That, in the opinion of the House, the government should consider the advisability of measures to deepen and straighten the vessel navigation channel which provides access between Georgian Bay and the westerly limit of the Trent-Severn Waterway, at Port Severn.
Mr. Speaker, it is a great privilege to address the House this morning, on the kind of rare occasion for a chair occupant to have the opportunity to address the House. As many members may know, I have the privilege of having chair occupancy, along with the great team that does work in this area, the hon. member for Regina—Qu'Appelle, the hon. member for Windsor—Tecumseh, and the hon. member for Haliburton—Kawartha Lakes—Brock. It is a great team to be part of, but it does not accord us with the time to address the House, except on rare occasions such as this.
As the motion was read, members can tell that this is about improving a very specific part of the navigable waterway, just below Lock 45 at the village of Port Severn. That may not be all that familiar to a lot of members, so I will describe exactly where that is.
Before I go on, I want to mention that my seconder today, the hon. member for Elgin—Middlesex—London, is greatly familiar with this area that we speak of. Of course, he is very close to a part of the Great Lakes himself, representing his riding in southwestern Ontario. He is intimately familiar with the kinds of benefits that are derived from the recreational boating economy that is a central part of job creation and wealth creation in our part of Ontario.
Georgian Bay is a part of my riding. As members might know, it is almost as large as Lake Ontario itself. It sits on the northeastern corner of Lake Huron. Lake Huron and Lake Michigan are the two lakes that actually compose slightly over 50% of the total area of the Great Lakes in their entirety.
In my part of the riding, there are several communities along the south shore of Georgian Bay. This is the southernmost portion of the bay where, for many recreational boating activists and participants from the GTA and southern Ontario, it is the closest point at which they can meet with Georgian Bay.
In my riding alone, there are no less than 4,000 recreational boat slips. There is also all of the economy that ensues from that, whether from repair shops to marine services to sales to retail, all of the things that derive from that basic economic activity.
Georgian Bay connects many towns and villages, of which members may be well aware, and we all have a great stake in that recreational boating economy. These are places like Owen Sound and Parry Sound. In my riding, there are Midland and Penetanguishene; places like Collingwood, Tobermory, Manitoulin Island, the North Channel. However, this being a binational waterway, it also connects with the recreational boating traffic from the United States, especially in our corner, from the State of Michigan.
All of the boaters who frequent Canada during the fair weather months make their routes from the northeastern parts of the United States up to the Great Lakes, and then find their way through the Trent-Severn Waterway from Georgian Bay back down to Lake Ontario. They can then reconnect with the Erie Canal, and right back down south along the eastern seaboard, all the way to Florida.
I mentioned the Trent-Severn Waterway. Many members are familiar with this wonderful waterway. There are members in the House who have familiarity with it because they have cottages or real estate on it. It is part of southern Ontario's cottage country community, which has no less than $23.6 billion worth of residential property. This is a waterway that was built by the Government of Canada in the late 19th century and early into the 20th century, comprising, as I said, $23.6 billion in residential property, with an annual economic influx to our region of about $1 billion annually and all of the different economic activities that ensue from it.
It is a waterway that is 386 kilometres long, connecting Georgian Bay at the village of Port Severn, all the way down through central Ontario, Lake Simcoe, through the Kawartha Lakes, and out to Lake Ontario on the north shore, around the town of Trenton.
There is a total of 160 dams, 44 locks, one marine railway, and some 50,000 residences on the waterway itself. There are another 16,500 residences on what are called the reservoir lakes. They are the lakes that were created to provide water to the Trent-Severn Waterway over the course of the summer, so that the navigation operation could continue.
That brings us to the little village of Port Severn itself. Port Severn is at the mouth of the Severn River. Where the Severn River flows, the river itself drains an area of approximately 5,500 square kilometres of our part of the area just east of the shoreline of Georgian Bay. It flows down through there, including the Lake Simcoe watershed, which goes as far south as the Oak Ridges Moraine, as those in the Toronto and southern Ontario will know . It is the high ground just above the city of Toronto. Everything north of that moraine drains northward initially, through Lake Simcoe, and eventually into the Severn River. It flows out to Georgian Bay through the Severn River.
During the time of early settlement in Ontario, that river was critical to the local economy involving the lumber industry. It was the main route to get fallen logs from their part of the watershed to the mills. Port Severn was established for the lumber industry, and it took its path from those early routes. For the case of today's discussion, it is also the point at which all of the navigable waterways and recreational boating activity that occurs both on Georgian Bay and the inland waterway up the Trent-Severn connect. There could be anywhere up to 40,000 vessels across the waterway itself. The ability to connect between the two waterways is through a very narrow channel, which is right below Lock 45 on its way to Georgian Bay.
