S-5 is missing many things, including the enforceable right to a healthy environment

Speaker: Ms. May
Time: 24/10/2022 17:39:43
Context: Debate

Ms. Elizabeth May (Saanich—Gulf Islands, GP): Madam Speaker, I have actually worked on the Canadian Environment Protection Act since before first reading in the late 1980s. I was in the office of the minister of environment, so I know the bill quite well. I have to say that it is with the greatest and most profound sense of sadness that I see what we have before us, because so many opportunities are lost to modernize and so many opportunities are lost to do what needs to be done.

I fervently hope that this bill, which comes to us from the Senate, will be significantly improved before the committee. Many members have spoken to areas that need improvement and I want to emphasize the ones that I can with only 10 minutes.

I do want to make a comment, just to preface my remarks, by saying that a lot of what we have discussed today on Bill S-5 has been about the climate crisis. I want to identify that I think the Environmental Protection Act has tools that we can use to address the climate crisis, tools the current government is not using.

I want to make a point that is not made very often in this place and that is that when we talk about the climate crisis, we are incorrect when we classify it as an environmental issue. The U.S. Biden administration has correctly classified the climate crisis as a security threat. There is much that we need to protect in our environment and this bill speaks to a number of areas that are not specifically about climate but that create tools we could use. We should use those tools in part four, and I will speak to that later, but we should stop assuming that when we talk about the climate crisis, that we are talking about an environmental threat. We are talking about a threat to the survival of human civilization.

Looking at what we have before us in Bill S-5, on protecting the environment, I want to approach it in three categories: what is missing, what is wrong in the act and what is better because of some amendments that were recently made.

What is missing is a long list. This is a big act. When it was bought together, as I mentioned, back in the 1980s, it took a number of different bits of legislation, legislation on ocean dumping, legislation on clean air and commercial chemicals and lumped them together. We called it the Canadian Environmental Protection Act.

It has served us well. It has survived a Supreme Court challenge. I want to return to that, but one of the things, in terms of this act, that is missing is that not all sections of the act are being reviewed or amended, which means that if we, as parliamentarians, see an opportunity to improve something that is in the existing Canadian Environmental Protection Act, we cannot touch it in committee. It would be outside the scope of the act.

For instance, look at part six, which deals with ocean dumping, and which deals with genetically modified organisms. Here we are, the only country on earth that has regulated and approved genetically modified animals for human consumption and we are not modernizing that section of the act.

We have, in fact, approved something called AquaBounty Atlantic salmon, genetically engineered. We should be looking at the genetically modified organisms part of part six, but we are not.

Another part that is missing is the right to a healthy environment. It is mentioned, yes, and we have talked about it. A number of members have mentioned the gaps there, including, very recently in this debate, the hon. member for Cariboo—Prince George.

Here is the problem: the government says that it is going to create a right to a healthy environment but it will not be enforceable. A right that is not enforceable is no right at all.

This point has been made by many who have looked at the act, including the very important observation note that came to this place, attached from a note from the other place, where they studied the bill and made amendments. They said, look, we cannot have a right to a healthy environment if we leave in place all of the barriers to enforcement that exist in section 22 of the act.

We have to get to that. We cannot have that ruled outside the scope of what a committee gets to look at.

What is wrong, in the time I have? My gosh, I never thought that, in 2022, we would have a climb down from the advances in environmental protection brought about by the Mulroney government. In 1988, the act was better at listing toxic chemicals than what we have in front of us right now.

If we think I am angry, I am. I appalled.