Madam Speaker, the environment has always been a major concern for me. The environmental situation in Quebec, Canada and around the world is evolving at a frantic rate, so it is high time that the House reviewed the Canadian Environmental Protection Act.
In my speech, I will explain why the act needs to be modernized. I will talk about some of the concerns that have been raised by environmental groups and about some of the concerns that I had when I read the bill. I will also bring up some questions that I hope we will be able to answer when the bill is studied in committee. In case members do not already know, the Bloc Québécois supports Bill S‑5 in principle.
The Canadian Environmental Protection Act has not been reviewed in 23 years. That was literally in the last century. I can safely say that many things have changed since then: technological advances; the planned obsolescence of everything we consume; the major growth of natural resource development to meet the exploding world population and the exploding levels of consumption around the world; and climate change, which is causing increasingly frequent and severe extreme weather events and natural disasters.
This legislation therefore needs to be modernized. However, I would like to raise a few important points.
Bill S-5 does not review the entire Canadian Environmental Protection Act. That, in my humble opinion, is a flaw. Every section of the act should be reviewed to ensure that it is consistent with today's realities and the changing world we live in, as well as our aspirations for tomorrow.
Quebec must be able to make decisions as a mature and responsible nation, especially when it comes to its environment and territory. All of Quebec's politicians feel that way, and they expressed exactly that on April 13, 2022. On that date, politicians from all the parties represented in Quebec's National Assembly unanimously adopted a motion asserting the primacy of Quebec's jurisdiction over the environment.
Too often, when the time came to advance environmental justice or strengthen environmental protection in Quebec, Quebeckers were disappointed by the Canadian government. They have been disappointed by decisions and a vision that were more in line with those of an oil state than those of a state aware that it must legislate to leave a healthy environment for future generations.
That is why we will be meticulous about ensuring that the amendments we make not only meet the expectations of the people we represent, but also guard against the federal government once again interfering in areas under the jurisdiction of Quebec and the provinces.
In its preamble and its clauses, the bill sets out to create a right to the environment, yet the senior government officials who told parliamentarians about Bill S‑5 when it was introduced admitted that, contrary to the Liberal government's claims, the bill does not achieve that.
In order to achieve that goal, we need a government that is sincere and courageous, a government that will invite its partners in the federation to a round of constitutional talks aimed at adding this right to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms so that everyone can truly benefit from a healthy environment. That means opening up the Constitution. Enough with the lip service. We are done with that.
In fact, here again, Canada should follow Quebec's example. Quebec's Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms, which was enacted in 2006 and is now 16 years old, 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.”
Unlike the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, the Quebec charter is quasi-constitutional in scope in the political context of Quebec. It is plain to see that Quebec does not need Canada's help to promote and protect the fundamental rights of Quebeckers. Canada needs to follow Quebec's lead.
The bill also includes the notion of vulnerable populations, although it never properly defines the term. Reading between the lines, we believe that it refers to first nations. That said, children, pregnant women, seniors, people with immune deficiencies and people with chronic diseases or cancer are also among vulnerable populations, regardless of their skin colour or religion. Does the bill include them in its definition of vulnerable populations? We are still waiting for the answer.
I am glad to see that studies on toxic substances will be done and that they will take into account something that many groups and citizens have been fighting for for decades. The aim is to limit the use of vertebrate animals to situations where other research techniques cannot in any way be used to determine the toxicity of a substance. This is a good step forward. The bill needs to take into account the recommendations that have been made by health and environmental groups for decades, as well as the recommendations made by the chemical industry partners involved.
However, some questions came to mind when reading the bill. The need to study the impact of the accumulation of a substance comes up many times, but there is no mention of studying the effects of a combination of toxic substances. What I mean by that is that some substances are not very toxic or not at all toxic on their own, but they can become very dangerous when combined with other substances, and there is no mention of that in the bill. It would be a good idea for the bill to address the impacts of these combinations.
I noticed that the bill repeals the sections pertaining to the virtual elimination of substances. I wondered why that was so, and I understood that the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development felt that the virtual elimination approach was dysfunctional. That being said, I think that the baby is being thrown out with the bathwater here. Just because the act is dysfunctional does not mean that it is all bad. It could be improved. Why is it not being improved?
Furthermore, in several places in the bill, the wording setting out the duties of the Minister of the Environment and other relevant ministers is not forceful enough. Several clauses say that the minister “may” do something instead of saying that the minister “shall” do something, that he must take measures. I think that conducting studies and publishing reports should be a duty, not just a power.
Lastly, the bill implies that the minister must report annually on the implementation of the framework. Other reports and studies can or must also be completed by the minister. Why not use a group of organizations or independent researchers?
By using independent services, even supporting university research, we could ensure consistency in data collection and greater attention to improving mandates and research and study topics, while ensuring the impartiality of the data.
In conclusion, Bill S‑5 has many highly technical components. These components deserve to be carefully analyzed by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development in order to ensure that the modernized act will truly allow the federal government to assume its own responsibilities with regard to protecting the environment, while respecting the protection of the public and the environmental sovereignty of Quebec and the Canadian provinces. I am sure that my colleague from Repentigny will do exemplary work in committee on this issue.