House of Commons Hansard #115 of the 41st Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was korea.


Respecting Families of Murdered and Brutalized Persons ActPrivate Members' Business

6:35 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Joe Comartin

I declare the motion carried. Accordingly, the bill stands referred to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.

(Bill read the second time and referred to a committee)

The House resumed from September 18 consideration of the motion that Bill C-586, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Parliament of Canada Act (candidacy and caucus reforms), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Reform Act, 2014Private Members' Business

6:35 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Joe Comartin

The House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on the motion at the second reading stage of Bill C-586 under private members' business.

(The House divided on the motion, which was agreed to on the following division:)

Vote #231

Reform Act, 2014Private Members' Business

6:45 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Joe Comartin

I declare the motion carried. Accordingly, the bill stands referred to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.

(Bill read the second time and referred to a committee)

The House resumed from September 22 consideration of the motion.

Energy Efficiency ProgramPrivate Members' Business

6:45 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Joe Comartin

The House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on Motion No. 497 under private members' business in the name of the member for Drummond.

(The House divided on the motion, which was negatived on the following division:)

Vote #232

Energy Efficiency ProgramPrivate Members' Business

6:55 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Joe Comartin

I declare the motion defeated.

It being 6:58 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

The House resumed from June 2 consideration of the motion that Bill S-213, An Act respecting Lincoln Alexander Day, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Lincoln Alexander Day ActPrivate Members' Business

7 p.m.


Frank Valeriote Liberal Guelph, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is my great pleasure to rise to speak to the designation of January 21 as Lincoln Alexander Day in memory of his myriad contributions to Canada: as a young man who fought for his country, as a lawyer, as Canada's first black member of Parliament and first black cabinet minister, as Her Majesty's representative in Ontario, as chancellor of the University of Guelph, as a husband, and as a father.

It is barely two years since the incomparable Linc, as he was known, passed away, though his legacy lives on as strong as ever.

I thank the hon. member for Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale for sponsoring here the bill of his colleague from the other place, to provide a national day to remember his life and legacy.

I also wish to thank my colleague from Hamilton Mountain for introducing a similar bill, and to all of our colleagues in the last parliament in Ontario, who voted unanimously to recognize January 21 as Lincoln Alexander Day in the province of Ontario.

When I first heard of Lincoln Alexander's passing, I thought of the words of another great statesman, Sir Winston Churchill, who said, “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give”.

For all of the adversity he faced throughout his life, he was never dissuaded from serving his community. Undeterred by discrimination and other obstacles, Lincoln Alexander gave so very much, and his legacy as a great Canadian continues to give to this very day.

Canada in 1922, when Linc was born, was not always a terribly friendly place for black Canadians. He recounted in his memoirs that there were very few other black families and that he was always one of the only black students in his grade when going to school.

From that very early age, Linc faced discrimination, but he made it clear he would not let the blind hatred of others define him. He would be the master of his own destiny. He would not be deterred. So he walked tall and did whatever it took to earn the respect of those around him. That drive and determination would stay with him throughout his life and would become one of his defining features.

Too young to enlist as the Second World War began, Linc took a job helping the Canadian effort as a machinist, helping to assemble anti-aircraft guns in Hamilton, Ontario, until he was old enough to join the Royal Canadian Air Force. During that time, he distinguished himself as a wireless radio operator until his discharge at the end of the war in 1945.

From an early age, his mother instilled in Linc an appreciation for how important an education can be, something that stayed with him throughout his life. Using the resources available to him as a veteran, Linc went back to school and graduated from McMaster in 1949.

Confronted with racism and discrimination when he tried to enter the workforce, Linc went back to law school, determined to blaze his own path if others were more content to prejudge him on the colour of his skin instead of his qualifications as a veteran and top-tier university graduate.

He plowed ahead, graduated, and practised law in Hamilton until first trying his hand in politics. While he was not elected his first time in 1965, he managed to be elected as the Progressive Conservative member of Parliament for Hamilton West in 1968. With that, he became the first black Canadian member of Parliament, a clear message to all Canadians that race would not be allowed to impede the call to service. In fact, he said at that time:

...I accept the responsibility of speaking for...all others in this great nation who feel that they are the subjects of discrimination because of race, creed or colour.

