moved that Bill C-3, An Act to amend the Arctic Waters Pollution Prevention Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to stand and speak to this very important legislation. I want to thank the House leader for recognizing just how important this bill is for the environment in the precious north.
The Arctic Waters Pollution Prevention Act is a small but important symbolic piece of legislation. Our vast Arctic region remains a Canadian icon known the world over. This government has taken unprecedented and historic steps toward keeping Canada's north safe. Bill C-3 is another example of this action.
Protecting Canada's Arctic waters from pollution is one of our government's key priorities. Our proposed amendment would double the geographic application of the Arctic Waters Pollution Prevention Act from 100 to 200 nautical miles midway between Greenland and the islands in the Canadian Arctic.
Presently, the discharge of waste is permitted at internationally agreed levels in the area between 100 and 200 nautical miles. Our proposed changes would disallow this practice and further strengthen the pollution protection regime in our Arctic region.
This was an important commitment that the Prime Minister made when he travelled, not just to Inuvik but also to Tuktoyaktuk on the Beaufort Sea to show his commitment to the Arctic and to environmental protection. This increased range would allow Canadian environmental laws and shipping regulations to be enforced to the fullest extent and give us greater control over the movement of ships through the Northwest Passage.
With this amendment, we are sending a message that Canada is tremendously serious about protecting our Arctic sovereignty and keeping northern waters clean. This complements other Arctic initiatives that this government has already put in place under the health of our oceans components of our national water strategy and initiatives, such as outfitting Arctic surveillance aircraft in order to help us track polluters.
In August 2008, the Prime Minister had the opportunity to travel to the Northwest Territories where he announced our intention to move in this important regard and today, once again, like the Prime Minister always does, he followed through with specific action.
Our Prime Minister reinforced that we believe in the “use it or lose it” policy when it comes to our Arctic regions. We made it clear that in Canada's Arctic we will play by Canada's rules.
The baselines around Canada's Arctic Archipelago were formalized in 1986 and are consistent with the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and with the 1996 Oceans Act, which established an exclusive economic zone of up to 200 nautical miles off Canada's coasts, including around the Arctic Archipelago. Canada has jurisdiction regarding the protection and preservation of the marine environment, which is an incredible sensitive ecosystem, including the ice covered waters within the exclusive economic zone.
In 2003, Canada became a party to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. Article 234 of the convention enables a coastal state to put in place special requirements for pollution protection in ice covered areas within its exclusive economic zone.
Extending the pollution protection from 100 to 200 nautical miles would enable Canada to exercise enhanced jurisdiction with regard to pollution control north of the 60th parallel. This extension will be consistent with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea's article 234.
In addition, this government will act to ensure that new regulations under the Canada Shipping Act are in place for the 2010 season. These regulations will require the mandatory registration of vessels entering this expanded zone. There is nothing more fundamental than the protection of our nation's sovereignty and security and our government will continue to rigorously defend Canada's place in the world and our rightful territories, and the Arctic is no exception.
Canadians see in our North an expression of our deepest aspirations: our sense of exploration, the beauty and the bounty of our land, and our limitless potential. For too long, the federal government ignored the North. Its potential is still untapped.
One of our greatest prime ministers, John George Diefenbaker, made a tremendous priority of Canada's north. He, in fact, was one of the inspirations for the founding of Inuvik where the Prime Minister and I and a good number of members of the cabinet travelled this past August. The Arctic was also close to Prime Minister Chrétien, but the most leadership we have seen in this last century has been from this Prime Minister with respect to ensuring Canada's sovereignty is protected in the north.
To this end, our government has established a northern strategy that rests on four key pillars: northern economic development, protecting our fragile northern environment, asserting Canada's sovereignty in the Arctic and providing northerners with more control over their own destiny.
The expansion of coverage of the Arctic shipping legislation is directly linked to this strategy which commits our government to ensuring a sustainable and comprehensive approach to Arctic shipping.
The first pillar, northern economic development, is designed to encourage responsible development of the North's bountiful economic resources, ensure the health and good governance of Northern communities and provide jobs and opportunities to those living in these communities.
Strong worldwide demand for our natural resources increases the viability of resource exploration and extraction in Canada's Arctic. It is estimated that Canada's north possesses 33% of our remaining conventionally recoverable sources of natural gas and 25% of the remaining recoverable light crude oil. The discovered resource of the Arctic basin approaches 31 trillion cubic feet of gas and 1.6 billion barrels of oil. The potential for resource extraction in the area is thought to be approximately 14.7 billion barrels of oil and approximately 433 trillion cubic feet of gas.
