That, in the opinion of the House, the government should consider the advisability of evaluating the future of the historic Trent-Severn Waterway, one of Parks Canada’s National Historic Sites, and its potential to become: (a) a premier recreational asset; (b) a world-class destination for recreational boaters; (c) a greater source of clean, renewable electrical power; (d) a facilitator of economic opportunity and renewal in the communities along its 386 km length; and (e) a model of environmental sustainability.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for Lambton--Kent--Middlesex for seconding this motion.
I am pleased to rise in the House today to outline my reasons for sponsoring Motion No. 161, a motion that, if adopted, would ask the government and specifically the Minister of the Environment to consider evaluating the future of a unique and historic asset, the Trent-Severn Waterway, a national historic site that belongs to the people of Canada and is managed for them by their federal government.
The need for this evaluation is compelling, but before I speak about that need, I first would like to provide some perspective and history.
The Trent-Severn system is a 386 kilometre long inland waterway, running from the Bay of Quinte on Lake Ontario to Georgian Bay on Lake Huron. It connects many communities of 1,000 people or more and includes the major centres of Peterborough, Orillia, Kawartha Lakes and Quinte West, as well as Barrie and other large communities on Lake Simcoe and Georgian Bay.
For navigation and recreational boating, it operates 44 locks, one marine railway and 39 swing bridges. The system includes 160 dams and control structures that manage the water levels for flood control and navigation on lakes and rivers that drain approximately 18,600 square kilometres of central Ontario's cottage country region, across four counties and three single-tier cities, an area that is home to more than a million Canadians.
The system has no fewer than 18 hydroelectric generating facilities, with a capacity to contribute an average of 100 megawatts of clean, renewable power each and every day. To put that in perspective, it would be the equivalent of a 300 turbine wind farm or about 20% of one of the four big units at the coal-fired Lambton Generating Station.
As a historic canal, the Trent-Severn makes an important ecological contribution through the protection of wetlands, the attention to water quality and the preservation of habitats for many aquatic species and many species at risk.
The Trent-Severn protects important elements of our history and culture, including first nations cultural sites dating from 6,000 years ago and the historic features and remnants of 19th century settlement in this part of Ontario.
The Trent-Severn makes a valuable contribution to the economy, attracting thousands of recreational boaters and millions of visitors each year to its lock stations, campgrounds and public sites. In fact, for every person who visits the system by boat, there are five who are land-based visitors.
The Trent-Severn recorded approximately 150,000 lockages last year, down from its peak of 250,000 in 1990. Up to 1,000 community businesses thrive on serving the residents and visitors to the lakes and rivers of the Trent-Severn. Indeed, many of the communities exist because of the very recreational and retirement lifestyles associated with these shoreline communities. Services to the recreational boating public and other visitors include many rural-based small businesses, from fuel, storage and repairs to food service, outfitters, attractions and retail outlets.
The Trent-Severn offers the landscapes, rivers and lakes of central eastern Ontario, which stretch from the granite outcroppings and windswept pines of the Canadian Shield and Georgian Bay to the rolling hills and drumlins of Northumberland County. These beautiful natural features have made these lake areas popular for cottages and camps since the late 19th century, with many being converted into year-round homes for increasing numbers of Canadians.
The vision of an inland navigable waterway linking Lake Ontario with Georgian Bay was first inspired by early 19th century settlers who worked to establish the first wooden lock in the heart of the Kawartha Lakes, at Bobcaygeon, in 1833. They did this to access lumber markets to the south. It would take another 87 years to complete the waterway.
Construction on the system was sporadic in the early years until the re-elected government of Sir John A. Macdonald got behind the construction of a system in a more robust way between 1883 and 1887. Construction continued annually, except during World War I, until the system was fully connected for navigation across 386 kilometres by 1920.
During the late 1800s, the golden age of steamboats and resorts made the lakes of the Trent-Severn Waterway a hub of tourism in the province. All visitors arrived by train to destinations like Lakefield, Lindsay and Severn Bridge.
Since 1920 the system has served primarily as a destination for recreational boating, but due to its series of dams, locks and bridges, it remains today an essential infrastructure for roads and railways, water level management, flood prevention, and shoreline and aquatic habitat protection.
The Trent-Severn has been managed and regulated under the Parks Canada Agency Act since 1970. The historic canals regulations of the Department of Transport Act provide the regulatory framework for the management of the system in accordance with the historic canals policy of the government.
