House of Commons Hansard #38 of the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was judges.



10:15 a.m.


The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

It is my duty to inform the House that a vacancy has occurred in the representation, namely: Mrs. Lucienne Robillard, member for the electoral district of Westmount—Ville-Marie, by resignation effective January 25, 2008.

Pursuant to subsection 25(1)(a) of the Parliament of Canada Act, I have addressed my warrant to the Chief Electoral Officer for the issue of a writ for the election of a member to fill the vacancy.

Message from the Senate

11 a.m.


The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

I have the honour to inform the House that a message has been received from the Senate informing this House that the Senate has passed the following public bill, to which the concurrence of the House is desired: Bill S-215, An Act to protect heritage lighthouses.

It being 11:03 a.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

Canadian Environmental Protection ActPrivate Members' Business

11 a.m.


Guy André Bloc Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

moved that Bill C-469, An Act to amend the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (use of phosphorus), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I rise with great pride today to introduce for second reading Bill C-469, an act to amend the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, to prohibit the manufacturing, sale or import in Canada of dishwashing or laundry detergents that contain phosphorus.

The Bloc Québécois introduced this bill because many of us, like the hon. member for Shefford, noticed how widespread cyanobacteria, also known as blue-green algae, had become last summer, and how serious a concern this was for the people of Quebec.

We know that blue-green algae pose a public health risk as potential irritants, allergens and toxins.

Besides this public health risk, the proliferation of cyanobacteria has a significant impact on the health and quality of lake water, not to mention the adverse effects on wildlife.

This is not a new issue, but the ongoing proliferation that has been observed over the past few years is a growing concern and calls for concerted action to put an end to this phenomenon.

Things have been getting worse: in Quebec, this phenomenon affected 50 lakes in 2005, 107 in 2006, and nearly 200 in 2007.

In the riding that I have the honour of representing, Berthier—Maskinongé, blue-green algae were found in five lakes and rivers in 2007. This is a major problem in our region and in many others in Quebec.

Quebec is not the only province whose lakes and rivers are deteriorating. Other Canadian provinces are facing this threat too. Blue-green algae have invaded waters in Ontario, Manitoba, Nova Scotia and even Alberta.

Blue-green algae blooms are happening for a reason. It is important to explain what causes these organisms to appear and multiply in our watersheds, our lakes and rivers, and in all of our water sources.

Excessive growth of cyanobacteria is due to an overabundance of nutrients in the environment. Of these nutrients, phosphorus has the greatest impact.

Phosphorus is a naturally occurring nutrient used by algae and aquatic plants, and blue-green algae blooms occur when the amount of phosphorus in a water system exceeds the ability of the system to absorb it. The presence of excess phosphorus is directly linked to human activity. We must therefore act to address this phenomenon.

Human activities that lead to surplus phosphorus in the water system include dumping untreated or inadequately treated water, agricultural activity, fertilizing lawns, using septic systems, recreation and tourism, and deforestation.

We know that dish and laundry detergents are made with phosphates, compounds that contain phosphorus and that, when present in excessive quantities, contribute to the development of blue-green algae and cyanobacteria.

While regulations have been in place for many years to limit phosphorus levels in laundry detergents, that is still not the case for dishwasher detergents and, more importantly, there is not a total ban.

Given this growing issue, it is important to remind this House that it is the Bloc Québécois that took the initiative. Indeed, in the spring of 2007, the Bloc Québécois critic on the environment and member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, whom I want to thank for his excellent work regarding this issue, blamed the Minister of the Environment for not dealing with this issue quickly. My colleague rightly pointed out that Ottawa could simply amend its regulations, without passing legislation, and thus take action quickly to protect our bodies of water.

Since Ottawa is responsible for regulating imported products, we felt that cooperation between Ottawa, Quebec and the provinces was necessary to deal effectively with the issue of blue-green algae.

On June 12, 2007, given the government's lack of concern, and its own desire to fight against the spread of blue-green algae, the Bloc Québécois tabled a motion, that was adopted by the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development, recommending that the federal government phase out concentrations of phosphorous in dishwasher detergents and laundry detergents.

Like several environmental groups, we condemned the Conservatives' decision to oppose this motion, which proposed a measure that is easily achievable and that would definitely have helped in the fight against the spread of these algae in our bodies of water.

We now know where the Conservatives stand regarding anything related to the environment. Because of this government's failure to do something, I started a petition, in September 2007, to get the federal government to act and amend its bill, so as to eliminate phosphates from dishwasher and laundry detergents.

In October 2007, I tabled in this House a first series of petitions with over 1,200 signatures, and this week I will again present a new series of petitions signed by over 2,000 people, asking the government to act.

I would like to thank the environmental groups, volunteers, not-for-profit organizations and municipalities that collected signatures for this petition. In doing so, they showed that they were determined to take action.

However, this government has refused to shoulder its responsibilities on this issue. That is why we introduced this bill.

Bill C-469 would prohibit phosphates in dishwashing and laundry detergents. Currently, section 117 of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999, prohibits the manufacture for use or sale in Canada or the import of a cleaning product or water conditioner that contains a prescribed nutrient in a concentration greater than the permissible concentration prescribed for that product.

Bill C-469 adds provisions after section 117 that prohibit certain substances in dishwashing and laundry detergents and stipulate when these prohibitions come into force.

In short, the bill would prohibit the manufacture for use or sale in Canada, the import and the sale of laundry or dishwashing detergents containing phosphates.

The bill would also amend subsection 119(1) to make it comply with the amendments to section 117.

This is a small bill, but it represents an important step that this government and all parliamentarians could take to combat the problem of blue-green algae.

We are calling on the federal government to take action in this area of federal jurisdiction to preserve the quality of our bodies of water. This legislation that we are proposing supports the various measures taken by the Government of Quebec to effectively fight blue-green algae and preserve the quality of our water and our aquatic ecosystems.

Recently, in the fall of 2007, in response to the spread of blue-green algae, Quebec's environment minister consulted with various stakeholders about how to address this wave. In the wake of these consultations, the Government of Quebec announced in December 2007 the adoption of regulations under its program to combat blue-green algae.

Quebec's action plan includes a series of regulatory tools and prevention and awareness mechanisms to help municipalities meet the challenges posed by the spread of blue-green algae. The plan also provides for the adoption of a regulation prohibiting the sale in Quebec of dishwashing detergents containing more than .5% phosphorus by 2010.

The Government of Quebec is addressing this environmental problem by duly exercising its powers under the Canadian Constitution. It is important to realize that the issue of jurisdiction in environmental matters means that, in practice, a policy to address an environmental problem could fall under the jurisdiction of either level of government. In other words, there can be a number of solutions to an environmental problem and therefore a number of jurisdictions involved.

As far as the use of phosphates is concerned, the National Assembly of Quebec has taken action in its jurisdiction. We are calling on the federal government to take its responsibilities and take action in its jurisdiction to protect our lakes and rivers. Since Ottawa is responsible for regulating imports, the federal government must also take action in order to have a real impact on manufacturers and force them to change their practices.

The adoption of such standards by Ottawa, with respect to the manufacture of laundry detergents and dishwasher detergents, would force manufacturers to adapt or be shut out of the Quebec and Canadian market. Since this is a very important market for them, the manufacturers will be much more likely to offer a product in compliance with the new Quebec and Canadian standards.

The Government of Quebec has urged the federal government to change its regulations in order to intensify the commercial impact of banning dishwasher detergents and other detergents that contain phosphates, thereby strengthening and making more effective the legislation that Quebec wants to implement.

The Bloc Québécois is well aware that banning detergent containing phosphates will not be enough to eradicate blue-green algae from our waters. This problem is complex and has been around for a number of years and will not be resolved in the immediate future. Other measures have to be taken by the Government of Quebec. We will be able to put an end to this problem with well-targeted action. We need to see an effort by all levels of government, municipalities, waterfront property owner associations, farmers and the general public. However, the federal government can ban the use of phosphates in detergents and it can do so quickly.

By taking swift action in this matter, the federal government will strengthen the Government of Quebec's action plan. By supporting Bill C-469, the federal government will also establish a clear consensus on the use of phosphorus in detergents.

I am calling on all parliamentarians to vote in favour of this bill.

Canadian Environmental Protection ActPrivate Members' Business

11:15 a.m.


