Mr. David McGuinty (Ottawa South, Lib.)
|| That the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development be instructed to undertake a detailed study with regard to the creation of an Ottawa River Watershed Council, which would bring a comprehensive, inclusive, co-management approach to the Ottawa River Watershed, in order to foster ecological integrity, sustainable economic opportunities, and quality of life; in its study, the Committee shall examine (i) the council membership, which would include, but would not be limited to, federal, provincial, regional, and municipal governments, First Nations, industry groups, non-governmental organizations, and academic institutions, (ii) important indicators such as water quality, biodiversity, and shoreline integrity, in order to assist with the creation of a co-management plan and conservation strategy, (iii) the economic, cultural, heritage, and natural values within the Ottawa River Watershed; and that the Committee report its findings and recommendations to the House no later than December 2017.
He said: Madam Speaker, it is an honour for me to rise this evening to speak to this motion. I have the good fortune of being the grandson of Irish pioneers who settled in the Ottawa Valley and my great grandparents lived very close to the Ottawa River. There is a very strong tradition that runs through the veins of so many Canadians in this region and beyond, those who have been touched by the beauty and stupendous power of the Ottawa River, which I have always described as the jewel in the crown of the national capital region. I am pleased to move this motion not only as the MP for Ottawa South, but also as the chair of the government's national capital region caucus.
There are now 1.4 million Canadians living in this catchment area called the national capital region and it is growing at a rate of 7% to 8% a year. This is the fifth largest census metropolitan area in the country.
The motion calls for a study to revamp our thinking when it comes to managing the way we do business and the way we relate to something as essential as a watershed. It is an incredible opportunity for Canada, not just in the context of the Ottawa River watershed but right across the country. I will come back to that theme in a moment, because there are many trends and positive developments in this regard right across the country.
This is a case where we get to illustrate, through the study, the fact that we need a new form of management. We need a new form of co-management, which is widely described as integrated watershed management. It tries to overcome a fundamental challenge when it comes to the way in which we organize our affairs as a society and how we interface with something as important as, for example, the Ottawa River, how we interface with natural carrying capacity. It is to overcome the challenge of what my parents used to present to their 10 children when they would say that we just could not have a situation where everybody's job was nobody's job.
The Ottawa River watershed, and watersheds writ large across the country and the planet, is what we have to start addressing. Although there is a myriad of actors that interface or deal with the Ottawa River watershed, there is only one watershed. That is one of the stark realizations that folks who live around the watershed, the provinces, the federal government, and different actors, have now realized, that it is a delicate, important asset. It is, frankly, a very valuable asset that forms part of our overall natural capital, not necessarily built capital or human capital but our natural capital.
The motion calls for a major study that would analyze how we could take the management of the Ottawa River watershed to the next level, to the next iteration. This has been informed by the good work of a number of examples in Canada, for example, the Fraser Basin Council in British Columbia. It began in early 1990 and has proceeded in a very sophisticated way to bring together different stakeholders and groups that treat the Fraser Basin as one. They realize it is an asset to be managed with great determination and care as there is only one Fraser Basin. There are not 10 or 20; there is one.
On that note, I am also delighted that many stakeholders in this region are strongly supportive of conducting a study, not least among them the Ottawa Riverkeeper. I really want to commend the Ottawa Riverkeeper and the team, Meredith Brown and Jean Perras, in particular, for their extraordinary leadership and work. They are to be congratulated on pushing out the envelope and thinking in terms of the opportunity in front of us to do something very powerful in our national capital. From here, we can springboard and challenge national capitals right around the world.
We have many competing interests with the Ottawa River, but, first, why this motion? It is the border. The Ottawa River forms the border between Ontario and Quebec and makes it an interprovincial waterway. Therefore, the management of the Ottawa River is an area of shared jurisdiction. Obviously, the federal government is implicated, the provincial governments of Ontario and Quebec, regional and municipal governments, watershed organizations, and our indigenous peoples.
This motion recognizes the importance of the Ottawa River watershed to our overall economic, ecological, and cultural well-being. A comprehensive study on the creation of an Ottawa River watershed council would ensure that multiple levels of governments, indigenous peoples, and all stakeholders work closely together to coordinate their activities and their decisions that serve to protect and to preserve this incredible asset for all Canadians.
