House of Commons photo

Crucial Fact

  • Her favourite word was environmental.

Last in Parliament October 2019, as NDP MP for Edmonton Strathcona (Alberta)

Won her last election, in 2015, with 44% of the vote.

Statements in the House

Canadian Environmental Bill of Rights June 6th, 2019

moved that Bill C-438, An Act to enact the Canadian Environmental Bill of Rights and to make related amendments to other Acts, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Madam Speaker, there are many in this place who know that I have long awaited the opportunity to debate this bill again. It is Bill C-438, an act to enact the Canadian Environmental Bill of Rights and to make related amendments to other acts, because that includes an amendment to the bill of rights.

This is the fourth time that I have tabled this bill in 11 years in this place over three Parliaments. I believe the first time I tabled it was as soon as I was elected, somewhere between 2008 and 2009. That bill was debated and went through committee, and I will get into that in a minute. Today, in the brief time I am allotted, I hope to say what an environmental bill of rights is, what its origin is, why it is needed, and who has endorsed the need for an environmental bill of rights.

The environmental bill of rights legally extends the right to a healthy, ecologically balanced environment to Canadians. It confirms the duty of the Government of Canada to uphold its public trust duty to protect the environment. It amends the Canadian Bill of Rights to add environmental rights. It extends a bundle of rights and tools to Canadians, including having a voice in decisions impacting their health and environment, having standing before courts and tribunals, and having the power to hold the government accountable on effective environmental enforcement and on the review of law and policies. It extends protections for government whistle-blowers who release to Canadians information that is relevant to health and environmental impacts.

As I mentioned, I have tabled this bill four times over 11 years in three successive governments. My bill actually survived a challenge and gained a speaker's ruling in my favour when the Conservatives tried to crush it in 2009. It did proceed to second reading and on to committee. Sadly, it was essentially shredded at committee. It then died on the Order Paper when the early election was called.

I retabled it again, as I mentioned, in 2011 and 2015 and again in a revised, updated form in 2019.

Why is an environmental bill of rights needed? Community voices, the voices of non-governmental organizations and indigenous voices are absolutely critical triggers for action to protect health and the environment. Federal law and policy is made all the stronger with public engagement, and public rights are absolutely critical to government accountability. That has been my direct experience over the almost 50 years that I have been an environmental lawyer and advocate.

I want to now give a couple of examples of what happens when the public is engaged and their rights are upheld, and what happens when they are not.

One strong example is an engagement that I had, along with a small community organization in Alberta. We were dealing with how to improve air emissions from coal-fired power. Coal-fired power is still the major source of electricity in Alberta and Saskatchewan, and it is huge in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.

Mercury from coal-fired power is the largest source of industrial mercury in North America, and mercury is a neurotoxin. It was the first substance listed by the federal government under the former Environmental Contaminants Act and was incorporated into the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, yet to this day, the federal government has never regulated mercury from coal-fired power.

I intervened as a volunteer in the review of the standards. It is a consensus process. I dug in my heels. If industry wanted to get their emissions standards for NOx, sulfur dioxide particulate, they had to agree to my recommendation that mercury had to be captured by that sector, and there had to be a law in place. To the credit of the Alberta government, they enacted that law.

That is a clear example showing that had my community not intervened, neither the federal nor the provincial government would have stepped forward, after 40 years of burning coal in Alberta, to actually stop the flow of mercury into our lakes.

Another example that we have been talking about over the last couple of months in this place is the issue of mercury at Grassy Narrows, and there is a different example. If the indigenous community at Grassy Narrows had been directly engaged in decisions on how those industrial operations were going to operate in their community and along the river and had been engaged on the issue of whether or not it was safe to put effluent that had high levels of mercury contamination into the river, and if they had been given the information on the potential health and environmental impacts and a seat at the table to have a say in how that plan should operate, I do not believe that we would be facing the health impacts and the expense of cleaning up that area now.

Those are the two differences in what happens when we have some environmental rights, the opportunity to be at the table and access to information. The other, Grassy Narrows, is an example of where we did not do that and there is a high cost, both health-wise and financially.

A number of times in this place I have raised concern with the impact of emissions on the indigenous community next to the Sarnia industrial complex and the failure of both levels of government to combat those and do proper health studies and control. That community has struggled just in trying to get basic information on what the emissions are, whether controls are in place and whether it is impacting their health.

