Madam Speaker, I, too, would like to congratulate the member for Kenora for his efforts on Motion No. 519. I would like to read it to the House. It states:
That, in the opinion of the House, in order to ensure the long-term ecological and economic vitality of the Lake of the Woods and Rainy River Basin, the governments of Canada and the United States should continue to foster trans-jurisdictional coordination and collaboration on science and management activities to enhance and restore water quality in the Lake of the Woods and Rainy River Basin, by referring the matter of Lake of the Woods water quality to the International Joint Commission for examination, reporting, and recommendations regarding the binational management of the international waters of the Lake of the Woods and Rainy River system and the International Joint Commission's potential role in this watershed, in line with the International Watersheds Initiative.
As previous members have pointed out, this system is the only system so far not under the auspices of the IJC. Mr. Comuzzi is now the chair of the Canadian section of the IJC and I understand that things will move along to solve this problem.
Manitoba has a situation involving Devils Lake in North Dakota. We have been working for many years to try to get the IJC, under the boundary waters agreement treaty, to deal with the issue. Unfortunately, one side cannot refer the problem to the IJC. It has to be a joint recommendation.
It bodes well when both American and Canadian jurisdictions see things in the same light and recognize this as a long-term problem that will only get worse. The problem needs to be solved now.
I think back many years to when we spoke about what happened to the buffalo herd over the years and how indiscriminate hunting killed the herd off. We were able to solve the problem to the point where the herd was brought back.
If we work together with the Americans, in the this case of the IJC, and with the provinces, we can solve any problems and bring the environment back to where it was.
Many members will recall the 1960s when the government was forced to close down the fishery on the English-Wabigoon River system. Many tourist camps relied on American tourists and Japanese tourists, who came to that area regularly.
It was discovered that Minamata disease was caused mercury poisoning. Mercury was being dumped into the river by the pulp plant, I believe, in Dryden. This poisoned the fish as well as the people who ate the fish.
It does not take a genius to figure out the long-term effects of mercury poisoning. When I spoke to the member for Kenora, he told me that the river had been cleaned up and was now pristine. There is no mercury in the fish anymore. It is great that we solved the problem, but the fact is a large number of tourists, locals and native guides ate the fish.
This did not happen overnight. Did Minimata disease develop in the fish over a period of 5, 10, or 20 years? Did it develop from the time the pulp plant started dumping mercury into the water? We will have to do some studies in the next 20 or 30 years to see how many people have died prematurely of cancers and so on caused by Minimata disease.
At the end of the day, the pulp mill is out of business or has been converted to some other use. What did we gain through that whole exercise? We provided jobs for a number of people for a number of years in the pulp mill, but who paid for the costs of the cleanup? If we look at the environmental costs added together with the medical costs, the total cost will potentially overwhelm the economic benefits we received from the lifetime of that plant.
A member tells me today that mercury is no longer used in the process. It took Minamata disease and the recognition that dumping mercury into a river system could be a problem. Now science has figured out a way to still run its pulp plants without using mercury. I suppose the problem has been solved. The fact is mercury probably should not have been used in the first place.
If we move forward from the 1960s into our current environment, we have new problems. We have the same problems here as those that exist in Lake Winnipeg in Manitoba. We have the problem with algae and phosphorous to the point where this past summer Manitoba passed legislation that people were not allowed to use phosphorous and certain types of detergents, which cause the lakes to have all these algae blooms. That adversely harms the aquatic life, not to mention the fact of the property values of the cottagers and the people who use the lakes. We are polluting our own environment by allowing this to continue.
We have some big changes that are controversial in Manitoba. For example, the hog farmers and producers are not happy with some of the rules to keep the fertilizers and pesticides out of the rivers. They want to know where they will go. The pesticides get into the rivers and they end up going upstream into Lake Winnipeg.
I understand a lot of farmers are in the Rainy River district and their farming activities are contributing to the problems we are trying to deal with here.
We will have to look at a comprehensive approach to this, because this is not an isolated problem. We can see this problem mirrored and reflected all over the country. We have to look at a global approach, involving the federal, provincial and municipal governments, to rethink how we deal with our environment. I am very pleased to know that certain cities, and I believe Winnipeg is included, across Canada have in recent years passed rules dealing with pesticides.
We used to think nothing of dumping this stuff on our lawns to kill the dandelions. By the way, we used to make wine with the dandelions back in the 1960s. We got to the point where we tried to have lawns that were perfectly green. Just to prevent one dandelion from growing, people were pouring all these chemicals over the yards and thinking nothing of it.
The chickens have come home to roost. The recognition by mainstream population is that we should not do stuff like that. There are substitutes for these chemicals, which people can use to keep their lawns green.
I am optimistic overall that we will be able to solve these problems. I do not know why we have to let them develop for so long and why it takes so long to recognize the problem. If we look back, we see it is just common sense. Who would think that somehow we would not have a problem dumping mercury into a river year after year?