Thomas Mulcair NDP Outremont, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would first like to thank my colleague from Berthier—Maskinongé for presenting this bill dealing with a factor that could make a contribution—as minimal as it may be—to helping the environment. However, in this important matter, every step in the right direction is always welcome.

I would like to ask my colleague a question. I listened carefully to his presentation and what I heard is that outside of the use of phosphorus in the agriculture sector, the use of dishwasher detergent in the resort sector may account for up to 5% of the problem. Thus, it would be worthwhile dealing with this matter.

I am very familiar with this matter because I worked on it with officials from Vermont. One thing is certain: pollution knows no borders. Therefore, we have to work together. According to the theory just presented by my colleague, we have to choose one or the other level of government—those are his words. However, he mentioned that agriculture was one of the major causes of this environmental problem.

The Quebec plan deals with this very indirectly, almost not at all. For its part, the NDP is calling for compensation for farmers in exchange for a buffer zone of about 10 metres rather than 3 metres. At this point, the three-metre standard is not cast in stone because only Ontario and Quebec apply it; Prince Edward Island requires a 10-metre buffer zone.

Is my colleague saying that the problem cannot be solved, even in light of the current surplus? The efforts of Fisheries and Oceans Canada provide a good example of two levels of government that must work together. In Quebec, Fisheries and Oceans Canada has its own work to do. When I was Quebec's Minister of the Environment, we always worked with Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

Is it the official position of the Parti Québécois to state that the federal government does not have a role to play while respecting provincial jurisdictions? Excuse me, I was speaking of the branch of the Parti Québécois in Ottawa, the Bloc Québécois.

Canadian Environmental Protection ActPrivate Members' Business

11:15 a.m.

An hon. member

It is the same thing.

Canadian Environmental Protection ActPrivate Members' Business

11:15 a.m.


Thomas Mulcair NDP Outremont, QC

It is six of one and half a dozen of the other.

Do the separatists believe that it is inconceivable that the federal government could intervene while respecting provincial jurisdictions, for example by introducing agreements? Are they not more inclined to agree with us that it is possible for the federal government to have a constructive role and also respect provincial jurisdictions?

In short, we believe that any plan that fails to deal with the agricultural sector is destined to fail.

Canadian Environmental Protection ActPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.


Guy André Bloc Berthier—Maskinongé, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague from the NDP for his question.

First, I should say that farming undeniably plays a major part in the blue-green algae problem. I might add, for the benefit of my colleague from the NDP, that there is actually no farming in the vicinity of several of the lakes contaminated by this algae. The problem, in fact, lies with the people, those who have been building cottages around lakes these past few years and plan to retire there. They use more water, more dishwashers and more products containing phosphorus that pollute our lakes.

I agree with the hon. member that we are not resolving the whole cyanobacteria issue, but we are dealing with a major part of the problem.

Canadian Environmental Protection ActPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.

Langley B.C.


Mark Warawa ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment

Mr. Speaker, I welcome the opportunity to turn our attention to a discussion on phosphorus.

The need for attention on this issue was evident this past summer but the challenge has not diminished with the change of season. The government is very concerned with any environmental problem that affects our freshwater systems and which can compromise the things we value: access to high quality, safe drinking water or the ability to swim or fish in a lake on a hot summer's day.

We know that phosphate contamination in surface water is a concern because phosphates can act as a nutrient that supports the growth of certain blue-green algae. Under conditions of high nutrient inputs, blue-green algae can form what is known as “blooms” which dominate the natural community as they outgrow other benign forms of algae.

These blue-green algae blooms are capable of producing toxins that can harm humans, livestock, pets, wildlife, fish and shellfish. These toxins may also cause skin rashes, throat or eye irritations or gastrointestinal disorders. Although toxins themselves are odourless and tasteless, other compounds produced by these blooms can cause foul taste and odour problems that impair the drinking and the recreational use of the water and cause beach closures.

It is important that we minimize the risk of these toxins by reducing the incidence of blue-green algae blooms wherever possible. In most cases, this can be best achieved by reducing the phosphate levels. However, because each water body and its drainage basin is unique, the best approach to phosphate control and management differs for each system and thus the major phosphate sources need to be carefully evaluated in each case.

While it may seem that these pollution sources are obvious, in reality the problem is complex because there can be numerous sources. In a given watershed, some of these phosphate sources can be difficult to locate and measure because they are spread out, as is the case for phosphates entering waterways from multiple sources such as fields, small tributaries and so on.

According to our current scientific information, the largest primary sources of phosphates at the national level in Canada are agriculturel and waste water. The government recognizes that blue-green algae growth in our lakes, rivers and streams is a serious problem. The problem is that dishwater detergent is only a small part of the problem, between 1% and 2%. We need to do more to have a real impact.

On September 24 of last year, we announced a plan to get tough on sewage drainage by bringing in tough new regulations on sewage treatment across Canada. These new rules will bring Canada in line with some of the toughest rules in the world, like those found in the European union. The regulations will set out new national baseline standards that will apply to over 4,000 waste water systems in Canada. These actions will lead to real water quality improvements.

Phosphorus is used in certain detergents and cleaning products to soften water, reduce spotting and rusting, keep dirt particles in suspension and enhance the performance of the cleaning. However, as noted, phosphorus is a nutrient and when released into the aquatic environment it can promote the growth of blue-green algae.

For that reason, phosphorus concentration regulations were put in place for laundry detergents in the 1970s when the treatment of municipal waste water effluent was much less advanced that it is today. Some European countries and some American states have also moved to limit phosphorus in laundry detergents and so far five American states have regulated concentrations in dishwater detergents.

Environment Canada data suggest that detergents account for just over 1% of the total national releases of phosphates to surface water. There are already a number of cleaning products on the market that have low or negligible concentrations of phosphorus. Further, the Canadian Consumer Specialty Products Association, whose member companies produce 86% of all automatic dishwashing detergent sold in Canada, announced in October an industry wide led initiative to voluntarily limit phosphorous concentrations to one-half of 1% weight in dishwashing detergents by 2010.

Ultimately, science is needed for informed policy decisions so that actions are taken to tackle the right source at the right time and in the most efficient manner. In short, we are focusing on enhancing the science based upon which informed decisions can be taken to reduce the inputs from the major phosphate sources and better manage the risks.

I mentioned earlier that data shows agriculture and sewage to be the largest sources of phosphorous in Canada. Environment Canada scientists are working with their counterparts in Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada on the development of a national agri-environmental standards initiative. This is a set of non-regulatory standards that, when met, will help to protect the freshwater ecosystems from the harmful effects caused by excessive amounts of phosphorous and other pollutants from agricultural activities.

Implementing the national agri-environmental standards initiative would also identify watersheds that should be targeted for beneficial management practices as a component of farm plans. Proper implementation of farm plans will help lower inputs of phosphorous and other agricultural contaminants to acceptable levels.

Scientists from Environment Canada have been working with provincial and international partners using the science-based approach to remediate the Great Lakes since the 1980s. We strive to stay ahead of this issue elsewhere, working with local watershed groups in other areas of Canada.

I would like to share with Parliament some new projects that demonstrate how the government is collaborating with the provinces on integrated water resource management and agricultural watersheds.

Scientists from Environment Canada and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, along with their provincial counterparts and stakeholders, have reached agreement to assess the impacts of current agricultural practices and water quality and aquatic organisms in the LaSalle and Little Saskatchewan River basins in Manitoba. This work will result in a better picture of the contribution of agricultural activities to water quality and other nutrient related problems in the Lake Winnipeg basin.

We will continue to work with our provincial, territorial and municipal counterparts to protect our watersheds and drinking water sources.

In short, it is critical that we focus our energies on actions that are truly effective in addressing the main sources of pollution to our watersheds. That is why the government supports a comprehensive, multifaceted approach. A strategic approach that integrates our efforts and is done in a collaborative manner with provincial and territorial governments will deliver the most effective results.

Canadian Environmental Protection ActPrivate Members' Business

11:30 a.m.


David McGuinty Liberal Ottawa South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for introducing this bill, which would address a complicated issue that has a profound impact on the health of Canadians.

I would like to start by saying that I appreciate the objective of Bill C-469 and I will support it so that the House may bring it before a committee. However, a number of things must be examined before this bill can become law and take effect.

I would like to take a few minutes to debate some logical and necessary amendments, which I feel should be included in the bill at committee stage.

Why regulate phosphorus?

