Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to take part in the debate on Bill C-53, which is aimed at protecting human health and safety and the environment by regulating products used for the control of pests.
By way of an introduction, I would like to congratulate my colleague from Rosemont—Petite-Patrie for his excellent job in raising the awareness not only of his own Bloc Quebecois caucus, but also of the public at large. I congratulate him not only for his work on this bill dealing with the proper use of pesticides, not only for his major concern for organic farming for instance, but also for his interest in anything having to do with the environment. He is becoming an expert like no one else in this parliament.
It was high time the federal government took action in its jurisdiction. Indeed, pest control is an area of shared jurisdiction, the federal government having certain powers, specifically with respect to registration and the safe use of pesticides.
This act, which had become obsolete, outdated and criticized by just about everybody, should have been reviewed at least 25 years ago. We are talking about everything that has to do with pesticide use. Naturally, it was not criticized by those who sell pesticides; I believe the old legislation served them well these past few years. Updating this act was long overdue, especially since, for the past 25 years, a lot of scientific research has been carried out on the dangers of uncontrolled use of certain pesticides. This often resulted in the outright ban of products found to be dangerous, particularly in the United States, where more stringent controls of pesticide use were imposed in the early 1980s.
I recall that, these past few years, whenever pesticides were withdrawn in Canada, it was because the United States had carried out the necessary research, with the proper resources, in order to review the past registration of a given pesticide. They would come to the conclusion that given the state of research at the time, the pesticide in question was now deemed a hazard to human health. Canada benefited from the resources the United States has been investing for a long time in the protection of human health.
Talking about research, we talk primarily about what was done over the last few years, which has demonstrated beyond any doubt the link, sometimes a direct one, between the use of pesticides and certain conditions that develop over time, such as allergies in young children. Children are more sensitive to pesticides than adults. They also play merrily outside in the summer, precisely on the grass made so perfectly green by the use of pesticides, and easily develop allergies. Researchers link certain cases of cancer to the use of pesticides.
Thus this becomes a serious issue. It calls for a tightening of controls, notably through this legislation which, incidentally, will be supported by the Bloc Quebecois. However, we would have liked the bill to go much further, particularly with regard to alternatives to chemicals currently used. However we will come back to that at the end of this demonstration.
As I was saying, research has been developed, which established a link between illnesses developing over time, such as allergies and even cancer, and the use of pesticides. However, we have not yet reached the point where doctors receive training adequate enough to make a link between certain symptoms of these illnesses or short term symptoms associated with pesticide use, and the health of children and even that of adults. Often we think that an indigestion is simply an indigestion. The fact is, however, if we took a closer look at what the child visiting the doctor for some indigestion had been doing, we would realize that he had likely been playing on grass that had just been sprayed with pesticides to prevent it from yellowing or from being taken over by dandelions or other pests.
We should not only pay special attention to the use of pesticides, but also consider the fact that this industry is dominated by big players, essentially transnational corporations which control the entire agricultural production in the world. They control just about everything.
Companies have challenged bylaws passed recently by municipalities to ban the use of pesticides for cosmetic purposes in their jurisdictions.
Take for example companies like ChemLawn or Spray Tech, which specialize in massive chemical spraying of lawns. They tried to challenge the jurisdiction of municipalities and their authority to regulate the use of pesticides in their jurisdictions. They even went to the supreme court, but they lost. When I learned that they had lost at all three judicial levels, I was very pleased, because there is big money behind pesticide use.
We are talking about two companies in particular, namely ChemLawn and Spray Tech, but we should not forget those that supply their inputs, the likes of Monsanto and CIL.
If there are businesses that take advantage of people and of this planet, they are the ones, along with other similar transnational companies. Why do they take advantage of the planet and of people who live on it to the point of devastating complete regions? Let me explain briefly.
They have complete control, from the seeds to the finished product. They produce genetically modified seeds for crops of wheat, soya beans, rapeseed and canola. The genetic modifications make the use of the pesticides produced by these companies essential. Therefore, the whole world is dependent on their genetically modified products and the pesticides that go along with them.
If you use Monsanto seeds but not the Monsanto pesticides, your crop will not yield as much or could even be completely devastated by pests.
Internationally, farmers and peasants in Africa and Europe are at the mercy of these companies controlling the agrifood industry upstream and downstream.
Those large companies manufacturing pesticides and seeds to match are so destructive that they were the cause of the devastation observed in Africa in the 1980s and 1990s. Efforts to boost several regional economies through agriculture, which represents on average 80% of the GDP of these countries, except for South Africa, were a failure. This initiative was a failure because the only seeds available on the world market were genetically modified seeds. Following harvest, it was impossible to keep any portion of the crop to seed the next crop, because the seeds must be used together with the pesticides produced by CIL or Monsanto. Besides, they are not reproducible.
Agriculture is a very simple thing. For centuries, it has been the result of nature's miracles and human intelligence. For planting, one sows seeds or plants and transplants seedlings. Once they have grown, you set some aside. This is what people have been doing from time immemorial. Part of the crop is set aside to be used for seeds the following crop year.
It is no longer possible to do that because these big companies have control over seeds, pesticides and all the rest.
