The clerk is handing out the report of our steering committee. It's very brief. We met yesterday to consider business after we've finished Bill .
The committee looked at Mr. Scarpallegia's proposal and agreed that we should have two information meetings on the description, history, technology, future developments, and so on, of the oil sands. The intention is to make the meetings largely informational to begin with. Of course, in the fall we will begin with a more complete study.
So I would like you to think about that for a minute. If you agree, we will proceed to get witnesses for the 16th and 18th. They will provide us with information on the subject. We'll do our best to get a wide range of witnesses.
Some hon. members: Agreed.
The Chair: We will proceed and report on Monday's meeting. We have confirmed four speakers, and there's a probability of two others from Manitoba. We will likely have six witnesses and proceed on that basis.
Are there any questions? We're all clear.
We will now welcome our guest and have him tell us about the bill. Welcome.
Mr. Chairman, thank you for welcoming me to the committee to talk about Bill C-469, which I introduced in the House of Commons in October 2007 and the purpose of which is to amend the Canadian Environmental Protection Act.
I am pleased to be here because I come from the riding of Berthier-Maskinongé, where there are approximately 700 lakes and a number of rivers. There are also a lot of recreational and tourist activities. In summer, people swim and take part in other aquatic activities. Last year, in the same riding, five lakes were hit hard by cyanobacteria, as a result of which a number of aquatic activities were compromised.
As you know, this bill proposes a ban on the manufacture, import and sale of laundry and dishwashing detergents containing phosphorus, in order to halt the spread of cyanobacteria, so-called blue algae, which we have experienced in the past few years. The bill we are studying today is in fact the logical extension of the decisions made by your committee.
On June 12, 2007, considering that there was an urgent need to take quick action to combat the spread of blue algae, the member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, on behalf of the Bloc Québécois, tabled and had adopted by your committee, a motion requesting that the government act quickly to amend its regulations to prohibit the use of phosphates in detergents.
Seeing that the government refused to respond favourably to the motion at that time, and still concerned to combat the phenomenon of blue algae, on October 25, 2007, in response to pressure by citizens in my riding and an increase in the phenomenon across Quebec, I introduced Bill C-49 to ban the manufacture and import of detergents containing phosphates within a 180-day time period, as well as the sale of such products within 360 days.
Through the bill, we asked the government to act in its own area of jurisdiction. Since Ottawa is responsible for regulating imported products, the federal government has a duty to act in order to have a real impact on manufacturers and to force them to change their practices.
Furthermore, if the ban applies across Canada, no business has any interest in manufacturing, importing or selling detergents containing phosphates.
In the meantime, it should not be forgotten that, on September 25, 2007, the Government of Quebec announced that it intended to introduce a government program to combat blue algae, which would include, in particular, a ban on phosphates in dishwashing detergents. Quebec's environment minister urged the federal government to do the same by amending its regulations to increase the commercial impact of the ban on dishwashing and laundry detergents containing phosphates, and thus to reinforce the legislation Quebec intended to pass and make it more effective.
Lastly, it was not until Bill C-469 was passed on second reading, on February 13, 2008, that the federal government finally presented its plan. On Friday, February 15, the government announced that it would follow in lock step with the governments of Quebec and Manitoba by restricting phosphate concentrations in various detergents.
Consequently, according to the announced plan, the federal government intends to impose a phosphate limit of 0.5% by weight on dishwashing and laundry detergents by 2010.
We have observed that the federal plan is similar to the Quebec plan. However, the government could have been more ambitious, because the ban is not total and, more particularly, will not come into force until 2010, whereas replacement products, as you know, already exist.
I think it is important to repeat that there is an urgent need to act as soon as possible to address this issue, in order to halt the spread of blue algae.
From the outset, we decided to intervene in this matter because we can all see the extent of this spread. The phenomenon is not new, but it has expanded in recent years. Cyanobacteria were detected in 50 lakes in Quebec in 2005. The following year, that number doubled to 107 lakes affected by cyanobacteria. In 2007, more than 200 Quebec lakes were affected by the same phenomenon. So there have been four times as many lakes affected in two years.
There is no indication the phenomenon will decline in 2008. On the contrary, it should increase, hence the importance of acting quickly. The longer we delay implementation of these measures, the faster the situation will deteriorate, and more waterways will be affected.
That is why we are asking that the new regulations apply starting in 2009, particularly since, as I've already mentioned, large quantities of replacement products are already accessible on the market.
