House of Commons Hansard #104 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was budget.


Groundwater Contamination
Private Members' Business

April 2nd, 2012 / 11:05 a.m.


Élaine Michaud Portneuf—Jacques-Cartier, QC


That, in the opinion of the House, the government should: (a) formally recognize the responsibility of the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Forces with regard to the contamination of the groundwater which is the source of drinking water for multiple homes in the residential area of Canadian Forces Base (CFB) Valcartier, residential areas of the municipality of Shannon, and numerous public institutions, due to the use of chlorinated solvents for several decades, including trichloroethylene (TCE); (b) take over the efforts of the Shannon Citizens Committee to monitor filtration systems in place for those dealing with the contamination of drinking water, and include the Committee in any environmental efforts undertaken; and (c) commit to (i) notify all persons employed at CFB Valcartier or who have lived in the residential quarters of the Base for the years during which the contamination took place, (ii) quickly clean up the affected sites, (iii) compensate victims of TCE contamination.

Mr. Speaker, I am very proud to rise in this House today to stand up for the rights of residents and former residents of the municipality of Shannon, who have been affected by the contamination of their drinking water with toxic chemicals coming from CFB Valcartier.

Of all the noxious chemicals that have flowed into the groundwater beneath Shannon, the one that has caused the most damage to people has been trichloroethylene, or TCE. TCE was used for years in the manufacture of munitions at Valcartier, and was dumped and buried on land belonging to the federal government. It made its way through the soil and into the groundwater.

This tragic history of contamination has drastically affected—and continues to affect—the lives of thousands of Canadian families and is still a very emotional topic in Quebec and elsewhere across the country.

Since 2007, the current and former citizens of the town of Shannon affected by the contamination of their drinking water by dangerous chemical substances have been trying to obtain justice for themselves and their families through legal means. However, the government still refuses to listen. The situation has to change, and it has to change now.

The motion I am presenting today urges the government to finally admit the Crown's responsibility in this tragic affair, end the legal conflict opposing them to the Shannon citizens committee members by negotiating the fair settlement they deserve, and take concrete actions to rapidly decontaminate the affected sites on the Valcartier military base and in the town of Shannon.

The municipality of Shannon lies about 25 km north of Quebec City, along the banks of the Jacques-Cartier River. More than 5,000 people live there, many of them military personnel and their families. Part of the municipal lands form part of CFB Valcartier, and Shannon provides certain municipal services to people living on the base itself.

Today, almost 2,000 residents of Shannon live in the family housing area of the Valcartier base.

Shannon has the advantage of being located close to a major urban centre, Quebec City, while also having a natural setting with vast forests and the beautiful Jacques-Cartier River.

In earlier days, the municipality had considerable water resources and its water was of the highest quality. The water was so good that there was no piped water system; instead, the people of Shannon got their drinking water from individual wells tapping into the aquifer.

Unfortunately, life in this lovely town changed forever when TCE was discovered in the water.

TCE was used on the Valcartier military base beginning in the 1930s. It is an industrial degreaser and a highly volatile, powerful solvent used in manufacturing munitions, among other things. However, it is not the only substance of its kind that was used on the base. Over the past 70 years, the Government of Canada has used various chemicals in addition to TCE on the base for producing munitions, cleaning military equipment and maintaining combat vehicles and other vehicles, as well as in the research, development and production of a range of military equipment.

In addition to crown entities, a number of private companies, including SNC Technologies, also had facilities on the Valcartier military base, and they also used TCE during the contamination period. These toxic chemicals were typically buried in holes, pits or dumps on base property. Standards at the time were not what they are now. It did not take long for the chemicals to penetrate the ground and enter the groundwater.

Over the years, TCE and other chemicals were also spilled accidentally on the ground in various places, increasing the potential for soil and environmental contamination.

In 1997, contamination was discovered for the first time in groundwater supplying wells that were once used by SNC Technologies. The federal government was informed immediately, but the municipality of Shannon was not told about the contamination right away. The levels of TCE discovered in the water were apparently not high enough to alarm the authorities.

The citizens of Shannon would have to wait until December 2000 to finally be informed that the water they had been drinking and using every day had been contaminated with TCE.

TCE is a toxic substance that affects the central nervous system and is considered a probable carcinogenic by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. It has been linked to various types of cancer like brain cancer, stomach cancer and liver cancer. Prolonged exposure to TCE can also cause severe skin irritations, gastrointestinal problems and neurological symptoms like confusion, fatigue, euphoria and headaches.