Before retiring from the House of Commons after 12 years as an MP, Linc went on to be the first black Canadian cabinet minister, serving as labour minister under then prime minister Joe Clark.

Though he retired from politics in 1980, he was not nearly done with firsts. In 1985, on the advice of then prime minister Brian Mulroney, Linc was appointed the 24th Lieutenant-Governor of Ontario, the first black Canadian to hold a vice-regal post in Canada.

Over the course of his six years in this post, he demonstrated to all Ontarians his determination and work ethic.

In its obituary of the legendary man, the Toronto Star highlighted that as lieutenant governor, Alexander visited 672 communities, visited 230 schools, received 75,000 guests at 675 receptions, and more, and shook nearly 240,000 hands.

Serving the people of Ontario and Canada drove him. He left an imprint wherever he went and on whomever he met. He always made people feel unique, important and in the moment that one shared with him, that person was the centre of his world. There was such depth of character and integrity there.

When he left Queen's Park and the lieutenant governor's office in 1991, Linc was invested as chancellor of the University of Guelph, where his contributions over an astounding 5 term, 15-year tenure led him to be named chancellor emeritus when he retired in 2007. The appreciation for education his mother had given him as a young boy in Toronto and a young man finding his way in Hamilton held strong and was fundamental to how he approached his position as chancellor. He made an indelible impression on our community in Guelph in that time.

As recent as a couple of years ago, I can recall speaking to Linc at the rededication of the new Lincoln Alexander Hall at the University of Guelph. As always, he was warm and disarmingly charming. At the opening of the hall which now bears his name, I said this:

“The key to the university's engagement in our community as a collaborator and innovator was in part due to the vision and perseverance of the University of Guelph's longest standing chancellor, Chancellor Emeritus Lincoln Alexander”.

I continued:

“We live in Canada's safest community and enjoy one of the highest rates of volunteerism across our country. Regularly, we are ranked as Canada's most compassionate community and one of the best Canadian cities in which to live - a ranking, due in no small part to the leadership generated by the University of Guelph. A new generation of leaders is being created here in Guelph at this university; a generation that will lead Canada and the world for years to come - a generation that will indeed change lives and improve life - with no better a mentor and role model than that found in Chancellor Emeritus Lincoln Alexander”.

I believe it is wholly fitting that his time in Guelph served as a bookend to his time in public life and as a leader. He had come so far from a time when he fought continually for the respect he deserved. He beat a path for generations of young men and women, black or otherwise, to reach their fullest potentials.

Alastair Summerlee, who just recently ended his tenure as president of the University of Guelph, saw Linc's impact on the community very similarly. He stated:

“Linc was an inspiration to thousands of students, alumni, staff and faculty at the University of Guelph. He had a special word for everybody he met. In an instant, as he talked to you, he made you feel that you were special - a talent that no-one I've ever met can match so elegantly”.

Bill Winegard, a predecessor of mine, put it this way when I asked him to share his thoughts on Linc. He said:

“I knew Lincoln Alexander for many years. I remember joking around with him when he was the minister of labour in the Clark government and when I became a minister, he said, “We both made it, Bill”. He did many great things, which I'm sure many other people took credit for. He was a lovely citizen and I am glad to have called him a friend”.

He broke barriers that, while broken, still exist. His life is a reminder that we must each continue the effort to eliminate prejudice and discrimination whatever the source may be. A dedication of a day in his memory will present us an opportunity to remind ourselves that we must continue his efforts on that day and every day of the year.

He was a friend, a leader, a teacher, a trailblazer, a public servant, and a great man. His loss remains significant, but so long as we live well and foster the values of determination, excellence and inclusivity, we will honour his legacy and he will live on.

It is only fitting that we honour that legacy by commemorating it through Lincoln Alexander Day each January 21.

Lincoln Alexander Day ActPrivate Members' Business

7:10 p.m.


Chris Charlton NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to rise in the House today to speak to Bill S-213, an act respecting Lincoln Alexander Day. I could not be happier that the bill has finally made it to the floor of the House of Commons for debate. What a long and tortuous road it has been.

