The House resumed from October 18 consideration of the motion that Bill , be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Madam Speaker, every day, Canadians are exposed to chemicals from polluting industries that spew harmful chemicals into the air we breathe and into the waters of our lakes, our rivers and our oceans. At home, we also experience this in the products we use.
Canadians expect their government to take action to protect them and their families from these toxic substances. They expect their government to ensure that all people have the right to live in a healthy environment. However, Canada's main environmental law to prevent pollution and regulate toxic chemicals is decades out of date. While over 150 other countries already have legal obligations to protect the right to a healthy environment, Canada does not.
These are things New Democrats have been calling on the government to fix for years. While we are glad to see this bill finally come forward, there are some critical and troubling weaknesses and loopholes in the bill.
In the two decades since the Canadian Environmental Protection Act was last updated, the number of chemicals that people in Canada are exposed to in their daily lives has grown exponentially. There has been a 50-fold increase in the production of chemicals since 1950 and this is expected to triple again by 2050. Personal care products are manufactured with over 10,000 unique chemical ingredients, some of which are either suspected or known to cause cancer, harm our reproductive systems or disrupt our endocrine systems.
Over the last 22 years, we have also learned much more about the harmful cumulative effects of these toxic chemicals on our health. Nine out of 10 Canadians have hormone-disrupting chemicals used in consumer products in their blood and urine. We now know that exposure to hazardous chemicals, even in small amounts, can be linked to chronic illnesses like asthma, cancer and diabetes. According to Health Canada, air pollution is a factor in over 15,000 premature deaths and millions of respiratory issues every year in Canada.
This is also an issue of environmental justice.
Frontline workers, who are predominantly women and racialized people, often have higher exposure to hazardous chemicals. We know that, across Canada, indigenous, Black and racialized people are disproportionately impacted by toxic dumps, polluting pipelines, tainted drinking water and other environmental hazards. The former UN special rapporteur on human rights and hazardous substances and wastes has stated, “The invisible violence inflicted by toxics is an insidious burden disproportionately borne by indigenous peoples in Canada.”
This is why this bill is so important. Without modernizing legislation to update chemicals management in Canada, and without the legal recognition of the right to a healthy environment, Canadians will continue to be exposed to unregulated and harmful chemicals.
The NDP has a long history of advocating for environmental rights and enshrining the right to a healthy environment in law. My colleague, the MP for , has a private member's bill on enshrining the right to a healthy environment in an environmental bill of rights. For years, New Democrats have introduced legislation on the right to a healthy environment.
The MP for has been urging the government to amend Bill to incorporate the stronger language in his private member's bill. However, the government has not even committed to whether they will accept all of the amendments that the Senate put forward.
While it is good to see the government finally taking steps in this direction, it is important to note that adding the right to a healthy environment in a limited way under CEPA is not the same thing as ensuring that, broadly, all people have the right to live in a healthy environment. There remain troubling limitations on how the right to a healthy environment will be applied and how the right will be enforced.
While the Senate has made several positive amendments to improve the bill, including removing language stating that the right to a healthy environment should be balanced with economic factors, they have also left us with outstanding concerns about the enforcement of that right that they were not able to address.
One of the most disappointing and concerning gaps is that the bill does not touch on the citizen enforcement mechanism in CEPA. The citizen enforcement mechanism is, frankly, broken. It has never been successfully used. The process is so onerous that it is essentially impossible for a citizen to bring an environmental enforcement action. Without a functioning citizen enforcement mechanism, there are serious questions about how the right to a healthy environment can be truly enforced.
Because the government decided not to fix the enforcement of CEPA in the bill, it will be out of scope for amendments. This is a huge gap, but there are also other critical gaps in the bill. It lacks clear accountability and timelines for how toxic substances are managed. It lacks mandatory labelling so Canadians can make informed choices about the products they use. It would not fix loopholes that allow corporations to hide which toxic substances are in their products.
If we want to protect the environment and our health, we have to ensure that we are following the advice of scientists and experts, not the interests of big corporations. These big corporations, made up of some of Canada's biggest polluting industries, have been attempting to stop amendments to Bill , amendments that would strengthen the bill. They are lobbying against better protection for people and for communities. These groups wrote to the Senate, urging the Speaker “to reverse the amendments introduced by the Committee and pass Bill S-5 as it was originally introduced.”
These corporations do not want to be accountable for their toxic pollution. They do not want the right to a healthy environment to be enforceable. They would prefer the bill the Liberals originally put forward. They would prefer a bill with enough loopholes to keep profits and pollution high, but people fundamentally have the right to live in a healthy environment. It is why New Democrats are fighting to amend and fix these loopholes.
In addition to pushing the government to fix the bill, we have also been pushing for an office of environmental justice. The United States already has an office of environmental justice as part of its Environmental Protection Agency, and it has had it since 1992. If we established such an office in Canada, it could not only help coordinate the national strategy on environmental racism, improving our understanding of the burden of preventable environmental health hazards faced by indigenous, Black and racialized communities, but also help us assess possible interventions to address these hazards and ensure that all Canadians have the opportunity to enjoy the same level of environmental protection.
Environment and Climate Change Canada is going to need more resources and capacity if the government is truly committed to addressing environmental inequities and upholding the right to a healthy environment. An office of environmental justice could provide structure and additional capacity to carry out this important work.
I find the failure to address enforcement in Bill the most troubling loophole, but I want to mention a few other gaps in the bill. It does not include legally binding and enforceable air quality standards. It would fail to establish a more open, inclusive and transparent risk assessment process for the evaluation of genetically modified organisms. These are critically important areas the government has chosen not to address, and since the government did not open up these sections, like the section on enforcement, they are areas the government has deemed out of the scope of the bill, so it is not open to fixing them with amendments. This is incredibly troubling.
