Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time. The motion before us, including the amendment, would read:
That, in the opinion of this House, the government should act immediately with the provinces and territories respecting their jurisdiction, to ensure enforceable national drinking water standards that would be enshrined in a Safe Water Act.
I support this motion, for certainly clean drinking water is a trust for basic public safety and standards must be ensured across Canada. Due to local jurisdiction, there must be a national will for co-operation. All must work together with the provinces and the municipalities in setting standards.
We must engage in a full assessment of Canada's domestic consumer water supply, the state of municipal infrastructure, source water protection and land use planning.
Sadly, the misplaced priorities of poor Liberal management are revealed again. Money targeted for infrastructure goes to golf courses rather than water safety. Other bad spending happens when essentials are ignored, such as the HRDC boondoggle and in other ways.
The water is polluted because we pollute it. Standards will not solve the problems in themselves: water, water, everywhere and some not fit to drink.
Although water quality is a provincial responsibility, municipalities operate water treatment plants and have direct contact with the customer. This is why the Federation of Canadian Municipalities may ask the federal government to help establish mandatory national drinking water quality standards.
It could require a constitutional challenge and an act of parliament to enable the federal government to apply enforceable standards nationwide. Overall unfortunately, many provinces do not give sufficient support to municipalities for local water systems.
We are not calling for the federal government to assume all responsibility for water standards. The first step is to have provincial and territorial governments legislate guidelines for drinking water and include enforcement and mandatory testing. Until provinces take positive action, we can expect more needless deaths from drinking water.
However, there is a federal role.
In the case of North Battleford, Saskatchewan, how could it possibly be that a modern city in an industrialized country builds a water treatment plant's river intake downstream of its sewage treatment discharge?
Moreover, this incident would not have occurred if we had the political will to insist on tertiary sewage treatment. How can we possibly find it acceptable to be discharging dangerous sewage into waterways given the obvious environmental and water crises that the world is heading toward? The days of dilution being the solution for pollution are long gone.
Canadians who enjoy a high standard of living need to wake up to environmental reality and demand that more of their earnings of today go to preventing disaster in the future. Every province should be implementing tertiary wastewater treatment policies and zero toxic industrial discharge.
Water is without a doubt the single most important natural resource of Canada. We must protect it. Water is supplied as part of municipal services, yet when there is a drinking water crisis people are advised to boil their water or use bottled water. No one seems to even want to notice that the bottled water comes from private companies. Private citizens and government officials apparently trust the quality of privately supplied bottled water and then rally against privatizing the nations supply of tap water. What we do not pay much for directly, we do not value or protect.
The public health crisis in North Battleford shows signs of easing, but questions about who to blame are getting louder. In a city with a drinking water intake downstream from a sewage treatment plant outflow and dozens of residents sickened by waterborne parasites, there could be plenty of blame to go around. Three deaths have been linked to the cryptosporidium outbreak in the city of 14,000. The number of confirmed infections is expected to rise as lab results come in. Reports from doctors and emergency room staff suggest that the outbreak is stabilizing, as health officials said on the weekend.
It is clear that the provincial environment department, Saskatchewan Environment and Resource Management, has been worried about the city's water system since late summer last year, but it took no immediate action. As well, the city said it complied with the provincial guidelines in its water operations. However, in September the city issued a drinking water advisory because of bacteria in one section of its distribution system.
The city has already acted on some of the recommendations, including some improvements to the water treatment facility, but some findings were a surprise. One surprise was that the sewage treatment plant was operating over capacity. The North Battleford sewage plant is two kilometres upstream from a drinking water plant built in the 1950s that draws water for part of the city from the North Saskatchewan River. The plant was built by a nearby psychiatric hospital to provide for its own needs after the sewage plant was in place and was eventually sold to the city.
However, if the plant is properly run and operated it should be able to deal with any effluent that may be discharged upstream. The city plans to build a new sewage treatment plant, but it will not be in place until 2003 without any financial assistance from the provincial and federal governments to speed up the schedule.
Gerhard Benade, the medical health officer for the Battlefords Health District, faced questions on the weekend about his apparent delay in acting on a warning about a possible outbreak. A local physician, Geoffrey Lipsett, said that he called Dr. Benade at home on the evening of April 12, just ahead of the Easter long weekend, after one of his patients tested positive for the parasite and the patient's family began displaying similar symptoms.
Dr. Lipsett said that he began to think the problem was more widespread when he discovered that a local pharmacy kept running out of diarrhea medicine. “It suddenly clicked” he said. “I told him I think we might have a problem”.
Regional health authorities did not launch a full investigation until April 17, the Tuesday after Easter, when they began checking local hospital records for evidence of other cases. A boil water advisory was issued on April 25 and hardened to a boil water order on April 27. “It was not possible over the Easter weekend to get all the emergency room statistics” said Dr. Benade.
He said there are typically between two and five isolated cases of cryptosporidiosis each year. “We investigate every single case” he said. “You can't issue an advisory based on a single case. A single case of cryptosporidium is not a public health crisis”. Dr. Lipsett agreed that his case did not necessarily indicate an outbreak “but that, plus the selling out of the diarrhea medicine, is what made it click in my head” he said.
The motion calls for the public to be informed of results that fall below federal guidelines. Fear that contaminated water is flowing from Canada's faucets has brought calls for national standards and the vote in the Commons should draw attention to this priority. Right now there is no legal requirement to inform the public whether the water is safe or not, even if there is a test that actually says the contrary. I do not think Canadians would think that is responsible leadership.
Key to the motion is a requirement that municipalities inform the public as quickly as possible of any test results that do not comply with the water quality guidelines issued by Health Canada.
Three people in North Battleford, Saskatchewan have died this spring during an outbreak of cryptosporidium, a parasite from manure that invaded the city's water supply. Last spring, a virulent strain of E. coli bacteria killed seven people and made thousands seriously ill in Walkerton, Ontario. Water warnings have been issued in every province in the past year.
The Federation of Canadian Municipalities is to call on Ottawa later this month to endorse national standards on drinking water that could see repeat polluters fined or even jailed.
Freshwater is a scarce resource, even where it seems plentiful. The issue is as much about water quantity as quality. We need to focus on managing our excessive demands for this scarce resource first before we run off to look for more supply. We must consider water as a resource in its full cycle, not just when it is supplied to us from nature, fresh and free of charge. Clean and usable water is not free and we will get what we pay for.
More infrastructure will mean more costly supply lines to extend our gluttonous demands even further. Stricter standards to mandate cleaner water will set even more obstacles in the path of the recovery and reuse of wastewater. Throwing more subsidies at the problem will further insulate consumers and corporations from the real costs of the present excessive demand.
We need to look at the health of whole watersheds and what is regionally going into the water table for wells. It is a lifestyle choice. It is municipal land zoning use. Pollution is deficit spending, wherein we all pay. National standards would help reduce the shifting of costs and would create a level playing field that all must live up to with significant preventive investments.
I support the motion today.