Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-326, an act to amend the Department of Health Act with regards to drinking water guidelines. I am truly grateful to the member for Lac-Saint-Louis for introducing this bill. I also want to thank him for his ongoing work on this issue.
Bill C-326 would require the Minister of Health to examine existing drinking water standards in 35 OECD countries and, if necessary, make recommendations to change Canada's drinking water standards.
Canada is currently a World Health Organization collaborating centre for water quality and has an active role in drafting the WHO guidelines for drinking water quality.
Canada also shares information on this subject with other intergovernmental organizations such as the agency that handles these matters in the United States.
It is important to note that developing water quality guidelines falls under provincial and territorial jurisdiction. However, I believe the federal government should contribute to the conversation and has a role to play in standardizing those guidelines nationally.
All Canadians must have access to drinking water of the highest quality no matter where they live, their history or their income. Drinking water in Canada should be available to everyone, and the fact that entire regions do not have consistent and permanent access to water is unacceptable.
Federal oversight and the clear responsibility of the Minister of Health to report to the House will greatly improve this situation and hold the government to account on its commitments to Canadians.
As with all other matters pertaining to health, we must ensure that changes put forward come from up-to-date sources and scientific data.
As always, I expect that the federal government will use the best data possible when developing these measures.
Now that we have a bit of background on the intent of this bill, I would like to outline exactly why I think the bill may actually be a bit redundant. The committee heard that the Minister of Health and the Department of Health already, on an annual basis, review the World Health Organization's standards on water quality and check back to ensure that they are implemented. The problem is not that the check is not happening. The difficulty is in making sure that we adhere to those standards across the country.
There is some difficulty with that because there are so many layers of standards. It would be great to get to a place where we would say that the World Health Organization's standards are the ones we want to meet and that federally, provincially and municipally we would all line up to the same thing. Some effort to get there is time well spent.
With respect to our first nations people, there was a commitment on the part of the government to eliminate the boil water advisories and $8.4 billion was pledged. There are some statistics on that. Since 2015, 40 boil water advisories were lifted, but another 25 were added to the list and a total of 91 boil water advisories remain in effect. We need to make sure the water quality standards we have in place federally make their way across the country and that we address the issue of water on reserve.
As of last year, two-thirds of the $2 billion that was allocated to address water systems in budget 2016 is unspent, so it is important to make sure that if we put money in place to address issues, we spend the money,
The other point I would make is we are three years into the mandate and have not yet made the progress we wanted to make on those boil water advisories, so I encourage the government to make tracks to see that happens.
There is a lot of technology in place. I took note that the government is shipping bottled water into many reserves. There is technology available today, where for $300 we could supply a family of five for a day. It is a water filtration system that filters both organic and inorganic materials, and just requires a cartridge filter change every 10 years. This is the kind of significant technology that could be brought to bear, along with water treatment systems that the government is putting in place.
There are other things I wish we were talking about in terms of water. Many of my constituents, when they found out I would be speaking on this, had issues they wanted to bring forward. Nick Young sent me some information about Nestlé and the withdrawal of millions of gallons of water from our lake system for mere pennies. He is concerned we are not adequately protecting our resources.
Similarly, I had input from people in the community who said the government should weigh in on the issue of whether or not we should be fluorinating our water. There was quite a volume of data provided to me. If we looked around the world to different places, some fluorinate and some do not, and there actually is not much difference in terms of dental health and some of the determinants that happen there. However, because there are municipalities that are constantly seeing this issue come forward, it would be good for the government to complete the research and come with an answer on how we could standardize across Canada. There have been cases in Calgary where they took the fluoride out of the water and now we are seeing an increase in dental health problems that they believe are related to that,
In addition to these issues, we should do some work on updating some of the guidelines. There is a lot of inconsistency between jurisdictions. Sixteen of the 94 Canadian drinking water guidelines are consistently applied across all provinces and territories. A very small percentage of what we say we want to have is in place. Only eight Canadian provinces and jurisdictions have legally binding drinking water standards. Obviously, we want to include that as part of the law.
I want to thank the member for Lac-Saint-Louis, because I know he has done a lot of work in the area. There is still more to be done, not just in setting the standards but in the work to clean up and remediate our water. In Sarnia—Lambton, we are part of a binational effort to clear up the areas of concern. When the work began between Michigan and Sarnia, a lot of the industries have been there over the years and there was a lot of cleanup to be done. The efforts have resulted in most of the areas of concern being cleaned up and the blue flag status being returned to the water in Sarnia—Lambton, so it is great to swim and enjoy the beaches there. However, there still remain areas of concern.
I was speaking with the Minister of Environment today about finding money to finish up that remediation. They have extended those areas of concern now from Sarnia all the way down to Niagara, and there are five remaining areas of concern to be addressed. I encourage the government to do that, in addition to drinking water standards. We have some of the most beautiful lakes in the world. We have the largest volume of water on the planet. We should be leaders in setting the standard in making sure that everything we have here is kept for generations to come.
That said, I appreciate the member bringing this forward. It would put into law the practice that the government currently has of checking with the world standards every year and making sure it brings those back to try to get some coordination and implementation across all of the provinces and territories.