Evidence of meeting #20 for Environment and Sustainable Development in the 41st Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was chemicals.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Theresa McClenaghan  Executive Director and Counsel, Canadian Environmental Law Association
Fe de Leon  Researcher, Canadian Environmental Law Association
Robert Florean  Council Member and Technical Advisor, Manitoulin Area Stewardship Council
Bernadette Conant  Executive Director, Canadian Water Network
Jules Blais  Professor, University of Ottawa, As an Individual
Megan Leslie  Halifax, NDP

3:35 p.m.


The Chair Conservative Harold Albrecht

I'd like to call to order meeting 20 of the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development.

You'll notice that we have three witnesses with us today, and we have one witness appearing by video conference from Toronto. We're going to begin with the video conference in order to give our technical people time to change from the video conference to PowerPoint, which will be needed later in the meeting. We will proceed from the lower witnesses up, as it shows on your agenda.

From the Canadian Environmental Law Association, we have Theresa McClenaghan, in Toronto. Fe de Leon, a researcher, is with her.

From the Manitoulin Area Stewardship Council, we have Mr. Robert Florean.

From the Canadian Water Network, we have Bernadette Conant.

As an individual from the University Ottawa, we have Professor Jules Blais. He's the one who has the PowerPoint.

We're going to move quickly to the video conference.

Theresa McClenaghan, executive director, Canadian Environmental Law Association, welcome.

3:35 p.m.

Theresa McClenaghan Executive Director and Counsel, Canadian Environmental Law Association

Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.

Thank you very much for inviting us to appear here today.

With me, as you noted, is Ms. Fe de Leon, researcher and paralegal with the Canadian Environmental Law Association. I'm counsel and executive director with the Canadian Environmental Law Association.

Canadian Environmental Law Association is a specialty legal aid clinic, a 44-year-old NGO, federally incorporated. We use law to protect and advance protection of the environment. We act for vulnerable communities and people who can't afford legal representation, and we also do test-case and systemic litigation.

We're going to address four points in our remarks today, and we will keep them brief to allow plenty of time for questions.

The first is going to deal with the importance of the Canada-Ontario agreement to reaching the goals of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, and of sufficient resourcing in order to do that.

Second, we will deal with the importance of public engagement in Great Lakes issues.

Third, we'll speak about the importance of Canada's actions on toxic chemicals and their reduction specifically with respect to the Great Lakes.

Finally, we will speak about the necessity for stronger action on nutrients.

First, turning to the importance of the Canada-Ontario agreement, or COA, this agreement, along with the parallel Canada-Quebec agreement for the St. Lawrence is the primary mechanism, as we understand it, by which Canada pursues its obligations to achieve the objectives of the binational Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement.

The COA, as you no doubt would have heard by now, is currently undergoing its first ever extended hiatus since the first version was enacted in the 1970s. In our opinion, it's imperative that the Canada-Ontario renegotiation be concluded and that all of the other Great Lakes programs that Canada and Ontario pursue under that agreement continue with the support and the force of the COA.

To that end, we would also note that federal funding of Great Lakes programs that support the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement and the COA objectives is essential. CELA is an active member of the Green Budget Coalition. In our last annual report we called for the continuation of the $48 million a year to our Great Lakes programs that the federal government currently spends across departments, according to the numbers posted on Environment Canada's website, and for the enhancement of those resources by another $25 million per year to work towards Great Lakes water quality programs.

Second, turning to the issue of public engagement, the Canadian public has a huge stake in the health of the Great Lakes. I'm sure by now you will have already heard testimony as to the importance of the Great Lakes as the drinking water for millions of Canadians, the importance of the Great Lakes fisheries, the economic importance of Canada's location on this globally significant freshwater resource, and of course its sterling role in recreation and tourism in Canada.

To that end, decision-making and pursuit of the efforts needed to either protect or restore Great Lakes water quality absolutely must include very strong public roles. We're pleased that this was strengthened in the recent Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, and we would suggest that this must also be actively pursued in the renegotiation of the Canada-Ontario agreement. We would also suggest that a deliberate effort to ensure every Great Lakes program include a strong role for the public both in decision-making and in participation should be a primary consideration.

In the past, Great Lakes decision-making was often behind governmental closed doors, between jurisdictions, and reports were issued long after the fact. That disengages the public and makes it hard for people to appreciate what the issues are, and of course reduces support for the necessary programs.

