May 8, 2001

BQ

Stéphane Bergeron

Bloc Québécois

Mr. Stéphane Bergeron (Verchères—Les-Patriotes, BQ)

Madam Speaker, I rise on a point of order.

I like to think that the government has nothing at all against transparency or truth, so I am amazed that day after day it is refusing consent to the tabling of the proof specifically requested by the Deputy Prime Minister of Canada, the one linking the Auberge Grand-Mère with the Grand-Mère golf club.

Once again, I ask for unanimous consent to table this document.


Subtopic:   Point Of Order
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The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

Does the hon. member have the unanimous consent of the House to table this document?


Subtopic:   Point Of Order
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Some hon. members

Agreed.


Subtopic:   Point Of Order
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Some hon. members

No.


Subtopic:   Point Of Order
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LIB

Derek Lee

Liberal

Mr. Derek Lee (Parliamentary Secretary to Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, Lib.)

Madam Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 36(8) I have the honour to table, in both official languages, the government's response to two petitions.

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   Government Response To Petitions
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LIB

Derek Lee

Liberal

Mr. Derek Lee (Parliamentary Secretary to Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, Lib.)

Madam Speaker, I have the honour to present the 13th report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs regarding the membership of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade, and I would like to move concurrence at this time.

(Motion agreed to)

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   Committees Of The House
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CA

Maurice Vellacott

Canadian Alliance

Mr. Maurice Vellacott (Saskatoon—Wanuskewin, Canadian Alliance)

Madam Speaker, I have a petition with the names of farmers from across Saskatchewan wanting the government to give them the necessary tools to fight a severe infestation of gophers.

They are calling on the federal government to amend regulations to permit the sale of concentrated liquid strychnine to registered farmers until an effective alternative can be found. Gophers are destroying hundreds of acres of pasture and grain land every year and to a great extent the farmers are powerless to stop them.

The petitioners hope their petition will convince the federal government to relax the restrictions on strychnine poison so that farmers can get the gopher problem under control. We appreciate the opportunity to bring this grave and serious problem to the attention of the House.

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   Petitions
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LIB

Derek Lee

Liberal

Mr. Derek Lee (Parliamentary Secretary to Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, Lib.)

Madam Speaker, I ask that all questions be allowed to stand.

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   Questions On The Order Paper
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PC

Greg Thompson

Progressive Conservative

Mr. Greg Thompson (New Brunswick Southwest, PC)

Madam Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I have a number of questions that have been on the order paper in excess of 60 days. I should not have to remind the House that the answers to those questions are very important to individual members of parliament.

Under Standing Order 39 we are allowed to put four questions on the order paper. The questions I have on the order paper, which the government has been very slow and reluctant to answer, are questions that have to do with HRDC.

I have been on my feet on numerous occasions but it basically boils down to the fact that if the government fails to answer those questions, it restricts my ability to do my job. It is as simple as that. I would like the government to recognize the problem and do something about it.

The point I made last week was that if a cabinet minister wanted those same questions answered, they would be answered within 24 hours. I and everyone in the House knows that the full resources of the government would kick into action to get answers to very important questions. However, when it is on this side of the House, nothing happens.

Madam Speaker, I would request that you, just out of curiosity, examine the record. Many members of parliament are not using questions on the order paper. The reason is that they get frustrated and just simply give up waiting for the government to answer those questions.

The point of this is simply that it restricts our ability to do our jobs in the House when the government fails to co-operate with opposition members of parliament.

Madam Speaker, please do what you can to ensure that the government responds to those questions on the order paper.

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   Questions On The Order Paper
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LIB

Derek Lee

Liberal

Mr. Derek Lee

Madam Speaker, one would not be critical at all of the hon. member for urging a prompt reply to his questions. However, he is a frequent intervener on this subject and we might as well use the time, in reply to his intervention, to point out again to him the provisions of Standing Order 39(5)(b) which states very clearly that if the answer to a member's question has taken more than 45 days, he or she has the right and ability to transfer the matter for debate at adjournment proceedings. That is a remedy of which the hon. member may wish to avail himself.