I remember when I first got the call from Lincoln Alexander's widow, Marni Beal, asking for my help to establish a national day in Linc's honour. I immediately agreed that it was a stellar idea and I was sure that it would get support across party lines. However, I did ask Marni why she was coming to me instead of one of the Hamilton area Conservative MPs, since Linc of course had been the Conservative member of Parliament for Hamilton West. Marni said she had indeed contacted them but no one had committed to moving forward with it and she was really looking for a champion to get the ball rolling.

I told her I would be honoured to play that role. Naively, I thought proclaiming a day in Linc's honour would be a piece of cake. At first, when I talked to some Ontario MPs from all political parties, including cabinet ministers, everyone was on side. The only hitch was how to go about doing it. Since everyone appeared to be in agreement, the simplest way of making it happen would be through a motion that the House would adopt unanimously. Lincoln Alexander Day could be proclaimed in minutes, as opposed to sending a bill through the drawn-out legislative process.

The government House leader, himself an Ontario MP, confided that although he was okay with that approach, he wanted to make sure that he would not be in the House when I moved that motion since he had told some of his caucus colleagues that they should not move similar motions but rather should introduce them as private member's bills.

Fair enough. I waited until he left the House and then rose to say the following:

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. There have been consultations among the parties, and I believe if you seek it, you would find unanimous consent for the following motion: I move that this House designate January 21 as Lincoln Alexander Day.

Imagine my surprise when some Conservative members said “no”. Clearly, all of the verbal assurances that this was a matter where we could rise above partisanship and simply do the right thing as parliamentarians had meant absolutely nothing. Obviously, there was nothing left that the Conservative Party would not try to use to its own narrow partisan advantage.

I got in touch with Marni and told her what had transpired. It now looked like a bill would be the only option for moving ahead. Right after question period on December 9, I introduced Bill C-563, an act respecting Lincoln Alexander Day. The bill would make January 21, which was Linc's birthday, Lincoln Alexander Day.

I was still cautiously optimistic we might be able to pass the bill in time for the day to be observed this year. That hope was quickly dashed when I learned three hours later that the Conservatives tabled an almost identical bill to mine in the Senate. I say “almost identical”, because in their haste to introduce something of their own, they screwed it up. The English version proclaimed January 21 as Lincoln Alexander Day, but the French version made it July 21. Would it not have been easier just to support mine? Not if one's only goal is to score political points, even if that means scoring on one's own net.

Senator Meredith did that twice. First by getting the date wrong in the French version of the bill and then by gloating on Twitter that the bill had become law after it was passed in the Senate. However, he forgot one important thing. A bill doesn't become law in Canada without being passed by the House of Commons.

After getting third reading in the Senate, it had to come here, sponsored by a member of Parliament. Of course, that MP is a member of the Conservative caucus. Mission accomplished. The Conservatives can now claim credit for enacting a national day in honour of Lincoln Alexander.

The thing is, I do not care, or ever did care, about who got the political credit. In fact, I mentioned earlier that from the very beginning I had asked Linc's widow whether she would not rather have a Conservative MP move the bill forward. I just wanted to make sure it happened. Now it finally is. My only regret is that we could not rise above partisanship to make it happen in a more timely way. We missed the opportunity to formally recognize Lincoln Alexander Day this year, and I think that speaks poorly of how we fulfill our roles in this place.

In that regard, we could all stand to learn from Linc. For him, public service was just that. It was all about serving the public and not an end in itself. Born in Toronto in 1922, the son of a maid and a railway porter, Linc embarked on an exemplary life path that involved military service for his country, a successful political career, a thriving law career and vocal advocacy on subjects ranging from anti-racism to the importance of education.

Anyone who has read his biography “Go to School, You're a Little Black Boy” will know that a remarkable series of events helped shape the charismatic and influential leader whose impact continues to be felt today. From facing down racism to challenging the postwar Ontario establishment, serving in the Royal Canadian Air Force, becoming Canada's first black member of Parliament and our country's first black cabinet minister, entertaining royalty as Ontario's lieutenant-governor, and serving as chancellor of the University of Guelph, Linc's is the ultimate, uplifting Canadian success story. He was the embodiment of public service at its finest.