What kinds of competing interests do we have when it comes to something as powerful as this Ottawa River? By the way, Canadians should know that the Ottawa River's flow on a daily basis is greater than every western European tributary combined. It is a mighty, powerful river and in large part helped build lots of early central Canada. There are competing interests. For example, economic ones are hydro power, tourism, forestry, fisheries, agriculture. On the environment there is water quality, with this city and the city of Gatineau extracting most of their drinking water from the surface of the Ottawa River. There is biodiversity, pollution, and climate change. Within the Ottawa River watershed, there are 18 Ontario parks and eight Quebec parks. When it comes to social well-being as I referred to a moment ago, we can speak to water quality and drinking water. We must consider flood risk, recreational purposes, and of course river access. The Ottawa River watershed is a massive part of our local culture, our economy, and our environment. It is an asset. It is, as I said, the jewel in the crown.
How big is it? The Ottawa River watershed covers more than 140,000 square kilometres. It straddles the border between Ontario and Quebec. It is also the largest tributary of the St. Lawrence River. It is very large, larger than many European states, larger than the province of New Brunswick.
What is the present state of affairs now when it comes to the management of this precious asset? We have an Ottawa River Regulation Planning Board. It is the only governance body for the Ottawa River that includes both federal and provincial representatives, including Ontario Power Generation and Hydro-Québec. It is mostly concerned with the question of hydro-electric energy production and of course flooding and other related issues. It does not allow for the broader mandate that this study would examine where other stakeholders, a more diverse array of stakeholders, would come together and treat the watershed as one whole.
This is not simply something that is timely in the context of this region and this particular watershed. On the contrary, the watershed movement, this whole question of evolving toward what is now being called integrated watershed management, is a national and international trend. It allows for a meeting place, an agora as they said in ancient Greece, a place where we can manage human activities and ecosystems at the watershed scale. It would integrate multiple concepts and methods, including water- and land-use planning and management. It evaluates the management of cumulative effects from multiple environmental stressors. Therefore, if we have one municipality releasing waste into the river and yet we have another organization like Atomic Energy of Canada dealing with the challenge of nuclear waste also along the shores of the Ottawa River, we have these different stressors at play but we have no place to sit down collectively to say, “How do we manage these collectively so we can ensure the sustainability of this important watershed?”
It brings together many aspects of governance such as policy, planning, and legislation on the basis of a geographic area, this watershed approach. It brings people together so that their activities can be shared and their relationships are better fostered among the different actors who live, who operate, who act, and who have a bearing on the watershed. This is very important. It is something that exists right across the country.
I alluded earlier to the Fraser Basin Council in British Columbia. Many of my B.C. colleagues here know full well how successful it has been. It brings together dozens of stakeholders and has meetings to assess the overall health of the Fraser Basin and what different effects different activities are having on the Fraser Basin, because it reflects the reality of the concept of there being only one Fraser Basin. Here the study would examine the fact that there is only one Ottawa River watershed.
What are some of the drivers for this integrated watershed management trend in Canada this study might embrace? We know that activities upstream are going to have detrimental effects downstream. I am reminded of what New York City did. Instead of building a multi-billion dollar water treatment facility at the back end, it went upstream and negotiated a series of deals with different municipalities, industries, first nations, etc., to invest in cleaning up the river upstream. By the time the water got to New York City, it was cleaner drinking water. The cost of protecting that watershed in the context of upper New York State was much lower than the cost of building a tertiary water treatment facility in New York City. They treated it as it should, as a form of natural capital to be protected and invested in.
It is also now known that it is just not desirable or feasible any longer to have a single water agency. This is clearly not working. We know that water is connected through the hydrologic cycle, and groundwater and surface water have to be connected in our management activities.
Recently, in a meeting I had with a senior senator from California, I remember having a broad conversation, but the only thing he was fixated on talking about was whether California was going to have access to Canada's water and whether we would be performing inter-basin water transfers, not something this country is particularly interested in seeing happen whatsoever.
We need to know what is happening to the hydrologic cycles, and this can be analyzed through this study. We have to recognize that there will be water shortages, flooding, and water quality issues throughout the globe, including in Canada, southern Saskatchewan, the Red River, the Saguenay River, the Richelieu River, Walkerton, the Great Lakes, and many others.