Third, on reducing toxic contaminants in the Great Lakes, CELA has undertaken several reports and studies over the years. Our reports have examined the Canadian contribution, as well as the binational contribution, of toxic pollution in particular to the Great Lakes, and the total numbers are startling. Ms. de Leon will speak to this in moment. Efforts to reduce the release of carcinogens, hormone-disrupting chemicals and toxic substances which cause myriad other health effects to humans and to the ecosystem must be redoubled. Ms. de Leon will speak to that.

Fourth is the necessity to reduce nutrient loadings to the Great Lakes. In the short time we have today we want to highlight the continuing and troublesome issue of excess loadings of nutrients from a variety of agricultural, industrial, and domestic sources. Again, as you no doubt know, these are both from direct emissions and from dispersed non-point sources across the landscape, and interestingly, also through air pathways.

We would suggest that the federal government expand its phosphorus regulation under CEPA, the Canadian Environmental Protection Act. That's regulation 89-501, which was amended in 2009. We would suggest that additional products and additional constraints be added to that regulation. The 2009 amendments added additional dishwashing and laundry detergents to the prior constraints on liquid dishwashing detergents, but we would suggest those limits should be tightened even further.

In addition, in our view the CEPA powers could be used to require, for example, agricultural uses of synthetic fertilizers to be limited seasonally to the time of year when crops can actually take up the nutrients. We also think the COA could include an agreement with Ontario to similarly restrict sales of such fertilizers outside of those seasons, and to investigate methods to reduce transmission of nutrients through agricultural and municipal drains.

Finally, the federal funding of the environmental farm plan program has been an extremely important mechanism for individual farms to reduce phosphorus and other nutrient loadings. We would suggest that be expanded as well.

Before we conclude, I'll turn it over to my colleague, Ms. de Leon, to briefly expand on the role of CEPA and the issue of toxic loadings in the Great Lakes.

3:40 p.m.


The Chair Conservative Harold Albrecht

I'll just remind you that you have three minutes left in your presentation time.

3:40 p.m.

Fe de Leon Researcher, Canadian Environmental Law Association

I'll just touch on a few things that Theresa mentioned.

With respect to the loading to the Great Lakes, currently there is no database or inventory of pollutant loadings to the Great Lakes. We wrote a report back in 2010 for which we measured using the national pollutants release inventory and the toxic release inventory in the U.S. to determine the partial loadings to the Great Lakes. We found that in 2007, 285 million kilograms of pollutants were released or transferred in the Great Lakes basin, which demonstrates that those loadings to the Great Lakes are large. It certainly begs the question of whether we are estimating the loadings as accurately as we can.

Many of the pollutants Theresa mentioned are carcinogenic or endocrine-disrupting chemicals, and it begs the discussion around adequate action plans to deal with those chemicals, particularly to try to reduce those levels. I would suggest that some consideration be given to an annual loading program that allows for that calculation to occur for the Great Lakes.

Also, in the past few decades the focus has been around dealing with legacy chemicals in the Great Lakes. We're talking about PCBs, DDT, dioxins, and mercury. Certainly, the programs and the regulations that have been put in place in the last two decades have demonstrated significant reductions in those levels, but what we've been seeing in recent years is that those levels are starting to plateau, which means there hasn't been much change. That said, we are still seeing mercury and PCBs being released into the Great Lakes. This is a bit of a cause for concern, primarily because we're still seeing fish consumption advisories being issued across the basin.

The intent is to try to make sure the lakes are swimmable, drinkable, and fishable. When you see levels that are still of concern for human consumption, there needs to be some attention paid to those chemicals.

Finally, I just want to put a plug in to the hundreds of new chemicals that are being detected in the Great Lakes as we speak. Many of the chemicals, such as brominated flame retardants, perfluorinated chemicals, triclosan, and even nano materials are starting to be detected in the waters of the Great Lakes.

The concern is that many of these chemicals are now coming from consumer products, and our sewage treatment plant infrastructure is not adequate to deal with these kinds of threats. They are just going to emerge, and many more chemicals are going to be detected over the next little while.

We talked about implementation of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement. That work, particularly around toxic chemicals, is just beginning. We won't be seeing any results in terms of a proposed list of chemicals to be addressed in the Great Lakes until the end of this year.

The question is to what degree are we willing to identify the list of chemicals that are relevant to the Great Lakes, and what kinds of actions are required to deal with those chemicals from the perspective of either preventing or eliminating those sources?

3:45 p.m.


The Chair Conservative Harold Albrecht

Ms. de Leon, you just have 20 seconds. Do you have a wrap-up statement?

3:45 p.m.

Researcher, Canadian Environmental Law Association

Fe de Leon

I just have one other comment that's in regard to the sustained and needed funding to make sure that toxic chemicals are dealt with adequately within the Great Lakes basin.

Thank you.