Do not think that having allowed the pesticides control and registration legislation to become outdated did not help these companies. It served them very well because once pesticides were registered, 25 years ago, there was no reason to be concerned. As a matter of fact, after registering products once, the government did not re-evaluate them. This allowed producers to sleep tight, do research to improve certain aspects of their products, while knowing that with such an outdated legislation, they had nothing to fear in Canada.
Coming back to pesticides used in Canada, this is a large market. Sales total $1.4 billion a year. In Quebec, since the late 1970s, there has been a massive increase in the use of pesticides because of the enthusiasm for green lawns free of pests and undesirable plants, like dandelions—I wonder why people do not like them; they are so nice.
During the 1990s alone, over a five-year period, I believe it was from 1992 to 1996, there was a 60% increase in the use of pesticides in ornamental horticulture.
In Montreal alone, 300 kilos of pesticides are used in parks, in places where children play. Children develop allergies and they can also develop cancer. Three hundred kilos of this junk is used in parks where our children play.
This reform was long overdue, but it does not go far enough. We congratulate the government for at least dusting off the old act. However, when one wants to do a good cleaning job, one has to do more than dust; one must also do some polishing. If the legislation can be improved, it is a good opportunity to do so. The government could have gone much further in this modernization of the pesticide registration legislation.
Had the government heeded the recommendations of my colleague from Rosemont—Petite-Patrie, who is becoming an expert on this issue and on the environment in general, someone with convictions who is working hard to bring the government to keep its word on the Kyoto agreements, for example, perhaps we would have had an act worthy of its title, true legislation dealing with pest control, but pest control with no risk to human health and not interfering with the protection of animals and plants.
But no. As usual, the government does things grudginly. It does them in stages and says “We will try this first; we will remove the dust and then, in two or three years, we will pick it up”. We sometimes wonder whether Liberal legislators know how to clean up.
When one picks up the dust, one can say that the housework is done. However, as long as one leaves it there, the housework is not done. And the government is leaving the dust in this bill, when it could have gone much further. Even if it had used the U.S. legislation as a model, it would have been a clear improvement, compared to the bill before us.
Why did the government not listen to my colleague from Rosemont—Petite-Patrie, when he suggested a data bank on alternatives to current pesticides?
There are natural pesticides in use in the United States and also in a part of Europe. They are not harmful to human health and, if they are used wisely, they do not represent a threat to the environment. Why did the government not give the example with this bill?
A government that claims to take the environment and health seriously and that keeps talking about its so-called deep convictions has introduced an incomplete bill. Why did it not create this bank? Why, also, did it not increase research on alternatives?
In this regard, even though there are natural pesticides, there is a lack of research on their large scale use, to ensure that producers in Quebec and Canada can get results and be as competitive as the United States or Europe.
Why did the government not increase significantly the resources allocated to research and to enforcement of the modernized version of the act? My colleague from Rosemont—Petite-Patrie was pointing out to me that the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development tabled a report in 1999 in which she identified serious problems that could have guided the government in drafting this bill.
For example, the report refers to the lack of re-evaluation programs. This bill provides for a certain degree of re-evaluation of registered pesticides, but we think that it is not enough. The bill does not go far enough in that area.
The report said that Canada was lagging way behind other countries throughout the world, not only with regard to pesticide registration, but also with regard to spending for the implementation of standards and regulations to protect human health as well as animals and plants. Agriculture means plants, animals and humans. We must find the right balance between protection, yield and the health of users.
The commissioner said that Canada lagged far behind in terms of the resources for the enforcement of provisions on the use of pesticides and their re-evaluation. No resources worth mentioning were added in the bill. A major part is missing, and the bill does not fill the gaps mentioned by the environmental commissioner.
Clear processes are also lacking. Did the bill settle the issue of certification, of re-evaluation and so on? Does the government know where it is going with this bill? I do think so.
I see my colleague from Rosemont—Petite-Patrie, who is nodding. There is a lack of clear processes for things like certification and the time it can take. In the United States, it is clear. A product is certified within a year. There is no fuss.
Indirectly, we are dealing not only with human health, but also with the profitability of the agricultural sector. For example, there are consequences if we cannot certify biological control agents. It would be best to be able to certify them for their use in this country. If our competitors in the U.S., for example, use biological control agents that are as cost effective as chemical pesticides used in this country, or more cost effective, we will be at a disadvantage. Since we are a net exporter of farm products, it is very much to our advantage to keep our competitive edge.
We are really disappointed with the registration process. We would have liked a much faster process, access to an alternative products databank and access to a much more efficient model, like the one that has been adopted in the United States for example, which does not threaten, as is the case here, human health and competitiveness in the agricultural sector.
We would have supported this bill with a lot more enthusiasm. However, we will support it anyway. As my colleague from Rosemont—Petite-Patrie mentioned more than once in his speeches on the protection of the environment and human health, it is a good start. We hope that the government will speed things up to further improve this area of shared jurisdiction, that is the registration of pesticides and the search for alternatives.
I wonder why the government acts like this for all its bills. In the more or less eight years that we have been here, we have made all sorts of proposals with respect to the criminal code. The government was rather hesitant and came back three years later with other amendments to the criminal code. Why did it not accept the Bloc Quebecois' recommendations which, in the case of pesticides, put forward a full plan for a real pesticide control bill promoting health protection. There again, we will keep on working to convince the government, because it has a hard time understanding.