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.
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.