We also have to consider and examine increased water users and the types of water use, including increased awareness of the need to better balance ecosystem needs and withdrawals. This has led to more conflicts and more difficulty in overcoming the conflicts. Having a watershed council would allow us to deal with and diffuse these conflicts up front, because we would know collectively what is happening in the watershed basin as a whole.
Canadians everywhere now insist on more opportunity for participation, for community-based management approaches. The council would provide such an opportunity.
There are many other drivers at play, not least of which is that we appreciate that aboriginal peoples living in parts of many watersheds, like here in the Ottawa Valley, and throughout Canada, rely on many water resource services, and they must be involved in the planning and management of those resources.
The case for the study to examine this watershed council is pretty darn strong. It is a question of sitting down with the right players, coming up with a management plan and strategy, and coming up with the metrics we need. We do not even have agreed upon metrics to evaluate the state of the watershed.
I am now convinced that all the stakeholders would want to be part of this council. That includes Quebec, the municipality of Gatineau and those on the other side of the river, and all of the communities located along the river, which is thousand of kilometres long.
I am asking my colleagues to support the notion that we examine this in greater detail, study the possibility of having such an approach, and use this as a wonderful opportunity to showcase what a national capital can do, not just in the context of other integrated watershed management approaches for Canada but globally. Let us start with Washington and the Potomac River, for example, and expand beyond there. Canada has this wonderful opportunity and obligation.
I am asking my colleagues to support the motion in due course, and it is an honour for me to present it.
Mr. Garnett Genuis (Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I want to congratulate my colleague who introduced this bill. Unfortunately, I find his proposal problematic.
I will go into that later on.
I want to recognize the member for bringing this motion forward. I know he has served in this House for a long time, and I am sure he brings this motion forward with the best of intentions. I heard him speak once at an election forum when I was a student at Carleton University. It was that day that I decided to become a Conservative.
Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
Mr. Garnett Genuis: More seriously, I want to go through a few of the issues on this motion.
This motion asks the House of Commons to direct a particular committee to undertake a study with respect to an issue in the national capital region. From time to time on certain matters of national importance there is an argument for the House of Commons to give this kind of direction to a committee. However, we are seeing an increase in the use of this tool of private members' motions to instruct committees. In general, I do not think that is ideal, because committees provide an opportunity for members of different parties to come together and set an agenda that reflects a view of the larger priorities and the imminent needs with respect to a particular area. Therefore, when a motion instructs a committee, that can really interrupt that process, especially when it is in the context of a fairly tight timeline.
The demand of this motion is for the study to be completed no later than December 2017. We are in the first hour of debate on this motion. Of course there are opportunities for flexibility around the timeline if the member wants to trade the second hour of debate, but it is very likely that if this motion were to pass, it would not pass for a number of months, which would give a fairly limited window of time for the committee that is being instructed to actually undertake the study. That creates some issues, especially when there may be issues of broader national importance. That is not to say that this is not an important question, but it is an important question with respect to a particular region. There may be issues that the committee, in its wisdom, decides need to be studied.
I would encourage members that with issues like this, it is probably worthwhile for members to talk to the members of the committee. There is a provision for members to substitute in at a committee, even to move motions at committees of which they are not regularly a member, and to ask that committee to undertake a study on that basis.
There is a process concern. At some point, as members of this House, if we want to encourage committees to have more autonomy, there is value in saying, even if particular members may agree with the underlying idea, “No, this is something that really should be discussed in the context of the environment committee.” It is important that we discuss and consider those procedural dimensions, as well as the substantive dimensions, because there may be cases where there is a laudable objective, but the process is not the best at proceeding to a discussion on that issue.
I have some concerns not just on the procedural side but also in terms of some of the substantive proposals with respect to this motion. It calls for a study perhaps with a view to the creation of an Ottawa River watershed council. It identifies some specific objectives in the context of the creation of that council, and includes a reference to “ecological integrity”.
I know that many of my colleagues have a concern about what the implications of this would be for development. There are also some concerns about whether this really moves us in the direction of creating additional red tape that is not needed. There are existing organizations. There is a voluntary river-keeper organization that presently exists. It is not clear at all, based on the text of the motion, how this proposed new council would function with the existing organization in place. It adds another organization.
