Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today on Bill C-53, an act protect human health and safety and the environment by regulating products used for the control of pests. This bill, more than 60 pages in length, was designed to improve a statute that dates back some 33 years, believe it or not.
Since I have been given 40 minutes, I will try to summarize our party's position, with four points.
I shall begin by outlining the current situation regarding pest control in Quebec and Canada. Then I will quote some of the recommendations from the report of the Standing Committee on the Environment—the Chair of which I now see opposite—the report on pesticides published in May, 2000. Third, I will discuss a recent report submitted to Quebec's minister of the environment on March 27, by the focus group on the use of pesticides in urban areas. I will also discuss the 1999 report from the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development. Finally, I will outline our position on Bill C-53.
First I would like to say that my party believes Bill C-53 to be a step in the right direction. It was time, as I will demonstrate later, that this statute dating back to 1969, and therefore close to 33 years old, be renewed. We believe there should have been legislation to improve the current law. As such, it is a step in the right direction, as I said, but naturally, we fundamentally believe that there needs to be improvements.
The precautionary principle must prevail at all stages of the study of this bill, including the examination by the Standing Committee on Health that I plan on taking part in, as well as during every opportunity given to parliamentarians to study this bill.
Second, we recognize that public health risks, especially those involving children, nursing infants and pregnant women, must be given special attention. We recognize that exposure to pesticides, especially the active ingredients found in pesticides, has a significant impact on public health. This might seem ridiculously obvious, but I believe that it is important that our first premise establish this as a priority.
As far as jurisdiction is concerned, jurisdiction over pesticides appears to be divided. The federal government has responsibility for the legislation relating to the Pest Management Regulatory Agency, or PMRA.
The purpose of this agency is to administer the Pest Control Products Act and to facilitate safe access to methods of pest control, while reducing hazards. The federal legislation controls the certification, marketing and labelling standards for products. At the present time, there are more than 6,000 certified products on the market and these contain more than 500 registered active ingredients. This is where the hitch comes in.
Until now, very little effort has been made as far as the mission and objectives of the Canadian legislation are concerned. Very little effort has been made by the agency precisely to make available products that are safe. I use that word because that is the very objective of the agency. When we come a little later on to look at the report by the commissioner of the environment and sustainable development, we will see that there are grounds for concern as far as reassessing the entire matter of products on the market which contain active ingredients is concerned.
There is one other aspect. As I said, the purpose of the PMRA is to ensure the availability of safe products on the market. It therefore has a certain responsibility as far as products containing biopesticides are concerned, products with the potential to be an alternative solution.
We must acknowledge that there are alternative products available on the market, the biopesticides. Unfortunately, however, their availability is very limited. At this time, only 30 biopesticides are available on the Canadian market, whereas there are in excess of 150 in the United States.
Not only is the Pest Management Regulatory Agency not involved in the reassessment of currently available pesticides, it is also not fulfilling its responsibility to provide alternatives to traditional pesticides on the market. Finally, under the federal legislation, the agency must monitor labelling standards for products.
Let us take a look at what I would call the federal problem. It exists because the current act dates back to 1969. The existing rules and standards are obsolete in many respects. In its current form, the act may be considered a danger to public health. In a few minutes, I will quote some comments made in 1999 by the environmental commissioner. These comments are disturbing to say the least, when we look at products currently on the market, in terms of their safety for women, children and infants.
For example, the problem with some pesticides that are currently on the market has to do with the active ingredients that they contain. There are 500 active ingredients in the pesticides currently available on the market. Believe it or not but, out of these 500 active ingredients, 300 were approved before 1981, and more than 150 were approved before 1960.
This means that there are currently on the market pesticides that are sold to the public, even though they contain active ingredients that were assessed based on standards that were often far from those that are now deemed acceptable, both from a scientific and a public health point of view. This is all the more reason to act quickly.This is also why we believe that the existing pest control legislation had to be reassessed, redefined and updated, since public health is at stake. We must act in the best interests of Canadians.
Let us not forget—since I am dealing with jurisdictions—that pesticides are a shared jurisdiction. The federal government has a responsibility, but so do the provinces. I should point out that Quebec has had its own pesticide legislation since 1987. The purpose of this act is to avoid and reduce threats to the environment and public health.
The primary responsibility is to develop public awareness through sustained campaigns on the dangers related to the use of pesticides. Second, we must support municipalities and organizations and, third, the government must fund research and development on alternatives, including biopesticides.
The government of Quebec supported establishing a pesticide management code that would govern the entire process, from pesticide production to the sale and storage of pesticides.
