Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to this bill at this stage, where we are considering amendments introduced by the government.
There is an amendment that seems particularly unacceptable to me, because it provides for this bill to be subject to examination of its implementation by the Senate.
I feel as if we were going back to the 18th or 19th century, because the elected representatives here in this House and the government itself wish for unelected people to review this legislation and its implementation after several years. This seems totally irrelevant to me, particularly since we are talking about issues related to pesticides.
It is very important that the people who have a say on the legislation, its content and its implementation be elected by Canadians rather than senators, who can be influenced by all kinds of lobbyists.
We know how these lobbies are powerful here in Ottawa, at present. If, on top of that, we give to a unelected chamber the responsibility for intervening and influencing the content of this legislation after several years, it is as though we were reaching a compromise with official lobbies and trade lobbies.
It is as if we were saying to them “There must be legislation; a conclusion must be reached; a bill must be introduced, but we will try to make it as painless as possible for you. If things calm down in two, three or four years, with the Senate's involvement, we will manage to revisit the situation”.
It is a great pity to have such an amendment in this bill, when the bill itself has the potential to improve the situation.
The Bloc Quebecois considers the bill itself—and not these amendments, including the one that makes it possible to review application of the law a few years later, but rather the bill itself—to be positive and the product of a spirit of co-operation. Overall, we intend to support it.
It does, however, strike us as important for members to reflect on this. Why suddenly come up with an amendment of this type? What is more, it is an amendment that, while not creating a total precedent, nonetheless creates precedents for the future. Why would there not be the same type of amendment in future to all manner of laws, particularly those concerning the environment?
I am very much surprised that the Minister of the Environment would accept such amendments, thus giving a say to people who have not been elected, not only senators but also the lobbyists that are behind them, the multinationals in this industry.
In a sector in which human health is at stake, in a context where recent knowledge makes us realize that we must minimize the impact of pesticides, it is inappropriate to have presented such an amendment.
The bill itself explains that the people of Quebec and of Canada are increasingly concerned by the negative impact on health of all kinds of pesticides.
There has been an exponential development in recent years of the pesticides available. Now we realize—and it was even on the news yesterday—that people are developing all manner of illnesses that may be linked to pesticide use, cancer among them.
Our children are affected, and far more in urban areas that might be expected.
However, as we use pesticides a lot, it is essential that the public be made aware of the situation. Governments too.
I repeat: why should we give the Senate a say when we are not required to do so? Why not keep that right for ourselves, for elected members of parliament? This seems much more important to me.
Furthermore, about this bill, the Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides has said that we should not disregard the damages caused by pesticides.
“Toxicologists who used to say that pesticides are not terribly dangerous are now changing their stance”. This is what Édith Smeesters, a biologist and the President of the Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides, said.
Even the National Academy of Sciences in the United States is now saying that being exposed to pesticides causes serious neurological problems for young children. They have found that when a mother or a father plays with a small child on the grass, if pesticides have been repeatedly used on the grass, the parent could be contributing unawares to the development of certain ailments in the child. It is essential that we remedy this situation.
The bill now before us will at least partially improve the situation. We must keep on working toward this goal because we need legislation in this area.
It is said that pesticides have few short term effects, other than nausea and diarrhea, but that there is much greater long term risk. This is the most insidious type of illness. If we were to make a comparison, it is similar to tobacco and cigarettes. It is possible to enjoy smoking and to do so for several years, but it is the cumulative effect of the years of smoking and risk factors that diminish quality of life and increase the rate of mortality over the long term.
It is the same type of situation with pesticides. On a day to day basis, when we are on our lawns or in a public park, we are not necessarily aware of the immediate impact that pesticides can have, but repeated exposure to them causes serious long term problems.
We must also remember that the entire pesticide industry is important. We must keep this in mind when looking at the amendment that the Liberal majority is trying to get through right now, to give the Senate the right to review the legislation in a few years. It is at this point that the burgeoning industry will be able to intervene among unelected parliamentarians and propose amendments to the act that will be introduced in the Senate with or without the approval of the House of Commons.
As a result, it is very important that we reject this amendment. I think that the members of the Liberal majority and of the opposition parties should give serious thought to the appropriateness of this amendment and vote against it. In the end, we will still have a very positive bill and one that is better than if these amendments were included.
For example, let me quote Ms. Smeesters from CAP:
The residential lawn care industry has grown spectacularly in the last two years. This is a result of mass marketing. A well orchestrated ad campaign has convinced people that their happiness depends on a perfect lawn, that weeds are a serious threat and that pesticides will save them. This is a typically North American behaviour and we want to stop it. The growth in this industry is maddening, since lands are now polluted with pesticides.
We will have to be on guard against this lobby. This is why we must vote against today's amendment introduced by the Liberal majority.
We must ask ourselves why and how the government could be convinced of the need for such an amendment. Members of the House of Commons are elected by the people. In the Senate, we have people who are not elected, who represent different lobbies and are influenced by them. Many people owe their appointment to the fact that they were once bagmen, that is of people collecting funds from companies for the Liberal Party of Canada, for the Progressive Conservative Party and the other parties represented in the Senate. Why would the government and the elected members of parliament give a voice to a chamber of unelected people, when all the necessary expertise can be found in the industry and in the pressure groups that want a tougher stand on pesticides?
As for the Senate, when it was created its role may have been to ensure the quality of legislation to compensate for a certain lack of training of members of parliament. This is no longer the case. In this House, we have all the necessary skills to determine whether legislation is appropriate. This is why I believe it is important to defeat the proposed amendment. I think it is important for the public and members of the House to know that we want to make a very constructive contribution to the bill. The proof of this is that we will be voting in favour of the bill, but this amendment does not improve it in any way.
For these reasons, I will vote against the amendment that would allow the Senate to review the legislation, but I will vote in favour of the bill.
I hope that we will continue to improve this bill in the most acceptable fashion possible to ensure that it is adequate, so that we can say in 5, 10 or 15 years “We did good. We made the corrections at right time and now there are fewer illnesses resulting from the use of pesticides”.
In that sense, as legislators, we will have done our job properly.