It has been over 20 years since CEPA was last updated. The environment committee studied this issue and made recommendations on how to fix it five years ago. We have been waiting for this bill, waiting for years, so why have the Liberals left so many gaps, loopholes and issues that still need to be fixed?
Canadians cannot wait another two decades while they continue to be exposed to unregulated and harmful chemicals, while the environment is polluted, and while human health is threatened. We need to protect Canadians now. My New Democrat colleagues and I will continue to push the government to improve the bill, and we will not stop fighting for the right to a healthy environment, a truly enforceable right that ensures that all Canadians can enjoy safe products and a healthy environment for generations to come.
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to participate in this debate. Before I get into the substance of Bill , I would like to share a brief history of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, and before I do that, I want to talk about the harmful effects of pollution on human health and emphasize how crucial it is to keep enforcing tough regulations to minimize pollution.
In 2017, The Lancet commission on pollution and health concluded that pollution is the greatest environmental risk factor for disease and premature death worldwide. An update to the original report published in 2017 was recently released. It finds that pollution is still responsible for a staggering nine million premature deaths per year, which is one in six deaths worldwide. These nine million pollution-related deaths each year are nearly 50% higher than all deaths worldwide attributable to COVID‑19 to date. They are also higher than all deaths in 2019 attributable to war, terrorism, AIDS, TB, malaria, and drug and alcohol use combined. Air pollution is the largest contributor to pollution-related deaths, accounting for 6.67 million total deaths.
I would like to go back to the Constitution of 1867 and remind everyone that there is no reference to the environment in terms of the division of powers between the federal and provincial governments. I would presume that if the fathers of Confederation were here with us and we used the term “environment”, a question mark would appear over each of their heads. Of course the Constitution talks about forests and fisheries, but purely from the perspective of resource development, not from the perspective of resource protection.
The division of powers in environmental matters is not a static thing. It is a result of court rulings or the product of case law. That case law does not grant sole responsibility to any one level of government. In other words, the environment is a shared jurisdiction.
At this point, I would like to talk about the well-known Hydro-Québec case, when the Supreme Court decided that the federal government did indeed have the right to legislate on the regulation of toxic substances under criminal law. In this case, Hydro-Québec, a Crown corporation, was charged with dumping polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, into the Saint-Maurice River in the early 1990s under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act.
In its arguments, the Crown corporation stated that the regulation of toxic substances did not fall under criminal law and that the federal government was using criminal law as a pretext, or colourable device, to infringe on provincial jurisdiction. In a rather close five to four decision, Justices La Forest, L'Heureux-Dubé, Gonthier, Cory and McLachlin said, and I quote:
The protection of the environment, through prohibitions against toxic substances, constitutes a wholly legitimate public objective in the exercise of the criminal law power.... The legitimate use of the criminal law in no way constitutes an encroachment on provincial legislative power, though it may affect matters falling within the latter's ambit.... The use of the federal criminal law power in no way precludes the provinces from exercising their extensive powers under s. 92 to regulate and control the pollution of the environment either independently or in co-operation with federal action.
In other words, the Canadian Environmental Protection Act is a cornerstone that is rooted in our criminal law. It is serious business. Anyone who says that the act is not robust or strong is minimizing the powers enshrined in the act.
What does Bill do? No doubt it has been mentioned in other speeches, but it does the following: It recognizes the right to a healthy environment. This is something that many constituents have written to me about. They are asking for this bill to incorporate it. It also confirms the government's commitment to implementing the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The bill recognizes the importance of minimizing the risk to vulnerable populations, namely children and those who live in high pollution areas. Very importantly, it requires that cumulative effects, that is, how chemicals interact with each other, be considered in substance risk assessments. That is not nothing; this is something that is value-added to this legislation.
Of concern also to many of my constituents, the bill seeks to reduce the use of animals in testing the safety of products. Also, Canadians would be able to request that specific substances be assessed outside the government's particular assessment priorities. There is a role for citizens in this bill and that is in regard to the role and right to request that specific substances be assessed.
Let us go back a bit in the history of CEPA. Let us go back to 1999. The first update to CEPA was in 1999. I remember that very well because I was working on the Hill as a political staffer and the MP I worked for was the parliamentary secretary to the minister of the environment. There were lengthy consultations with stakeholders on how to amend the bill. The committee hearings were quite extensive and involved.
CEPA, 1999 incorporated for the first time the precautionary principle, which, again, is not nothing. The precautionary principles states:
Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation.
I remember there was a lot of debate around that definition of the precautionary principle. No doubt many people would like to see the definition perhaps be a little stronger and maybe not mention the term “cost-effective” as in cost-effective measures. Nonetheless, it is there in the bill.
Also in CEPA, 1999, there was a focus away from managing pollution after it had been created, to preventing pollution in the first place. CEPA, 1999 also included provisions for regulating vehicle emissions which, as we know, the government uses in the battle against climate change.
Finally, CEPA, 1999 established a new, more rigorous and timely approach to assessing whether a substance is or may be considered toxic to the environment or to human health. In the act, toxic is defined as having “an immediate or long-term harmful effect on the environment or its biological diversity” constituting or possibly constituting “a danger to the environment on which life depends” or constituting or possibly constituting a danger “to human life or health”.
Bill , as I understand it, would inject more rigour into the process. Here I quote:
The new regime will retain the risk-based approach in the current Act. For substances assessed as meeting the criteria to be considered toxic under CEPA, the amendments would then require that the Ministers give priority to prohibiting activities in relation to said toxic substances of the highest risk. The criteria for substances of the highest risk would be set out in regulations, and would include persistence and bioaccumulation as well as criteria for such things as carcinogenicity, mutagenicity, and reproductive toxicity. These regulations will be developed in consultation with stakeholders.
