Mr. Speaker, this is a debate on a bill that is intended to give the government new powers to act in a way that is essentially unaccountable. This is a matter of great concern to us.
The issue that is being addressed is the Ontario freshwater fishery and that is of course a matter of great interest to my constituents in York—Simcoe which surrounds Lake Simcoe. What is interesting is that this issue only came to light and became a serious problem on May 5 of this year.
The government responded immediately with legislation that is quite dramatic and quite draconian to deal with that. Yet, there are other issues that have been affecting the freshwater fishery in Ontario for years and years. The government has had at its disposal the power to act by regulation for years to resolve those issues but it has not done so.
Why is the government so hasty to accumulate unaccountable powers while failing to exercise those very powers already at its disposal that would address the serious problems in the freshwater fishery? By that I mean the impact of alien invasive aquatic species on the aquatic environment and the freshwater fishery, all of which are suffering because the government will not act and exercise those powers that it already has.
A perfect example of that, the very fishery the bill purports to assist, can be found not just in the Great Lakes but in the Great Lakes basin including Lake Simcoe with regard to those invasive species. In fact, the failure of the government to act has become so serious and so drawn out that I have taken the step of submitting a private member's bill to protect our aquatic environment against invasive species named the Canadian ballast water management act.
Invasive species are a problem for the fishery, but they are also a problem for the ecosystem and the balance in the ecosystem in general. Related to both of those things, there are economic problems resulting from both the impact on the fishery and the environment. It is a major problem in the constituency of York--Simcoe, particularly because of the fact that it is a horseshoe around Lake Simcoe.
One can go from communities at one end of the constituency at Port Bolster, through Petrolia, Jackson's Point, Roach Point around to Keswick, over to the other side of Cooks Bay to Lefroy and Bell Ewart and to Alcona, and around Big Bay Point all the way along the shore of Kempenfelt Bay. This is the coastline, including the coastlines of a series of islands as well, that we have on that freshwater fishery of Lake Simcoe and that freshwater resource.
Much has changed with Lake Simcoe and the surrounding watershed since I was a young boy. I remember playing on the farm in the streams flowing into Lake Simcoe and playing at Willow Beach not too far away from where I live. A lot of what has happened in those changes has been the introduction of those invasive species. As I have said, the government could have acted on that front through regulations that are already available to it, but it has failed to do so.
Since the failure of the government to act, we have seen the introduction of numerous invasive species, far too many to list, but the media stars among those invasive species are well known. The zebra mussel and more recently the quagga mussel have made their way into Lake Simcoe and the round goby is right around the edges of the lake including the surrounding waterways such as the Pefferlaw Brook. Those are species which started in the Great Lakes and have spread directly through various vectors into Lake Simcoe.
Those invasive species upset the balance of the ecosystem. Because they are not native to the area, they do not have any natural predators. That allows them in many cases to be extraordinarily successful in their competition for resources with native species. In fact, in some cases they are predators on those native species. As a result of that competition and predation, the introduction of the non-native species can effectively squeeze out the native species that have been part of that ecosystem, in some cases for tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of years, and alter it forever.
Where does a lot of it come from? The primary source, authorities agree, is through the ballast water of ocean going vessels that will end up in the Caspian Sea or the Black Sea, in freshwater ports or brackish water ports and they will take on ballast water there. In the process of taking on ballast water they will take on numerous aquatic life, whether it be animal, plant or other kinds of lower forms of life.
Those life forms can survive a trip across the ocean. When those vessels arrive in our shores, in the Great Lakes and elsewhere, and ballast water is discharged, they get introduced into that environment. There is the potential to regulate and act on this, but in Canada our rules on that remain only voluntary.
I know that the Liberal government likes to pretend that the track record of the government is good on the environment, but the fact is we fall far short of what even the Americans do. There are not too many members on that side of the House who hold out that the Americans are a sound example of environmental leadership.
On the issue of invasive species and on so many other issues, in fact, the American regulations and rules are stricter than those we have in Canada. Canada is failing the environment under this government.
On aquatic invasive species, not only do the Americans already have stricter ballast water rules, there is currently legislation in front of the U.S. senate and the house of representatives to provide for even stricter and more advanced regulations. All along this government dithers and fails to act.
I ask why in that context is it suddenly seeking to acquire other new powers that are unaccountable and in many cases extraordinary, involving discretion that could be exercised by officials and by the minister? Yet it will not exercise ones to address problems that we really know about, that are right there today.
What is the history? It is a problem that has been raised. It has been known as a serious problem since 1986 when the zebra mussel first arrived. It has been raised regularly by the International Joint Commission and by the Great Lakes Fishery Commission since 1988. When they put out a joint report in 1988, that is when we first began to see real action take place. Those two commissions called upon the United States and Canada to act.
The then Conservative government, in retrospect, had a very well earned reputation on the environment. In fact, a recent report done by a group of Canadian environmentalists rated that Conservative government, from 1984 to 1993, as the most environmentally protective and progressive government in Canada's history.
That Conservative government acted on that issue and introduced almost immediately, less than a year later in 1989, the first voluntary ballast water management guidelines in the world. It was unprecedented. That is what we call leadership and it was leadership on the environment. Guess what? That was the end of leadership because it was not too long before there was a change of government and we have seen for the past 12 years no action since that 1989 initiative.
As I said, in the interim, the Americans acted in 1990 with legislation, in 1996 with legislation, and now they have mandatory enforceable ballast water regulations, but in Canada there is no action.
That is why we need to have changes brought in. That is why I have submitted a private member's bill that hopefully will address that. However, the government could act right now. It does not have to wait for that bill to become law. It has the powers right now through the regulations in which it is failing to act even as it is seeking another new power grab for regulations.
