moved that Bill C-32, an act respecting pollution prevention and the protection of the environment and human health in order to contribute to sustainable development, be read the third time and passed.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by saying that there were times during the odyssey of this piece of legislation moving through the House of Commons that I and a few of my other colleagues wondered if we would ever arrive at this day.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank you in particular, as well as the whips of the House for the very efficient way in which we dealt with the legislation at report stage last night.
Canada's first environmental protection act took effect in 1988. After a five year review of that legislation in 1993 by the then Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development, a considered government response and two presentations of amended legislation, we are close today to seeing a new Canadian environmental protection act passed through this Chamber.
The Senate will take its turn to review the legislation before it receives royal assent and is proclaimed law.
The current legislation which we are debating at third reading today was introduced in March 1998 and, as many in the House can attest, the challenges have been numerous and intense.
I would like to begin my comments at third reading today by thanking, first, my parliamentary secretary, the member for Burlington, for her diligence and commitment to the principles of the legislation and the legislative process. Her assistance has been invaluable.
Second, I thank all members of the standing committee for their persistence, especially my own caucus members who have worked with me to bring about some significant improvements to the legislation I introduced in March 1998. Thanks to their work, today we have a piece of legislation which is a significant improvement over the currently used CEPA legislation, new legislation of which we can all be proud.
Even the legislation we are debating today will be reviewed by parliament in five years and will once again be improved, for it is the role of ongoing science, the development of new insights, technologies and values, and the dedication of committed environment department staff working with society and parliamentarians which will create the demand for new improvements to legislation.
I would also like to take this opportunity to thank all of my officials in my department who helped us move the yardstick forward on this CEPA legislation.
What is the CEPA legislation all about? It is about protecting our environment and human health from the inherent negative effects of some substances currently in use today. The new CEPA legislation demands the screening of all 23,000 substances currently in use in Canada. The screening is to be completed in seven years.
For those substances found to be toxic, I will have the authority to require the creation and implementation of pollution prevention plans following a clear and predictable time allocated process. For those few substances found to be dangerously toxic, the legislation requires virtual elimination.
Today, of the 23,000 substances found in Canada, only 12 are considered to be dangerously toxic. Some, such as DDT, have been completely banned from use and production. Others, such as dioxins and furans, PCBs and hexachlorobenzene will be slated for virtual elimination.
The existing CEPA is based on the philosophy of pollution control. However, we know that it makes far more sense for industry to design its processes in ways that prevent pollution. It makes more sense to find ways to avoid creating waste in the first place than it does to figure out what to do with waste after it has been created, and it costs less too. We want Canada's industry to stop pollution before it happens.
Bill C-32 is on the leading edge of environmental pollution legislation worldwide. In fact, our review of similar legislation in the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands, New Zealand and Australia shows that none of them address virtual elimination. Only Bill C-32 commits to the virtual elimination of the most dangerous toxic substances.
Most of the 23,000 substances in use today in Canada do not appear to pose any threats to our environment or health. Synthetic chemicals and metals are a basic part of our world today, essential to products which we all use. The precautionary principle applied to their use is another important aspect of Bill C-32. Too many substances have proven to have been found too late to have significant and negative effects on the health of people, other living creatures and our ecosystems.
Rachel Carson, in her book Silent Spring , drew public attention to the links between toxic substances and their effects on birds such as eagles and gulls. I note that Time magazine recently ranked her as one of the most influential 100 thinkers of this century.
Science is at the heart of the new CEPA. It instructs us on our environmental problems and guides us toward solutions. Under the precautionary principle we will listen to the evidence that science reveals, but we will not wait for full scientific certainty before we take action.
Recognizing that Bill C-32 was imposing important and new demands to achieve compliance, the federal government announced $82 million in new funding in the budgets of the last two years in order to support our commitment. Last week I announced $11 million in project research funding from a $40 million research initiative looking into such key areas as endocrine disrupters, persistent organic pollutants, metals in the environment, urban air quality issues and the cumulative effects of toxic substances. A further $42 million will help us to manage toxic substances, including their assessment, regulation, tracking and enforcement.
In summary, we are determined to protect the health and environment of Canadians, for it is Canadians at the community level who are most affected by pollution. This bill obligates the government to provide more information to Canadians on pollutants, using vehicles such as the National Pollutants Release Inventory and the Environmental Registry on the Internet.
We are also expanding the mandate for increased public participation in other ways in this bill. We want to open the door for people to have the right to sue if there has been significant harm to the environment and they feel the federal government has failed to enforce this law. The legislation incorporates whistle-blower protection to employees and gives peace officer status to environmental inspectors.
This legislation enhances the intergovernmental partnership that we have already built in Canada. It ensures that aboriginal governments are participants in those partnerships and it values the traditional aboriginal knowledge that they will bring.
The new CEPA provides me with the authority to set engine emission standards for new vehicles and for other types of off-road engines, such as lawnmowers, generators and boat motors.
Bill C-32 reflects the evolving state of Canada's international environmental commitments. We will be able to step in to require pollution prevention plans to control Canadian sources of international air and water pollution. This legislation also gives us the legal authority to fulfill our obligations under a range of recent international agreements such as those that address hazardous wastes and the import and export of hazardous substances.
Through the bill's legislative process the government has successfully introduced 90 amendments and fully supported 60 other amendments made by the committee. The report stage amendments which I introduced are ones that serve to ensure internal consistency of the bill. They would ensure a proper degree of clarity throughout the act. They would respect existing ministerial responsibility because protecting the environment and the health of Canadians is a shared responsibility.
All of our polling indicates that Canadians care deeply about their environment, about the quality of the air they breath, the water they drink, their land and healthy ecosystems.
Bill C-32 will enhance Canadians' confidence in government oversight, control and protection of their environment and health from the effects of toxic substances. Our children's future security and well-being and our environmental health will be significantly improved with the passage of Bill C-32. In passing this legislation we all can be justly proud of our contributions to an important piece of legacy legislation that we leave as a building block to a cleaner, healthier and safer future.