Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have an opportunity to speak to Bill C-53. I note that Bill C-53 would replace the Pest Control Products Act of 1969. We do not have to do a lot of mental mathematics to realize that it has been over 33 years since this act has been revisited and revamped.
We all agree that the world has changed dramatically since 1969. It is overdue and welcome in many circles for us to be dealing with such a timely and topical bill.
I should note, and would be remiss not to, that the Liberal government first promised new legislation during the 1993 election campaign. It was the former health minister who promised the legislation by the year 2001. Some hon. members on the other side are seeing this as the fulfillment of an election campaign promise perhaps, albeit from the 1993 election campaign.
The Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development produced a study to assist the Minister of Health in advising what type of legislation would be necessary to deal with the management and use of pesticides. It included an examination of the Pest Management Regulatory Agency, PMRA.
We note that in putting forward Bill C-53 the primary objective is the protection of human health and the environment, and finding some balance where both of those issues can be addressed.
We will admit that Bill C-53 is much stronger than the current legislation. We are pleased to be able to take note of that. We feel there has been some balance struck among the interests of health, environmental concerns and the legitimate concerns of industry, many of which have been raised in the House during this debate.
Bill C-53 would seek to introduce the use of modern risk assessment practices. In other words the further consideration or the enhanced consideration of vulnerable populations such as children and the aggregate sum or the total exposed cumulative effect on children. Speaker after speaker have raised in the House, and we all agree, that children are especially vulnerable to the proliferation of chemical and pesticide use in our cities, even in industrial settings where there is overspray, and of being contaminated by farm practices.
It is something about which we have come to realize more and more only recently. I will give one example from my own experience. The hon. member for Winnipeg South will possibly remember this. There was a time in Winnipeg when we had DDT foggers going up and down the residential side streets and through the city parks late at night. What did we do as kids? The hon. member remembers very well. We used to ride our bikes behind the fogging truck because it was pretty neat to lose sight completely in such a dense fog of DDT haze mixed with diesel oil which in fact compounded the effect. This was our entertainment for the afternoon, following a truck full of poison.
Children do things like that. Children by their very nature play on the grass. Kids put things in their mouths. They pick things up from the ground and put them in their mouths. There has to be a growing recognition that the interests of children must be our primary consideration in any piece of legislation like this.
The other thing that has only been recognized recently is that we do not have to ingest these chemicals to be put at risk by them. Skin absorbs them; it acts like a sponge. This is something I know from my background in workplace safety and health in the labour movement. Exposure to chemicals and toxins need not be oral. One can ingest them by absorbing them through the skin. They work their way through the body and find a natural state of repose in the organs, in the liver, kidneys and pancreas. There they sit for many years. The cumulative effect, the total aggregate effect of chemicals on our bodies is something we are only just starting to recognize and realize.
Another thing happens. Not only is that chemical ingested through the skin and not only has it found a natural state of repose in the organs, but other chemicals come to join it there. Chemical A sits in the kidneys or the liver. Then chemical B is introduced to the kidneys or liver and a chemical reaction of those two things causes chemical C . We might begin with two benign chemicals but combine them and we could have a very toxic substance. This is a risk we are starting to recognize in people in the workplace and in children.
Another thing I would point out in the labour movement is that in the workplace there is what is called the walking wounded. A lot of poisoned people are wandering around out there with a ticking time bomb in their internal organs which may or may not cause complications later on.
In dealing with the bill as it pertains to children, there is something I noticed as a hockey dad. Both of my kids played hockey right up through the high school level. I noticed with my older boy that quite a number of kids carried ventilators for the treatment of asthma. A couple of kids on his team had to use puffers throughout the game.
By the time my younger boy went through the system six years later, kids eight and nine years old would sit on the bench waiting for their turn to play hockey and their puffers were lined up on the boards. I think seven out of fifteen kids on the roster had to use inhalers, all labelled and ready for use. When they came off the ice after their shift they had to use their ventilators. At the risk of sounding alarmist, I cannot help but think there is something fundamentally wrong with that picture when seven out of fifteen otherwise healthy young athletes are so affected by asthma that they have to use ventilators to finish a one hour hockey game.
I point those things out to stress that nothing short of making the best interests of children the absolute primary consideration would be satisfactory to me. I think we have matured in our treatment of this issue. I do not believe there is a member in the House who would not acknowledge and agree that a key provision is the protection of vulnerable populations, such as children, from the total aggregate and cumulative effects of unnecessary exposure to toxic pesticides.
The other thing the bill acknowledges is how necessary material safety data sheets are. The workplace hazardous materials information system legislation is now law in all workplaces across the country. Key and paramount in the WHMIS legislation is the right to know and the right to refuse. Workers have the right to know what chemicals they are working with and they have the right to refuse to handle them if they believe they pose a risk to their health and well-being.
