Question Period: Federal Contaminated Sites

By: The Hon. Judy White

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Hon. Judy A. White: My question is for the Government Representative in the Senate.

Canada’s Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development tabled five reports last week, with one of them concluding that contamination sites in Northern Canada continue to pose serious risks. Among many significant issues, the report highlighted:

The Federal Contaminated Sites Action Plan does not include realistic targets for climate adaptation and is missing targets for Indigenous engagement and socio-economic benefits to support reconciliation with Indigenous peoples—key priorities related to the management of contaminated sites.

Senator Gold, how does the government plan to address these concerns with policy implementation, and how does it plan to ensure that Indigenous voices are heard and incorporated into proposed solutions and the management of these sites?

Hon. Marc Gold (Government Representative in the Senate): Thank you for your question. The recommendation from the report of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development will help Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada improve the effectiveness of the Northern Contaminated Sites Program. This will, in turn, result in a more efficient and effective remediation of northern contaminated sites, greater economic opportunities for northern Indigenous communities and, fundamentally, a cleaner northern environment.

My understanding is that the government is actively exploring ways to promote Indigenous participation in remediation activities, and ensuring that they benefit from the management of contaminated sites in the North.

Senator White: The lack of reporting and meaningful information on these contaminated sites, including large abandoned mines, means that the government does not have a clear picture of the environmental and financial consequences of these contaminated sites.

Senator Gold, despite some of these sites being there for decades, why does the government not have meaningful information on them? More importantly, what is the government doing to make sure that this important first step is taken?

Senator Gold: Thank you for the question. In fact, the government is investigating to identify sites to assess risk, estimate cost and record liabilities in order to remediate and close these sites. I’ve been informed that since 2005, over 24,000 federal contaminated sites have been identified. The government has successfully closed more than 75% of them, meaning they no longer pose a risk. The government remains committed to continuing to make progress in addressing the remaining sites.

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