Mr. Speaker, it is always a pleasure to speak in the House, especially on matters related to the environment. As we know, I am my party's climate change critic. I am therefore very happy to speak about Bill S‑5.
My colleague, the member for Repentigny, the Bloc Québécois's environment critic, has already informed the House of the Bloc Québécois's position on this bill. We are obviously in favour of the principle of Bill S‑5 because it is high time that the federal government take steps to modernize Canada's primary environmental protection legislation, known as CEPA.
Passed in 1988, CEPA established a framework for managing toxic substances and gave ministers the authority to regulate sources of pollution. The revised act came into effect in 1999 and there have been few amendments since. That means that the legislation that is to protect Canada's environment is over 20 years old. A lot has changed in 20 years. Science has evolved, industry practices have evolved and, unfortunately, the environmental crisis has worsened.
The update to CEPA is obviously good news, but members will not be surprised to hear me say that the Quebec nation is and must be solely responsible for public decisions concerning environmental protection in its jurisdiction.
Moreover, in April 2022, all members in Quebec's National Assembly passed a motion affirming Quebec's primary jurisdiction over the environment. To be clear, Quebec's elected representatives strongly stated their opposition to any federal interference in the environment in Quebec.
Over the years, we have developed environmental law in a way that allows us to move Quebec forward responsibly and for everyone's benefit. In doing so, we have exercised all of the powers that belong to us under the division of powers set out in the Constitution of Canada. Quebec's environmental sovereignty is effective because we fully assume the space available.
The Environment Quality Act is Quebec's primary environmental protection legislation. Naturally, its purpose is to protect the environment and the living species inhabiting it.
Quebec law prohibits the deterioration of the quality of the environment or the emission of pollutants or contaminants. It provides recourse to residents affected by any offence that compromises the quality of the environment, its protection and the protection of living species. It requires that an environmental impact assessment be conducted to carry out an activity that could present a high risk to the environment. It creates a special access to information regime, governs projects or activities that could have an impact on wetlands and bodies of water, and provides criminal penalties for individuals who contravene the law.
Reformed in 2017, Quebec's Environment Quality Act allows us to meet the highest standards in environmental protection. It is complemented by other Quebec environmental legislation, including the Sustainable Development Act, which allows the public administration in Quebec to consider the principles of sustainable development in its actions, including the principles of environmental protection, precaution, prevention and respect for ecosystem support capacity.
In Quebec, we also have an act affirming the collective nature of water resources and to promote better governance of water and associated environments, which gives every individual the right to access drinking water for hygiene and cooking and ensures that there is no net loss of wetlands and bodies of water. We also have the Natural Heritage Conservation Act, which seeks to protect the land by creating protected areas, and the Act Respecting the Conservation and Development of Wildlife, which seeks to protect wildlife from over-harvesting and their habitats from degradation.
Finally, there is Quebec's civil code, which also contains provisions to protect the environment, in addition to other laws and regulations that also protect the environment even though that is not their only purpose. Most importantly, Quebec has its Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms which, since 2006, states, “Every person has a right to live in a healthful environment in which biodiversity is preserved, to the extent and according to the standards provided by law.”
Clearly, when it comes to advancing environmental justice or strengthening environmental protection in Quebec, it is futile to pin our hopes on the Canadian government. I am not saying that Quebec has a perfect model. We also share responsibility and need to do much more to protect the environment. What I am trying to say is that there is already a model in Quebec, because this falls under its jurisdiction.
I therefore invite members from all parts of Canada to focus their efforts on their provincial legislatures and urge their provincial counterparts to pass legislation that protects the environment. I encourage them to claim their rightful space in this domain with two goals in mind: to protect nature and to protect provincial autonomy, which is being undermined within the Canadian federation. If they want to draw on Quebec's environmental protection laws, they are welcome to. The provinces would do well to work together on the environment.
That being said, under the current legal framework, the federal government does have certain environmental protection responsibilities. The Bloc Québécois intends to do everything in its power to ensure that the federal government does its job properly, and one of its jobs is to modernize the CEPA. This is a necessary legislative update, and we will give the matter the full attention it deserves.
The Bloc Québécois is eager to work with all parliamentarians to ensure that the revised legislation best reflects the recommendations of health and environmental protection groups, as well as partners in the chemical industry who are most affected, particularly when it comes to chemicals management, the list of toxic substances, improved accountability for risk management, a comprehensive assessment of the cumulative effects of substances and mandatory labelling requirements.
