Mr. Speaker, I want to take a few minutes to address this very important topic and very topical motion. I wish to commend the member for Lac-Saint-Louis for bringing this forward.
I want to commend also Senator Grafstein on the Senate's passage of Bill S-205 on fresh drinking water recently. It is an indication of some of the great work that senators do.
I can remember the seminal work on topsoil loss that a senator from Saskatchewan did many years ago. The findings of that particular study are still very relevant today, although a lot of the recommendations that he made in the report have not been followed and we continue to lose a lot of our topsoil into our streams. The very fragile inches of topsoil that our agriculture depends on are basically being wasted.
As the previous speaker noted, fresh drinking water is essential to the livelihoods of all Canadians. In my province of Prince Edward Island, recent studies have shown that there are high amounts of nitrates in our drinking water. In Prince Edward Island we are totally reliant on our groundwater for all our freshwater resources. We do not have any great freshwater lakes to rely on, so we are totally reliant on groundwater. We are totally reliant on the health and the purity of that groundwater in order to have healthy drinking water.
P.E.I. is an intensely agricultural province. Agriculture has been a number one industry since our island was established as a colony many years ago. It continues to be our biggest industry. It uses, and in some cases abuses, the essential source of fresh water that we all rely on as islanders.
Because of the health issues prevalent in P.E.I., because of our reliance on fresh groundwater and the intense agricultural industry over the centuries, the province of P.E.I. cannot afford to ignore this problem any longer. In recent years it has been taking a more active role in addressing the problem. We cannot afford to hide behind excuses not to address this problem. Not only is the health of our citizens at risk, but the health of our largest industry is at risk if we do not get serious about the problem.
A task force was established by the previous provincial government to look into and address the nitrate problem on Prince Edward Island at the end of April this year. During the recent election in P.E.I., Robert Ghiz, who was the then opposition leader, outlined a position where he would address the concerns about nitrates in our drinking water. He outlined plans for increased water testing and support for improved nutrient management practices. This is a good start. I suggest that our new premier make this a priority with his government and put adequate resources into addressing the problem of nitrates in the water of our province.
Although a major factor, agriculture is not totally to blame for the high nitrate readings in our drinking water in Prince Edward Island. Most of the weather systems go from west to east. A lot of the acid rain that contributes to nitrates in our drinking water comes from the central industrialized United States and the industrialized centre of Canada, mainly Ontario and Quebec. A great deal of acid rain has been deposited on our eastern provinces. We create very little of that particular pollutant in our area, but we are the recipients of it.
Fresh water is mainly a provincial jurisdiction, but it is an overlapping jurisdiction. I think the Department of Industry, the Department of Agriculture and Agri-Food, the Department of the Environment and the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs need to address this.
Over the years we have read about some horrendous experiences with the drinking water in a lot of the reserves and aboriginal communities across the country. There has been lead poisoning. People are unable to eat the fish on which a lot of the more isolated aboriginal communities rely. We can point our finger directly at the pollutants coming from industry in that area. I think we have ignored to a great extent the health of our aboriginal communities as well as the health of communities right across the country. Walkerton is an example that precipitated a lot of new interest in the problems of our drinking water.
It is incumbent upon both levels of government to address this problem. As the previous speaker said, every province has problems with fresh drinking water. The provinces have primary responsibility. I think we should immediately get together with the provinces, show some leadership on this file and have a working committee of the various departments that are responsible for the health of our citizens. It is a problem that is getting more and more serious as time goes on, as we farm more intensely and we rely more on chemical fertilizers. Not only chemical fertilizers but manure also contributes to high nitrate levels in our water system.
We have to find solutions to this problem. The health of our citizens is at risk. Agriculture is the major industry in P.E.I. and it is one of the major industries in Canada. Thousands and thousands of people rely on our agricultural industry and our fish supplies. It is incumbent upon all governments to finally address this problem in a very serious manner. They must put the resources behind the problem and enlist the scientific community. We must try to address this problem before it gets completely out of hand and a lot of our streams and groundwater supplies become contaminated beyond recovery.
I commend the sponsor of the motion and Senator Grafstein for bringing this issue to the fore. I think all members of Parliament from all parts of the country will be interested in seeing solutions to the problem.