Mr. Speaker, it is great to have an opportunity to speak this morning.
I trust that members had a good weekend, perhaps putting their final Halloween preparations together and getting their costumers ready. I hear the Minister of Defence has a good architect costume ready to go, the Minister of Finance is going to dress himself up as a champion of the middle class, and the Prime Minister is going to work as hard as possible to look like a feminist. I am sure we will be seeing good costumes on display this week, and I wish members well in the celebrations. If the costumes do not go well, do not worry, nothing is going to scare our children more than the deficit projections.
Now, Bill C-326 is an act to amend the Department of Health Act, establishing drinking water guidelines. For those who are just joining the debate, the bill would amend the Department of Health Act to require the Minister of Health to conduct a review of drinking water standards in other OECD countries. It is a requirement to conduct that review. If appropriate after conducting that review, though it is not required of the minister, it would empower the minister to make recommendations for amendments to the national guidelines respecting drinking water.
I know what members might be thinking, but the bill is not as controversial as it might sound at first. The bill would give the minister the added encouragement to conduct this review and gather this information based on best practices in other countries within the OECD. On that basis, we think it is a reasonable bill. It is something we in the opposition are pleased to support. I think the bill will find support throughout the House as a way of moving forward and bringing more information into the assessment in terms of what we are doing with respect to drinking water.
With that explained in terms of the context of the bill, I will make a few points with respect to it in terms of water quality, the federal role, and the question of ministerial discretion. Then, finally, I will talk about how we incorporate the best science and information into the policy decisions we make.
First of all, of course, in the Conservative caucus, we strongly support high-quality drinking water. We think that governments at all levels should do as much as they possibly can to ensure that water is safe to drink. We recognize, especially for indigenous communities, that there is a great deal of work that still needs to be done in that respect. However, it is a basic principle that all people should be able to access this fundamental necessity of life. They should be able to access water in a clean and safe way.
We live in a country that is geographically dispersed. It is very large. That can potentially create some additional challenges, but it is fundamental that people be able to access clean water. I do not think that is a point on which any member would disagree.
One of the things that the bill invites us to consider is the federal role in establishing standards. Certainly under the previous government, we believed in a federal role for establishing clean water standards. At the same time, the practical implementation of those guidelines, for most Canadians, happens through other levels of government, at the provincial and municipal level. Of course, the federal government has more direct involvement with respect to indigenous communities. There is still a role for the federal government to be reviewing this information and working to establish guidelines, even though the implementation happens at other levels. The way we can think about this balance is under the principle of subsidiarity, which is something I believe in, and that we in the Conservative caucus believe in.
Subsidiarity is the idea that services should be delivered at the level closest to the people affected that is practical for the service delivery to happen. It means we should be concerned about legislation or policy that involves the federal government taking over responsibility that can be done more effectively and competently at the community or provincial level. We should trust local communities. However, where there is a certain scale and efficiency, then it makes sense for the federal government to be engaged.
There is not the scale or effectiveness in having every individual community, without the support of overarching guidelines, come up with its own guidelines independent of that federal support.
This case is an example of where the federal government can play to its strength, which is to gather information from different jurisdictions around the world, where it can conduct the legality of information, and make that information available to other levels of government, while at the same time seek to empower them and not take away their ability to make decisions on their own and across areas of government.
Our approach to federal government activity in general is to look for those competencies of it where the scale makes sense for it to play that coordinating role but not to have it take authority away in areas which can be better done at the provincial or the municipal levels.
Unfortunately, right now we have a federal government that does not trust sub-national governments to make decisions in certain policy areas and seeks to dictate in areas outside of its jurisdiction. I could bring up many examples of that, such as its approach to the carbon tax, where it has told provinces that if they do not do exactly what it wants them to do, it will impose a jurisdiction-specific tax on them. That is very much out of step with the principles of the Constitution and the principles of subsidiarity.
When we see legislation that might seem to involve the federal government interfering in provincial and other sub-national governmental jurisdictions, we are inclined to ask additional questions. Nonetheless, in this case, the bill gets the balance right. The federal government can play a study and coordination role, while still respecting the decision-making role of other levels of government. This is the balance our caucus looks for in legislation, and that is exactly right in the bill.
The next point I want to talk about is the way in which certain legislation fetters the discretion of a minister.
This bill would marginally fetter the minister's discretion but in an appropriate and reasonable way. It is worth noting that the existing framework allows the minister to do these kinds of activities already. Perhaps the government member who has proposed the bill is concerned that the minister will not do these things otherwise and needs legislation to have that direction. Nonetheless, it is legitimate for legislation in this case to identify specific areas where this study is important and beneficial with respect to what happens around the world and drawing that information in.
In general, our caucus takes the view that it is legitimate and important for there to be certain actions of the legislature to limit the discretion of ministers when it sees it as important to do so.
The government is more philosophically inclined to try to give the maximum discretion to ministers and really minimize that tie-in of legislative accountability. There is a balance to be struck there, that when there is something important like studying different systems around the world for maximizing health through drinking water, there is a legitimate role for the legislature to establish those guidelines and to put those things in place.
The final point I want to make is that the bill asks us to incorporate the best science and information possible in the decisions we make, and we in the opposition strongly support that. We hear the terms many times of evidence-based policy, of science-based policy bandied back and forth. It is a real slogan that the government likes to use, but there are many examples where we do not see the government actually drawing on the best science at all. The whole debacle over electoral reform showed how the government was willing to completely ignore the science around public opinion research tools when it suited its purpose. However, in this case, the bill incorporates the best scientific knowledge as part of the framework to be established, and we can support that.
With respect to the issues I have raised of subsidiarity, how to fetter ministerial discretion, and the incorporation of science and policy, the bill strikes the right balance. Again, it will hopefully help us take some further steps toward ensuring high quality drinking water in Canada.