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.