The many citizens who had been suffering for years from unexplainable symptoms like the ones I just mentioned finally had an answer. They had been ingesting a very toxic, and likely carcinogenic, substance through their water without their knowledge.

In 2001, the Department of National Defence invested in the construction of a new water system linking 161 residents of Shannon to the Valcartier military base's system in an effort to buy some time until the situation could be cleared up. Then in 2004, the department agreed to fund an expansion of the water system, which was supposed to be temporary to begin with, to include more of the municipality's territory.

The water system is now being completely separated from CFB Valcartier's system. The latest investments came in 2009 to complete the work. While those much-needed government investments did help improve the quality of the water in Shannon, the situation is by no means resolved.

The new water system does not yet cover all of Shannon. Some residents are therefore still at risk of suffering serious health problems related to prolonged exposure to TCE, especially given that the decontamination process is still not complete and is moving forward at a snail's pace.

In addition, the government has never admitted the Crown's responsibility in this whole sad affair. Instead, it prefers to hide behind the pretext that the standards that existed at the time were being met when toxic chemicals were being dumped in the ground at CFB Valcartier.

Lastly, the government has never compensated the victims of the TCE water contamination in a fair, equitable manner. The government refuses to even admit the possibility of any link between the presence of TCE in the water and the physical suffering manifested by many past and current residents of Shannon.

In an effort to obtain justice, a group known as the Shannon citizens committee launched a class action lawsuit against DND and SNC Technologies in 2007. The lawsuit covers about 3,000 concerned citizens and includes any civilian or soldier who has lived in Shannon since 1953 and whose person, property or family has been directly affected by TCE contamination of Shannon's water supply.

The class action lawsuit is requesting that the co-defendants finally admit their combined responsibility in the physically harmful consequences the victims of the contamination had to suffer; that the government admit it should have announced the contamination to the municipality of Shannon as soon as it found out and not three years later; that the government take concrete steps to stop the spread of the contamination, as well as steps to actively decontaminate the area as soon as possible; and, finally, that the co-defendants financially compensate the victims of the contamination and their families for their suffering and material losses due to the consequences brought on by the presence of TCE in the water of Shannon.

Even though the citizens committee started working on the lawsuit in 2007, the trial only started in January 2011 and finished in November of the same year. Now, we are waiting for Judge Godbout to render his verdict which could still take a few more months. However, it is not too late for the government to do what is right and act to correct the terrible wrongs committed against the present and former residents of Shannon affected by this tragic contamination.

The motion I am moving today urges the government to make three commitments. First, the government must formally recognize the responsibility of the Department of National Defence with regard to the contamination of the groundwater in Shannon and in the residential area of Canadian Forces Base Valcartier. Then, it must take over the efforts to monitor filtration systems in place for those dealing with the contamination of drinking water and include the Shannon citizens committee in any new environmental efforts undertaken. Finally, it must commit to notify all persons who were employed at CFB Valcartier or who lived in the residential quarters of the base for the years during which the contamination took place, quickly clean up the affected sites, and compensate victims of TCE contamination. That is what the citizens committee has been urging the government to do for years, but to no avail.

This government has a moral obligation to do something about this whether it was directly responsible for the contamination or not. The Department of National Defence is cited as partially responsible for the contamination and must take action to try to provide restitution. This government has a bad habit of denying any responsibility and hiding behind lawyers. It should be more concerned with the health and well-being of all citizens in this country than with its image.

We must never forget that many of the victims of the TCE-contaminated water are soldiers, former soldiers and their families. They have made tremendous sacrifices and given their hearts and souls in service to their country.

I was raised in a military family. Both of my parents are still serving in the Canadian Forces. My aunts and uncles all served at some point in their life. My grandfather served in the Royal 22nd Regiment in Valcartier and fought in the Korean War. I know all about the sacrifices soldiers and their families make and the devotion it takes to serve this country like our military does so well.

Many victims of the contamination in Shannon have since been posted all across Canada and are still proudly serving their country. Others cannot because they are still suffering from illnesses relating to TCE exposure or, sadly, have died from it. I cannot understand why a government that is constantly bragging about how much it supports our military and veterans can ignore this terrible situation and refuse to give the victims the help they so rightly deserve.