It is important to understand why it is necessary to regulate phosphorus. Scientists have known for a long time that phosphorus, a naturally occurring substance, contributes significantly to the growth of blue-green algae, which contains cyanobacteria that is toxic to aquatic life as well as to humans when we drink it. Boiling the affected water does not destroy cyanobacteria, so it is vital that we stop phosphorus pollution at its source.

To give members an idea of the severity of the problem and of how blue-green algae is becoming an increasingly serious threat to the health of our communities, I note simply that last summer a record number of Canadian lakes and rivers were contaminated with this algae. In Quebec alone, 156 were affected and 90 were closed to swimming and boating. That is more than double the number of closures in the summer of 2006.

While the primary cause of blue-green algae is runoff from farm fertilizers and septic systems, together accounting for 98% of the problem, the member for Berthier—Maskinongé is correct that the phosphorus levels in certain kinds of detergents, where it is added as a stain remover and cleanser, are also of significant concern.

However, Bill C-469 goes too far. It calls for a complete ban on phosphorus when regulating the amount of phosphorus in detergents is all we need to do. It does not adequately distinguish between laundry detergents and different types of dishwashing detergent.

Allow me to make four points that will help clarify these issues for the House.

First, Bill C-469 rashly calls for the prohibition of phosphorus in laundry detergents. Phosphorus is added to laundry detergents to help with rinsing ions, such as calcium and magnesium, in hard water so that other components of the soap can properly clean the clothing. However, the member's bill does not consider the fact that for several years now Canada has had regulations limiting the concentration of phosphorus in laundry detergents. The Phosphorus Concentration Regulations, in the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, limit the concentration of phosphorus in laundry detergents to 2.2% by weight. And these regulations are very effective.

For example, they helped drastically reduce the proliferation of blue-green algae in the Great Lakes, while still allowing consumers to use the minimum amount of phosphorus needed to do their laundry. I must also point out that manufacturers have found another ingredient that can help remove ions from hard water. Of these manufacturers, 95% have completely stopped using phosphorus. It is now almost exclusively used for industrial and commercial activities.

Therefore, prohibiting phosphorus in laundry detergents seems pointless and inconsistent with our current regulations.

Second, Bill C-469 refers generally to all dishwashing detergent. In truth, we need be concerned only with automatic dishwashing detergent. Phosphorus is added to automatic dishwashing detergents so it can break up dried or greasy food soils, remove calcium lime film, sanitize dishes and help keep the dishwasher's jets and pipes free from obstruction so the machine can operate using less water and less energy. This is very different from liquid hand-dishwashing detergent, which is surfactant based and does not contain phosphorus. In my view it makes no sense to regulate all dishwashing detergent in general when we need be concerned with only one specific kind.

The problem dates back to when the original phosphorus control regulations were drafted, which was long before automatic dishwashers became a popular household appliance. Accordingly, while the phosphorus concentration of laundry detergents in Canada can be no more than 2.2% by weight, today most major brands of automatic dishwashing detergent have phosphate levels ranging from 3.3% to 8.7%. Some are as high as 20%. As we can see, the challenge is therefore not that these products contain phosphorus; it is that we are not controlling how much they contain.

Fortunately, Canadian industries are well aware of the problem. They are moving to correct it. The Canadian Consumer Specialty Products Association, whose member companies produce 86% of all the household automatic dishwashing detergent in Canada sold in Canada, is leading an industry initiative to limit phosphorus in automatic dishwashing detergent to a maximum of 0.5% by weight, effective July 2010. This would be the toughest standard in the world.

I believe we should support these companies in this initiative. Banning phosphorus outright would seem to unnecessarily and unduly punish an industry that is already adapting to address our concerns.

That is the third problem with Bill C-469. The wording of the bill does not take into account the fact that phosphorous is still an essential ingredient in dishwasher detergent, especially in industrial and commercial settings, where the machines are designed for large volumes of dishes and shorter cycles.

Unlike laundry detergent, the phosphorous in dishwasher detergent disinfects the dishes. Banning it completely could therefore seriously affect the health of Canadians. Experiments have shown that there is no suitable substitute for phosphorous at this time that can provide the level of cleanliness that consumers are looking for. One possible substitute, an alkali metal carbonate salt, has not yet been thoroughly tested and, therefore, the necessary quantities cannot be produced.

My fourth and final point has to do with the fact that, in deciding what Canada should do, the honourable members should have a clear understanding of the measures taken by some other jurisdictions, such as the United States and the European Union.

In the United States, regulating phosphorous is a state issue, not a federal one. In the 1990s, the state of Arizona began to phase out phosphorous. In response, its citizens started driving across the border into neighbouring states to get better automatic dishwashing detergents because those available to them did not work.

As of today, most jurisdictions in the U.S. are working with industry and moving to the standard of 0.5% in household automatic dishwashers by July 2010. Across the Atlantic, only a few countries in the European Union even have regulations on phosphates and none of them have implemented a complete ban. I mention this to underscore that North American industries are already moving to a standard that is equal to or better than standards anywhere else in the world.

I agree with the hon. member for Berthier—Maskinongé. Quite frankly, the government dragged its feet on this file. It only recently announced that it will review the changes to the regulations.

Before Bill C-469 was introduced in the House, my Liberal colleague from Lac-Saint-Louis presented another bill on this topic, namely, Bill C-464. My hon. colleague's bill takes into account the factors I have discussed here today and supports Canadian industries by asking the government to limit the maximum concentration of phosphorous in dishwasher detergent to 0.5%.

In closing, it seems only logical to harmonize regulations across the North American market and that Parliament should seek to implement regulations in line with those of the rest of the international community.

It is my hope that if Bill C-469 is sent to committee it can be amended in a way that reflects the wisdom of Bill C-464.

Canadian Environmental Protection ActPrivate Members' Business

11:40 a.m.


Thomas Mulcair NDP Outremont, QC

Mr. Speaker, I had an opportunity earlier, in a previous question, to congratulate my colleague from Berthier—Maskinongé on his initiative, and I would like to begin by reiterating my congratulations.

The bill is C-469, An Act to amend the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (use of phosphorus).

From the question I put to my colleague earlier, it will be clear that we in the NDP are persuaded that any attempt to end the plague of blue-green algae—my colleague called it a “wave”, and it is indeed a wave of blue-green algae, but more importantly it is a plague—that does not include a strong agricultural component is destined to fail. Even though we agree on the effort being made here, in terms of prohibiting the use of phosphates in dishwasher detergent, we believe that the federal government can do more, particularly when we see the very large amounts of money we have available right now.

We have calculated the cost of providing proper compensation for farmers in Quebec, where there is a 10-metre riparian buffer strip. On average, we could pay $1,500 per hectare per year as compensation for that buffer strip. There are 7,000 kilometres of buffer strips, and it would be of little consequence if that were increased to 10,000 kilometres—because human nature being what it is, I imagine that as soon as compensation is offered, more will be discovered. A strip one kilometre long by 10 metres wide is exactly equal to one hectare. At $1,500 per hectare, the 10,000 hectares in question in Quebec would cost $15 million. It was calculated that it would cost $50 million altogether to provide genuine protection for all of the navigable and floatable watercourses in Canada. And this is a federal responsibility; Fisheries and Oceans Canada is already working on it.

We are not saying that the federal government will dictate any conditions. Nothing would be imposed; rather, it would be a matter of working together with the provinces and reaching agreements. I am persuaded that if our common goal is to achieve a result, we will be able to find ways of doing it.

We already have experience in this: the Bloc Québécois insisted on voting against an NDP bill whose intent was to make pesticide rules throughout Canada as stringent as the rules that already exist in Quebec. Do we think that a pesticide that makes its way into the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin, but originated in Ontario, could not have negative consequences for the health of people in Quebec?

This demonstrates that we have to take a comprehensive view when we are dealing with environmental issues. When we talk about sustainable development, we have to take the environmental, economic and social aspects into account. We also have to understand that political borders mean very little.

When I was the Quebec Minister of the Environment, I remember spending two days in the United States with Manitoba Premier Gary Doer, to meet American officials. At the time, the governor of the state of North Dakota wanted to divert the water from Devils Lake to the Sheyenne River which, as we know, is a tributary of the Red River, which flows into Lake Winnipeg, a body of water that is already quite polluted by a number of other sources of pollution. Such a measure was out of the question as far as we were concerned. It is interesting to note that U.S. authorities were happily prepared to circumvent the Boundary Waters Treaty, which has been in existence for about a century between the United States and Canada. We managed to find a solution, in cooperation with the Americans.

