Mr. Speaker, I think we have to put this motion in the historical context of where we find ourselves as a legislative body and where the country finds itself at this period in time. I believe that factually we have to recognize these two points: first, historically we have had numerous contaminated sites, and contaminants have been allowed to get into our natural environment; and second, we have ongoing problems, where we know we are releasing contaminants that are dangerous to human health and to the natural environment or ecosystems. It is occurring on an ongoing basis.
What we are confronted with, and what this motion is to some degree attempting to face in building a framework to address these problems, is the reality that we have these sites and we have these contaminants. These are problems we already know about to some degree. We also have to recognize that on an ongoing basis we are going to have to build a process to deal with those types of problems, because given the current economic and legislative framework we work within, this is not a problem that is going to go away. It is not one that if we deal with it we will put it behind us. It is true that we have to do this, but we also have to recognize the fact that we are going to have to deal with these problems at least for some time into the future until we can build what I call environmental closed loops so these contaminants do not get out and damage human health or the natural environment.
I listened to the Liberal member who spoke earlier this morning and was trying to portray a rosy picture of how we already have a legislative and regulatory framework that deals with all these problems. I do not know what country he is living in, but that is not an accurate reflection of the reality in Canada at this time.
We heard from my colleague from Windsor West about the problems we have specifically in our home city of Windsor, Ontario. We heard from the member from the Progressive Conservative Party about the example of the Sydney tar ponds. I would add to that list, in terms of my experience, what happened in Walkerton.
In all three of those cases, I have done extensive work with the communities and it was very clear that our existing legislative and regulatory framework was greatly wanting in terms of dealing with the problems that those specific communities had to deal with, whether it was, as in Walkerton, contaminated water, or in Windsor, severe air pollution, or in the community of Sydney, Nova Scotia, the problem with having to deal with the contamination of its water sources and to some degree its air due to those ponds. In all three cases, in dealing with community members who had worked extensively on the problems, the message I saw coming out was, “This has occurred and it should not have happened, but what are we going to do about it and why do we not have a legislative framework and a governmental infrastructure to deal with this calamity our community is faced with?”
I met with the citizens' group in Walkerton and those citizens in particular had done a fair amount of analysis on the need for government to be in a position to react quickly, efficiently and sensitively to a community faced with that kind of crisis. I always remember one individual I spoke to. He said they felt that not one person at a governmental level, whether it was the local, the provincial or the federal level, had been able to respond in an efficient and sensitive manner to the community and that it was left to the local community to get things organized to respond to that tragedy.
We had a meeting in Windsor after the Gilbertson-Brophy report was issued and there was the same type of feeling in that room of 600 people. There was the feeling of fear, but a real demand on their part for the government to be there, to provide them with the security and protection the government is supposed to provide. We heard from individual members of the community that that was not happening.
The motion my colleague from Windsor West has brought forward is a very clear attempt to build a structure and a process so that when a contaminated site or contaminants that are damaging human health were identified as being in the environment, the government would have a process and infrastucture with which to respond. The process would be efficient and sensitive to the needs of the community. It would need flexible elements because each community would need a somewhat different response.
The government states it has emergency legislation, which is true. In most cases that legislation does not get triggered when dealing with contaminants in the environment that are damaging to human health in particular. When an issue like this comes up, we need to have a system whereby we know that the government infrastructure will kick in. A triggering mechanism would be needed within the legislation or the regulations. That triggering mechanism would produce a process that would respond to the needs of the community. That process would be necessary so that the contaminant could be identified.
It has been interesting to hear the recurrent announcements made by the government. We have identified 135 hot spots in the Great Lakes. These are sites which over the last century have become contaminated with all sorts of toxic materials such as mercury, asbestos, benzene and PCBs. It is all there. I have heard members of the government announce over and over again funding to clean up these sites. The government announced funding for a site cleanup in the Windsor area five times and it is still not cleaned up. That site is still contaminating the water system in our area.
Sites have to be clearly identified, as well as the extent of the danger they pose. The infrastructure would then develop remedial action. Part of that action would be the actual physical cleanup. There are all sorts of ways of doing it, but it has to be done quickly.
I could not get over the level of frustration of the local community in Sydney for the length of time the process took in trying to deal with the tar ponds. It still has not been accomplished. It became both a bureaucratic and an academic nightmare for that community. There were numerous discussions and proposals, but the process itself was flawed from the beginning. In particular I think it was flawed because it did not involve enough of the community in the decision making process. That came too late and even then it was too little.
We need to look at having a process and the process has to be as good as possible. It has to have a triggering mechanism. It needs financial resources behind it. The process itself is what we need to study, develop and implement.