Mr. Speaker, I always welcome an opportunity to speak to environmental protection and conservation. I am particularly proud to be able to speak today concerning Canada's magnificent west coast.
I do not need to be convinced of the priority to protect its ocean ecosystem, preserve its marine resources, which sustain the economies of coastal communities, and honour first nations rights and titles in the process.
Conservation is the foundation of a strong environment, and Canada has a very proud record on conservation. We have taken action to protect nearly 100 million hectares of land, nearly 10% of Canada's land mass, and 4.6 million hectares of ocean.
We have the best national park system in the world and have grown it by 30% in just four years. We have established the Gwaii Haanas National Marine Conservation Area Reserve and Haida Heritage Site in respectful collaboration with the Haida Nation.
This is a remarkable achievement, one this House envisioned some 23 years ago when it passed a unanimous resolution supporting the protection of the lands and waters around Gwaii Haanas. It is a protected area that extends from the alpine tundra of the mountaintops to the deep ocean beyond the continental shelf. This is a first in the world. It is a living legacy of lands and waters that will endure for generations to come. It is an example of the international leadership Canada is taking when it comes to conservation efforts.
This new national marine conservation area, it should be noted, will now be protected forever from oil and gas exploration and development, in part because of the foresight of the petroleum industry. The need to conserve the marine waters of Gwaii Haanas and the nearly 3,500 marine species found within this archipelago was recognized first by the petroleum industry. The four major oil companies who possessed third-party petroleum rights to much of the seabed in the Hecate Strait relinquished all of them in 1997 by working with the Nature Conservancy of Canada. It was a significant action on their part, which cleared the way for the establishment of this national marine conservation area.
We are taking significant steps to conserve lands and wildlife across Canada. We are doing that through funding programs and strong enforcement with new tools and fines, and we are doing it by reviewing our legislation to make protection for species at risk stronger.
Protecting our lands and wildlife is everyone's responsibility. Many governments, organizations and individuals are involved and all of us are making important contributions. Together we are protecting, conserving and restoring our lands and wildlife.
With a well-articulated approach to national conservation, one with clear goals, ambitions and targets, we can do even better and together make Canada a world leader in conservation. Over the coming months we will be engaging all of our partners to establish a common approach for the development and implementation of a national conservation plan.
Protection of our environment is also essential. Canadians expect us to protect our environment, and Canada has a proud record on protection.
The Scott Islands is a group of five small islands off the northern tip of Vancouver Island, which supports more than two million breeding sea birds between March and September, the highest concentration of breeding sea birds in the eastern north Pacific. About 40% of the sea birds that breed in British Columbia nest there. The area also attracts between five million and ten million sea birds, which may travel thousands of miles across the Pacific to feed in the rich waters around the Scott Islands. The black-footed albatross is one of these long-distance travellers. It is listed as an endangered species, at risk of extinction.
Environment Canada is now working to establish the Scott Islands marine national wildlife area. We are doing this together with the Government of British Columbia, other federal government departments, first nations, regional governments and representatives from the marine transportation, energy, commercial fishing, marine conservation, sport fishing and tourism sectors. We are all working together to plan for this national wildlife marine area.
Environment Canada is actively contributing to an important initiative under the lead of the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, which is the Pacific north coast integrated management area. This is an area situated in British Columbia's central and north coast areas, encompassing 88,000 square kilometres.
Environment Canada officials are at the table with their counterparts from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Parks Canada, Transport Canada, the Province of British Columbia and representatives of the Coastal First Nations, North Coast Skeena First Nations Stewardship Society and Nanwakolas Council to find ways together to ensure a healthy, safe and prosperous ocean area by developing an integrated management plan for the area.
This groundbreaking collaborative process will provide opportunities to address concerns being raised in the House today with respect to safety and to safeguarding a unique ocean ecosystem while resolving tensions among potentially conflicting activity when it comes to protecting and conserving our environment, honouring first nation rights and title, and preserving the resources that have sustained communities along British Columbia's central and north coasts.
The Great Bear Rainforest is located just south of Kitimat, along the north coast of British Columbia. It is the largest tract of intact coastal temperate rainforest left protected. It comprises more than 30,000 square miles and is home to three kinds of bear, grizzly, black and the rare spirit bear, six million migratory birds, 3,000 genetically distinct salmon stocks and many species of plants unique to the region.
This government has contributed $30 million to a not-for-profit fund for sustainable and community-based first nations economic development in the Great Bear Rainforest, as did the B.C. government. Known as the economic development fund, the total of $60 million is being used to support conservation, sustainable job creation and business development initiatives for coastal first nations. This is an example of the Government of Canada's investment in sustainable development in the region.
Environment Canada's birds oiled at sea program covers the entire Pacific coast, including the Queen Charlotte Basin, Dixon Entrance and Hecate Strait areas, with similar program coverage in other parts of Canada.
In partnership with Transport Canada's national aerial surveillance program, we are engaged in compliance monitoring and enforcement with respect to chronic small-scale oil events associated with marine vessels.
The primary goal of this program is to assess the extent of and predict in space and time the risk of marine birds encountering oil pollution off the Pacific coast.
As well, this program models other impacts on marine ecosystems resulting from maritime activities, such as shipping and commercial fishing, and forms of pollution other than oil, such as plastic and other forms of anthropogenic marine debris.
