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Track Francis

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Crucial Fact

  • His favourite word is professor.

Liberal MP for Lac-Saint-Louis (Québec)

Won his last election, in 2015, with 64% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Retirement Congratulations October 17th, 2017

Mr. Speaker, there are people of such energy, vision, tenacity, and commitment to community that they become the foundation of the quality of life we all enjoy. Natalie Chapman is such a person. She has devoted herself to building a loving community around those who are socially isolated.

After over 20 years as director of the West Island Association for the Intellectually Handicapped, friends recently gathered to wish Natalie a happy and well-deserved retirement, and to honour her remarkable advocacy for those with intellectual disabilities and their families.

Natalie believes deeply that it not only takes a village to raise a child and to care for the vulnerable but that it also takes goodwill and investment to keep that village strong. Natalie leaves WIAIH, a resilient community resource, confidently focused on the future. Natalie has created a lasting legacy, and set the bar high for what it means to care for and fashion a community that truly includes everyone.

Department of Health Act September 22nd, 2017

Mr. Speaker, I would like to see more comparative analysis with guidelines from other advanced countries that are stronger than ours. That is the starting point. Perhaps we do not need to have the same guideline all cases in our country. Even the World Health Organization will say that guidelines are country-specific, and they have to be tailored to specific situations, geographical and otherwise.

However, the starting point is to do an analysis so we know why we are not emulating a certain guideline. Maybe there is good reason, maybe there is not, but if the Minister of Health is required to produce an analysis, then we as parliamentarians, environmental NGOs, like Ecojustice, the media, and Canadians generally will be able to come to our own conclusions. That kind of accountability is essential in something as important as providing the best possible drinking water for all Canadians.

Department of Health Act September 22nd, 2017

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question. I took careful note of the question he asked yesterday during question period. I have been studying this issue for some time now.

The government promised to put an end to boil water advisories on first nation reserves by 2021. If I am not mistaken, the government allocated $1.8 billion in budget 2016 to address this issue.

As my dear colleague knows, we have often put a lot of money into building very complex and advanced water purification systems without putting money aside to ensure that they are properly maintained. I believe that the new funding that the government has put on the table will help to maintain existing drinking water plants and build new ones.

According to the department's website, 18 long-term boil water advisories were lifted between November 2015 and January 2017.

Department of Health Act September 22nd, 2017

moved that Bill C-326, an act to amend the Department of Health Act (drinking water guidelines), be read the first time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague, the member for Charlottetown, for seconding this bill.

Water is a solvent. That means it picks up lots of substances and contaminants, some of which can be hazardous to public health, while others may be benign.

Water is a universal solvent. There is much that dissolves in water. Therefore, it is important to understand what and how much is in the water we drink that is capable of causing us harm. No doubt the popular assumption is that every glass of treated water is the same, that it is has the same composition and quality. In fact, the contents vary depending on the specific source water, and water sources vary geographically.

A 2006 report by the David Suzuki Foundation found that 53, that is 75%, of the guidelines for Canadian drinking water quality for chemical contaminants have weaker acceptable limits than at least one of the countries included in the comparison or than the World Health Organization's limits. In other words, Canada's maximum acceptable concentrations were lower than at least one country in the comparative survey. The most substantial differences were observed in comparing Canadian guidelines for pesticides to those in Australia and the European Union. The aim of Bill C-326 is to strengthen the quality of Canada's drinking water over the long term by requiring that Health Canada, in developing its recommendations for Canada's drinking water guidelines, takes account of any higher standards in any OECD country.

The rise of emerging contaminants, some potentially cancer causing, others possible endocrine disruptors, requires that the government consider best practices in comparable countries when developing Canada's drinking water guidelines. Also, it is imperative that the public be aware of whether and why the government may have rejected a superior standard from another OECD country.

Bill C-326 aims to instill more rigour, accountability, and transparency in the development of drinking water guidelines in Canada by requiring Health Canada to conduct periodic reviews of drinking water standards in other advanced countries. The bill would require that the government, after comparing specific Canadian standards with another country's higher standard for a particular contaminant, publicly justify why Canada is not adopting that other country's superior standard, or conversely why we need to.