It is absolutely unacceptable that this government refuses to take action to compensate Shannon's civilian population, which has also been seriously affected by the groundwater contamination. There are hundreds of heartbreaking stories of families torn apart by illness or the death of a loved one. For years, the people of Shannon have felt abandoned by their government, which is washing its hands of all responsibility. Nevertheless, it is not too late to do something about this.

While we are awaiting Justice Godbout's verdict, the government could still be negotiating a fair and equitable out-of-court settlement with the Shannon citizens committee.

I am asking every party in the House to support this motion so that the victims of the groundwater contamination in Shannon can finally have some justice from their government and live in an environment that is safe for them and their children.

The citizens of Shannon have been waiting far too long. The victims have been suffering far too long. It is time for the government to stop the unending legal proceedings. It is time for this government to stop shifting the blame. It is time for this government to acknowledge how much the victims have suffered as a result of Shannon's contaminated water and to try to do right by the victims.

It is time for the government to do the right thing for the citizens of Shannon.

Groundwater Contamination
Private Members' Business

11:20 a.m.



Chris Alexander Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence

Mr. Speaker, first I would like to congratulate the hon. member for her family's military service in various capacities and at different times. We are proud that she is a member of this House and that she brings to bear her family's experience.

However, with regard to the issue underlying her motion, far from denying the facts, the Government of Canada has provided drinking water to the municipality of Shannon since TCE was discovered on Canadian Forces Base Valcartier and in the private wells in Shannon. In addition, the government has spent more than $32 million to establish and maintain Shannon's drinking water system.

Would the hon. member not agree that the government has taken responsible measures to ensure that the citizens of these municipalities have access to drinking water?

Groundwater Contamination
Private Members' Business

11:20 a.m.


Élaine Michaud Portneuf—Jacques-Cartier, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would first like to thank my colleague for his kind words. It is rather rare in this House to associate the NDP with military service. I am proof that my party also understands the needs of this segment of the Canadian population.

This may come as another surprise, but I believe that I could agree with some of my colleague's comments. In my speech, I pointed out the investments made by the government and how it has helped the people of Shannon, who appreciate what has been done.

However, the people and I are calling for more investments. Work remains to be done. There is still TCE in the water. The contamination is spreading and, as I mentioned, the limited amount of decontamination currently being carried out is moving at a snail's pace.

I am asking that the government show more goodwill in support of the well-being and the health of the citizens of Shannon.

Groundwater Contamination
Private Members' Business

11:20 a.m.


Alexandrine Latendresse Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would first like to thank my colleague. My riding is very close to hers, near Shannon, and I am very much aware of this situation. I think the hon. member has proposed a very important motion this morning.

My question follows up on that of the hon. parliamentary secretary: does my colleague agree that access to clean drinking water is something that is absolutely essential to our society? Even in the third world, it is acknowledged that it is one of the most fundamental things. It is very fine of the government to have made investments in providing the people of Shannon with drinking water, and we thank them. It is a good thing. At the same time, having access to clean drinking water is basic.

In Shannon the rates of cancer and other health problems are much, much higher than average, and we want the government to recognize it has some responsibility for that. Investing in drinking water is very important, and in fact, it is truly essential. We want even more. I would like to hear my colleague's comments on this.

Groundwater Contamination
Private Members' Business

11:20 a.m.


Élaine Michaud Portneuf—Jacques-Cartier, QC

Mr. Speaker, first, I want to congratulate the hon. member for Louis-Saint-Laurent on the work she has done with me on behalf of the people of Shannon. Our investment of time and energy in this matter is greatly appreciated by these people, who were abandoned by their own representatives in this House for a long time. Other voices have been raised, from various parties, but never those of the true representatives of Shannon.

Access to potable water truly is a fundamental right. While people in the third world are fighting for this right, we see that here at home we are not able to make sure our own people have the same right, not even the military personnel who serve our country. Their own country is not able to guarantee access to a fundamental right: clean, safe drinking water—water that will not cause diseases and problems in the future.

In my opinion, the investments must continue, in order to ensure that the decontamination proceeds quickly. There are businesses waiting to locate on the grounds of the military base, and they will provide investment and employment, as the budget aims to achieve. This is a tremendously profitable investment for the people of the region. The people who have suffered the effects of TCE must also be recognized; they must have compensation and justice.