Members of the opposition have introduced a motion asking the government to propose legislation to ban bulk oil tanker traffic in the Dixon Entrance, Hecate Strait and Queen Charlotte Sound as a way to protect the west coast's ocean ecosystem, to preserve the marine resources that sustain communities and regional economies of that area.
The Pacific coast is one of the most highly regulated jurisdictions in the world for tanker traffic. These laws and regulations promote the safe and secure use of Canada's waters and govern the safe transport of petroleum products to protect the marine and coastal environment.
With respect to coastal drilling, there has been a federal moratorium on oil and gas exploration activities off the coast of British Columbia since 1972. This moratorium, however, does not apply to tanker traffic.
Under federal law and in accordance with international conventions, crude oil and oil product tankers and barges are permitted to navigate in Canadian waters and to enter designated ports, including Kitimat, Prince Rupert, Vancouver and several minor ports.
Currently, southbound oil tankers carrying Alaskan crude oil to refineries on the U.S. west coast travel in shipping lanes off the coast of B.C. beyond what is known as the tanker exclusion zone. This zone is a voluntary measure agreed to by the U.S. and Canadian coast guards to enhance the safety of shipping along Canada's west coast. It prevents oil tankers from entering the inside passage or travelling close to the western coastlines of Haida Gwaii or Vancouver Island.
Petroleum shipments currently transiting the inner coast of British Columbia consist mainly of barges carrying oil products, such as gasoline, lubrication oil and diesel fuel to British Columbian ports and to Alaskan destinations.
Enbridge's proposal to construct and operate a new twin pipeline system and marine terminal on the north coast of B.C., at Kitimat, has been subject to considerable public debate, including concerns expressed by aboriginal communities.
Our government is well aware of the concerns with a possible increase in tanker traffic through a number of areas that the environment department and others have identified as having a very high importance to migratory birds, whale pods, Pacific salmon and coastal rainforests.
We are aware, too, of concerns of any harmful impacts on critical sectors of British Columbia's northern and coastal regional economies.
I want to assure the House that the proposed Enbridge northern gateway project is being assessed by the independent joint review panel mandated by the Minister of the Environment and the National Energy Board.
The panel will assess the environmental effects of the proposed project, and Environment Canada is fully engaged in this process.
The department is also participating in an assessment of vessel movements and safety relating to the proposed project under the technical review process of marine terminal systems and transshipment sites.
Environment Canada is fully aware of its responsibilities to ensure the honour of the Crown is met and its constitutional obligations fulfilled when we engage with first nations.
Regarding aboriginal consultation for the joint review panel process, the federal Crown's duty to consult with aboriginal people is being co-ordinated by the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency. We are relying on the joint review panel process and the applicant's own consultation efforts to the extent possible to meet the Crown's duty to consult with aboriginal peoples.
Currently oil tankers and barges ply virtually all of British Columbia's coasts and rivers, including all major ports and the Fraser River. Fortunately, accidents involving vessels carrying petroleum products are extremely rare. Despite a global increase in the shipment of oil, both the number of incidents and the quantity of spilled oil has decreased steadily since the 1970s. Rest assured, the Government of Canada has a dedicated and funded regime in place for the prevention of, preparedness for, response to and recovery from marine oil spills.
The Canadian Coast Guard, together with other government departments such as Transport Canada and Environment Canada, form Canada's marine pollution preparedness and response system, a multi-agency approach that sees a network of federal, provincial, territorial, industry and international partners working collaboratively to prepare for and respond to marine pollution events.
Before concluding, I want to point out as well that Environment Canada has an important preventive role to play in producing reliable weather forecasts for all Canadians, particularly in areas where their livelihoods and safety are highly dependent on the weather. Environment Canada closely monitors weather conditions on British Columbia's north coast by observing and reporting on the weather directly from a number of locations in the area.
With support from the Canadian Coast Guard, Environment Canada maintains a network of moored weather buoys that report observations of real-time wind and wave conditions in Hecate Strait, Douglas Channel, Queen Charlotte Sound, Dixon Entrance and offshore right out to the Bowie Seamount. These stations regularly report some of the highest winds and waves in Canada.
A network of weather autostations in remote locations reports the weather every hour throughout coastal British Columbia. On Haida Gwaii and the north and central coasts, these stations can be relied on to provide valuable information for mariners and for marine forecasters. As well, many ships are equipped with weather equipment and can send weather reports directly from those ships.
The public, marine and aviation interests up and down British Columbia's north coast rely on Environment Canada's weather website, Weatheradio, and automated telephone service to receive daily forecasts and timely warning bulletins. The emergency management community along the north coast and Haida Gwaii has direct access to Environment Canada's warning preparedness meteorologists in the event of an emergency.
Prevention is critical to avoiding the kinds of incidents that lead to catastrophic consequences for our environment.
I hope I have put to rest any concerns that the opposition might have about this government's commitment to protecting Canada's natural environment, its biodiversity and the well-being and prosperity of Canadians, particularly those living and working in communities along Canada's west coast. I believe our record speaks for itself.
When we consider the extent to which British Columbia relies on oil and oil products for its economy, supplying heating oil and diesel for generators to remote communities, providing airports with fuel for air travel and servicing an important economic sector in the import and export of petroleum products, we realize to what extent the transportation of oil is a necessary component of livelihoods and economy in British Columbia.
We must continue to proceed, as we are, to balance conservation and protection of the environment with attention to our regional economies, and we do so in partnership with those who are most affected by the decisions we take.