Others who have spoken in this debate have already listed Linc's long list of credentials and accomplishments, and I don't want to repeat them all here. For anyone unfamiliar with Linc's legacy, they need merely read the preamble of my bill. It is a very succinct expression of a man whose spirit in so many ways was too expansive to capture in words.

Sandra Martin also wrote a superb obituary that was published in The Globe and Mail. It beautifully describes and honours the life of a man who did so much to advance the cause of Canada's youth, fight racism, and advocate on behalf of seniors.

However, in what little time I have remaining in today's debate, I want to reflect on the Linc I knew personally. I first met him when I was an intern at Queen's Park from 1989 to 1990. Linc was the Lieutenant-Governor of Ontario at the time, and always made time to meet with each year's new crop of interns. Our academic advisers and Linc's aide-de-camp primed us for the meeting. Our heads were spinning with protocol. From something as simple as knowing how to pronounce “lieutenant-governor” to being told when to rise and how to greet him, to what we could and should not ask, we were ready, and just a little bit nervous. This was the Queen's representative after all.

After we had all assembled in the foyer, we looked to the top of the grand staircase and down bounded this energetic giant of a man. We politely greeted him in the way that protocol demanded, and with a twinkle in his eye, he said to us what I have heard him say to hundreds of people since, “Just call me Linc”. With that, all of our shyness and awkwardness went out the window. We spent almost an hour with a man who seemed more interested in our education, dreams and goals than he was in talking about himself, yet he shared just enough of himself to leave us awed by his grace and dignity and inspired by this larger-than-life role model.

As The Globe and Mail so rightly pointed out on his passing, Linc loved being lieutenant-governor because he loved interacting with people, with royalty and commoners alike. There were no airs about Linc. He was everyone's friend. I remember him calling a heckler to order during a heritage awards ceremony at the Scottish Rite in Hamilton. In a packed hall, it could have been a moment of tension and strife, but instead Linc handled the situation in such a self-deprecating way that he left the audience laughing, the heckler silenced but smiling, and no one in doubt about who owned the stage. For me, I must confess it was the highlight of the event. His exact words still make me chuckle.

Of course, all of us in Hamilton chuckle at the fact that an expressway that bisects my riding of Hamilton Mountain is called the Lincoln Alexander Parkway. Linc never learned to drive and in truth he was afraid of traffic. However, that did not stop him from cruising up and down the main streets of Hamilton in his motorized red scooter after he retired. His body may have been starting to show its age, but there was no way it was going to keep him from getting out and about.

More often than not, it was now Linc who heckled dignitaries at public events. I remember speaking at the opening of Bay Gardens, and Linc heckled one of us there. I so desperately wanted to grab the mic and use the same line that Linc had used at the Scottish Rite. I think he would have laughed like hell if I had reminded him of the reference, but my sense of protocol did not let me do it and I still kind of regret that to this day.

Right to the end, Linc was a force larger than life. He taught us all to never give up and to always use our skills to improve the world. He was an inspiration and a role model. By proclaiming a day in his honour, future generations of Canadians will learn about him and from him. As a man who prized education above all else, that opportunity to learn is the most fitting tribute of all, so let us finally get this bill passed.

Lincoln Alexander Day ActPrivate Members' Business

7:15 p.m.


Guy Caron NDP Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Mr. Speaker, I will be making my comments in English, which is unusual for me, but I want my message to be properly understood and for people to see that what I am about to say comes from the heart.

I am sure many members in the House will actually wonder what a little guy from Rimouski can say about Lincoln Alexander.

They have to understand that after finishing graduate school in Montreal, I had a chance to work at the Canadian Race Relations Foundation in Toronto in 2001. I was working as a media relations officer on the French side. At the time, the chair of the Canadian Race Relations Foundation was Lincoln Alexander, so I had the chance to actually work with him. I worked more closely with him in a couple of instances when we had annual general meetings, where I served as his personal press attaché. I had a chance to know him and meet with him, although not to the extent that some members of this House did. I had a chance to have personal contact with him.

Members will know that I was obviously coming from Quebec, and my first year in Toronto working for this organization was with him.