If he does not do that, I assure him that the government is doing everything in reasonably prompt fashion to obtain answers to the questions that he put in writing. My records show that there are 10 questions out of approximately 50 where the reply has exceeded the 45 day window and his 1 or 2 questions are among those 10.

I acknowledge that the reply has taken more than 45 days but I do not accept the motive alleged by the hon. member that the government just does not care about providing answers. It does and we will.

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   Questions On The Order Paper
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The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

Shall all questions stand?

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   Questions On The Order Paper
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Some hon. members

Agreed.

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   Questions On The Order Paper
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PC

John Herron

Progressive Conservative

Mr. John Herron (Fundy—Royal, PC)

moved:

That, in the opinion of this House, the government should act with the provinces and territories to establish enforceable national drinking water standards that would be enshrined in a Safe Water Act.

Madam Speaker, before I begin my remarks I want to inform the House that I will have the privilege of sharing my time in this 20 minute spot with the right hon. member for Calgary Centre.

Essentially what the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada is advocating is that we pull out one plank of the election platform we presented to Canadians in the election campaign of this past November, and that was to enshrine into law national drinking water standards. What we would be doing is sending a signal that wherever one resides in this country, the quality of drinking water to be consumed would be the same whether one is in St. John's, Newfoundland, St-Jean, Quebec, Fort St. John, British Columbia or even here in the House of Commons.

I would like to read the motion into the record:

That, in the opinion of this House, the government should act with the provinces and territories to establish enforceable national drinking water standards that would be enshrined in a Safe Water Act.

Water is a finite resource. There is no substitute for it. Yet until recently, this precious necessity did not share the same level of public importance as other limited resources.

Tragic events in Walkerton, Ontario and more recently in North Battleford, Saskatchewan have highlighted the consequences of taking this critical resource for granted.

The public confidence of Canadians has been shaken. We have learned the hard lesson that water is the simplest tool for distributing infection and can create massive deadly epidemics. Yet today, a year after the Walkerton tragedy unfolded, there are no new federal laws enforcing minimum water quality standards in Canada.

In 1990 the former minister of the environment, the hon. Lucien Bouchard, launched Canada's green plan, an ambitious framework to help make Canada an environmentally friendly country. In the ensuing framework for discussion on the environment document that was produced from that green plan, the Progressive Conservative government identified three gaps in Canadian environmental protection that needed to be addressed. Canada was weak in its ability to protect species at risk or wildlife and there was a need to upgrade our existing pesticide legislation, which is still over 30 years old, and to provide a safe drinking water supply for all Canadians. I point out that all three of these issues have yet to be addressed despite eight years of Liberal government.

In contrast, when we look at the record of activities of the Progressive Conservative government, which introduced the green plan I just spoke of, it was the Progressive Conservative government that had the courage to negotiate an acid rain protocol with the Americans. That same government led the international world in 1987 in what was called the Montreal protocol, which led the international community in the banning of ozone depleting gases.

Perhaps one of the hallmarks of that government was the introduction of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, our principal piece of legislation for the control and use of toxins within our environment. At the time it was categorized as a very pioneering bill.

However, we still have some gaps that need to be filled. Today, some 10 years after that framework was released, the Liberal government has yet to pass a significant piece of new environmental legislation. It has merely renewed existing bills.

Prior to being elected in 1993, the Liberals flagged a very real concern to Canadians: that the protection of drinking water was paramount. I will now read from a document which I would be pleased to share a copy of with the House. It was produced on June 23, 1993, by the then House leader David Dingwall on behalf the then opposition leader, now the Prime Minister of Canada, and the then whip, now the public works minister, a member of parliament from the province of Quebec. In it they flagged quite clearly that it was paramount to ensure drinking water safety.

They even went on to produce a chart that they called Tory environmental mismanagement. They said there was no legislation with respect to drinking water safety. That was their position.