We are talking about a bill, and this is a complex area. Clearly, regulations will be required. One cannot put everything in the bill. Much of the detail will have to be contained in regulations.
Another interesting fact about Bill is that the bill, if it is passed and I assume it will be, would require the to publish and maintain a watch-list. This is something new. By watch-list, we mean a list of substances that have been determined to be capable of becoming toxic under CEPA. We are not just talking about substances that are determined to be toxic, but those that could be determined, after study, to become toxic, if, for example, exposure is increased. The watch-list would help importers, manufacturers and Canadian consumers to select safer alternatives and avoid regrettable substitutions.
Another interesting fact about CEPA, which I do not think has really been talked about too much is that CEPA is relevant in the context of the fight against climate change. When we talk about the measures to battle greenhouse gas emissions, we refer a lot to the price on carbon, the price on pollution, but we do not really focus on CEPA.
I was elected and already sitting in the House in 2005, and I remember that the government of Paul Martin added greenhouse gas emissions to CEPA, 1999, namely those emissions from large industrial emitters, citing the “worldwide scientific consensus that there is sufficient and compelling evidence to conclude that greenhouse gases constitute or may constitute a danger to the environment on which life depends.”
This was almost 20 years ago. Even back then the Liberal government had the foresight to understand that climate change was a real and growing problem and made amendments to CEPA, 1999 to give itself the leverage, the power to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. I do not recall the Conservatives being thrilled with this change at the time, although today they happily preach the regulatory route to supporting clean technologies as the preferred alternative to putting a price on carbon.
It has been mentioned and talked about even today in this debate that one of the major steps forward through Bill is the introduction of the right to a healthy environment. I will read the new section 5.1(1) of Bill , which says:
For the purposes of paragraph 2(1)(a.2), the Ministers shall, within two years after the day on which this section comes into force, develop an implementation framework to set out how the right to a healthy environment will be considered in the administration of this Act.
I will come back to this in a moment.
There is another very important aspect of Bill which should not be minimized. It has been mentioned; the member for touched on it. The bill seeks to minimize risks to the health of vulnerable populations. By vulnerable population, we mean “a group of individuals within the Canadian population who, due to greater susceptibility or greater exposure, may be at an increased risk of experiencing adverse health effects from exposure to substances.”
Those with greater susceptibility may include, for example, children and those in poor health. Those with greater exposure may include workers and those living in areas where levels of pollution are particularly high.
In addition, the new law would require that the government conduct research and studies, including biomonitoring surveys specifically in relation to the role of substances in illnesses or in health problems which may relate to vulnerable populations.
This is where Bill intersects with Bill , which in this Parliament is being sponsored by the member for , but was first introduced by the member for Cumberland—Colchester in the last Parliament. It has been referred to as the bill on environmental racism.
Bill is identical, except for a couple of grammatical changes and some wording, to the bill that came out of the environment committee before the last election. This bill goes a bit further than Bill in being very proactive and prescriptive in engaging with vulnerable populations on the risks they face.
For example, Bill requires the to develop a national strategy to promote efforts across Canada to advance environmental justice, and to assess, prevent and address environmental racism.
The bill requires that this strategy include a study that includes an examination of the link between race, socio-economic status and environmental risk, information and statistics relating to the location of environmental hazards. It must include measures that can be taken to advance environmental justice and assess, prevent and address environmental racism and that may include possible amendments to federal laws, policies and programs, the involvement of community groups in environmental decision-making, and lastly, the collection of information and statistics relating to health outcomes in communities located in proximity to environmental hazards.
In an effort to leverage the new right to a healthy environment and the protection of vulnerable populations, it has been suggested that Bill be amended to require that the specify what actions the government will take when ever a substance for which an ambient air quality standard has been established, when the average ambient concentration of such a substance in a geographic area exceeds the standard.
I think this is very important. I think it was alluded to by the member for . Going back to the beginning of my speech, this is where pollution really impacts human health. It is often through air pollution. Many are calling for an amendment to the bill that would require the government to develop actions whenever it is determined that the ambient air quality in a particular area is above standard.
I understand there are some federal and provincial jurisdictional issues around doing this, but I hope it is something that the committee will explore with expert witnesses and perhaps an amendment will be introduced to this effect.
This connects to another issue that I received a lot of mail about in the last few years. The bill seeks to reduce reliance on animal testing. I have many constituents who have written to me in relation to animal testing for cosmetic product development. They have written to me saying that we have to stop this. In fact, the bill opens the door to minimizing the use of animal testing. The Senate made some amendments to make that part of the bill even stronger.
I have met with stakeholders, particularly animal rights groups like the Animal Justice Canada, Humane Canada and the Humane Society International/Canada. They have recommended strengthening this part of the bill even more. The Senate amendment talks about refining the use of animal testing, but that leaves the door open a little too wide according to those I have met with.
Madam Speaker, it is my honour to rise today to speak to Bill . This is a bill coming out of the Senate, but it is a government bill nonetheless, and it contains some amendments to the Canadian Environmental Protection Act.
I would like to talk a little about the history of environmental protection and some of the good work governments have done over the years in environmental protection. Members may know that I am an auto mechanic by trade, and from that I learned that the government has put its fingers in the mix of what it means to build an automobile, both in emissions regulations and safety. I would like to talk a bit today about how, over the years, there have been changes to automobiles that have led to improvements in our environment.