3:45 p.m.


The Chair Conservative Harold Albrecht

Thank you very much.

We're going to move now to the Manitoulin Area Stewardship Council, Mr. Robert Florean, council member.

Mr. Florean, you have 10 minutes.

3:45 p.m.

Robert Florean Council Member and Technical Advisor, Manitoulin Area Stewardship Council

Mr. Chair and members of the standing committee, my name is Bob Florean and I represent the Manitoulin Area Stewardship Council, otherwise known as the MASC, and the Manitoulin Streams Improvement Association, and our community stewardship partner groups. These councils are composed of members representing the greater area public, municipalities, first nations, NGOs, and business interests from across the community serving in a volunteer capacity. Their members have a shared concern for the environment and sustainability of our rural, natural resource based, independent economy, and they all work together in a mutually cooperative and non-partisan manner to achieve positive ecological and economic outcomes for our area.

I want to tell you about the stewardship model and outline how this model benefits many aspects of our environment and dependent economies. But first, I want to talk to you about the steady decline of support for this stewardship model over the recent past years, how stewardship programs, previously undertaken by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, otherwise known as OMNR, have been cut, and how this now threatens to undermine the furthering of effective community-based environmental stewardship efforts across this province and within the Great Lakes basin.

Beginning in 1996, the OMNR began its support of the Ontario stewardship program. Since that time, this program supported, but did not direct, the actions of 46 stewardship councils. Councils were supported by a full-time coordinator and $10,000 in support seed funding annually. OMNR's support, worth $5 million annually, was used by councils to leverage an additional $26 million of outside cash and in-kind contributions. These funds annually supported more than 500 projects, involving many tens of thousands of person-days of volunteer public participation. This was carried out mainly within the Great Lakes basin.

Starting in 1981, the OMNR also administered the community fish and wildlife involvement program, otherwise known as CFWIP. This program contributed $1 million annually toward stewardship projects which restored fish and wildlife resources across the province and the Great Lakes basin. It supported nearly 600 community volunteer environmental projects worked on by many tens of thousands of community volunteers annually. Most of these efforts occurred within the Great Lakes basin. I can offer an example on how CFWIP benefited our own Manitoulin streams organization via an overall CFWIP funding allocation of $35,000 between 1995 and 2006. It was able to use this funding to leverage nearly $3 million of other funding and in-kind support for its restoration efforts.

Ontario stewardship and CFWIP were very successful programs that achieved tremendous results in the Great Lakes basin. These two programs, though, have now been cancelled since 2011 by the OMNR due to budgetary constraints. Thus, a stewardship support void now exists.

In light of all this, we understand that an aging population and infrastructure are consuming most public funds. Notwithstanding, it would be short-sighted to not adequately manage the natural resources that sustain these Great Lakes economies. Engaging the public to participate in the stewardship model can bridge the gap between a need to manage the resources and a lack of sufficient public funds to do so. I am here to try to make you understand that the stewardship model works very effectively to fill the environmental sustainability void. It works because engaging members of the public to become directly involved connects their sense of pride and dedication towards successful outcomes that benefit their community areas.

The following are our local examples of the potential gains that can be made at the community level by stewardship models.

Our Manitoulin Streams Improvement Association, a not-for-profit and incorporated volunteer community-based stewardship organization, has undertaken a number of proactive steps.

It has developed a watershed restoration based strategic plan and a class environmental assessment that covers 182 watersheds of Manitoulin Island, which was formerly approved by federal and provincial agencies. That outlines the specific actions required to be undertaken to effectively carry out watershed restoration efforts.

Manitoulin Streams has secured funding and in-kind contributions valued at nearly $3.2 million to date. These funds and efforts have been used to strategically plan island-wide efforts directed at the restoration of nearly nine kilometres of streams and adjacent riparian areas to date, efforts that have achieved a quantifiable 193% average increase of aquatic life within these restored areas.

A strategic binational document entitled, “The Sweetwater Sea: An International Biodiversity Conservation Strategy for Lake Huron” supports continuity of the aquatic restorations being undertaken by Manitoulin Streams. Its restoration successes have garnered binational and national recognition in our being awarded the binational State of the Lakes Ecological Conference, SOLEC, award in 2008 and the 2012 Canada national recreational fisheries award.

The Manitoulin Area Stewardship Council, working with our partner the Eastern Georgian Bay Stewardship Council, is undertaking a strategically focused eastern Georgian Bay north channel aquatic and economic revitalization initiative. This strategy encompasses a geographic coastal swath that includes eastern Georgian Bay and the north channel of Lake Huron, including Manitoulin Island. This strategy will work with all of our local community partners to undertake a large-scale strategic effort based on the Manitoulin Streams success model, to strategically outline and plan specific actions needed to achieve good on-the-ground results, build the capacity and skills needed to support this strategy, and economically evaluate the benefits and effectiveness of the actions taken.

