Evidence of meeting #86 for Fisheries and Oceans in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was adaptation.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Julie Gelfand  Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, Office of the Auditor General
David Normand  Director, Office of the Auditor General
Arran McPherson  Acting Assistant Deputy Minister, Ecosystems and Oceans Science, Department of Fisheries and Oceans
Donna Jean Kilpatrick  Director, Engineering and Technical Services, Small Craft Harbours, Department of Fisheries and Oceans
Pierre Pepin  Senior Research Scientist, Science, Department of Fisheries and Oceans
Keith Lennon  Director, Oceans Science Branch, Department of Fisheries and Oceans

10:15 a.m.

Senior Research Scientist, Science, Department of Fisheries and Oceans

Dr. Pierre Pepin

I think you've raised a very good point. I think it's a very important one.

I'm one of the few remaining people who were involved in setting up that initial process. It was the first peer-reviewed process we undertook in terms of looking at the impacts of climate change. Yes, it would have been very nice to have all the participants at the table looking at aquatic environments in general. We extended invitations to the provincial governments that had responsibility associated with the freshwater environments. Some participated; some did not, and that was a shortcoming. When we redo this in a few years' time, I think we should reach out to a broader range of the scientific community, reframe the objectives and the terms of reference associated with that review process, and definitely look at aquatic environments and not just at our areas of responsibility. Being one of the leads on the impacts and vulnerability assessment, I will tell you that we really scrambled to meet the needs of the government at the time.

10:20 a.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Thank you.

I'd still have to say that the three major basins you're looking at are glacier-feds. I think it's a huge gap in analysis. I would look to assurance that the federal government is going to step up to the plate and deliver on a responsibility for those inland fisheries. We already have considerable science showing that we're already seeing impacts to flow rates in the Peace-Athabasca delta, and that obviously will have significant potential impacts to the fishery and indigenous reliance on the fishery as well as navigation.

In relation to that, is DFO playing a role in the UNESCO review that has been called on the Wood Buffalo world heritage site? Two of the directives are looking at the flow rates in that basin into the world heritage site and the impact of climate, so it would seem normal to me that, given that your department is looking at the impacts of climate, you would be pulled in by Parks Canada, as they are leading that study by UNESCO.

10:20 a.m.

Acting Assistant Deputy Minister, Ecosystems and Oceans Science, Department of Fisheries and Oceans

Dr. Arran McPherson

I'm not aware of our involvement, so that would be something I'd have to come back to the committee on.

10:20 a.m.

Senior Research Scientist, Science, Department of Fisheries and Oceans

Dr. Pierre Pepin

The role of DFO in looking at flow rates in rivers and glacier-feds on the other side of the Rockies is much more considerable because of our reliance on the importance of salmon fisheries in those areas. I'm not aware of what's happening on your side of the Rockies.

10:20 a.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Of course, for the Site C dam, when the review was done both federally and provincially, they did not look at the transboundary impacts into Alberta, so of course, flow rates impact on the Peace, and in turn the Athabasca River, into the world heritage site. I know that certainly the first nations will be looking to DFO to intervene and provide information and advice for that review.

10:20 a.m.

Senior Research Scientist, Science, Department of Fisheries and Oceans

Dr. Pierre Pepin

The issue of flow rates and also the timing of the flow are critical aspects to the dynamics of those systems, both in terms of how they impact the communities that are reliant on them and how they impact the biology of the animals. That is something where there are a number of research projects across the country, whether they are labelled as climate research or not, that are being addressed by a number of my colleagues in various parts of the world. We do bring in input from academic partners and provincial researchers, if there are any, to provide us with advice on how to do things.

10:20 a.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan NDP Edmonton Strathcona, AB

Thank you.

10:20 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Scott Simms

Before we continue, I would like to welcome Eva Nassif.

You represent the riding of Vimy. Is that correct?

February 13th, 2018 / 10:20 a.m.

Liberal

Eva Nassif Liberal Vimy, QC

Yes.

10:20 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Scott Simms

Now we're going to Mr. McDonald for seven minutes, please.

10:20 a.m.

Liberal

Ken McDonald Liberal Avalon, NL

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Again, thank you to our witnesses. It's not every day, I think, that we have groups or people appear at this committee who make it interesting, but today has been, because I think most of us are affected in some way by this.

My riding of Avalon is on the Avalon Peninsula part of Newfoundland and Labrador, and all but one community is bounded by the Atlantic Ocean. People depend on it very much, so we see first-hand the storm surges, sea levels, and the changes in climate. Where I live, in particular, it's about a five-minute walk to the ocean. There's a river and a pond that at one time would freeze in late fall and wouldn't thaw out until April of the next year. Now you hardly get the chance to play a game of hockey on it before it thaws out again, then refreezes. A lot of changes are happening.

My first question would be around the sea rise and storm surges that are taking place. Communities on the ocean have a tendency to put an awful lot of infrastructure along the ocean. It could be damaged very easily with a good storm surge. In particular, my hometown, for example, will approve a subdivision to be built because, of course, the land next to the ocean is at a premium. At one time, people thought it was worth nothing. Now, it's hundreds of thousands of dollars just to get a building lot.

We see erosion year after year after year taking place. There are water lines. There are sewer lines that are very close to the ocean, and that goes ahead. Do we, as a department, ever advise provinces or communities, and say, “Look, if you're putting this infrastructure in the ground right here, you have to understand that in 10 or 20 years' time, if the sea levels reach where they are predicted to go, and storm surges increase the way we've seen them increase, you stand to lose all that infrastructure and cause a major environmental catastrophe right on the edge of the ocean”?

10:25 a.m.