The concern is that as layers are added, with additional requirements, maybe we want to affirm the importance of the Ottawa River. I would certainly affirm that importance, having spent time in Ottawa as a student, as well as spending a fair bit of time here in Ottawa now. Adding an additional council, additional levels of review, and perhaps bureaucracy would make potential development projects much more difficult. That is something we need to have some real pause about.
The member was quite right to point out that there are inter-jurisdictional issues involved, because this is a river that goes between Ontario and Quebec, and the federal government can be part of that discussion. As much as possible, it is ideal that, while recognizing the right of the federal government to impose certain things like this, we try to take advantage of existing mechanisms like a voluntary organization that is already in place and pass the authority and control over as much as possible to more local entities that can be more directly responsible. When we have motions like this one, we are asking the House of Commons as a whole to pronounce on something that in practice has a particular impact in a particular region. Giving authority to those closest to that region creates maximum responsiveness to the needs that may come from the community.
I also alluded to the issue of development. We dealt with this in Bill C-18, which the government proposed with respect to Rouge park. The insertion of the language “ecological integrity” certainly sounds like a good thing on the face of it. I do not think anyone said they were opposed to ecological integrity, but when that term is used in a certain context it can create some real problems for development. The way in which something is managed in a more urbanized setting may not be practical to preserve it exactly as it would be in the absence of human habitation. Therefore, we have to be cautious and realistic when we use certain language that may create a certain chill for development.
These are some of the concerns that I have and I think my colleagues have with respect to the bill. It is proposing a new organization , which looks like it would add administrative layers and red tape that really is not needed. It is proposing a study on the creation of that, when in fact, as my NDP colleague has pointed out, there may be some direct action that can be taken right now. The important thing is that any action taken in this area respects the realities that already exist, such as the voluntary organization that is there and the opportunities for this situation to be managed and dealt with in a more local way.
I have talked about the importance of respecting the committee process. I would not say, always and everywhere, we should never have the House of Commons instruct a committee. There are cases on issues of clear priority for the entire country where the House can give that direction to a committee. However, we should not be doing that all the time with every committee. Just looking at the private member's motions that we have, the trend is to give a lot of instructions to committees to do studies. Those seem to emerge without even being preceded by an attempt to propose that same study in the context of the committee. It would at least be worthwhile to propose a study in the context of a committee and then perhaps if the committee was unwilling to do the study, but the member felt strongly for it, then at least that might be a discussion we could have here in the House. However, in general, it does make sense to defer to the wisdom of the members on that committee as much as possible.
There are procedural questions here. There are questions about what the impact would be in terms of development and possibly putting a chill on development. There are questions about whether it is necessary to propose this additional level of administration, especially when there is an existing voluntary organization in place. By all indications, it is working very well, and it is not at all clear, based on this motion, what the interaction would be between this proposed new organization and that voluntary organization.
I look forward to the continuing debate on this, but certainly those are some concerns I have about the motion.
Ms. Linda Duncan (Edmonton Strathcona, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, as we have discussed here, Motion No. 104 calls for actions to protect the Ottawa watershed. I would like to thank the hon. member for raising this. There have been a good number of members over time who have raised this. It is time for action. There is just a difference in perspective on who should be taking the action.
As the member has mentioned, the Ottawa River is also known as Kitchissippi, meaning the great river by the Algonquin. It may be worth noting that the current Canada Water Act does not include engagement of first nations people, so those are some of the things I will mention later that could be pursued by the committee. It rises from its source in Lake Capimitchigama in the Laurentian mountains of central Quebec and flows west to Lake Timiskaming, and there its route has been used to define the interprovincial border with Ontario, so it is clearly transboundary.
From Lake Timiskaming, the river flows southeast to Ottawa and Gatineau, where it tumbles over the Chaudière Falls and further takes in the Rideau and Gatineau rivers. It drains into the Lac des Deux Montagnes in the St. Lawrence River at Montreal. I would like to share that when I first moved here eight years ago, I was living in the market, and I regularly came to the Hill by walking along the beautiful trail along the river, so I fully appreciate the need to take action to protect that natural landscape.