Groundwater Contamination
Private Members' Business

11:20 a.m.



Chris Alexander Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Defence

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.

Groundwater Contamination
Private Members' Business

11:35 a.m.


Francis Scarpaleggia Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to stand in the House this morning to debate this issue.

I have been paying close attention to this issue for some time now for two reasons. First, as you know, since coming to Parliament, I have been trying to raise the profile of water quality issues in Canada. This motion squares well with my objective. Second, during the previous Parliament, this matter was raised a number of times by the then-member for Québec, Christiane Gagnon, who regularly asked questions about this issue in the House.

I would like to congratulate my NDP colleague on pursuing the debate on behalf of the people connected to the Valcartier base and Shannon. When I read the motion, I was not aware that the member comes from a family with a military tradition. I congratulate her for that.

The Liberal party will support this motion.

Groundwater Contamination
Private Members' Business

11:35 a.m.

Carole Hughes

It is the right thing to do.

Groundwater Contamination
Private Members' Business

11:35 a.m.


Francis Scarpaleggia Lac-Saint-Louis, QC

Thank you.

I will list the reasons why we support this motion.

First, we stand by those who do not have access to drinking water, or at least to clean, uncontaminated water, in Canada and abroad. We stand by those, including first nations people, who have to deal with substandard drinking water, which can be hazardous to their health. We stand by those who fear that their health is at risk because they have drunk contaminated water.

If I may, I would like to talk about an incident that took place last fall in my riding, Lac-Saint-Louis, and on the West Island of Montreal in general.

We are used to having an ample supply of clean drinking water. We have two or three water treatment plants on the West Island. Like other places in Canada, we are very fortunate to have uninterrupted access to drinking water. Last fall, in October or November, the water treatment plant in Pointe-Claire had a problem. Leaves had accumulated at the water entrance, forcing the filtration system to work harder. This sounded the alarm, warning that the water entering the system was perhaps contaminated and that the filtration system was unable to treat the water. The Kirkland and Pointe-Claire municipalities had to deal with the problem immediately.

As I recall, it was a Friday night and the two municipalities had recruited volunteers to go door to door at 10 p.m. Someone came and knocked on our door in Kirkland at 10 p.m., telling us not to drink the water. It was not even a question of boiling water before drinking or using it; we were not supposed to drink it at all or even brush our teeth with it. The in-person warning was followed by two automated calls from the City of Montreal, from the Island of Montreal public health department, telling us to not drink the water.

It was shocking for us, because we had never been in such a situation. We wondered if we had brushed our teeth with contaminated water and if we were going to have digestive problems as a result.

This just goes to show just how little it takes to throw the public off balance and to raise fears about the possibility of contaminated drinking water.

I would like to point out, incidentally, that in the end, the water was fine and the City of Pointe-Claire took prudent action in an exemplary fashion in dealing with this public safety concern.

The people of the West Island know all about the threat of contaminated water. We stand in solidarity with the people of Shannon and the Valcartier base on this issue.

In passing, I would like to mention the issue of the international human right to water because it was raised in one of the questions my colleague was asked. I would like to point out that, this very morning, the very well known Kielburger brothers, Craig and Marc, published an op-ed in the Vancouver Sun urging the Government of Canada to support the international human right to water. I also learned that Marc Kielburger was a page in this House in the 1990s.

The second reason we support this motion is that we believe, in principle, that the federal government must focus more on the issue of water in Canada. We feel that the government is trying to distance itself from the issue by stating that water is a provincial jurisdiction and that it will leave it to the provinces. We believe that the opposite holds true. We believe that water is becoming more of a national priority and that the Conservative government must pay even more attention to it.

On the issue of jurisdiction over water in Canada, it is quite true that, for all intents and purposes, water is a provincial responsibility under the Canadian Constitution since it is a natural resource. However, a 2009 survey asked Canadians across the country who is responsible for water in Canada. Even though the Constitution states that, strictly speaking, water is a provincial responsibility, a large number of Canadians—I believe it was 42% of respondents from outside Quebec—responded that water was a federal jurisdiction. This shows the extent to which Canadians want the federal government to act firmly and quickly on water-related issues.

We could say that the province of Quebec jealously guards its jurisdiction over water. In fact, the Bloc Québécois often votes against initiatives in the House that would give the federal government a larger say in water issues. Every time, they tell us that it is because water is an exclusively provincial jurisdiction. However, this survey demonstrates that, even in Quebec, a province that is very aware of jurisdictional issues, 77% of respondents believe that water is a shared responsibility.