Acting Assistant Deputy Minister, Ecosystems and Oceans Science, Department of Fisheries and Oceans

Dr. Arran McPherson

I think you've pointed to why it's very important and what the value of the pan-Canadian climate change framework is about, which is departments, provinces, territories, and municipalities working together.

Some of the items you touched on in your points could be informed by some of the work we're doing, which is why we work in lockstep with departments such as NRCan, which is advising provinces and municipalities about things that go beyond our mandate.

Our mandate in Fisheries and Oceans is about the oceans. It's about how those things, the oceans, might be changing. We're obviously interested in our own infrastructure and want to make those tools available to anyone who can use them.

We don't have the expertise to be advising municipalities on their building codes, for example. That type of interaction rests with other bodies of government. We feel confident that by working with other federal departments and provinces and making all of our information available online, and also by working with partners such as the Ecology Action Centre and others, we can make sure people are aware of the work we're doing and of how they can grab that work and incorporate it into the work they're doing.

Do you have anything you want to add to that?

10:25 a.m.

Director, Engineering and Technical Services, Small Craft Harbours, Department of Fisheries and Oceans

Donna Jean Kilpatrick

No, that's good.

10:25 a.m.

Senior Research Scientist, Science, Department of Fisheries and Oceans

Dr. Pierre Pepin

Where we provide input is in sea level changes, working on providing forecasts of extreme events. That is always a bit touchy, because most of our observations are at that end of the scale, and we're talking about events that are at this end of the scale.

The erosion of coastal areas is of particular concern. When we did the risk assessment exercise for the Atlantic, for instance, we had people from NRCan who were participating, and that was part of the discussion. Coastal erosion is a geology problem much more than it is an ocean problem, and they are the ones who were speaking to that when we were trying to become informed.

10:25 a.m.

Liberal

Ken McDonald Liberal Avalon, NL

It may be a geology problem, but it's the ocean that's doing the harm.

10:25 a.m.

Senior Research Scientist, Science, Department of Fisheries and Oceans

10:25 a.m.

Liberal

Ken McDonald Liberal Avalon, NL

I think that sometimes communities look at the economics of allowing buildings to be built and development to take place because it gives them a tax base. A lot of the communities are so small that they don't have the connection to all this information that's available out there. It's hard.

Even communities on the northern peninsula.... I think it was Daniel's Harbour a few years ago that ran into a major problem with houses having to be vacated because there was a fear of them just dropping off into the ocean. Nobody 50 or 60 years ago thought that would happen.

10:25 a.m.

Senior Research Scientist, Science, Department of Fisheries and Oceans

Dr. Pierre Pepin

I and a number of other researchers are involved with Environment and Climate Change Canada. We are putting together a report that looks at the interplay between these various elements, and it's a multi-department exercise. The report is supposed to be out sometime during 2018. I can't tell you exactly when, but I do have a second draft of the report and we will be meeting on it in March. It's designed to inform the communities in plain language of where there are tools, where there are resources that they can access.

10:30 a.m.

Liberal

Ken McDonald Liberal Avalon, NL

That should be a good help.

When you look at mitigation, do you consider the economic impacts?

10:30 a.m.

Acting Assistant Deputy Minister, Ecosystems and Oceans Science, Department of Fisheries and Oceans

Dr. Arran McPherson

Broadly on climate change, or in a specific case?

10:30 a.m.

Liberal

Ken McDonald Liberal Avalon, NL

Broadly, on climate change.

10:30 a.m.

Acting Assistant Deputy Minister, Ecosystems and Oceans Science, Department of Fisheries and Oceans

Dr. Arran McPherson

Some of the things we looked at—and I'll use the small craft harbours example—when the risk assessment was being undertaken were things like the value, what information we have about landings, and the value of the transactions that are being undertaken from that harbour. What we don't have is something that would say that looking across all of the department's mandate, across all of the lines of business we undertake, this is what we think the total cost of climate change would be for Canada, and I'll tell you one of the reasons why.

To do that type of undertaking, we'd need to be able to predict into the future how we think individual stocks would change and when, and which ones would increase and which ones would decrease. We don't have that level of resolution yet. I think it's early. It's too early for where we are in our analysis and research to be able to say that this is the total cost.

I recognize that's something people would be very interested in, but I think that's outside of where we are. It's too far into the future. It wouldn't be very meaningful if we gave a prediction at this point.

10:30 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Scott Simms

Thank you, Mr. McDonald. I appreciate it.

Gentlemen, I'm going to split your time at two and a half minutes each, with flexibility. I'd cut the questions off at two and a half minutes, but if they're in the middle of an answer, I'll let that go on until it runs its course.

Mr. Shipley, for two and a half minutes, please.

10:30 a.m.

Conservative

Bev Shipley Conservative Lambton—Kent—Middlesex, ON

Thank you.

In the report, what was concluded was that “Environment and Climate Change Canada, in collaboration with other federal partners, did not provide adequate leadership [in] advance [of] the government's adaptation to climate change impacts”. The report says that “there was no action plan” and there was no “clear direction to ensure the federal government would integrate climate change consideration into its own programs, policies, and operations”. It states:

...the federal departments...did not take appropriate measures to adapt to climate change impacts.... As a result, the federal government could not demonstrate that it was making progress in adapting to...changing climate [change]. Stronger...leadership is needed.

Also, it “did not provide adequate leadership and guidance to other” departments. It “did not provide adequate tools and resources”, and “it cannot demonstrate that the climate change risks to its areas of responsibility, including its assets, its programs, and other activities are understood or addressed”. Why?

10:30 a.m.

Acting Assistant Deputy Minister, Ecosystems and Oceans Science, Department of Fisheries and Oceans

Dr. Arran McPherson

I recognize that you're reading directly from the report but acknowledge that I can't speak on behalf of Environment and Climate Change Canada.