Bill C-326 is inspired by the work of the environmental NGO Ecojustice, which produces report cards on the state of Canada's drinking water. It has called for Canada's maximum allowable limits, or MACs, for specific contaminants in drinking water to be as high as the highest in any OECD country.

The intent of this bill is not to make Canadians worry about the quality of their drinking water. Of course, we all know that there are problems with the water supply in first nations communities, and I am very proud that the government has decided to commit the resources to end all drinking water advisories for first nations by 2021.

Municipal tap water is safe. Major multinationals like Coke and Pepsi, which sell bottled water under the Dasani and Aquafina brands respectively, actually get their water from publicly owned municipal systems, not from glacial lakes or pure groundwater. They draw water from the municipal systems of Mississauga, Brampton, Calgary, and Vancouver.

However, it will come as a surprise to many watching this debate that there is no national drinking water legislation in this country that guarantees all citizens a legal right to clean drinking water. What is more, drinking water standards are not consistent across the country. They vary by province and territory.

Our unique federal system makes addressing a matter of national concern as vital as ensuring consistent and high drinking water standards for all Canadians a challenge, which calls on us to smartly and creatively address the issue within the existing constitutional framework. In Canada, water is constitutionally a provincial resource. Authority and responsibility for water, including drinking water, falls to the provinces. The federal government's jurisdiction is limited to drinking water in first nations, on ships, planes, and trains, national parks, and in National Defence facilities.

While Health Canada does not enjoy authority to impose legally binding drinking water standards across the country, it does have a role to play in developing provincial and territorial standards, namely through research, analysis, and evidence-based recommendations. This is why Bill C-326 invokes the Department of Health Act.

Briefly, Health Canada and the federal-provincial-territorial committee on drinking water develop and publish the guidelines for Canadian drinking water quality. Provincial and territorial governments then voluntarily adopt these guidelines, which they manage and enforce at their own discretion.

A specific guideline may include a number of different elements, including a maximum allowable concentration, which is a numerical value that describes a safe level of exposure to a particular contaminant over a lifetime of water consumption. In other words, this is the threshold above which human exposure to a contaminant in drinking water is deemed unacceptable in terms of known or suspected adverse health effects.

In establishing MACs, Health Canada relies almost exclusively on the review of published literature that includes toxicological information on a contaminant, and information on the treatment options that exist with respect to that contaminant. For this purpose, the department gathers information from academic articles, conference proceedings, and materials produced by other other jurisdictions. Consequently, guidelines may not necessarily be developed based on the most relevant or latest scientific evidence. In cases where there is no usable evidence available, there may be no guidelines at all.

Drinking water committee members, namely the provinces and territories, provide input to the discussion on guidelines. They will, for example, raise the technical and economic feasibility around achieving a specific guideline value or raise the real risk that the contaminant poses. In some cases, it may not pose a significant risk, and therefore a guideline may not be in order.

In reality, what we have in Canada is a patchwork of laws and regulations in an area that intuitively, to most Canadians, should involve a standardized national approach. Thus, only eight of Canada's 13 provinces and territories have established legally enforceable drinking water standards. What is more, only 16 of 94 guidelines are applied uniformly across the country. Also, discrepancies exist along rural and urban lines where larger communities test for a wider range of contaminants than do smaller communities.

What we have here in Canada is a federal system tailored to our geographic, cultural, economic, and regional realities. This system, which is uniquely ours and is tailored to our needs, is something we need to learn to live with. Bill C-326 aims to work within our current constitutional framework.

The current constitutional framework is the context in which I have introduced Bill C-326, a bill that works to move us closer to more or less consistent high-quality drinking water standards for Canadians, wherever they may live. The nature of Canada's drinking water regime can also be understood by comparing it with the drinking water regimes in other countries, notably the United States and European Union countries.

In the U.S., drinking water is regulated on a federal level through the Safe Drinking Water Act. Legally enforceable national regulatory limits exist for many contaminants. Some call this the “cookbook numbers approach”, because the system is focused on implementing specific numerical thresholds for an array of contaminants. In addition to legally binding limits, the EPA has non-enforceable guidelines for contaminants with aesthetic and/or cosmetic impacts.

