Madam Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak today about Bill C-238, an act respecting the development of a national strategy for the safe disposal of lamps containing mercury, which was brought forward by the member for Dartmouth—Cole Harbour.
Bill C-238 builds upon efforts already under way across Canada to reduce mercury emissions to the environment. Reducing mercury emissions is an important goal, given the serious effects mercury can have on human health and on the environment.
As members are no doubt aware, mercury is a potent neurotoxin. It can cause damage to the brain, central nervous system, kidneys, and lungs. It is particularly damaging to the development of the human fetus, infants, and young children.
In terms of environmental impacts, mercury biomagnifies as it moves up the food chain, meaning that higher levels of mercury are found in animals higher in the food chain. This can lead to increased exposure for fish and wildlife as well as humans who consume certain kinds of fish. Increased exposure means increased health problems, including slower growth, reproductive failure, and the development of abnormal behaviours. Also, mercury can travel long distances in the atmosphere and has been found to accumulate in Canada's Arctic.
Given these impacts on human health and the environment, the Government of Canada is committed to minimizing, and when feasible, eliminating human sources of mercury emissions. Domestic mercury emissions have been reduced by approximately 90% since the 1970s, thanks to a wide range of initiatives to address mercury emissions, but more can be done.
In 2010, the Government of Canada released the risk management strategy for mercury. The strategy provides a comprehensive description of the government's plans and progress in managing the risks associated with mercury.
One example is the Products Containing Mercury Regulations, which came into force in November 2015. These regulations prohibit the manufacture and import of products containing mercury, with some exceptions for essential products that have no technically or environmentally viable alternatives. In the case of lamps, the regulation set mercury content limits for fluorescent and other types of lamps and requires labels to inform consumers about the presence of mercury.
In April of this year, Environment and Climate Change Canada published the proposed code of practice for the environmentally sound management of end-of-life lamps containing mercury. The code provides guidance and information relevant to managing these lamps at their end of life. The final code of practice is expected to be published by the end of 2016.
International initiatives to address mercury pollution are another important element of the Government of Canada's approach. It is estimated that 95% of human-caused mercury deposits in Canada come from foreign sources. To help reduce the impact of transboundary pollution on Canada, particularly the impact on Canada's Arctic where mercury tends to deposit, the government signed the Minamata Convention on Mercury in 2013. We are in the process of finalizing the necessary implementation matters required to ratify the treaty.
The bill introduced by my colleague for Dartmouth—Cole Harbour would complement these and other existing measures to address mercury pollution by focusing on one particular source of emissions: light bulbs. Many energy-efficient bulbs, including the compact fluorescent lamps used in the homes and workplaces of many Canadians, contain a small amount of mercury. This mercury may be released if the lamp breaks or is improperly disposed of in regular garbage.
The bill would mandate the development of a national strategy for the safe disposal of lamps containing mercury. Amendments made to the bill at committee served to reinforce the purpose of the bill and the need for co-operation across jurisdictions in the development of a national strategy.
For example, the bill now speaks of safe and environmentally sound disposal. The environmentally sound end-of-life management of lamps containing mercury involves a range of activities, including collection, processing, recycling, diversion, and storage. The national strategy contemplated by the bill would capture any number of these activities rather than the disposal of lamps containing mercury in a landfill. This terminology is consistent with the proposed code of practice for the environmentally sound management of end-of-life lamps containing mercury.
The amendments made at committee also strengthened the bill by recognizing the jurisdiction over the protection of environment, including matters related to waste management, is shared between all levels of government in Canada. Removing the requirement on the minister to implement the national strategy recognizes this fact, as the minister cannot implement the national strategy on her own. As a result, the bill requires the Minister of Environment and Climate Change to work with other parties, including the provincial and territorial governments, in developing a national strategy.
The bill also intends to capture other interested governments, such as municipal and indigenous governments, that may have important roles in the implementation of the national strategy. The minister will need to co-operate with them, but also consult with other interested parties, including stakeholders in the development of a national plan of this kind.
The bill lists examples of the kinds of things that the national strategy could include. The possible elements set out in the bill would not only help guide collaboration and consultation with other interested parties, including stakeholders, but would also help to ensure that the national strategy does not duplicate efforts already under way.
This strategy can evolve to ensure that a range of perspectives are considered in the development of the strategy.
One possible element of the national strategy is a plan to promote public awareness of the importance of disposing of mercury-containing lamps safely and in an environmentally sound manner. Many Canadians are currently unaware that these bulbs should not be disposed of in regular garbage, because they may break and release mercury.
The bill sets out a flexible framework for developing the national strategy but also contains important mandatory requirements. In particular, the bill would require the Minister of Environment and Climate Change to develop and report on the national strategy.
The first report to Parliament setting out the national strategy must occur within 15 sitting days of December 31, 2018 or within two years after royal assent, whichever is later. Every five years following the initial tabling, the minister must report on the strategy, including his or her conclusions and recommendations regarding the strategy. These reporting requirements will promote transparency and accountability and will help ensure that the national strategy achieves its intended purpose.
Once again, I would like to thank the member for Dartmouth—Cole Harbour for bringing this bill forward. The government supports this bill, as amended, and looks forward to working with other governments, indigenous groups, and stakeholders to develop an effective national strategy for the safe and environmentally sound disposal of lamps containing mercury.