The federal government must take action and become involved in water-related issues.

I hope this motion is part of this ongoing initiative to pressure the federal government to put more emphasis on water-related issues in Canada.

The third reason we believe that the government must pay attention to the spirit of this motion is that we believe in accountability. We believe that individuals and governments must take responsibility for the choices they make and the actions they take and must take their share of responsibility when those actions have adverse effects or consequences, in this case for the environment and for the health of Quebeckers.

Groundwater Contamination
Private Members' Business

11:40 a.m.


Raymond Côté Beauport—Limoilou, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise in this House to speak to and support the motion of my highly esteemed colleague from Portneuf—Jacques-Cartier.

On the weekend, I worked with my colleague from Portneuf—Jacques-Cartier on another matter she is very involved in, namely the issue of the private airport in Neuville, where there was a huge public demonstration. I commend the hon. member for attending. She gets a lot of public attention even though she sometimes does not get enough media attention. However, her constituents truly know how involved she is and that they have her ear. I am extremely proud to call her a colleague.

I have listened closely to the speeches that have been made since this motion was moved in this House, in particular the speech by the member opposite, who listed the measures the government has taken thus far in this matter. My first comment is that those things were the least the government could do to protect the citizens from the potential dangers of the contamination. Unfortunately, we could describe those measures as minimal and even below the threshold of minimal.

The fact is that thousands of people who have lived or worked in Shannon or on the base at Valcartier, those who still work there and those who felt threatened north of Val-Bélair, which is now part of Quebec City, have for years been living with a tragedy that affects the whole community.

I shall explain. In that part of the Quebec City region, north of the city and at quite a bit higher altitude than Quebec City, there is a very special way of life, with a great many areas where nature is still very wild and natural. It is an area where settlers came from many different places and included francophones, the Irish and others.

It was my privilege to live for a few months in Saint-Gabriel de Valcartier, very near the base, and I came to appreciate the ways in which this is a very distinct and special society. I mean that the way we use it in French, and not in the sense of an elite. It is a community with a very strong identity and one that is very proud of its connections. But what is important is that CFB Valcartier is one of the most significant major bases in all of Canada.

When we look at the history of CFB Valcartier, we must not forget that, as early as Canada's entry into the first world war, it was a hub for troop deployment, for training and for maintaining a large military presence in eastern Canada, which enabled Canada to go into action in various theatres of operations, both in war and in peacekeeping.

The reality is that not all the victims of this contamination live in Shannon or the immediate area. Thousands of Canadians have passed through Valcartier and now live all across the country, from British Columbia to Alberta to New Brunswick.

The case of Valcartier is not unique, either, because, sadly, we have also seen the Agent Orange problem at CFB Gagetown, New Brunswick, which unfortunately has shown that some past errors require the government to pay serious attention to comforting and supporting people and correcting these tragic errors, which were not necessarily made deliberately by the government. We recognize this, of course.

Beyond the measures taken by the government, the real issue is that the state still does not recognize its responsibility regarding the decontamination and is leaving it up to the citizens of Shannon to assume full responsibility for the whole process, including the stress of taking legal action.

So far, the bill for this action against the Department of National Defence and the various components of SNC-Lavalin totals $4 million. That is a very serious issue. Given the regrettable legacy of the Valcartier base, it is completely wrong that this government, like its predecessors—because this is a very long-standing issue—is not assuming its primary responsibility. That responsibility is to check the facts and to tell citizens, armed forces members and civilian personnel that it accepts some responsibility and that it is demanding that the other parties involved also accept and recognize their responsibility. From there on, the government will be able to defuse this situation, which is very hard from a human standpoint on the people of Shannon and the surrounding area.

Of course, I fully realize that, from a legal perspective, when a legal opinion relating to court action has been provided, the argument can be made that the process must follow its course. The problem is that, morally, this can become a cover to avoid responsibility. Recognizing and assuming that responsibility in relation to the contamination would be a courageous move that would surely defuse the problem and bring some relief to the people affected. More importantly, it would signal the beginning of negotiations to reach an agreement that would benefit all parties.