Another aspect concerns municipalities. In recent years, the responsibilities of municipalities for pesticide management and control have increased. Why? Because following a ruling by various tribunals in Quebec and based on supreme court decisions regarding the passing by the municipality of Hudson of a bylaw prohibiting the use of pesticides, certain courts in Quebec ruled in favour of the municipality of Hudson in its decision to ban the use of pesticides.
In recent years, the authority municipalities have to establish regulatory codes has increased. Under the Cities and Towns Act, municipalities may regulate and prohibit the use of pesticides. As a result, we have seen, and will continue to see municipalities pass regulations prohibiting the use of pesticides in the coming months and years.
In response to these court decisions and to Quebec's tendency to reduce and ban the use of pesticides, the government established a committee, a focus group that submitted its recommendations to the environment minister on March 27. The committee's main recommendation was to develop a management code to govern all activities involving pesticides.
It is important to recall that this work and this bill were not dreamed up overnight. Here in the House, and more particularly, within the Standing Committee on the Environment, there was a great deal of thought given to this important phenomenon involving the use of pesticides and their impact on health. In its recommendations made in May, 2000, the committee urged and proposed that the new act establish human health and the environment as priorities by creating databases on the sale of pesticides, their adverse effects, and alternatives to pesticides.
One could even go so far as to say that the bill fulfills these expectations. The problem lies with the committee's second recommendation, the most important one, which would have made it possible to ensure that, by a specific deadline, the use of pesticides could be phased out in Canada. I am referring to Recommendation No. 2, in which the committee recommended, in May 2000, that pesticides used for cosmetic purposes be phased out within five years.
We can clearly see, and the government must also admit this, that there is nothing in the bill, which we are studying today and which we are going to study in committee, that sets any kind of deadline with respect to the non-use and elimination of pesticides.
We on this side of the House are very disappointed. Not only was this the position of the Standing Committee on the Environment and Sustainable Development, but it was also one of the recommendations in the May 27 report by Quebec's task force on the use of pesticides in urban areas, i.e. that the use of pesticides in public areas be phased out over a period of three years.
Quebec's task force goes even further than the Standing Committee on the Environment and Sustainable Development. The committee and Quebec's task force, which is chaired by Mr. Cousineau, an MNA, feel that we should phase out the use of pesticides in urban areas over three years.
When we look at this bill and see that there is no indication of any intention to phase out the use of pesticides at all, let alone over five years, we are rather disappointed. The House can rest assured that we will fight hard in committee to keep this bill. The government's tendency is to renew the legislation approximately every 33 years. We must be more vigilant than ever and ensure that this five-year phase out becomes law.
The standing committee on the environment made various recommendations. One of these was that the sole mandate of the Pest Management Regulatory Agency should be to protect health and the environment.
In the committee's opinion, PMRA should not also be responsible for encouraging the competitiveness of the agricultural, farming and manufacturing sectors. It felt that there should be an open and transparent process in order to build the public's trust in pest management, and that the new legislation should make it a condition of registration that applicants carry out ongoing monitoring after registration and that existing pesticides be re-assessed.
Once again, with all the measures proposed by the committee, there is no deadline set for re-evaluating these old pesticides. There is no deadline for the conditions for authorizing any pesticide. So we are in the most total vacuum possible.
Yes, this is a step in the right direction with the new process we want to put in place, but there are never any clear indications of the deadlines for attaining these objectives, whereas it would have been simpler to make provision for this, to say: we want pesticide use eliminated within five years, or three. But no, there is no measure relating to this, which is somewhat of a disappointment.
I have already referred to the Groupe de réflexion sur les pesticides en milieu urbain, whose report was released this past March 27. The federal government, as a government with a desire to work in collaboration with the provinces, could have waited for that March 27 report, having waited 33 years already to introduce an amended act. But no, they had to decide to move on it a few months ahead of time. I should remind hon. members that the decision was made last October 25 by the Quebec Minister of the Environment, André Boisclair, to mandate this task force on the use of pesticides in urban areas.
The task force met with more than 50 organizations or individuals who had submitted briefs. These came from health, environmental, ecology, business and municipal backgrounds. We are of the opinion that we are bringing to this House the Quebec consensus reached by that task force, which was struck last October 25 and whose report was released on March 27.
The task force addressed this issue, and set out its objective as follows:
The objective is to identify avenues for solution which will enable Quebecers to reduce their dependency on, and the risk of exposure to, these products which are in common use in lawn care, ornamental horticulture and extermination.