I have also been told that the drainage area of the Ottawa River includes many significant wetlands. It has been designated a heritage river and is listed, unlike a lot of rivers, under the Navigable Waters Protection Act. Many rivers were removed by the Conservatives.
Another things to be pointed out is the long history of paying attention to pollution of this river. The member mentioned a number of sources: pulp and paper pollution; Atomic Energy of Canada Limited Lab, Chalk River; municipal sewage, the third being the one that has really been dealt with. Today, apparently the main pollutant in the Ottawa River is from plastic micro beads and micro fibres, and I am glad that one of my former colleagues actually brought forward measures to address that.
One of the things that is worth sharing is that a very famous writer, Oscar Wilde, visiting the city in May 1882, was outraged at the state of the river and the level of sawdust. He said, “This is an outrage. No one has the right to pollute the air and water, which are the common inheritance of all. We should leave them to our children as we have received them.”
Of course, he was controversial, and that was one of the good reasons for him being controversial.
This is the latest call. I know that the member for Ottawa South has raised this matter a number of times in the media and perhaps in the House, and called for federal-level intervention to get things moving between the two provincial jurisdictions and civil society.
It is an intervention long called for by many, including my friend and former MP, Paul Dewar. Inspired by the dedication of local citizens, including the Ottawa Riverkeeper and Waterlution, another group that has been very involved, Paul made repeated calls for federal action to protect the Ottawa River, including tabling an action plan and motion calling for regulations to protect and preserve the integrity of the river; environmental regulations enforcement of the Federal Fisheries Act, which of course has been downgraded by the last government; calling for increased funding to municipalities to improve water treatment, and I understand some action has been taken on that; and calling for public disclosure, compliance records, regular monitoring of ecological indicators, and a watershed management plan.
Due to the constant efforts of local citizens, some action has been taken to garner the efforts in both Quebec and Ontario and the federal authorities to at least provide some level of commitment to take action. Unfortunately, we have not had action. There has been a signing on to an agreement that there needs to be an integrated watershed plan, but no action.
In May 2015, the number of parties, including representatives of the provinces and the federal government, signed on to the Gatineau Declaration Toward an Integrated Approach to Sustainable Water Management Within the Ottawa River Watershed. Regrettably, river advocates tell me that there has then been little concrete action taken, including by the empowered federal authorities to actually finalize the watershed plan and put in place the necessary enforceable measures to protect the watershed. This is despite the existing powers already under federal law, under the federal Fisheries Act and under the Canada Water Act. This is fully possible.
In the past, the federal government has moved to work with the provinces. For example, in the Mackenzie River Basin and, as was mentioned, in the Fraser. There has been a record of taking action together.
I am concerned about others in transborder areas, including the Mackenzie River Basin and the North Saskatchewan River, that similarly the federal government is dropping the ball on taking action to bring together all the parties on transboundary rivers.
Over a period of many decades, successive federal governments, Liberal and Conservative, have relinquished responsibility for the protection of transboundary or transborder rivers or rivers considered of national significance: the demise of the inland waters directorate; the failure to enforce the federal Fisheries Act; the delisting of navigable rivers; the failure to intervene in project reviews to assert duties over protection of transborder rivers and lakes.
While the motion by the member is laudatory in calling for action to move forward for a watershed plan for the Ottawa River, I wish to share concerns that I have heard from others. As my colleague from the Conservative Party pointed out, the suggested forum, the parliamentary committee on environment and climate change, may not be the best-suited entity to undertake the actions that the member is calling for to actually establish a watershed council, which should be up to the various government entities, which should be up to civil society, which should be up to scientific experts. Certainly the committee, and I know this because I sit on the committee, lacks the resources and the technical and scientific expertise to undertake a number of the measures that the member for Ottawa South is calling for.
In my view, and in the view of those I have conferred with, the preferable locus for action is the government itself, including the environment department, the fisheries department, and possibly the heritage department, and their officials.
For that reason, I wish to present an amendment to the member's motion to enable a broader review and analysis of how well the federal government is delivering on its mandate to protect transboundary waters, more generally, and consideration of measures to ensure more effective and timely action over all of these watersheds.
The parliamentary committee could serve as a useful forum to examine the current legislated mandate, current policies, current instruments available to the federal government, and record of actions taken, including examining case examples of a number of transboundary rivers.
