Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with my esteemed colleague, the member for Vancouver Island North.
It is a pleasure to speak on Bill C-53, a bill that deals with pesticides. There is a lot of information and some misinformation concerning pesticides and I think that above all else we must ensure that the precautionary principle is upheld. All of us here in the House want to ensure that public health and public safety are number one, but we want to make sure that whatever decisions we make on pesticides are based on scientific fact. Herein lies the difficulty: getting to the facts of the matter.
Pesticides are a double-edged sword. On the one hand they deal with removing pests, which is necessary for the production of the food products all of us eat, but on the other hand there can be side effects. I will use the example of DDT. We know that DDT has saved the lives of millions of people around the world by preventing malaria and other diseases. In fact it has saved a lot of crops. On the other hand, on our continent we have seen that DDT has had a disastrous effect upon raptors. We saw the decimation of the populations of bald eagles, golden eagles, peregrine falcons and many others when their eggs became too fragile for the little chicks to live. As a result, DDT was rightly banned in North America. We want to make sure in dealing with pesticides that science and public safety will be upheld.
I only have a few minutes so I will deal with an issue that is important in my heart and to many of my constituents and that is the safety of children. We know that all of us are living in a chemical soup. It is a soup made up of chemicals from pesticides and from agricultural products that are dumped into the water and get into our environment. Sadly, when we track this over the last 25 years we see a very disturbing trend. We see a massive increase in asthma and a massive increase in childhood tumours, from acute lymphocytic leukemia to tumours of the central nervous system and tumours of the bone and muscle. This is very disturbing because these tumours have been and are very rare, but the numbers are increasing quite dramatically.
If we look at different demographic patterns and different areas where these tumours and cancers are found, we see a trend that correlates in some cases to areas where people are exposed to a high level of pesticides. In my province of British Columbia in the Okanagan Valley, in areas around Prince George and indeed in my riding in Sooke, I see a very disturbing trend of an unbelievable increase in the amount of tumours that are relatively rare, but in profusion in these areas, and a parallel with the implementation and use of certain pesticides.
What we in our party are saying is let us make sure that pesticides are safe. We applaud the bill in the sense that it deals with issues such as children and issues such as using science, but we think it can go further. We think the government and the minister should be using scientific information not only from within Canada but from around the world. Why do we not hook up with other researchers around the world and use the best information, the best science, to apply to the work that we are doing here? Surely countries around the world, all of us, are in the same position. All of us want to ensure whether certain pesticides should or should not be used. We are asking the government to link up, to make official linkages with other researchers around the world to ensure that the best research information is used in the evaluation of pesticides.
Other things can be done. There are alternatives to pest control, such as using certain trees and shrubs, using certain lawn products that are not pesticides, digging weeds out by hand and keeping our lawns well watered and fertilized. We should remember that a healthy lawn is a healthy deterrent to weeds. We also can use different vegetable gardens. Indeed, if we plant alternative plants we can find a cross benefit in protecting gardens from certain pests. We also can use biodegradable products, cultivate our gardens and rotate our crops each year. These are alternatives to the very easy response, which is to simply spray our lawns with a pesticide.
What the government can do is work with the other two jurisdictions, the provinces and the municipalities, on a public education program to tell the public that there are other ways to protect our lawns, that there are alternatives to pesticides. Were we to do that, we would see a dramatic reduction in pesticide use among homeowners. Although homeowners represent only 15% of all pesticide users, why it is important is that it is homeowners who use pesticides inappropriately. That is the key. I would ask the Minister of the Environment to work with his counterparts across the country on a public information program that would dramatically reduce pesticide use by showing how to use pest control alternatives. We must remember that pesticides are only one of the choices we have in this whole area.
There are other things we need to do. We need to look at risk management, accountability and transparency. One of the things we have found that is problematic in the Pest Management Regulatory Agency is that there is not enough transparency, not enough accountability, in determining the evaluation process. In my riding and I am sure in many others, Canadians are concerned. They do not have the information. They are concerned when people get sick after being exposed to pesticides. They do not have answers, but they want and indeed deserve answers from the government. Why does the minister not stand up with his counterparts and answer the questions the public has?
As an example, we can look at the gypsy moth eradication program that took place on Vancouver Island. Low flying planes sprayed pesticides all over Victoria. The question is, was it useful? Another question is, was it necessary? I think the answer to both is no. No, it was not useful. No, it is not necessary. Clearly we cannot have these knee-jerk responses to dealing with problems as opposed to having well thought out, reasoned ideas and solutions to deal with the management of pests that exist among us.
Another problem we have in British Columbia is the issue of the northern pine beetle. The northern pine beetle is having devastating effects on the forest industry in my province. People who fly over northern British Columbia see a swath of forest that has been destroyed by the northern pine beetle. It is staggering. The economic effect has been devastating. That, combined with the punitive American softwood lumber tariffs that have been imposed on our country, has been devastating for our lumber industry. My colleagues in our party have asked the minister across the way to please intervene with the forest industry and stakeholders and deal with this problem. If it is not dealt with, this summer will be a very bleak one indeed for the forestry industry as the northern pine beetle continues its devastating ways, destroying larger and larger swaths of the Canadian northern forest industry.
There is a huge movement in the country to deal with the abolition of genetically modified organisms. A lot of emotion surrounds the issue. The fact is that if we did not have GMOs large numbers of crops we normally have would be destroyed. We cannot forget that GMOs provide our burgeoning population with food. Who are we, who can afford products that are not modified in any way, to tell developing countries that they cannot have genetically modified foods?
GMO foods are saving millions of lives across the world. We cannot deny those food products and seeds to countries that are on the brink of starvation. If they did not have them, crops would be destroyed by normal pests that eradicate foods in those developing countries. We need to stand up and say that genetically modified organisms must be allowed if they are safe and we must do the research to ensure that they are safe. On the other hand, we cannot have a knee-jerk response and deny the developing world genetically modified foodstuffs that will save people's lives.
It is a balancing act. We support a balancing act that of course favours public safety, but again, let us respond to these challenges based on fact and science and not based on emotion.