Madam Speaker, it is a real honour to speak to this private member's bill, Bill C-269, which was presented by the member for Regina—Qu'Appelle. I think it is a fantastic bill and I am going to tell the House why.
Nine hundred billion litres of raw sewage were dumped into Canada's waterways over a five-year period. It is a number that is nearly impossible to wrap one's head around, but a CTV article helpfully described this amount in more visual terms: It is “enough to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool more than 355,000 times”. That is a lot of raw sewage. That particular figure is actually a couple of years old, so we know that it has probably climbed even higher than that. We also know that this data does not necessarily capture the full picture, and that the amount of raw sewage being vented increases each year. Regardless of what that final figure looks like, we clearly have a problem on our hands.
This represents one of the largest sources of pollution in Canada's rivers and oceans. Dumping raw sewage into waterways is putting the biodiversity value of our land, waterways and marine environments at risk. Raw sewage from Canada's largest city ends up in Lake Ontario so often that Toronto city officials advise people to stay away from the city's beaches for at least two days after it rains. In my province of Manitoba, folks who go out on the Assiniboine River regularly see more debris and smell an odour after rainstorms. These are realities that have too often been ignored. It is something we cannot afford to do any longer.
Canada is a big country, and with our sizable land mass come a great number of water resources. We have around 20% of the world's freshwater here within our borders, flowing through some two million lakes and rivers. For some Canadians, the Great Lakes will come to mind, while others will think of the 1,200-kilometre St. Lawrence River. Many folks in my province of Manitoba will think of Lake Winnipeg, which holds some 284 cubic kilometres of water. That is a lot of water.
Whatever body of water or waterway comes to mind, each one is invaluable for the well-being of the communities that rely on it. Each one represents a remarkable natural inheritance and is worth protecting. This is where Bill C-269 comes in. This bill, which proposes to prohibit the dumping of raw sewage in Canadian waterways, will help all Canadians preserve and protect the rich natural heritage that we enjoy. It is a meaningful, common-sense way to protect the environment and waterways that are such big parts of our lives.
As with most of the matters we consider in the House, protecting Canada's waterways is a complex, multi-faceted matter, so much so that it could perhaps be overwhelming for the average person wanting to make a difference by protecting our oceans, lakes and rivers. I really appreciate the simplicity of Bill C-269. It is not flashy. It is not showy. It offers us a tangible, achievable solution. It is a good first step, but let us step back for a moment and talk about the problem. Why is Canada dumping so much raw sewage into our waterways?
Much of the problem can be attributed to Canada's antiquated city and municipal sewer systems. In some communities, older water systems carry both household water and stormwater through the same pipes. When rain or melting snow overwhelms these systems, they tend to be designed to vent the diluted sewage into the nearest waterway. Some cities dump raw sewage into our waterways just to undertake repairs.
Whatever the reason, billions of litres of raw sewage end up in Canadian waterways because municipalities do not have adequate infrastructure or the support to deal with it. No one likes to talk about it. It is sewage that we are discussing, after all, but we need to recognize that the water and waste water produced by residential and commercial establishments, including both human and industrial waste, will continue to find their way into our waterways untreated unless we push for a change to the status quo.
Bill C-269 changes the status quo. Some have argued this morning that it is not comprehensive enough and that it does not include everything it should. It is a great first step. Our previous Conservative government was an early challenger of the status quo. In 2012, Conservatives set new standards for treating waste water. We introduced the Wastewater Systems Effluent Regulations to address the largest point source of pollution in Canadian waters. The goal was to reduce the threats to fish and fish habitats, and also to protect human health by making sure the fish we eat had not been exposed to toxins.
By decreasing the levels of potentially harmful substances vented into Canada's waterways, we were able to move in the right direction to improve water quality, protect fish ecosystems and ensure Canadians could enjoy freshly caught fish without concern for their health.
While this remains an important policy adjustment, with the passage of time it has become clear that more needs to be done. The Liberals' 2015 platform told Canadians their party would “treat our freshwater as a precious resource that deserves protection and careful stewardship,” yet when the Liberals formed government in 2015, one of their first decisions was to authorize the City of Montreal to dump eight billion litres of raw sewage into the St. Lawrence. An online petition at the time saw more than 95,000 people express their objections to this plan, but the Liberal environment minister gave the City the green light. The Liberals abandoned that platform commitment in record time, but it would be the start of a pattern of the government talking big while refusing to do the hard thing and fix the problem.
By choosing to support this bill, the Liberals could demonstrate to Canadians that they would honour their commitments respecting Canada's water. With the Montreal sewage dump top of mind, maybe it is time we removed the power of federal ministers to give permits to municipalities to dump raw sewage into Canada's waterways. Bill C-269 would have this effect. This would go a long way toward restoring Canadians' confidence in how this and any future government would manage our waterways.
I want to take a moment to advocate for our municipalities. Municipalities have rightly noted that sewer systems need to be updated to ensure they can better protect Canadian waterways. As we discussed in Bill C-269 today, we recognize that partnerships with municipalities would be vital to achieving lasting change: one that would see the end of raw sewage being dumped into waterways. Federal support for local infrastructure priorities is paramount to that end. Unfortunately, we have seen the current government struggle to get the critical infrastructure support that municipalities need out the door.
Just recently, the Auditor General said that the Liberal infrastructure plan has been beset by setbacks, leaving billions unspent or delayed until later this decade. I find it frustrating, and I think many Canadians would agree, that although once again the Liberals are so quick to talk about the importance of caring for our environment, they are so focused on talk that they fail to do the work.
Of course, we know that not every infrastructure dollar will end up constructing water and wastewater infrastructure: Roads, bridges and other projects must be built too, but when the Liberals fail to properly manage billions in infrastructure spending, there will be valuable projects that simply are not built, including those helping to protect Canada's water and waterways. Recognizing the Liberal government's failures in this area, Bill C-269 takes into consideration that municipalities need time to upgrade their wastewater systems. The coming-into-force component of this bill would give municipalities that may not have the capacity to fully treat the water they expel the time to do so. Passing this bill is part of the equation, but Canadians also need the Liberals to get their act together on infrastructure to support the improvements needed to make this happen.
Sometimes, other parties accuse the Conservatives of being stuck in the past, but there is nothing wrong with looking to the past to better understand who we are and how we should move forward. When we look at Canada's past, we see the enormous role of our waterways in the development of our nation. For indigenous peoples they were highways connecting their communities. They brought people together for religious, cultural and economic events. The waterways guided the paths of early European explorers, and helped them out of a vast territory. For fur traders, waterways were trade routes, fostering economic activity. All of our forebears recognized and respected our waterways, and we have benefited from the healthy waterways they left for us.
As we look back, we see that Canadians have relied on our waterways over generations for many things, including transportation, commerce, food, resources and recreation. The past reminds us of the ways in which our waterways have served us, and is a reminder that we must serve as stewards of them as well. I want to encourage all my colleagues to support Bill C-269, so that we too can leave a rich natural inheritance to future generations.
I have heard previous members discuss at length how the previous Harper government did not do something, or how the municipalities do not have enough money. This is a partnership that looks forward to protecting—