morning when we get up and take a deep breath we are helping to pollute the air.

Regulation is needed and it has to be done in a balanced way. That is something that we tried to do, to keep that idea of balance.

I would like to ask for unanimous consent to split my time.

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The Deputy Speaker

Does the hon. member have the unanimous consent of the House to split his time?

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Some hon. members


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The Deputy Speaker

There will be two 20-minute segments. The hon. member has 19 minutes remaining.

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Rick Casson Lethbridge, AB

There were hours and hours of committee meetings. We heard witnesses from across Canada in all sectors of society. The clause by clause process was excruciating. I believe there were 560 amendments. When the bill came to the House there were an additional 230 amendments. The minister just mentioned how many were supported by the government. Many of the amendments were supported and presented by members of the Reform Party.

All through this debate there have been predictions of dire consequences if we do not toughen up the environmental protection act. To some degree, I suppose, they are right, but I believe that in many instances they go too far. A critical balance between activity and regulation has to exist, because if it gets out of whack either way it is harmful.

The bill gives the government the authority to research 23,000 toxic substances and to clarify what these substances do to mankind, to life in general and how they affect human health. We heard a lot about hormone disrupting substances during this study, as well as endocrine disrupters, gender benders, or whatever we want to call them. Our party supported more research in this area. We really have to know what the effects of these toxic substances are and we need to spend the time to find out.

To confirm problems we have to be able to find out the scope of what is happening when an action is taken and what is the reaction to that action. Canadians want to feel that government is working toward solutions which will improve the environment. That is something which all members of the House tried to work toward in this bill. We did it in our own different realms, but we all had the same focus in mind. That is what Canadians are expecting from us and that is what they should expect. The bottom line is a safer environment and sustainable development.

Getting a little more close to home, last Sunday morning I was able to take a drive out to the country to have a look at my farm and the crops. It is nice to be able to go out in the countryside at this time of year to see what a wonderful country we have. The crops were in. The ground had been tilled. It had rained and it smelled fresh and just looked wonderful.

I must acknowledge that there are many areas in Canada where this has not happened. My colleague, our agriculture critic and many others realize that there are areas in Saskatchewan, Manitoba and other places in Canada where the crops are not in. The ground is too wet and they are still struggling in that regard.

To get to the point where the agricultural community can seed its crops a lot of work needs to be done. The soil has to be worked. Fertilizer has to be applied. In some cases chemicals are applied. In all instances every operation that takes place is very expensive. Chemicals and fertilizer are expensive.

For the best results the right amount must be applied. This is done through soil testing and other methods. I believe this is what needs to be taken into account when we talk about toxic substances. If they are used, if they are needed in manufacture, let us make sure the management of these substances is done properly and there is the minimal amount of exposure to Canadians.

Even in the preparation of the soil it should not be overworked and put into a state where erosion can take place. This is something we have learned over the years. We want to do as little as possible to alter the natural state of our environment. I believe, especially in the agricultural community, we are starting to see the results of science, study, and tremendous work such as that done at the Lethbridge research station. We have started to produce more per acre than we have in years past. Over time the products we are producing will be more environmentally friendly and more useful to mankind.

A lot of care and planning is used, always with the goal in mind of preserving if not improving our environment and producing more and more on the same land base to feed a growing population. This must continue and I am sure it will.

As lawmakers we need to support Canadians by having laws that will assist our agricultural industry, our manufacturers and others to provide food and the necessities of life in a way that Canadians find acceptable and which reduces harm to the environment.

We have always to keep in mind sustainable development, the environment and human health because they have to be considered in any development. As well social and economic aspects have to be taken into account. It is important to take into consideration the impact on society or on the development of a decision.

We must use sound science and research to achieve laws and regulations and we must back them up with enforcement. We have learned through this process, through the environment committee and witnesses, that in some areas our enforcement is in dire need of a tune-up. It is not happening. It is not being done in a way that is congruent or in any planned fashion.

Environment Canada needs to have a look at its resources and direct them to the areas which need the most attention. Departmental review and putting emphasis where the emphasis is needed have to be done on an ongoing basis.

We have done a lot in the House recently, albeit not enough because of the time allocation that has been put forward. Hundreds of hours of committee work have been done. I would suppose it involved millions of dollars in wages, work and support for all the people who appeared before us and the people who work for them. We must keep in mind the expectations of Canadians. We need workable and enforceable regulations.

To be in Canada at this time of year is an absolute treat. We live in a great country, especially in the spring as we see things come to life, as we see wildlife such as the pair of geese with their goslings that I saw the other day, as we see blooming gardens, fruit trees coming around, crops going in, birds coming back and singing in our communities. It is just great.

It is important that we work in an effective manner to preserve the country for generations to come. The member from the NDP says consideration in the aboriginal sense is seven generations. We have to look at how any action that is taken by their people will affect seven subsequent generations. That is a good rule to follow.

I attended a high school graduation on the weekend and saw the excitement, the hopes and the dreams of the class of '99 as it goes out into the world. I reminded the students that they needed to pay attention to the environment.

The education aspect of environmental protection is important. All Canadians have to be aware. I have great hope in future generations. They are very much aware and will do a better job than we and previous generations have done in preserving the environment and making the country a far better place in which to live.

All in all this time of year is very exciting. Canada is one of the most pristine places on earth and we need to work to keep it that way. We have made mistakes in the past and unfortunately we may make mistakes in the future. We have to limit those mistakes and continue to make headway. We have to be sure that we sustain life and human health and develop in a way that accomplishes that. Certainly young people are very concerned about the environment. They are very much aware of it.

Different parties have brought forward different philosophies which sometimes do not lend themselves to full co-operation but allow for debate to be broadened to include how we as Reformers and how other parties feel about the environment. The bottom line is that we appreciate what we have in the country but we need to work very hard to preserve it.