Our Ontario elk restoration committee's stewardship efforts successfully introduced the once extinct wapiti, otherwise known as elk, across Ontario and especially into this Great Lakes basin area, an effort which the Ontario government historically attempted to do but was unsuccessful in implementing. This community-based stewardship model succeeded in restoring this big game species to the Ontario landscape, raising $300,000 in public donations to achieve this. Estimates show that it would have cost OMNR 10 times that amount. Ontario now benefits ecologically and economically from this re-establishment effort.

Another example can be seen in the United Walleye Club's community stewardship efforts in the greater Sudbury district which have, since 1991, re-established fisheries across a large geographic area in lakes once considered dead due to many years of industrial sulphur fallout. The group has, through their annual cooperative efforts: cultured eggs and fish that they raise in 12 community hatcheries and 18 rearing ponds; raised and stocked approximately 3,600,000 fry and 540,000 fingerlings; expended nearly 4,500 man-days of community-based volunteer efforts; and restored and enhanced fisheries within this regional area that now contribute significantly to the local aquatic ecosystem and to the economy of this part of the Lake Huron basin.

I laud the Government of Ontario for its funding programs which support the Great Lakes basin environmental restoration efforts of organizations like ours. These funding programs include the recently announced recreational fisheries conservation partnership program and the Canada-Ontario agreement on the Great Lakes annex, which has been a very beneficial tool for us, but delays in getting this agreement in place and the limited funding amounts that COA represents can hamper positive community stewardship momentum.

Environment Canada's eco-action program has been a great funding support for aquatic restoration focus groups such as ours.

With respect to the Lake Simcoe and southeastern Georgian Bay cleanup fund, I wondered why the geographic scope of that initiative stopped just short of our own adjacent area, especially when you consider our level of strategic preparedness and expertise.

The examples I gave are only a small sample of what can be accomplished via the community-based stewardship model. Stewardship organizations can more effectively engage their communities to become more productively involved in successful resource sustainability outcomes. They are also successful in leveraging greater levels of funding from outside sources. Governments can no longer do it alone. Along with a better supported stewardship model, we can together achieve great results for the benefit of all.

Therefore, I would like the standing committee to make recommendations for further support of the stewardship model within the Great Lakes basin. The sustainability of our communities and the natural resource values we are dependent upon require this.

3:55 p.m.


The Chair Conservative Harold Albrecht

Mr. Florean, you were right on 10 minutes exactly.

I just want to draw attention to something. I have the privilege of having your notes. Toward the end of your comments, you said “I laud the Government of Ontario”. Your notes say “Canada” and your subsequent points refer to Canada, just for the record.

All right. We will move, now, to Bernadette Conant, executive director, Canadian Water Network.


3:55 p.m.

Bernadette Conant Executive Director, Canadian Water Network

Thank you, Mr. Chair. I would also like to thank the honourable members of the committee for the invitation to the Canadian Water Network to speak along with my colleagues on this important topic for Canada.

I am the executive director of Canadian Water Network, which is a national not-for-profit organization. We were created in 2001 through the federal networks of centres of excellence program. As an NCE, we help convert research around major water challenges into practical solutions and real-life applications.

At CWN, Canadian Water Network, our perspective is that success happens when the right people and leading knowledge are combined effectively around clearly articulated and shared goals for water management.

Over the past 12 years of our existence we have really developed a model on that basis and philosophy that has connected hundreds of researchers from over 40 Canadian universities and international institutions.

We have over 500 partners in the private and public sectors. Those partners have collectively invested over $45 million in our efforts. We recently launched two national research consortia, established through using this end-user approach in the areas of watershed management and municipal water management.

I wanted to give you that background because it is from that perspective, of an organization that's engaged in addressing the complex challenge of making knowledge actionable within and to a diverse water community, that we're offering what we see as the current opportunity for the federal government to achieve further progress in the Great Lakes area by aligning knowledge with resources for results. Our real point is that we would like to see leadership by the federal government in establishing a binational systemic management framework for the Great Lakes.

You'll see in our submission to the committee that we have used this terminology of systemic framework several times. What I mean by that is when it comes to water, there's a high degree of interconnectedness within both the ecosystems as well as the connectedness with our economic and social systems that depend on them. So the goals and the actions are connected and highly interdependent. As a result, achieving progress requires that we take a holistic, or a whole system or systemic approach, that recognizes the interconnection between the different drivers in the system and the impacts they have.

