Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to support Motion No. 400 moved by the hon. member for Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel.
In my opinion, this motion, which aims to protect the water and public health of our communities, is very important and vital. I will read the motion because I think it is worthwhile to go over it again:
…the government should study the possibility of establishing, in cooperation with the provinces and territories, one or more financial support programs, inspired by the one proposed by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, that would bring up to standard the septic systems of homes not connected to a sanitation system, in an effort to ensure urban/rural balance, lake protection, water quality and public health.
First of all, I congratulate my colleague on her motion. It proves that she truly is a practical MP who listens to her constituents. I find a number of aspects of this motion very interesting.
Ninety per cent of my riding is rural. We have a number of rivers, including the Yamaska River. Moreover, the Organisme de bassin versant de la Yamaska, an organization I work with in the riding, supports my colleague's motion. Environmental groups are vital in our ridings.
I am also worried about the Yamaska River, which runs through my riding. It is one of the most—if not the most—polluted rivers in Quebec. A motion like this one is definitely very important to my riding, and many environmental organizations support it.
It is also interesting that the motion addresses the notion of fairness among urban and rural areas. As we know, the government invests millions of dollars every year to help municipalities upgrade their sewer systems. The municipalities are often tapped-out and need a little help from the federal government.
At present, 25% of Canadians do not have access to municipal sewer systems. This means that they have to maintain a septic tank on their property, at their own expense. One-quarter of Canadians have to pay for this themselves—and it can cost $5,000, $10,000, $15,000 or even $20,000.
Not everyone can afford these upgrades, so they simply ignore the issue, which is harmful for the environment. These people need a little help. The federal government needs to show some leadership when it comes to the environment for once.
In rural areas, many septic systems are outdated and some need significant or urgent work. The clock is ticking and something needs to be done.
Again, fairness for rural areas is very important. People who live in isolated communities also deserve proper services and should not be penalized. They should not have to pay just because they live in a rural area.
We are simply asking the government to help these people meet environmental standards. These standards are crucial; we are talking about our water. Water is a vital resource that is very plentiful in Quebec and Canada. However, it seems to me that we sometimes take it for granted, since it is so abundant.
This reminds me of a personal story. A few years ago, I went to visit some friends in Belgium and we started talking about water. They told me that, basically, people who live in Quebec and Canada have so much water that they do not care about it; they do not look after it or take care of it. They said that we do not pay any attention to it, that we waste it and pollute it. I said that that was not true.
However, it made me stop and think. I thought that perhaps, deep down, Canadians do have that attitude. Perhaps we should be doing more to clean up our rivers and lakes and to help people who want to meet the standards but are financially unable to do so. I cannot imagine that many families in rural Canada want to go $20,000 into debt for a septic tank.
It would be good if the government stepped in, especially if you consider the fact that people in urban areas have access to sewage systems and do not have to pay for them. Can we all agree that this is a basic necessity?
Obviously, this is also a matter of public health. We are talking about drinking water. If the water is unfit, we cannot simply stop drinking it. There are also fish, shellfish and so on. It will be a problem if we cannot fish and eat them. There is also the issue of ecosystems. It is a serious problem when an ecosystem is transformed because of pollution. We cannot allow that to happen in Canada or anywhere else in the world. There are many problems related to this issue. We are suggesting a solution that would put a halt to these kinds of problems. The marine and earth ecosystems are interconnected and interdependent. We cannot allow this to go on any longer because sewers and drinking water are both matters of public health.
Earlier, I spoke about urban-rural balance. The municipalities do not necessarily have the means to enforce these standards. People are therefore being asked to upgrade their own septic tanks, which could cost $20,000. Yes, the municipality is responsible for enforcing this law. However, if we put ourselves in the shoes of the people living in small rural municipalities that may have only 1,000 residents, we realize that the person who may be required to take on $20,000 in debt is a brother-in-law, neighbour or friend. These are not costs that the municipality can cover. What is more, it becomes very difficult to enforce the law.
For example, the mayor of Saint-Barnabé-Sud in my riding, unlike the mayor of Montreal, is not a full-time mayor. Elected officials in small rural communities have a difficult time enforcing such things and finding the necessary funding. It is hard enough for them to find funding to deal with sewer systems, so members can imagine how difficult it would be to find money for septic tanks. We are talking about communities that have very few residents but that cover very large areas. People live on this land and farm it. They need help and so we must give it to them. In my opinion, it is the government's responsibility to help them.
Speaking of municipalities, it is interesting to note that the Federation of Canadian Municipalities supports this motion. In fact, the motion is largely inspired by the resolution adopted by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities in 2009. The resolution confirms that it is relevant and urgent that the federal government provide funding to help bring septic systems up to standard. The Federation of Canadian Municipalities considered this issue in 2009 and asked the government to take action. The federation is a large organization made up of over 2,000 Canadian municipalities. These people know their business. They asked the government to take action, but the government did nothing. Now, my colleague is addressing the situation, and I thank her for that.
I urge the government to vote in favour of the motion. For once, it would be nice to see that the government cares about our water, our environment and Canadians' quality of life.