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House of Commons Hansard #133 of the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was report.

Topics

The EnvironmentPrivate Members' Business

1:50 p.m.

NDP

Brian Masse NDP Windsor West, ON

Yes, Madam Speaker.

The EnvironmentPrivate Members' Business

1:50 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

André Bachand Progressive Conservative Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Madam Speaker, I would like to begin by thanking my colleague from the Bloc Quebecois for his amendment. We know the federal government has a tendency to poke its nose where it does not belong, especially when there are grey areas in so-called shared jurisdictions. This is an essential safeguard. It should be included in every text, or at least make them clearer. Perhaps it could act as some sort of extended warranty on the respect of jurisdictions.

My colleague from Fundy—Royal, who is the Progressive Conservative critic for the environment, supports the motion put forward by the hon. member for Windsor West and has spoken to it.

I would like to make a brief comment. I listened to the remarks of my colleague from the Canadian Alliance. He used the humour he has been known for in this place for a number of years to somewhat discredit the NDP motion, describing it as unclear. I think we may have lost track of the ground rules of the House. Some motions are wake-up calls for the government and this House; others inform the public of shortcomings in certain areas, such as the environment.

I hope that people will understand that it is necessary to have a sense of humour, particularly in politics. But in dealing with serious issues like the environment, I think that a sense of responsibility must come before a sense of humour.

That being said, this motion, even though it is broad, is necessary. Everyone in the country, including various groups and even the provinces, agrees that the federal government, within its jurisdiction—let us take that for granted—has not done much with regard to the environment. Several movements, including the Sierra Club and others, have condemned the government's inaction in that area. This is why the motion before us today is necessary to bring environmental issues to the forefront.

Of course, the government will talk about Kyoto. Between you and me, Kyoto may be the only meaningful measure that we have seen in ten years. On several occasions since 1997, that is since I have had the opportunity to sit in the House, environmental legislation died on the Order Paper. The government's record in that area is less than stellar.

Another important element is the legislation that can be put in place, while respecting existing jurisdictions.

Again, my colleague from the Bloc Quebecois mentioned the issue of large utility vehicles. This is good for those people who use them for work, for those who have a business, for truckers. Certainly these vehicles use more fuel. But some kind of measures could be put in place for those who buy these big 8-cylinder vehicles, or even bigger, that use a lot of fuel.

If someone is driving a large vehicle that pollutes or consumes way more fuel than necessary for transportation, just to look good on the streets of Ottawa, Montreal, Toronto or Vancouver, perhaps it would be appropriate to look at some kind of taxation.

I know there will be a motion—and we will probably talk about this again next week—that gasoline taxes should be handed over to municipalities for their infrastructure programs. If we are prepared to turn over part of the excise tax for infrastructure, we might also be ready to establish a tax incentive or a tax penalty for large non-commercial consumers. It could be done.

The other aspect raised in this motion is the question of sustainable development. The committee must be satisfied that new measures can be implemented in favour of sustainable development. We start from the basic concept that it is better to prevent than to cure, informing people about the very risky situations they may be living in, in the future or right now.

The federal government must also solve its own problems. I know that it is necessary to invest billions of dollars in the environment, in the decontamination of federal lands, for one. The hon. member for Fundy—Royal has pointed out that a number of groups have claimed that $2 billion must be spent at once to begin decontamination of federal sites, followed by a minimum of $100 million more each year. We agree with them. We must get started.

There are numerous examples of places where we know there is a problem, where people are sick. Yet, nothing is being done about it. There are 1,200 to 1,600 contaminated federal sites. This is not talked about enough. People live around these sites without being truly informed. Of course we are talking about Val-Cartier, in Quebec. We are talking about other sites, in Nova Scotia or elsewhere in the country. More than 1,200 to 1,600 sites are listed, but the public does not know about them. If the list of these thousands of contaminated sites were published, people would panic.

That is one of the objectives of the motion put forward by the NDP member, namely to find a way to prepare solutions rather than react to situations and for the committees to have a role. This initiative is essential.

