Mr. Chair, members of the committee, for more than two years now, Initiative citoyenne de vigilance du Port de Québec has made it its mission to compile and distribute information on the environmental impacts of industrial activities at Quebec City's port. This is not a battle we chose; it was dropped on us, literally. What we did choose, however, was to come together as ordinary citizens to assert our most basic right: the right to raise our families in an environment where our health and quality of life are not at risk on a daily basis because one of our neighbours is unable to behave responsibly.
Today, we have more than 450 members, as well as 1,000 supporters, who are also involved in a variety of grassroots movements right across the country. We are united in our pursuit of one goal: requiring port authorities to dutifully respect their mandate of running a profitable operation while respecting the environment and surrounding communities. In response to all those who have all too often argued that ports, and thus the problem, are under federal jurisdiction, I have said time and time again what a tremendous step forward that would be, were it only true. The fact of the matter is that ports seem to be less and less under federal jurisdiction and more and more under self-control.
No doubt when Parliament created independent federal agencies to manage port sites and operations, its intention was to improve their management. Clearly, the powerful lobbies of the marine industry, and related mining and oil and gas industries have repeatedly argued that fewer restrictions and more authority are essential to develop a marine industry that will ultimately benefit all.
Although we do not deny that ports generate economic benefits, a number of studies have downplayed those benefits, especially when it comes to handling and bulk storage activities. It is also troubling to note that the costs to the community are never taken into account when the real benefit is being worked out. In my community, this particular legal framework has led to major environmental lapses, lapses that are still happening as we speak.
In Canada, the average amount of nickel in the ambient air is approximately 1 nanogram per cubic metre of air, and 2 nanograms is the level considered safe. In Limoilou, however, residents have, for years, been exposed to levels hovering around 52 nanograms, with event-driven peaks of 1,670 nanograms. Regardless, no one has been able to do anything about it, or wanted to.
Although we have worked tirelessly in the past few years to bring to light an environmental disgrace, measurable progress remains less than stellar. I should point out that, as we speak, the port facilities are emitting fugitive particulate made up of an assortment of toxic substances. These contaminants are emitted into the environment, affecting people's health and significantly diminishing the quality of life of thousands.
The level of nickel in the ambient air in my neighbourhood is always well above the threshold considered safe. Quebec City's port authority still refuses to acknowledge or assume its responsibilities, even though a major project to expand the Beauport terminal is about to get under way. Despite being the project proponent, the Quebec City port authority will be in charge of defining the criteria and environmental studies, overseeing the evaluation process and eventually issuing the necessary permits. Nevertheless, over the past two years, the ministers responsible have continued to tell us that the Quebec City port authority has complete authority, that it has the situation under control and that they have total confidence in the members of the port authority's administration.
Like many communities around the country, we, as residents, have lost almost all trust in our port authority. Rightfully, we are calling on the government to tighten up the framework governing all port authorities to put an end to these lapses once and for all. And yet, the amendments to the Canada Marine Act currently being considered are intended to increase, yet again, the powers held by port authorities.
In conclusion, I must remind you that the first duty of elected representatives is, as I see it, to protect society's most vulnerable and ensure that everyone has the right to live in a safe environment. I urge you to consider the message that rewarding a delinquent industry with more powers would send to thousands of men, women and children who live close to port facilities and lack the industry's resources to plead their case. You would be telling them that, regardless of the consequences, it is acceptable to exclude certain industries from the proper legislative regime, favouring a specific regulatory framework for the sake of the bottom line. You would be telling them that it is absolutely fine for an organization to regulate itself, overseeing the enforcement of the very laws that are supposed to govern it. Not only that, but you would be telling them that ports are entities outside space and time, devoid of any ties to the communities they call home, and therefore, it is appropriate for the Canada Marine Act to be the only applicable legislation.
I humbly ask that you reconsider the proposed amendments in favour of measures that would subject Canada's 18 port authorities to stricter control, transparency and accountability.