We do not have the ability to show members any graphs, pictures, posters, or anything of that sort, so I will do my best. I would ask members to imagine the eastern shore of Georgian Bay as being fairly shallow. Along the approaches to the shoreline, there are very few areas where there is enough water depth to allow larger vessels to get close to shore. Therefore, when the canal was built in the late 19th century to early 20th century, and the navigation channel was essentially excavated out of the rock to allow more vessels to come through, it was done in a way that would allow them passage between the two waterways. As I said, most parts of the Trent-Severn were built around 1880, and finished in 1920, with the final link between Lake Couchiching and Sparrow Lake. It has largely been the same from the early days when the canal was created.
I know that many members have travelled the incredible expressway that we have to cottage country in Ontario, called Highway 400. It starts right in Toronto, and there are four lanes all the way to Sudbury. There are only a few narrow spots, along the French River area and south of it, that are still two lanes, but the Province of Ontario continues to build it. That highway crosses the canal right at Port Severn. Of course, the canal in question here existed well before that highway was created.
When the canal was built, they built it for the vessels of the day. They also built it for the amount of traffic that existed at that time. As one can imagine, both have grown over the decades. Vessels have become larger and there is more traffic. In fact, we see upward of 6,200 passages through Lock 45 in a given season. In the summer, up to 82 vessels per day pass through the canal, one way or the other.
What has created a problem for the canal since the year 2000 is that we have had a persistent low water condition in the upper Great Lakes, on Lake Huron, Lake Michigan, and on Georgian Bay. As that has persisted, the difficulty in navigating the canal has become worse.
Members may know that the water levels on Georgian Bay fluctuate about a metre and a half from top to bottom, and that happens on about a 15 to 20-year cycle. However, recently, particularly because of climatic conditions, we have had a persistent low period of water levels. We have seen that come back and recover a little this past year, but the low water conditions have made the channel that much more treacherous for larger boats to navigate.
What exactly is wrong with it?
Those of you who have piloted vessels like this would know that when there are onshore winds or currents that are sometimes unexpected and one is navigating a 32 or 34-foot vessel through a channel like that, the sudden change in conditions can move one into a spot that is not so easy to deal with. The risk of collision, either with shoals or other vessels, becomes very real. This is exactly what has happened in this little canal below Lock 45. In fact, pilots of various vessels have spread the word that this is a very treacherous canal.
The community of pilots of these vessels is very close knit. These people all talk with each other, and they have simply stayed away. We have also heard from operators of marinas all across my region, and they are the ones who originally brought this issue to my attention. They want to know what can be done to make the canal more safe.
Therefore, over the last year, I undertook to see exactly what could be done. We talked to local contractors to find out what it would take to make the canal safe. They are in the business of doing this kind of work, and they know what they are doing.
We had one project estimate to remove approximately 1,200 cubic metres of rock from this particular channel, to widen, deepen, and straighten it, to make sure that vessels could get through even if a low water condition existed. The cost of this project is in the range of $650,000, which is not a huge amount of money. It is removing rock, but once it is done, it would stay done, just as the existing channel has from its early days. This is not an area that will continue to be silted in, and so on.
This is a project that needs to be done. It is a very specific channel, and it would make a mountain of difference for our operators of retail navigation, marine navigation, and all of the various businesses and employees who rely on this kind of employment. It would allow much more traffic between the Trent-Severn Waterway and the Georgian Bay destination.
I should say, by the way, that Georgian Bay is the very best inland waterway that Ontario has to offer. The member for Elgin—Middlesex—London may disagree because he is on beautiful Lake Erie, and of course all the members who are situated around the Great Lakes would know what great boating our Great Lakes offer. However, for those those who have had the chance to visit the Georgian Bay coastline, it is stunning. There are fantastic services and communities along it, which provide great services for boaters.
I am presenting a proposition to the House for consideration. I have asked in the motion for the government to consider the advisability of the measures it would take to make this channel more safe and take away the deterrents to boating in this region of the country. I realize that we do not know what may follow in terms of the water level conditions that may persist. However, if it is anything like the last 13 years or so, if not addressed, it would conceivably still represent problems.
I seek the support of the House to pass this motion and take one next step toward getting those measures complete.