Mr. Speaker, I will continue with my speech on Bill C-53, which, as I indicated, seeks to amend an act that has been in effect for 33 years.
What we are in the process of doing is rather important, and it is also important to pass this bill. However, in my opinion, we should have adopted certain amendments. We are currently faced with a situation where the vast majority of the 6,000 pesticides in Canada, which contain 500 active ingredients, were evaluated by using 33 year old standards. The result of this is that we do not really know the impact of the use of these pesticides, both on public health and on the environment.
This change was urgently required, not only because, in my opinion, the evaluation standards are outdated, but also because we were told—and the environmental commissioner was very clear on this a several years ago—that the agency responsible for the registration and re-evaluation of pesticides is ineffective and is not operating properly.
So, it was important that these changes be amde quickly. In her 1999 report, the commissioner indicated that the process lacked clarity and that certain aspects of the special examinations were dealt with in a negligent manner.
She also indicated that there was a lack of re-evaluation programs and that Canada was lagging far behind other countries. An international comparative study was conducted and Canada ranked behind the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia in terms of the percentage of expenditures earmarked for the evaluation of pesticides.
Therefore, it was important that this legislation be reviewed quickly and that the agency be given the means to conduct good re-evaluations and implement a sound registration process.
This is why, at the time, we asked for these legislative amendments. Moreover, as I indicated, Quebec passed its own pesticide legislation in 1987.
We believe that the legislation can and must reflect a degree of complementarity in terms of the measures taken and pest control. Let me explain. We on this side of the House feel that the federal government is responsible for the registration, marketing and labelling of pesticides.
We also believe that the provinces, including Quebec, are responsible for the use of pesticides. It goes without saying that municipalities also have a role to play.
However, the role played by municipalities today is fairly complex. Why? Partly as a result of a supreme court judgment from June 2001. This judgment gave the town of Hudson the power to regulate the cosmetic use of pesticides.
In 1991, the town of Hudson decided to pass a bylaw banning the use of pesticides.
There were many legal challenges in Quebec courts. This ended with the supreme court judgment in November 2001, which stated that since municipalities were provincial creations under Quebec's Cities and Towns Act and the Municipal Code of Québec, they have the right to regulate the cosmetic use of pesticides.
However, this judgment made reference to the fact that municipalities are under provincial, not federal, jurisdiction. That is when Quebec decided to act, establishing the Cousineau discussion group on October 25, 2001, to look at the use of pesticides in urban areas. For four days in January 2002, the group heard from more than 550 organizations and individuals, and it reached a certain number of conclusions.
First, the group plans on telling the minister “There must be a plan to ban the use of pesticides. We must set a three year deadline for public spaces, such as parks, public sites, schools and childcare centres”.
Is it right that we are still spreading pesticides in urban areas, in parks and childcare centers, when we know full well the impact they can have on children and nursing and pregnant women?
The group said “Let us give ourselves three years to ban the use of pesticides in public places, and five years for trees and shrubs”. This is one of the report's strong conclusions.
The second recommendation says that a training program for environmental management stakeholders should quickly be put in place. It does not make sense that workers, sales persons and people who use pesticides on a daily basis do not know the way to use them. We believe that the provinces should establish management and training programs.
Also, as I have already mentioned, alternative procedures have to be put in place and we must establish, and this is fundamental, a pesticide management code or, as it is called, a regulatory framework.
Following the supreme court's decision regarding the town of Hudson and the tabling of the Cousineau report, I believe that we should implement in Quebec a national standard for the use of pesticides, which could be called a code of environmental management, or pesticide management code, to ensure compliance, so that all municipalities, not one but all, implement this management code across Quebec.
These are the main recommendations of the Cousineau report, which the Quebec environment minister has received and on the basis of which he pledged to introduce a policy.
Before that, in May 2000, the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development, of which my colleague from Jonquière was a member, tabled its report. The committee did a serious study on the use of pesticides and several conclusions came out of its work. This is what the committee recommends.