Ongoing frustration was felt by indigenous communities in northern Alberta when they attempted to finally have a health impact study delivered in their communities on the impact of oil sands emissions on their health, despite the fact that there was a release quite some years ago about the high rate of rare cancers. A lot of work was also done by scientists, showing a buildup of contaminants in the Athabasca River, in the air and on the land.

Just this week, three chiefs in that area published an article in The Hill Times. They said the oil sands is the only activity in their area for employment and economic development. They invest in the oil sands. They demand to have a seat at the table on decisions as to whether or not they are going to allow the draining of the contaminated water in those tar ponds into the Athabasca River. It is going to contaminate the Athabasca River on to Lake Athabasca and on into the Northwest Territories. This has been going on for many years and the government, behind closed doors, has been making these decisions.

This is a perfect example of the need for an environmental bill of rights. If we had an environmental bill of rights, those communities would have the right to all that information, the right to the process that is going on, and the right to have a seat at the table in determining whether or not that is a wise decision.

The Mikisew Cree eventually had to go to UNESCO to demand that there be action on the impact of the Site C dam, the Bennett dam and the oil sands operations on the Peace-Athabasca Delta and the world heritage site. They issued directives, and we are still waiting for the government to act on those directives.

Two other final examples are pipelines. If the former Conservative government had actually listened to its advisers, if it had listened to first nations and if it had listened to the environmental community, it would have known it could not proceed with the northern gateway pipeline until it respected first nations' rights and interests. It was the same issue on the TMX pipeline, but as the court held, there was no consideration under the government obligations with regard to endangered species. Therefore, those projects have been stalled or cancelled.

If we had an environmental bill of rights, it would clarify the right to participate, the right to access to information and the right to access to experts and to legal counsel, so that one could come to the table in a constructive and informed way.

Who has endorsed this concept? Some provinces and territories have enacted an array of environmental rights, and some of those limited rights have been enacted in federal laws. Sadly, a good number of those laws were downgraded by the Harper government. That government downgraded the federal impact assessment process, thereby limiting the opportunities for people to participate and the kinds of projects that would be reviewed, including the expansion of oil sands projects and in situ operations.

The Liberals promised in the 2015 campaign that they would immediately strengthen federal environmental laws. Four years into it there is still no action on the report of my committee on reforming CEPA, which would have expanded environmental rights, and we do not know what the fate of Bill C-69 is. We are waiting with bated breath to know what will happen to all of those regressive amendments proposed in the Senate.

The North American Agreement on Environmental Cooperation was a side agreement to NAFTA. It was enforced by the Commission for Environmental Cooperation, where I had the privilege of working for four years as the head of law and enforcement. Under that agreement, Canada, along with Mexico and the United States, committed to public participation in conserving, protecting and enhancing the environment. It also committed to giving people the opportunity to comment on proposed environmental measures and the right to seek a report on effective environmental enforcement, stand before administrative, quasi-judicial and judicial proceedings, and have access to remedies. Those are exactly the provisions that are in the bill before us today.

Canada already committed years ago to move forward and uphold these rights. Therefore, I have tabled this proposal over and over again to try to encourage the government to respond to the current trade law. In a minute, I will speak about what the government could have done and was asked to do.

There is a side agreement to the proposed new trade law. However, I am sad to say it has been downgraded from the existing one. All of the trade deals that have been signed and sealed since NAFTA have downgraded the environmental rights enshrined in the side agreement.

The United Nations Human Rights Council special rapporteur was asked to look into human rights obligations relating to the enjoyment of a clean, safe, healthy and sustainable environment. He travelled the world for four years. On behalf of the Human Rights Council, he issued an environmental bill of rights framework for all nations to adopt. Guess what. It is exactly the framework in my bill.

Over 90 nations have extended these rights through constitutions, laws, court rulings, international treaties or declarations. Canada is far behind.

In 2009, the Aarhus convention was signed by many countries of the world, by and large by European and Scandinavian nations. It committed the signatories to provide access to information, public participation decision-making and access to justice and environmental matters. Canada said it did not have to sign it because it was already extending those rights. In fact, it has not done that yet.

Recently, to the credit of many in this place, many members of Parliament signed the environmental rights pledge issued by the David Suzuki Foundation through the Blue Dot campaign. We had a big celebration on Monday night, celebrating the fact that so many parliamentarians were committed to enacting environmental rights.