Given my height, I do not have to raise my eyes too often to look at people's eyes, but in this case I had to. Notwithstanding his personal and physical height, even if he had been 5'6” or 5'7”, I would still have had to raise my eyes to meet his gaze. Such was his stature and such was his gravitas.

I was not intimidated: he was somebody who was able to put people at ease very easily. Even though he commanded respect, he was somebody who was able to make people feel that he was genuinely, truly interested in what they had to say.

I remember conversations I had with him in which he wondered about my experience as a Quebecker working in Ontario. We did not really talk about politics, but he was interested in knowing about my previous life in the student movement.

I remember working with him. I was his press attaché, so I was doing media relations with him, and I remember how demanding he was of me and of my colleague, who was also doing media relations on the English side. I did the work with pleasure, because I also had the pleasure of seeing, in those instances, how demanding he was of himself.

We have to remember that I spoke of 2001. I was hired to work at the Canadian Race Relations Foundation shortly after 9/11, and tensions were very high at the time. Race relations was an issue that was at the forefront. It was a very sensitive issue.

His past experience and his knowledge of communities made it so that even though those were very difficult times, very sensitive times, he was able to work toward bridging race relations at a time when such relations were in jeopardy. That speaks a lot to his ability to unite people, to create a consensus around him, to speak from a higher authority, his own authority as somebody who had to live through a time when race relations were really not what they are today.

We heard from many hon. members about the difficulties he had in his youth and the efforts he had to make to build his place in this world and make his mark, not only as a member of Parliament and the first black member of Parliament but as the first black member of cabinet as well.

He was able to bring a golden touch to everything he touched, everything he put his mind to, in the sense that he was very successful in bringing the attention of the people around him to those issues with the level of attention that those issues required.

I feel fortunate to have been able to stand side by side with this great human being, this great member of the Canadian community, even if for a short amount of time. In that sense, I want to bring this personal touch to the debate. I believe I might be the only speaker on this issue who is not from Ontario, so I am glad to have been able to bring that broader perspective to it. I have been personally touched by his humanity and his ability to create a consensus around him.

At the time I started working with him, I did not know much about Lincoln Alexander, because when I had been growing up in Quebec I had been too young when he was a member of Parliament, and even a member of cabinet. But I had a chance to learn about his past when I was working for him.

I am grateful and appreciate the opportunity to read about his life and his accomplishments. In that sense, I hope that the House will unanimously support this bill to make January 21 Lincoln Alexander day, which I believe will be the case. It is an homage we are paying to this great man, which is probably not sufficient when compared to his contributions to politics, to race relations, and to society as a whole, but it is the least we can do. Therefore, I appreciate the effort on all sides of the House, including the member for Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale and our member for Hamilton Mountain, to bring this forth and make it a reality.

Lincoln Alexander Day ActPrivate Members' Business

September 24th, 2014 / 7:25 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Joe Comartin

Resuming debate. The hon. member for Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale will now have his five minutes of reply.

Lincoln Alexander Day ActPrivate Members' Business

7:25 p.m.


David Sweet Conservative Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Westdale, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want to say a heartfelt thanks to all of the members who spoke so warmly about Linc from their memories of him, from working with him, and from his reputation.

It is an honour for me to close the second hour of debate at second reading of Bill S-213, an act respecting Lincoln Alexander day.

I was blessed to know Lincoln Alexander in his later years, in particular because the riding he represented when he was a member of Parliament back in the late 1960s and 1970s, the constituency of Hamilton West, included some of the same neighbourhoods that are in the constituency I currently represent. But more than that, everyone in the Hamilton area has stories of their encounters with Lincoln Alexander. He was approachable. He was a man of the people and the people loved him for it.

I will note that it is appropriate that we are having this discussion today, since we watched the swearing in of another Lieutenant-Governor of Ontario yesterday, when Elizabeth Dowdeswell became the 29th Lieutenant-Governor of Ontario. It is the perfect context for our discussion today of Ontario's 24th Lieutenant-Governor, Lincoln MacCauley Alexander, and one of our most beloved.

Most people knew him better as “Linc”. It is a signature of his character that he preferred the familiar name rather than more formal names that someone of his accomplishment, credentials, and stature could rightly demand.

