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Véronique Lalande
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Véronique Lalande
2014-11-24 15:43
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.
Thank you.
Véronique Lalande
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Véronique Lalande
2014-11-24 16:55
We aren't the only ones in this situation. Many citizens across the country are in the same boat.
I will use an analogy. It is as though someone owned a building and, because they owned many buildings, decided for the sake of efficiency, to hand over the operation of that building to a management company, giving it full authority. If I, as a building tenant or neighbour, have a problem related to the building's occupancy, I have to be able to ask the owner to fix that problem. It's not acceptable for the owner to repeatedly tell me that, even though my concerns are legitimate, he has handed over all his authority to a management company. The owner is still responsible for the building's operation and property.
I believe that, as a citizen, I should be entitled to communicate my concerns directly to my government. I should not have to negotiate, for administrative reasons, with an administrative authority that always refuses to grant my access to information requests and to publicly disclose figures, an authority whose first mission is to develop the industry, not protect the public.
Véronique Lalande
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Véronique Lalande
2014-11-24 16:57
What we want to make clear in our remarks today is that a piecemeal approach is still being used to manage the specific needs of certain ports and port authorities. I am here today as the voice of the people. They are calling for a full review of this approach.
Allowing ports to acquire property, for instance, in British Columbia, for the purposes of a project and to manage those activities does not, in and of itself, pose a threat. Where the problem arises, however, is in the delegation of many such minor powers, which, when taken together, create an entity that falls outside the usual legislative scope. And that is what eventually gives rise to problems.
I will tie it back to the situation we are facing with the Port de Québec. The government is saying that ports need to be able to acquire property, but they can lease that property afterwards for the use that best suits their interests. If they become the owner, they can sublease the property. In our case, the property belongs to the federal government, but the industry is also conducting operations there.
The transportation industry is under federal jurisdiction. So even if the port authority acquires a property that is no longer federal, it could always hide and lease it to a company. That's what happened in our case. A company with no connection to the marine industry was cleaning up sites. With the help of our public health officials, we had to be extremely vocal to bring that to light.
But even then, will it happen? I do not know. But if the past is any indication, the government should be very cautious in its budget decision-making before giving port authorities greater powers without knowing exactly how those powers will be used.
Véronique Lalande
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Véronique Lalande
2014-11-24 16:59
We think that this piecemeal approach prevents us from having a comprehensive view of the marine industry and port management. That's what causes problems. Ports compete with one another, and there is no integrated vision of the port industry.
For example, it is impossible to use port authorities' powers to bring closer to urban centres port activities that are more appropriate to the proximity of densely populated areas and move those activities to ports further away from urban areas. A piecemeal approach makes it impossible to do that, since each administration becomes a business that wants to achieve maximum productivity.
There is another significant issue that should be pointed out. Harbour authority boards are mainly composed of users' representatives—companies that do business in the harbour—and one representative for each level of government.
I want to remind you that, according to their statutes, harbour authorities' mission is to ensure marine development, respect the three jurisdictions and take into account the community and the environment. So, why does no one on those boards represent these aspects?
Véronique Lalande
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Véronique Lalande
2014-11-24 17:03
Ultimately, I would like the members of the committee to realize.... Maybe this is not the time, but I think you have very few occasions on which to hear from real citizens who come to speak just for themselves and just to bring you a concern that maybe authorities or professors don't have. It's that it's not time to give small powers one at a time to port authorities, but it's really time to look at the port activities as a whole and then to act and to restrain the powers you are giving to
independent federal agencies.
who use them as well as they can, but whose goal is to maintain profits and not to protect people, which is your role.
Véronique Lalande
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Véronique Lalande
2014-11-24 17:04
I'm here as the spokesperson of l'Initiative citoyenne de vigilance du Port de Québec, but l'Initiative citoyenne du Port de Québec is not chartered. We are just citizens who have gathered together to fight an aggression that we have every day in our community.
Véronique Lalande
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Véronique Lalande
2014-11-24 17:05
Actually, the numbers that are given by the port are always very high.
Véronique Lalande
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Véronique Lalande
2014-11-24 17:05
Actually, when you look at all the ports, we are mainly focusing on the bulk industries, which are known as being very space-consuming.
That's not really a value-added activity if we compare it to ship building, for instance.
If you look at the jobs at the port of Quebec, most of them come from la construction navale.
If we look at the jobs created in bulk handling, the port is really just a passageway. Very little wealth is created for the community. The number of jobs is about 200. Concerning all the costs to the community, a number of studies indicate much lower economic benefits. In the Port of Quebec, the GDP value in terms of economic benefits of the bulk industry is less than 1% for the community. However, the studies indicate a very high level of inconvenience and problems for the constituents, and that is never taken into account when the port presents its figures. They always talk about jobs and benefits, but they never keep track of social, economic and health costs people have to assume collectively and individually.
Véronique Lalande
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Véronique Lalande
2014-11-24 17:06
No, no. We've said, I would say a million times, that our goal is not to shut down the port. We believe that things like recreation and port operations can all be parts of a community, but we want the port of Quebec to maintain.... Actually, we are the greatest supporters of the Port de Québec mission, which is to...
Again, the port's profitability must be ensured while respecting the environment and communities. If we had a transshipment system in Quebec City for handing all products, I would not be here talking to you. We actually think that those mechanisms would not only preserve jobs, but would also generate innovation that could bring much more....
Véronique Lalande
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Véronique Lalande
2014-11-24 17:07
We think that a process where the industry—which is the promoter—defines rules, handles the process and ultimately gives its approval does not meet the transparency criteria for projects that will have such an impact on the community.
Véronique Lalande
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Véronique Lalande
2014-11-24 17:08
We have instead documented the impact of port activities. As for jurisdictions, I would like to have much more time and be able to dedicate myself to those issues full time, but I have a job. I am probably the only person here who is not paid to participate in this meeting.
However, ours is one of the only countries with such a gap between federal and provincial jurisdictions. This makes alignment more difficult. Coexistence issues between ports and populations are noted around the world.
Véronique Lalande
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Véronique Lalande
2014-11-24 17:18
Our citizens' initiative is not about being against something. All we want is a healthier urban environment.
Véronique Lalande
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Véronique Lalande
2014-11-24 17:18
There are a number of elements to consider.
When the October 26 incident took place, I was told that, since the port came under federal jurisdiction, nothing could be done. I called the federal authority, and I was told that the air contamination at my home clearly came under provincial jurisdiction.
I then wondered whether I was the only person to realize what a huge gap separates the two sides. On the one hand, the entity managing the territory and the activity taking place there does not have access to the data on the impact of those activities. On the other hand, the entity that has jurisdiction over the territory and should deal with the repercussions on the population does not have access to the source data.
Port authorities have to meet the highest standards, as stipulated in the Canada Marine Act. We do not think they should have the right to choose. The law should clearly indicate that port authorities have an obligation to respect three levels of legislation—federal, provincial and municipal, when applicable. That would already be a major step ahead.
For years, the Quebec Port Authority wanted to increase the tonnage capacity. That capacity went from tens of thousands of tonnes to 33 million tonnes without any questions being asked. We are going through this in our region, and so are the constituents of Fraser Valley, Sept-Îles, Belledune and Halifax.
Marine activities are booming, especially those with an environmental impact—in other words, those related to bulk product handling. Those activities should be managed by a higher authority and not by independent entities that have a mandate to ensure sound management, but that we do not think have an objective to protect the population.
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