This is something interesting. In 2018, the Liberals held a federal convention and passed a resolution. That resolution reminded the Liberals that in June 2010, all Liberals members of Parliament present in the House of Commons voted in favour of Bill C-469, which was my environmental bill of rights. The convention reminded the members that the United Nations recognized environmental rights as a basic human right. They then passed a resolution, saying that the Liberal Party of Canada urged the Government of Canada to enact legislation establishing a Canadian environmental bill of rights.

I have said all long, since the first day I was elected in 2008, that I would welcome the government of the day to take my bill and enact a full-fledged bill. Here we are with a couple of weeks left in this place and nothing has occurred. That is why I am delighted I can debate the bill, and I look forward to the response of some of my colleagues.

To date, over 3,000 Canadians have signed petitions, both e-petitions and hard-copy petitions, saying that they support the enactment of this environmental bill of rights. Ecojustice, the David Suzuki Foundation and, most recently, the Social Justice Cooperative Newfoundland and Labrador have endorsed this bill and called for action by the government to enact this law.

I look forward to hearing the comments from other parties in the House. It has been my absolute pleasure to work with other members of Parliament on environmental matters. I know there are strong promoters of environmental rights here, and I hope to hear from them this evening.

Members Not Seeking Re-Election to the 43rd Parliament June 5th, 2019

Mr. Speaker, I hope I am not getting all this applause because my colleagues are glad to see the backside of me. I will have a few jokes about that later.

It has been a very interesting evening. It is fabulous hearing from all the members. I am really touched by the speeches of my colleagues. I thought I would start on a lighter note.

I was impressed by my former colleague, Libby Davies, who actually recounted in detail her first day as an elected member of Parliament on the Hill. I wondered how she remembered that, and then I remembered my first moment stepping onto the polished marble floors of Centre Block and almost doing the splits. My sage advice for all the new female MPs who will come in the next election is to make sure that they have rubber soles on their shoes.

I am so happy I could serve in Centre Block. I miss those stained glass windows.

I first want to thank my brother and my niece for being there for me, keeping me fed and my spirits high. The whole world deserves a brother like mine. I am equally indebted to my wonderful friend Carol, who never thinks about politics. It is a delight to come home and talk to her, because we talk about everything else: the tulips being up or a beautiful walk in the forest. That is the kind of friend a politician needs. I thank Carol, who has kept my house and garden whole.

I thank my dear friends Donna and Hans, Frances, Cheryl, Darlene and Stephen for endless friendship and support, my friends from across Canada.

I extend my deep gratitude to my amazing campaign manager, Erica Bullwinkle, and my wonderful campaign teams for all four elections. I notice that not many people have talked about their campaigns, but that is a big part of who we are. We would not be here if we did not campaign. They donated incomparable amounts of time and energy to send me to Ottawa, and what fun we had in those campaigns. It is so much fun canvassing with youth. For those who have never canvassed with young kids, they should try it out. It will change their lives.

Among my fondest memories of an election win was dancing in a pub with the visiting Mexican soccer team, excited that a socialist had been elected for Alberta. As with my colleagues, I was the first NDP and the first woman elected in my riding, but I was also the first NDP elected in Alberta in 25 years, and then re-elected and re-elected again.

I continue to thank people who say they worked on my campaign, and far too often I have to say thanks, because I did not have a chance to thank them before, because Erica kept me out canvassing 24 hours a day.

Absolute, profound accolades are sent to the dedicated Edmonton Strathcona federal constituency association, which, for 11 years, helped at every constituency event, serving refreshments, flipping burgers or sweeping hall floors. These volunteers are the source of democracy in Canada. They are the unsung heroes. They never get volunteer awards, because they are “partisan”. We need to change that.

Too often, the unsung heroes of MPs' offices are their staff. I have been blessed with the most amazing group of dedicated people in my Hill office and in my constituency. There are too many, over the 11 years, to list in my Hill office, but I thank Lorena and Michelle. It is so great to finally have an Albertan working with me on the Hill. We need more Albertans here. There were many staff before that. Angela was my first fabulous legislative assistant, and I still consider her a dear friend.

Currently holding the fort in the riding are Lisa, Melissa and Nigel. Those who have moved on are Erica, Daniel, Niki, Helen and Adi, who is now with Amnesty International. I have had so many incredible staff. I kept saying, “Why are you wasting your time here, Adi? Get out and get a law degree." He graduated from the University of Ottawa law school, organized all the rallies at the American embassy and is now articling with Amnesty International.