Madam Speaker, I am sure you have actually read some of these red books and other documents which we may actually want to refer to. As we go through the historical references, perhaps one of the notes that is most shocking is on Bill C-76, a bill that was introduced by the government to protect drinking water in Canada and then re-introduced. The press release produced by your government, which I am sure you are familiar with, stated:

This Act will provide enforceable national health standards for all materials that come into contact with drinking water...This Act goes a long way to maintaining and improving the health of Canadians.

The Government of Canada is now saying it would not want to make a foray into what it considers to be perhaps provincial jurisdiction. The Progressive Conservative Party has always been very respectful of the jurisdictional boundaries that actually exist in this magical country we call Canada, but it is very revisionist to actually take that perspective in light of what was said only a few years back.

We know that the hallmark of the Liberal Party of Canada is revision. That is characterized by the issue of free trade. It fought us tooth and nail on it in 1988 and 1993 and now embraces the concept. We welcome the Liberals on board on that particular aspect of public policy.

With no new legislation on the books, the Progressive Conservative Party believes that the time to act is long overdue. All Canadians deserve access to a clean and safe water supply. We made this commitment in our last election platform.

Our nation is fortunate enough to claim one-fifth of the world's freshwater resources. Thirsty nations throughout the world are trying, unsuccessfully, I might add, to buy our precious resource. Instead we preach conservation and preservation and admirably invest millions annually into CIDA projects that improve water treatment, sewage, irrigation and pollution control systems. Yet here at home Canadians find it shocking that we cannot guarantee to our own citizens the security of our water supply.

The federal-provincial subcommittee on drinking water, a branch of the federal-provincial advisory committee on environmental and occupational health, currently defines national guidelines for acceptable drinking water quality. However, these Canadian guidelines are just that, guidelines. They are not legally binding and they provide inadequate national protection for our drinking water.

What the Progressive Conservative Party is attempting to demonstrate is that Canadians have concerns about the quality of their drinking water. Recent events in Walkerton and North Battleford have added to those concerns. My Conservative colleagues and I are here, therefore, to propose concrete solutions. All Canadians need to be assured of the quality of the water they drink anywhere in Canada.

All my life I have had great respect for the diversity of our country. All during my political life I have had, and continue to have, respect for the jurisdictions of the provinces and of the federal government. I was present when Bill C-20 was passed. I voted against it. I would like it to be known that I will respect other provincial areas of responsibility, such as education.

There are certain issues that actually transcend jurisdictional boundaries. In the perspective we advocate, we understand that there is a shared jurisdiction between the federal government and the provinces in the delivery of drinking water and the setting of guidelines or, what we are now advocating, standards for safe drinking water. We believe that these standards must be enshrined in law in order to guarantee quality drinking water throughout the country. In addition, these standards should be revised on an ongoing basis.

Unfortunately, studies reveal that Canadian guidelines are far behind the U.S. in their level and breadth of protection. There are substances prohibited by the Americans that do not even appear in Canadian guidelines. In some instances, permissible levels of some identified dangerous substances are set much lower in the U.S.

One such example is cryptosporidium, the substance that is suspected of killing three residents in North Battleford, Saskatchewan. The U.S. has both cryptosporidium and E. coli mandatory standards. Canadian guidelines address only total and fecal coliforms, which includes E. coli. The U.S. EPA requires filtration treatment for cryptosporidium while Canada has no mandatory treatment for eliminating this parasite from our water supply systems.

Jurisdictional matters do indeed complicate the control of our drinking water supplies, but this is not a barrier we should fear. We have to pull together regardless of partisan lines so we can protect our drinking water.

That is why the Progressive Conservative Party has selected very benign language in its motion. It is not partisan. It is not provocative. It clearly states that we have to be respectful of provincial and territorial jurisdictions. It clearly infers that this is something all members of the House should embrace and support. However, even though there are different jurisdictions, this should not deter the federal government from its leadership role in maintaining public health and safety in order to protect drinking water.