Long before I was born, there was a thing called the hole in the ozone layer, and that was deemed to have been caused by things called chlorofluorocarbons, which were used in air conditioning systems. Before I was born, governments from around the world worked on that to say that we needed to stop using this product and find a different product.
Air conditioning systems of older cars are filled up with a product called R-12. Sometime in the eighties, or it might actually be in the nineties, we switched over to a product called R-134a. Ozone is a particular product in the air way up in the atmosphere. Over a generation, the hole in the ozone layer down by the South Pole was monitored. We watched that slowly close over time. That was deemed to be because of actions governments took. Governments from around the world worked together to ensure this product would not be used as much, and definitely not in the automotive sector.
We have seen vehicles be converted. If one's air conditioning leaked out, one could not buy R-12 anymore and had to convert it to R-134a. When I became an auto mechanic, I was taught on how to switch them over, and also what R-134a was.
More recently, we have gone from R-134a and moved into the new R-1234. That came in about 2013 or 2014, and I was elected in 2015, so I do not have a lot of experience with R-1234. However, I do know governments worked hard on fixing the hole in the ozone layer, and the automotive industry was impacted immensely just with air conditioning. That is one area where governments have done good work in ensuring we could fix the hole in the ozone layer.
The other area, which is probably more tangible to folks, is the area of acid rain. I do not know if the Chair ever experienced acid rain, but again, this was something that governments took action on long before I was born. They worked to ensure automobiles were not producing the substances that create acid rain. We have actually seen a reduction in fuel mileage and horsepower because of these requirements, but we watched the air of every major city in North America improve dramatically. Today, we have not heard about acid rain for a generation, maybe longer, and the air in most cities is tolerable.
More recently, in 2003-04, we moved from worry about those emissions in gas powered vehicles to those of diesel vehicles. We may have heard consternation from diesel pickup owners in our ridings about some of the emissions controls, but those are targeting the acid rain producing materials that come out of internal combustion engines.
NOx and SOx are what they are called, and they are formed when the combustion temperature inside a combustion chamber is too high. Rather than the hydrogen in our hydrocarbon fuels and our carbon combining with oxygen to create water and CO2, the high temperature causes the sulphur that might be in the fuel to combine with oxygen, causing sulphur oxides. For the nitrogen in our air, which is 78% nitrogen, the high temperature causes nitrogen to join with oxygen so that we get nitrous oxides. Those come out of the tailpipe and cause the smell when we drive behind an old vehicle on the highway and it stinks. We often forget this, but when a carburetor vehicle from the sixties smells bad, it is the NOx and SOx we are smelling.
They are what was causing brown rings around the big cities. The air was actually visibly brown. When we see picture of places like Shanghai and China, the brown air we see is from the NOx and SOx. Industrial emitters produce a lot of NOx and SOx as well, but automobiles, particularly from the sixties, are really bad for that.
Governments worked on ending acid rain and reducing the NOx and SOx coming out of engines by using EGR valves, exhaust gas recirculation valves. They came in because manufacturers had to reduce the amount of emissions coming out of engines. They rerouted the exhaust back into the front end of the engine and that lowered the combustion chamber temperature, which then did not allow for nitrogen and sulphur to combine with oxygen to make those things.
Today we have more cars on the road in our major cities than probably ever before, yet acid rain is not something we hear about. Smog is sometimes a bit of an issue, but it has been dramatically reduced from where it was in the sixties. These were the actions that governments took back in the sixties, and in the nineties with respect to diesel engines, to reduce emissions. We are seeing the benefits of those actions, so I applaud them.
I think there is a role to be played by government action when protecting the environment, but I would like the problem and solutions to be clearly defined. I find it a bit frustrating that this bill does not target some of those things.
One of the issues I heard come up from across the way was the term “reproductive toxicity”. I do not know about members, but it is showing up on my radar with respect to infertility rates. Some folks are struggling to conceive children, and it seems to be an increasing problem in the world. Just like we tackled the hole in the ozone layer and the smog and acid rain situations of the sixties and maybe the nineties, it would seem to me that we should perhaps tackle some of these things on more of a case-by-case basis, rather than with a boil-the-ocean kind of environmental protection. Let us get to the bottom of some of these problems we see in the world.
The member from across the way mentioned reproductive toxicity. I am glad that it is in the bill and is being talked about, but there does not seem to be anything in the bill that says we are going to make it a priority and try to get the bottom of it. Is this actually a problem? What is going on here? We seem to insinuate that it is a problem, but we do not really seem to be focused on how to fix it.
This is an ongoing frustration of mine with the government, particularly of late, and I seem to share it with my NDP colleagues. The Liberals come in with a piece of paper that says “Housing Strategy” or “Environmental Protection Act” on the top of it. Then they pass on that blank piece of paper and ask what we are complaining about because they have an environmental protection act. They say, “Don't you see the words on the paper?” Well, we say it does nothing.
It is kind of the same thing with this right to a clean environment. I am glad we put on a piece of paper that we have this right, but what does it mean? I do not know what it means. Then they say they will work on it. Well, the Liberals have been in government for seven years. This is lazy governing. If they are going to just put words on a blank piece of paper and say they are going to fill it in after the fact, what was the point of bringing forward that particular piece of legislation?
Again, we see that here. It is hard to argue against the right to a clean environment. Those are very nice words, but what does that mean? I do not know what that means, because it is going to be filled in with regulations after the fact. We will do consultations and fill that in.
I am increasingly frustrated by this laying on the table of a piece of paper that says good things on it but does not actually mean a whole bunch. I asked the previous Liberal member what it means. It is a positive right in some sense.