I thank my leaders: Jack Layton; Tom Mulcair; Nicole Turmel; and now the member of Parliament for Burnaby South. Where would we be without our leaders inspiring us?

I thank Rob, Christian, the incorrigible Anthony and Theresa, now at city hall. I know we drove her crazy, but she is in our hearts.

To my marvellous caucus colleagues, and I know they are laughing because they cannot believe I am saying this about them, but it has been my challenge to try to get them all to think like Albertans.

I like to think that I am also leaving behind a few friends from other parties.

I thank all the parliamentary officers and staff. I extend a heartfelt thanks to the parliamentary security officers, who, during the 2014 attack on the Hill, put their lives at serious risk to keep us safe. My deepest thanks to all of them.

Few Canadians fully comprehend the dual role of members of Parliament or the limitations on our capacity to tackle every need or concern constituents bring to us, despite our desire to remedy every frustration with a failed service or policy.

I must attest to the heavy hearts of my staff for our failure to resolve every immigrant or refugee claim and every request for better services or better policies that actually help people. However, we have so celebrated those moments of pure joy when our efforts helped a constituent gain long-awaited citizenship, obtain a federal grant or veterans benefit or win a dispute with CRA.

I remain surprised and grateful still when a constituent approaches me in the street, in airports, in the grocery store or when I am travelling overseas. Those Edmonton—Strathcona constituents are everywhere. They approach me to thank me for my service, and it is always unexpected and equally appreciated. It keeps me going, and I most certainly believe that is the same for all members of Parliament.

My 11 years serving as a member of Parliament were diverse and often had unexpected turns.

It has been a privilege serving on the executive of the Canada-Ukraine Parliamentary Friendship Group, supporting Ukraine through election monitoring and hosting fabulous young Ukrainian interns.

It has been my honour to represent the extraordinary Francophone community in my riding.

I was privileged as a lawyer to benefit from the support of University of Ottawa law school interns, who were invaluable in helping me craft my bills and motions. I encourage every university and every legislature to introduce the same kind of program.

I participated in many of the climate COPs, inspired greatly by the interventions of NGOs and indigenous peoples.

I had the honour of meeting with the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government in exile during the commemoration of its 60 years in exile, and look forward to seeing the president again tomorrow here in Ottawa. I am blessed with a wonderful Tibetan Canadian intern.

I travelled to west Africa with the Governor General and to east Africa to meet with parliamentarians.

I held a remarkable array of critic portfolios: environment; indigenous affairs; western economic diversification; public works; natural resources; and international development. I do not know if I am missing any. I had a lot of them.

I advocated in the House and at the UN for a nuclear disarmament treaty and for enforceable measures for sustainability.

No surprise to those who know me well, I infused an environmental angle into every one of those portfolios. I issued a report on the impact of oil sands on water. I proposed strengthened public and indigenous rights in federal laws on toxins, impact assessments, energy regulation, navigable waters, sustainable development and trade deals.

In public works, I proposed investments in energy efficiency for federal buildings to save taxpayer dollars.

In transport, I proposed stronger measures to regulate dangerous rail cargo and engaged communities directly. That came because of my personal experience with a major CN derailment into Wabamun Lake. The government still has not taken action on that.

I have four times tabled an environmental bill of rights, and I will be tabling that bill tomorrow for the last time.

I wish to thank all the environmental community and indigenous leadership who allowed me to be one of their voices for change. It has been an honour representing my constituents and having the privilege of fighting for environmental protection from the inside.

My retirement agenda is to get a rescue dog. My brother says it is my turn.

Petitions June 5th, 2019

The third petition has been signed by Franco-Albertans who say that, every minute, 31 people are forced to flee their homes. The majority of them live in the poorest countries on the planet under extremely difficult conditions: armed conflict, climate change, massive development projects and persecution. The causes of forced migration are multiple, complex and interwoven.

The petitioners are calling on the House of Commons to support grassroots organizations working for peace, democracy and human rights and to invest more in diplomatic and peaceful solutions to armed conflicts.

Nobody should be forced to flee their home.

Petitions June 5th, 2019

The second petition, Mr. Speaker, is signed by over 1,000 Albertans from across the province, calling on the government to take action to establish a universal prescription drug plan for pharmacare.

Petitions June 5th, 2019

Mr. Speaker, I have three petitions to table.