It is important to note that the Progressive Conservative Party does not encourage overlap and duplication but rather seeks to harmonize its efforts with the provinces and territories while creating a minimum national standard for all Canadians. If there is a provincial law in place, the federal law need not apply.

I seek the support of all members of the House for our party's motion.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Supply
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LIB

John Bryden

Liberal

Mr. John Bryden (Ancaster—Dundas—Flamborough—Aldershot, Lib.)

Madam Speaker, the member who just spoke and the opposition party that has introduced this motion should be congratulated because this is an important issue and we should debate it.

I will put a very quick question to the member for Fundy—Royal. He is proposing national standards brought in by the federal government, which I presume he means should be legislated standards. There is resistance in Ontario to any imposition of federal standards in just about any area of provincial jurisdiction. Is he proposing that we should bring in legislation setting national standards for water quality and provide penalties that will force the provinces to comply?

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Supply
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PC

John Herron

Progressive Conservative

Mr. John Herron

Madam Speaker, my response is threefold. First, the language in the motion says that we need to act with the provincial and territorial governments. Second, I wish to inform the hon. member that I have been in contact with Elizabeth Witmer's office. She is currently the environment minister in the Ontario government. I told her office what we were advancing in the House of Commons and received no opposition in that regard.

Also, we are looking to the federal government to provide some leadership and act with the provincial and territorial governments. I am very appreciative of the hon. member's response to this. He says it is a very important question. Given that our party wants to do this in a collaborative fashion with provincial and territorial governments, I genuinely hope the member would support our motion.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Supply
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LIB

Dennis Mills

Liberal

Mr. Dennis Mills (Toronto—Danforth, Lib.)

Madam Speaker, I too want to congratulate the member and his party on this initiative. I have been a supporter of this debate for a long time. Using an opposition day to bring this issue to the floor of the House is something I totally support. I will be voting in favour of this motion.

I also bring to the attention of the House, because we are not the only House that is seized with this issue, that Senator Grafstein has Bill S-18 on the floor over there, an act to amend the Food and Drug Act for clean drinking water.

Using the language of the member about non-partisan collaboration, let us get on with it. It may be a consideration, and I do not know the logistics of this, that the House could come together, because there already is proposed legislation, and somehow take the work of the great senator, bring it over here and pass the bill immediately.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Supply
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PC

John Herron

Progressive Conservative

Mr. John Herron

Madam Speaker, I compliment the member for the tenor of his response. The work of Senator Grafstein has been incredibly constructive and is doing what private members' bills should do within the House and the Senate. That is to be provocative and advance issues of public policy that require debate. Senator Grafstein should indeed be congratulated.

I am not sure of the road map and the proposal of Senator Grafstein in terms of how he wants to accomplish this end. We can perhaps debate that later. The spirit of what Senator Grafstein and the Progressive Party want is essentially the same. However we obviously have to include provincial and territorial governments in that equation.

I again applaud Senator Grafstein for his initiative.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Supply
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PC

Joe Clark

Progressive Conservative

Right Hon. Joe Clark (Calgary Centre, PC)

Madam Speaker, I begin by congratulating my colleague from Fundy—Royal, not only for introducing the motion but also for the leadership he has shown on the environmental issue throughout his time in the House of Commons, working obviously as these recent questions have indicated, with other concerned members of the House of Commons of all parties.

In the interest of urgency on the bill, I would like to move an amendment to the bill. I move:

That the motion be amended by inserting the word “immediately” after the word “act”.

That would simply allow us to move forward more quickly.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Supply
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The Acting Speaker (Ms. Bakopanos)

The amendment is in order.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Supply
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PC

Joe Clark

Progressive Conservative

Right Hon. Joe Clark

Madam Speaker, when we speak about clean water, we are speaking about the most basic expectations of our citizens. This is not about some rare disease that may strike strangers in some far off place. This is about what our children drink every day in every part of Canada.

