Madam Speaker, like many times in our history, we are at a crossroads in regard to choosing the well-being of people over profits.
Too many times, government legislators have turned a blind eye to doing better to protect the health of people. Too many times, they have chosen to protect the profits of polluters and toxic industries because they did not know better or could not see the results of their choices manifesting in harmful ways in their very own communities.
Today, we are once again at that crossroad of opportunity to do better, or to carry on with the status quo that is harming people in the name of corporate greed and profits.
Over the past 50 years, science has told us, and cancer has shown us, that there are toxins in our bodies that should not be there. This is the fact of the matter, and this is what needs to be corrected. It is not just pollution in our air, water and land, but pollutants in our bodies, blood and breast milk exist. Pollutants that were put there by unregulated industry.
While I was preparing for this speech, I was reminded of the choice of the 36th Parliament that made pollution prevention planning discretionary and not mandatory under CEPA in 1999. That was a mistake a past Parliament made, and after 23 years, after eight Parliaments, this is a decision that this 44th Parliament must finally correct.
In those 23 years, only 25 toxic substances listed in the initial act have been subject to pollution prevention planning requirements. That is a rate of about one toxic substance every year. It will take 150 years for the existing list of toxins in the act to get a pollution prevention plan. As the Canadian Environmental Law Association stated, “This is a leisurely pace to addressing chemicals the federal government regards as the worst of the worst substances in the Canadian environment.”
Looking at it in decade-long timelines, it makes me wonder why Canadian governments have not done more before now to protect human health from known cancer-causing toxins. Every day 641 Canadians are diagnosed with cancer, and here we are, 23 years later, looking at the inadequacy of CEPA.
Canadians deserve better than the CEPA of the past, and it is the expectation of the NDP that this window of opportunity to improve environmental protections for Canadians and to offer them a right to a healthy environment is imperative to the health of us and of our children. We want a world where toxins being introduced into our bodies and the bodies of our children is not inevitable.
The NDP will be supporting the bill at second reading with the hopes that it can be substantially strengthened to reach that goal.
Bill S-5 is largely concerned with protecting the environment and human health from toxins and maintaining air and water quality. This is good, but there is widespread agreement that CEPA is overdue for substantial improvements. For one thing, it is widely considered to be unenforceable as it now stands, as there are multiple obstacles to enforcing it and remedies cannot be used by citizens. That needs to be corrected.
There are 159 countries around the world with legal obligations to protect the human right to a healthy environment, but Canada does not have those legal obligations. There are environmental bills of rights in Ontario, Quebec, Yukon, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, but there is no federal law that explicitly recognizes the right to live in a healthy environment in Canada.
While Bill S-5 seems to be a step forward in recognizing the right to live in a healthy environment, there are serious concerns that this right will not be backed up by measures that improve the enforceability of the act. In fact, the Senate committee studying the bill reported just that.
As my colleague from South Okanagan—West Kootenay previously pointed out, Canadians deserve more power to ensure that their right to live in a healthy environment is upheld. That is one of the things that my colleague’s private member's bill, Bill C-219, would do.
Bill C-219 is titled an act to enact the Canadian environmental bill of rights, and it offers umbrella coverage to all federal legislation outside of CEPA. Specifically, it would give residents of Canada the right to, among other things, access information about environmental concerns, have standing at hearings, access tribunals and courts to uphold environmental rights and request a review of laws. It would also provide protection to whistle-blowers.
I encourage all members of the House to support Bill C-219 when it comes before the House in this session, because while it is good to see Bill S-5 here, it is important to note that adding the right to a healthy environment in a limited way under CEPA is not the same thing as ensuring, broadly, that all people have the right to live in a healthy environment, as is the goal of Bill C-219.
There remain troubling limitations in Bill S-5 on how the right to a healthy environment will be applied and how the right will be enforced. Without modernizing legislation to update chemicals management in Canada, and without the legal recognition of the right to a healthy environment, Canadians will continue to be exposed to unregulated and harmful chemicals.
Canadians are exposed to chemicals from polluting industries every day in the air, in the waters of our lakes, rivers and oceans, and even in the safety of our own homes in the products we use.
Canadians expect their government to take action to protect them and their families from toxic substances. They expect the government to ensure that all people have the right to live in a healthy environment. These are things New Democrats have been calling on the government to fix for years. While the government has chosen to do nothing, the number of chemicals that people in Canada are exposed to in their daily lives has grown exponentially.
There has been a 50-fold increase in the production of chemicals in the past 50 years, and that is expected to triple again by 2050. Personal care products are manufactured with over 10,000 unique chemical ingredients, some of which are either suspected or known to cause cancer, harm our reproductive systems or disrupt our endocrine systems. Even some disposable diapers have been shown to contain these harmful chemicals. Babies are being impacted.
Since CEPA was first enacted, Canada has also learned much more about the harmful cumulative effects of these toxic chemicals on our health. We now know that exposure to hazardous chemicals, even in small amounts, can be linked to chronic illnesses like asthma, cancer and diabetes. According to Health Canada, air pollution is a factor in over 15,000 premature deaths and millions of respiratory issues every year in Canada.
These toxins are impacting racialized communities even harder. Frontline workers, who are predominantly women or racialized, often have higher exposure to hazardous chemicals. Across Canada, indigenous, Black and racialized families are disproportionately negatively impacted by toxic dumps, polluting pipelines, tainted drinking water and other environmental hazards.
The former UN special rapporteur on human rights and hazardous substances and wastes stated, “The invisible violence inflicted by toxics is an insidious burden disproportionately borne by Indigenous peoples in Canada.” This is exactly why there must be a better enforcement mechanism in this bill so that communities, families and individuals can achieve the protection outlined in law.
One of the most disappointing and concerning gaps in this bill is that it does not touch on the citizen enforcement mechanism. As the member for Victoria has said in the House, “The citizen enforcement mechanism is, frankly, broken. It has never been successfully used. The process is so onerous that it is essentially impossible for a citizen to bring an environmental enforcement action. Without a functioning citizen enforcement mechanism, there are serious questions about how the right to a healthy environment can be truly enforced.”
There are also other critical gaps in Bill S-5. It lacks clear accountability and timelines for how toxic substances are managed. It lacks mandatory labelling so Canadians can make informed choices about the products they use. It does not fix loopholes that allow corporations to hide which toxic substances are in their products.
If we want to protect our health and the environment, we have to ensure that we are following the advice of scientists and experts, not the interests of big corporations. These big corporations, made up of some of Canada's biggest polluting industries, have been attempting to stop amendments to Bill S-5—