I am entirely aware that the ban on products containing phosphates in detergents will not be enough to completely eliminate blue algae from our waterways. We all know that surplus phosphorus in waterways comes from many human activities, such as the discharge of untreated or insufficiently treated waste water, defective septic facilities and, especially, agricultural activities.
However, it should not be forgotten that, in certain regions, fewer agricultural activities are carried on near waterways. For example, people are increasingly choosing to live permanently on the banks of waterways, which I can see in the riding that I represent. Many people who occupied so-called secondary residences at the time are choosing to occupy them permanently. These are no longer summer cottages, but rather principal residences equipped, for example, with dishwashers that use phosphates, which amplifies the cyanobacteria phenomenon, hence the importance of this bill and the need to act quickly.
But as I said, removing phosphates from detergents will not completely solve the problem. Other action will be necessary, such as preserving or restoring vegetation and the natural character of banks and lakes—action that is currently being taken to a greater extent in Quebec—avoiding the use of chemical fertilizers and ensuring that septic tanks operate properly and are maintained.
All these issues, which concern land use and agricultural practices, are the jurisdiction of Quebec and the provinces. Moreover, the Quebec government's action plan proposes a series of regulatory prevention and awareness tools and is making them available to the municipalities to help them address these challenges.
Mr. Chairman, I will close by repeating that the ban on phosphates in detergents can easily be implemented by the federal government. From the very start of this process, we have been open to discussion and proposals to improve the bill, like the possibility of adding an amendment that would avoid penalizing hospitals, if there are no replacement products.
I believe it is fundamentally important to repeat that it is important that we take action quickly and ensure that the regulations apply as soon as possible in order to prevent the situation from worsening.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
First, Mr. André, I congratulate you on your initiative. I had the opportunity to go to your riding a few months ago. I saw that this kind of measure is awaited, more particularly by shoreline residents—who live near the lakes and rivers—not only in your riding, but in all Quebec regions. I'm thinking of Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean, among others.
We realize that this measure is not simply linked to the fact that the contamination or eutrophication of the lakes is attributable to agricultural activities, but also to human activities. The bill is entirely valid in that sense.
You answered Mr. Scarpaleggia's question on various aspects. I understand that you would like an exemption for health institutions such as long-term care centres and hospitals, of course, while ensuring that a number of public health standards are met.
You also told us that you are prepared to amend the bill to include the 0.5% limit provided for in the federal and Quebec regulations. So we are nearly in agreement. The only thing we are discussing is when the regulations should apply.
Should they apply now or in 2010? Is that in fact what I understand from your testimony today? Nearly everyone agrees, except as regards the regulations' immediate application. We may wind up agreeing on that.
You've given a good summary of the evidence, Mr. Bigras. I thank you for your question.
We wondered why we wouldn't act immediately. Manitoba and Nova Scotia are experiencing the same phenomenon, but I'm going to talk to you about Quebec, which I know better.
People are ready and organized. We travel to certain regions where there are lakes. As I mentioned to Mr. Scarpaleggia, phosphate-free products can be found. People are aware. The municipalities are legislating on shoreline vegetation. They want to take measures to monitor and supervise septic tanks to a greater degree. Why not act now, when we know that the phenomenon is increasing year after year?
Last year, 200 lakes were affected. How many will be in 2008? The number of lakes affected could increase by 100 or so and reach 300, and this trend will continue. Once a lake is affected, it takes a few years before it becomes healthy again and people can carry on aquatic activities safely.
The eutrophication of Lac Mandeville, which is located in my riding, is extensive. The lake is dead right now. It contains such a high quantity of phosphorus that one of the solutions contemplated is to empty the lake. That's incredible but true. Some studies are looking at that option. Of course, there is the matter of phosphates in detergents, septic tanks and agricultural pollution. We're talking about lakes in which people have swum for years.
Our freshwater is our wealth of the future. If we can't guarantee the safety of aquatic activities, there's a serious problem. We have the means at our disposal, and we can act quickly. The phenomenon is growing. Why wait another two years?
So you're saying that action should be taken now. What struck me first was that there are replacement products. In principle, it seems to me that should make it possible to introduce the regulations sooner.
I'm consulting the March 2008 issue of the consumer magazine Protégez-vous. What first strikes me is that there are replacement products. Furthermore, phosphate-free products are sometimes more effective—and I don't want to mention any well-known names—than products containing phosphates. In those containing phosphates, levels range from 2% to 6%. Phosphate-free products have been analyzed, taking the 0.5% rule into consideration. Not only are there replacement products, but very often they are more effective than the products containing phosphates. That seems a bit paradoxical to me.
