Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today on behalf of the people of Selkirk—Interlake to address some of the priorities that our government has in this session of Parliament.
I am especially pleased to join the Minister of the Environment who just outlined the action plan for the environment.
The environment is an important issue to the people of Selkirk—Interlake and all of the people of Manitoba, including yourself, Mr. Speaker, and other members of the House.
The state of Lake Winnipeg is a serious concern in my area, where we rely on the lake for our livelihood and our health. Lake Winnipeg and Lake Manitoba fall within my riding, but I know that all members of the House love the lakes and love everything that they contribute to our economy, to tourism, to recreation and, of course, as a major recharge area for our aquifers.
Lake Winnipeg serves commercial fisheries as a main source of the province's annual commercial catch. Lake Winnipeg and Lake Manitoba combined have 1,100 commercial fishermen and women on those lakes. It is also a vital transportation route to the north and there is a popular summer resort area for cottagers and tourists.
We all know that water is central to the health and well-being of all Canadians, our environment and our economy. That is why the Speech from the Throne reiterated our commitment to a safe and secure water supply. Through our national water strategy, we now have an action plan for clean water. The government will be working with provincial governments and stakeholders, as well as taking action on its own to address and make real and continuous progress on water related issues.
The government has backed up its words with action. We have dedicated over $400 million to our action plan on clean water, and the key word here is “action”. This year's budget committed $35 million on freshwater initiatives to clean up the Great Lakes and Lake Simcoe and to study the water levels of the Great Lakes.
Most important, for the good people of Selkirk—Interlake and Manitoba, our budget measure provides $7 million over the next two years for the clean up of Lake Winnipeg.
As the House knows, recently the Minister of the Environment, the Minister for Democratic Reform and our government House leader were in Jackson's Point on Lake Simcoe in Ontario where they met with community stakeholders and experts who are leading the work to clean up that lake. They also established a mechanism and a fund to deliver the goods.
With regard to Lake Winnipeg, I am pleased to say that we will be establishing a new water stewardship fund for the Lake Winnipeg basin. Like the other lakes being cleaned up by the government, we will deliver the goods on Lake Winnipeg. Most important, we will ensure that these resources are spent wisely and are spent on actually cleaning up the lake and on projects that will actually improve the water quality.
It is a matter of accountability and responsibility. Working with the Manitoba provincial government, we will be taking action that will allow us to better understand how pollutants and nutrients can be controlled in the entire watershed, which covers two states and three western provinces, plus part of Ontario. We will understand how that whole watershed affects Lake Winnipeg.
The goal is to reduce the blue-green algae in Lake Winnipeg, decrease the number of beach closings that we hear about on the news all the time, promote a more sustainable fishery and enhance the recreation.
My fishery generates over $20 million a year in freshwater sales of pickerel, whitefish and other species, and the blue-green algae problem that we are facing is becoming a great concern to most of the fishermen. Even though the catch today is good, we know that the blue-green algae is toxic, is causing oxygen depleted zones in the lake, in both the north basin and the south basin, and it is an issue that we must fix if we are to have a long term and sustainable fishery. The work on Lake Winnipeg will help to serve as a model for larger trans-border watersheds throughout Canada.
Budget 2007 also supports healthy oceans. The government is investing $382 million for conservation and protection of fisheries and ocean habitats with initiatives such as $39 million over two years to increase fishery science research programs, $19 million over two years for water pollution prevention, surveillance and enforcement along Canada's coast, and $324 million to enable the Canadian Coast Guard to acquire two new fishery research vessels and four patrol vessels for coastal surveillance and enforcement.
The federal government has direct responsibility for the provision of safe drinking water on federal and first nation lands. Through the first nations water management strategy, the government takes a source-to-tap approach to water safety, providing assistance for activities on protecting source water and for monitoring everything at the tap that people are drinking.
In March 2006, the previous minister of Indian and northern affairs, along with the national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, announced a plan of action for drinking water in first nation communities. Last year's budget invested $60 million over two years to help reach the objective set out in the plan of action.
In budget 2007, the government again committed to working with first nations to ensure that all first nations' residents have access to safe, potable drinking water.
Our government has further committed to the development of a regulatory regime to oversee water quality on reserves based on the options presented by the expert panel of safe drinking water for first nations.
In addition to making new investments, the government is prepared to use its regulatory authorities to address water pollution more generally.
In September, the government announced its intention to take action to cut water pollution by setting hard and tough new national standards for sewage treatment. Municipal raw sewage is the single, most significant contributor to water pollution and we will be taking action.
The government has also assured Canadians that the unprecedented $33 billion in the building Canada infrastructure plan will provide long term, stable and predictable funding that will help support infrastructure projects, such as sewage treatment plants. We know that throughout Manitoba, including the city of Winnipeg, we need to spend more money on infrastructure to ensure good, clean water is being delivered to all those communities but, more important, that we are collecting all the sewage and properly treating all that waste water.
The importance of water and the challenges we face means that action must be taken by all levels of government. I am pleased to note that there is a strong foundation in Canada on which we can build. There is a strong base for cooperation and action on Canada's water. Many provinces and territories already have in place water policies and strategies that establish watershed based governance and take concrete action to protect drinking water.
For example, the province of Alberta's water for life strategy is transitioning from traditional planning for water allocation to an integrated watershed management, supported by a shared governance model.
On the other side of this great country, Quebec's water policy is founded on full integration of water management by adopting an integrated watershed management approach. The Quebec water policy is based on citizen involvement, integrated management of the St. Lawrence River and recognition of water as an integral part of the collective heritage of the citizens of Quebec.
Ontario has also enacted measures to protect drinking water supplies in its clean water act, which requires each municipality to have watershed management and source water protection plans in place.
The federal government takes an important role in providing scientific leadership on water quality issues and invests in research and development to protect surface water and groundwater supplies. The government also works collaboratively with the provinces and territories in areas of joint interest. The primary forum for working with provinces and territories on water priorities is the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment.
Because water quality is a priority issue for all Canadian jurisdictions, enhanced collaboration in water quality research, monitoring and guidelines is a key objective. This has been a key component of the approach taken by the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment.
Working through the council, the federal government plays a leadership role in the collaborative development of the guidelines for Canadian drinking water quality and provides advice on source water quality.
The council is working on developing a Canada-wide strategy for the management of municipal waste water. It is establishing environmental quality guidelines for water. It is analyzing water conservation measures and performance indicators and it is developing national tools for water management, like the water quality index.
Important regional cooperation in water management is achieved through such bodies as the Prairie Provinces Water Board, the Mackenzie River Basin Board and the Red River Basin Board. The Red River Basin Board includes the province of Manitoba, as well as the states of North Dakota and Minnesota.
Canadians can have confidence that their government will continue to work on the plan to achieve real results and tangible improvements in Canada's water.
However, at the end of the day, when we want to talk about protecting our oceans, our lakes and our rivers, Canadians want to look for solutions to fix their problems, to stop the nutrient loading of our precious resource, Canadians only need to look in the mirror. We all have a role to play. There are things that we can be doing in our homes and in our own yards to ensure that what is being put into the watershed will better protect our lakes and oceans.