So, considering that we are able to deal with these issues at the international level, the various levels of government within a country should be able to cooperate and find solutions. Indeed, it is all about finding a solution.

When I became minister in 2003, there was a huge blue-green algae problem in Missisquoi Bay, which is the body of water located at the top of Lake Champlain, on the Quebec side. Also, the river with the same name meanders over a long distance in the United States, before reaching Canada in Missisquoi Bay. It was estimated that 60% of the phosphorus that was creating a major blue-green algae problem was from the United States. Therefore, there would have been no point in introducing a bill that would not have had an international component. And there would have been no point in trying to solve the issue, if we did not deal with the agricultural aspect.

Whenever I talk about this issue, I am always careful to point out that we have no intention of blaming the agricultural industry. I realized something a long time ago, namely that 95% of farm producers already spend huge amounts of money to comply with agricultural standards.

The problem with riparian buffer strips that are only three metres wide is that it is virtually impossible to enforce them very effectively. It is very difficult.

The New Democratic Party thinks that if we followed the example set by Prince Edward Island and extended these strips to ten metres, we would get much better, much more positive results.

Throughout all my work with the Union des producteurs agricoles du Québec, that group has always stated unequivocally that it was not fundamentally opposed to wider buffer strips. Farmers have always told me, though, that this was their land and they wanted to be compensated if they were not going to be allowed to use it. We are actually asking them for something: to provide part of their arable land in the greater public interest.

Lawyers might say that people have no right to be compensated for complying with laws and regulations. This case is unusual, though, because our consciousness has been raised and we are realizing now that some of the things we did in the past with our means of production are having undesirable effects. So if we want to ask producers to refrain from farming within a 30-foot or 35-foot riparian strip, they should be compensated. That is what the NDP is proposing.

My colleague who introduced the bill on the phosphates in dishwasher products sits on the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development. We, for our part, are studying the possibility of working together with the Department of Agriculture and Agri-Food.

I would like to tell the House a little story. When we were in the Saint-Valérien-de-Milton area last summer to announce our plan, it was very interesting to see important representatives there from both the environmental sector, including Richard Marois of the Montérégie regional environmental council, and the agricultural sector. This was the best possible proof, in my view, of what a good job the NDP is doing. Instead of a divisive plan, we had one that brought the agricultural community and the environmental community together in support of a common cause. That is precisely what needs to be done in environmental issues.

I listened very closely to what my Liberal colleague from Ottawa South had to say and could not make any sense of it at all. I simply could not get over it. This is what he said was the most important, and I will quote it, because stuff like this simply cannot be made up:

“We can't punish the industry”.

What an amazing knee-jerk reaction from someone who once chaired a round table on sustainable development, namely the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy. He is pitting these two areas one against the other. He said that we cannot punish the industry. The idea here is not to punish the industry but rather to protect the environment.

The member referred to Bill C-464 introduced by his colleague from Lac-Saint-Louis, whom I know well and for whom I have the highest regard. The issue is not whether or not to support the industry. Yet, those were his words.

The hon. member for Lac-Saint-Louis will soon be hosting with people from McGill University an important evening event at which experts will give presentations about water. I want to make sure that someone in the audience asks him a question, quoting word for word what the member for Ottawa Centre just said. It sure is amazing to hear the colleague of a member who will be hosting an event about water protection tell this House that we should support the industry. That is precisely the message contained in his Bill C-464.

Sometimes a choice has to be made between supporting the industry and supporting the environment. The member for Berthier—Maskinongé is on the right track. We will support his bill, but we would like its scope to be expanded. That is why the NDP will continue to work in conjunction with the agricultural community.

Canadian Environmental Protection ActPrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.


Marcel Lussier Bloc Brossard—La Prairie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I too would like to participate in the debate on Bill C-469, An Act to amend the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (use of phosphorus), tabled by the member for Berthier—Maskinongé.

As my colleagues have pointed out, there are other bills on the table not only in Ottawa, but also in Quebec, where Bill 194 is before Quebec's National Assembly.

In addition to these bills, industry too is taking action. I have here a news release from the Canadian Consumer Specialty Products Association announcing a voluntary commitment to limit phosphorus content to 0.5% by weight, effective July 2010.

What is the member for Berthier—Maskinongé proposing in his bill? Simply put, the bill aims to prohibit the manufacture, sale and import of these products.

The bill clearly states that once it comes into force, it will be against the law to manufacture, for use or sale, a cleaning product or water conditioner that contains nutrients, such as phosphorus. This would also apply to products for use in dishwashers.

The bill also proposes that the importation of such products be prohibited 180 days following royal assent. With respect to the sale of such products, the prohibition would come into force 360 days after the bill receives royal assent.

I would like to say a few words about phosphates. I found it very interesting that people do not realize that the phosphates and phosphorus that end up in our lakes do not come from dishwashers alone. That much is clear. I will come back to that in my discussion of concentrations, percentages and how much dishwashers contribute, but we know that the main sources are agriculture and waste water.

When it comes to waste water, it is not easy to figure out how much comes from treatment plants because not all of them put waste water through a process to remove phosphates with a chemical known as alum. Not all treatment plants contribute to the problem. If waste water does not undergo tertiary treatment, phosphates often go right through treatment plants.

The other issue concerns septic tanks and septic fields. I believe there are also bills on the table in Quebec to strengthen or give more teeth to the regulations on septic tanks and septic fields. It is also important to point out that some isolated residences in our society still discharge household waste directly into septic tanks and therefore directly into the environment.

The aging of a body of water is known as lake eutrophication. This happens when nutrients such as phosphorus and nitrogen are added to the water and cause aquatic plants and algae to grow.

Statistics show how many lakes and rivers have been affected in recent months. Quite often, lakes and rivers are affected, with the result that people are prohibited from using these bodies of water, especially as sources of drinking water.

Since 1972, various statutes have prohibited phosphates in laundry detergents. At that time, legislators no doubt neglected to realize that dishwasher detergent use would increase.

Was this an oversight? Was it a deliberate choice dictated by manufacturers at the time? Was it due to the fact that we had few dishwashers in our homes and cottages at the time?

We know that these regulations on laundry detergents have existed for many years. The aim of this bill is to strengthen those regulations by including dishwashing detergents.

Last spring, the Bloc Québécois submitted a proposal to Environment Canada calling on the government to regulate phosphates. Ottawa is responsible for imported products. The member for Hochelaga therefore felt that the two levels of government, Quebec and Ottawa, needed to work together and with all the other provinces to address the problem of blue-green algae.

On June 12, 2007, determined to fight the spread of blue-green algae, the Bloc Québécois introduced and won adoption of the following motion in the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development:

That, pursuant to Standing Order 108 (2), the Standing Committee on the Environment and the Sustainable Development recommends that the government amend the Phosphorous Concentration Regulations in order to phase out concentration of phosphorous in dishwasher detergents and laundry detergents and that the adoption of this motion be reported to the House at the earliest opportunity.

On December 5, 2007, the chair of the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development officially tabled the committee's first report, Blue-Green Algae (Cyanobacteria) and their Toxins. The document is now officially before the House.

The Bloc Québécois is well aware that banning detergents containing phosphates—such as laundry and dish detergents—will not be enough to completely eradicate blue-green algae. Other measures must be taken by governments. However, the federal government can ban the use of phosphorus in dish detergents as quickly as possible.

In 2002, Quebec established a very good water policy. Among the commitments of the policy introduced by the Parti Québécois in 2002, article 3 set out the obligation to protect the quality of water and ecosystems. In both cases the objective is the same: to protect water quality for human consumption and use, such as swimming and bathing, and also to protect ecosystems, which are composed of living things, in our lakes and rivers.

As I was saying earlier, the Government of Quebec has taken action. I would like to go back to the choice society must make between prohibiting phosphates in dish detergents, or paying to remove these phosphates in treatment plants once they have been dumped into the sewers and transported through the sewer system to those plants.

I would like to talk about the studies conducted at Lake Champlain. I believe this is related to the comment by my colleague from Outremont, who spoke about this situation. A number of studies were conducted at Lake Champlain that revealed that it was about 50% cheaper for residents of Vermont, New York and Quebec to ban phosphates in dish detergents than to have them removed in treatment plants.