First, members of the committee believe that we should eliminate, within five years, the use of pesticides for cosmetic purposes. This is one of the main conclusions of the Standing Committee, though we should be cautious about that. The federal government itself recognized that it does not have the power to prohibit, under the Constitution, the use of pesticides for cosmetic purposes, which is a provincial jurisdiction.
We feel that the federal government should be responsible for the registration and marketing of pesticides and that the provinces should be responsible for their use. This time, the federal government must be given credit for deciding to mind its own business, unlike with other legislation. It decided to confine its activities to marketing and registration. We will come back to this. The PMRA works very badly and lacks transparency. There are no provisions in the bill for a ban.
But the provinces must act. Quebec has promised to eliminate the use of pesticides in public places over a period of three to five years.
We recommend that the precautionary principle be an important element. This recommendation was made in committee. The member for Louis-Hébert also sat on the committee and, for once, there was no partisanship. We were all of the same opinion; the government should stick to its own business. There was solid unanimity, and this included Department of Justice officials, which was recognized by the federal government.
I do not know whether the present leadership struggle has anything to do with the apparently greater receptiveness to a provincial role, but I think that we had some good exchanges in committee. In any event, we concluded that the federal government should not ban cosmetic use.
At the time, the Standing Committee on the Environment and Sustainable Development thought that the precautionary principle should be the cornerstone of Bill C-53. Unfortunately, this was not to be. Both the Bloc Quebecois and the New Democratic Party put forward amendments in committee so that the precautionary principle would not be confined to a single clause of the bill—clause 23, if I am not mistaken—but would also be part of the preamble. We wanted the precautionary principle to become the cornerstone of pest control legislation in Canada.
The government steamroller operated in committee, as it has for many other bills. There was no infighting because the steamroller had paved the way. The amendments put forward by the member on my left, from the Progressive Conservative Party, were rejected. The New Democratic Party amendments were rejected. The Canadian Alliance party, to my right, had a completely different vision of pest control. It wanted more powers for the industry, because it feels that it is an industry.
If we want to protect the environment and public health, the precautionary principle must be part of more than just one clause in the bill. It must be included in the preamble, the law, and the regulations, which is not the case at present.
We are really disappointed with the government's attitude. The environment commissioner came before the committee to tell us that if Canada wants to meet its international commitments to the environment and sustainable development, it must do more than just settle for signing conventions, as it did with the Rio Convention in 1992. As we prepare, ten years post-Rio, to go to Johannesburg, the federal government is still refusing to include the precautionary principle in its legislation.
The commissioner was clear on this. If Canada wants to meet its international commitments, it must take steps to ensure that all its environmental legislation includes the precautionary principle. Unfortunately, this is not the case with this bill. The government rejected the amendments presented by the four opposition parties in this House.
We also feel that deadlines need to be imposed for the process of re-evaluation, although of course there are some set in the bill. But we never know when this will be over. As a result, there are still pesticides on the market that were evaluated years ago, up to 33 years ago. They are in the process of being re-evaluated, but the public still has access to them without necessarily having any information on their public health impact.
Those of us, the majority of us, in opposition believe that a date must be indicated by which re-evaluation will be terminated. This the government has refused to do.
As I have said, there will never be a real battle against pesticides if we choose to ban their use without developing any alternatives to the present use of pesticides on public and private property.
We on this side of the House believe that the government missed a golden opportunity to speed up the registration process for biopesticides. We should not talk only about pest control or pest management, but also about biopesticides.
As we know, in Canada there are only 30 biopesticides available on the market, compared to over 150 in the United States. If the government wants to come up with a true alternative to the pesticides that are currently being used by over 80% of the agricultural sector, why did it not speed up the registration process for biopesticides, particularly in the ornamental horticulture sector?
People from the ornamental horticulture sector came to both Quebec City and Ottawa and said that if there were alternatives, they would use them. They told us that they did not like using pesticides. The reason they do is because there are no alternatives.
So, we must speed up the registration process for biopesticides in Canada, so as to make up for the lost ground, because Canada is seriously lagging behind in this area. We also believed that a support program should be set up for farmers who want to stop using pesticides on their land.