I wish, here, to submit the following amendment.
I move that motion M-104 be amended by deleting all of the words between “regards to” and “and that the Committee” and inserting the following: “(i) reviewing federal jurisdiction, legislation, policies and agreements related to watershed management and protection with an emphasis on transboundary waters and watersheds on federal lands (ii) examining federal actions for selected transboundary watersheds such as the Ottawa River, Mackenzie River Basin and the North Saskatchewan River as case studies to be determined by the Committee, (iii) identifying mechanisms for clarified and enhanced federal interventions to protect Canadian waters;”
Mr. William Amos (Pontiac, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I would like to start by congratulating the member for Ottawa South for his consistent advocacy in support of the protection of the Ottawa River and its watershed.
I support Motion No. 104, and I really look forward to the work that will be done in support of the establishment of the Ottawa River watershed council.
In the late 1980s, I grew up in west Ottawa just a stones throw away from the river. I drank from the river, swam in it, fiddled around on it, and paddled up and down on it. This is the aquatic spinal cord of our national capital. It is meaningful to me personally that the member for Ottawa South has brought this motion.
In the late 1990s, I commuted in a canoe up and down to my work at the Terrasses de la Chaudière building in Gatineau and back home. We would go down the Ottawa River in the morning, down the rapids, and back up against the flow in the afternoon. I have a great champion for the Ottawa River as a friend, Max Finkelstein. He was the real engine as we paddled upstream.
This river inspired me to become an environmental lawyer, to defend our rights as Canadians to a healthy environment. In turn, this afforded me the opportunity to work with the great organization, the Ottawa Riverkeeper, on the very topic we are debating today: the proper governance of this national capital watershed.
For about a decade, I have advocated that we establish a similar kind of council. Therefore, I want to commend the member for Ottawa South for bringing this motion forward.
Now I represent the riding of Pontiac whose very history is defined by the Ottawa River and all its great tributaries, the Dumoine, the Coulonge, the Noir, and the Gatineau. As the member for Edmonton Strathcona pointed out, it was the Anishinabe peoples who called it the Kitchissippi, the great river. Meegwetch for our indigenous friends who have taught us so much over the years about the importance of this waterway. In particular, I would highlight the incredible contributions of the late Grand Chief William Commanda with whom I collaborated to prevent uranium exploration in this watershed.
Over 400 years ago, Samuel de Champlain met the Algonquin chief, Tessouat, who collected the tolls that the Algonquins charged fur traders travelling on the Ottawa River. Chief Tessouat's authority and the historic role of the Algonquins in controlling passage on the Ottawa River is a good starting point for debate on this motion.
The Ottawa River watershed is among the most impressive in Canada and continues to play an important historic, environmental, and economic role. For much of its length, it functions as the boundary between Quebec and Ontario. Located on traditional Algonquin land, it flows through our nation's capital and serves as a wildlife corridor and a natural route for the region's inhabitants.
The river provides us with fresh drinking water, fertile agricultural land, hydroelectricity, and lumber to build our houses. The watershed provides for us all.
The Ottawa River watershed is an engine of economic growth in the region and supports many small and medium-sized businesses in such industries as forestry, fishing, and tourism. It is home to an agricultural industry estimated at $100 million.
The rivers itself is also the main source of drinking water for many communities in the region, including the 30,000 people that I represent in the Plateau, Aylmer, Limbour, and Mont-Luc areas of Gatineau. It is also a continual source of hydroelectric energy for western Quebec and eastern Ontario.
However, it is a fragile ecosystem, and its habitat, which is home to a number of endangered species, is threatened by the historical and current use. A good example is the recent dumping of millions of litres of untreated sewage into the Lièvre River, which flows directly into the Ottawa River.
All levels of government—federal, provincial, municipal, and indigenous—must work together to do more to protect this resource. Water management in Canada does not fall clearly within the jurisdiction of a single level of government. It falls under federal, provincial, and municipal jurisdiction.
Indigenous peoples, particularly the Algonquin Nation, also have various constitutionally protected rights associated with the use of water, including fishing and navigation.
