Mr. Speaker, it is always a pleasure to rise in this place to participate, especially in Private Members' Business. I am certain that I am not alone in my appreciation for the passion and ideas from colleagues of all parties in this place.
Generally speaking, we either oppose a private member's bill or we support it. On rare occasions, from my perspective at least, a private member's bill may come along that I will oppose despite being supportive of the principle being raised. This is one of those of those rare occasions for me, and I would like to share with this place my thoughts on the bill.
First, I would like to commend and recognize the member for Cumberland—Colchester for raising this very important concern. The member refers to this concern as “environmental racism”, and ultimately proposes to create a national strategy to promote efforts across this great country to redress the harms caused by environmental racism.
What does the member for Cumberland—Colchester define as “environmental racism”? One part of the bills reads as follows:
Whereas the establishing of environmentally hazardous sites, including landfills and polluting industries, in areas inhabited primarily by members of those communities could be considered a form of racial discrimination;
I happen to have a few local examples that directly reflect this problem. I will share them with the House to illustrate why I said in my introduction that I support the principle of this bill.
My first local example is Appleton Waste Services, a company that was paid by many Penticton and area residents to pick up and collect garbage and then transport it and dispose of it at the local landfill. The company did not pay its bills to the operator of the landfill, which was another local government, the Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen, or RDOS, as we call it in the region. Because the bills were unpaid, the RDOS had to suspend service to Appleton Waste.
Unfortunately, this did not stop the company from continuing to pick up waste and charge their customers for it. Instead, it made a deal that ultimately resulted in 5,000 tonnes of waste being dumped on Penticton Indian Band lands. The arrangement was that this was going to be a transfer station before the waste was hauled off to somewhere else.
How did it end? Well, the company disappeared, but a massive pile of waste became a serious problem for members of the Penticton Indian Band to deal with, and it was not even their own waste. It came from the citizens of the city of Penticton.
In other words, the Penticton Indian Band ended up with a landfill, and it was, as the bill says,
in areas inhabited primarily by members of those communities
The bill states this could be considered a form of racial discrimination.
This is the first example that, in my view, speaks to the challenge that is referred to in the bill. I will provide a second local example.
Many will know the Okanagan region I come from is famous for its excellent wines, but many years ago, it was for fruit growing. As a result, there is a significant fruit industry infrastructure in many small communities, much of it aging.
In Naramata, there was an old fruit-packing warehouse that was scheduled for demolition and removal. Ultimately, the successful salvage bidder hauled the demolished wood waste away. Where did it end up? It ended up on Penticton Indian Band land, where ultimately it was burned.
In that case, charges were laid against the parties involved under provincial environmental legislation. This case eventually made its way through the courts. The defendants argued that these activities took place on the Penticton Indian Reserve, which does not come under provincial jurisdiction on such environmental matters.
They argued that they had complied with all the requirements of the local government, in this case the Penticton Indian Band.
In the end, an application was made challenging the charges on constitutional grounds. The judge ended up handing down a not guilty verdict and declaring that the application was moot, as there would be no further legal proceedings.
After listening to me explain these two Canadian examples, members will probably understand why I support the challenges addressed in this bill. However, I will now explain why I will be opposing this bill, even though I recognize these challenges.
In both of these situations there was one common denominator, the Penticton Indian Band lands that were adversely environmentally impacted by these situations were what is called “locatee lands”. As many are unaware, on some first nations not all land is band land. Some lands are locatee lands. These lands are very similar to privately held land where locatees can make land use decisions independent of locally elected band chiefs and their respective councils. In both of these cases, local non-indigenous business owners made financial deals with band members who control these locatee lands.
We all know that the federal government, more specifically Indigenous Services Canada, is supposed to safeguard the interests of aboriginal communities to prevent these types of situations from occurring. Here in Ottawa, we seldom hear how some of these situations are actually caused. This also raises a question that has to be asked. Is it the role of Indigenous Services Canada to tell a locatee family what they can or what they cannot do on their lands, or is that up to a locally elected band chief and council?
I have another question. Was the member approached by a local first nation in her riding to introduce this bill, or is this another example of the “Ottawa knows best” attitude, where Ottawa presents another series of studies to come up with a one-size-fits-all strategy, as it has been doing for decades? I do not know the answer to this question.
I see two challenges in this bill. As I mentioned, I would like to be able to support the bill. However, then I would be voting for something that could impact a large number of first nations communities in my region, without having heard how they feel about this bill. I simply cannot in good conscience do that.
I believe it is time to put an end to the era when decisions were made in Ottawa without first sitting down with the chiefs and local councillors to hear from them directly. Environmental factors clearly have repercussions for first nations. Grassy Narrows comes to mind, as well as the Prime Minister's reference to these issues, which was to thank them for their donation.
It is important to study those impacts, but the use of the term “racism” implies that Canadians are racist and responsible for these actions and does not take the Liberal government's failure over the long term into account.
Indeed, just this week the Liberal government confirmed it would not meet its clean drinking water promise, another failure. Canadians are warm and caring people and would support finding ways to better ensure everyone is healthy and thriving. What is not right is implying the fault lies at the feet of a racist country.
Canada is not a racist country and to imply that is just disgraceful. Now, I appreciate that the member for Cumberland—Colchester is well intentioned. However, I have many aboriginal communities in my riding that I must be accountable to. It is for that reason that I cannot support this bill. I do thank the member for raising this concern.
I also would like to thank the members in this place for taking the time to hear my comments today. It is a pleasure serving on behalf of the communities in my region.