To make sure people understand I would like to indicate that we support sustainable development, which is human activity that combines economic, social and environmental considerations without compromising the well-being of existing and future generations. This is very important. We support the participation of effective local communities in environmental decision making.

We always talk about residual powers in the provincial and municipal governments. They were discussed quite a bit in committee. Who has the ultimate power? We feel that the federal government has to be involved in the environment. We believe constitutional challenges have stated such. However, the provinces, municipalities and all Canadians also have a duty to perform.

We support the rationalization of federal and provincial environmental laws and the development of regional and national environmental standards where appropriate. We also support integration of social, environmental and economic objectives into the management, philosophy, structure, procedures and planning where the federal government has constitutional jurisdiction.

If we take what we believe in and support each party's philosophy and policies, it will go a long way to creating a tremendous environmental protection act.

We support federal leadership for a commitment to sustainable development, including the creation of partnerships with provincial governments, private industry, educational institutions and the public to promote meaningful progress in the area of environmental protection. This is where strong research is involved. We must get everyone involved in getting the facts laid out for Canadians to consider and in bringing government, industry, community groups and municipalities into the fold to come up with the best possible balances.

We also support the principle of establishing and regularly reviewing standards based on sound science which are technically and socio-economically viable.

We also support the removal of administrative and regulatory fiscal practices that discourage or detract from environmental responsibility. I suppose that is coming at it from another way, that all regulations should be looked at from the point of view of their environmental impact and how they will affect the world in general.

We also support the continuing development of commercially viable practices for the management of the environment. We support the development of reasonable endangered species legislation, and I could go on.

In committee and in the House our party has tried to put forward the best balanced approach which we feel will do the most in the end for the protection of the environment.

In conclusion, this will be the last time I will get to address Bill C-32 in debate. I will probably get involved in questions and comments a little later. Going through this act has been an experience I will never forget. Hopefully at the next review there will still be a few of us here.

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10:40 a.m.


Bill Gilmour Nanaimo—Alberni, BC

Mr. Speaker, basically my colleague has reviewed our party's position. I would like to trace how the Canadian Environmental Protection Act came to be and some of the problems we have had with the bill as it moved through the House.

The Canadian Environmental Protection Act was originally brought to the House in 1988. Part of that legislation, which I think was extremely helpful, indicated that in five years time the bill would come back to the House for review. That is what happened. Unfortunately it has taken about five years to reach today.

In Bill C-74 in the last parliament the government brought forward what it thought was the answer to reviewing CEPA. It brought forward some amendments. There were some flaws in that bill and it never reached the House in its final form. In this parliament the government again brought forward the new Canadian Environmental Protection Act.

In the view of the Reform Party it was a well balanced act. It looked after the needs of Canadians as well as the needs of a healthy environment and the needs of industry. It was a well balanced act which then went to committee.

The problem was the make-up of the committee. If either side of an issue, either the hang them high side or the other side, is loaded in any committee, the result will be skewed legislation. If the fisheries committee is loaded up with a bunch of fishermen there will be a skewed result.

Unfortunately there was not a balance in the environment committee. There were 560 amendments before the committee in an attempt to bring the legislation back to where it was in Bill C-74, which did not pass in the last House. All of us in the House have spent thousands of hours collectively in committee dealing with the bill.

When it came back to the House it was a bill that even the government could not live with. Another 235 amendments were introduced at report stage, with which we dealt yesterday and in the weeks before, to bring the bill back to basically where it was when it was introduced over a year ago. This involved a lot of time and a lot of energy.

This is not a shot at any of the people on the committee, but I think it is a shot at the government. A requirement of committees should be balance right across the board. Whether it is fisheries, justice or environment, the make-up of a committee should be balanced. In my view the environment committee was not balanced, which caused excessive hours of work on the part of all members and staff.

The staff behind the scenes basically spent a year keeping this process going. It was extremely frustrating at times for all of us. I would hope that in the future this could be avoided by having a balance of each committee across the spectrum.

It was unfortunate that yesterday there had to be time allocation on this bill. We were already at the seventh group of motions. We could have had eight. There were only eight groups. Basically it could have gone through. It is unfortunate after all the time we have spent on it that we did not have the opportunity to at least voice our opinions in the House. Then Canadians could have heard the different views and aspects each member had.

When my colleague was talking about the graduation ceremonies, he commented that most Canadians are environmentalists. The younger people are much more environmentally friendly and environmentally conscious than my generation. This is healthy.

We have a grand country. We need to look after it. This bill does that. Three of the five parties in the House will support the bill this evening I believe. It is a bill that in my mind hits the balance. I know others will say that it is not a balance. We can have a vibrant and healthy environment and a vibrant and healthy economy. They are not independent. They can be together. That is what this bill does.

In conclusion, we will support the bill this evening. It has taken a long time to get here. As I said at the beginning, one of the strong points of the last bill was that it came back to the House. This bill will also come back to the House in seven years. There will be an opportunity to refine it and to move it along so that it remains timely and current.

The member for Davenport has initiated a very timely review on pesticides. Part of the problem is we are dealing with pesticides that were registered 30 years ago and are out of date. By coming back to the House in seven years the bill will move with the times. It will be current.

We support the bill. We look forward to seeing its passage through the Senate and becoming law.

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10:45 a.m.


Jocelyne Girard-Bujold Jonquière, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to seek unanimous consent of the House to split my time with the hon. member for Louis-Hébert.

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The Deputy Speaker

Does the House give its consent for the hon. member for Jonquière to divide her time?

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Some hon. members


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Jocelyne Girard-Bujold 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—

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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.

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Jocelyne Girard-Bujold 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, 1999
Government Orders

11:05 a.m.


Hélène Alarie 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.