This concludes my speech on phosphates.

Canadian Environmental Protection ActPrivate Members' Business



The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

The hon. member for Selkirk—Interlake has the floor for 10 minutes. Unfortunately, only two of those minutes will be today.

Canadian Environmental Protection ActPrivate Members' Business



James Bezan Conservative Selkirk—Interlake, MB

Mr. Speaker, I will use those two minutes wisely.

I am pleased to rise today, on behalf of my constituents of Selkirk—Interlake, to address Bill C-469, the PMB that seeks to amend the Environmental Protection Act. This bill seeks to take off the market all dishwasher, dish and laundry detergents that contain phosphorus.

The hon. member for Berthier—Maskinongé is well intentioned with this bill. However, it is important to recognize that there are other sources of phosphorus entering into the environment and we need to look at ways of reducing all phosphorus.

Phosphorus from dishwasher and laundry detergents is only one source of all phosphoruses that go into the water and enter our lakes, rivers and streams. We know that the main sources of phosphorus in our waters are from urban waste water and septic systems which are used across Canada and in my riding are used in many cottage areas and communities surrounding Lake Winnipeg. There are also fertilizers and, yes, detergents we want to control as well.

We also know that this excessive nutrient loading is causing algae problems in our lakes and nowhere in Canada is this more evident than in my riding of Selkirk—Interlake and in Lake Winnipeg, with its huge blue-green algae that is experienced every summer. Lake Winnipeg is the pride and joy of many of my constituents, but it is suffering from excessive nutrient loading causing large amounts of blue-green algae that build up in the lake year in and year out.

For 13 years the Liberals did nothing to fix the problem in Lake Winnipeg and only allowed it to get worse. Fortunately, last November the Minister of the Environment came to my home province of Manitoba and demonstrated this government's commitment to Lake Winnipeg by announcing an $18 million investment toward cleaning up the lake. This is a dedicated stewardship fund for Lake Winnipeg. It is providing funding to retain the experts and tools that are needed to physically clean up the lake and remove the excessive nutrients, including phosphorus.

With that, I will conclude now and continue in the next hour of debate.

Canadian Environmental Protection ActPrivate Members' Business



The Acting Speaker Conservative Royal Galipeau

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired, and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.

When Bill C-469 returns to the House for study, the leading speaker will be the hon. member for Selkirk—Interlake and he will have eight minutes.

Judges ActGovernment Orders



Chuck Strahl Conservative Chilliwack—Fraser Canyon, BC

moved that Bill C-31, An Act to amend the Judges Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Judges ActGovernment Orders


Fundy Royal New Brunswick


Rob Moore ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Mr. Speaker, it is my great pleasure to rise today to speak to the Judges Act amendment bill.

This bill has the appearance of being of minor importance, for it amends a single number in a single paragraph of the Judges Act; however, the significance of this amendment is indeed great.

It will create the authority to appoint 20 new judges to the provincial superior trial courts and it will allow the government to achieve two very important objectives: first, to provide increased support and access to justice for some of Canada's most vulnerable groups, including aboriginal communities, victims of domestic violence and children in need of protection; second, it will facilitate the timely resolution of specific claims.

Subparagraph 24(3)(b) of the Judges Act, which we refer to as the pool, creates the authority to appoint additional judges to the superior trial courts of any jurisdiction in Canada. The pool was created in the early 1970s because of the recognized difficulty in having to constantly amend the Judges Act when jurisdictions needed an additional judge or judges.

This section is intended to permit the government to respond quickly to substantiated pressures on provincial superior courts. This bill would increase by 20 the number of appointments authorized under this section for judges of the trial courts and thus permit the appointment of 20 new judges to these courts.

The need for additional judicial resources to respond to existing and increasingly urgent pressures in the provincial superior courts has been clearly demonstrated, especially in six jurisdictions across Canada. Those jurisdictions are Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Nunavut.

In Ontario and the Atlantic provinces, the need for more judges arises in the existing family branches of the superior courts, and is largely the result of enhanced child protection laws and a growing population. Similarly, Quebec has witnessed mounting family and civil caseloads within its superior court.

Nunavut faces serious issues in terms of access to justice for its aboriginal communities. Complex criminal trials and increasing family law caseloads have clogged the system, and over the past year the senior judge of the Nunavut court has had to postpone several jury trials and court circuits due to a lack of judges.

Judges, lawyers, court administrators and other professionals are all struggling to meet those growing demands, and maintain an accessible and effective justice system for families and for children. Despite these efforts, court delays and backlogs have continued to increase and it has become clear that additional judges are required to be part of the answer to this situation.

Each of these jurisdictions have submitted detailed statistical data outlining case volumes, trends in court workload and backlogs. Based on the government's quantitative analysis of this information, these jurisdictions and their chief justices have objectively substantiated the need for at least 14 judges to respond to these existing pressures.

In addition, the government has introduced Bill C-30 creating the new specific claims tribunal. This tribunal will have the authority to make binding decisions where specific claims brought forward by first nations are rejected for negotiation, or when negotiations fail.

As the Prime Minister indicated in June, it is critical that the members of this tribunal have the necessary experience, capacity and credibility to examine historical facts and evidence. They must be able to address complex questions surrounding Canada's legal obligations and determine appropriate levels of compensation. For this reason, the proposed specific claims tribunal act provides that tribunal members must be superior court judges.

It is estimated that the tribunal will require the full time equivalent of six judges to handle its anticipated caseload of 40 claims per year. These claims are dispersed across the country with the greatest number arising in British Columbia, and some of the most complex cases originating in Ontario and Quebec.

All provincial superior courts are currently working at full capacity, with a number of them, as I have just described, experiencing significant backlogs and delays. As a result, authority for an additional six judges is being sought to provide the trial courts with the capacity to absorb the new work of the tribunal and to address these claims on a priority basis.

It is intended that through this infusion of new judicial resources, the courts will be able to allow a number of their experienced judges to be appointed to a tribunal roster of up to 18 judges. It is proposed that these judges would sit on the tribunal on a part time basis for a period of time equivalent to the number of additional judges provided to the court. The judges appointed to the roster would continue to sit for the balance of their time on cases assigned as usual by the chief justice of their own court.

Allocation of the 20 new judges to specific jurisdictions will take place following consultations with chief justices of the affected courts and the provincial and territorial governments. These consultations will begin immediately to allow the requesting jurisdictions to refresh the data upon which their original proposals for new judges was based.

It will also provide governments and courts the opportunity to discuss the workload and functioning of the new specific claims tribunal. The goal is to be in a position to appoint the new judges as soon as possible after the passage of this legislation.

We are extremely fortunate in Canada to have a judicial system that is independent and impartial. We take for granted that our judiciary will be fearlessly and fairly deciding on the basis of the facts and the law of each case, complicated issues that affect our children, our families, and our communities.

Our courts bear a tremendous responsibility. Each day they render decisions that have an impact on personal relationships, living arrangements and financial circumstances. These judges determine how parents will share responsibilities for their child, what level of support the child will receive, and sometimes whether a child can be safely left with parental care. At times the level of conflict between family members is extremely high, which increases the risk of negative repercussions for the children involved. There are few of us who do not experience a visceral reaction when we hear the facts of some of these cases.

Our judges cannot act upon these gut feelings. Throughout the process the court must be, and be perceived to be, completely unbiased and impartial. Public confidence in our judges and a decision they render demands no less. Maintaining an impartial and independent judiciary is thus the centrepiece of our justice system and we are rightly proud of the success we have achieved in this regard.

However, the protection of important principles such as independence and impartiality has little meaning to the average Canadian when the system is inaccessible to them. Average Canadians must have access to the court system for it to be properly functioning.

This government recognizes the social cost of maintaining a family justice system that is accessible and responsive to the needs of families in crisis. There is a social cost when the system is inaccessible. These costs include demands on the health care system and the criminal justice and youth justice systems that are incurred when family law issues are not dealt with in an effective and expedient manner. We have all witnessed as well the conflict and uncertainty that has arisen from past failures to establish a fair and impartial process for achieving binding resolutions on specific claims.

As members can see, this apparently minor amendment would have a significant impact on access to justice for a number of Canada's most vulnerable communities, including children in need of protection and aboriginal communities. It is also critical to the effective functioning of the new specific claims tribunal.

I am confident that all hon. members will recognize the true significance of this bill and will support its speedy passage.