Importantly, the EPA is required every five years to publish a contaminant candidates list for contaminants that may require future regulation. Every five years, the EPA must select five contaminants from the list and make decisions on regulations pertaining to them. The agency is also required to monitor at least 30 unregulated contaminants every five years. Publishing this list is a major strength of the U.S. system, from the standpoint of ensuring transparency, accountability, and progress in improving drinking water.

The EPA bases drinking water regulations on the results of scientific studies. This may have something to do with the more litigious nature of the American legal system, which provides an incentive to use science to better defend against possible future court action. While the EPA only regulates contaminants for which it has sufficient data, it continues to collect information and conduct research to fill data and information gaps where it lacks sufficient information to make a regulatory determination.

The European system uses the precautionary principle to establish drinking water guidelines. The general premise of the precautionary principle is that substances with unknown health effects should be kept to the lowest possible exposure, especially in cases where health- and environmental-impact data are lacking.

Canada's drinking water standards are not firmly rooted in the precautionary principle. It has been said that Canada uses the precautionary principle selectively. In general, drinking water regulations and management activities in Canada prioritize contaminants that pose the greatest risk to public health; that is, microbial contaminants such as E. coli, whose effects are immediate and can be deadly. In Canada, the monitoring of known and emerging contaminants in drinking water pales in comparison to the U.S., the EU, and Australia, even though Canada and Australia take similar approaches to drinking water at the national level in that they both establish mere guidelines, as opposed to legally binding standards.

In particular, Canada lacks drinking water guidelines for suspected endocrine-disrupting compounds found in plastics, pharmaceuticals, and personal care products, such as cosmetics and toothpaste. One reason Canada lacks guidelines for many pharmaceuticals and personal care products suspected of being endocrine disrupters is related to Health Canada's needing scientific information on health effects and the capabilities of treatment technologies before it will initiate a process to establish a MAC. Hopefully, by encouraging more study and analysis of discrepancies in contaminant standards between Canada and other advanced countries, Bill C-326 would encourage Health Canada to commission more primary studies on emerging contaminants with, say, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council or Canadian universities. Even where MACs exist in Canada's drinking water guidelines, these appear to be less stringent than those of peer countries.

Simple measures are sometimes the most effective in creating change in complex areas of public policy. Sometimes it is not the most elaborate, detailed, and legal solution that bears fruit. I do not mean to elicit a partisan reaction, but I think this is an interesting example. The government decided to change the way senators are appointed as a way of bringing broad change to the nature of the Senate. This was a very simple measure. It was very simple and very different from the many elaborate models that had been proposed over the years that were seemingly not workable.

Bill C-326 takes a similar approach. By requiring that Health Canada better monitor and publicly report on comparisons between Canada's drinking water guidelines and those in countries similar to Canada, the bill aims to spur progress in achieving, in the words of Dr. David Boyd, in the Suzuki Foundation report entitled The Water We Drink, “national standards for drinking water quality that are equal to or better than the highest standards provided in any other industrialized nation.”

Hopefully, Bill C-326 would, at the same time, contribute to the goal of ensuring that first nations, like all Canadians, can access drinking water that meets the highest international standards. The Safe Drinking Water for First Nations Act, adopted by the previous government, essentially defers to provincial regulations for drinking water for first nations. Provincial regulations are influenced by the guidelines for drinking water quality. It is intended, therefore, that through its influence on these national guidelines, Bill C-326 would, among other things, impact positively on the quality of first nations' drinking water in the long run.

Nick Di Tomaso September 19th, 2017

Mr. Speaker, Montreal's West Island has lost a true friend and stalwart. From the humblest of beginnings, Nick Di Tomaso rose through the ranks of Montreal's retail petroleum industry to become president of Ultramar Canada. Nick's energy and work ethic were legendary.

After retiring from a stellar business career, Nick dedicated himself to strengthening Montreal's West Island community, in particular its health and social services sector. He served as chairman of the Lakeshore General Hospital and then of its foundation. He used both positions to bring major and needed improvements to the hospital's facilities.

Nick was also a founding member of the West Island Palliative Care Residence, was a valued adviser to the West Island Association for the Intellectually Handicapped, and was a fundraiser for the local women's shelter. These vital contributions were in addition to his myriad of other volunteer causes and activities. The West Island is a better place today because of Nick Di Tomaso. He has left us a lasting legacy, and for that our community is truly grateful.

