Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to take part to the third reading debate on Bill C-53, an act to protect Human Health and Safety and the Environment by regulating products used for the control of pests.
At the outset, I wish to congratulate my colleague, the member for Rosemont--Petite-Patrie, for the excellent work he did throughout the study of this bill and also congratulate several opposition colleagues for putting their arguments so forcefully and, by so doing, getting the health minister, who introduced the bill, to really protect human health by including the precautionary principle in the bill.
It must be recognized, as my colleague from Richmond--Arthabaska said earlier this afternoon, that this bill is cobbled together, or leaning on crutches, if I can put it that way. Now, when people move around on crutches, they often go hobbling along, unsure of their footing, and move cautiously to protect themselves. This is the case of the bill as it now stands.
With this bill, we will never be able to meet the expectations raised by the study by the former environment committee on the impact of pesticides on the health of children, women, pregnant women, as well as on the health of vulnerable people like seniors or people who are in poor health, in particular those with asthma.
The former committee did the work and produced an excellent report under the leadership of the Liberal member for Davenport. I am pleased to say it, because he did a good job. As my colleague from Lac-Saint-Louis said, I believe this was the best report tabled in the House in many years.
The health minister had everything she needed to finally draft legislation that would allow us to go forward. However, today, even if my colleagues from the opposition, the member for Rosemont--Petite-Patrie and myself, believe that there are many flaws in this bill, we will support it even if it is cobbled together, leaning on crutches and represents a feeble and uncertain step forward.
This is unfortunate, because since 1969, we have not taken the necessary steps to bring about environmental changes adapted to today's and tomorrow's needs.
I do not know what kept the health minister from adopting this approach, but it is certainly sad to discover that fact in the House today. We are convinced that the government had a good momentum at first. We went to committee hearings and the government adopted broad principles. However, the more the committee sat and the more we debated, the government backed down. This is unfortunate, because the government had everything it needed to act. I do not know what made it back down.
Today, I can say that the new minister of the environment for Quebec, André Boisclair, decided to act on pesticides. He created a committee, which made some recommendations, and he said he would eliminate the use of pesticides on lawns for cosmetic purposes.
That is what this report suggested to the health minister. However, she was not there. Fortunately, this is legislation concerning a jurisdiction shared by the federal government and the provinces. I must admit that, for once, the bill does not infringe upon provincial jurisdiction. It is important to point this out. In fact, the provinces will have the opportunity to act in their own area. However, the federal government should have taken steps to make its own area ironclad and should have said “we are moving in a new direction”.
Let us just talk about the PMRA. The government keeps saying that the basic principle of the PMRA should be the regulation of pest control, with the sole objective of protecting health and the environment. However, we know that, since 1965, with the Pest Control Products Act, which controls registration, marketing and standards on product labelling, there are 6,000 products, and the government refuses, under the new Bill C-53, to ensure that all these products that were registered before 1965 are re-evaluated. No deadline is set. We know that today, as the Canadian Alliance member was saying, there might be products that are less harmful to the environment and human health. They cannot be registered because all the other products must currently be re-evaluated and the government has not established a deadline. The fact that there is no deadline in this bill is a major shortcoming.
This bill also has very serious shortcomings regarding the registration process. Nowhere in this bill it says that the PMRA will expedite the registration process. This is very important. Some people came to testify on this during our study on pesticides and told us “We would really want to act, but products that are very harmful to the environment are still on the list. Our hands are tied”. As we can see, these products are very harmful to health.
The bill does not propose alternatives to current pesticides either, as recommended by all the reports, focus groups and the standing committee on the environment.
The Minister of Health should have acted to ensure that, finally, Canada has legislation based on the principle of human health. In the report from the Standing Committee on the Environment and Sustainable Development entitled “Pesticides: Making the Right Choice”, we stated very good reasons for taking action with regard to the vulnerability of children.
Most of the public health and environmental protection organizations received by the Committee, in particular the Canadian Institute of Child Health, the Learning Disabilities Association of Canada, the World Wildlife Fund, the Canadian Environmental Law Association and the Ontario College of Family Physicians, denounced the Canadian pesticide management system because it does not specifically address the vulnerability of children, and emphasized the importance of correcting this deficiency. In the view of the Canadian Institute of Child Health, and I quote:
Most regulations and policies are designed to protect adults and refer to the healthy 70-kilogram male, and not the 7-kilogram child.
