Mr. Speaker, I must admit that during my time in this place, I have always found great value in private members' business. It is our opportunity as members of this place to bring forward legislation that we believe will ultimately better serve this great country. Yes, there is a lottery system in place, but there is also nothing to stop the government of the day from taking a great idea in a private member's bill and incorporating it into government legislation. Indeed, we have witnessed this practice before.
Another aspect of private members' business is that often members in this place will vote more freely than on government bills. That can add a very interesting dynamic, particularly during a minority government.
Given my passion for private members' business, I must state in advance that I am speaking in support of the bill before us, as it is important to me.
The bill proposes to exclude raw sewage from the definition of “deleterious substance” so as to entirely prohibit its deposit in water, which is a critically important environmental protection we can pass in this place. Indeed, I suspect that if we asked Canadians, most would believe that this is already a banned practice in Canada. However, as we know, the minister can sign off and essentially provide an exemption to it, just as a former environment minister of the Liberal government has done previously, and that should concern us all.
Increasingly, what we see with the Liberal government is that environmental policy is being applied in a discriminatory manner. While I could provide a number of different examples, I would much rather not. Politicizing this issue is ultimately not helpful in this debate. I would like to think that if there is one thing we can all agree on in this place, it is that it is never a good thing to dump raw sewage into fish habitat. I hope that we would all agree on that point. It should be a basic guiding principle of environmental stewardship that we do not contaminate fish habitat.
While I believe there is much we can agree on in principle with the bill, I also recognize that there are criticisms.
Critics have raised the cost to municipalities as one of the criticisms. It is a fair point. However, it also acknowledges that some municipalities are currently adding to the problem, and that a lack of revenue to fix the problem is the primary reason.
On that note, I will point out that the bill proposes that it will not come into force until five years after the day on which it receives royal assent. That is five years to take action, five years to ensure that this becomes a bigger priority for the federal government and five years to work out the details with local governments. Yes, I realize that there are many challenges and many reasons why some can argue this cannot be done in five years. However, to those people I would ask a very simple question: Does anyone want to argue that this should not be done? On that point, I would like to think we can all agree.
I am hopeful about it. If we can agree that it should be done, let us ask ourselves how. If we do not start taking steps in that direction, it would be fair to say that this bill is not perfect, but few ever are.
Having said that, we need to send the message that fish habitat protection is a priority. Critics raise valid points: It might be difficult and it does involve costs. On the issue of costs, it is important to say that we must also consider the cost of inaction.
In my former riding, the water supply for a small rural community was contaminated with fecal matter, which made the drinking water supply unsafe.
To secure the drinking water supply, the source of the contamination had to be found. The process is not as simple as it sounds. They changed the source of the water supply. Costly, unpleasant and heavy chlorination in the water treatment system was to blame.
Back-flow valves were installed. All of that cost a lot of money. Finally, a proper sewage treatment plant was installed. That occurred under a former Conservative government, but that is not the point. The point is that today that community water system is no longer contaminated and, more importantly, the groundwater is not contaminated.
This all matters because the Okanagan River system passes through this unincorporated community, where currently local indigenous communities have been working in partnership, and very successfully I might add, to restore lost salmon habitat. It is an incredible success story. Obviously, it also speaks to the importance of not dumping raw sewage into fish habitat.
To those who raise the valid concerns of cost to local government, I point out that there are many costs of inaction that can result from the situation. More importantly, critics aside, I come back to one simple point: While some have raised concerns over getting this done, I have yet to hear anyone suggest that it cannot be done or that it should not be done. I have only heard that it could be challenging.
Current government members, in 2015, told Canadians, hand on their hearts, that better was always possible. I submit that Bill C-269 proposes better protection for our fish habitat than is currently available. This bill is an important next step in moving forward to better protect our environment.
Before I wrap up, I would like to thank the member who sponsored this bill, the member for Regina—Qu'Appelle, for his ongoing leadership and commitment to seeing this gap in our governance addressed. This gap, whether it was intentional or not, exists. We cannot let this go by saying there is a cost. We need to count the current costs to the environment. There are challenges here, but it is because of members like the member for Regina—Qu'Appelle that we are debating this important subject, adding a spotlight to an issue that has haunted this country for too long.
As I said before, I hope we can all agree in this place that dumping raw sewage into fish habitat is wrong and that we need to do our part, in partnership with communities, local government, the provinces and indigenous communities, to make this problem go away so that we all can have clean water and feel proud of the contributions we have made to this issue.
I thank the member for Regina—Qu'Appelle for helping to elevate this argument and for this debate. I hope that all members will put aside partisanship and say yes to his proposal.