The first is e-petition 1984 on the protection of the environment. This petition was established by a retired physician and member of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, Raquel Feroe. It represents 1,000 signatures in support of enacting an environmental bill of rights for Canada to impose public trust duty on the federal government to protect the environment and give a bundle of rights to citizens.

I am pleased to say that today e-petition 2172 was closed. I look forward to tabling that. It will be another 1,800 signatures, calling for an environmental bill of rights.

Margaret-Ann Armour June 4th, 2019

Mr. Speaker, last week we sadly lost a truly remarkable Canadian. Dr. Margaret-Ann Armour persevered to excel in chemistry, a traditionally male-dominated field. She was recognized globally for her critical research and teaching in hazardous chemical waste handling and disposal.

Later in her career at the University of Alberta, she was appointed associate dean of science for diversity, channelling her unstoppable energy to advocate for women pursuing STEM careers. She co-created Women in Scholarship, Engineering, Science and Technology, or WISEST, and the WinSETT Centre. Among my favourite events were the annual presentations by high school students during WISEST summer internships.

Among her many accolades, she was awarded a Governor General's Award in Commemoration of the Persons Case, a Canada 150 ambassadorship and multiple honorary degrees. Perhaps the most fitting for this scholar, who lived her life by doing science as if people matter, was the naming of an elementary school after her.

Her effervescence and warm hugs will long be remembered by the many women in STEM careers.

Budget Implementation Act, 2019, No. 1 June 4th, 2019

Mr. Speaker, I cannot but stand when the government denies it has tabled omnibus bills. What about the 800-clause Bill C-69? This bill was so huge that it should have gone to three committees: the environment and sustainable development committee, the transport committee and the natural resources committee.

Instead, our committee, the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development, had to deal with the 800-clause bill. The Liberals cut off the number of witnesses we could hear. I could choose only three of the 600 first nations to testify. The bill would impact almost every one of them.

Then, when the committee went through clause by clause, we had to end the review half way through because there was not enough time to review it as it was so urgent to pass it.

The world will be watching what the government does with Bill C-69, which the Senate has shredded.

I cannot believe that a member on that side would say the government has never tabled an omnibus bill.

Human Rights May 31st, 2019

Mr. Speaker, this spring, I met with traumatized Tibetan youth recently escaped from Tibet where they had faced suppression of their Tibetan language, increased mass surveillance, intimidation, arbitrary arrest and torture. While China has committed to the UN to better protect religious freedom and to respect rights, there is no evidence of change. Tibetans continue to protest and self-immolate. The U.S. ambassador visited Tibet, raised concerns about religious freedom and called on China to recommence the dialogue on a middle way agreement.

Will the government follow suit and encourage China to pursue the dialogue with the envoys of the Dalai Lama?

Criminal Records Act May 30th, 2019

Madam Speaker, my colleague always speaks so eloquently and pragmatically in this place. It is admirable.

I am told that indigenous people in Regina are nine times more likely to have a record for cannabis possession than non-indigenous people. In Vancouver, they are seven times more likely than non-indigenous people. My colleague, the member for Victoria, has called that constructive discrimination.

When we in this place, as members of Parliament, seek an apartment, we have to sign on the dotted line as to whether we have a criminal conviction. Imagine what some of our interns must face. There are tens of thousands of Canadians who have criminal records for possession of small amounts of marijuana.

The government's argument is that it is against the Canadian Human Rights Act to discriminate against people who have a pardon. That is balderdash. It is bad enough that the government is requiring everyone to apply for a pardon. People will then have to hire a lawyer if they are denied being able to volunteer for the Boys and Girls Club, cross the border or even get an apartment, because they would have to honestly say, even though they had a record suspension, that they had a criminal conviction but had received a pardon.

I wonder if my colleague could speak to that. Here we are, late in the day, a year after this has become law, and the government is going to make people apply for a pardon, which is close to valueless.

Business of Supply May 15th, 2019

Mr. Speaker, let me talk about leaders who break their promises. How many times during the last election did the Prime Minister say that no energy project would ever be approved under the Liberal government until he enacted strengthened environmental assessment laws and environmental protection laws? I think he said that a thousand times, but it depended if he was in Alberta speaking to oil field workers or if he was in British Columbia talking to environmentalists.

My leader is reaching out and talking to people in British Columbia about whether we can move ahead. Gas may be cleaner than coal, but if we are processing gas and are going to give perverse subsidies, we have to give it a second look. We have promised as a country to get rid of perverse subsidies and so it has to happen.