For most of our lives, most of our citizens have believed that our water would be clean, that it would be safe for our kids, for elderly Canadians and safe for all of us. However the water that Canadians drink today is not as safe as it should be. It is not as safe as it could be. That has been demonstrated by two separate tragedies, one last week in North Battleford, Saskatchewan and the other a year ago in Walkerton, Ontario.

For years experts have warned of the need to improve Canada's water safety. As long ago as 1990, as my colleague indicated, the green plan of the then Progressive Conservative government warned of “important gaps in the federal government's environmental legislation, particularly in regard to assuring the safety of drinking water”.

I was part of that government. The minister who launched the green plan was Lucien Bouchard. Ten years later those legislative gaps still exist. The Liberal government has sadly not treated environmental safety as the priority it should have and now the headlines report that Canadians are dying because of drinking water.

There is a broad new fear that environmental health standards have fallen. The fear is real because two things have happened together. First, there are more threats to health. Second, there is less protection for health.

The money that governments spend on protection has been cut and the factors that could contaminate water have grown. What is certain is that the sources of danger will grow as communities become more crowded, as infrastructure crumbles, grows old and is not renewed and as new elements enter the environment. If the threats to citizens grow so too does the responsibility of governments. These are matters which most citizens cannot protect on their own. Society has a clear responsibility which it is the duty of governments to exercise.

Undoubtedly, that issue compels us to ask ourselves, first, which government has to act and which one can take action.

It is a provincial jurisdiction in the first place, but the federal government also has a responsibility, which evolves from its more specific but equally important jurisdiction. As for the municipalities, they are called upon to manage several areas related to water quality and distribution.

If those governments co-operate and work hand in hand, we will have adequate water quality and be able to maintain it. However, if the various levels of government fight between themselves over matters of jurisdiction, the quality of our water will be affected and our children will suffer from it. Still more deaths will make headlines in the news media.

So let us be clear with regard to jurisdictions. Let us be as clear as we would wish our water to be. The first jurisdiction in that area belongs to provinces, but the federal government, under its criminal law power, is responsible for health protection and public security at the national level.

At present, there are only guidelines and these vary from province to province. In concrete terms, it means that the life of your children might be more at risk if they drink water in your province than that of children living in another province. We need to set common standards. We must ensure they are respected and we must do so by respecting both the rights of the provinces concerning their jurisdictions and the rights of the citizens concerning their health. This is the objective of this motion.

We must start by recognizing that there are too many deaths, that the guidelines are too weak and that this is a shared responsibility. Thus, the different levels of government must work together at establishing standards and ways to ensure these rights are being respected. Only then will these weak guidelines transform into standards that the citizens can rely on. Where the jurisdiction is provincial, the means to ensure the respect of these standards may be provincial in nature.

No one is more sensitive to constitutional issues than I. I have spent a major part of my life trying to find ways for the different levels of government of working together in a spirit of mutual respect.

Because of these efforts, we have been able, for example, to launch the Francophonie. We have invited the provinces to participate fully in negotiations toward a free trade agreement. We have entered into an agreement on acid rain, as well as other environmental initiatives. Even through all these processes, we have firmly respected provincial jurisdictions, as well as the interests of the citizens of this country.

Today, when the issue is the quality of the water that our children are drinking, are we going to hide behind the veil of jurisdictions or are we going to try to find solutions to allow governments to co-operate for the well-being of our children?

The motion respects the federal partnership. It allows enforcement. It increases protection at a time when citizens feel protection is gradually falling away. It forces the federal government, entirely within its limited jurisdiction, to stop hiding and to start leading. It gives society a chance to send a strong signal through an enforceable commitment to clean water, an enforceable commitment supported on the floor of the House of Commons of Canada.

I very much hope that Canadians who are concerned about the issue will take this opportunity to move forward on the motion and move Canada toward a situation where there will be no more deaths at North Battleford, no more deaths in Ontario and no more risk of death from the thing that Canadians should be able to count on above all else, which is the safety and the cleanliness of our drinking water.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Supply
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May 8, 2001