Maybe I should explain a bit about the difference between negative and positive rights. A negative right is like the right to not have property taken away. The government may not impede property rights. That is a kind of negative right, and I do not see a problem there. A positive right is like the right to housing. It is great to have a right to housing, but how do we enforce it? What does that mean? Does the government then have to provide us with housing? Who must it take it from? That is the challenge sometimes with positive and negative rights.
The right against illegal search and seizure is a so-called negative right, as the government cannot impinge upon one's person. I think that is a good thing, but the right to a job, for example, is maybe more difficult to enforce and is also not necessarily something the government has to give. It does not have to provide us with a job. Who will the government force to hire us, essentially? These are positive rights versus negative rights.
The right to a clean environment strikes me as one of the so-called positive rights that I would have liked to see in the bill. I would like to see the government lay out what it means by that. What does the right to a clean environment mean? If someone does not have a clean environment, must the government move them across the country to a place where there is a clean environment? If we do not feel that the environment is clean, can we sue the government to clean it up? If we do not feel that we are living in a clean environment, what does that mean? That is essentially what I am looking for in this particular bill.
I would say that Conservatives over the years have had a very strong record in tackling some of the very issues that have come toward us, such as acid rain, the hole in the ozone layer and the NOx and SOx issues. Also, generally, given the word “conservative”, we are about conserving things. We have a great record in Canada of conservation efforts around wildlife, for example, and getting our hunting and angling communities to ensure that there are people out on the land monitoring all of these things. We work together to ensure that we manage our wildlife and I think that is important.
We have probably, over the last 200 years, improved wildlife numbers in Canada dramatically. The Canada goose was, at one point, on the brink of extinction. If we ask anybody about that today, it is definitely not a problem. We can go to any public park anywhere, and I am sure that the Canada goose being nearly extinct is not something anybody is concerned about anymore. The beaver, which is on our nickel, was near the brink of extinction at the turn of the century. In 1899, it had been nearly trapped to extinction for the fur trade. Today, the beavers are winning the battles against our highway crews in many places along Highway 88 in northern Alberta. I do believe the railway to Churchill was taken out by the beavers in 2017. The beavers are winning these wars. Why? It is because there are millions of them in Canada. These are success stories of conservation that we have had here.
These are stereotypes, and I often get accused of trading in stereotypes. Nonetheless, one of the differences between so-called progressives and Conservatives is the idea of trade-offs versus solutions. Conservatives are typically thinking in terms of the trade-offs of different policy proposals, whereas often the progressives are talking in terms of solutions to things. When they see a problem, they say the carbon tax will be the solution to climate change, and that is their argument to make. However, we would say that there are trade-offs to be made.
Think about the plastic straw, for example. We see that the plastic straw is being banned all around the world, including here in Canada, and we are bringing in paper straws. There is a case to be made for the plastic straw ending up in the oceans, but are the plastic straws that end up in the ocean coming from Canada? Well, we can clearly make the case that this is not happening. In general, the plastic in Canada is ending up in the garbage. It is being recycled, being put in a landfill or being used to create electricity, so that is generally not the case.
We can say that the trade-off between a paper straw and a plastic straw is that paper straws do not work. I do not know if members have gone to McDonald's for a milkshake and tried to used a paper straw, but it is terrible. The plastic straws work better. We can make the trade-off and say that while plastic straws might be a problem in parts of the world, they are not a problem here, so let us use plastic straws.
The other thing is the trade-offs between the CO2 emissions of things and the reality of other products. We are concerned about plastic ending up in our environment, and that is a valid concern, but we have to balance that against CO2 emissions. In many cases, plastic reduces our CO2 emissions dramatically. For CO2 emissions, the difference between using a plastic straw and using a paper straw is dramatic. The CO2 emissions per straw are something like 10 times lower for the plastic straw versus the paper straw.
If we think about that a little, it is great that the paper straw is decomposable. Maybe it does not work but it is decomposable, whereas a plastic straw is not and we have to make sure that it gets to the appropriate recycling department. However, the CO2 trade-off is that the plastic straw has 10 times fewer CO2 emissions over the lifetime of the straw.
It is the same with plastic bags versus paper bags. We could transport 1,000 plastic bags for the same effort as transporting 10 paper bags. We should think about that when going to the grocery store and using paper bags versus plastic bags, and about the amount of energy that it takes to haul paper bags to the store versus plastic bags. As for the CO2 emissions between a paper bag and a plastic bag, the difference is 100 times just in the transportation costs. There is a trade-off to be made there. There is a trade-off to be made between ensuring that plastic does not end up in our environment and addressing CO2 emissions.
As Conservatives, we understand that all of the decisions governments make are generally trade-offs. We are trying to find a balance between two extremes. Are we more concerned about plastic ending up in our environment? Are we more concerned about CO2 emissions? We made that trade-off extensively when it came to PPE. We have all come through this pandemic, but suddenly single-use disposable plastics did not seem to be as big of an issue anymore when we were concerned about fighting a pandemic around the world.
I remember going to get a test for COVID and there was a single-use apron, face shield and mask. They tested me and I watched them throw it all in the garbage and repeat it for the next person. For single-use plastics, suddenly we made that trade-off. We said that our fight against the pandemic was worth more than our concerns around plastic.
I am excited to see where this bill goes. I am hopeful that the government will clarify the right to a clean environment, and I am happy to take some questions.
Madam Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for .
Before I get going, I just want to take a quick opportunity to acknowledge my parliamentary secretary assistant, Kelly, who is celebrating his birthday today. Kelly has been a volunteer of mine since he was in high school. As a matter of fact, in the summer of 2015, when we were running against the Conservative government and Stephen Harper called an election in the middle of the summer, most of us were saying to ourselves, “Why is this election so long?” It was one of the longest elections in Canadian history.