As a preferred strategy for water management, this topic applies equally well to discussion about any of Canada's great lakes, including Lake Winnipeg, Lake Athabaska, Great Slave Lake, and Great Bear Lake. It is this direction in which the world is moving with many other constituencies. I think you will have heard my previous testimony about European water framework initiatives, or many of you may be familiar with things like the Murray-Darling basin in Australia.

As established by many witnesses at your committee before me, the Laurentian Great Lakes region is of tremendous importance to Canada and it's really the heart of the North American economy. It's not only home to over 60% of Canadians if you take Quebec and Ontario as part of the full basin, but it also represents a strong component of Canada's national knowledge resource base. It has over 77% of Canada's R and D, according to Statistics Canada, occurring within the Great Lakes basin, and it includes 22 universities and myriad other institutions.

To illustrate the importance of the Great Lakes region to the world's economy, if you combine Ontario and Quebec and the eight U.S. Great Lakes basin states and consider that as a single political entity, it would rank between the second and fourth largest economy in the world, just behind the U.S. as an entity itself and China.

Important to this discussion today is the fact that the strong functioning of just about every element and sector of that $4.7 trillion economy is dependent on water and related ecosystems.

In Warren Buffet language, we like to say that in Canada our water resources are truly our durable competitive advantage. There may be substitutes for energy, but there are simply no substitutes for water.

In response to the committee's questions that you put to us, the first being the priority issues of concern, from our perspective it's really something that Theresa talked about earlier in her comments. It's really moving from a remediation legacy to a management cleanup mindset.

Significant gains have been made in the Great Lakes cleanup since the 1972 signing of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement. Much of this has resulted from a focus on the major end-of-pipe, or point source contamination, waste water treatment plants, mining effluents, and pulp and paper. We need to acknowledge these successes and certainly stay the course on those cleanups.

While significant strides have been made by tackling those priority hot-spot issues, these efforts to some degree represent the important but low-hanging fruit in terms of this tough game, and the more complex and persistent issues of current and ongoing concern have now emerged as priorities. These concerns generally respect broader issues or more system-wide issues and often involve non-point source impacts or inputs that make a challenge.

You've been hearing about these issues and studying them. They include the resurgence of toxic algal blooms; oxygen depletion, particularly in Lake Erie; algal fouling and contamination of beaches and nearshore environments; fisheries decline; ecosystem impairment due to changing lake conditions and the issue of invasive species; the accumulation of persistent contaminants; and the general topic of the vulnerability of the full lake functions to the uncertainties that are resulting from population growth pressures, development, and changing climate.

These issues are unlikely to be resolved by maintaining a site cleanup area of concern mentality and remediation. It really requires a more system-wide management approach that recognizes the various contributing factors, but also the nature of long-term impacts of activities on watershed conditions. Inputs to watersheds in the upstream regions, particularly in groundwater, can take years to decades to show their impact on the lakes in terms of understanding conditions. It also requires a shift to more of a best management practice strategy in terms of cleanup and remediation as key to addressing the issues away from a focus simply on legacy cleanup.

Research action, certainly in parallel—and I stress in parallel, not before—can play an important part in helping to understand the system behaviour, forecast potential future conditions and scenario options, and importantly, evaluate and improve the effectiveness of practices and technologies so that we're really moving to a truly adaptive management approach.

Figure two in the briefing handout—and I brought the colour version along because it's really hard to see in the black and white—is simply there to give you an indication of the nature of the overall stresses that are present in the lakes as mapped by the Great Lakes environmental assessment and mapping project out of Michigan. That map is a cumulative map of 34 individual stressors. I think it's not a big surprise, if you consider figure one, to see the coincidence of the areas of concern with where some of those stresses exist on the map.

The important point is that such stresses are imposed by the increasing population and development both in the basin itself and frankly globally, in terms of the demands that will be put on that basin. I talked about what an important economy it is with respect to global changes and those changes being exacerbated—not caused by, but certainly exacerbated—by the issues of a changing climate, which includes more frequent extreme events. These are likely to persist into the future.

The significance of water and its connectiveness through the whole ecosystem and our economy as well means that the impacts of decisions we make or actions we take are similarly connected: when we pull on a string on one end, we're likely to affect the pattern and sometimes unravel the stitches on the other side. A practical approach to initiating a management system in the Great Lakes needs to consider the full range of the important risks and opportunities related to water. I have a couple of examples to illustrate that point.

