Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to stand in the House today to address the motion being put forward by the hon. member for Portneuf—Jacques-Cartier because it concerns the health and well-being of Canadians, which is of central importance to the government.
This matter is also critical to the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Forces because the Department of National Defence considers that safeguarding the health of its members, Canadians and their families is of paramount importance. Our members and their families are the key to our operational success, and their well-being remains one of the department's primary concerns.
As a result, the department assigns a high priority to its environmental programs, as I mentioned earlier when I asked my question. The department is committed to conducting its operations in a way that protects human health and the environment. This commitment is manifest in myriad environmental and occupational health and safety programs, protocols and frameworks in place throughout the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Forces. All members of the House are well aware of the department's very high standards.
This commitment has also been clearly demonstrated in the way that the Department of National Defence responded to the 1997 discovery of trichloroethylene—also known as TCE, a solvent used to clean equipment—in the groundwater at CFB Valcartier.
Many elements of the motion we are discussing today are currently before the courts. As such, it would be inappropriate for us to discuss them in detail. Still, I do want to contest the idea implied in this motion that the government has been remiss in dealing with the presence of TCE in the groundwater at Valcartier.
As soon as the presence of TCE was discovered, officials began carefully monitoring and managing the water supply so that those working and living on the base were assured of clean drinking water.
When TCE was also found in private wells in the nearby community of Shannon three years later, an unexpected and unwelcome discovery, the Department of National Defence and representatives of other departments having jurisdiction, such as Environment Canada and Health Canada, worked with their municipal and provincial counterparts and all other stakeholders.
They continue to work together to address the situation, and are exploring viable solutions to the environmental challenges in the area of the Valcartier garrison. This collaboration was institutionalized in 2001 when a consultation committee was founded, bringing together representatives from the federal, provincial and municipal governments, as well as those from civil society groups, including: the Department of National Defence; Environment Canada; Health Canada; the Direction régionale de santé publique du Québec; the Ministère du Développement durable, de l'Environnement et des Parcs du Québec; the Conseil régional de l'environnement; the Corporation du bassin de la Jacques-Cartier and the Comité du bassin de la rivière Saint-Charles; the City of Quebec; the Municipality of Shannon; the Regroupement des citoyens de Shannon—which the hon. member mentioned; and SNC Lavalin and the Société immobilière Valcartier inc., which are commercial landowners in the area with a role to play in mitigating the effects of the presence of TCE in the Valcartier regional groundwater.
The department has brought together all the interested parties, and continues to do so through the committee’s twice-yearly meetings. Thus, extensive consultation is ongoing. During these regular meetings, stakeholders share information and discuss TCE-related issues as they all move together toward a solution to the challenges posed by the presence of this chemical.
The committee has helped foster trust and transparency between all parties involved, and has showed the department's good faith in addressing the matter at hand. The establishment of this consultation committee was just one of many measures implemented by the department in response to the discovery of TCE in Valcartier and Shannon.
In late 2001 and early 2002, the bond of trust developed by the committee proved invaluable as the department linked 161 homes in Shannon to the base's water system. This measure helped reassure the residents of Shannon that they would have access to the same clean drinking water enjoyed by their neighbours in the garrison.
I do not know whether the hon. member's family benefited from this initiative, but 161 families did.
Nevertheless, this initiative was only part of a broader effort that has seen the government spend nearly $60 million to address the presence of TCE in the groundwater. This money has been used to conduct studies to better understand the regional groundwater flow, to monitor and sample the water on the base on a regular basis, to identify options that would reduce the presence of TCE in the groundwater, and, most importantly, to put in place new infrastructure related to the drinking water system.
The department continues to take seriously the welfare of our men and women in uniform and that of their families. The fact that significant sources of TCE lie off Crown-owned land complicates our efforts, but the department is ensuring that water for the Valcartier garrison continues to be drawn exclusively from wells that are closely monitored for the presence of TCE.
In fact, the Canadian Forces test the wells on the Valcartier base daily to ensure that the water meets federal and provincial standards. These daily tests are complemented by monthly analyses conducted by an independent lab. the department regularly shares the results of these tests with the City of Quebec, the Municipality of Shannon, and others.
In the meantime, the department—and indeed the government as a whole—has been diligent in seeking a lasting solution to the presence of TCE in the region's groundwater. We have performed several pilot tests and studies of various technologies aimed at removing the TCE in CFB Valcartier's groundwater. One technique, which pumps water containing TCE from the aquifer, treats it, and then returns the clean water back to the environment, has shown great promise, but is not being used yet. This ‘pump and treat’ approach will prove useful in mitigating the presence of TCE in CFB Valcartier's groundwater.
Ever since TCE was first found in the water around Valcartier, the government—and the Department of National Defence more specifically—has recognized the seriousness of the issue, has taken appropriate measures to deal with it, and has done so in an open and collaborative fashion.
All in all, the government has spent nearly $60 million not only to improve the potable water supply at Valcartier and Shannon, but also to address the broader issues related to the presence of these chemical substances in the area's groundwater. It has ensured the safety of the garrison's water system, and it is currently investigating concrete ways in which to mitigate the effects of the TCE present in the groundwater under CFB Valcartier.
The government's legacy in this matter is one of responsibility and diligence as it works with other stakeholders to find a durable overall solution. The motion we are discussing today fails to take into account all of the excellent work already done by the government. More seriously, it seeks to raise matters of liability and compensation, both issues which are currently before the courts.
For these reasons, I cannot support this motion. We welcome the opportunity to debate this important issue, but we cannot support the motion. Nevertheless, we hope that in addition to supporting such motions and initiating such debates, the hon. opposition member, with her personal experience of our military—both past and present—will be diligent and apprise her colleagues of the importance of the Canadian Forces and investing in their equipment, infrastructure and training.
We would also expect more NDP members to support the various initiatives that we are taking to support our Canadian Forces, which include measures to deal with the environmental challenges arising out of past actions.