Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-269, an act to amend the Fisheries Act (prohibition—deposit of raw sewage), and to reiterate the key issues with this bill.
The government opposes Bill C-269 for multiple reasons. It would reduce environmental protections. It would negatively impact current federal, provincial and territorial collaboration on waste water. It would impose significant financial and practical challenges on all levels of government. It would be redundant and could weaken existing federal pollution prevention powers.
As the member for Regina—Qu'Appelle knows, the Fisheries Act is the federal government's most effective tool to prevent and set strong controls for the management of waste-water releases. The tools created through the Fisheries Act combined with our government's historic investments of $2 billion in support of over 1,700 water and waste-water projects across the country have made significant progress in protecting the water quality of our lakes, rivers and oceans.
The Fisheries Act already prohibits the release of deleterious substances, pollution into water unless the release is specifically managed under federal regulations. The Fisheries Act also contains strong regulatory controls requiring notification of pollution releases and that every effort is taken to prevent a release or to mitigate potential adverse impacts, if one is unavoidable.
We all want to end releases of raw sewage. That is why our government has invested nearly two and a half times the amount of federal funding for waste-water projects compared to the previous Conservative government over the same period, the same Conservative government that in 2012 gutted the Fisheries Act's most powerful pollution prevention tools and severely underfunded investments in water and waste-water infrastructure.
I would also point out that, as the former leader of the Conservative Party, the member for Regina—Qu'Appelle proposed cuts to billions in public infrastructure funding, the same funding that helps support critical water and waste-water projects in communities across the country.
Prohibiting raw sewage, as this bill prescribes, would not prevent all untreated waste-water releases from occurring. Due to years of chronic underfunding in public infrastructure under the previous Conservative government, our government has had to step up and invest in critical waste-water treatment to minimize the occurrence of such releases.
Let me be clear. There is already an effective and responsible approach in place to address this problem. Releases of raw sewage are already managed under the federal regulations for waste water, or they are prohibited under the Fisheries Act. Our government has been clear in its commitment to protect Canadian waters. That is why in 2019, we strengthened protections in the Fisheries Act by restoring lost protections and incorporating comprehensive and modern safeguards.
If enacted, this bill would mean taking several steps back. The bill does not introduce any new protections, enhanced monitoring or regulatory controls to address waste water beyond the strong measures that already exist within the act. This bill would not increase, but would reduce, environmental protections, and would have significant and harmful impacts on the ability to prevent and manage pollution under the Fisheries Act.
If enacted, this bill would take raw sewage out of the definition of deleterious substances, thereby removing raw sewage from all other critical protections and requirements that the Fisheries Act currently provides. In addition, by removing raw sewage from the existing prohibition of deleterious substances in the Fisheries Act and excluding northern waters from the proposed bill's scope, this would create a gap where raw sewage could legally be released in the north. This is unacceptable.
While our government's current national strategy effectively targets the most significant sources of pollution, this bill would impose enormous fiscal and practical challenges to all levels of government for a minimal environmental benefit. Eliminating raw sewage within five years would mean replacing the underground plumbing networks in over 700 cities across Canada at a cost of over $200 billion.
Aside from the unprecedented cost, it is simply not possible to design, plan and build new or upgraded waste-water treatment facilities in over 700 cities across Canada in under five years. A typical planning and construction cycle for waste-water infrastructure would usually take 10 to 20 years.
We need to acknowledge that many communities are already making investments to reduce the environmental impacts associated with waste-water infrastructure. This includes projects to advance waste-water treatment, green infrastructure and converting waste to energy. These projects are a much more cost-effective way to achieve environmental outcomes than spending hundreds of billions of dollars on a small percentage of reductions.
The government cannot support such a poorly thought-out bill. It does not add value to the existing strategy to address waste water in Canada. Instead, it actively threatens it. Furthermore, our government already has a robust national strategy in place that establishes achievable and predictable timelines for communities to complete the necessary treatment system installations and upgrades. While upon first glance this bill would appear to offer environmental benefits, a closer look reveals that its proposed legislative changes would create considerable negative environmental and economic consequences.
To wrap up, our government is making historic investments in critical waste-water infrastructure to support our comprehensive national waste-water strategy, which combined will keep Canadian waters safe and healthy.