Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to be speaking today about Bill C‑269, an act to amend the Fisheries Act, which I can summarize very quickly as being a good idea only at first glance. My colleague from Avignon—La Mitis—Matane—Matapédia agrees with me completely.
There have been at least 10 sewage spills in Quebec in recent years. Consider the spill of millions of litres of waste water in the Richelieu River in Saint‑Jean this past March. It was the fourth such spill in three years. The same thing happened in Longueuil in 2018, when 150 million tonnes of polluted water spilled directly into the St. Lawrence River for eight straight days. It is also impossible to forget “flushgate” in Montreal in 2015, when no less than eight billion litres of waste water was dumped into the St. Lawrence.
These examples are only some of the many similar incidents that have occurred, since sewage spills are unfortunately not a rare occurrence. In Quebec alone, Fondation Rivières counted 60,660 spills in 2019, adding up to a total of 471,300 hours of overflow. That is a lot.
Considering all of the data and the pollution in our waterways, we might have expected a far more ambitious bill. That is why I called it a good idea only at first glance earlier.
It is true that Bill C‑269 has given the House the opportunity to talk about the environment and the protection of our waterways. The Bloc Québécois is certainly not going to complain about that. However, Bill C‑269 does not offer any real solutions to the complex problem of sewage spills.
Unfortunately, it does not cover all waste water or all the harmful substances that could be discharged into the environment. It does not contain any real solutions for municipalities that are forced to release their sewage into our rivers, including the St. Lawrence, because they do not have adequate treatment systems.
The first fundamental problem with Bill C‑269 is that it contains only half measures. The first clause of Bill C‑269 excludes raw sewage from the definition of “deleterious substance” in the Fisheries Act. That is the problem.
Bill C‑269 prohibits the deposit of raw sewage, which could prevent another “flushgate” in Montreal. However, it permits the deposit of several other substances that are just as deleterious, meaning the Conservatives' bill opens the door to discharges of all kinds in our waterways. Allow me to list a few substances that the Conservatives forgot: petroleum products, chemicals, pesticides, heavy metals, industrial effluent, paint, and cleaning products like bleach.
If we want to truly protect our waterways, we need to go much further. Prohibiting the discharge of waste water is one thing, but allowing the deposit of all sorts of other equally dangerous substances is quite another. If the Conservatives want to prove that they care about protecting our waterways, they should revise their bill to avoid creating two categories of pollutants.
I would like to mention another problem with Bill C‑269. How do the Conservatives plan to prohibit the discharge of waste water if the municipalities do not have adequate water treatment facilities to stop doing it?
Let us consider the facts. Le Devoir recently reported that 80 Quebec municipalities do not have waste-water treatment plants. The article also mentioned a report by the Réseau Environnement that estimated we will have to invest at least $17 billion just to upgrade existing treatment facilities, which are beginning to show their age. Even with $17 billion, we will not achieve the miracle solution the Conservatives think they are proposing.
For the Bloc Québécois, until effective regulations against waste-water discharge are implemented, the problem will never be fully resolved. The real solution is clear, but it does not appear in the bill. It is so simple: The federal government must make substantial, regular investments, with dedicated, multi-year funding, to help the municipalities, which should not have to cut corners when it comes to protecting our waterways.
The federal government must invest in order to allow municipalities to build adequate waste-water treatment infrastructure.
In conclusion, if the Conservatives want to look good and burnish their green credentials by showing concern for the health of our waterways, including the St. Lawrence River, they must be bolder and propose real solutions, none of which appear in Bill C‑269.
If the Conservatives really want to solve the problem of sewage spills, they must think about including all harmful substances, and the federal government must help municipalities build adequate treatment systems, or the problem will resurface and will never be totally resolved.
For these reasons, the Bloc Québécois will vote against Bill C‑269.