Libby speaks out in support of Cell Towers Bill


House of Commons


December 6, 2012

Ms. Libby Davies (Vancouver East, NDP):

Mr. Speaker, I am very happy to participate in this debate today. I thank my colleague from Châteauguay—Saint-Constant for bringing forward Bill C-429, which would help alleviate a lot of the problems that many of us are experiencing in our local communities. I thank the member for his diligent work on this issue.

This is an issue that, when we delve into it, we find right across the country. Many communities have been faced with the difficult challenge of suddenly finding there is a cellphone tower popping up in the middle of their neighbourhood, near a school, near a residential community, in the middle of a residential community. Then they find out that if it is under 15 metres, they cannot do anything about it.

We had that situation in my community of East Vancouver. Because of the diligence of local community members who brought this to my attention and to the attention of the local member of the legislature, MLA Shane Simpson, we found out there was a problem in our local neighbourhood. We immediately went to work and started to look at the regulations or lack thereof, about what we could do. It was through the incredible hard work of local neighbours, people like Janice, that information became available in the local community. They were as surprised as anyone to find out that, without their knowledge, a cellphone tower had been erected adjacent to a low-rise apartment building at Hastings and McGill, slap bang in the middle of a residential neighbourhood, and there was virtually nothing they could do about it.

I immediately wrote to the Minister of Industry and the Minister of Health to inquire why the rules and regulations exempted these cellphone towers.  Even the municipality, the City of Vancouver, that wanted to be involved, had no recourse to deal with the telecommunications companies that put these towers in East Vancouver and other neighbourhoods. I also raised it in the House in December 2010. I was very dissatisfied with the responses I received from both ministers.

I and Shane Simpson, the MLA, decided to proceed with a public forum in our community and to bring in the telecommunications wireless companies and the City of Vancouver to have a discussion about what should be done with the cellphone tower. Councillor Raymond Louie, who took a lot of time and interest in this issue, in responding to the concerns in the local communities, and particularly the City of Vancouver Deputy City Manager, Sadhu Johnston who came to our meeting, as well as the medical health officer, worked very closely with us as elected officials, with the local community and with the cellphone companies to find a resolution.

It was only because we were able to get the parties together in a voluntary way that we were finally able, after more than a year’s work, to get a resolution and a voluntary agreement from the company in question that it was an inappropriate location for a cellphone tower.

We had a good resolution in that one instance. However, what is not being addressed is the ongoing issue across Canada of these cellphone towers, what they are doing in local and urban communities and residential neighbourhoods and the fact that Industry Canada has really not responded. One of my constituents wrote me an email on this recently. She says, “Industry Canada are impossible to talk to. It is quite literally like talking to a brick wall. Canada is essentially allowing the cellphone companies to self-regulate”. She too makes the point, as my colleague just did, that this has been a very big topic of discussion for municipal councillors at the Federation of Municipalities.

The municipalities are asking for a very rational change. They have asked that municipal consultation be required on all towers that are to be installed.

On my part, I also brought forward Motion No. 154 to this effect in the House, calling on Industry Canada to change the current regulations so that telecommunications companies seeking to install cellphone towers must have municipal consultation regarding all towers being installed, and public consultation regarding those within 500 metres of any tower being installed. In my motion, I also called on Industry Canada to allow communities to develop their own regulation and consultation rules to prevent impacts on residential areas and areas adjacent to schools, and also to require a public review of the statistics of what is going on with these cellphone towers.

What I found out when I first started dealing with this a couple of years ago is that it is really quite incredible the number of towers that are going up across the country. Moreover, no one seems to be keeping track of them, particularly the towers under 15 metres tall. They can just go ahead and do it without the involvement of and consultation with municipalities being required.

I do think it is a very serious issue. There are also health concerns that need to be addressed. I know that many members in my community were also very worried about the health impacts of being so close to some of these towers. In fact in Vancouver the Vancouver School Board has policies to ensure that these cellphone towers, where they are over 15 metres tall, are not adjacent or close to schools.

I know there is a lot of concern. In fact there is now a citizen movement of sorts across the country to raise awareness about the issues, both from a health and a municipal perspective, and the fact that there seems to be a complete lack of regulation and attention to this issue by Industry Canada.

I am very glad that this bill is before us today, because I do feel that the bill has been very carefully put together and will address many of the concerns that have been expressed to me by my constituents.

I really want to appeal to members on all sides of the House to look at this bill on its merit. It seems to me that this is the kind of bill that is not partisan or political in any way. It is actually responding to a very real issue in local communities, whether the MP concerned be Conservative, NDP, Liberal, Bloc, or whatever.

As members of Parliament, surely we should be responding to this issue, be willing to find solutions and be looking at this bill as a possible solution. I do hope very much that this bill can get through second reading and go to committee, because I know there are people who would very much like to come forward as witnesses and who would like to speak about the work that is being done at a local level. I am sure the Federation of Canadian Municipalities would also like to come forward. I am sure that the cellphone companies themselves would like to come forward to have a discussion about this.

What we do not want to happen is this issue being pushed under the carpet and ignored. I know there are MPs from all parties who have actually dealt with this issue. I know there are constituents phoning, emailing and organizing in local communities.

Let us respond to this issue in a non-partisan way. Let us take this bill, get it to committee, have a thorough examination and actually address something in a practical, rational and realistic way.

I am hopeful that members will support this bill and we can respond to our constituents’ concerns about these cellphone towers.