But when we talk about the environment, everyone is scared. Industrial zones, people wonder if the existing industry will be shut down. That is absolutely not the case. There is a way to apply very strict environmental rules and to involve the public.

I come from the Asbestos region. I was the mayor of the city of Asbestos for 11 years. Asbestos is known, of course, for producing asbestos. It is quite a challenge. I had two huge challenges during my lifetime, one as mayor of the city of Asbestos and the other as a Conservative member from Quebec. In both cases, I did quite well.

But in Asbestos, producing asbestos is a real problem since, as we all know, it has been banned everywhere around the world. But with the cooperation of the unions, education and awareness programs were carried out. There are various categories of asbestos. What is being produced in Canada, and especially in Quebec and my own region, is called chrysotile or white asbestos. It has saved many more lives than it has caused trouble.

In fact, with the assistance of the unions, the industrial process and working conditions have been improved. Nowadays, it is totally safe to operate the mine and to use the product.

More recently, the Magnola plant that produced magnesium from residues of white asbestos was closed. Unfortunately, because of a business decision, dumping by China and a 28% countervailing duty--two issues the federal government did not deal with--Noranda had to close the plant after operating it for 18 months and pouring $1.5 billion in it. For six months, the people of Noranda asked to meet with the international trade minister. Their meeting was granted, but only after the closing of the plant had been announced.

I will give an example of what the effect of the motion can be. When Magnola set up operations, since potentially hazardous products were involved, the Government of Quebec, the municipalities, the general public and the workers joined together to say that there were hazards.

The motion does not mean that everything hazardous must be done away with. Unlike my colleague from the Canadian Alliance, we do not feel that skunks need to be got rid of because they disturb one night's sleep. The real environmental issue, however, needs to be addressed publicly and jointly. We have to talk about it.

When a problem is concealed, and then discovered, human health is not the only thing affected; it also impacts negatively on the public's perception of politicians.

We are, therefore, pleased to support this motion. I hope the public will understand the idea, the underlying philosophy, which is to ensure that this House and its committees address the environment, that we provide information about it and find solutions before things get worse, that is before people get seriously ill or die. The time has come for action, and I am pleased to support the motion of my colleague from Windsor West.

The EnvironmentPrivate Members' Business

2 p.m.

NDP

Dick Proctor NDP Palliser, SK

Madam Speaker, I wish to congratulate both the Conservative member for Richmond—Arthabaska and the Bloc member for Champlain for their remarks on this motion that has been moved by my colleague from Windsor West.

The motion states:

That this House call upon the government to take the necessary measures, including the drafting of legislation, to prevent medical conditions and illnesses caused by exposure to identifiable environmental contaminants.

To place this in historical context, it was not until recently that western societies became aware of the great damage that industrialization had been causing to the environment during the last century. It was in the 1970s when we witnessed the emergence of a new concept called sustainable development. The protection of the environment and health quickly became a big concern in the developed world.

These concerns were translated into new policies and regulations in order to minimize the negative effects on health and ecosystems that arise from human activities. Progress has been made over the last 30-odd years, but there is still a long way to go.

As new environmental problems are identified and as the quality of the environment continues to decline, it is clear that the law, as it stands now, has many shortcomings. The introduction of new legal instruments to improve the current legislation, as well as better enforcement measures, are obviously overdue.

Exposure to environmental contaminants, and their adverse effects on air, water, soil and living organisms is an issue on which scientific research has concentrated significantly in recent years. Evidence suggests that exposure to a variety of environmental contaminants can alter the normal biological functions of the endocrine, reproductive and immune systems. Environmental contaminants are not only a source of air and water pollution, but also an important threat to our health and that of our children.

International institutions such as the World Health Organization understand that as well. In this way, they have contributed to the discussion with a number of analysis, statistics and reports calling for action and warning us about the risks assumed by those who are exposed to environmental contaminants.

Health care, at a minimum, is medical service offered by front line nurses, physicians and hospitals. But in this day and age, a good case can be made to broaden the concept of health care in Canada to include specific federally mandated legislation and regulations to include other so-called peripheral issues, such as environmental contaminants.

