Madam Speaker, I rise also in support of Bill C-3. The expansions of the ambit of the Arctic Waters Pollution Prevention Act are welcome and long overdue, but I would also like to speak to what we need in tandem with this measure, what is missing and where we need the current government to commit.
We need concerted action in a number of frameworks. It is not simply me who is standing up and saying this. We are hearing this from the other Arctic nations. We are hearing this from scientists who have just gone through two years of intensified polar research and are identifying a lot of critical actions that need to be taken by the government in tandem with other Arctic nations and to get the support of other nations around the world for those who border on the Arctic and are at risk.
We need concerted action to expand exponentially Canadian investment in polar research. At a time when the scientists have told us that they are just beginning their research and are making absolutely groundbreaking discoveries about the value of the Arctic to the world, the funding has ended.
This is a time when we should be stepping up to the plate. Canada should be taking the leadership. We have lands that border right across the Arctic. We are laying claim to the interests in being able to benefit from the resources that the Arctic can provide us. It is incumbent upon us to stand up in the international arena and say that we need all the nations, not only those bordering the Arctic but worldwide, to put resources in, to match any funding that we put in, to research further what the impacts might be once the Arctic melts, sadly, and as activities begin to step forward in oil and gas extraction, mineral extraction, and simply, shipping across the Arctic.
We hear from even the Canadian polar researchers that the Arctic ecosystem is at severe risk. It is extremely sensitive. It is already suffering the effects of climate change. There are already unbelievable changes occurring to the Arctic, not just the Arctic ice shelf breaking off but new areas that we were previously unaware of.
For example, the Arctic scientists are discovering freshwater lakes that are created when the ice melts and moves towards the land. It has created lakes we did not know about before, and there is a rich diversity of biota in those lakes that we have only begun to study. Similar to the tropical rainforests to which we turn for solutions in terms of major cancer research, and so forth, it may well be that the biota of the Arctic is even more important, which is all the more reason for us to intensify our research and send more researchers up to the north to document this knowledge.
We also need to seek the advice of the polar scientists in developing our policies on northern development and negotiation strategies at international tables. It is absolutely incumbent upon us in this country that we base any determinations on the future of the Arctic on science, and that has been sadly lacking. We need to be intensifying that money. It is not enough to simply do the research; we need to turn to those very scientists to advise us on what kinds of measures need to be taken. These include deliberations on climate change, resource extraction, water resources and wildlife.
Dr. Warwick Vincent, a renowned polar researcher from Canada, gave a presentation on the Hill about a month ago, and much to everybody's surprise, revealed information that nobody knew previously about the Arctic, such as the freshwater lakes that we previously did not even know existed. We did not know how they were created. He is crying for support from parliamentarians to continue the research, to continue to give the support so that Canada can benefit from that information and he can continue to work in tandem with researchers from around the world.
This is not a time to be pulling out the Canadian researchers, to be shutting down those research programs or stations. This is a time to be working in tandem with scientists around the world so that we can show leadership.
This is also the time to stand up for the Arctic environment and northern communities. We need to put those interests at the forefront, not just petroleum corporations' right to develop, not just the right of Canadian interests in oil and gas development and mineral extraction in the Arctic, but to make sure that any development that occurs in the future is actually for the benefit of Canada, particularly for the northern communities.
We need to provide leadership at the international level at the UN climate change tables. Climate change is one of the critical reasons we need to step up to the plate and speed up our research and our negotiations with countries around the world on protecting the Arctic and making sure that there is a regime in place to protect the Arctic and prevent any kind of unfortunate impacts. The last two successive governments, the current government, has simply dragged its heels on this issue.
For heaven's sake, let us not embrace the fact that the Arctic is melting and say that is great news because we can expand oil and gas extraction. Let us do our best to slow that down until we can make sure that kind of development is done in a safe way that benefits Canada and does not simply leave us with a huge liability to try to clean up the mess left behind not just by other countries' mineral extraction and oil and gas activity, but unfortunately, possibly our own mess, if we are not ready to address those impacts.
We need to take a stronger stand in the Arctic Council. It was formed in 1996. Eight Arctic nations signed the Arctic Environmental Protection Strategy. Where is Canada in taking the forefront and the leadership? It is our Arctic on which there is an impact. It is our Arctic that we wish to claim.
We need to pay more attention and put more resources into our position at those tables. We need to be sending ministers to those tables. We need to be sending the Prime Minister of Canada to those tables and declaring that we care about the Arctic; the Arctic is ours.
We need the other countries around the world to step up to the plate and take joint action with us. We want to proceed in a co-operative way.
Given our limited capacity now in the Arctic, there is no way that Canada is going to be able to address the kinds of activities that are speeding along as the Arctic melts. We are going to have to work co-operatively with other nations. We are going to have to share from their resources, their icebreakers, and share in their research knowledge. This is a time to show co-operation, not competitiveness.
I know full well about the Arctic Council, and I know about the Arctic Environmental Protection Strategy. When I was the assistant deputy of resources for the Yukon government, I had the privilege to participate in that strategy on behalf of the Yukon government at the science table, not just in terms of scientific discoveries but to make sure that those discoveries moved into law and policy so that we would have a binding, clear framework for the northern governments and for the federal government and to make sure that all those levels of governments were included in any strategies at those international tables. It is incumbent upon us to take a stronger stand at that table.
Surely we should be raising the issue of the Arctic at the U.S.-Canada energy security and climate change table. Perhaps we are, but we do not know for sure because it is a secret table. We have had no report from the government about whether there are joint co-operative ventures on protecting the Arctic and making sure that North American interests are protected against other nations as we move forward and as we benefit from those resources.
