Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to participate in this debate about oil tanker traffic in coastal British Columbia, my home province.
This debate is important because it is about both economic development in B.C. and the protection of our beautiful coastal environment that we have been blessed with.
I would like to use my brief time to share with you some of the important work that our government has done to protect our oceans and the unique and biologically diverse marine ecosystems found on our Pacific coast.
Over the last few years we have put in place a number of mitigation, regulatory and protection measures that cover the treasured and spectacular ecosystems of our Pacific coast. Anyone who has been there can attest to this.
In the few minutes available to me, I want to explain how these actions demonstrate that our government continues to take action to protect the marine environment, while at the same time providing the opportunities needed to sustain our regional communities and their economies.
I will describe to the House how the measures already in place and the efforts under way make it unnecessary to bring about a legislated ban at this time on oil tanker traffic in this region as proposed by my colleagues from the NDP.
I want to assure this House that the Government of Canada is serious about the long-term protection of our oceans. We recognize that they have critical importance to all Canadians. They are a source of food, a means to mitigate the impacts of climate change and to improve our air quality, and are important for trade, commerce, adventure and discovery.
The ocean has shaped our customs, traditions and fisheries culture. They are an invaluable driver of the economy in coastal communities of British Columbia.
That is why in 2007 we announced a $61.5 million investment over five years toward the health of the oceans initiative. The intent of this initiative is to enhance the protection of fragile marine environments and to counter pollution. It does this by strengthening pollution prevention at source. It will also increase our capacity to lessen the effects of pollution when and where it occurs.
We all know how important science is for decision-making. Therefore, under the health of the oceans initiative, we are also investing in science to better understand the oceans.
It is important to this government to ensure that we also work with our international partners.
This initiative enhances our ability to work with our partners in order to promote co-operation. Such co-operation will work towards the ultimate goal of ensuring healthy and prosperous oceans for the benefit of current and future generations of Canadians.
Central to this initiative is the development of a national network of marine protected areas in Canada and the establishment of new Oceans Act marine protected areas in our three oceans. This initiative complements the already substantial efforts in place in British Columbia to protect our bountiful oceans.
The figures speak for themselves. The total number of marine protected areas in place in British Columbia is 183, including 10 federal areas and 173 areas established by the Province of B.C. In fact, almost 2.8% of the marine area in the Pacific region is under some level of enhanced protection.
Oceans Act marine protected areas in British Columbia established by the Government of Canada include the Endeavour hydrothermal vents southwest of Vancouver Island and the Bowie seamount, located west of the Queen Charlotte Islands.
Hydrothermal venting systems such as those found at the Endeavour MPA host one of the highest levels of microbial diversity and animal abundance on earth. In fact, Endeavour is home to 12 species that do not exist anywhere else in the world.
The Bowie seamount marine protected area, a complex of three offshore submarine volcanoes located about 180 kilometres off the shores of Haida Gwaii, is also an area of unprecedented biological diversity and uniqueness.
The seamount at Bowie rise from a depth of 3,000 metres to within 24 metres of the surface, making it the shallowest seamount in Canada. To the Haida Nation, the indigenous people who played a key role in establishing the protected area, this area is called Sgaan Kinghlas, which means in their language, “supernatural being looking outward”.
Preserving important marine resources that sustain communities and regional economies is a priority for this government. That is why, on June 7 of this year, my former colleague Jim Prentice tabled an amendment to the Canada National Marine Conservation Areas Act to formally establish the Gwaii Haanas national marine conservation area reserve and Haida heritage site.
This area has lovingly been referred to as the Galapagos of the north and its protection was indeed a great moment in our history. In total, the combined existing park reserve and new national marine conservation area in Gwaii Haanas protects over 5,000 square kilometres of spectacular wilderness from alpine mountain tops to the deep sea beyond the continental shelf, a first for Canada, North America and even for the world.
This great milestone was as a result of a historic and outstanding collaborative partnership between the Government of Canada and the Haida Nation. Parks Canada, Fisheries and Oceans Canada and the Haida Nation will continue to share in the planning, operations and management of the area to ensure the future health of our oceans as well as sustainable fishing opportunities.
It is worth commenting briefly on the amount of time and energy devoted to an undertaking as historic as the Gwaii Haanas National Marine Conservation Area, both by the dedicated public servants and the committed leadership of the Haida Nation and specifically to the devotion of my former colleague, Jim Prentice.
As minister of the environment, Mr. Prentice made this project a priority and provided the leadership needed to bring it to fruition.
Guujaaw, the president of the Haida Nation, called the event “a true changing of the tides” and indeed it was.
In fact, if members have the opportunity to go to Haida Gwaii and meet with Guujaaw, they will find him to be a very interesting and impressive leader. He played a very key role in the development of this marine protected area and this national marine conservation area as well.
Additionally, other groups, such as the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society and the World Wildlife Federation of Canada, were involved in this and they applauded the move, which they said was reached after two decades of discussion.
In fact, Darcy Dobell, vice-president of the Pacific conservation with World Wildlife Federation Canada said of the announcement, “We're definitely excited about the designation. It's definitely a landmark for oceans management”, and we believe it is.
It was an international landmark in oceans management and it was achieved under our Conservative government. As the environmental organizations said at the time, for decades there were discussions about protecting this area of our coast. However, it took the leadership of this government, of the Prime Minister and of our former colleague, Jim Prentice, to take those discussions and make them a reality. In so doing, they positioned Canada as true global leader in oceans management.