My colleague certainly talked about a letter sent to the Minister of Environment and Climate Change that was signed by no fewer than 54 Quebec-based groups, including women's groups, health sector groups, neighbourhood groups and more than 200 citizens from all walks of life, expressing their deep concern about toxic contamination. They are right to be concerned, since much work remains to be done on this. I have that letter with me and would like to read a few passages from it.
As the letter says, these substances can be found all around us, whether it is in the air we breathe, both indoors and outdoors, in furniture and certain interior coverings, in our homes and offices, in our clothing and food and in a range of personal care products we use every day.
The letter mentions bisphenol A, better known as BPA, which is found in many items. It mentions that “despite their toxicity, there are still flame retardants in some children's sleepwear”. There may be toxic substances in the footie pyjamas worn by so many babies.
BPA, a well-known endocrine disrupter, “can mimic or interfere with estrogen in our bodies, producing a myriad of health effects”. There are many adverse effects. I will name a few because the list is rather startling.
The effects include “altered estrogen action, early onset puberty, altered breast development and breast cancer, ovarian cysts, polycystic ovarian syndrome, uterine fibroid, altered sperm count and quality, neural and behavioural effects, sex-specific changes in brain structure, obesity and Type 2 diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular disease, altered liver function, and more”.
The letter also mentions perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS. These are also very toxic substances that can be found almost anywhere and cause “cancers (testicular and kidney), hormone malfunction, thyroid disease, liver problems, immunological effects including decreased vaccine response, reproductive harms including decreased fertility, pregnancy induced hypertension and abnormal fetal development.”
I apologize to the interpreters as I read this rather quickly.
The letter also mentions that all these substances end up “in our waterways, our landfills and elsewhere” and obviously are found in our own human ecosystem, which has significant human health impacts.
Like most of my colleagues, I have received dozens of letters from my constituents and people across Quebec asking us to change CEPA to reflect the realities of the 21st century. I agree with them that we must do this important work.
In particular, they are asking that we strengthen the implementation of the right to a healthy environment. I must say that that will not be achieved by inserting the right in the bill's preamble. The changes we make to CEPA must contribute to ensuring that we have a healthy environment.
If we examine the bill carefully, we see that it does not create a real right to a healthy environment. Sure, it is mentioned in the preamble, but the bill does not contain any provision that would make that right enforceable in the courts, unlike the right that has been established in the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms since 2006, as I mentioned earlier.
Obviously, citizens can always count on the Bloc Québécois when it comes to protecting the environment and promoting health. Good health is essential, and we often take it for granted. We fail to make the direct correlation between the environment and health, or rather between human health and environmental health. However, that is what people like Claudel Pétrin-Desrosiers, a family doctor at the CIUSSS in Montreal East, are working hard to do. She is also the chair of the Association québécoise des médecins pour l'environnement and a member of the board of directors for the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment. She thinks that climate change is the single biggest health threat in the 21st century and our biggest opportunity to do better. She also thinks that we need more ambitious public policies to protect our health and, obviously, I agree with her. She once said the following with regard to sustainable health, and I quote: “The best cure for the environment does not require a prescription”. Every day she sees the impact that climate change is having on the planet's health and people's health, and so she gave herself the mission of raising awareness among politicians and citizens.
I was speaking about Dr. Pétrin-Desrosiers, but she is not the only one who is addressing this issue in the public sphere. The World Health Organization has also declared that climate change is the greatest threat to human health. I want to share some of the facts that the WHO has published on its website:
Climate change affects the social and environmental determinants of health—clean air, safe drinking water, sufficient food and secure shelter.
Between 2030 and 2050, climate change is expected to cause approximately 250,000 additional deaths per year, from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhoea and heat stress.
The direct damage costs to health (i.e. excluding costs in health-determining sectors such as agriculture and water and sanitation), is estimated to be between USD 2-4 billion/year by 2030.
Areas with weak health infrastructure—mostly in developing countries—will be the least able to cope without assistance to prepare and respond.
Reducing emissions of greenhouse gases through better transport, food and energy-use choices can result in improved health, particularly through reduced air pollution.
That is the main message from the WHO. Yes, the problem is significant and people are already feeling the effects of climate change, but by reducing our greenhouse gas emissions, we may be able to help mitigate those effects.
I will continue to read what the WHO wrote in October 2021. It said, and I quote:
Climate change is the single biggest health threat facing humanity, and health professionals worldwide are already responding to the health harms caused by this unfolding crisis.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has concluded that to avert catastrophic health impacts and prevent millions of climate change-related deaths, the world must limit temperature rise to 1.5°C.
We already knew that because it is something we hear often.
Past emissions have already made a certain level of global temperature rise and other changes to the climate inevitable. Global heating of even 1.5°C is not considered safe, however; every additional tenth of a degree of warming will take a serious toll on people's lives and health.