The second pillar, environmental protection, aims to protect the unique and fragile Arctic ecosystem for future generations. We must remain vigilant, especially in our north. Our northern environment is fragile, something people living there have always known. Potentially longer operating seasons and the increase in northern resource development may mean maritime activity in Canada's Arctic will soon increase and the passage of this important legislation will have a part in that.
In 1970, we acknowledged the fragility and special circumstances of waters north of 60 and established stringent measures of 100 nautical miles from shore, further than any country at the time. The original application of the act has not kept pace with the international convention and, as a result, Canada has not been able to exercise the full authority under the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea. The extension of the Arctic Waters Pollution Prevention Act would eliminate that gap.
The third pillar, sovereignty, asserts and defends Canada's sovereignty and security in the Arctic. Our government recognizes the challenges Canada's sovereignty in the Arctic could face in the future. In the coming years, sovereignty and security challenges will become more pressing as the impact of climate change leads to increased activity throughout this ecologically sensitive region. The defence of Canada's sovereignty and the protection of territorial integrity in the Arctic remains a top priority for our government.
To support Canada's position whereby waters surrounding the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, including the various traffic lanes known as the Northwest Passage, are internal waters, Canada has to exercise, and be seen to exercise, effective control over foreign merchant shipping in the Canadian Arctic.
Such control means having the ability to deny passage or facilitate shipping in Arctic waters and, at the most elementary level, to enforce Canadian law in the Arctic Archipelago and within the territorial sea of Canada and the surrounding exclusive economic zone.
The waters of the Arctic Archipelago are internal waters of Canada by virtue of historic title. This means that Canada has sovereignty over these waters. Canada must therefore move quickly to affirm and protect its sovereignty over this archipelago, including the navigable waters in it. We are working to strengthen our Arctic maritime security in the future. After all, maritime activity is critical to our Arctic communities. Getting fuel, food, medical and other supplies all depends on reliable and effective maritime shipping.
Arctic security is also key to Canada's security as a whole. All of these will assist in detecting and preventing criminal and terrorist activities that may pose a serious threat to national and international security. It also allows us to find those who pollute our waters and harm our northern environment. To that extent, our government has introduced new Arctic patrol ships and expanded aerial surveillance that will guard Canada's far north and the Northwest Passage.
Funding has also been committed for a new polar class icebreaker for the Canadian Coast Guard. Most important, Mr. Speaker, and I know you will be very pleased to be reminded of this, it will be named after former Canadian Prime Minister John Diefenbaker and for the Arctic seabed mapping. Amendments to the Arctic Waters Pollution Prevention Act would expand for an additional 100 nautical miles control over pollution and shipping compliance.
The last pillar looks at providing northerners with more control over their own destiny.
The 19,000 Inuit residing in the 15 communities along the coast of Ungava Bay and the eastern shore of Hudson Bay inhabit a territory with an enormous potential. With its wealth of resources and abundant fish and wildlife, Nunavut offers a world of possibilities to its inhabitants in terms of mining, outfitting, tourism, fishing and much more.
Our government is determined to ensure that those who live, work and raise children there can fully benefit from these significant opportunities.
With this amendment our government will help address concerns from Inuit communities regarding pollution in waters surrounding their homes and workplaces. Expanding the application of the Arctic Waters Pollution Prevention Act to 200 miles improves Canada's ability to prevent ship source pollution from happening, helping to keep the Arctic waters clean.
Northern communities support clean and sustainable economic development in the north, as do all Canadians who want to protect the integrity of Canada's Arctic waters.
When I talk to constituents in my constituency of Ottawa West—Nepean, far away from the Arctic, there is a real sense of the value, that this is an important part of our great country, a precious part of our world. They believe we have a collective responsibility to ensure this important part of our country is kept clean and is kept free from the mistakes that we have made far too often over the last 200 years in southern Canada.
The north is relevant and important to all Canadians. Obviously, it is particularly relevant and important to northerners. The Minister of Health has brought this view to the cabinet table. I have had good discussions as well with the member for Western Arctic and the member for Yukon.
We have important responsibilities in this place to ensure we do everything we can to promote sound environmental practices and to ensure that we assert our sovereignty. That is more than just in a military sense, it is more than just in a natural resource sense, it is more than just in a fisheries sense, it is also very much in an environmental sense. That is why this piece of legislation was presented in the first session of this Parliament and has been reintroduced in the second session.
I want to thank members from all parties. There have been good briefings and discussions. I think Canadians would be very pleased if they looked at the work done by the transport committee in the last session of this Parliament and the constructive work that it has already begun to undertake in this Parliament.
I look forward to hearing from all members of the House and to advancing this important piece of legislation so that we can put this important law on the statute books.