Procedure and House AffairsCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.


Karen Redman Liberal Kitchener Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order.

Discussions have taken place between all parties with respect to the membership of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs and I believe you will find consent for the following motion. I move:

That the membership of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs be amended as follows:

Marlene Jennings for Lucienne Robillard.

(Motion agreed to)

The House resumed consideration of the motion that Bill C-31, An Act to amend the Judges Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Judges ActGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.


Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, there was a great deal of concern, particularly in my home province of Ontario over the last 18 months, about the number of appointments in Ontario to the Superior Court and the number of vacancies. I wonder if the parliamentary secretary could share with us what consultation process was held with bar associations and law societies across the province to determine by what appropriate number to increase these appointments.

Judges ActGovernment Orders

12:10 p.m.


Rob Moore Conservative Fundy Royal, NB

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for Windsor--Tecumseh for his question. Certainly it is good to see him back as we resume our work in this Parliament specifically on justice issues.

As I mentioned in my speech with respect to the positions that will be created when this piece of legislation passes, the allocation of these appointments will be done in consultation with the chief justice of each province as well as in consultation with the provinces.

We have all heard the stories of the need in various provinces to address the backlog in the family court system. I know that is of concern to the hon. member. We are taking those concerns seriously. We are endeavouring to fill the positions as quickly as possible.

Further, it has been impressed upon us by the chief justices of the various provinces that there is a need for more positions to be filled. That is why we need to create these new positions and fill them as quickly as possible to address the backlog.

Judges ActGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.


Carole Freeman Bloc Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have a question for the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice. With regard to the bill we are debating today, increasing the number of judges appointed may seem very pertinent given that every citizen has the right to have access to justice and the courts are backed up. This could be a very interesting bill.

However, over the past two years, we have become accustomed to having the governing party introduce very repressive laws, which have multiplied the number of trials. On the one hand, they wish to appoint more judges and, on the other hand, they have increased considerably the burden of access to justice because of the multiplicity of trials.

I would like to know what the parliamentary secretary has to say about this situation. They are trying to solve one problem but the proliferation of laws has created another. How do we find balance?

Judges ActGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.


Rob Moore Conservative Fundy Royal, NB

Mr. Speaker, if we listen to the chief justices in the various provinces as we have done, there is a need. The hon. member knows, as she sits on the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, that there is a profound need for more family court and superior court judges to address family issues.

I mentioned in my speech the negative impact that can be had for justice delayed. A theme that we hear over and over from people who are involved in a dispute is that they want it resolved. They want the dispute resolved probably in a way that they would prefer, but all parties usually agree that they want it resolved as expeditiously as possible.

A backlog has existed for a long time in the system on family cases. In order to address that backlog, we need to create new positions. This bill does it in a comprehensive way, rather than a piecemeal way. It creates 20 new positions. It is going to go some way in addressing that backlog.

The hon. member mentioned the measures we are taking in the area of criminal justice. No one on this side and probably no one in the House wants to see our justice system clogged with cases, but when there is a crime committed, when there is a trial before a judge or before a judge and jury, we want to see that an appropriate sentence is available.

The legislation we have brought forward is to address the fact that the scales of justice have tilted too far away from the protection of the rights of society and the rights of an individual victim. We want to tip those scales back in a way that better protects society. That is why we have introduced a number of very positive criminal justice measures.

Judges ActGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.


Dominic LeBlanc Liberal Beauséjour, NB

Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to rise in the House here today to speak to Bill C-31. This is my first opportunity to do so as the official opposition critic for justice. I must say, I look forward to working with my hon. colleagues on such important issues.

We have already heard some members ask the parliamentary secretary some questions. I have known him well for a few years now. He is, like me, a member from New Brunswick. I look forward to working with him and his colleagues on the House standing committee, so as to discuss these issues of mutual concern on the subject of justice, especially since I know the government is particularly concerned about criminal justice issues.

This piece of legislation which creates additional superior court positions in different jurisdictions across the country is something that we in the Liberal Party think should have been brought forward a number of months ago. In fact, in the previous Parliament it was legislation that was before the House at the same time as the legislation to deal with the recommendations of the quadrennial commission with respect to pay increases for federally appointed judges. It really is not new the idea that there is a backlog in the court system and that there is additional pressure on the trial courts across the country for a number of reasons which were correctly enunciated in many cases by the parliamentary secretary.

The Liberal Party sees this legislation as positive. We see it in a certain sense as unfortunate that it has taken this long. We would have preferred to see the government, in the legislation dealing with the quadrennial commission report some months ago, also include this particular provision to increase the number of seats on superior courts across the country.

The parliamentary secretary referred to six jurisdictions where there have been identified backlogs. I can speak with some personal knowledge about the jurisdiction that the parliamentary secretary and I represent, the province of New Brunswick.

It is a fact that in many cases, for example on an interim motion, in the family court in New Brunswick sometimes litigants have to wait eight months before being heard by a family court judge on what is a motion for interim relief. This is clearly an unacceptable circumstance. That is why the Chief Justice of the Queen's Bench of New Brunswick, the bar association and provincial attorneys general going back into the previous government had all been requesting that Parliament legislate to create additional spaces. In that sense, this legislation conforms to something that achieves a broad consensus across the country.

There is no doubt that the delays in family courts can be particularly troublesome. In many cases, because of changes in child protection legislation across the country, child protection cases clog up the docket. Because of the urgency of many of these matters they end up in effect bumping down the line some of the cases involving interim relief, cases of child custody, which can be very difficult and traumatic for families, not to mention the economic costs of continually having them delayed and adjourned.

For that reason, we think this legislation is needed and seeks to address a problem which has been identified for a number of years in many jurisdictions as pressing.

As for the 20 new appointments the government would make, if Parliament were to pass this bill, I would like the parliamentary secretary to be a little more conscious of linguistic issues, for instance, in my province, New Brunswick. We saw some strange situations, where bilingual or even francophone judges were replaced by unilingual anglophone judges. Once again, this has meant delays for anyone who wishes to plead their case before the courts in New Brunswick in French.

In one particular instance in the Moncton area, a francophone judge was appointed. The fact that someone was appointed who can conduct trials in French was very much appreciated. It was very important.

I would also ask the government to be equally aware of the fact that, in other jurisdictions in Canada, linguistic balance can be very important, if one claims to truly care about the issue of trials subject to delays or the issue of access to justice. Access to justice in one's mother tongue is also a fundamental question. If we cannot find a way to appoint judges who can conduct these trials or hear evidence in English or French, depending on the case, trial delays will increase at an alarming rate.

The parliamentary secretary also talked about the specific claims tribunal. Again, this will put additional pressure on superior court judges in some jurisdictions. There is no doubt that supernumerary judges or judges of long experience may in many cases be ideally suited to do a rotation on some of these specific claims tribunals, which means that chief justices in these jurisdictions will again have a need for more resources and for an increase in judges to hear some cases that have waited for a very long time. That is another valid reason why Parliament should consider increasing the number of superior court judges.

On this side of the House, we in the Liberal Party have some concern with respect to the appointments process this particular Conservative government has undertaken. One of its first acts was to attempt to stack the judicial appointments advisory committees in the provinces to ensure that the Minister of Justice would in fact control a majority of the members of the judicial appointments advisory committees in the provinces.

The parliamentary secretary talked about the independence of the judiciary. This is certainly something that I think all members value greatly. That independence is not enhanced when we try to stack and manipulate the independent process by which the qualifications of judicial candidates are assessed.

At the time of these changes, we raised some concerns about why the government would decide that it is important to have representatives of the police on these advisory committees. If one of the delays or concerns the parliamentary secretary identified is with respect to family courts across the country, or in some jurisdictions, the value that a police officer brings to the selection or evaluation of candidates for a family court appointment I think shows that the government was simply trying to pretend to give law enforcement a role in a process that really should be independent.

The minister should have resisted the temptation to be able to stack and manipulate these committees to ensure that he always would have a majority on each committee in every province, committees that are given the important responsibility of evaluating the competence and credentials of the men and women seeking to be appointed to the superior court.

Therefore, at committee we intend to look also at the issue of the appointments process. We are not satisfied that the government has been entirely responsible with respect to the independence of this appointment process, but we do recognize that there is a need to give these courts across the country increased resources. As I said at the beginning of my remarks, this is why we regret that this was not brought forward many months ago. The ideal time would have been when the government legislated its response to the quadrennial commission report.

