Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise today to support the NDP opposition day motion to designate microbead plastics as toxic under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act.
As people will know from following the debate, microbeads were originally found in cleansers, and about 10 years ago they moved into a wide variety of personal care products.
What is the problem with them? The government's side does not seem to be convinced that there is any science or evidence that there is a problem here. However, microplastics absorb pollutants in the water, such as DDT, PAH, and PCBs. When those toxins are absorbed by the microplastics, they tend to bioaccumulate in the food chain. That means that they become more concentrated as they work their way up the food chain.
Many colleagues here have talked about the concentrations of these microbead plastics in the Great Lakes. I want to talk about the situation on the west coast, since I represent a southern Vancouver Island riding.
Last year Dr. Peter Ross, who now works at the Vancouver Aquarium, released his research on concentration of microbead plastics on the Pacific coast. He took 34 water samples from the Salish Sea around Vancouver and around Victoria, as well as offshore and at the north end of Vancouver Island. His findings were really quite shocking.
Peter Ross is a much-cited research scientist. He was formerly employed by Fisheries and Oceans Canada as the director of its Pacific Ocean pollution unit. What happened in 2012 was that the Conservative government decided to completely eliminate the capacity of the Canadian federal government to check for pollution on the west coast. Not only was Peter Ross laid off, but all of the other eight members of the west coast ocean pollution unit were laid off as well, meaning that we now have no ability as a federal government to check for the impacts of these microbead plastics that the government members are standing and asking for evidence about. The government eliminated the ability to collect that evidence in 2012, and I think it was deliberate.
Since then the Vancouver Aquarium, which is a private foundation, has hired Peter Ross and is funding its own ocean pollution studies because, as an aquarium that engages in public education, it thinks that this is essential work that somebody has to pick up now that the federal government has dropped the ball.
What did Peter Ross find? It is actually quite shocking.
In the sample that had the highest concentration of these microbead plastics, he found 9,180 particles per cubic metre of water. The lowest he found, over 100 kilometres offshore of Vancouver Island, was 8, so even far offshore, there were still microbead plastics in the ocean. In the Strait of Georgia, the Salish Sea, he found an average of 3,210 particles per cubic metre.
Why am I concerned about that? Let me talk in very simple terms about how it works around Vancouver Island.
Plankton ingest the particles. The plankton are eaten by herring. The herring are eaten by salmon. The salmon are eaten by the orcas. People will know that I have been advocating for two years to have an action plan to protect the southern resident killer whales off of Vancouver Island, so this is part of the problem. Ocean pollution and microbead plastics are part of the problem in trying to ensure the survival of the orcas.
Am I being an alarmist? The Department of Fisheries and Oceans says that there is a 50% chance of extinction of the southern resident killer whales by the end of this century. There is a 50% chance, and that is Fisheries and Oceans' own figure.
Therefore, what are we doing? The government designated the southern resident killer whales as “endangered” in 2003. That was 12 years ago. Then it took both the Liberals and Conservatives until March of 2014 to produce a draft action plan. It was not an action plan, but a draft action plan. Last March, over a year ago, they asked stakeholders who are concerned about the fate of the southern resident killer whales and this problem of pollution, which is one of the large parts of the problem, to make comments. We have heard nothing from the government since then.
It is a year later, and the last statement I got in a letter from the minister said that in the spring of 2015 the government would be talking to those who submitted comments. I know that it does not feel like spring here in Ottawa, but I am from Vancouver Island and we are well into spring there, so I convened my own meeting of the stakeholders last Friday night. I brought them together and asked them what they told the federal government needed to be done and what all of us can do at the local level to try to get started on an action plan. Members will be hearing more about that later.
It was very successful in that we had whale researchers, whale scientists, pollution experts, the Northwest Wildlife Preservation Society, education experts, and the South Vancouver Island Anglers Coalition. We had the Dogwood Initiative. We had the Raincoast Conservation Foundation. Members get the idea of who was in the room.
Everyone recognizes that we have a crisis with the southern resident killer whales. Everyone, even the federal government, recognizes the crisis. The problem is that we do not get any action. With the Department of the Environment facing cuts of up to 30% in this next budget round, it is very difficult to see how it is going to take the kinds of actions necessary to ensure the survival of the southern resident killer whales.
There has been some good news, and I want to address that, because sometimes people get overly optimistic. We have had three new calves born to southern resident killer whales. One of those, though, did not survive, and the mother, a breeding female, also died. Why did they die? The initial tests on the whales indicated that they starved to death. Why did they starve to death? There is a problem with the food supply in chinook salmon. There is also a problem with microbead plastics in that when they are ingested by marine animals, they think they are full, when they are getting no nutrition. We have a serious and direct connection between microbead plastics and the problems we are facing with southern resident killer whales. Therefore, we focus on the good news of calves being born.
Since 1998, 39 orca calves have been born and survived. That sounds pretty good, except that since 1998, 61 orcas have gone missing or have died. We are now down to a total of 79 southern resident killer whales. As I said, Fisheries and Oceans officials are themselves admitting that there is a 50% chance of the extinction of these iconic beings on the south coast of the island. What can we do about that?
In October 2013, I put a motion before the House to implement a recovery strategy for the southern resident killer whales. The motion said that we need continuing support for research and monitoring programs. That is what is in the federal government's draft plan. I am not arguing with that part. We need to monitor things like the pollution microbead plastics are causing. However, that is all that is in the government's draft plan.
The second part of my plan, which I worked out with stakeholders, was to implement programs to decrease the pollution in the Salish Sea. One of the ways is to eliminate the microbead plastics. This motion applies very directly to the strategy we need to save the southern resident killer whales. In addition to that, we called for a ban on cosmetic pesticide use in home gardens. I was very proud, when I sat on the city council in Esquimalt, before I came here, that we did this in our municipality. We eliminated the cosmetic use of all of those, and what happened was very interesting. The retailers are stopping the stocking of those toxic chemicals people were using on their yards.
One of my favourite things that happened while we were doing this campaign was that my neighbour came over and asked about all the grass that was growing between the bricks. We lived in a townhouse. He said that he thought we would go together and buy some pesticides, and then he started talking slowly and said, “I think I am talking to the wrong person”, because I had introduced the motion to get rid of the cosmetic use of pesticides. I said to him that he should be talking to his pregnant wife. I asked if he really wanted to put pesticides down on his driveway that his kid would be crawling on. We had a very good conversation about what people can do themselves.
While we are waiting for the current government to take some action to ban microbead plastics, consumers can have a look at the products they are buying, and they can start favouring those companies that have already phased out the use of microbead plastics.
In my strategy, we also called for an expansion of the chemical registry list to include all of those kinds of pollutants that are harmful to the southern resident killer whales.
As the Speaker knows, I could go on for a long time here, because I think this is very urgent, and this opposition day motion feeds into what I have been trying to get action on from the government.
The last two parts of my strategy dealt with noise levels. Whales are easily disturbed by noise when they are trying to feed, because they use sonar to track their food sources.
The last part deals with measures to improve the chinook stocks, because for some reason, the orcas around southern Vancouver Island are very fussy eaters, and they prefer chinook, and so do most of the people. What we need to do is not fight over the last fish with the whales; we need to make sure that we take action to increase those fish stocks and take action, as with this motion, to make sure that those fish stocks do not include the toxins that bioaccumulate from microbead plastics.
I am very proud to stand in support of this motion today. I see it as a part of what we must do to protect the environmental heritage for all of those to come in Canada, and in particular, to protect against the extinction of southern resident killer whales.