Mr. Speaker, safe drinking water is essential to the life and health of every Canadian every day, and our drinking water is among the safest in the world.
While drinking water is primarily an area of provincial and territorial jurisdiction, Health Canada also plays a central role in helping Canadian jurisdictions ensure the safety of drinking water supplies from coast to coast by working in close collaboration with all provinces and territories to establish the guidelines for Canadian drinking water quality. These guidelines are developed to be protective of public health. They are based on robust science and take into consideration the ability to measure and treat the contaminant in drinking water.
The guidelines are developed for specific drinking water contaminants through the federal-provincial-territorial committee on drinking water. They are intended to apply to all drinking water supplies in Canada, whether public or private, from surface or groundwater sources. Provinces and territories use them as a basis to establish their own requirements for drinking water quality and implement them in accordance with their priorities for protecting public health. They are also used as a reference in federal legislation to ensure the safety of drinking water in areas of federal jurisdiction
Health Canada has scientists and other professionals dedicated to the development and review of drinking water guidelines. The process to determine priorities for guideline development is rigorous and includes biannual reviews conducted in collaboration with the provinces and territories. In addition to review of new and emerging science, the priority-setting process takes into consideration the needs of individual jurisdictions and Canadian exposure levels.
The development of drinking water guidelines also relies on international partnerships. Health Canada is a World Health Organization collaborating centre on water quality and has a longstanding partnership with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in the area of drinking water quality.
The quality of drinking water depends on the quality of water in the environment. A drinking water contaminant in Australia, for example, is not necessarily a concern in Canada or the United States. This means that the substances that need to be monitored and controlled in drinking water will vary from country to country.
Our approach is to establish guidelines for contaminants that are likely to be found in drinking water supplies at levels that could pose a risk to human health for people living here in Canada. There are other differences that need to be taken into consideration.
While in some cases other jurisdictions may have very stringent standards, it is important to note that they are not necessarily based on scientific evidence. Our government understands the importance of ensuring that critical decisions about the health and safety of Canadians must always be based on the best available science. That is why Health Canada always stays up-to-date on the latest evidence regarding drinking water quality and ensures that our guidelines live up to the highest international standards for safety and quality. We encourage all jurisdictions to do the same and are pleased to partner with countries that also take a science-based approach.
Although the guidelines are considered to be non-regulatory, they are adopted and enforced as standards by all Canadian jurisdictions, either through specific legislation and regulations or through permitting of treatment plants. This collaborative approach respects regional and local differences related to the presence of certain contaminants and provides national consistency and economies of scale while reducing duplication. Our collaborative system also provides the flexibility needed to address emergency situations such as spills or leaks.
Health Canada can develop drinking water screening values for contaminants for which there is no existing drinking water guideline. This is done at the request of a provincial or territorial agency or federal department using the scientific information available at the time of the request. Such screening values can be developed over a period of 24 hours to two weeks, depending on the urgency of the request and the availability of the data. Over the past five years, Health Canada has developed approximately 30 drinking water screening values to address such issues.
The Government of Canada is committed to safe drinking water for all Canadians. Drinking water in Canada is among the safest in the world, and this is built on effective collaboration with all of our provincial and territorial partners.