Madam Speaker, it is an honour to rise today in the House to speak to the concurrence motion on the report from the standing committee, “Aquatic Invasive Species: A National Priority”. It is a great honour to speak to this motion today, as I am the member who proposed that this study be done at the committee, a number of years ago now. This was initially presented in previous Parliaments, and government has yet to respond properly to this report from the committee.
The testimony that we heard during this study was compelling. The results and recommendations that came in this report were unanimous from all members of the committee: Liberal members, NDP members, Bloc members, everyone who was on the committee. Actually, at the time the report was done, there may not have been a Bloc member on the committee. I would have to check. However, it was a unanimous report from the committee.
Many of the recommendations in the report echoed the report from the commissioner of the environment and sustainable development. That audit of the government's work on aquatic invasive species condemned the lack of work within the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, within the government, and its reactions to the risks of aquatic invasive species becoming established in Canada, especially in my province of British Columbia.
In 2004, the Canadian action plan to address aquatic invasive species estimated the combined economic losses directly associated with 16 aquatic invasive species to be $5.5 billion. A U.S. report estimated the annual economic burden of invasive species in America to be $137 billion.
Last year, the journal Nature published a report that estimated that invasive species have inflicted costs of at least $22.8 billion in Canada over the past 50 years. The same report found that zebra and quagga mussels have had a cost of $409 million in the Great Lakes alone since their introduction in the late 1980s.
A 2013 study by the Okanagan Basin Water Board estimated that the introduction of zebra and quagga mussels would cost the Okanagan region $43 million per year just to manage. That does not speak to eradication or any other measures; that is just to manage the species should they become established.
Zebra and quagga mussels continue to proliferate across North America. Since I was elected, I have consistently pushed the government to follow through on implementing and enforcing the aquatic invasive species regulations delivered by the previous Conservative government in 2015.
Zebra and quagga mussels have not been detected in my home province of British Columbia in the natural environment, but they have been detected in vessels, boats coming into the region, by the provincial inspection program that takes place every year. In its annual report, 244 watercraft coming into the province last year were identified as high-risk. Eighteen were issued quarantine periods and 153 decontaminations were ordered. Of the watercraft that came in and were confirmed to have invasive mussels on board, seven were from Ontario, two from Manitoba, one from Quebec, one from Colorado, one from Illinois, one from Michigan, one from Minnesota, one from Missouri, one from Ohio and one from Wisconsin. This shows the incredible risk that is out there if we do not take steps to prevent the establishment of aquatic invasive species where we have pristine lakes and waters.
My riding of North Okanagan—Shuswap spans the boundaries of two different watersheds, two massive watersheds. The Shuswap and some of the headwaters of the Fraser River system are known as one of the best salmon habitat areas in the world.
The North Okanagan part of the region is part of the Columbia River system where sockeye salmon have now been re-established in the Okanagan system. It was a joint project through the Okanagan Nations Alliance and first nations to establish a hatchery in the South Okanagan, which is now bringing salmon back into areas where they have not been for decades.
Going back to the two 2019 reports, the commissioner's report and the report from the committee, they highlighted the fact that the cost of preventing the spread of AIS, aquatic invasive species, is much less than the cost of trying to manage or eradicate them afterward. The only proven way to rid a body of water of zebra and quagga mussels is to drain it, and this is not a viable option for the Okanagan or Shuswap systems. They are simply too massive and there are too many other consequences. It is simply not physically possible. These lakes make this prevention that much more essential, and at this time the stakes and threats of the invasion of zebra and quagga mussels in B.C. have never been higher.
More and more visitors from across North America are visiting my area in B.C. with their watercraft. The Province of British Columbia operates watercraft inspection stations on B.C. borders as part of its invasive mussel defence program and last year, as I mentioned, 17 mussel-fouled watercraft were found coming into the province, risking the spread of zebra and quagga mussels into B.C. waters. The province issued 153 decontamination orders, as I mentioned, and that was only from April 1 to October 24. We know that boats cross the border year-round. There is a higher percentage during those summer months, but it does happen year-round and those inspection stations are not open year-round.
The provincial program is perhaps the most important program for preventing zebra and quagga mussels from entering B.C., but the federal government refuses to provide the support required to expand inspection station hours to 24 hours a day and for a longer period covering the boating season. A single watercraft, one float plane or a pair of hip waders carrying invasive mussels could cause ecological and economic catastrophes across B.C. and western Canada. The government continues to drag its feet when it should have been acting to protect our waters and ecology.
I hope that all members from all parties will recognize the acute threats of aquatic invasive species. This is not something we can continue to kick the can further down the road on. The economic consequences, and the ecological consequences, of simply turning a blind eye to this risk are far too great for the residents and the visitors to my riding of North Okanagan—Shuswap. This is so important for the entire Okanagan, Shuswap, British Columbia and all of Canada.
We have recently noted the federal government put some funding into the national parks program: one small portion of the area that has potential for the risk of infestations and the economic and ecological consequences that are going to fall out of that. We have recently seen where invasive clams were found in Shuswap Lake, near my home. I do not live on the water, but in the lake in my area those invasive clams have been found. To my knowledge, there has yet to be a plan to deal with those invasive clams there. This is now two years down the road since the first discovery of those clams.
Should the same thing happen with zebra or quagga mussels, they are considered to be much more detrimental to the environment. I do not believe the government has done anything to provide a plan to move forward on dealing with the threat of aquatic invasive species. I encourage all members, as we continue the debate on this important issue, to support concurrence on this motion.