After years of offloading responsibility in the area of health care to the provinces, it is clear that the federal government has a responsibility in this area.

Although there is plenty of competition for the prize, environmental contaminants and their negative impact on human health is perhaps one of the bigger issues that the government appears to have swept beneath the carpet.

Three years ago the government and its provincial counterparts made a commitment to promote programs and policies “which extend beyond care and treatment and which make a critical contribution to the health and wellness of Canadians”. As a part of that commitment, they identified many different determinants of health, including physical environment.

A recent estimate by the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research suggested that only one-quarter of the health of our population is attributable to the health care system, while fully three-quarters is dependent on factors such as the physical environment and socio-economic conditions.

A truly comprehensive approach, therefore, to health care in this country would focus on all the determinants of health, not just a quarter or a half of them.

This kind of approach, called a population health approach, would address the range of factors that determine health. It would devise strategies that affect and aid whole groups or populations of people and would involve not just the health care sector but organizations, groups and individuals who work or are affected in health relevant fields, such as economics, education, the environment and employment strategies.

I ask my colleagues in the House to focus on the health relevant fields of the environment, and toxic and environmental contaminants.

In spite of years of research to identify what has been creating illness and death related to environmental pollution, little has been done in Canada to provide solutions or precautionary procedures for these issues.

We need to recognize the repercussions and negative impacts from exposure to environmental contaminants and be in a position to react accordingly.

A framework to address these problems needs to be there so that there is some triggering mechanisms within the legislation with which to respond when dealing with contaminants in the environment.

On that point of triggering, members will recall that the member for Elk Island said he was inclined to like this legislation but thought it already existed. He thought the motion to be therefore redundant.

Let me remind the member that last month on September 23, the parliamentary secretary, in a response to the question about the incinerator at Belledune, said that there was no trigger under section 46.

That was confirmed as well by the Minister of the Environment who had said six days earlier:

For the federal government to intervene under the environmental assessment legislation there has to be federal involvement, which is called a trigger, for the legislation to take effect.

So, this is not redundant legislation by any measure and I would urge the member for Elk Island to reconsider his position with regard to that.

Although current legislation does provide emergency mechanisms, they do not get triggered when it comes to environmental contaminants that damage human health. Scientific standards for demonstrating cause and effect for declaring a substance toxic in the sense of the law are high.

The use of potentially harmful substances and technology would be justified under the current legislation. The risk assessment process is limited. It cannot be interpreted as an absolute tool. Ecological and health effects are difficult to quantify. Risk assessment often takes into consideration narrow risks such as death, mostly caused by cancers.

Furthermore, the so-called acceptable level of risk is highly debatable, especially since most of the time people who must assume that risk are actually not aware of it, as the member for Richmond--Arthabaska so eloquently pointed out a few minutes ago.

In addition, the cumulative effects of all different chemicals are seldom evaluated, which means emissions could be damaging health even if each substance alone does not trespass the threshold of tolerance.

Important damage to health and the environment can be done before we achieve scientific certainty and thus take action.

Tobacco is an excellent example. Smoking was strongly suspected to cause lung cancer long before we were able to prove that conclusively. The number of diseases suspected to be linked to environmental pollution is increasing, as shown by multiple research studies that have been undertaken in recent years. These diseases are also the result of the interaction of other social and genetic factors, but the environmental links cannot be ignored.

The Sydney Tar Ponds, so eloquently discussed in the last Parliament by MPs like Michelle Dockrill and Peter Mancini, and the current problems that we have experienced in Windsor, as discussed by the members for Windsor West and Windsor--St. Clair, of high rates of mortality and diseases that are impacted locally have inspired this motion.

In both cases, the government failed to address the higher than normal death, cancer and birth defect rates that were found to be linked to environmental contaminants. Action was not taken quickly enough and it lacked transparency which undermined the confidence of Canadians in health officials as well as government institutions.

As I said before, the current framework does not trigger action and that is what this motion is all about today.

We know that environmental contaminants affecting one community do not result from only local emissions. Given that air pollution has no borders, it becomes an issue that requires international standards as well.

