Madam Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak today about the bill brought forward by the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands, Bill C-226, an act respecting the development of a national strategy to assess, prevent and address environmental racism and to advance environmental justice.
Before I speak about the bill, I would like to take this opportunity to recognize Lenore Zann, the former member for Cumberland—Colchester, because it was her important work on this bill in the previous Parliament that really kick-started this process. I am really happy that we get to stand today and continue the work that she started on it.
I would also like to thank the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands for carrying forward that important work and reintroducing this bill.
Returning to Bill C-226, the bill proposes to develop a national strategy to assess, prevent and address environmental racism and advance environmental justice in consultation with any interested persons, bodies, organizations or communities, including representatives of governments in Canada and indigenous peoples.
The minister would be required to develop a strategy within two years of the bill receiving royal assent and to report on its effectiveness every five years.
The Minister of Environment and Climate Change is mandated to develop an environmental justice strategy and examine the link between race, socio-economic status and exposure to environmental risk.
Given the important objectives of this bill and its clear alignment with the government's commitment as declared by the Prime Minister, we support this bill.
It is important to also recognize that, while the development of our environmental justice strategy reflects a new approach, it is well aligned with a broader range of Government of Canada policies and initiatives. In fact, there are a number of complementary efforts under way that will support environmental justice for all Canadians and inform the strategy developed under Bill C-226. For example, the government introduced Bill S-5, the strengthening environmental protection for a healthier Canada act, in the Senate on February 9. Bill S-5 aims to strengthen the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, commonly referred to as CEPA, with a particular focus on recognizing a right to a healthy environment as provided under that act and strengthening Canada's chemical management regime.
If it is passed, the Minister of Environment and Climate Change and the Minister of Health will be required to develop an implementation framework to set out how the right to a healthy environment would be considered in the administration of CEPA. Among other things, the implementation framework would elaborate on principles to be considered in the administration of CEPA, such as environmental justice, which includes avoidance of adverse effects that disproportionately affect vulnerable populations. The framework would also elaborate on non-regression, which generally refers to continuous improvement in environmental protection. Canadians would have an opportunity to participate in the development of the implementation framework.
In addition, the ministers will be required to conduct research studies or monitoring activities to support the government in protecting the right to a healthy environment. This requirement could provide valuable information as the government moves forward on environmental justice issues. For example, it could include the collection and analysis of data to identify and monitor populations and communities that are particularly vulnerable to environmental and health risks as a result of greater susceptibility or greater exposure.
Additional amendments proposed in Bill S-5 would recognize in the preamble the importance of considering vulnerable populations when assessing risks related to chemical substances, as well as the importance of minimizing the risks of exposure to toxic substances and the cumulative effects of toxic substances.
The amendments would also set out requirements for a number of new elements, including requiring that the Minister of Health conduct biomonitoring surveys that may relate to vulnerable populations, ensuring that vulnerable populations and cumulative effects are taken into account when developing and implementing the new plan for chemical management priorities, and requiring that the ministers consider available information on vulnerable populations and cumulative effects when conducting and interpreting risk assessments.
The proposed bill reflects the need to better understand the link between race, socio-economic status and exposure to environmental risk. This government has prioritized science and evidence-based decision-making, and this is a key component in setting a course for environmental justice.
In short, good information is crucial for providing the evidence-based foundation needed to enable informed policy actions. Ensuring that our policy actions are based on facts, science and evidence will strengthen our capacity to achieve the outcomes we strive for.
For example, it is important that science and how we manage risks from chemical substances systematically account for potential adverse impacts on vulnerable populations. The government will continue to consider available information on vulnerable populations when assessing risks related to chemical substances under CEPA, a practice that would be codified with Bill S-5.
In addition, in this context, biomonitoring data are an important source of information on levels of exposure for vulnerable populations, as well as on combined exposures to multiple chemicals. For example, the maternal-infant research on environmental chemicals research platform has been used to collect data on pregnant people and children. Furthermore, the issue of cumulative effects of toxins may be especially problematic for indigenous peoples.
In support of world-class scientific research and monitoring, the government provides funding for the northern contaminants program. It aims to reduce and, where possible, eliminate contaminants from the Arctic environment while providing information to northerners about contaminants in traditional country foods to allow them to make informed decisions about their food use.
Further, I would also like to make note of the recently released 2030 emissions reduction plan that sets the stage for continued emissions reductions and highlights the importance of cutting emissions as a means to fight inequality in communities more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. This plan also reflects the importance of engaging with indigenous peoples, and pursuing equality and justice in economic and sectoral transitions that will support emissions reductions.
In addition to these efforts, our existing legislation and policies continue to assist in advancing environmental justice. In August 2019, the Impact Assessment Act came into force and put in place better rules for federal assessment of major resource projects. The Impact Assessment Act reflects values that are important to Canadians, including early, inclusive and meaningful public engagement, partnerships with indigenous peoples, timely decisions based on the best available evidence and indigenous knowledge, and fostering sustainability for present and future generations.
The Impact Assessment Act provides more and earlier opportunities for participation by indigenous peoples, historically marginalized communities and all Canadians. Public participation provisions across the act would help to ensure the participation was meaningful and that in particular indigenous peoples have the information, tools and capacity they need to contribute their perspectives and expertise to project reviews.
For example, the planning phase would ensure early discussions and dialogue with indigenous groups and the broader public. Canadians want to know that industrial and resource development activities are appropriately planned and properly regulated in ways that account for the full range of impacts on Canadians, including on communities that are experiencing marginalization. The Impact Assessment Act would ensure robust oversight and thorough impact assessments that take into account both positive and negative environmental, economic, health and social effects of a project, including potential cumulative effects.
To understand how projects may impact diverse groups of people differently, the act requires that a gender-based analysis plus, GBA+, be applied to the assessment of project effects. The act also expressly requires that decision-making processes recognize and respect indigenous rights and knowledge. The act ensures that the effects within federal jurisdiction of projects are reviewed fairly and thoroughly in order to protect the environment and support economic growth. Budget 2022 contained impact summaries for each new budget measure in terms of gender, diversity and other factors as part of our continued commitment to GBA+.
In conclusion, we see the bill and the activities proposed by the bill as another way to advance and make progress in equality and diversity, which are fundamental to creating a thriving, successful and inclusive country. I want to thank the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands for bringing forth this important bill, and I am very pleased to say that we will be supporting it.