Meanwhile, Kelly was celebrating the fact that Stephen Harper had called the election on or for his 18th birthday. On October 19, 2015, Kelly turned 18, registered to vote and cast his first ballot. He has been part of my team ever since, and is my parliamentary secretary assistant. I just want to wish him a happy birthday.
I was trying to think of what I was going to talk about as the debate was ensuing this afternoon, and I was not quite sure. Then the member for got up and spoke, and it became very clear to me what I was going to talk about. I find it very interesting and very rich that the Conservatives on the other side of this House always hearken back to the days of the good old Conservatives, who fought for climate. Indeed, if we talk about the Progressive Conservatives, individuals like Flora MacDonald, who came from my riding, from back in the 1970s and 1980s, were Progressive Conservatives who cared about very important issues.
The member specifically spoke about two issues, and I will reference them as well. First, on the protection of our ozone layer, he is absolutely right. I think it is lost on a lot of people, the incredible work, through the leadership of Brian Mulroney, back in the 1980s, when it came to the ozone depletion and our approach on how we were going to solve this globally. I will read something from CBC:
They predicted that continued use of CFCs would completely collapse the ozone layer by 2050. Without ozone protecting us from the sun's UV rays, skin cancer rates would skyrocket.
Faced with that dire outlook in 1987, 46 countries agreed, in Montreal, to dramatically limit the use and production of CFCs.
Mulroney signed the protocol. So did Reagan, often considered the ur-Republican. Even Margaret Thatcher, the Iron Lady of British Toryism, got on board.
If members can believe it, led by Brian Mulroney, a Progressive Conservative, those countries literally saved the planet by protecting the ozone layer. The member is absolutely right when he hearkens back to the Progressive Conservatives and the role they played.
He also talked about acid rain. Let me read a quote, also from the CBC, about acid rain:
In 1990, Bush signed an update to the Clean Air Act that included regulations on emissions that were causing devastating acid rain in the U.S. and Canada. The Canadian government had spent a decade trying to get Washington to address the issue, but were met with resistance—until Bush.
This is the legacy of Brian Mulroney and the Progressive Conservatives. They fought for the environment. They did not care where the problem originated. They looked at it as a global problem and saw Canada's responsibility to lead the way, and on two occasions Brian Mulroney did exactly that.
Right after talking about the incredible work of Brian Mulroney, what did the member for do? He asked why we would bother trying to get rid of plastic straws, because we are not using plastic straws; our plastic straws are not ending up in the oceans; it is other people's plastic straws. He asked why we had to use paper straws because other people are irresponsible. That is the Conservative Party of today. That is their approach. Their approach is not the Brian Mulroney approach or the Flora MacDonald approach of the 1980s. That is what we are faced with right now.
I would remind the member that Stephen Harper, the next “Conservative” prime minister to come from this place, did absolutely nothing.
I put it in quotes because we all know, and it is glaringly obvious, that ever since Stephen Harper came along the Conservative Party, the Progressive Conservative Party, that could elect somebody in Kingston and the Islands, Flora MacDonald, no longer exists. They can take the name and the colour, but what we have over there is the former Reform Party of Canada. That is what we have. We do not have the Brian Mulroney Conservative Party that cares about the environment. For the member for to suggest that Conservatives have always been there to fight for climate, to fight for the environment, is incredibly rich because it draws no comparison to the party of today.
Then, when we think that we got to the furthest point possible with Stephen Harper, members across the aisle are even less progressive than Stephen Harper. If we will recall, it was Stephen Harper who said that pricing pollution makes sense. Why would that not make sense to a Conservative? We are literally talking about the economic model and how to incentivize market decisions through the economic model and the principles around an economy.
One would think that if anybody understood that in the House, it would be Conservatives, who purport themselves to be the saviours of the economy, the party that understands economic principles and how an economy works. Conservatives cannot even support a basic principle of understanding that, when we put a price on something, it will change and incentivize choice in the marketplace. Stephen Harper understood that. Stephen Harper is on the record having said it makes sense to put a price on pollution.
Where are we today? We get the member for who comes along as the next leader and goes completely against that. Then we get the member for , who, to his credit, and I almost felt sorry for him at times, recognized that he was dealing with a party that did not support this because it is motivated from an angle of denying climate and wondered how he would work with it. He set up this Air Miles-type program of trading off options and then getting to pick a prize at the end, a bicycle or something. He tried at least to build it into an economic model of some sort.
Then, of course, we get to the current , an individual who, time after time, gets up and harps on and on about how pricing pollution is not the answer, despite the fact that economists throughout the world, and one would think that Conservatives would listen to economists, say that it is, and despite the fact that it is proving to be the most effective tool throughout the world. Here we are. This is the Conservative Party of Canada today.
It is not the Conservative Party of Brian Mulroney. It is not the Conservative Party that literally saved the ozone layer. It is not the Conservative Party that saved us from acid rain and that worked and pushed George Bush for a decade to do something about it. This is a different Conservative movement and it is nothing like the Conservative movement that elected Flora MacDonald in my riding of Kingston and the Islands.
Madam Speaker, it is such a pleasure to rise to speak to such an important piece of legislation. It is probably one of the more substantive pieces, as it would update and possibly modernize legislation that, in my opinion, is going to have a real impact on Canadians.
Having a right to a healthy environment is something that we should never take too lightly, and I believe this legislation would establish a framework that would provide a much higher level of confidence for Canadians. For the first time, we have a government in Canada that sees that each and every one of us has a right to a healthy environment.