While no one is safe from these risks, the people whose health is being harmed first and worst by the climate crisis are the people who contribute least to its causes, and who are least able to protect themselves and their families against it — people in low-income and disadvantaged countries and communities.
The climate crisis threatens to undo the last fifty years of progress in development, global health, and poverty reduction, and to further widen existing health inequalities between and within populations. It severely jeopardizes the realization of universal health coverage (UHC) in various ways — including by compounding the existing burden of disease and by exacerbating existing barriers to accessing health services, often at the times when they are most needed. Over 930 million people — around 12% of the world's population — spend at least 10% of their household budget to pay for health care. With the poorest people largely uninsured, health shocks and stresses already currently push around 100 million people into poverty every year, with the impacts of climate change worsening this trend.
Obviously, those of us who live in a country with a public health care system are a bit more fortunate, but that is not the case for everyone around the world.
I will keep reading what the WHO says:
Climate change is already impacting health in a myriad of ways, including by leading to death and illness from increasingly frequent extreme weather events, such as heatwaves, storms and floods, the disruption of food systems, increases in zoonoses and food-, water- and vector-borne diseases, and mental health issues. Furthermore, climate change is undermining many of the social determinants for good health, such as livelihoods, equality and access to health care and social support structures. These climate-sensitive health risks are disproportionately felt by the most vulnerable and disadvantaged, including women, children, ethnic minorities, poor communities, migrants or displaced persons, older populations, and those with underlying health conditions.
...scientific advances progressively allow us to attribute an increase in morbidity and mortality to human-induced warming, and more accurately determine the risks and scale of these health threats.
In the short- to medium-term, the health impacts of climate change will be determined mainly by the vulnerability of populations, their resilience to the current rate of climate change and the extent and pace of adaptation. In the longer-term, the effects will increasingly depend on the extent to which transformational action is taken now to reduce emissions and avoid the breaching of dangerous temperature thresholds and potential irreversible tipping points.
When a credible organization like the WHO publishes this kind of report, I think it is our duty as elected representatives to take it seriously and, more importantly, to act to mitigate the effects as much as possible.
Of course, just modernizing the Canadian Environmental Protection Act alone will not solve everything, but there are still some aspects that deserve our attention and need to be properly defined. We therefore need to analyze those aspects carefully to ensure that the modernized act really does allow the federal government to fulfill its responsibilities in the area of environmental protection, while ensuring respect for Quebec's environmental sovereignty.
I would like to point out that the bill does include a number of elements that raise some issues of a constitutional nature. Every level of government can pass laws to protect the environment if those laws are related to an area of constitutional jurisdiction under the Constitution Act, 1867. This is what is known as concurrent jurisdiction.
Consequently, the federal Parliament can pass legislation on toxic substances given its jurisdiction over criminal matters. However, Bill S-5 is about more than regulating substances. It proposes to regulate products. It seems to me that this broadens the federal government's role. The bill proposes to allow the environment minister to require the communication of information concerning activities that could contribute to pollution.
Regulating products and activities or pollution is different from regulating toxic substances. Here is another example. Usually, when prohibitions are issued under the Criminal Code, they are accompanied by sanctions for non-compliance with the law. I do not think this is the same as issuing authorizations, much less authorizations that have conditions attached. If the federal government can pass legislation under the Criminal Code, the law should not use public policy instruments that the Criminal Code does not allow to be used. My colleagues must agree that this could be a slippery slope.
As members know, I am an environmentalist. Saving the planet, saving biodiversity and fighting climate change are important to me. I trust no one believes that I would be happy to forgo regulating pollution, far from it. I simply want the government to respect the division of powers and especially the work that is already being done in Quebec. In addition to respecting the principle, we also have to try to avoid costly administrative and regulatory overlap that leaves everyone confused.
If the government wants to pass good legislation that is supported by the parties, it has to take steps in advance to ensure that the constitutional validity of its legislation will not be disputed. Did it consult the governments of Quebec and the provinces? I would be surprised, because the bill in its current form has quite a few constitutional problems. Those need to be addressed.
Accordingly, during the study of the bill, the Bloc Québécois will ensure that there are no clauses or provisions in it that can be considered intrusions into the jurisdictions of Quebec and the provinces. Of all the areas that unquestionably fall under federal jurisdiction, all my colleagues from the other parties, as well as the Minister of the Environment, know that they can count on us to ensure that we have the most robust environmental legislation possible. It is our duty to make sure of it. It is also our duty to reassure the public and give it what it is asking for: a real right to a healthy environment.