In conclusion, I think all members share the sentiment that for those who seek to appear before the superior courts in jurisdictions across the country, whether it is with respect to a criminal charge and a criminal matter, a family law matter, other civil litigation or, in this particular example, with respect to specific claims tribunals, timely access to justice has long been held to be a fundamental right of Canadians.

In criminal law, the Askov case, as members will know, redefined what is reasonable access, that is, the right to be heard within a reasonable time. Surely that same principle in criminal law applies with respect to some of the most difficult cases in family law, where the custody of children can be at issue, where families are seeking to have their cases heard, and where, I think all members will agree, an eight month delay on an interim motion for interim relief simply does not make sense.

That is why if the government proceeds with this legislation quickly it will find that members of the Liberal Party are anxious to cooperate, but we would urge the government to resist the temptation in these appointments to once again seek out partisan appointments or once again attempt to manipulate the process by which the minister is given a list of persons, men and women, qualified to be appointed to the superior courts.

We believe that access to justice within a reasonable timeframe is a fundamental right, just as access to justice in one's first language is also a fundamental right in Canada. We therefore urge the government to respect these values.

We have been somewhat worried about some of the appointments made in recent months. Even so, we believe that adding 20 positions at the superior court and tribunal level should be fast-tracked by the House.

Judges ActGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.


Carole Freeman Bloc Châteauguay—Saint-Constant, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased today to join the debate on something that directly affects the proper functioning of our justice system and thus the people of Quebec and Canada. I am talking about Bill C-31, An Act to amend the Judges Act.

The purpose of the bill is to allow a greater number of judges to be appointed to superior courts of the provinces, or 20 more judges than the current limit. The intention of this increase is to improve the flexibility of the justice system in order to process the many cases before the superior courts more quickly and more efficiently. The bill will also allow judges from superior courts to be assigned to the new specific claims tribunal, which was created by the Specific Claims Tribunal Act.

I should mention, with respect to this bill, that my constituents have often talked to me about how cumbersome and slow the current justice system is. However, let us make a distinction between cliché and reality. We have to acknowledge that the complexity of the cases, the proceedings, the needless procedures and a shortage of judges are causing delays. Nonetheless, I know that the increased number of cases, in family law in particular, is such that parents in Quebec sometimes have to wait several months before their alimony or custody case is finally settled by a judge.

This is an unfortunate situation, but it is so because the number of judges provided for under the Judges Act has not changed for years. Accordingly, the Act does not take into account the population increase and the resulting new social realities, including divorce and increasingly complex cases.

At present, the Judges Act provides for a Chief Justice, a Senior Associate Chief Justice and an Associate Chief Justice for the Superior Court of Quebec, and for 140 other judges. For anyone who knows a little bit about the judicial system in Quebec, I would point out that the Superior Court hears civil and commercial cases where the amount at issue is over $70,000, administrative and family law cases, bankruptcy cases, jury trials and criminal trials, and appeals in summary conviction cases.

Under paragraph 24(3)(b) of the Judges Act, the Superior Court of Quebec may still appoint 30 new judges, above and beyond its current 144 judges, to meet the needs that arise. Under Bill C-31, it could go ahead and have 50 additional judges. Clearly, that amounts to a ceiling that is higher than the one we have now by 20 judges.

In the opinion of the Bloc Québécois and myself, adding judges to handle the many cases before the courts is part of the solution for improving access to justice. Undeniably, it is the government’s duty to make sure that the public has access to the courts when they need it, that all accused persons are able to stand trial within a reasonable time, and that the system is not handicapped by a shortage of judges.

However, this must not become a panacea! I say this while at the same time believing that Bill C-31 is not a bad bill—quite the contrary—but the intended effects could be diminished by the ideology of this minority government, focused as it is on “law and order”. This approach concerns me, and I would like to share my concerns with my distinguished colleagues and with the general public watching us today.

In my speeches in the past, and in my work on the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, I have frequently referred to my grave concern about the enforcement-oriented approach taken by the Conservatives. It has expanded considerably since this government changed the rules for the judicial advisory committees. In my view, this manoeuvre by the Conservatives, along with a number of others I will talk about later, suggests that these amendments are somewhat secondary details in their minds.

Why is it so important to debate this? Because every one of our fellow citizens expects to have an impartial, objective judicial system, where they feel protected from any political or ideological position that might influence a judgment. It seems, however, that the recent judicial appointments made by this government do not adhere to the idea of impartiality that the public expects. This interventionist attitude is extremely disturbing, and I believe it is important that people be made aware of what this minority government is doing and planning to do to ensure that its “law and order” ideology can be implemented smoothly.

In the case of judicial appointments, my colleagues will stand firmly behind me when I say that we have to try to strike a balance. That is why our judicial system is founded on an independent judiciary.

The Bloc Québécois has been saying for a long time now in this House that we are looking forward to the day when there will no longer be partisan appointments to the judiciary, when we will have independent committees selecting our judges, selecting people with the very best qualifications.

I am not saying the current judiciary is not qualified, but I am saying that often judges are appointed in a partisan and political manner. The media regularly decries this practice and shares its displeasure with the public, who in turn become cynical. The government must not try to appoint judges that suit its ideology, because that could interfere with the impartiality of the courts, a fundamental rule of justice shared by all citizens.

Once again, to all those who are not very familiar with the judicial appointment system, it has often been debated because of the political interference that has been found.

The problem currently before us is twofold: on one hand this minority government has changed the judicial appointment process; on the other hand it is taking advantage of these changes to ensure a position on the judiciary for candidates who are ideologically in favour of or well connected, directly or indirectly, to the Conservative Party.

Let us be clear: this practice was not invented by the Conservatives, since they themselves have criticized the Liberals for doing the same thing in the past. However, these accusations illustrate the extent of the problem of appointing judges and the impartiality of the justice system.

For those who are watching us, I will provide some context by saying that judges are appointed by the government from a list made by a judicial advisory committee whose members voted for the candidate they deem best qualified.

Before the changes made by the Conservatives, the advisory committees had seven members. Out of seven evaluators, four members were politically independent, in other words, there was a representative from the Canadian Bar Association, another from the bar of the province concerned, a representative of the provincial department and, finally, someone to represent the judges. The three other members were appointed by the federal Department of Justice came from the public. These individuals frequently subscribed to the ideas of the government of the day.

It is important to realize that, as it turned out, the federal government was in the minority on that committee and therefore could not impose a candidate.

Nevertheless, the Conservative government was not happy about this situation because it would have had a hard time passing its political “law and order” agenda for justice. So without consulting the legal community, my colleague from Provencher, who was then Minister of Justice, changed the makeup of the advisory committees as follows: First, in addition to the three members of the public, he decided to appoint a police officer, thereby ensuring that four members would be government supporters. Then he denied the judges' representative the right to vote except to break a tie. And there you have it. The government gave itself a majority on these committees and was able to impose its repressive “law and order” ideology with ease.

I can already hear people protesting that this will not compromise the qualifications of those appointed, that we are exaggerating, or that we think this creates opportunities to interfere even though it does not.

However, various events have proven us right. I am not just talking about a few isolated cases. I am talking about a system that has a direct impact on the objectivity of our legal system.

I would like to draw to my distinguished colleagues' attention the results of The Globe and Mail's investigation into the matter, published on February 12, 2007, which showed that, apart from the police officers, no fewer than 16 of the 33 individuals appointed to 12 advisory committees were connected in some way to the Conservative Party. Sixteen of them. Coincidence? Unlikely. The newspaper revealed a number of cases where the connection was extremely clear.

Once again, some may say that this does not mean the individuals are not well suited to the job, that there is no conflict here, and that nobody is trying to push any agenda whatsoever. Nothing could be further from the truth.

In response to repeated questions about these appointments, the Prime Minister's own statements indicated that our concerns about changes to the advisory committees were well founded.

The Prime Minister said, on February 15, 2007, in this House, “We want to make sure we are bringing forward laws to make sure that we crack down on crime, that we make our streets and communities safer. We want to make sure our selection of judges is in correspondence with those objectives”. The result is that they add a police officer and make partisan appointments to the advisory committees and take the vote away from the judiciary!

I have no hesitation in saying that our police officers do very honourable work. That does not mean, though, that they are necessarily the best qualified to participate in the appointment of judges who hear mostly non-criminal cases. I should say as well that police officers represent primarily the executive branch of government, which is subject to judicial control. The presence of a police officer on a committee of this kind would further undermine the separation of powers on which our constitutional state is based.