This legislation seeks to designate January 21 of each year as Lincoln M. Alexander day, and here is why. It is to honour the memory of this great Canadian, great Ontarian, and great Hamiltonian; to recognize his commitment to building a better future through our young people and to use this day to further Linc's life-long passion of investing in our young people and building up tomorrow's leaders; and to also honour his many contributions, both personal and political, toward equality and fairness, more specifically, to ending racial discrimination. This was equally a lifelong passion of Linc's.

His very presence in public life opened doors and broke down barriers.

As is the hallmark of a great man, many people have many good things to say about him. So I apologize up front if I am repeating a few highlights of Linc's distinguished career that have already been mentioned by members opposite and members on this side of the House during the course of this discussion.

Long before Linc was Lieutenant-Governor of Ontario, a post that allowed him to grow his mission exponentially to help youth in our society, he was a scrappy, outspoken member of Parliament from Hamilton. There are more than a few members who will agree that MPs from Hamilton can have that kind of reputation. Perhaps it is the grit of a hard-working city and region, but one thing is for sure: Linc exemplified that day-in and day-out.

I will never forget attending Linc's funeral service in October 2012 at the Hamilton Place auditorium in downtown Hamilton. It was a fitting final tribute to a great man who had laid in state at the Ontario legislature in the days leading up to his funeral.

For a man who came from humble beginnings, who worked hard to make a difference in law and politics despite all the barriers put in his way, how amazing it was that prime ministers, premiers, mayors, cabinet ministers, MPs, and MPPs dropped all their plans on that Friday in October to pay tribute to Linc, along with thousands of his fellow citizens, his fellow Hamiltonians. I dare say it was the latter group, his fellow citizens, who had a larger place in Linc's heart.

Lincoln M. Alexander distinguished himself in the Royal Canadian Air Force in World War II. He believed in our youth. He was a relentless champion for equality and fairness. He was a trailblazer in the fight to end racial discrimination. He was an eloquent ambassador for Ontario and Canada as Lieutenant-Governor. He was an inspiration to so many Canadians. The very least we can do is name January 21 in his honour. Let his birthday and the values he stood for live on forever in the hearts of Canadians.

I ask all members of the House for their support of the bill at second reading so that we may advance it to committee and eventually to the law of the land. I can think of no better tribute.

God bless the memory of Lincoln M. Alexander.

Lincoln Alexander Day ActPrivate Members' Business

7:30 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Joe Comartin

Is the House ready for the question.

Lincoln Alexander Day ActPrivate Members' Business

7:30 p.m.

Some hon. members


Lincoln Alexander Day ActPrivate Members' Business

7:30 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Joe Comartin

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Lincoln Alexander Day ActPrivate Members' Business

7:30 p.m.

Some hon. members


Lincoln Alexander Day ActPrivate Members' Business

7:30 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Joe Comartin

I declare the motion carried. Accordingly, the bill stands referred to the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage.

(Bill read the second time and referred to a committee)

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.

The EnvironmentAdjournment Proceedings

7:30 p.m.


François Choquette NDP Drummond, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today in the House to pursue a question that I asked in the last session with respect to the Conservatives' studies on the effects of the oil sands on health and the environment.

In 2012, the Conservatives drafted questions and answers in response to a study on contaminants that accumulate in the snow near oil sands operations. With respect to this alarming fact, they claimed that the polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons that accumulate are no worse than what is found on a barbecued steak.

However, a new study has found that mercury levels in the water and ground are 13 times higher in those areas than elsewhere. Naturally, I asked them if they would stop ignoring the serious problem of the accumulation of mercury, whose levels are 13 times greater in areas where there are oil sands operations than elsewhere in Canada. The Conservatives said that there was no problem. That is just unbelievable.

It is important to rely on science. Recently, we discussed the situation concerning belugas in the St. Lawrence River. An injunction was issued because scientific advice was not disclosed, contrary to what was claimed. The same thing is happening with the accumulation of mercury, whose levels are 13 times higher in areas near oil sands operations.

There is so little science that the Council of Canadian Academies did not even appoint a scientific expert in environmental technologies to chair the oil sands review committee. Instead, it appointed a pioneer in the development of the oil sands who spent 14 years as the CEO of Syncrude, the world's largest producer of crude oil from oil sands. It cannot be said that someone is going to monitor the oil sands industry in Canada.