Earlier, I said that agriculture accounts for 80% of the pesticides used in Canada and in Quebec. This is a significant critical mass. This is what, to some extent, ensures the industry's survival. We on this side of the House think that an incentive and support program must be set up for farmers who want to eliminate the use of pesticides and promote organic farming in Canada.
Why would Canada not have programs similar to those that exist in Europe?
In Europe they offer financial incentives to eliminate pesticides. They have programs to support organic farming, and technical programs to promote organic farming and offer competitive products. This is something the Canadian government refused to do and is still refusing to do, leaving us very disappointed.
If we are serious about protecting the environment and public health, the PMRA must do a better job. In this respect, the 1999 report by the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development is very enlightening. She said that out of 500 active ingredients found in registered pesticides, over 300 were approved before 1981, and over 150 before 1960.
This means that there are still 150 active ingredients in approximately 6 000 pesticides available on the Canadian market. These pesticides were registered before 1960 without knowing what their true impact on public health and the environment was. There is obviously a problem with regard to registration.
Moreover, the commissioner said there was a blatant lack of re-evaluation programs. This is what she said:
In 1986, priorities for re-evaluation were developed by Agriculture Canada, which at that time was responsible for pesticides registration.
According to the PMRA, it is obvious that this delayed the implementation of re-evaluation programs. The commissioner believes that without efficient re-evaluation programs, there is no guarantee Canadians are not exposed to unacceptable risks.
This is the reality of pest control management in Canada, which is lagging far behind other countries.
The federal government wants to interfere in the area of health care and impose national standards while in its own areas of jurisdiction, areas under its own responsibility, it is unable to manage pest control in Canada to ensure that Canadians are not exposed to unacceptable risks.
This is a pretty damning observation by the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development. She tells us that an international benchmarking study commissioned by the PMRA ranked Canada behind the United States, the U.K. and Australia in the ratio of spending on re-evaluation of existing pesticides to spending on registration of new pesticides.
She indicates that in 1997-98, the government spent 25% more on re-evaluation activities than on the registration of new pesticides. She also tells us that few re-evaluations are undertaken in Canada and that the special review process is exceptional. Finally, she says that a clear process is lacking at the Pest Management Regulatory Agency, which should be developing and implementing a program to re-evaluate pesticides now registered for use in Canada.
In conclusion, we will be voting in favour of Bill C-53. I am my party's environment critic, and rare are the government bills which do not interfere in provincial jurisdiction. The endangered species legislation interfered directly in provincial jurisdiction through the introduction of a double safety net.
As for the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act process, the former environment minister for Quebec, Pierre Paradis, decided in the early 1990's to denounce the earlier version of this bill, which we are now considering. He said “The government's approach when it comes to environmental assessment is completely unacceptable”.
Since then, Quebec has withdrawn from discussions on environmental assessment. Quebec has spoken with a single, unified voice on this, as well as endangered species. Incidentally, I see the sponsor of the Quebec legislation, Quebec's environment minister from 1989, in the government benches.
This government accepted provisions of the legislation that created a double safety net, which led to the situation where federal law applies in Quebec, but not Quebec legislation. We denounce this fact, because today, we are in the House with members of Robert Bourassa's cabinet. They voted for bills that cancel all of the work done under one administration, Bourassa's.
I am talking about the member for Bourassa and the member for Verdun—Saint-Henri—Saint-Paul—Pointe Saint-Charles. The latter was a minister in the Bourassa government. They voted for federal legislation that contained provisions that already existed in Quebec law.
In closing, we will be voting for the bill because we believe that registration and marketing come under federal jurisdiction. We believe that Bill C-53 is a step in the right direction, but I am not sure that it will really improve the registration and re-evaluation process.
The federal government needs to do some work on this. Furthermore, we believe that the sale and use of pesticides comes under provincial jurisdiction. Municipalities are in charge of enforcing standards, which I am thoroughly convinced will soon be accepted in Quebec, thanks to legislation. This is the model that we need to promote in Canada, which respects the different jurisdictions while protecting public health and the environment.