The current governance structure of the Ottawa River watershed is, in my opinion, inadequate. The Ottawa River Regulation Planning Board, which was established in 1983 as an intergovernmental body composed of the governments of Canada, Ontario, and Quebec, is responsible for regulating water flows for hydroelectric production and for flood prevention along the Ottawa River basin. Its mandate is to achieve integrated management by which dam operators can make water flow decisions with full knowledge of the impact that they will have on water levels downstream in other areas of the basin.
However, the committee does not have a mandate to protect the environment. In fact, the board does not actually have an integrated management structure in place where environmental, municipal, aboriginal, and other interests with respect to the watershed can contribute their views, and contribute their knowledge. It creates a bit of a jurisdictional silo in respect of flows and hydroelectricity, but not the entire ecological picture. This is an anomaly, as my learned colleague from Ottawa South pointed out, as many other important watersheds, like the St. Lawrence and Fraser rivers, have integrated management plans, which involve co-operation between, at the minimum, the federal and provincial levels of government.
I support this motion because it will enable our Liberal government and those experts who are so familiar with the Ottawa River to work with different levels of government, Ontario, Quebec, Gatineau, Ottawa, and other local municipalities, to enact and implement improvements in Ottawa River watershed protection and governance.
This motion would allow our government to negotiate an Ottawa River watershed action plan. That is what I would hope would come out of the work of such a council. I hope that would be a collaborative initiative with all levels of government.
In my view, this kind of plan could help pool the resources and expertise of over 20 government agencies, universities, first nations, and other organizations as partners; harmonize regional investments in the waterway to sustainably develop the ecosystem; build on our government's ongoing work to strengthen federal law and policy impacting our waterways, and repealing the Harper Conservatives' drastic measures that weakened all sorts of federal laws, from the Fisheries Act, to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, Species at Risk Act, and the Navigable Waters Protection Act.
Before concluding, I would simply like to say that it is so important that we continue to work with the leading voices on this file.
The federal government must continue to engage in co-operative federalism and to work with Ontario, Quebec, and organizations like Ottawa Riverkeeper and CREDDO, the Conseil régional de l'environnement et du développement durable de l'Outaouais, which have done a lot of work on this file in the past.
I would like to congratulate the member for Ottawa South on his motion, and having regard to the suggestion made by my hon. colleague from Edmonton Strathcona, I am in agreement with her that the government should move expeditiously on this file. I would like to propose an amendment to the motion.
|| That the motion be amended by:
||(a) replacing the words 'the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development be instructed to' with the words, 'in the opinion of the House, the government should';
||(b) replacing the words 'the Committee shall' with the words 'the government should';
||(c) deleting all the words after the words 'within the Ottawa River Watershed;'.
The motion as amended would read: “That, in the opinion of the House, the government should undertake a detailed study with regard to the creation of an Ottawa River Watershed Council, which would bring a comprehensive, inclusive, co-management approach to the Ottawa River Watershed, in order to foster ecological integrity, sustainable economic opportunities, and quality of life; in its study, the government should examine (i) the council membership, which would include, but would not be limited to, federal, provincial, regional, and municipal governments, First Nations, industry groups, non-governmental organizations, and academic institutions, (ii) important indicators such as water quality, biodiversity, and shoreline integrity, in order to assist with the creation of a co-management plan and conservation strategy, (iii) the economic, cultural, heritage, and natural values within the Ottawa River Watershed.”
Mrs. Cheryl Gallant (Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I rise on behalf of the people of the Ottawa Valley riding of Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke to speak to a motion that is being put forth by an MP from the city of Ottawa. Motion No. 104 asks for another study to join the multitude of studies that have already been done on the Ottawa River and its watershed. The motion then asks for a study to justify the expenditure of more taxpayer dollars to create a new layer of bureaucracy to interfere with the lives of the people who call the Ottawa River watershed home. Residents who live in the Ottawa River watershed know that it will not be the residents of Ottawa who will be asked to pay for this new level of bureaucracy that is being proposed in this motion; it will be the rural residents who live out on the land who will be required to pay.
Before this debate goes any further, I believe it is important to inform this House that the detailed study that the motion calls for has already recently been completed. A detailed study of the Ottawa River watershed was done in preparation for the designation of the Ottawa River as a Canadian heritage river. The study was undertaken by the former MP for Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, the late Leonard Hopkins. There are veteran MPs in this House who served with Lenny and are aware of his efforts.