A recent poll commissioned by the Professional Institute of the Public Service indicates that the vast majority of the federal government's scientists believe that the cuts made to their research and monitoring activities will weaken the government's ability to serve the public interest and that, consequently, Canada has moved backwards with respect to environmental protection.

In addition, last September, hundreds of scientists protested here in Ottawa, calling on the Conservatives to stop muzzling them and cutting their funding. It is not every day that we see scientists protesting on Parliament Hill. It is rare. The situation is very serious.

Mercury levels in the soil and water in areas near oil sands projects are 13 times higher. This is a serious problem and something has to be done to fix it.

What do the parliamentary secretary and the Conservative government intend to do about this huge concentration of mercury near oil sands development sites?

The EnvironmentAdjournment Proceedings

7:35 p.m.

Oshawa Ontario


Colin Carrie ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment

Mr. Speaker, the Government of Canada is committed to responsible oil sands resource development and is working with the Government of Alberta to implement a scientifically rigorous, comprehensive, integrated, and transparent environmental monitoring plan. Having a clear understanding of the environmental impacts of developing this valuable resource helps ensure its responsible development.

Since the launch of the joint Canada-Alberta implementation plan for oil sands monitoring in 2012, environmental monitoring of the effects of oil sands resource development has been enhanced. We are now monitoring more areas with more monitoring sites. We are doing so more frequently and for more substances.

All environmental components—air, water, habitat, and wildlife—are being monitored. We have significantly improved our ability to detect environmental change and any cumulative environmental effects.

We are able to trace polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and the accumulation of mercury in snow in the oil sands as a result of our efforts to continuously improve monitoring.

As expected, the results so far of the environmental monitoring of oil sands development show low levels of substances associated with the oil sands in the air, snow, water and wildlife. With a few exceptions, these substances are below the established environmental standards, and the levels get lower as you get away from the oil sands development.

Mercury and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons are comparatively low in the entire oil sands area. We know that the impact is highest close to the oil sands development and that it declines rapidly the further away you go.

The concentrations in water and sediment are below the established standards, with the exception of the levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in a lake near a site under development.

Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, PAHs, arise from a variety of sources and can be formed by high temperature and incomplete burning of organic materials. Examples include forest fires, burning of waste and fossil fuels, coal, crude oil, combustion.

The exact PAH formed depends on the organic material being burned, thus it is not appropriate to compare PAHs produced from different sources.

With this monitoring plan, we are committed to scientifically rigorous, comprehensive, integrated and transparent environmental monitoring to deliver the most scientifically credible picture of the water, land, air and biodiversity issues in the region.

We see this as a long-term monitoring commitment, so that this work will continue.

The EnvironmentAdjournment Proceedings

7:40 p.m.


François Choquette NDP Drummond, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of the Environment for his answer. I particularly appreciate the part of the answer that he delivered in French. Also, for once, it was a clear answer. I would like to congratulate him on a very complete answer.

Yes, there is monitoring. The parliamentary secretary himself acknowledged that there are high concentrations of mercury around the oil sands and that the concentrations in some places are so high that they exceed the standards.

I asked what the Conservatives would do to address the situation. Unfortunately, for the time being, all they are doing is monitoring the situation, not fixing it. They must take action to protect Canadians' health and their environment.

Back in 2011, then-environment commissioner Scott Vaughan criticized the incomplete data. He even said that data on the impact of oil sands development on the environment and health were poor or non-existent.

Now that we have a little information thanks to monitoring, what will the government do to protect Canadians' health and their environment?

The EnvironmentAdjournment Proceedings

7:40 p.m.


Colin Carrie Conservative Oshawa, ON

Mr. Speaker, we are implementing a comprehensive approach to monitoring ambient environmental effects from the oil sands development, and we are working with the Government of Alberta to ensure this is complementary to monitoring for regulatory purposes.

For example, regulation requires the industry to monitor and report emissions for individual facilities. Our joint oil sands monitoring effort complements this monitoring of oil sands industrial emission sources by monitoring air, water, wildlife and habitat disturbance in the surrounding region.