Currently the Trent-Severn's operating costs are about $9.5 million per year. It collects revenues of close to $4 million annually, leaving a net cost to the government of about $5.5 million per year, but these costs do not include capital repairs and replacement costs, which have varied from $2 million to $5 million per year over the last decade.
This gives us some idea of the size, scope and the complexity of the Trent-Severn Waterway. As we might conclude, the waterway reaches well beyond what one would typically think of as a historic site. It is much more than a historic archive and, as I will explain in a few minutes, I believe it has the potential to make a far greater contribution for the investment that Canadians make toward it each and every year.
Why should the government be undertaking an evaluation or review at this time? First, the Trent-Severn, as I mentioned, is the steward of important shoreline and aquatic habitat across 4,500 kilometres of shoreline. This is an area of the country that is now facing enormous pressure for shoreline development. The original designers of the system could not have imagined the waterway supporting this kind of growth and activity, and the waterway is a prime source of drinking water for hundreds of thousands of people who live or cottage along its shores.
Second, the smaller rural communities along the system's path are experiencing shrinkage in economic opportunity as their primary job base in tourism, manufacturing and other commercial enterprises adjusts to the realities of consolidation and economic realignment.
The recreational boating industry, which accounts for about $11.5 billion in GDP annually and 84,000 jobs nationally, is growing, yet lockages on the Trent-Severn have declined by almost 70% since its peak in 1990. For many of the communities along the waterway, this represents a missed opportunity.
Third, the waterway has the potential to produce up to 50% more hydroelectric power. That is a clean, renewable source of electricity with no environmental degradation. I do not need to remind hon. members just how important this consideration is, especially with the government's commitment to enable a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and pollution.
Finally, the Trent-Severn has the ability to provide a unique destination for outdoor recreation and the exploration of our history and culture for the growing urban populations that live within one to two hours' drive from its many sites. The waterways and rural roadways that lead to these sites offer a great outlet for healthy water and land based activities such canoeing, kayaking, hiking and cycling.
Canada is not alone with its large and historic canal system. Other jurisdictions like New York state and Scotland have revitalized their historic canals to provide, in addition to their historic, navigational and recreational value, a tremendous impetus for economic renewal in the communities along those canals.
As an example, the New York state canal system offers a glimpse of what the future of the Trent-Severn could be. New York state undertook to revitalize its canal in 1996. Since then it has invested in the upgrading, infrastructure and marketing. It has developed a water and land based trail and an environmental greenway for residents and has established new rules for land use and development along the shorelines. Those investments came only after a very thorough examination of the New York canal system with a view to its full potential.
The New York canal revitalization program has been underway for over 10 years but it has been so successful that this year the canal has completely waived the user fees for recreational boats on the system. The canal has become, in a sense, an economic generator of its own making while staying true to its mandate of historical preservation, environmental protection and enhancement.
I am not suggesting that we replicate what Scotland or New York has done. I cite these as examples of how the Trent-Severn Waterway, a government asset worth an estimated $1.7 billion, could become a net contributor for Canadians, both environmentally and economically. We need to examine that potential first before any conclusions are drawn, before any speculation occurs and, most important, before any new public expenditure is considered.
I would not want to speculate on how the government might guide such an evaluation in the future but I do believe that a process could be initiated to collect relevant data, consult with stakeholders and engage the province of Ontario and local governments for their participation and interest.
In conclusion, an evaluation would help the government to consider the future of the system and its potential to contribute to the health and well-being of Canadian citizens through recreation, to the appreciation of our history and early settlement, to clean renewable energy, to the economy and job creation, and to the protection of sensitive environmental features.
The Trent-Severn Waterway is a complex and multi-faceted resource, a jewel in the crown of the federal government, and it could be an even greater asset to Canada and to Canadians when we address the question of its long term sustainability. Canadians expect their government to manage these treasures in the public interest, and this waterway, with its 19th century design and control systems, begs a closer examination and, in keeping with its potential, I believe a renewed mandate.
The waterway has existed and served citizens and visitors well for over 150 years. There is no doubt that the process to consider what lies ahead for the Trent-Severn will not be easy. It will take time and it will take foresight. Implementing any plan for the waterway will take even greater amounts of determination and patience. These are the kind of qualities and ingenuity that the original designers and builders of the waterway had many decades ago. We would do well by their example.
I encourage all hon. members to support the motion and I look forward to their questions and comments.