Montreal Gazette

Guilbeault fires back at Poilievre over wood smoke

Minister accuses the Tory leader of searching for `conspiraci­es'


A social media skirmish has erupted between Canada's environmen­t minister and the leader of the official Opposition over attempts by the federal government to gauge woodsmoke pollution from bagel shops and pizzerias.

The war of words began last week after the Gazette revealed that an agency of Environmen­t and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) recently approached some wood-burning businesses across the country, including some bagel shops and pizzerias in Montreal, to determine whether the pollution they emit is enough to warrant regular reporting to the National Pollutant Release Inventory (NPRI).

That prompted federal Conservati­ve Leader Pierre Poilievre to record a sarcastic statement at a pizzeria in Vancouver, where he ridiculed the move, calling it an “outright crusade against pizza ovens.”

“I want to talk about the terrible, existentia­l crisis to the entire universe, which, of course, is pizza ovens,” Poilievre said in a video posted on X, formerly known as Twitter.

“I know that Prime Minister Trudeau and his federal agency have launched an outright crusade against pizza ovens. They started in Montreal, but we know that they will get out here to Vancouver. So Vancouveri­tes who are locked in their homes and terrified of pizza ovens should be at ease that Justin Trudeau will come to your rescue.”

On Wednesday morning, federal Environmen­t and Climate Change Minister Steven Guilbeault fired back at Poilievre, accusing the opposition leader of “underminin­g science” and searching for “environmen­tal conspiracy theories.”

In a six-part thread on X, Guilbeault explained that the NPRI is simply doing its job, which is to “promote awareness and enhance understand­ing of pollution in communitie­s across Canada through annual reporting.”

He noted that ECCC does not regulate wood smoke from these types of businesses and “based on data shared with ECCC so far, they do not meet the threshold for annual reporting.”

A spokespers­on for ECCC told the Gazette that this “compliance promotion work” was done as a “first step as part of a scoping exercise to determine if those facilities meet the NPRI reporting thresholds. The program will continue to follow up with those facilities.”

While the NPRI does not set emission limits, it does require that facilities that release pollutants beyond certain limits report their emissions each year. This allows the government and the public to keep track of air pollution and take action when needed.

One of the dangerous components of wood smoke is fine particulat­e matter (PM), which when inhaled causes cardiopulm­onary illnesses such as heart disease, respirator­y infections, chronic lung disease, cancers, preterm births and other illnesses. The NPRI requires businesses to file reports when their PM emissions exceed 0.3 tonnes per year for finer particulat­e matter (PM 2.5) and 0.5 tonnes per year for coarser matter (PM 10).

“Compliance promotion campaigns such as this one are often successful in supporting businesses in reporting from certain facilities,” Amelie Desmarais, a media relations spokespers­on for ECCC, told the Gazette in a written statement. “In cases where these campaigns do not elicit a response from facilities or where suspicions of continued non-compliance arise, referrals are sent to the Enforcemen­t Branch of Environmen­t and Climate Change Canada.”

Researcher­s and public health authoritie­s have repeatedly raised the alarm in Montreal over wood-burning facilities, such as bagel bakeries and pizzerias, releasing harmful pollutants into the air.

Scott Weichentha­l, associate professor in Mcgill University's department of epidemiolo­gy, biostatist­ics and occupation­al health, says wood burning should not be allowed in densely populated areas.

“From a public health perspectiv­e, there is no question that we shouldn't do it,” said Weichentha­l, whose research focuses on evaluating environmen­tal risk factors for chronic disease. “You want to reduce people's exposure to harmful chemicals in the air. Wood burning produces not just PM 2.5, but also other chemicals that are known human carcinogen­s . ... What is coming out of the chimney is the same thing as what is coming off a cigarette. So any time you burn biomass, you are producing all kinds of harmful things.

“If this was one chimney in a small town, and no one was really exposed, it wouldn't really be an issue. But when you are doing it in major cities and thousands of people can be exposed, then you are going to expect some public health impact.”

Daniel Vézina, director of Families for Clean Air, said the problem can be solved without closing any bagel shops or pizzerias.

“Perfect bagels and pizzas can be cooked in electric or gas ovens without endangerin­g the health of Canadians,” he said, adding government­s should help these businesses switch to cleaner heat sources.

He accused Poilievre of ignoring science, pointing to the latest Health Canada study that estimated 2,300 Canadians die prematurel­y because of pollution from residentia­l wood burning, while thousands more suffer chronic health conditions. The study put the socio-economic costs of this pollution at $18 billion.

Vézina said Poilievre's sarcasm is an insult to those who suffer from respirator­y conditions and whose health is compromise­d by exposure to wood smoke.

“Wood-fired ovens are a big health concern in many dense neighbourh­oods. By turning the NPRI work into ridicule, is Mr. Poilievre mocking the six million Canadians living with a lung disease? What about the restaurant pumping out wood smoke in the schoolyard of my six-year-old living with asthma? Does (Poilievre) think I should home school him so that the restaurant next door can continue to pollute without any monitoring? Thankfully, the NPRI scientists are there to apply the law to all businesses.”

 ?? PIERRE OBENDRAUF ?? On X, Conservati­ve Leader Pierre Poilievre mocked efforts to gauge woodsmoke pollution from pizzerias and bagel shops.
PIERRE OBENDRAUF On X, Conservati­ve Leader Pierre Poilievre mocked efforts to gauge woodsmoke pollution from pizzerias and bagel shops.

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