That: (a) the House recognize that (i) Canadians understand that climate change represents a threat to our way of life and are looking for opportunities where they can make a difference in their day-to-day lives, (ii) Canadian consumers want and deserve to know the environmental impacts of the products they purchase so that they can make informed decisions, (iii) Canadian industries have already begun to see the benefits of selling sustainable produced and locally grown products, (iv) the government can play a role in bringing together consumer interests and Canadian businesses to create a clear and concise metric by which Canadians can consider the impacts of their buying habits; and (b) the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development be instructed to (i) undertake a study to recommend a consumer-friendly environment grading label on all products available to Canadian consumers and to provide recommendations to the industry sector on ways to implement the labelling regime, and that the study examine, among other matters, the possibility of having the environment grading label include greenhouse gas emissions, water and energy usage, and waste creation, (ii) invite various stakeholders in Canada such as farmers, the industry sector, and environmental experts to appear before the committee on this study, (iii) schedule no fewer than 12 meetings for the study, (iv) report its findings and recommendations to the House within one year following the adoption of this motion.
Madam Speaker, today I have the privilege of speaking to my Motion No. 35, which if adopted would launch a study on the creation of an environmentally conscious labelling regime.
If the members would indulge me, envision a Canada where a consumer could walk into a store, pick up two similar products, and imagine that through a trusted label on the package, they could chose the product that is better for our environment and our future. Imagine a Canada where consumers know each day what their carbon footprint is, by the choices they made that day, as well as other important environmental factors. Imagine going into restaurants across Canada and seeing a consistent environmental grade to help those who wish to make environmentally friendly choices.
Climate change represents an existential threat to our way of life and our prosperity. It is a challenge of our time, and addressing it will require a Canada-wide approach. Let me be clear, government has an important role to play, industry has a role to play, and, yes, individuals, each and every one of us, all have a role to play.
I believe Canadians understand this. They are able; they are willing. Put simply, Canadians, if given the opportunity will make choices every day that help slow the effects of climate change. While it is true that emissions are largely driven by our largest businesses, those businesses are driven, in part, by us, the consumers.
Some farmers have suggested that every time we pick up a fork or spoon, we are voting. We are making a choice for our future. Our actions and choices, day in and day out, may only have incremental impacts, but together we can drive large-scale change through individual responsibility and the global marketplace. The policy and vision being proposed today is a study of an environmental grading label, a label that takes into account factors like greenhouse gas emissions, energy and water usage, and waste created.
Such a label on products would encourage buying local and would have a positive economic impact for our country while empowering everyday Canadians to do their part in the struggle against climate change. Imagine for a moment that on the label, just below the calories, ingredients and carbs, there was a clear indicator of a product's environmental impact. Imagine being at a grocery store and being able to compare the environmental impacts of two brands of canned meat right there in the aisle.
In a world of more choice and options when shopping, we can choose organic, local and Canadian raised. The next step is to give consumers opportunities to spend their money on choices with less environmental impact.
Imagine having that information available, presented clearly and concisely, and being empowered to make the environmental choice if we want to. Colleagues, that is what environmentally friendly labelling is about, empowering consumers through information so that they can make the choices that reflect their beliefs.
I first tabled this motion in February 2020. The world looked very different back then. If anyone had told me the next time I would be speaking in Parliament to this motion that it would be from my dining-room table, I probably would not have believed it. Yet, I speak today from my home as a result of a global crisis.
We already know that a climate crisis is on the horizon. Many would say it is already here. The United Nations has been clear on our need to cut our carbon footprint in half globally within 10 years. The UN Secretary-General has stated that there has never been a more important time to listen to science. Failure to heed these warnings and take drastic actions to reverse emissions means we will continue to witness deadly and catastrophic heat waves, storms and pollution.
We have heard the alarm bells sounding for decades, and yet Canadians often feel there is nothing they can do personally to stop it. Environmental labelling would give them that capability.
The motion I present today is just one part of the solution, this I know, but it is a vision for a better Canada. It empowers consumers with the ability to make an environmentally friendly choice every day. This motion came about because of the concerns I have heard from my constituents across Cape Breton about the largest crisis facing our future.