Business of Supply June 8th, 2017

Mr. Speaker, what I think the Prime Minister was trying to say is that, if we want to make a tangible short-term contribution to advancing this issue, there is a lot of merit in focusing on the fissile material cut-off treaty at the United Nations level. Obviously, in diplomatic circles there is constant and ongoing discussion about all issues, and whether we are part of the more than 100 nations that are discussing a nuclear weapons ban, or whether we are not, I am certain that our officials and NGOs are very present at the international level in discussions of all kinds around a nuclear weapons ban.

Business of Supply June 8th, 2017

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member brings up a good point. While the focus today is on nuclear weapons, there are other weapons of mass destruction that are actually causing havoc today in certain conflict zones. There are weapons like chemical weapons, which to our horror, have been used in the Syrian conflict.

A global strategic approach to the nuclear weapons issue would have as a corollary a need to focus on all weapons of mass destruction, and therefore, we can bring all of those issues into our diplomatic dialogue with nations around the world, especially those that have these weapons and might be tempted to use them.

Business of Supply June 8th, 2017

Mr. Speaker, the Iranian regime is a problem, of course, in many regards. The world has been seized of the danger of that regime acquiring nuclear weapons.

I am not privy to the diplomatic discussions that go on between Canada and Iran. I do not think it was particularly constructive to pull our consular officials out of Iran. We saw that the previous U.S. administration worked very hard to have a constructive dialogue with the aim of preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

At the end of the day, dialogue must always be a part of any strategy for dealing with any kind of danger. I am sure the government, the foreign affairs minister, and our consular officials, being as professional and as wise as they are, understand that.

Business of Supply June 8th, 2017

Mr. Speaker, it has been a while since the hon. member and I have had a chance to work together on a committee, but we did very good work at the environment committee a number of years ago. We produced some good reports on some important energy and environmental issues.

No one is suggesting that discussions should not go on toward a nuclear weapons ban treaty, and I do not think the reason Canada is not participating in those discussions at that level in that forum is a financial one. We can always afford to send somebody to be part of those negotiations.

Canada is taking a strategic approach here, which is that as a middle power we want to build relationships and credibility, especially with those nuclear powers that are we are going to need to bring into a nuclear weapons ban treaty in the future.

There is some merit, in terms of building credibility and building Canada's image as a credible and effective middle power, to having a focused approach, which at the moment should be on the fissile materials cut-off treaty. We gain a lot of credibility by focusing our energies and our efforts and working with the nuclear powers in that context.

Obviously the ultimate goal is to have a nuclear weapons-free world. We want to be part of that process. The step-by-step approach has merit in and of itself.

Business of Supply June 8th, 2017

Mr. Speaker, in 1962, for 13 days, the world was at the brink. I was very young at the time. I was unaware of developments. Therefore, I, like many children, was spared the angst that no doubt others who were more aware of the situation, parents and other adults, were experiencing. Fortunately, a terrible Armageddon was avoided, but tensions around nuclear weapons continued throughout the Cold War. During the 1980s, for example, children, and I believe my own wife, in fact, when she was in high school, protested against nuclear weapons. Films like The Day After impacted individual and collective psyches as well.

Today we are in a very different situation, but there are nuclear tensions with rogue states like Iran and North Korea. Therefore, the permanent goal, if we are ever to have global peace of mind, is the elimination of nuclear weapons. However, it is a daunting task, which to many may seem unattainable. It is a daunting task because the nuclear powers also happen to be the permanent members of the Security Council, for example. When we think of the U.S., Russia, Britain, France, and China, they are all among the first nuclear powers, and they are the permanent members of that international decision-making body.

The challenge, however daunting it may be in the short term, does not deter activists and proponents of disarmament, like Judith Quinn, one of my constituents, Judith Berlyn, another Montrealer, or the late Joan Hadrill, who was a constituent of mine. Many years ago, she created a very small organization called WIND, West Islanders for Nuclear Disarmament. Joan Hadrill's favourite maxim was drawn from Margaret Mead, the cultural anthropologist: “Never doubt that a small group of...committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” Joan Hadrill had that printed on her business card.