It is blatantly obvious, therefore, that citizens cannot count on an impartial judicial system so long as this scheme is in place. When it comes to justice, this government should think long and hard about its real objectives.

When we look at the concerns I have listed—the political manoeuvring surrounding the evaluation committees, the elimination of a program like the legal challenges program, and the law and order ideology of this government—I am puzzled by the proposals in Bill C-31 to improve the legal system.

Certainly, more judges should improve access to justice, but if the Conservative ideology is rapidly implemented, how will the proposed change in Bill C-31 be enough to meet the demand? If the Conservatives want to punish rather than prevent, the legal system will quickly become overloaded. At the other end of the spectrum, adding judges will not do any good when people do not have the means to exercise their rights.

In conclusion, the Bloc Québécois will support Bill C-31. Maybe some things can be clarified during study in committee. In any case, though, the problem remains: partisanship will always play a major role in the selection of judges regardless of the total number of judges on a superior court. The Bloc Québécois will always continue the fight to eliminate partisan appointments to the bench. It will do all it can to help the people get truly independent committees that choose judges in such a way that we get those who are most competent.

Judges ActGovernment Orders

12:40 p.m.


Joe Comartin NDP Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, Bill C-31 is one paragraph long and simply increases the number of judges, from 30 to 50, at the superior court level across the country.

We need to put this in context in terms of the number of judges who sit at that level. The figure is somewhere in the range of about 750 to 800. Then there are a number of others who sit at the appeals level, plus the those who sit in the Federal Court. This section of the Judges Act was designed to allow for an increase in the number of judges appointed in this special category based on requests from the provinces and territories.

Other than appreciating that number, it is important to put in context the current situation and the length of time since there has been any increase in the absolute number of superior court justices across the country.

The simple fact is the increase in number does not even keep up with the overall growth of the population in Canada. Of the 20 judges to be added, 6 would be designated to go to the specific claims tribunal and would not be in our regular courts. Therefore, we would only get 14 additional trial judges at the superior court level across the country. The population increase far outstrips on a percentage basis, a per capita basis, those additional numbers of judges.

Across the country, bar associations, law societies and judicial councils have called on the federal government to increase the number of judges and hasten the number of appointments when vacancies are available. In my home province of Ontario, administrative senior judges have been unusually public in criticizing the government for the slow pace of appointments it has made.

We have heard from some of the other opposition parties the concern about the new appointment process introduced by the government. I do not think anybody who is objective about the process sees it as anything other than a very clear attempt on the part of the government, and in particular the Prime Minister, to ideologically shift the bench in the way appointments would be made.

It is not that the former Liberal administration was not guilty of similar misconduct in the way it made appointments, particularly of a partisanship nature, but this attempt to ideologically shape the bench is regrettable in a democratic society.

Again, I want to put in context the difficulties our judiciary has with the increased workload with which it is faced. Legislatures across the country continue to pass laws that, in effect, promote additional litigation. I do not want to overemphasize it, but this is true in the criminal law area. However, when the government introduced the appointment process change about a year and a half ago, what came out in the hearings of the justice committee was the small number of cases, percentage-wise, that were of a criminal nature at this level of the courts. The vast majority of criminal trials and proceedings in the criminal justice system are at the provincial court level, a different level than where these judges are.

What happens at this level and what increases the workload, not the sheer number of cases, although those are going up, is the number of super trials. These are trials that will go on for months and months and, in some cases, years. These are cases under the Criminal Code, under our anti-drug legislation, and they take up the entire year of a judge's workload at times. We are seeing more of those cases coming, not just in the drug area but in some security crimes that end up in front of the judges.

Therefore, the sheer number of cases is not going up. What is up going up is the length of the trials and the number of hours judges have to commit to those very lengthy trials.

That is true as well in civil litigation. I think of the amount of additional judicial time that was taken up across the country as the reforms went through in our auto insurance legislation. In Ontario, at one period of time, I was dealing with four separate pieces of legislation that affected automobile accidents depending on when they had occurred. This imposed significant additional burdens on our courts because they had to interpret those statutes as the law changed, which took up additional hours. That is repeated by any number of other examples across the country.

The number of hours spent on the criminal cases is going up. Similarly, the number of hours on civil litigation cases of a general nature is going up. Those trials are also becoming longer.

I can remember hearing some of our more senior judges describe what it was like to do a trial 20, or 30 or 40 years ago compared to the amount of additional work and hours that now went into these cases, with more expert witnesses and more witnesses generally called. A trial that might have taken 3 to 5 days is now taking 20 to 30 days in just the standard automobile accident trial where there is any kind of severe injury.

In addition to that, and perhaps where the greatest additional burden in absolute hours has come from, has been in the matrimonial law area. It is taking two forms. The sheer number of trials has increased dramatically. The interim motions and interim work that go on prior to trial and the time superior court justices are in court to hear the motions has quadrupled, and in some cases even more, their basic workload. That has gone up quite dramatically. It has been compounded by the number of files where one of the two parties, in some cases both of the parties, are self-represented. The reason for that is the costs in the vast majority of cases.

When I first started practising in the early seventies, a family law trial including a divorce, property settlement and the issue of support, whether spousal or child, would normally take two to three days. Those trials are now taking a minimum of 10 days and it is not unusual for them to go 20 or 30 days.

We are not talking millions of dollars. In most cases we are talking of the average family in Canada with assets of maybe a couple of hundred thousand dollars and incomes in the mid-range. That is what trials cost at the present time. Therefore, many applicants and defendants before the courts cannot afford to be represented by legal counsel. This inevitably leads to much longer trials. From talking to judges, a great deal of frustration on their part is trying to ensure that the individual representing himself or herself gets a fair hearing and that the process is fair to both the represented party and the non-represented party.

The additional thing that happens, and it goes back to the shortage of judges, is this phenomenon in the matrimonial area in particular has resulted in additional costs. I think one of the Toronto papers through the holiday break did a lengthy article on the number of adjournments that had to be granted because there was not enough judges available in the province of Ontario. I know it is a problem in my hometown of Windsor and I understand it to be a problem across the province of Ontario. I also believe it is a problem right across the country.

When clients are represented by counsel, counsel goes to court with them on one of these interim motions, which usually takes an hour to two hours to argue. A lengthy list may have 10 or 20 files before the judge that day. If too many of them do not get resolved, that is if they are argued, obviously the judge runs out of time before the end of the day and the case gets adjourned.

However, the lawyer, who has prepared for the motion, sits all day in court waiting for it to be heard and, if it is adjourned, the lawyer charges the client for that time. The same thing happens again a week or a month later and it may be adjourned again. In Toronto, in particular, we are seeing repeated adjournments of that nature. This costs the clients more money and forces them, in a number of cases, after a period of time of being represented, to take on their own representation, which prolongs the amount of time that is being spent.

That is the context in which we are functioning. Again, the appointments of the additional 14 judges, while welcomed and needed, will not be adequate to deal with the problems.

I want to make a final point with regard to the criminal law cases. From a number of questions that I and other members of the justice committee have asked at the justice committee when legislation has come forward, I know the government has not been doing an analysis, as the amendments to the Criminal Code have come forward, on how much additional court time these cases would take.

I want to put this into context. When we increase penalties in particular or we create new crimes with severe penalties attached to them, we end up with fewer pleas of guilty, fewer negotiated plea bargains and many more trials. We have not seen that increase yet but that will be coming over the next while. Again, the sheer number of cases in front of our criminal courts is not likely to go up much but I believe the length of them will go up quite dramatically because most of these cases from where this new legislation is coming deal with more severe crimes. The government has not done an analysis of how much more judicial time will be needed to take care of that.

At the end of the day we are asking our judges to cope with a growing population and the number of cases that have been added to their trial lists as a result of that. In each one of the major areas that they must deal with, criminal law, matrimonial law and general civil litigation law, which includes commercial litigation, the amount of work they are doing per file is going up dramatically and, in some cases, the number of files is also going up.

The NDP members will be supporting the bill but we are urging the government today, and we will be doing the same at the justice committee when the bill gets there, to seriously consider augmenting this relatively modest number of additional judges and look at increasing the number more substantially in keeping with what we are hearing from the judicial councils, the bar associations and the law societies.