The task force has indeed managed to come up with alternative solutions and an approach to true pest control in Quebec.
This report, on which the committee held hearings in January, contained a certain number of recommendations. There were 15 recommendations. The task force's first recommendation serves as a main underlying theme. We must quickly reduce the use of pesticides in urban areas. This is the main them underlying the task force's recommendations.
The task force made 15 recommendations. First, it proposed banning the use of pesticides in public and municipal green spaces and in schools and daycare centres in three years' time. Therefore, the recommendations involve prohibiting the use of pesticides on lawns in three years, and on shrubs in five years. So, the shorter deadline is three years, and the longer deadline for public green spaces, whether they be parks, daycare centres, schools and all public green spaces, is five years.
Another recommendation consists of training stakeholders in environmental management. People must be made aware that the use of pesticides constitutes a threat to public health. If we start from the premise, as I stated at the beginning of my presentation, that the precautionary principle should guide all of our thoughts and actions, stakeholders need to be made aware of risks, and trained, whether they work in ornamentals or horticulture, as municipal employees, or in maintenance. They must be educated about the dangers of pesticides.
The task force recommends establishing a training program that would lead to a vocational diploma in the field to raise awareness among pesticide users, the stakeholders themselves.
Third, more emphasis should be placed on making alternative methods and less dangerous products available. If we set deadlines banning the use of pesticides, as we want to do, then we need to work now on making biopesticides, or alternative solutions available. So, we need to increase the availability of alternative solutions, in order to allow us to reach these same quality of life objectives down the line, using a very different approach.
Another issue is the establishment of a pesticide management code. In my opinion, this is probably, along with banning the use of pesticides within three years, the strongest recommendation of the task force. It is proposed to put in place a pesticide management code that would set standards regarding the sale, storage and use of pesticides. Why? Because, among other reasons, the rulings made by Quebec courts now give municipalities the option of regulating the use of pesticides.
Therefore, we believe that we must have regulations and legislation based on the same standard, and establish a single standard. What is being proposed is a Quebec management standard that would be put forward by this pesticide management code. In my opinion, this is probably the strongest recommendation.
The fourth point that I wish to raise is the issue of the environmental commissioner.
In 1999, the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development tabled a very eloquent report on how the federal government manages the certification process for pesticides and their reassessment. The commissioner passed rather harsh judgment on the government's way of managing pesticides.
He emphasized the significant lack of reassessment programs. Moreover, he noted that Canada was seriously lagging behind other countries, including the United States, and that the percentage of expenditures allocated for the reassessment of pesticide certification, and also for the whole assessment process of pesticides, was very low compared to that of some other countries. The commissioner also said that pesticide reassessments were a rarity in Canada, something which is very worrisome from a public health standpoint. Again, the reassessment of pesticides is rarely done in Canada.
I remind the House that of the 500 active ingredients in the pesticides, 300 were approved before 1981 and over 150 before 1960, according to the environmental commissioner's last report submitted in 1999. In terms of public health standards, pesticides are now available on the market and have been evaluated on the basis of standards which I consider outdated, or which should at least be re-evaluated.
So, not only are re-evaluations rare, but there is a lack of transparency in the process on the part of this government.
Before continuing, I wish to cite four passages from the environmental commissioner's 1999 report. The first has to do with available re-evaluation programs:
The absence of an effective re-evaluation program means there is no assurance that Canadians are not being exposed to unacceptable risk.
This is what the environmental commissioner wrote in 1999. There is no assurance that Canadians are not being exposed to unacceptable risk. Here is another quote:
We are particularly concerned by the lack of clarity about the role of federal science-based departments [in the re-evaluation of pesticides].
This is from the 1999 report by the environmental commissioner. Here is the third quote:
Many pesticides were approved when the standards were much less stringent than they are today.
Again, this is taken from the 1999 environmental commissioner's report. I will give one final quote, although I could give many more:
We found Canada's track record to be one of inaction and unfulfilled commitments.
This is the fourth quote from the environmental commissioner. According to the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, Canada has not done its work and, 33 years later, he is proposing a remodeled, redefined act which could meet the expectations of Quebec's task force on the use of pesticides in urban areas, which could provide a satisfactory response to the House of Commons Standing Committee on the Environment and Sustainable Development, which has examined this issue, which could respond to the expectations of environmental groups on this issue, and which could, above all, respond to the need of Quebecers and of Canadians to be protected from a public health point of view so that the precautionary principle is first and foremost.
