Madam Speaker, I am happy to rise in the House today as we debate Bill S-5, a piece of legislation that would make significant changes to the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, otherwise known as CEPA. CEPA has not had any major modifications made to it since it was passed in 1999, so there are a lot of aspects of this bill that would have major impacts on the lives of Canadians and on industry, especially as they relate to certain substances and materials.
When people think of the word “legislation”, they expect wording that is clear and concise. Given that bills are eventually enshrined into our laws, it is reasonable to assume that much thought and intention has gone into the words that are being used, and that there is no opportunity for confusion or room for interpretation that could lead to problems for the government in the long term.
One part of the bill that falls under that category, in my view, is the right to a healthy environment, which is in the preamble and not in the legislation. I want to be clear that all of my Conservative colleagues and I firmly believe in and support the right to a healthy environment for each and every Canadian. We are so fortunate to live in a country that contains so many different ecosystems and is filled with natural beauty from coast to coast to coast. It is understandable that we want to be sure that our healthy environment is present and thriving all across the country, not just today but for future generations as well.
The challenge with this is that it is undefined. Having wording that is open to interpretation on such an important matter like this could create issues down the road. If this piece of legislation needs to be revisited years from now because of a lack of clarity, it will cost the taxpayer money. The ideal situation would be to add a definition now or when the bill goes to committee to ensure that we are not going to run into any issues and that there is clarity over what this important right really means.
We also want be sure that the use of vague terminology without a proper definition does not potentially lead to litigation. I do not believe that this is the intent of the bill, so this needs to be tightened up to provide absolutely certainty regarding the definition.
I bring this up because most Canadians watching this are expecting to see us around a table working out some good legislation. In fact, the Minister of Agriculture is quoted as saying the “real role” of the opposition parties is to improve legislation and programming. Hopefully the government is prepared to make some amendments to this going forward, with consideration given to our feedback.
It sure sounds good in the media to say that this right is important and is a priority, but if there are no measures for progress and no benchmarks outlined in the legislation, how is anyone going to know that we have actually done the work? It seems like including the right to a healthy environment in Bill S-5 is more about getting a good sound bite than actually improving the lives of Canadians and our environment.
Another thing that I am concerned about with respect to this particular part of the bill is that it gives the minister two years to come up with an implementation framework for the right to a healthy environment, when we know that it took five years just to consult with the public. If this is an essential right, why is it going to take so long for the minister to come up with a simple definition of what this right looks like? To me, it cannot be a priority if it is going to take years to come up with a framework around the issue, let alone the time it would take to actually implement it.
Why does the government struggle so hard to do more than one thing at a time? This part of the bill is yet another virtue-signalling policy that does not do a single thing to help the environment and does a disservice to Canadians. What the Liberals do not understand is that this needs to be done correctly, transparently and in a timely manner, something we have learned the government is unfortunately incapable of doing.
Another aspect of the bill that I have some concern about has to do with plastics, specifically with the word “toxic” being removed from the title of the schedule but still being referred to everywhere else in the legislation. Again, this creates confusion and a lack of clarity for anyone who might read the bill going forward. It also seems to me that the time and money being spent on this would be put to better use if they were invested in things like recycling and clean technology, rather than vilifying an industry and product that every single person in the House uses every day.
Just think for a second about how essential plastics are in our day-to-day lives. The houses we live in, the cars we drive, the public transit we take and the technology that allows us to do our jobs, like phones and computers, all rely on plastic.
Plastics are also irreplaceable in many fields of medicine and science, and without them, we would not have had the necessary PPE that was used during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as things like IV lines, IV bags, intubation tubes, feeding tubes, syringes and valves, respirators and ventilators, oxygen masks, rehabilitation equipment and suction cups, not to mention the children's toys that placated families when they were sitting at home and isolated. While I understand that plastic is not perfect, it makes no sense that our government continues to vilify a product and an industry that continually makes our lives better and easier, and allows us to live as comfortably as we do.
I was fortunate to be given a tour of the Heartland Petrochemical Complex near Fort Saskatchewan while it was in its development stage, and as of July 5, it was officially opened. In fact, the Minister of Tourism and Associate Finance Minister was in attendance.
This polypropylene plant will generate 65% fewer GHGs than average global plants. It also uses air cooling and not water cooling, which reduces water use by 80%. This facility will result in food packaging, textiles, health care products, medical supplies and more. Furthermore, it is able to reduce GHGs as it now has two carbon capture and storage units, and it is building a third, thus protecting the environment. It avoids shipping propane via truck, train and ship to overseas producers who will create the plastic beads that are shipped back to Canada. This reduces emissions and the risk of safety issues. Let us not forget that this government gave $49 million for this complex.
I would like to speak to Senate amendments 17 and 18, which would create new obligations for industries that use living organisms in their work.
The new obligations would require both the minister and the industry to conduct private consultations for each living organism produced in Canada. I am no laboratory scientist, but I was a regulator at an industry for many years before becoming a member of Parliament. One thing that I firmly believe, based on that experience, is that the industry should regulate itself. As soon as the government starts getting overly involved, things start getting complicated to the detriment of the industry and the taxpayer, due to the extra level of red tape and the inherent cost associated with it.
While there are areas of Bill S-5 that do cut red tape, which I am certainly supportive of, these particular amendments would do the opposite by creating a redundant process. In my view, the government should be focused on making things clearer and more straightforward through the removal of these extra, unnecessary steps, rather than adding more. We know that the bill is not much more than an effort to modernize bureaucracy rather than one that is focused on environment policy, so I am unsure as to why the government would want to increase the burden for the industry, which already does a world-class job with its public consultations.
Furthermore, this additional step would not do anything to improve the already stringent safety measures that are used by the industry today. Doing double the consultation does not equal double the safety or protection against harm. It would also have the potential to set a dangerous precedent for chemicals in general, which is something that is a major concern. Ultimately, we need to realize that there are existing regulatory processes and practices in place, and that the people who are best placed to carry out these practices are the experts, the industry.
The last part of the bill that I want to touch on is the provision that would allow for any person to request the minister assess whether a substance is capable of becoming toxic. I believe it is essential that all appropriate safety measures are taken with respect to substances, but I have serious concerns that this policy could open the door for hundreds if not thousands of requests given the wide scope of it.
This government has a dismal record when it comes to clearing backlogs, as I am sure many veterans who have been waiting years for their disability benefits could tell us. The last thing they need is yet another backlog to clear, which would also likely come with financial implications and cost to the taxpayer due to the need to hire more people to assist in processing these requests. It is a mess waiting to happen, and I strongly encourage that this measure be reconsidered so that we can avoid yet another bureaucratic nightmare.
The fact of the matter is that, while this government tries to convince everyone that it is the ultimate champion of Canada's environment, it has missed every single emissions target it has set, and has only hurt hard-working Canadians through ineffective policies such as the carbon tax. My constituents have zero trust left in this government's ability to make life better for them, so I do hope that the Liberals will listen to the feedback given on Bill S-5 and make the necessary changes for this piece of legislation to do the job it is intended to do.