I mentioned that the International Joint Commission, which governs the Great Lakes and the boundary waters between the United States and Canada, was the first to call for ballast water guidelines. It has called for it repeatedly, it should be added, and so has the environmental commissioner. The government has the power to act but has not.
If I look at the environmental commissioner's report of 2002, what did the commissioner find? The commissioner found that the federal government was ill-prepared to counter the threat of invasive aquatic species despite its commitments. There was no federal policy, no recognition in the department, and no plan to coordinate federal action to counter the environmental economic and social impacts of invasive species. The government was doing little to prevent the arrival of additional invasive species. It has a record of inaction.
When we talk about Liberals in action, it really means Liberal inaction. That is what we have seen for 12 years.
In 2002 the environmental commissioner repeated her call:
The federal government has not responded effectively to invasive species that threaten Canada's ecosystems, habitats, and other species. It has not identified the invasive species with the greatest potential to become established in Canada's ecosystems--
Nor has it determined the pathways by which they arrive, said the commissioner. The government has had that call made again and again. In fact, I believe the fisheries committee has just once again reported on the failure of the government to act on this and has again called on the government to act, but it still has not happened.
The environment is crucially important. Our ecosystems are crucially important yet we are not seeing them given the priority they need. Instead, the government is looking for new ways to penalize, in effect, the rights of those who seek to enjoy that environment, who seek to enjoy the fisheries. It is doing that rather than worrying about protecting the fisheries to make sure they are actually there for the long term, to make sure there is something to regulate. I know of course that it is the government's preference to regulate and penalize rather than actually preserve the resource and make sure it is there, but that is what it should be doing.
Let us take the example of the round goby. It is one of these invasive species. It is one of those species native to the Caspian Sea and the Black Sea. Now it has arrived in North America and has spread throughout the Great Lakes and the waterways.
The round goby is a highly adaptive invasive species and very aggressive. It increases in numbers very quickly and spreads geographically very quickly. It will compete for food and for habitat with the native species, in particular, in Lake Simcoe, species like the perch, the smallmouth bass and the walleye. It will actually prey upon the eggs and the young of those other native species and further enhance the competition and squeeze them out.
Unlike a lot of the native species, it will spawn not once a season but several times per season. Of particular import is the fact that it thrives in bad or poor quality water. It can survive in those harsh conditions. At a time when the environment is in decline because of the failure of the government to act, and in a whole bunch of ways, that creates even more opportunities for the spread of these invasive species.
We have seen it now on the shores of Lake Simcoe in the creeks leading right up to its edge. It will soon be there. In fact, there was a derby this weekend that was under a special scientific permit, a goby derby, whereby folks were encouraged to actually go out and fish to see if they could capture them, the hope of course being that they would not find them. Unfortunately, many were captured in the surrounding waterways. Fortunately, there were not any in the lake yet but that is perhaps only a matter of time.
As we know, in Lake Simcoe the fishery is important, but it is based on the environment. The environment is important for the people there because there are thousands who draw their drinking water from Lake Simcoe. There are thousands for whom it represents their recreational playground and their very own backyard, figuratively but in many cases even literally. It plays a role in recreational fishing during the summers and ice fishing for recreation in the winters, but more important than those economic reasons and those reasons that are anthropomorphic or important for people is the fundamental importance of the environment, the balance in the ecosystem that has to be maintained.
As these invasive species multiply and begin to take up the room that has been previously enjoyed and lived in by the native species, we also risk seeing a biodiversity loss. It is not just a question of balance. There is actually the very real risk of the loss of species, forever changing what we have seen and what we have enjoyed in that local environment.
When I look at a bill like this one that is being put forward by the government, I can only say this. Why the dithering for a decade on the things that really matter yet the instant action on the things that, from my perspective, look more like they were designed to protect the rights of bureaucrats to act unaccountably rather than to actually protect the environment?
For years and years this government has been asked to act by every credible environmental organization, by non-partisan organizations, by the International Joint Commission, by the environmental commissioner, by Parliament and by the House of Commons fisheries committee. It has failed to take any steps to do so. The government races off within days or weeks to address other issues while the issue of aquatic invasive species continues to languish.
I cannot understand this failure to take into account the importance of our environment. I cannot understand the deliberate and wilful ignorance and the damage being done to our environment.
For me and for my constituents, the priorities are clear. My constituents want to see a real commitment to protecting that local ecosystem in Lake Simcoe and to ensuring that it is treated as part of that Great Lakes basin.
That is another issue. There has been funding to worry about the environment of the Great Lakes, but for some reason the government has failed to apply that same kind of funding to Lake Simcoe even though it is at the centre of the Great Lakes basin. Even though those are waters that are part of the watershed and discharge into the Great Lakes and represent a very significant source that is at environmental risk, the money is not there.
That is a decision made by this government. It treats Lake Simcoe differently. It ignores the fact that it is a critical part of that Great Lakes water basin. The government ignores the potential it represents. Properly husbanded it is a positive asset, but also, if allowed to deteriorate and decline any further, it has the potential to destabilize and damage the health of the rest of the Great Lakes into which it flows.
I look at the record of the government on the issue of the freshwater fishery and the state of the health of the Great Lakes basin, in particular that of Lake Simcoe, and I look only with sadness.
I encourage the government to respond to the private member's bill I put forward as quickly as it has responded to this particular issue in the freshwater fishery and to actually do something after a decade of dithering to exercise the powers that are already there to protect our freshwater lakes from further damage by the regular introduction of new invasive species.