There is another point that I'd like to talk to you about. The Library of Parliament briefing notes tell us: “The vast majority of phosphorus inputs from human activity are caused by agricultural practices and human waste management. Of this, a small proportion, perhaps 1% or 1.5% in total, comes from dishwashing detergent.”
I remember the arguments at the time my motion was studied. We had heard from a witness at that time, Mr. Carignan—whom we'll be hearing from again soon—who told us that there was a danger in using a Canadian rule and results, and in trying to apply them in Quebec's regions. He cited the Laurentians as an example—it wasn't particularly in the Hautes-Laurentides, where there isn't any agricultural activity—where there are contaminated lakes.
Are you seeing the same thing in your region? Isn't it clear that the contamination is very often naturally due to agricultural activities, but also, in some regions where there are no agricultural activities, to the contamination of lakes. So it's directly related to use. That was my first question.
A second thing intrigues me, and that is whether there isn't also an economic impact on the property values of residences around those same lakes. Let's take the case of someone who bought a cottage in 1960, when water quality was up to standards, and now, 30 or 40 years later, there's a contaminated lake in the same place.
Doesn't that also have an impact on those citizens who acquire these secondary residences, which, at some point in their lives, very often become principal residences? So there's an environmental aspect, of course, but it seems to there's also an economic aspect to this issue.
Of course, I agree with you, sir.
When a lake is closed in summer because the cyanobacteria count is too high, that has significant economic effect on the community. Lac Maskinongé, in Saint-Gabriel-de-Brandon—you must know it—is regularly closed. That has a disastrous economic effect because that community's economy is based on the tourist industry. Lac Maskinongé is where people engage in aquatic activities and live in cottages. They live their entire lives there in summer. This has an economic consequence for the community, with respect to cottages and houses. The people who come to live beside a lake choose a lake with water they trust. They want that lake to be healthy, to meet health standards and public health standards. In that case, this has an impact.
Agriculture is an important phenomenon. We know that chemical fertilizers and all the pig manure that is discharged results in a lot of phosphorus, which causes cyanobacteria. In my riding, in the Laurentians and in other ridings—I've visited a few other places affected by cyanobacteria—there are places where there are just cottages, where there is no agricultural activity.
I put my hands on an Ontario government study conducted by Gartner Lee Ltd. concerning the Muskoka lakes—a number of Ontarians know them—where there are a number of residences. That study showed that every residence located 300 meters from the lakes produced approximately 800 grams of phosphorus per person. If you multiply that by the number of cottages and the number of persons, you'll understand that a significant quantity of phosphorus is being discharged into those lakes. From 30% to 40% of the phosphorus came from septic facilities. Septic facilities that are non-compliant, not maintained or too close to lakes can have a significant impact on phosphorus rates. From 55% to 60% of the phosphorus came from detergents containing phosphates. That's a study by the Government of Ontario, the reference of which I could give to the committee.
That has a significant impact. Of course if there were also agricultural activities around those lakes, that would become—
Thank you very much, Mr. André. I should tell you it's a little déjà vu. I remember talking 35 years ago about how we had to get phosphorous out of our water systems. So it's good that it finally appears to be happening.
I should also mention that in the part of the world I come from, GPS is now used in the distribution of agricultural fertilizer and seed. So in places that are close to waterways or where phosphorous isn't needed, it's not applied. It has become a very scientific operation in the agricultural industry. I'm not sure if it's legislated or not, but it is certainly economically advantageous for a farmer to control his application of very expensive fertilizers, as they are today.
That's another plus for your bill. Thank you very much for bringing it forward. I know the committee will look at it. We have several other witnesses, so thank you very much for appearing.
I will now call on our witnesses from Environment Canada and the Department of Justice. My understanding is that we will have a short presentation from Environment Canada, and then we'll get right into questions.
I understand, Ms. Kenny, you're going to make a presentation. I want to welcome you here. I know members will have questions for you.
Thank you, Mr. Chair and members of the committee. We are very pleased to be before you today to assist you in your consideration of this bill.
I would like to begin by spending a moment on the important issue of blue-green algae and the role of phosphorus in its growth. We know that phosphorus-loading into our surface water can lead to a number of problems, including oxygen depletion, and that it can act as a nutrient that supports the growth of these algae.