As for Bill C-53, the purpose of which is to update the regulations governing the use of pesticides in order to protect the health of children and others, the government says it has adjusted its proposals in the light of the recommendations made by the Standing Committee on the Environment and Sustainable Development.
If the government really wanted to provide a proper response and to adjust the present legislation to reflect the recommendations, it would call for elimination of pesticides over five years, as the Standing Committee on the Environment and Sustainable Development has proposed, or it would propose, in keeping with the Quebec task force's suggestion, their elimination over three years. We are, however, forced to admit there are no such measures within the bill we are examining at this time.
We are disappointed because we believe that the principle of precaution ought to take precedence over any other as far as examination of this bill is concerned, not solely commercial and economic ones. The government must not be influenced by major pesticide producers but must instead put the health of Quebecers and Canadians first.
We are disappointed because we had thought there would be elimination over five years in response to the committee's demands. Disappointed as well, because we see there is no measure whatsoever that will speed up the certification process for less harmful pesticides. Nor is there any deadline for the accreditation of biopesticides.
Need I remind hon. members that an effective battle against pest control products requires alternative solutions? These will, of necessity, require the availability of biopesticides and pesticides that are less of a public health hazard.
I would like to quote some figures. In Canada at the present time, there are a mere 35 biopesticides on the market, under 150 brand names, while in the U.S. there are 175 different biopesticides marketed under 700 brand names.
What we want to see in this bill—and we will be presenting amendments in proper form in committee when the time comes—is that this battle against pests will involve speedier certification of biopesticides. There is no sign of this in the bill as presented by the minister.
A second aspect we also find disappointing is that it contains nothing in connection with the proposed use of less harmful products. I have already referred to the biopesticides but there are other more environmentally friendly solutions available in modern societies, as I hardly need remind the government.
Why would the government not have taken the time to develop legislation containing incentives to organic agriculture? Why not include in this bill incentives aimed at a real sustainable pest control strategy? Why has Canada not looked at what is being done in Europe and taken its inspiration from European countries that offer financial incentives to farmers to eliminate pesticides and synthetic fertilizers?
There is nothing in this bill to provide for alternative measures. There is nothing to provide for financial incentives for farmers to eliminate the use of pesticides. This bill does nothing to promote organic farming, it is as though it were a concept that was a surprise from a Cracker Jack box, and the government was suddenly made aware that it exists. This bill could quite easily have included measures to promote organic farming.
A fourth aspect proposed by the Standing Committee on the Environment and Sustainable Development, and that we would like to see included in this bill, involves the re-evaluation between now and 2006 of all pesticides registered prior to 1995. This bill does make an attempt to re-evaluate pesticides.
Yes, there are some measures to accelerate the registration of some older pesticides, but there is still no deadline, no specific timeframe, which is what the Standing Committee on the Environment and Sustainable Development had wanted, to re-evaluate all pesticides registered prior to 1995 by the year 2006. It is not simply a matter of reassessing the 500 active ingredients contained in pesticides, it needs to be done in a realistic timeframe that also allows for the protection of public health.
The committee examined this issue and heard from young people, from children. They were victims of pesticide use in certain municipalities of West Montreal. On some golf courses, dangerous pesticides were used; had these pesticides been re-evaluated, some of today's victims might have been spared. One had to have sat on the Standing Committee on the Environment and Sustainable Development to understand the impact of the use of these harmful products on the public health of citizens.
We must ensure that all products currently being sold on the market are re-evaluated based on adequate and modern standards by 2006. This is how we can truly provide pest control.
Another aspect to consider is the concept of special protection for children and infants. We are trying to understand, and we will be making presentations in committee on this concept of special protection for children and infants. I thought this was included in the bill. We will therefore have questions on this concept of special protection for children.
I will conclude by saying that Canadians, but also Canadian businesses, those who use pesticides every day, are prepared to go along with the committee's recommendation, which is a five-year phase out. By way of example, I will simply mention the Fédération de l'horticulture ornementale du Quebec, which said it would agree to use pesticides as little as possible, provided that alternative products were available. Civil society in Quebec and in Canada is prepared to engage in this effort, to phase out pesticides, provided that alternatives are available.
These alternatives require two things: first, faster registration of Canadian biopesticides—there is no need for us to trail behind the Americans—and, second, the introduction of a sustainable development strategy for pest control. Among other things, this will require development of organic farming through financial incentives.
I will have an opportunity to debate this bill in committee, in the hope that the government will respond satisfactorily to the needs and expectations of Quebecers and Canadians, of the Standing Committee on the Environment and Sustainable Development, and of Quebec's task force on pesticides in urban areas.