However, we are not stopping here.
On Oceans Day 2010, my colleague the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans announced a new area of interest for potential designation as a marine protected area under the Oceans Act, the Hecate Strait sponge reefs.
Sponge reefs of this size, over 1,000 square kilometres, have not been found elsewhere in the world. Made out of silica or glass, as most of us would call it, these reefs are extremely fragile and warrant the long-term protection a marine protected area designation would provide.
We are continuing to ensure protection of other ecologically important areas of the ocean by moving forward in implementing our health of the oceans initiative.
The Government of Canada is also working with provincial and territorial colleagues to establish a national network of marine protected areas, as I mentioned already. This is done through the developing of a national framework for Canada's network of marine protected areas, a process through which we can work together to plan and then implement these MPAs.
A network of marine protected areas strategically built and located has real and tangible benefits for our country. These MPAs can help restore and maintain a healthy marine environment and build in resilience or insurance against current or future stressors such as marine traffic, climate change, even habitat destruction and pollution.
Essentially what these marine protected areas provide are healthy oceans and good health helps us fight off malady.
Marine protected areas can improve the economy of coastal communities. They do so by providing conservation and tourism-related employment opportunities. Also, since the creation of marine protected areas can result in the size and abundance of fish, they can create spill over benefits to adjacent fishing grounds. This can translate into fisheries benefits over time, including higher catches, increased catch rates and reductions in fishing effort.
Marine protected areas can also contribute to the economic and socio-cultural well-being of coastal communities, including supporting subsistence and traditional harvesting of marine resources carried out by aboriginal peoples.
They can also contribute to climate change mitigation by protecting certain marine habitats that are especially good at absorbing carbon dioxide. Coastal habitats such as salt marshes, sea grasses and mangroves account for less than half of 1% of the world's seabed, but studies have shown that they can store up to 71% of the total amount of carbon found in ocean sediments.
Marine protected areas can also facilitate adaptation to climate change impacts through the protection of ecologically significant habitats as well as through protection of multiple sites of similar habitat types.
It is important to note that in addition to our emerging network of marine protected areas in British Columbia, there are also hundreds of other conservation measures in our toolbox, including fishery closures, marine mammal management areas, protected critical habitat for species at risk, first nations community conserved areas and coastal lands owned or managed by non-government organizations that contribute to the health of oceans. We cannot do it alone. We are in many partnerships that contribute to the health of our oceans.
The Government of Canada's efforts to protect our amazing and abundant oceans do not stop at the establishment of marine protected areas. Through the Pacific north coast integrated ocean management area planning initiative, which we call PNCIMA, covering British Columbia's central and north coast, we are engaging regulators, first nations, the marine shipping industry and a diversity of other interests to help understand and mitigate any potential environmental risks associated with shipping in British Columbia.
PNCIMA is one of five large ocean management areas in Canada. It is a collaborative partnership among the Government of Canada, coastal first nations and the province of B.C. The goal is to ensure a healthy, safe and prosperous ocean. Through this planning process, all interested parties will be engaged in an effort to develop an integrated oceans management plan by 2012. The entire area identified for the proposed ban is within PNCIMA.
Through the PNCIMA planning process, a balance will be struck between the conservation and protection of Canada's oceans and the sustainable development of its resources. This will generate economic prosperity for all Canadians, while ensuring a healthy and sustainable ocean.
We are committed to having an open and transparent process to discuss a range of issues within the PNCIMA process. It is at this forum where all views can be voiced and input provided to federal and provincial regulators.
This planning process will increase our ability to forecast and address future developments and needs, improve certainty and stability for industry, reduce conflict between user groups and improve the integration of multiple uses and coordination of new and existing processes.
The Government of Canada recognizes that healthy and resilient ecosystems are of fundamental importance if our oceans are to be capable of providing diverse economic opportunities and the generation of wealth for Canadians and coastal communities in particular.
Additionally, our government continues to provide our scientists with the resources they need to better manage our oceans. Under Canada's economic action plan, our government invested over $30 million to upgrade DFO laboratories across the country. This included $5.3 million to upgrades at the Pacific Biological Station in Nanaimo and $2.9 million in improvements to the Institute for Oceans Sciences in Vancouver.
We are also partnering with others to better understand our oceans, for example, the venus and neptune programs through Ocean Networks Canada. These world-class projects, that established cabled ocean observatories, combine the expertise of government scientists with leading academics and non-governmental organizations and provide real time data on the health of our oceans. They are very interesting projects.
Therefore, I hope members would agree that our government is demonstrating through actions, not just words, that we are committed to the health of our oceans. In fact, with historic success like the Gwaii Haanas national marine conservation area reserve and Haida heritage site, we are leading the way around the world.
It is clear that with the multitude of mitigation, regulatory and protection measures, voluntary and otherwise, which are already in place and efforts under way, we do not need a legislated ban on oil tanker traffic in this region.
I know some of my opposition colleagues may say that an oil spill does not recognize the boundaries of a marine protected area. Marine protected areas are special places that have been designed to improve the resiliency of our oceans. They work in combination with a suite of other management measures and planning processes to provide an overall approach to managing our marine environment.
There is no one magic bullet, but we are working across government, with partners and Canadians, to ensure the protection of our marine resources in British Columbia and throughout this great land for today and the future.