When the nutrient levels in the water are high, the blue-green algae can form blooms that dominate the natural community and are capable of producing toxins that can be harmful to humans, livestock, and fish. The toxins themselves are odourless and tasteless, but there are other compounds that can result in foul taste or odour problems, which can impact on the recreational use of water and drinking water.
Environment Canada has been studying blue-green algae for a number of years and agrees that it is of the utmost importance that we reduce the risks of these toxins.
One factor in the proliferation of these blooms that we can affect is the concentration of phosphorus entering our surface waters. In fact, Environment Canada introduced regulations to do so in the 1970s, at that time under the Canada Water Act; these were later reflected in the Canadian Environmental Protection Act.
Since the regulation came into force, the use of phosphorus in laundry detergent has steadily diminished, but the growing number of dishwashers in Canadian households has meant that the phosphorus from this source has increased. This is why the government recently published a notice of intent in part 1 of the Canada Gazette to amend the phosphorus concentration regulations.
The notice of intent indicated that the proposed changes to these regulations would introduce a limit of 0.5% or lower by weight of phosphorus. At the present time, dishwasher detergent can contain up to 8%. As such, the results of this proposal would lead to considerable reductions in the level of phosphorus entering these waters.
At the same time, this notice proposed to further reduce the limit of phosphorus in laundry detergent from the current level of 2.2%, again to 0.5%.
Finally, the notice of intent indicated that other cleaning products would be examined to determine the feasibility of reducing their levels of phosphorus as well.
Over the past several months we've undertaken significant consultations, examined the current science in the field, and identified some best practices in other jurisdictions. On this basis, it is clear that the proposed changes I have described would require reformulation of products that are currently in the marketplace.
Industry has indicated that it's willing to meet these new limits, but it needs time to reformulate in order to find safe and effective alternatives. In fact, the Canadian Consumer Speciality Products Association in October led an initiative to voluntarily limit phosphorus concentrations to 0.5% by weight by July 2010. We also recognize that a number of U.S. states as well as the provinces of Quebec and Manitoba are proposing limits that would come into effect in 2010. For these reasons, we believe that consideration of any new standards should consider a similar date.
In undertaking our consultations and carrying out our research, we've also determined that it's important to consider reasonable exemptions for reasons of health and safety. This is of particular importance for institutions such as hospitals and restaurants, where machines use much bigger loads, have higher temperatures, and are cycling through much faster than those we would typically find in our household machines. Phosphorus plays a role in cleaning and sanitation for these specialized applications.
The results of our consultations have also underlined considerations regarding the level of phosphorus that could be prescribed in regulation.
It's important to note that all other jurisdictions, including Manitoba and Quebec, that we're aware of, have proposed limits of 0.5% phosphorous to accommodate incidental presence and the technical difficulties in trying to ensure 0% phosphorous.
Such a complete ban on phosphorous of these products in fact could constitute a violation of Canada's obligations under the WTO agreement on technical barriers to trade and NAFTA, as it could be seen as a measure that would be more trade restrictive than necessary, particularly when other jurisdictions are not imposing such a ban.
In addition to looking at ways to amend the phosphorous concentration regulations, Environment Canada is also working with provinces and territories to develop common standards and regulations for municipal waste water effluent that would also reduce the level of phosphorous entering our surface waters.
According to our current scientific information, this in fact is one of the most important sources of phosphorous entering our waterways, and the development of national standards implemented in jurisdictions for municipal waste water effluent will raise the Canadian standard for treatment and ensure that more phosphorous is filtered out during that treatment. We anticipate proposing such a regulation this year.
Before concluding with these remarks, we'd like to emphasize that each water body and its drainage basin is in fact unique and that the best approach to phosphate control and management can differ from system to system. While it may seem pollution sources are sometimes obvious, in reality this problem is complex because there are a number of sources.
In any given watershed, some of the phosphate sources can be difficult to locate and measure because they spread out, such as in the case with poorly managed septic systems. That is why we believe it's important for Environment Canada to continue to work with municipal, provincial, and territorial partners to ensure we take the necessary care to protect and preserve waters.
As outlined above, the Department of the Environment agrees that the proliferation of blue-green algae is an important and complex issue, so we are supportive of the intent of Bill . Our intention is to amend the phosphorous concentration regulations to effectively reduce the amount of phosphorous these products contribute to Canadian waters, while providing the time necessary for the proposed limits to be met.
I will conclude simply by saying that Bill is certainly an option for addressing this important issue. It does, however, pose a number of challenges that will require consideration.
We'll be happy to answer any questions members of this committee may have and to provide any follow-up analysis or information you may request.