One is risk to municipal water supplies. If the occurrence of blue-green algae blooms were to threaten the removal or shutdown of a major drinking water intake for a major city, or if a storm potentially damages that infrastructure, that represents a substantial threat to municipal drinking water supplies, but not just in terms of public health; there are a lot of industries that also rely on it.

Another is manufacturing. Food processing is the second-largest manufacturing sector in Ontario, with $37 billion in sales in 2010 involving 114,000 people. Over 70% of that industry relies on municipal infrastructure.

The flip side of the risk is opportunity: adopting innovative techniques and technologies and resiliency in communities. ZENON and Trojan are leading companies developed in the Great Lakes basin. In 2004, Ontario revenue from water-related goods and services was $5.2 billion and 900 water companies. That's still a small part of what's actually now calculated to be about half a trillion dollar global market.

The horticultural sector generated $5.7 billion in farm cash receipts across the country. The ornamental horticultural sector is the largest sub-component of that. These sectors are currently seeing significant growth and opportunity, serving expanding market needs that could grow, particularly with stress in other areas, such as the Imperial Valley, but they're also facing risks when it comes to dealing with waste water or the threats of climate change.

As your committee has been discussing with numerous witnesses, there's a whole array of organizations, 13 Canadian federal and 11 provincial agencies on the Canadian side, and similar on the United States' side.

You can see it's a complex solution that needs an alignment around core goals.

To sum up, given the breadth of the interconnectedness of these issues, we need more effective alignment of resources that can result from establishing a base framework that supports more systemic management as opposed to location-focused hot spots, defines the desired actual future state, the innate characteristics of that state, and ensures focus of resources that stay the course and maintains priorities.

In conclusion, the good news is that the institutions and the instruments through the IJC, the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, and the COA actually exist and we have the resources. The federal government could then take leadership in developing a binational Great Lakes basin framework.

The opportunities exist, Chair, and it's leadership and sustained support that are the ingredients most required for success.

4:05 p.m.


The Chair Conservative Harold Albrecht

Thank you, Ms. Conant.

We'll move now to Mr. Blais.

4:05 p.m.

Dr. Jules Blais Professor, University of Ottawa, As an Individual

My name is Jules Blais. I'm a professor of environmental toxicology at the University of Ottawa.

I took a little bit of a different approach from my colleagues. I put together a slide presentation that is really just intended to inform on the sorts of issues that we've been seeing in the Great Lakes, starting since the 1970s. I will walk us through some of the issues. If there were questions that were to be specifically addressed—

4:05 p.m.


The Chair Conservative Harold Albrecht

Could I just ask you to move over toward one of the microphones. We're not picking you up as well as we could.

4:05 p.m.

Professor, University of Ottawa, As an Individual

Dr. Jules Blais

I have here a series of slides that review some of the issues we've been seeing since the 1970s.

It all really started on Scotch Bonnet Island on Lake Ontario. That is where we really started to see the effects of environmental pollutants in the Great Lakes. This was work done by Environment Canada scientists back in the 1970s, first when they discovered 100 nests, but only 10 young. This was the first sign of the kinds of serious problems that began to emerge in the 1970s and that really began to be noticed in the 1970s.

We have since seen the effects of DDT and the impacts on eggshell thinning and the deformities and birth defects in birds that became prevalent and well known in that part of the world, along with some even more pronounced effects, like crossed bills in cormorants. That was not a rare occurrence back in the 1970s. These were the sorts of things we were facing back in those days.

When we looked at some of the sites that tended to have more of these contaminated effects versus ones that had less contaminated effects, we saw that places like the Detroit River and western Lake Erie were some of the more contaminated areas, places like the Hamilton harbour, whereas in the northern lakes we were seeing sites that were much less contaminated.

On this slide, you can see that some of the most contaminated sites were in places around Lake Erie, the Detroit River, and Lake Michigan, whereas some of the less contaminated sites were focused around places like Lake Huron and Lake Superior.

When we look at some of the kinds of things that we see in places that are more contaminated, we have one example here from the St. Clair River that shows specific effects that are quite clearly from contamination, right downstream from Sarnia and some waste water treatment plants around Stag Island. We can compare that with places like Port Lambton, which is a reference site.

One of the factors we see in some of these contaminated sites includes effects like—I'm a scientist, so of course I'm going to focus on the science side of things—the feminization of fish, which is most pronounced in the most contaminated sites, such as the St. Clair River. One of the things that is apparent is the fact that we see this biomarker called vitellogenin. It's essentially an egg yolk protein that we typically see in females but we don't ever see in males unless they are exposed to environmental estrogens.