We also do not know whether at those tables with respect to security in energy development there are joint discussions about co-operation between the United States of America and Canada to make sure that we gear up to have the proper equipment and staffing, and so forth, to actually protect and have surveillance in the Arctic. It would be worthwhile to have the ministers come back to the House and tell us whether the Arctic issue is at the table in those bilateral discussions.
The Commission for Environmental Cooperation was created quite some years back. This commission created a council of environment ministers, which includes the United States of America, Canada and Mexico. Why not use this commission and the council of ministers to further the dialogue about ensuring the environmental security of our Arctic? Surely we could initiate some projects through joint funding.
Why are we not showing leadership in advocating for an Arctic treaty? Canada is fully participating in the Antarctic treaty. It seems absurd that we are not championing the cause for a similar treaty for our own Arctic. So I would encourage the government to step up to the plate and be at the front of the line, pushing for an Arctic treaty. It can do nothing but benefit Canada's interests.
It is all the more critical for the Arctic because of the sensitivity of the Arctic environment, but also because, unlike the Antarctic, the Arctic is populated—with Canadians. So it is all the more important that we make sure that we have a treaty of nations around the Arctic and that we ensure that the provisions of that treaty put at the forefront the interests of Canadians and Canada's northern environment.
Are we raising these issues in our law of the sea and our MARPOL discussions? Are we making sure that the tankers that are going to be coming through the Arctic have improved standards, that the hulls can withstand the Arctic ice and that there is capacity for spill cleanup, that the spill response recovery funds are large enough to respond to the disasters that could occur in the Arctic and how complicated it will be to actually address spills?
What is most important in the Arctic is that we prevent spills, so we need to be taking action now to make sure that any development that occurs in the Arctic prevents impacts. After the fact will be too late.
We need to have expanded measures to protect the interests of the Arctic communities. We need to make sure that in terms of any kind of development that occurs in the Arctic, whether it is simply shipping traffic or whether it is oil and gas or mineral extraction, we think first and foremost of the impact on the harvest rights of the northern communities and to ensure that those communities are secure and that they are given a benefit and direct interest in any development.
We need to push for stronger standards and enforcement for tanker traffic and other vessels. As I mentioned, we need to make sure that we have spill prevention. After the fact will be too late. We need to learn from the Exxon Valdez spill, but for heaven's sake, we need to learn from the Wabamun Lake spill of bunker C oil. We cannot address the impacts once these kinds of spills occur; there is just no way of knowing.
I experienced that first-hand with the bunker C's oil spill in Wabamun Lake, and to this day, scientists have no idea what the fate of that oil spill is and the long-term impact on that freshwater lake. All the more so for the Arctic, an extremely fragile environment, what are we putting in place to make sure that we can respond to those spills? We do not even have the naval complement or the coast guard complement right now to address those spills, and neither does the U.S., so we need to be stepping up to the plate really quickly.
We are told by the scientists weekly that the ice is melting far faster than previously forecast. Are we putting the appropriate resources into making sure that we are ready for that? Do we have the readiness for security of the Arctic? Do we have the ships? Do we have the crews trained? Do we have all the impacts assessed and the appropriate responses? As the member for Yukon mentioned, do we have the search and rescue capacity? Certainly not at this point in time. We have very small populations up there and very little ship and crew capacity.
We are extremely vulnerable in the Arctic, and who is more vulnerable than the very communities that live in the Arctic. They have small, dispersed populations. They have minimal capacity for emergency response, even less capacity than we had in the Exxon Valdez and the Wabamun Lake spills. They have a very limited capacity for evacuation in the event of a major disaster.
I am told the naval capacity is extremely limited. There has been no Canadian navy icebreaker in the Arctic since the 1950s. There is no current capacity to enter the Arctic waters' significant ice cover. The majority of the Canadian Coast Guard icebreakers are near their end of life. We cannot rely on U.S. support, because it is in the same state as we are in terms of shortage of equipment.
Naval analysts are raising serious security issues for this development in the Arctic. They are saying there is very little ability worldwide across the Arctic for spill response and that we face serious problems with shipping security. We have no way to deal with an incident where we have nuclear devices or some other kind of explosive device coming across the Arctic, landing in our lands in the Arctic and then heading down across Canada by rail or air. Right now, there is no strategy that we are aware of.
I want to close my remarks by mentioning prescient comments by renowned author and journalist Alanna Mitchell, who gave a presentation to the parliamentary international conservation caucus just a week ago. She has issued a new book, called Sea Sick: The Global Ocean in Crisis. What she has presented to those who were fortunate enough to hear her is a real wake-up call, that while we are trying to get our government to actually address climate change, we have a far greater crisis occurring in our oceans. Apparently, if we lose the land base, the life in the oceans can continue; but if we lose the life in the oceans, the land base will cease to exist. So it is time for us to be putting a lot more resources into paying attention to the fate of the oceans, particularly the Arctic Ocean, which is extremely sensitive.
I will close my comments today with a comment from the internationally renowned author and journalist, Ed Struzik, who is published widely on the Arctic and has recently published a book on the fate of the Arctic under climate change. He states:
In the not-too-distant future, the forces of climate change are going to transform this icy world into a new economic frontier. The end of the Arctic will be the beginning of a new chapter in history. The Age of the New Arctic remains to be written.
I would say to the government, to its credit, introduce these new provisions, extend the ambit of the scope of the Government of Canada to protect the Arctic environment from impacts, but, for heaven's sake, please table with us the government's compliance strategy and how it will actually enforce this expanded law with what is coming to us in the Arctic.