Mr. Hopkins worked with a large volunteer committee for years in preparation for the designation of the Ottawa River as a heritage river. That study was finished and is easily available on the web today. It covers everything that is in the motion. Unfortunately for Mr. Hopkins and for this motion, a fatal flaw in the study has been replicated in the motion. One of the concerns I raised as the sitting member of Parliament for Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke was the inability of Mr. Hopkins and his committee to obtain the consent of the Province of Quebec to designate the Ottawa River as a Canadian heritage river, which would have then included the two-thirds of the Ottawa River watershed that is in the province of Quebec. When I asked my fellow Ottawa Valley MP, Robert Bertrand, who represented the Quebec riding of Pontiac—Gatineau—Labelle, what his position was on the issue, he told me he was not consulted. This surprised me, as Mr. Hopkins and Mr. Bertrand had been caucus colleagues.
The Quebec provincial government of the day took the position that it was not interested in participating in the designation process, as this could result in relinquishing provincial jurisdiction to the federal government. This motion is asking to set up a management plan for the Ottawa River watershed with no authority to act in two-thirds of the Ottawa River watershed. The Province of Quebec has no interest to invite the federal government to interfere in matters of provincial jurisdiction.
I note with curiosity that the then Quebec minister of the environment representing the Quebec government on the issue as a Liberal member of the Quebec National Assembly, who turned down participation in any heritage designation of the Ottawa River, sits in this House today as the MP for Outremont, the leader of the NDP. I have no reason to believe that his position has changed today.
That represents a major flaw in the designation of the Ottawa River as a Canadian heritage river by the federal government. The designation only includes the Ontario portion of the Ottawa River, which is just 35% of the watershed. Sixty-five per cent of the Ottawa River watershed, including the bank of the Ottawa River in Quebec, is not designated. Except where the river is an international boundary that limits Canadian jurisdiction, such as the St. Croix River in New Brunswick, there are no designated heritage rivers in Canada where just one side of the river is so designated.
Recognizing the position of the Government of Quebec today, I ask this. What good is the creation of an Ottawa River watershed council when two-thirds of the watershed will be excluded from any study? Is it the intention of this motion to ignore the concerns of the people of Quebec and set up a bureaucracy, which is not wanted, to impose regulations and controls that are not needed, starting with this proposed study, and to take actions that will be rejected?
People who live in the Ottawa River watershed have been co-operating for years when it comes to common shared interests. The Ottawa River Regulation Planning Board was established in 1983 by the governments of Canada, Quebec, and Ontario to ensure integrated management of the principal reservoirs of the Ottawa River basin. Costs are shared, with Canada picking up 50% of the tab and with Ontario and Quebec sharing the remaining cost, 25% each. The board consists of seven members: Canada with three members, Ontario with two members, Quebec with two members. The member agencies that make up the board are the Quebec ministry of sustainable development, environment, and parks, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, Hydro-Québec, Ontario Power Generation, Environment Canada, Public Services and Procurement Canada, and the Canadian Coast Guard. The goal of this integrated management is to provide protection against flooding along the Ottawa River and its tributaries, particularly in the Montreal region, and at the same time maintain the interests of the various users, particularly in hydroelectric energy production. As has been demonstrated before, rivers bring people together more often than they artificially separate people as a boundary. This is true with the Ottawa River.
The next most important reason I will be voting against Motion No. 104, and I encourage all members of the House to reject it also, is that the motion before us today fails to recognize the comprehensive agreement in principle recently signed between the federal and provincial governments and the Algonquins of Ontario. That agreement, among other things, proposes to transfer ownership of 36,000 square kilometres, or 117,000 acres, of land in the Ottawa River watershed to the Algonquins of Ontario. In addition to land and cash, Algonquins have negotiated hunting, fishing, and trapping rights as well as other natural resources in the Ontario portion of the Ottawa River watershed beyond what is being proposed for land transfer. That includes Algonquin Park for hunting and fishing.
Ottawa River watershed management is an integral part of that negotiation, which is ongoing. What has been signed in this agreement is in principle only. It is anticipated that it will be years before a final agreement is reached, so negotiations continue.