May I remind members that, in the summertime, when children go outside to play when the weather is nice, when it is not raining—unlike the weather we had for most of this week— they come in contact with people's lawns. When pesticides are used, it is the children who come in close contact with these very harmful products who are the most vulnerable.
We know that children are in close contact with pesticides; credible studies prove it. The Minister of Health should come to the defence of Canadians' health. She had the authority to prohibit, in the bill, within three years, the cosmetic use of pesticides. She did not do so, even though we had credible studies showing that there has been a spectacular increase in asthma and allergies over the last few years.
Also, statistics show that in Quebec and Canada women have fewer children for reasons directly linked to the environment. We know how pleasant it is to have children and grandchildren. I am a grandmother and it makes me very happy. Our children are our future. Studies show that everything in the environment has a direct impact on the health of pregnant women. The minister was given reports showing the link between health and pesticides and hazardous products, but she did nothing about it.
I am thinking that maybe this bill should not have been entrusted to the Department of the Environment. The government introduced the bill, put forward some proposals, rejected every single amendment the Bloc Quebecois introduced regarding registration and restricting the use of pesticides for cosmetic purposes, and to accelerate the registration process and the review of the current list. The government rejected all these amendments and did not include the precautionary principle, which should have been the basis of this bill.
This bill is an unfinished piece of work. Some people might like to buy unfinished pieces of work. Health and the environment are too important to allow just anyone to play around with concepts that are so important for the people we serve.
We have to say that the bill before us today is unfinished. People are way ahead of the minister and her bill. People are attuned to the environment.
In 1991, the municipality of Hudson in Quebec introduced a bylaw banning the cosmetic use of pesticides. It is now 2002, and the minister has not reached that point yet. Does that mean that she has forgotten an important step in the evolution of the municipalities and provinces that are directly affected by bills that do not go far enough?
I think that she has not finished her homework. When we visit our ridings, we meet a lot of people who are very attuned to the environment. How many seniors, parents, children and young people tell us “Why is nothing being done at the federal level for the environment? Why is your legislation is so obsolete?
A short while ago, in my riding, I witnesseded a primary school pilot project promoting the environment.
I was amazed. These children were nine and ten years old. They were so attuned to the fact that the environment had to be central to their life. They knew that previous generations, their parents and their grand-parents' generations, were directly responsible for what is happening now in the environment because of what they did.
These children were aware of that. They told me and their parents that something had to be done, that corrective action had to be taken, that we had to go green to give people the feeling that the environment is both the alpha and the omega of life on our planet.
We have to admit that we have done things that have resulted in the elimination of a good part of our forests. Let us think about acid rain. Let us think about all the pollution we released into the atmosphere without a second thought. We were under the impression that everything was eternal and renewable.
When we know and think that something is renewable, at some point we have to face the facts and say “We must protect what we have. If we lose that, it will be very difficult to make up for lost time and for natural assets that have resulted from a certain way of doing things”.
In Bill C-53, the Minister of Health has greatly disappointed me. Being the Minister of Health, she should take the health of Canadians and Quebecers to heart. I see that she did not.
This is unfortunate because, what is more, she is a woman. Women are very much aware—we bear children and take care of them—of the fact that more and more children are very fragile and quite affected by their immediate environment. They suffer from a many allergies, have problems with asthma, sleeping disorders and are hyperactive.
This would have been a way to solve a lot ofhealth problems for children, pregnant women and the elderly. The population is aging. People can expect to live longer, but they are more and more fragile.
Instead of being sick for the rest of their lives, they must be allowed to lead a very good life, in a healthy environment that will allow them to be in contact with their children, to be healthy and to say “Life is beautiful. Perhaps we have been a little irresponsible, but today's laws will protect our young people, our children and, consequently, will protect us too”.
I would have liked to congratulate the minister, but I cannot. I say that she has taken a step forward, but I encourage her to go further and to speed things up so that we can finally have legislation that it is truly designed to protect health and the environment.