Madam Speaker, it is the last Friday of this session in the House. If I may, I would like to take a moment to acknowledge everyone who has supported our work throughout this past parliamentary session. This includes the interpreters, the pages, the Sergeant-at-Arms and his team, maintenance staff, cafeteria employees, IT support staff, law clerks, analysts, and so on. Not only do these people help us represent our constituents to the best of our ability, but they also make our job so much more enjoyable simply because they are so incredibly nice.
Madam Speaker, as everyone knows, Fridays can be a little colourful in the House compared to most other days. We are often treated to all kinds of surprises, including new faces in the chair you are now occupying. I want to congratulate everyone who has taken a surprise turn in the chair over the past few weeks. Everyone did a great job. Let me single out my colleague from Joliette, as well as the member who spoke right before me, my colleague from Kitchener Centre.
As I said, Fridays are full of surprises, and parliamentarians' schedules are sometimes turned upside down. I would therefore like to say a quick hello to Marie‑Andrée Cardinal's special education class at École Marguerite‑Bourgeoys. I was supposed to meet with them this morning, but unfortunately had to reschedule. I look forward to meeting them, and I know that it will happen another time. In the meantime, I wish them a great end of the school year and above all a good summer vacation.
I will come back to our current subject, Bill C‑226. This is not the first time that a bill on environmental justice has been tabled in the House. In the previous Parliament, the then member for Cumberland—Colchester, Lenore Zann, introduced Bill C‑230, whose objectives were fairly similar to those of the current Bill C‑226.
When the vote was held at second reading, the Bloc Québécois did not support the bill. Specifically, we raised questions about interference in Quebec's jurisdictions, because, as drafted, it contained provisions that directly attacked Quebec's environmental sovereignty. I will come back to this point later.
The bill did make it to second reading and the committee was able to correct these and other aspects, which made it possible for the Bloc Québécois to finally support it. What happened next is history. The bill died on the Order Paper when the government called an election in the summer.
Discussions about bills similar to Bill C-226 are not just a thing of the past. The other chamber is currently holding a similar debate on Bill S-5, the strengthening environmental protection for a healthier Canada act. We can see that people want something to be done about environmental human rights, and the Bloc Québécois thinks that is a good thing. Since Bill S-5 is broader in scope when it comes to addressing environmental injustices, one has to wonder whether, if it passes before Bill C-226, Bill C-226 will then become obsolete. We will see.
In short, Bill C-226 is no doubt inspired by a very noble desire to advance environmental justice. However, what starts out as a good intention unfortunately does not always lead to a good end result, or the implementation of a good policy, and we believe that Bill C‑226 has some shortcomings. I mainly want to focus on two of them today.
As has already been mentioned, Bill C‑226, like the first version of Bill C‑230, would create a Canada-wide strategy, which, in a federative context, might not be the right approach. Any action by the Canadian government must take into account that Quebec and the provinces have jurisdiction over environmental protections and health and social services. More specifically, it should recognize that the Government of Quebec has authority over these matters. We therefore believe that it would be inconsistent to claim to be fighting for environmental justice at the federal level without, at the time time, defending the environmental sovereignty of Quebec.
Parts of the federal infrastructure, such as wharves, ports, airports, telecommunications infrastructure, federal property and so on, are not subject to our environmental protection laws or municipal bylaws. Quebec's environmental protection and land-use planning laws must apply to all Quebec territory and must not be overridden by federal laws.
This reflects the unanimous will of the Quebec National Assembly, which, on April 13, 2022, voted in favour of the primacy of Quebec's jurisdiction in matters of the environment and opposed any intervention by the federal government in matters of the environment on Quebec territory.
I want to add that, in Quebec, the right to live in a healthful environment in which biodiversity is preserved has been enshrined in the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms, a quasi-constitutional statute, since 2006. I mentioned Bill S‑5 earlier, and I want to point out that one of the objectives of this bill is to enshrine this type of right in Canadian legislation.
Because this happened last time, the Bloc wants to remind the House that respect for Quebec's environmental sovereignty cannot be sidestepped during the study of this bill.
The other concern I want to raise about Bill C‑226 is that it should focus on environmental justice rather than environmental racism. Not only are there issues with the definitions, but also the notion of environmental racism might not be universal enough. Many people may slip through the cracks, even though we should be tackling the environmental inequality they experience too.
My colleague from Repentigny did a great job of summarizing the situation when she spoke to the former Bill C‑230:
My thought is this. If we introduce new policies based on new rights, such as the right to a healthy environment, everyone should benefit from it. Furthermore, if the policy is well thought out and targeted, it will correct unequal situations. Those who suffer the greatest injustices will then receive help and support from the government, and even reparation for the harm done. That's my understanding. The rights and the criteria for receiving state protection and support are universal. If the principles are truly applied to everyone, without discrimination, then the policy will have the effect of reducing inequalities based on differences.
Leaving aside issue of interference for now, here is my question: If the only inequalities covered by Bill C‑226 are race-related, are we leaving out other people who also deserve protection?
The Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse du Québec also addressed the issue of the systematic correlation between certain social inequalities and the notion of race.
...the idea that socio-economic, cultural and political differences between groups of individuals can be based entirely or in part on biological and genetic disparities has been widely rejected by most researchers in the social sciences.
Here is a concrete example. If the population of eastern Montreal, which is diverse and has its historical roots in the working class, were affected by air pollution, which we know it is, would it be subject to or excluded from the strategy? Furthermore, we must question the criteria used.
Similarly, would the municipality of Rouyn-Noranda, which is grappling with serious problems of air quality and overexposure to arsenic, be covered by the bill? This matter does raise issues of environmental justice, because, like David against Goliath, citizens whose life expectancy has been cut by five years are fighting Glencore and its $4-billion profits. Would Rouyn-Noranda, on the sole basis of environmental racism, enjoy protection under the law?
In short, this seems to be a matter of universality. We know that a policy is good when its measures are reasonably flexible. Throughout history, the social policies that have best served the advancement of rights and social protections and reduced inequalities, in other words, the development of a welfare state, have been universal policies. The best way for the government to avoid discriminating based on differences is to blind itself to differences.
If our institutions implement new policies based on new rights, such as the right to a clean environment, everyone should have them. If the policy is well-thought-out, if the implementation measures manage to remedy inequitable situations, then those who suffer the most from injustice will receive help and support from the government, as well as reparation for any harm done. If the rights and the eligibility criteria for government protection and support are universal and if those principles are applied to everyone without discrimination, then the policy will also eliminate inequalities based on differences, all differences.
These are two things that we should think about in order to improve the bill. I will end there.