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Resolving the Canadian garbage issue

Kevin Lamoureux   
Kevin Lamoureux
MP Winnipeg North

People who know me, know that I am passionate about Canada, but that I also care deeply about the Philippines. I have been eager to see the ongoing issue of garbage resolved quickly, and I am happy to report that it will soon be behind us.

Back in 2013 and 2014 a private company in Canada shipped just over 100 containers of questionable material to a private company in the Philippines. Of those containers, 69 held garbage that included things like used adult diapers. It was a private business arrangement that ultimately went bad when the importer determined that the 69 containers were filled with garbage and of no value to him. It is not clear how the other containers were disposed of, but we know that today the issue is about those 69 containers.

As the companies disputed their claims against each other, ultimately involving lawyers and court actions, the waste remained in the containers. Eventually the dispute concluded in a decision that did not resolve the issue due to the viability of the companies involved.

What started as a simple private transaction then became a complicated issue between two nations, leaving civil servants to figure out what to do. Days turned to weeks, followed by months and now years. I remember bringing the issue up in my last trip to the Philippines back in August 2018. I was interested in the issue back than because I recalled President Duterte and Prime Minister Trudeau mentioned the issue a few years ago when they first met. The Canadian Ambassador told me that the President raised the issue to a very sympathetic Prime Minister and that set the stage for the issue to be resolved. A special group of people were tasked to do just that. It seemed to me back then that the container issue would likely require the Government of Canada to be involved in some way, even though it was originally a private transaction.

When I review the past six years I would summarize the delay by suggesting it happened because of a private deal gone bad, followed by a lengthy court process, followed by being tied up in our bureaucracies.

It should be noted that when the containers were shipped, it was under the Harper Government – when an exporting company did not have any responsibility to ensure that the receiving country would allow the type of content that was being shipped. At that time, Canada’s regulations did not comply with the international standards set out in the Basel Convention.

In 2016, the Trudeau Government amended Canadian regulations to prevent this situation from happening again.

Given the importance of our environment, I am upset ­– like other Canadians – that it took as long as it did to resolve. For that reason I applaud President Duterte and his actions on the file – with the exception that a few more weeks would have been nice for a deadline.

The Government of Canada responded in two ways: first, by accepting the costs associated with the preparation, transfer, shipment, and disposal of the waste and; second, we sped up the normal tendering process and awarded a contract to Bolloré Logistics Canada, who has already begun preparation for shipping in the coming days.

I am personally hoping that most, if not all, of the 69 containers will have departed the Philippines by June 12 and I suspect there could even be some containers loaded before this edition is circulated.

As someone who has followed the issue, I am embarrassed that the process took as long as it did. I would apologize for the delay and at the same time thank Ministers Freeland and McKenna here in Canada for both getting directly engaged on the file and getting the issue resolved. With hindsight it is unfortunate that it was not done earlier. However, I would recognize that President Duterte’s engagement made it an issue that drew in the politicians and for me it speaks well of the fact that when the political will is there, things can happen quickly.

Ironically, just a few days ago, MetroVancouver issued a statement saying it would receive the waste and dispose of it at its Waste-to-Energy Facility in Burnaby. The energy from the disposal process will produce enough electricity to power about 16,000 homes.