Madam Speaker, I wish everyone a happy Monday.
I think that we all agree that water is life. Although we commend the member for his attempt to initiate a debate on water quality and the pollution of our rivers, which is an important subject, the Bloc Québécois cannot support the principle of Bill C-269 because it does not offer any real solutions to sewage dumping.
Yes, effective regulations may be part of the solution to this problem, but what is really needed is major investments in waste water infrastructure.
What is more, the bill is inconsistent. It would allow the regulated dumping of hazardous materials and prohibit the dumping of fetid waste water from urban areas. I will come back to that. Also, clause 2 of the bill, which would add two new subsections, would make it so that the prohibition would not apply in Nunavut, Newfoundland and north of the 54th parallel in Quebec. I am wondering what the rationale for that is, because it does not make any sense.
Basically, Bill C-269 is a bad idea masquerading as a good one. In 2012, the Conservative government established the Wastewater Systems Effluent Regulations, Canada's first waste water treatment standard. At the time, the federal government estimated that 75% of existing waste water treatment facilities complied with the new standard, and it committed to providing funding to help the remaining 25% achieve compliance.
It created three categories of facilities. The first included the highest-risk facilities, which had to comply with the new standard before 2020. The second and third categories included lower-risk facilities, which had until 2030 and 2040 to comply with the new standard.
The infrastructure minister at the time provided no details about the funding formula that would be introduced to support the new regulations. The Union des municipalités du Québec estimated that it would take $9 billion to upgrade existing municipal facilities and bring them into compliance with the new regulations.
Around that time, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and McGill University conducted a study. According to estimates, the municipal infrastructure deficit, which is what it would cost to upgrade existing infrastructure to meet current standards, was about $31 billion. That was 10 years ago.
Let us fast-forward to today.
According to an article published in the daily Le Devoir in March, 80 Quebec municipalities still do not have waste water treatment plants. According to a Réseau Environnement report cited in the same article, at least $17 billion is needed just to upgrade the existing treatment facilities that are suffering the effects of aging. That amount does not include the investments required to ensure that waste water treatment plants comply with the 2012 regulations and to build treatment plants where they are needed. That being the case, what should the government do? If regulations exist, we must comply, but no one should be expected to do the impossible.
Waste water spills happen frequently in Quebec, so much so that Fondation Rivières has created a rather impressive interactive map using a data set. Furthermore, it identified 60,660 spills in 2019, which lasted a total of 471,300 hours. While the Conservatives brought up Montreal's “flushgate”—when eight billion litres of sewage were dumped into the St. Lawrence River—every chance they got during the 2019 election campaign, people should not assume that the issue of dumping is any less serious anywhere else.
The 2019 campaign also highlighted the fact that Canadian municipalities had dumped 218 billion litres of sewage into waterways without any political party proposing solutions to the problem. Toronto confirmed that, in 2018, more than 7.1 billion litres of waste water leaked into Lake Ontario and other waterways because the combined sewer and stormwater system could not handle the volume of rainstorms.
Furthermore, last year, Canada's National Observer presented Environment Canada data indicating that 900 billion litres of waste water and runoff were discharged in 2018. That figure was for the rest of Canada and did not include Quebec. The 900 billion litres most likely was a conservative figure given the inconsistent monitoring among different municipalities.
In short, this is a significant problem for which we must find real solutions and it has been a concern for the Federation of Canadian Municipalities for many years now. I will say from the outset that the $1.5 billion allocated for the waste water file by the government between 2015 and 2019 is peanuts compared to the real need. It is just a drop in the bucket.
I do not wish to downplay the fact that human waste and runoff are a significant problem, but I must also speak about other worrisome substances. The most recent research has brought to light the health problems caused by endocrine disruptors and the constantly rising presence of microplastics in our waterways. I have mentioned the worrisome presence of these two substances to make the contradiction in Bill C-269 very clear to everyone. In fact, it would continue to allow the discharge into our waterways of all manner of substances as long as it is done in accordance with the 2012 Wastewater Systems Effluent Regulations.
I will read a short but incomplete list of the deleterious substances that could still be discharged into our waterways even if Bill C-269 is passed: petroleum products, including oil, gas, diesel and grease; chemical products. pesticides, heavy metals; industrial effluents; cleaning products, such as bleach and detergents; wood preservative products; paint; chlorinated water.
All of the substances I just mentioned could be discharged, but not urban waste water. I have a hard time believing that continuing to allow these substances to be discharged is less harmful to the environment and less detrimental to the health of our waterways than discharging urban waste water.
Any proposed regulations to bring infrastructure in compliance and to deploy 21st-century technology in existing facilities will require a rigorous and integrated approach. Bill C-269 does not meet these criteria, however.
Money is the lifeblood of all infrastructure projects. Nothing happens without money. Just take a close look at the tax system to see how much each level of government collects and how much their fair share should be. The federal government takes 50%, Quebec gets 42% and the municipalities get 8%. Municipalities' share of responsibility for infrastructure went from 30.9% in 1961 to 52.4% in 2002, while the federal government's went from 23.9% down to 6.8% for that same period. This is why I am saying it is impossible for municipalities to keep up.
Now, 20 years later, there is a good chance that the figures are even more telling. There is no doubt that infrastructure spending is required and that making arbitrary and unenforceable prohibitions is not the solution. This is the real way to help municipalities fulfill their waste water treatment responsibilities.
I do want to say that there is some potential for progress on this issue. However, every level of government will have to do its share. We must not only prevent overlapping jurisdictions and confusion, but we must also provide stability for municipalities so that they are in a position to build the best infrastructure to comply with sanitation standards.
No municipality derives pleasure from waste water spills. They want to comply with the standards but simply do not have the means to do so.