I remember listening to newscasts years ago that talked about the chemicals being put into products that were ultimately sold to children. I am thinking particularly of those small products that infants and young children would put in their mouths, which were primarily imported into Canada. We did not know the chemical makeup of the paints used, for example, but the product was being put directly into the mouths of children and being digested.
There was a time when asbestos was recognized as a wonderful product, and homes in all regions of our country were using the product as a form of insulation. In fact, if we go far enough back in time, we will see that governments were possibly subsidizing and encouraging the consumption of that particular product.
How things have changed, and I see that as a very strong positive. Fast-forward to today. We are now debating a piece of legislation that would deal with many chemicals, carcinogens and toxins, and how we can make a difference in what the public as a whole is seeing in our communities. Whether it is walking down the street or purchasing a product, we would have a better sense of what it means to have a healthy environment in which to live.
Earlier, a member from the Conservative Party asked about this whole idea that any Canadian would be able to request a substance to be assessed, and he tried to portray it in a negative light to my colleague in the form of a question. I, too, will wait as we see the framework flushed out to see how that issue will be appropriately addressed. However, what I take away from this legislation is that, for the first time, we would be empowering the people of Canada to be able to say, “Here is a substance that causes concern from a health perspective that I would like to see the Government of Canada address.”
I see that as a strong, positive measure. The details of that will come out in time, but my colleague answered the question by saying that it would possibly require some sort of triaging to determine priority in terms of possible investigations. I do not know the details of it, but I think the vast majority of people would recognize that this is a significant step forward. When we talk about having a right to a healthy environment, that is the type of example that I will give to the constituents I represent. I think people can relate to that.
Today at second reading we are talking about the principles of the legislation. I am really encouraged that there is a commitment for ongoing reconciliation in the legislation. I made reference earlier to UNDRIP and how that is being brought in, in terms of the calls to action on the issue of reconciliation.
We have a and a government as a whole that recognize the importance of indigenous communities in dealing with legislation such as what we are talking about today. It was a commitment that was given virtually from day one when today's Prime Minister of Canada was first elected not as the Prime Minister but as the leader of the Liberal Party, in third party status here in the House. The Prime Minister made the commitment on the calls to action.
Even within this legislation it might not necessarily be the biggest highlight for all people, but the principle of what is being talked about, and incorporating it into the legislation, is another clear indication of the sincerity of this government wanting to move forward on the issue of reconciliation. It is so vitally important not only for the , but also for all members. Particularly within the Liberal caucus, it is something that is constantly being talked about in a wide variety of different departments.
In talking about existing substances, I do not know much in terms of science, but I do know there are carcinogens and toxins that, as everyone understands and appreciates, cause serious issues for our environment and Canadians in general. There is an established list, at least in part. It is important that we continue to assess and manage those substances. It is important that we keep an open mind, as no doubt there will be a need to add to that list. Something that is talked about within this legislation is the development of a watch-list. I would suggest we could take that back to some of my first comments in regard to Canadians being able to contribute to that.
We often hear from our constituents about the issue of animal testing, how animals are being used as test subjects for different consumer products and more. In a very real way this legislation is moving us forward on that issue in looking at ways in which we could minimize animals being used for testing.
The bill talks about labelling, an issue I made reference to earlier, and how we ensure there is consistency in labelling so there is a better understanding of what is in the contents.
My colleague made reference to the importance of provincial and federal jurisdiction. As a government, we are committed to working with indigenous communities, provincial governments and other stakeholders. Caring for our environment and protecting the health of Canadians is all of our responsibilities. We, as a national government, have a leadership role to play, and I believe Bill is demonstrating that leadership role.
Madam Speaker, it is always an honour and a privilege to rise in the House of Commons and to get a chance today to speak to Bill , which is a piece of government legislation that comes to us from the other place. After it was introduced there, several amendments were made to the bill and it was sent to this House for more consideration. This piece of legislation mainly focuses on how the government will administer the Environmental Protection Act, 1999, as well as the Food and Drugs Act. I will talk about some of that in a moment.
First, it is worth noting that this is another environment bill coming from the Liberal government, which is a frequent topic. That is always something interesting to see when we consider the long list of hypocrisy, double standards, failure and empty promises that we keep getting from the government. That is why we often have to wonder what exactly the Liberals are trying to do whenever they are trying to bring something like this forward. Sometimes they are pushing political agendas or special interests in the name of supposedly helping the environment. Other times they are quickly trying to change the subject to distract from their failed policies or one of the many scandals that they seem to find themselves involved in on a regular basis.
For all we know, that might be why the government added a general statement that we should protect the environment, without really defining or explaining it any further. Regardless, it is important to remember how the Liberals tend to operate when any bill on this topic comes from their government.
Until recently, I was on the public accounts committee. Along with reviewing the Auditor General's reports, we had the privilege of being able to look at the environment commissioner's reports on a regular basis as well. This gave me and my Conservative colleagues a closer look at the government's record of not keeping its promises or of missing its targets. It is remarkable how, over the course of time on the committee, and I am sure many other members here who have sat on the committee would agree with me, there is a recurring theme of overall failure to get things done and accomplished. More than half of the reports that we saw in this particular Parliament indicated significant failure. In some cases, the government is not delivering because there was no plan or no effort at all to get it done.
The last environment commissioner's report that I worked on had to do with the just transition, as the government supposedly calls it. This is what the commissioner told us:
[T]he government has been unprepared and slow off the mark.... We found that as Canada shifts its focus to low‑carbon alternatives, the government is not prepared to provide appropriate support to more than 50 communities and 170,000 workers in the fossil fuels sector.
The government identified Natural Resources Canada as the lead department to deliver just transition legislation in 2019.
