Mr. Speaker, it is with great pride that I rise today to address what very well could be one of the most important pieces of legislation the House deals with. I make that statement due to the fact that there is no greater issue any government could address than that of our environment.
There are few pieces of legislation that touch every facet of Canadian life and this is one. I would hope that all members of the House recognize this indisputable fact. If we recognize this, I would then suggest that the debate be centred around the support of the legislation and the responsibility that we have to Canadians. To do otherwise simply states that we are not prepared to safeguard our country nor our planet for future generations.
The buck stops here. If we cannot demonstrate the vision necessary to ensure our children are provided with a better and healthier environment, we should ask ourselves what we are doing here.
There are groups that will try to convince members, through misleading statements, accurate facts and through nothing more than fear-mongering, that the legislation is not necessary. They are wrong. They are not doing a service to the country or to future generations by opposing such an important and critical piece of legislation.
Since 1988 the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, commonly known in the House and across the country as the CEPA, has been the cornerstone of federal environmental and health protection legislation.
One of the most critical components of the bill allows for the control of toxic substances, a topic that many members are well aware is near and dear to my heart. It will be in this area that I will concentrate my remarks.
It is in regard to Bill C-32 that they take full advantage of the advancements in environmental science, policy and law over the past decade. Concepts like sustainable development and pollution prevention have been widely accepted and needed to be incorporated in our laws. We are quite simply strengthening the CEPA in line with these concepts so that the government will be better able to protect the environment and the health of Canadians from the dangers of toxic substances.
Many toxic substances do not stay put once they are released into the environment. Toxic substances, such as mercury and PCBs for example, have been found in the blood of aboriginal peoples in communities high in the Arctic located far away from industrial development. One might ask how this could happen. Substances are transported to remote areas and pristine environments through air currents. They have long term adverse effects on the health of the people and wildlife who breath the air, drink the water or consume the food contained therein.
Canadians are concerned about the risks that toxic substances pose to their health, to their children's health and to the long term environment of Canada.
What will Bill C-32 do to reduce or eliminate this threat? The good work that is already underway to identify and manage toxic substances will continue. The bill will introduce innovations to allow more efficient and effective government action in carrying out these activities.
As a result of the amendments made during the committee stage, the bill requires the Ministers of the Environment and Health to conduct research on hormone disrupting substances. I should add that the government has already acted to meet the requirement under a $40 million toxic substance research initiative, a commitment the government is very proud of.
The legislation requires that all 23,000 substances in Canada are looked at to determine if they are toxic. Committee amendments require the first stage, and the biggest step of this mammoth undertaking, to be completed within seven years. It also incorporates into the legislation key features of the federal toxic substances management policy which sets out precautionary, proactive and accountable rules for dealing with toxic substances; an absolute must, I suggest.
Bill C-32 incorporates the precautionary principle. This means that the government will not have to wait for full scientific certainty before acting to prevent an environmental harm. Quite simply, our aim is to take all reasonable precautions to reduce or eliminate the exposure of Canadians to toxic substances.
Bill C-32 will impose new deadlines for the development of preventative or control actions. It will require the Minister of the Environment to propose concrete actions to prevent or control the release of substances within two years of declaring a substance toxic. These preventative or control actions must be finalized within the following 18 months. These are the kinds of checks and balances we must have and they are the kinds of checks and balances that the Liberal government puts forward.
The goal of virtual elimination is a new term to the CEPA. The Government of Canada recognized in its 1995 toxic substances management policy that our traditional approach of managing the release of toxic substances into the environment through their life cycle is not sufficient in the environment today. Toxic substances that require stricter management actions result primarily from human activity. They persist in the environment for long periods of time and are referred to as bioaccumulative. They are toxins that are stored in living tissues. Quantities of these substances may build over time to levels that have serious, long term adverse effects to the environment and to human health. Once in the environment—