Transboundary air and water pollution are common and that is why federal participation is not only justified but absolutely necessary. Government participation and a strong commitment at all levels is required to ensure long term monitoring programs in the first place, investigation and control of sources of pollution in the second place, and finally, adequate funding to implement remedial action plans.

In conclusion, environmental degradation translates into high costs for cleanup and expensive remediation programs, and thus it cannot be ignored. Prevention measures and corrective procedures will make it helpful to reduce harmful substances.

My colleague's motion today asks for the ability to undertake specific action when a correlation between environmental contaminants and people's health is found. It is about investing in our health and that of our children. It is about admitting responsibilities and meeting government's liabilities. That is why I hope this motion will gain support from all members in the House.

The EnvironmentPrivate Members' Business

2:10 p.m.

NDP

Brian Masse NDP Windsor West, ON

Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise today and thank all parties, my colleagues from the New Democratic Party, the Bloc Quebecois and the Progressive Conservative Party who have spoken in favour of this motion. I want to touch on a couple of points that I think are important.

We are talking about is creating a process, or a trigger, for the general public and also the scientific community, the industrial community, that will to lead to some results for people across this land.

We have a situation right now in Windsor and in Sydney, with its tar ponds. We have seen the pollution and the environment degraded to the point that it affects the health of people.

Last week Windsor received the distinguished achievement of having the most haze. Haze affects the air quality that people breathe and that affects them. It is not just an individual thing. It is a societal thing. It costs our province and our country billions of dollars in loss of wages, loss of health, and it shortens our lifespan.

We are asking for is a sense of responsibility. We are asking the federal government to take a leadership role in this by investigating and providing support. We ask that it consult with the community and bring awareness. Then the area would have the knowledge needed to participate in discussions of what to do next. That leadership is missing. The partners have to be brought to the table. Then we can bring the problems to the chamber so we can discuss possible solutions.

It is not about banning something outright. It is not about stopping something. It is about providing people with an educated ability to make decisions. We have to make decisions about the pollutants in the environment and the affect they have on people, the shortening of lifespan and disease. We have to discuss whether it is worth it to continue producing these or whether it is worth the wealth being accumulating. All we ask is that people have a chance to debate the issues.

There are plenty of things people can do. There is remedial action. Take a look at the Great Lakes. For decades we have looked at the neglect. We have continued not to invest in simple things that could improve our quality of life and could have an economic benefit.

At present, the city of Detroit is the largest polluter of the Detroit River. On the Canadian side of the river we have similar problems. We know there are problems with the reproductive systems of citizens in our community. We have high rates of children born without brains. We have high rates of lung cancer and respiratory diseases. We need the opportunity to get the resources to address these problems. This is what we are calling for here.

We are not talking about an outright banning of any particular perfume, chemical, object or product. We are asking for is public debate. We also want choice, so we can invest in solutions. The solutions can be achieved.

Another example is the Edison power plant which is across the river from Windsor. There is a pile of coal that simply sits at the plant and the wind blows that coal into the Detroit River. We then drink the water from the river after it is treated. There are simple solutions to stop that. We must discuss ways in which we can make change.

The motion does not come only from myself. The motion comes from a movement in Windsor to create a centre for environmental health. The centre would be a body that would work with everyone to raise the information and the knowledge, then it would come back to the community so we could discuss and decide what to do about the problem. If we do not have the mechanisms in place, we are subjected to continual health and environmental problems.

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development has identified that environmental contaminants costs billions of dollars across the globe. The OECD is looking at action plans to deal with this. It knows that we have to change our ways, not just for health reasons but for economic reasons.

In Ontario we lose billions of dollars of production because of smog. These things can change. We need to have the leadership.

The EnvironmentPrivate Members' Business

2:15 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

Pursuant to order made earlier this day, all questions necessary to dispose of Motion No.399 are deemed put and a recorded division is deemed demanded and deferred until Tuesday, October 7, 2003, at the expiry of the time provided for government orders.

It being 2:18 p.m., the House stands adjourned until Monday next at 11 a.m., pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 2:18 p.m.)