And somehow, we are half-way through January! For the last week, I have been on one of my seasonal rounds of non-partisan MP Community Meetings.
In the last week, I have met with residents of Pender Island, Mayne Island, Galiano Island, south Saanich, Salt Spring Island, Cordova Bay, Sidney, and today we round things off on Saturna Island. Eight meetings in eight days – doubling up yesterday with two back-to-back meetings to keep Monday available for a meeting with some local – slightly outside Saanich-Gulf Islands – Indigenous leadership.
For readers living in this area, you know what it takes to make the schedule work. We spend a lot of time waiting for ferries, panicking about missing ferries and actually traveling on ferries.
I love the chance to meet with and hear from my constituents. Saanich-Gulf Islands has a very high level of civic engagement. We generally have very high voter turn-out in elections and we tend to vote Green. In the northern part of the riding, at the provincial level, we have an outstanding MLA in Adam Olsen, former Green interim leader. Adam is also a member of Tsartlip First Nation. The two of us also met by zoom Monday with our local government representatives from Islands Trust and the Capital Regional District. This week I also had an excellent meeting with Sidney’s Mayor Cliff McNeil-Smith. Busy times at home when Parliament is not in session.
For today’s missive, I thought it might be of interest to share what kind of issues come up in our local meetings. Our discussions are wide-ranging and well-informed. We have a lot of the same concerns as Canadians everywhere. The lack of family doctors and the stress on our health care system comes up in every meeting. So too the sky-high housing costs and hike in rents is a near universal concern. The opioid crisis is a major concern. On Salt Spring we heard about three fentanyl poisoning deaths in the space of one week. On Pender, we were joined by one of the champions on the issue, Leslie McBain, one of the founders of Moms Stop the Harm. West Coast environmental concerns are also widely shared. We do not want increased oil tanker traffic carrying dilbit. The plight of Pacific Salmon and threat posed by open-pen aquaculture, the herring fishery, and the threat of warming streams inhospitable to salmon are discussed a lot and I am able to provide many updates – sadly not reporting real action. Issues of respecting the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples from settler culture Canadians wanting to be allies and supporters also are raised.
The war in Ukraine came up as a source of deep concern as did opposition to Canada buying the F-35 fighter jets.
I also learned things I had known nothing about.
For example, in the meeting at Reynolds High School, I was asked about the presence of jellyfish in freshwater lakes in our area. The questioner said she’d seen something recent. This is what I could find out:
Fascinating. It appears we do have tiny jellyfish, the size of a thumbnail originating in China. But it also seems this is not recent. The Times Colonist article says some speculate they arrived in the 19th century attached to the roots of water lilies, but reports of them have increased lately. An invasive species is never good news. Back to Montreal and COP15 where more action was pledged by our government on invasive species. Target 6 of the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework is all about a global commitment to reduce the threat of invasive species.
Also tied to COP15 (Target 7) and promises for more government action on ocean plastic, I heard in several meetings about the dreadful problem of Styrofoam (polystyrene) breaking down along our shores and out to sea. As it breaks down, it creates, as you can imagine, millions of tiny little white plastic beads. As one resident said, it’s like a soup. I have been raising this in submissions to Environment Canada and on the floor of the House to Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, Joyce Murray. Environment Canada is taking baby steps toward banning ocean plastics, focusing on a short list of single-use plastic items. We did see some media coverage as the ban took effect in late December.
Anyone familiar with this issue knows these first steps are inadequate. How could we not include plastic water bottles nor many kinds of throw away take-out items? But no one is tackling the use of polystyrene in the marine environment. I will keep working to ban the use of polystyrene in products destined for use in and around marine areas – such as parts of wharves and docks, cushions and flotation devices.
Even though the steps are so small, the plastic industry has launched a lawsuit to challenge the new rules.
The lobbying clout of the plastics industry is something I include in my Community Meeting updates on my parliamentary work. My proposed amendments to Bill S-5, itself a large package of amendments to the 1988 Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA), attempt to protect CEPA from a significant weakening. The weakening of the act is all driven by the plastic industry’s lobbying – based on what it sees as a public relations problem. This excerpt provides as excellent summary from the Canadian Environmental Law Association CELA):
Bill S-5 would: (1) eliminate the word “toxic” from CEPA’s current Schedule 1 List of Toxic Substances; and (2) divide the Schedule into two parts and result in almost 90 percent of the substances being potentially subject to less stringent controls. In CELA’s view these proposed changes by Bill S-5 risk undermining the foundation of the statute as valid federal legislation under the criminal law power of the Constitution as established by the Supreme Court of Canada in the 1997 Hydro-Quebec case. While the chemical industry has applauded the decision to change the title of Schedule 1 to remove the reference to toxic substances, the federal government has provided no compelling reason for its proposed changes to Schedule 1. It is also contrary to the advice the House Standing Committee on the Environment provided Parliament and the Government of Canada in 2007. At that time the House Committee stated in part:
“The constitutional authority for CEPA was narrowly upheld by the Supreme Court in the [Hydro-Quebec] case as a valid exercise of the federal criminal law power. The removal of the word “toxic” would almost certainly invite litigation and, though unlikely, could tip the balance of the court on the issue of constitutionality”.
Bill S-5 goes even further than what the 2007 House Committee warned against doing because the Bill not only removes the word “toxic” from the title of Schedule 1 of CEPA but also creates two tiers of substances, one tier of which is subject to less stringent controls. This kind of change sends the wrong message to the public and the courts. It falls into the category of fixing what isn’t broken and may have the unintended consequence of making what was settled constitutional law up to now, uncertain going forward.
My first seven amendments to S-5 were defeated in clause-by-clause review prior to the Christmas recess. I have fourteen amendments still to be considered when clause-by-clause resumes on January 31- including several based on CELA advice to fix this problem. I wish there was more public campaigning and media coverage on this issue. Please help and write the members of the committee to oppose weakening CEPA. I have listed the Committee members in the P.S. to this note. We do not have much time with the vote being as early as Tuesday, January 31.
Many thanks to everyone who came out to the community meetings. And thanks to all of you from outside Saanich-Gulf Islands who help and support our work!
Best for the week ahead!
Love, (from the ferry line up!)
P.S. Please write on S-5 – newspapers and Minister Steven Guilbeault, and Members of Environment Committee
Format for all MP emails – first name DOT last name @parl.gc.ca
As in “[email protected].
Chair (does not vote)- Francis Scarpaleggia
Liberals: Patrick Weiler, Leah Taylor Roy, Joanne Thompson, Lloyd Longfield, Terry Duguid (also parliamentary secretary)
Conservatives: Damien Kurek, Bob Benzen, Gerard Deltell, Greg McLean
Bloc Quebecois: Monique Pauze
NDP: Laurel Collins