There is that recognition in Bill C-53. It extends and extrapolates that basic human right, that we do not have to touch things we know to be harmful to us. However it does not address the issue I tried to outline, that we can have a perfectly benign chemical in one hand and another perfectly benign chemical in the other but when we combine the two in the Petri dish which is the body, there is that third chemical which can and does sometimes hurt us.
I have tried to be balanced in recognizing some of the advantages of Bill C-53. One of the concerns my party has regarding the bill is that the legislation is extremely vague. This has been a developing pattern in the pieces of legislation I have witnessed in the short time I have been a member of parliament. More and more there is very little binding teeth in the legislation and so much of the details are left to regulation. In other words, the details are in regulations that will not necessarily be dealt with in the House of Commons but will follow after to give meaning to the language in the legislation that we pass here.
Some of the issues that will have to be dealt with in regulation are the details and the timeline for the re-evaluation process. Another issue is the type of tests to be used in risk assessment. Those are critical issues which I think should be debated in the House of Commons. They will not be. They will be regulatory, not legislative.
Another concern is that the precautionary principle is not really enshrined as one of the basic principles of the bill, not even in the preamble, not even in the soft language that is often the preamble to legislation. We believe that in any environmental bill in this day and age or certainly in a bill related to health care, the precautionary principle must be one that is adopted as a basic premise, as one of the basic tenets. The pillars of anything we do must adhere to and stem from that precautionary principle. It is noticeably absent in the bill.
There is a failure in Bill C-53 to ban the use of pesticides for cosmetic purposes. We thought that the debate around pesticide use had matured to the point where we could accommodate this basic issue. More and more around the country we are hearing about municipalities taking that step. Maybe there are industrial uses and reasons from a health care point of view that pesticides are necessary. Surely they are not necessary to make lawns greener.
There is nothing more perverse than driving down a suburban street and seeing a beautiful expansive green lawn in front of a house with a sign that reads “Danger, do not play on this grass, toxic substances used”. There might as well be a skull and cross bones planted on that beautiful lawn if so much poison is applied that it is dangerous for a child or a dog to be exposed to it.
It would have been a bold and courageous step on the part of government if it had introduced legislation that would deal with banning the use of pesticides for cosmetic purposes. We are disappointed that Bill C-53 fails to do this. We certainly hope that our member on the health committee, the member for Winnipeg North Centre, will be able to introduce amendments that will be entertained favourably which might give us some satisfaction on those pressing issues.
We are also critical of Bill C-53 at the lack of a fast track registration process for lower risk products. There could be a graduated scale where lower risk products could be dealt with in a fast track registration process. That was raised early on in the debates and consultations surrounding the legislation, but we do not see that reflected in the bill.
There is really nothing in Bill C-53 that would reduce the number of pesticides being used. We would have thought that the bill could have been introduced with the preface that it is the intention of the government to gradually reduce the number of pesticides in circulation. That would have been a very good place to start. That does not seem to have been one of the objectives in Bill C-53. We would have thought that most Canadians would have welcomed and celebrated that.
Nothing in Bill C-53 would really give satisfaction to those who are interested in reducing the number of pesticides in circulation. It talks about further regulating this. It talks about ways to protect Canadians from harmful exposure, et cetera. However it really does not talk about minimizing or reducing the use of pesticides in general and it does not prevent Canadians from being exposed to the most harmful pesticides.
I will balance this off so that my speech is not entirely negative, but I have to share with the House that some of our concerns stem from the failure in Bill C-53 to require the labelling of all toxic formulants, contaminants and microcontaminants. We flag that as a criticism as well.
The Pest Management Regulatory Agency was examined by the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development. I noted earlier in my speech that this was done in May 2000, yet there is failure to set out the mandate of the pest management regulatory agency in Bill C-53. We are critical this basic recognition fails to show up in the bill. If we are going to rely on the regulatory agency for guidance, advice and direction in the future, then surely the mandate of the PMRA should have found its way into the bill.
Bill C-53 fails to commit money for research into the long term effects of pesticides. If our primary consideration is the best interests of children, we need to know more about that toxic soup I talked about. We need to know more about the long term effects of the liver becoming a repository for who knows how many different chemicals that get stirred around and mixed up and turned into yet another chemical, a brand new chemical compound for all we know. The long term effects of pesticides is not really known.
I shudder to think what it was like for me and the member for Winnipeg South cruising around on our bicycles behind that fogging truck full of DDT and 2,4-D. He and I seem to have survived to date, but I would not want to see what our organs look like through a fluoroscope. Our livers could look like whiffle balls for all we know.