[We found [t]he department took little action until 2021, and it did not have an implementation plan to address this significant economic shift.... Without a proper just transition plan in place, there are risks that are comparable to what occurred with the collapse of the northern cod fishery in Atlantic Canada in the 1990s.
Why is this important? I represent an area in southwestern Saskatchewan and my colleague from is in the southeast corner of Saskatchewan. Right where our borders meet is an area that is going to be affected by this supposed just transition by the government. The towns of Rockglen, Willow Bunch, Coronach and many other communities in that area are going to be directly impacted by this. What we have seen repeatedly through the delays is that the government has not actually taken any steps yet to help these communities with this transition as the government is removing the number one economic driver in those communities and throughout that entire region. This has only been exacerbated these last two years, but that does not give the government the excuse of not being able to deal with something that it has implemented and forced upon these communities.
Whenever the government takes something away from someone, it has to be able to backfill it or replace it with something else. That is what the government is supposedly trying to do with a just transition, but we are just not seeing it. It is really important. Having gone through so many of the public accounts reports and seeing the failure, not even to have a plan in place is doing an extreme disservice to these communities.
I will talk about the town of Coronach as well. Coronach is in the riding of the member for . I met with the mayor because he is part of a regional group that is represented by both Rockglen and Willow Bunch in my riding. He was talking about how their town specifically was designed to accommodate a population base of closer to 2,000 people. The town has only around 800 people right now, though. With the removal of the coal mine and power plant from the riding, who knows what is going to happen to that population?
Coronach is a town that is uniquely set up to grow and blossom, if only there were some proper investments into the community, from both the private sector and the government, particularly from the government, when it is removing the number one driver of the local economy. This is a town that has all the potential in the world to be able to do more, but the government is making sure it will achieve less, and unfortunately it is going to be at risk of suffering a fate similar to other communities that have had their entire economies wiped off the map.
Again, I look at Rockglen and Willow Bunch. The government spent some money in those communities. That had nothing to do with this just transition plan, yet the government is saying that it was actually from that funding stream, which is completely backward and is not actually helping to address the problems these communities are going to have going forward. These are problems such as broadband, which would be a far more appropriate investment by the government into their communities. Instead, it is investing in other areas that are not on a priority list for these communities. They are seeking an opportunity going forward as the government removes this critical industry from them.
Something else the committee looked at in public accounts was the carbon tax. The Liberals call it a price on pollution as though it is supposed to help protect the environment and we have just not seen the results yet. It is supposed to be their signature policy for the environment, but we see it is not actually a serious approach to the issue of the environment. Instead, it has turned out to be a great excuse for the government to take more money from Canadians' pockets, and the Parliamentary Budget Officer has released reports to confirm that Canadians, in fact, are receiving less than what the government is taking from them.
On the government's claims about the carbon tax being revenue neutral, when I asked the finance department about the amount of GST charged on top of the carbon tax, it confirmed that is over and above the $4.3 billion collected last year, but it could not actually give me a number because it was not keeping track of it. This is absolutely insane, because when we look at an energy bill, and I have many farmers who are sending me their bills to show how much carbon tax they are paying on their energy costs to dry grain, heat their barns and things like that, there is the carbon tax price and right below it there is a line for the federal GST that is collected.
Over time that becomes a lot of money, because there is a lot of carbon tax being collected now, but as we see the government planning to triple the carbon tax going forward, all the way up to $170 a tonne, that is going to be problematic, and we are going to see that GST number rise, yet the government does not even know how much money it is collecting from it. It is just insane. I do not even really know what more to say than that.
Bill is a bit different from the more outrageous examples out there. In particular, it would bring the focus back to Canada's legal and regulatory frameworks, which have already been in place for a long time. While many industry associations have supported the bill from when it was originally introduced, they have also expressed their concerns with some of the amendments it has received since then.
It is our job in the House to consider all of this and carefully review everything so that we can get the right balance, and hopefully the government will listen and reconsider some of the changes made to how it originally wrote its own piece of legislation. One of the first questionable issues for Canadian industry is a change to the wording related to the precautionary principle.
At first reading, the bill originally used standard wording, which is internationally recognized. It read, “the lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation”. The key word in that sentence is “cost-effective”. It demonstrates that we fully expect the co-operative and responsible approach on the part of our industries to protect the environment. This expectation also includes awareness and respect for the needs and circumstances for those same industries. That is quite clear.
However, this statement has been amended to say, “the lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing effective measures to prevent environmental degradation”. Such a change is not as small as it might sound. Those two words are clearly different with their emphasis, and this causes a shift in the meaning and interpretation of that section.
The other problem is that the bill refers to the precautionary principle, which is an international concept of long-standing international recognition. It represents a balanced approach between the environment and industry, and there is no need to move away from it. The wording for it is “cost-effective” and our law should faithfully reflect what it is citing, instead of creating uncertainty by changing what it says and what it means.
I will turn to another amendment made to this bill about assessing whether a substance is toxic. The original version mentioned vulnerable populations, but it did not include “vulnerable environment” as a new term, which has been added along with it. In Bill , it is vague and unclear, which is not helpful and can create regulatory uncertainty for stakeholders dealing with the process of assessment or enforcement.
Again, we must not lose sight of the right balance between strong protection for the environment and practical concerns expressed by our industry. In that regard, it is a real possibility for a regulatory regime to become excessive and hostile to development.
We have seen a similar situation that is unnecessarily blocking resource projects across the different regions of the country. The Impact Assessment Act process has not only ruled out new pipelines for oil and gas, but also created challenges for forestry, and even more so for new mining projects, which are needed for the government's green ambitions.