Nobody wants a judge to decide what is best for the people of Shannon, for the government of this country. Nobody wants a solution imposed through a perfectly legitimate outside intervention, but one that could easily have been avoided. In my opinion, the real problem has to do with shifting that responsibility to a judge, instead of courageously assuming it. This is all the more regrettable because, in this specific case, people have been waiting for several decades.

I am going to give another example. The Prime Minister recognized the responsibility of the Government of Canada and he apologized to Canadian citizens of Japanese origin for their internment during World War II. That was commendable, and it was the right thing to do. This is something that NDP members can easily recognize. In fact, I congratulate the government on this initiative.

To govern is not just to anticipate. It is also to assume responsibilities that are sometimes difficult. I call on the government, and particularly on all members of this House who have military bases in their ridings and whose constituents are serving as soldiers, sailors, aviators or civilian staff: we must really ensure that, for the benefit of the residents of Shannon, the government recognizes and assumes its responsibility regarding past actions. That will be the first step in arriving at a solution benefiting all parties.

Groundwater Contamination
Private Members' Business

11:55 a.m.


Alexandrine Latendresse Louis-Saint-Laurent, QC

Mr. Speaker, on behalf of the people of Louis-Saint-Laurent, the riding next to Portneuf—Jacques-Cartier, I am pleased to support the people of Shannon in their fight for truth and justice.

The motion moved by my colleague is the first step the government must take to establish a new relationship of respect and trust with the residents of Shannon. I think adopting this motion is imperative, not just as a gesture of solidarity, but as a recognition of the then federal government's responsibility for the contamination of the groundwater in the municipality of Shannon and the Valcartier military base. Those communities need that recognition in order to get justice and to move forward.

We know that in 1997, the Department of National Defence detected TCE in the groundwater under CFB Valcartier and that, a few years later, that same toxin was found in the private wells of citizens of Shannon, the municipality next to the base.

To better understand the context of the motion, we have to go back a number of decades to a time when TCE, a toxic industrial solvent, was used on the military base. People used to dispose of the used solvent by simply burying it in the ground. TCE, or trichloroethylene, is a chemical that was used for many years for metal degreasing, as was the case on the military base, for dry cleaning and for extracting organic products. With the discovery of its toxicity, the chemical agent was gradually replaced with less dangerous products. Individuals are now prohibited from using TCE in the European Union.

TCE is thought to be a carcinogen that affects the central nervous system. Because of the way in which TCE was disposed of in the ground on the military base, the contaminated groundwater ended up in the wells and drinking water systems of thousands of residents. As a result, in recent years, Shannon has recorded specific health problems and a cancer rate five times the normal rate.

While time passes and the government refuses to take any responsibility for the TCE-contaminated groundwater at CFB Valcartier and in Shannon, the people in those communities continue to have physical and emotional health problems and continue to develop diseases such as cancer.

More than 350 residents have died from cancer linked to the TCE-contaminated wells in Shannon. In total, over 500 people have developed cancer in a town of barely 5,000 inhabitants. Moreover, as Marie-Paule Spieser, president of the Shannon Citizens Committee, said:

There is still a plume beneath our feet, six kilometres long and 600 metres wide, and thus, there is still a danger from gases. There is also a latency period between contact with this product and the onset of cancer.

Therefore, we can still expect an excessively high cancer rate in Shannon for many years to come. How many cancers, deaths and unfortunate events—the kind that destroy entire families—will it take for the government to act in solidarity and give tangible help to the people of Shannon who are paying with their lives for their decision to live in this town rather than another?

As my colleague's motion says, it is high time for the federal government to recognize its responsibility for contaminating the groundwater in Shannon by the Department of National Defence's disposal of TCE on its land. So far, the government has maintained its closed ears and mind, and this is unacceptable.

The scientific evidence in this matter is solid and clearly shows the causal link between TCE and the extremely high rates of cancer and other illnesses among current residents, as well as among those who once lived in the area but have since moved away. Worse yet, we know not only that the government does not want to admit its liability and compensate victims properly, but also that DND was aware of this practice and of the contamination as early as 1978, without taking any corrective measures.

A report seen on the program Enquête showed that the government has been aware of water contamination in Shannon and on the military base for 30 years. According to documents obtained under the Access to Information Act, the federal environment and defence departments were warned that waste water was being discharged into a lagoon connected to the groundwater. The people of Shannon drank that contaminated water for 22 years before discovering the contamination themselves, quite by chance, in 2000.