As you can see in this slide, males are showing measurable levels of this vitellogenin, an egg yolk protein, in their blood. This is a very clear indication of the feminization that takes place in some of these contaminated sites. It's a product of environmental estrogen exposure. These are chemicals that are coming from industrial sites and from residential waste water treatment plants.

Another expression of this feminization is seen in what we call intersex, which is the presence of female cells in male testes. Shown in this slide is an oocyte, which is an egg cell that is found in males' testes and is another very clear indication of feminization.

Those are some of the manifestations of environmental estrogens that we see in some of these contaminated sites.

Another factor we've been focusing on is what we call biotransport. Historically, contaminants were released into the lakes. Since the 1970s, some of those contaminant levels have come down, but what we find now when we look at the distribution of these contaminants is that they're not so much distributed near where we find industrial sites, but are more closely linked to the life cycles of some of these animals.

One of the examples I have here is of migratory salmon, which spend most of their life and acquire most of their body mass in the lakes, but then they swim upstream to spawn and they transfer many of those contaminants to those resident fish in their spawning lakes.

An interesting thing that we now see in the Great Lakes is migratory animals like salmon that swim upstream to spawn. They contaminate because they accumulate contaminants from the lakes. They transfer these contaminants such that the resident fish in some of their spawning lakes are now in some of the most contaminated places that we see. We call this a biotransport.

I have an example here showing the PCB concentrations in stream resident fish from reaches with and without salmon spawners. This is a study from the United States. You can see in reaches of the river where there are no salmon spawners, the resident fish have much lower contamination levels, but they have 20 to 50 times higher contamination in the reaches of the streams where salmon are spawning. We call this biotransport a biovector transport of pollutants, and we see this in the Great Lakes.

PCBs have come down to maybe 5% of what they were back in the 1970s, but we can't make that generalization across the board because there are locations—whenever we make a generalization, we have to list a number of caveats because generalizations tend to be wrong. One of the things we see here when we look at the distribution of these contaminants today is that they aren't widely distributed across these lakes, but we do see hot spots of contamination, not near industrial sites but near sites where salmon are spawning. This goes to show that when we release chemicals into the environment, ultimately they become part of that natural world and they take on a life of their own.

To summarize some of the important things that have been collected over this time period and some of the important sources of information that we have, a survey has been done of herring gulls since the early 1970s, and this provides us with a history of contamination spanning different areas of the Great Lakes. Our best indication of the history of contamination is provided by this tissue archive, which is stored at the National Wildlife Research Centre here in Ottawa. There are tissue archives that allow us to reconstruct a history of contamination over time.

If we want to see the history of contamination, we have that tissue archive available to us so we can track the movement of contaminants that we haven't even discovered yet.

Some of the oldest annual wildlife contaminant monitoring programs in the world are found in the Great Lakes. Environment Canada is credited with having the foresight to provide us with these tissue archives.

Some of the spatial analysis shows that the cleanest eggs and the cleanest tissues we tend to find are in places like eastern Lake Superior, eastern and northern Lake Huron, whereas the dirtiest sites are in places like the Detroit River and western Lake Erie.

Our temporal analysis, our historical analysis, is showing that many of the legacy contaminants that produced some of the disfiguring effects that I showed early on have declined. Chlorinated chemicals have declined by over 90% since 1974, but we add the caveat that some places are still showing high contamination because of migratory species that can funnel contaminants and maintain them at high levels. Mercury has declined, but only slightly, and there are emerging chemicals, like the brominated flame retardants and perfluorinated acids, and the personal care products and pharmaceuticals that we are starting to learn more about.

We do see health effects to this day in the more contaminated parts of these lakes, relating to things like immune response, sex ratios, and feminization as shown by things like vitellogenin and embryonic viability, which show association with more contaminated sites.

4:15 p.m.


The Chair Conservative Harold Albrecht

Thank you very much, Mr. Blais. We've reached the end of your time, and we're going to proceed to seven-minute rounds of questions.

I want to remind committee members that we are reserving some time at the end of the committee for committee business.

We have one question of clarification that Megan Leslie would like to ask. She was not able to hear totally one of the comments of Madam Conant.

4:15 p.m.

Megan Leslie Halifax, NDP

Thank you very much. I just want to clarify. Did you call it a “binational systemic management framework”?

4:15 p.m.

Executive Director, Canadian Water Network

Bernadette Conant

That's right.

4:15 p.m.

Halifax, NDP

Megan Leslie

Okay, thanks.

4:15 p.m.


The Chair Conservative Harold Albrecht

We'll move now to the Conservative side, and Mr. Toet for seven minutes, please.

4:15 p.m.


Lawrence Toet Conservative Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Thank you to our witnesses today. This has been very helpful for us going forward.

