Madam Speaker, I have worked on the Canadian Environment Protection Act since before its first reading in the late 1980s. I was in the office of the minister of environment, so I know the bill quite well. It is with the greatest and most profound sense of sadness that I see what we have before us, because so many opportunities to modernize and do what needs to be done are lost.
I fervently hope that this bill, which comes to us from the Senate, will be significantly improved at committee. Many members have spoken to areas that need improvement, and I want to emphasize the ones I can in my time.
I would like to preface my remarks by saying that a lot of what we have discussed today on Bill S-5 has been about the climate crisis. I want to identify that I think the Environmental Protection Act has tools we can use to address the climate crisis, tools the current government is not using.
I want to make a point that is not made very often in this place, and that is that, when we talk about the climate crisis, we are incorrect when we classify it as an environmental issue. The U.S. Biden administration has correctly classified the climate crisis as a security threat. There is much that we need to protect in our environment, and this bill speaks to a number of areas that are not specifically about climate, but that create tools we could use. We should use those tools in part four, and I will speak to that later, but we should stop assuming that, when we talk about the climate crisis, that we are talking about an environmental threat. We are talking about a threat to the survival of human civilization.
Looking at what we have before us in Bill S-5, on protecting the environment, I want to approach it in three categories. The first is what is missing. The second is what is wrong in the act, and the third is what is better because of some amendments that were recently made.
What is missing is a long list. This is a big act. When it was bought together, as I mentioned, back in the 1980s, it took a number of bits of different legislation on ocean dumping, clean air and commercial chemicals and lumped them together. We called it the Canadian Environmental Protection Act.
It has served us well. It has survived a Supreme Court challenge. I want to return to that, but one of the things that is missing in this act is that not all sections of the act are being reviewed or amended, which means that if we, as parliamentarians, see an opportunity to improve something that is in the existing Canadian Environmental Protection Act, we cannot touch it in committee. It would be outside the scope of the act.
For instance, we can look at part six, which deals with ocean dumping and genetically modified organisms. Here we are, the only country on earth that has regulated and approved genetically modified animals for human consumption, and we are not modernizing that section of the act.
We have, in fact, approved something called AquaBounty Atlantic salmon, which is genetically engineered. We should be looking at the genetically modified organisms part of part six, but we are not.
Another part that is missing is the right to a healthy environment. It is mentioned, yes, and we have talked about it. A number of members have mentioned the gaps there, including, very recently in this debate, the hon. member for Cariboo—Prince George.
Here is the problem: The government says that it is going to create a right to a healthy environment, but it will not be enforceable. A right that is not enforceable is no right at all.
This point has been made by many who have looked at the act, including the very important observation note that came to this place, attached as a note from the other place, where they studied the bill and made amendments. They said that we cannot have a right to a healthy environment if we leave in place all of the barriers to enforcement that exist in section 22 of the act.
We have to get to that. We cannot have that ruled outside the scope of what a committee gets to look at.
What is wrong? My gosh, I never thought that, in 2022, we would have a climb down from the advances in environmental protection brought about by the Mulroney government. In 1988, the act was better at listing toxic chemicals than what we have in front of us right now.
If members think I am angry, I am. I am appalled.
Schedule 1 in the current act, as it has been since 1988 when it got royal assent, says that it is the list of toxic substances. The title is “List of Toxic Substances” in schedule 1. Here we have this proposal from the current government to take that away and not use the term “List of Toxic Substances”. The climbdown to a two-list category is absolutely wrong-headed and baffling. It also undermines the constitutional underpinnings of this act.
We should look at the fact that in 1997 the Supreme Court of Canada, in the case of R. v. Hydro-Québec, found that the Canadian Environmental Protection Act was within federal jurisdiction specifically because it used the criminal law head of power in dealing with toxic substances.
If we take out the word “toxic”, we are going to get constitutional challenges. We have already seen some industry coalition folks start talking about it last year, when we saw the first version of this act. I am going to quote from a blog from a very important group. The expert NGO on this is the Canadian Environmental Law Association, and its lead counsel, Joe Castrilli, said this: “[L]egislative drafting should always try to avoid playing with constitutional fire.” This is a big mistake. This is very wrong.
Another problem we have is that since the year 2000, of the substances listed for pollution-prevention planning, only 25 out of 150 have seen pollution-prevention plans. Therefore, we are failing to meet the expectations of Canadians. We are listing something as a toxic substance and telling Canadians, “This is a threat to your health and we want to see pollution-prevention planning, only we are not going to make it mandatory. Oh no, it is something you can do if you feel like it and you are in an industry that is producing toxic substances.”
That is so far from good enough. The need for pollution-prevention planning on chemicals that are dangerous to our health, that cause cancer and that cause birth defects does not bear repeating. We have to fix this, please. We have to make pollution prevention mandatory. We also have to create the opportunity for governments to do the research that needs to be done, not as an opportunity that the minister has, but as a requirement: The minister must do this research.
We have looked at a number of areas in this bill where much more needs to be done. We have to make sure we delete the section that would create a two-list system and make sure the list is defined, as it has been since 1988, as a list of toxic substances. Let us not undermine that, and let us strengthen pollution-prevention planning.
Let me just close on what is better. I have covered what is missing and what is wrong. What is better, thanks to the other place, is the strengthening around issues of vulnerable populations. Additional language is very much appreciated.
I have a private member's bill, and I have had the honour to see it supported in this place. It has now passed second reading. It is going to the environment committee, and many of the specific amendments that were just made in the Senate really helped put us on the road. The bill I am speaking of is Bill C-226, to confront environmental racism and create programs in environmental justice.
Much of what we have before us now gets us ahead on how we create programs that are forward-looking to promote environmental justice. One of them, of course, will be to join the 150 countries around the world that already have legislation that requires a right to a healthy environment. We are not inventing something here. We should know how to do it, and we should not wait two years.
We also have very specific guidance here in what we have before us in Bill S-5. It is better. It has good definitions and good sections on how we protect individuals in vulnerable groups from toxic substances.
We can do better than what we have before us in Bill S-5. We have waited 20 years to look at this bill again. It was always good legislation. It always could have been better. We cannot let it get worse. We cannot allow it to be weakened in this place in the year 2022. Let us improve this bill in committee.