The NDP recognizes, of course, that this disastrous situation is not the fault of the current government. Still, as the representative of the Crown, the government is responsible for any situation on Canada's military bases, even if the cause goes back decades.

In 2007, because they were still fighting on their own to defend their rights and obtain justice, 3,000 people formed the Shannon Citizens Committee, which launched a class action suit against the government and SNC-Lavalin Group, which was also played a part in the contamination.

To date, the government has invested $35.8 million to hook up part of the municipality of Shannon to a new water supply system. That is very good and we commend the government for this action. However, as I mentioned earlier, access to drinking water is a fundamental human right. In short, the government has taken a very small step toward solving a big and ongoing health and contamination problem.

In the meantime, residents have had to pay out of their own pockets for wells and bottled water, not to mention the fact that their property values may also decline because their homes are built directly over a contaminated water table. Furthermore, the facts remain the same: the government stubbornly refuses to accept its responsibility. The Crown is not to blame because it does not acknowledge any link between the TCE contamination of the groundwater and the health problems of the residents of Shannon. This long and arduous legal battle, which has cost the group $4 million, is not over yet. They are waiting for the decision that will be handed down by the summer or fall of 2012. While waiting for the outcome, the government could be gracious by immediately adopting the NDP motion.

These people have already had to deal with many health issues, not to mention financial troubles. They feel betrayed by the government that is supposed to protect them. The state has an obligation to provide services that are safe and meet certain standards, and it also has an obligation to take the necessary measures to resolve problematic health situations when it becomes aware that people are at risk. That clearly did not happen in this case.

The federal government must act on its acknowledgement of responsibility by implementing measures to support and compensate current and past residents of the municipality. It must monitor the filtration system currently being used by people dealing with contaminated drinking water. To ensure the participation of all stakeholders and complete transparency, the citizens committee should be included in this process and in any environmental efforts the government undertakes.

The government may not have acted deliberately, but it did play a part in creating the problem, and therefore it must ensure that every person who was employed on the base or lived in the residential quarters during the contamination period is notified and compensated appropriately on the same basis as current residents of Shannon.

To sum up, I urge the government to show some compassion and be fair to the people of Shannon who have been living with the terrible consequences of groundwater contamination for decades by supporting my colleague's motion.

Groundwater Contamination
Private Members' Business



Philip Toone Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise here today to support not only my hon. colleague from Portneuf—Jacques-Cartier, but also the people of Shannon, of course, in their struggle for truth and justice.

The motion moved by my colleague represents a first step that the federal government must take towards building a new relationship of respect and trust with the people of Shannon. The adoption of this motion, which I believe is crucial, is more than a simple gesture of solidarity. It represents an acknowledgement of the responsibility of the federal government of the day for contaminating Shannon's groundwater. The community needs such an acknowledgement in order to obtain justice and move forward.

As we all know, in 1997, the Department of National Defence began detecting TCE in the groundwater under CFB Valcartier. A few years later, the same toxic chemical was discovered in the private wells of the residents of Shannon, the municipality next to the base.

In order to better understand the context of the motion, we need to look a few decades further back, when TCE, a toxic industrial degreaser, was used on the military base for a range of purposes. After using it, people on the base disposed of it simply by burying it in the ground. TCE was used for quite some time to degrease metal, as was the case on the military base, as well as to dry clean clothes and extract organic products. After its toxicity was discovered, the chemical was gradually replaced by other less dangerous products. The European Union has banned its use by individuals. TCE—

Groundwater Contamination
Private Members' Business

12:05 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

Order, please. The time for private members' business has now expired and the matter is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence. The hon. member for Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine will have eight minutes remaining when this matter returns before the House.

The House resumed from March 30 consideration of the motion that this House approves in general the budgetary policy of the government.

Financial Statement of Minister of Finance
The Budget
Government Orders

12:05 p.m.


Peter Julian Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am tempted to say, “Where was I?”, but I know exactly where I was and the most important thing is that Canadians know where this budget stands and where they stand on the budget.

To begin the third hour of debate on the second day of debate, I will read for the record some of the tweets we have been getting in, some of the Facebook comments and the emails that have been coming in from across the country because this is a pretty fundamental exercise, which is why the NDP exists. The NDP exists to speak out for Canadian families from coast to coast to coast. That is what we did on Friday and that is what we are doing today. We are ensuring--