Mr. Blais, I was very interested in what you brought forward to us today. As you say, it's different from anything we've had come to us so far.

At the end of your presentation, you talked about the legacy contaminants declining over 90%. Can you talk to that a bit? I don't know whether in any of your research you've been able to determine the reasoning for this. Has it happened through a lot of the work done through—

4:15 p.m.

Professor, University of Ottawa, As an Individual

Dr. Jules Blais

The contaminants that have declined are mostly the chlorinated chemicals that are now regulated under the Stockholm Convention. There's an international treaty now to get rid of things like PCBs and what they used to call the dirty dozen, mostly chlorinated chemicals that had been banned in Canada. The new production of PCBs has been banned in Canada for the last 30 or so years.

PCBs have been on the decline. DDT has been on the decline for similar reasons, and there's a whole list of other ones. Some of the chlorinated pesticides such as chlordane have been on the decline. Some are on the way out. Dioxins have been in decline. But there are others that are holding steady. Mercury is one. Then there are others that are on the rise, and those tend to be the chemicals that replaced others. When we got rid of PCBs and we got rid of certain chlorinated chemicals that were used as flame retardants, we replaced them with other things, such as brominated flame retardants, so there's polybrominated diphenyl ethers and a whole range of other flame retardants that have been used to replace them. Others, such as the perfluorinated acids, are also on the rise. But the chlorinated chemicals that have been banned in Canada and the United States since the 1970s and 1980s have been declining significantly.

Those crossbill deformities that I showed at the outset were linked to PCBs and hexachlorobenzene. We don't see those deformities anymore.

4:20 p.m.


Lawrence Toet Conservative Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Thank you. That's good.

Actually, the comment on the crossbill reminded me of my golden retriever trying to save the fish in our pond from a cormorant a couple of years ago. I think my golden retriever was looking about as twisted up as the cormorant did after chasing the thing for about 15 or 20 minutes and just having no success.

I have a question for you, Mr. Florean. You talked about the elk being reintroduced in Ontario. One of the comments you made was that OMNR was unable to do it. You also said that if it had done it, it would have cost much more than what it cost the local organization to accomplish what it did.

I'm just wondering what you would attribute that to. Why was there a difference in the success of the government organization and that of the private organization that was doing this, and a difference in the cost effectiveness of what they did as well?

4:20 p.m.

Council Member and Technical Advisor, Manitoulin Area Stewardship Council

Robert Florean

First of all, I want to quantify that I completed a career of 36-plus years with the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources in 2011.

The stewardship component of it is very basic. What it does is it pulls everybody together, and you have people within the community not only contributing their time, but also they're contributing resources. They did fundraisers that raised tens of thousands every year. They captured the interest of people.

If the OMNR have to do it, they have to do it within the confines of an established bureaucracy. I can't make it any more simple than that. There's a process that needs to be followed and certain individuals must be incorporated into that. This doesn't circumvent them. They were still there as your science background and basically there was an environmental support as well

On the example I gave with Manitoulin Streams, if we had done it through, let's say, solely a government model, it would cost a lot more. But when you have a vested interest within a community to accomplish something, you really give it.

4:20 p.m.


Lawrence Toet Conservative Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Ms. McClenaghan talked a little bit about public engagement. We seem to have heard that testimony over and over throughout the weeks of this study, of public engagement being involved. You talked about many different projects being done on public engagement. We've heard from many witnesses here about public engagement and actually how that drives success.

On the basis of that, Ms. McClenaghan, I was hoping you could clarify. When you talk about public engagement, do you want to see an enhancement of that public engagement? When you made your statement, I was almost getting the impression that you were giving us the idea that there has been a lack of public engagement or no public engagement. As I say, we've heard constant witness testimony throughout this study on the public's input and the public's participation.

4:20 p.m.

Executive Director and Counsel, Canadian Environmental Law Association

Theresa McClenaghan

Right, absolutely, I would echo Mr. Florean's comments about the importance of the stewardship model. I actually sat for six years on the Brant stewardship committee in the same kind of framework that he was describing. I would completely echo what he said. It was an extremely important way to deliver the objectives of the Canada-Ontario agreement, and that's true across the board.

Where we did see some differences and insufficient public engagement was around the decision-making, in particular, and the timely release of the results of monitoring about whether the objectives under the Canada-Ontario agreement and the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement were being met. It had started with a lot of public engagement, for example, in the remedial action plans and so on. It had become quite bureaucratic over the years and there were often long delays in getting those results out.

The new Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement does redress that somewhat, we're glad to see, and I'm just saying it needs to be a deliberate effort in every Great Lakes program.