Earlier this week, we heard a visionary foreign policy speech from the Minister of Foreign Affairs. She emphasized the importance of international law for maintaining a stable and peaceful international order. She also mentioned that, as a middle power, Canada's greatest influence is not through economic or military might, but through the pursuit and application of legal instruments which provide small powers a measure of equal protection with larger ones, even superpowers.

Nowhere is the pursuit of legal international instruments perhaps more crucial than in the area of nuclear arms control. As a middle power with a strong humanitarian tradition and track record, Canada is well placed to be a moral voice and practical advocate for a world that is free of nuclear weapons, and to work for that goal through international legal arrangements. Let us not forget the role we played in bringing the land mines treaty to fruition. It is also true that as a principled and ambitious middle power, we can contribute to the attainment of meaningful international objectives, including in the area of peace and security. We can do that if we act wisely and strategically, among other things to maintain credibility with the actors whom we wish to influence toward a good and noble end. Indeed, this is how we are acting on the nuclear weapons front.

We are acting concretely to advance the disarmament agenda. In 2016, Canada rallied 159 states to support and pass a resolution calling for the establishment of a fissile material cut-off treaty expert preparatory group, which is an essential step towards a ban treaty.

We have also rallied the support of 166 states to pass a resolution creating a group of government experts to carry out an in-depth analysis of treaty aspects. This is important groundwork. We also supported Norway's initiative to create a group of government experts on nuclear disarmament verification. Verification, as we all know, is one of the most challenging obstacles to disarmament. All of these things that we have done in the international sphere in attempting to eliminate nuclear weapons in the long term are crucial steps. They are building blocks. We could say that Canada is helping to engineer and build the foundation of a nuclear weapons ban treaty.

There are a number of benefits to a fissile material cut-off treaty. I will read four very briefly. First, restricting the quantity of fissile material available for use in new nuclear weapons programs or for existing ones would be a significant tool for combatting horizontal proliferation, which means the spreading of nuclear weapons technology between countries, and vertical proliferation, which means the advancement of existing nuclear weapons technology in an already-nuclear state.

The second benefit of such a treaty would be limiting the pool of available fissile material, to reduce the risk that terrorist groups or other non-state actors could acquire these materials, thereby enhancing global nuclear security and preventing nuclear terrorism. Third, the fissile material cut-off treaty would also advance nuclear disarmament by providing greater transparency regarding the fissile material stockpiles of states possessing nuclear weapons. A future multilateral nuclear disarmament agreement will require a baseline of fissile materials by which nuclear disarmament efforts can be measured. By establishing this necessary baseline, the fissile material cut-off treaty would be the critical foundation of future multilateral nuclear disarmament agreements.

Finally, the FMCT would promote non-discrimination in non-proliferation and disarmament. In particular, and this is very important, a prohibition on the production of fissile material for nuclear weapons could apply equally to the five non-proliferation treaty nuclear weapon states, the 185 non-proliferation treaty non-nuclear weapon states, as well as the four states that remain outside the NPT framework. Those are the benefits, the concrete tangible benefits, of a fissile material cut-off treaty.

If we wish to maintain influence in the international community, we must work with allies and Security Council members like the U.K. and France, who at this point are not part of current negotiations toward a nuclear weapons ban. Perhaps Canada can slowly lead these nations in that direction over time. Could we do more? The Prime Minister has repeatedly said that better is always possible. I encourage Canadians like Judith Quinn and Judith Berlyn, inspired no doubt by the example of the late Joan Hadrill, to continue to advocate and push the government to work toward a nuclear weapons convention that would ban nuclear weapons.

At the end of the day, in a democracy, true to Margaret Mead's maxim, persistent public attention and pressure on any given issue is the only way to move that issue forward. It is important that committed and concerned Canadian citizens continue to draw public attention to the need for progress on nuclear disarmament and continue to remind our government of its duty to work toward this vital objective. We must keep this issue alive in the newspapers and in communities across the country. I do not think it is an exaggeration to say that the nuclear disarmament debate, unfortunately, is not front and centre in the media these days, but that should not stop Canadians, especially committed Canadians, from taking part in assiduous efforts to keep the issue burning.

Meanwhile, our government must pursue a focused, step-by-step, realistic, concrete strategy within international institutions to create the building blocks and the foundation that are necessary if we are, in the long run, to achieve a nuclear weapons ban treaty.