Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to rise today to speak to Motion No. 69, a motion brought forward by the member for Hamilton East—Stoney Creek, which deals with a very important issue surrounding water quality.
Let me start by saying that the NDP supports this initiative, which is aimed at ensuring Canadians have access to high-quality drinking water at all times, regardless of where they live or their economic status.
It is also important to understand that this motion calls upon the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities to undertake a study of the federal government's role in updating lead components in water systems. There is a growing concern about the contamination of drinking water in private residences and schools due to lead water pipes and connecting lines.
The NDP takes the health risk posed by lead contamination of drinking water very seriously. The recent crisis in Flint, Michigan, as well as some other similar examples in Canada, reminds us all that this is a very serious public health issue. We cannot wait before taking necessary action. The government must be proactive on this file. It really is high time the government undertake a dialogue with the municipalities, provinces, territories, and first nations to work toward developing a national strategy for ensuring that all Canadians have access to high-quality drinking water. I really do think that most people would agree with what I have said.
However, I need to point out that the efforts of my friend from Hamilton East—Stoney Creek may in fact be stopped in the end by his own government. With their plan to privatize our infrastructure, the Liberals may very well end up turning their backs on the most important needs of Canadians. Public health issues such as lead contamination will no doubt take a back seat and not be a priority for shareholders and the rich friends of the current government.
The government cannot refuse to take seriously the dangers of lead poisoning. Health Canada has established the maximum acceptable concentration of lead in drinking water at 10 parts per billion in order to protect the most vulnerable populations, babies and small children. However, recent scientific studies show that even a minute quantity is toxic. The World Health Organization has concluded that there is no known level of lead exposure that is considered safe.
According to the experts at the Canadian Water Network, at least 200,000 Canadian households are at risk of being exposed to lead through their tap water. In large cities, even if most of the municipal water mains are no longer composed of lead, the water service lines to private properties may contain lead and still pose a risk to health. For example, in Montreal, the number of buildings with lead in their service lines is estimated to be higher than 60,000. In Toronto, there are estimated to be 35,000 such homes. Even in my own city of Hamilton there are approximately 20,000 homes. Furthermore, lead can also come from the solder in plumbing or valves such as brass faucets. Small quantities of lead can therefore dissolve into the drinking water that runs through them or that sits for a few hours or more.
While there are household water treatment devices available that are certified to remove lead from tap water, permanently reducing exposure to lead through drinking water involves eliminating the sources of lead that affect the water. Replacing lead pipes is the most effective method. When municipal water systems are connected to the old lead pipes of a private residence, cities do not assume the costs of the renovations because they are not on city property. The financial burden falls on the individual homeowners, and can be a heavy one, between $2,000 and $5,000 or even more depending on where the pipe is, such as underneath a driveway or concrete walkway.
The cities of Ottawa, Hamilton, and London have implemented action plans to change the pipes on the public portion under the street and sidewalk, and encourage residents to do the same on the private portion with the help of special loan programs.
There is also an additional danger to health when a new copper water pipe is connected to an old lead pipe as there is a chemical reaction between the two metals that increases the amount of lead particles that are released. Therefore, it is critical that private water lines be replaced at the same time as the municipal infrastructure.
The member for Hamilton East—Stoney Creek and I have both shared some hands-on experience with this issue during our time on the Hamilton City Council. The member had done great work bringing awareness of lead in Hamilton households, and proposing a solution to help homeowners replace lead pipes on private property by offering special loans for those needing financial help. Many residents in my riding took advantage of this program.
The NDP believes that the government must focus some assistance on the collection and analysis of statistical data related to the use of lead. Municipalities and first nation communities must, first of all, be in a position to assess the scope of the problem. Most municipalities do not have a register of their water pipes, and small communities do not have the resources to put one together.
Since 2007, the Government of Ontario has required day nurseries and schools to test their water quality. Such a requirement should be established for the entire country. Incentives to update infrastructure are critical. We would like the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities to study the loan programs established in Ottawa, Hamilton, and London to provide homeowners with financial assistance to modernize the lead service lines on their properties. I believe these loans should be interest free.
We would also like the standing committee to study mechanisms for establishing a special program to modernize lead infrastructure in the context of the clean water and wastewater fund of phase 2 of the infrastructure plan.
The World Health Organization has concluded that there is no known level of lead exposure considered safe. We know that at least 200,000 Canadian households are at risk of being exposed to lead through their tap water. This is very dangerous, and also unacceptable. The government can and must do something about it.
I applaud my friend from Hamilton East—Stoney Creek for bringing this motion forward. I sincerely hope the fact the Liberals are withdrawing $15 billion in promised infrastructure funding and putting it in a privatization bank will not prevent the necessary action set out in the motion and end up putting the health of thousands of Canadians at risk.