Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak today on the bill brought forward by the member for Dartmouth—Cole Harbour, an act respecting the development of a national strategy for the safe and environmentally sound disposal of lamps containing mercury.
Bill C-238 would build 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 the environment. Mercury is a potent neurotoxin. It can cause damage to the brain, central nervous system, kidney, lungs, and 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 on 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. Mercury can travel long distances in the atmosphere. It 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. However, 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 exemptions for essential products that have no technically or economically viable alternatives. In the case of lamps, the regulations set mercury content limits for fluorescent and other types of lamps that require labels to inform consumers about the presence of mercury.
In April 2016, Environment and Climate Change Canada published the proposed code of practice for environmentally sound management of end-of-life lamps containing mercury. The code provides guidance and information relevant to managing these lamps at the end of their life. The final code of practice was 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, and particularly 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 measures required to ratify the treaty.
The bill introduced by my colleague, the member 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 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 as 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 serve 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 codes of practice for end-of-life lamps containing mercury.
The amendments made at committee also strengthen the bill by recognizing the jurisdiction over the protection of the environment, including matters related to waste management, is shared among 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 would require 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 a national strategy. The minister will need to co-operate with them, but also consult with other interested parties, including stakeholders, in developing a national plan of this kind.
The bill lists examples of the kinds of things that the national strategy could include. Possible elements set out in the bill will not only help guide collaboration and consultation with other interested parties, including stakeholders, but will also help ensure that the national strategy does not duplicate efforts already under way.
The strategy can evolve to ensure that the 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 into the environment.
The bill sets out a flexible framework for development the national strategy, but also contains important mandatory requirements. In particular, it requires 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 promote transparency and accountability, and will help ensure that the national strategy achieves its intended purpose.
I sit on the environment committee along with the member for Dartmouth—Cole Harbour. As we were going through the bill to make amendments, the importance of this issue became really apparent. I happened to be looking up at the ceiling and I noticed all the lights. I started to count them. There were over 70 fluorescent lights in the one committee room. Then I just happened to be in the Library of Parliament, looking over the speech. when I looked up and started counting lights. I got to over 250 and I still had not counted all of them. These are just two rooms in the millions of rooms in up to 10 million homes in our country that presently use compact fluorescent light bulbs.
It is so important that we develop a national strategy that can work with industry, that can work with all levels of government, that can work with innovation to try to drive forward new technologies, as we are presently, which are more efficient and more cost effective and will eventually eliminate the need for fluorescent bulbs altogether.
Once again, I would like to thank the member for Dartmouth—Cole Harbour for bringing the bill forward. The government supports the 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.