The youth in my riding and ridings across Canada are frightened of the future we are leaving to them and indeed I agree. The burden we have left to future generations is unfair. We can take steps to change that as leaders. We can make a better world. The battle is not lost. Canada can help lead that battle.
As I have said, Canadians are looking for a way that they can contribute, but when facing challenges like climate change, one that is systemic and global, it can seem overwhelming. Businesses around the world have recognized this shift and realize consumers want to act. I want to give a few examples.
The Shelton Group, a sustainability oriented ad agency, has noted that people want to do their part but the problem can seem too enormous. A recent study by Ogilvy Earth division found that while more than 80% of American shoppers claimed to want to make more sustainable choices, many did not. Another study has similar results, with 87% of consumers concerned about environmental impacts of their personal buying habits.
There is no singular reason for this discrepancy, but it is clear that one of the biggest contributing factors is awareness. A survey by McKinsey & Company showed that while consumers wanted to do their part, they did not know how to act on that belief. The study noted, in particular, that many attempts to label green products had been meaningless at best and confusing at worst.
On top of that, there just is not any consistency. In many cases, these labels are useless to the consumer and vague. It is unclear what standards are being used and whether they are consistent across the country. We need to begin to have a consistent standard on what it means to have green or environmentally friendly products.
To quote then CEO, Steve Howard, of the Climate Group, referring to one attempt to label a product based on a life-cycle analysis, he asked, “What does it mean to say a bag of chips contains 75 grams of carbon?” He continues, “I have a Ph.D. in environmental physics, and it doesn't mean a thing to me."
In other cases, the labelling regimes resemble a PR exercise more than an attempt to communicate any quantifiable or qualitative information about the product. Worse, because of limited and haphazard adoption of this practice, mostly by bigger companies, local businesses that may, in many cases, be major beneficiaries of greater consumer awareness are left behind.
Local farmers and businesses, by virtue of being local, are often the best choice for our environment, but they are often left in the dust by large farm factories and companies that can pour significantly more PR dollars into packaging and communications. This is a place where the government can step up.
This is where we, as legislators, have a clear role to fulfill. The government has a long-standing role in mandating that companies present information to consumers on the basis of public health, public interest and democratic will. The environmental impact of the products we consume clearly fulfills all three of these criteria.
Moreover, Parliament is in the unique position to bring together experts and stakeholders from across industry and academia to determine not only what information should be considered in such a labelling regime, but how to express it to the consumer in a manner that is clear, concise and comprehendible for every day Canadians.
As such, the motion would empower a standing committee to summon industry, small business, environmental experts, academics and farmers to come up with a collaborative way forward. This committee mandate would be tasked with reporting to the House its recommendations on how we could move forward as legislators in creating a labelling regime.
The labelling regime would empower and inform consumers, while benefiting local economies and incentivizing greener business practices from our biggest companies. An environmental labelling regime would help make Canada a world leader in fighting climate change. It is a bold and practical step forward to address climate change. It would bring greater legitimacy to our efforts to lead on the world stage. It would set an example for green transparency and consumer rights. It would truly be a cultural shift of monumental proportions.
Canadians deserve to know the environmental impacts of the products they purchase so they can make informed decisions. Growing up in Cape Breton and growing up listening to people who care about our beautiful ecosystem, ensuring quality of life for our future generations is vital.
I was taught by indigenous elders and knowledge-keepers that the choices we make today must take into consideration the next seven generations. I was taught that we are connected to our environment and whatever we do to the environment, we do to ourselves. What I am proposing is taking an important step toward environmental reconciliation.
Government studies and motions can be a vision for a better tomorrow. This motion would ensure a proactive role by bringing together consumer interests in Canadian business to create a clear and concise metric by which Canadians can consider the impacts of their buying habits. This would empower Canadians by helping make environmental choices every day to protect our environment and our future.
I believe that if Canadians were informed about things like the waste created, water used and greenhouse emissions of the products they purchase, they would make better choices for future generations and that when industries see that Canadian consumers want to do their part, they too will make the necessary changes to their products.
This motion, if passed, is a win for our planet, for our country, for Canadian businesses and for Canadians from coast to coast to coast. Wela’lioq.