Madam Speaker, I rise tonight to speak in the emergency debate on our situation in Atlantic Canada as a result of hurricane Fiona.
For those who have not been through this kind of situation, in the last 20 years of my residency on the south shore of Nova Scotia, I have seen four hurricanes and a number of tropical storms hit. Besides the storm chips that everybody buys, there are a number of routines, unfortunately, that we get into to prepare for a storm and then some once it happens.
When people live in the country on a well and septic system, there are a few things they have to do. They have to fill the bathtub with water so they can use the water to flush the toilet. They also have a generator, and if it is one of those big fancy ones, maybe it covers the whole house. However, if they are like me, they have a generator that will power the refrigerator and maybe the microwave, and it has to be filled every once in a while. One of the hazards of this job, I am finding, since this is my first term, is that my wife is at home in this situation now having to fill the generator with gas to keep it going and do all the things we have to do.
I live on St. Margarets Bay, and some members may not know it is where Peggy's Cove is. Nova Scotia Power workers came down our street today because we do not have power, as we lost it at midnight on Friday. They looked at the devastation of the trees on our street and on the power lines, including on my property. They said 11 o'clock tonight was when the power would be coming back, but then said, “Well, we're not going to fix this street today; there's too much work. This is the worst street in St. Margarets Bay. We'll be back in the next day or two. We have to replace lines and all kinds of things.”
It is a very difficult time, and the limited power affects everything, and things we do not think of. During the calls I was making in my riding on the weekend, I talked to a family whose mother had a stroke. They had to rush her to the hospital, but the hospital did not have enough power to run the MRI machine. The doctors could make assumptions and could give her medication, but they could not do all the things we would normally expect to get done in such a serious situation because the hospital was running on emergency power. I am sure my good friend, our doctor colleague from Cumberland—Colchester, saw this many times in the hospitals when he had to deal with these storms in his riding in his previous life.
The member for Kings—Hants spoke a little earlier about the impact on agriculture in his riding. In Cumberland—Colchester, we have a thriving grape-growing industry and make some of the best wine in Canada. We just got a report from one of the largest wineries that 20% of its grapes are on the ground and that because of limited power, it only has 25% power and cannot harvest the remaining grapes. This is a problem for the business this time of year, given the damage that some of the vines sustained with the wind and trees, and the processing facility challenges with the roof.
This is a flavour of what local life is like. Everyone is getting together on my street. The guys are getting the chainsaws out and helping where they can. For every guy I know, including me, if there is a chance to use a chainsaw they will and they are. However, besides the ways we band together in these kinds of crises, and what we do in Atlantic Canada and most of Canada when these things happen, there are some really difficult things.
I would like to begin by my sending my condolences to the families of those who have lost their lives in this storm, one of whom is a 73-year-old woman from Port aux Basques. There are reports of waves of, on average, 10 metres. I was phoning fishing communities on the weekend throughout Newfoundland, P.E.I., New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, and the folks I spoke to in a southwest Newfoundland fishing community said that the occasional wave came in at 30 metres high, which helps explain why we see some of this devastation. We feel for the family of the woman who was lost at sea and has been found.
The member for Dartmouth—Cole Harbour would know where Lower Prospect is. We found out today in my riding that one of my constituents from Lower Prospect is now missing and presumed to have been washed out to sea. They have not found him yet.
On top of that, obviously homes have been destroyed by flooding and by trees, mainly trees. The power is still out for hundreds of thousands of people in Nova Scotia alone. My understanding from the latest update is that out of 82,000 homes in Prince Edward Island, 80,000 of them still do not have power. Most of their power comes from New Brunswick.
My thoughts obviously remain with my fellow Nova Scotians and all of the Atlantic Canadians who are still reeling and dealing with this disaster.
As I mentioned in the House earlier today in question period and during my Standing Order 31 statement, hurricane Fiona was not the first hurricane to hit Atlantic Canada. As I said, I have experienced four in the last 20 years, but there have been over 30 since 1951 and quite a few before that, dating back as early as 1775, although the science on that is a little tough. There have been tropical storms and extratropical storms, and we know how to prepare for these.
I can give some examples of a couple of famous ones that happened. People close to the fishing community will know of the “gales”, as they called them, of 1926 and 1927, when over 300 fishermen were killed on the Grand Banks when two hurricanes came in. One hurricane made landfall in Yarmouth and the other one landed in Port Hawkesbury. Those were in 1926 and 1927.
Hurricane Cindy, in 1959, moved ashore in New Brunswick. There were similar ones throughout the decades that we could talk about. In 1950, hurricane Able went ashore at Goodwood in Halifax, which is also in my riding. In 1940 there was one that was called the Nova Scotia hurricane, and it went ashore in Lockeport in my riding.
We have these kinds of storms. They are growing in intensity, but we have had them for centuries in Atlantic Canada. They always bring tragedy, but Fiona was different in the sense that it was geographically larger. I was in the south shore when hurricane Juan hit in 2003. When it hit, it was intense, but it was compact and it moved fast through the region. It did a lot of devastation at midnight with a high tide and a full moon. The Halifax waterfront was destroyed. However, this one was larger and slower-moving, so the winds stayed around longer.
Hurricanes affect the ocean in two ways, in waves of surges. One is when the power actually moves the water and then another is when the wind also pushes the waves. It is sort of a double impact that happens. When it is more sustained over a period of time like that, there are more intense waves, which is what happened with Fiona.
I would also like to reiterate our leader's comments from earlier today when he asked the Prime Minister how we, as opposition members, can best support Atlantic Canadians who are in dire need right now. Everyone—not only in this House, but all Canadians—can help us, and I must express my gratitude to the federal government for its constant communication with opposition MPs and its rapid response to requests for military assistance.
I would also like to thank the municipal leaders in my community whom I have spoken to. They have done diligent work in communicating over the past few days with me and also with their residents about how to be prepared and what to do afterward in providing services to our residents. We can all get better results from our constituents when we work together with open lines of communication.
In times like this, we depend on the power workers, who work around the clock to restore operations as quickly as possible. Never before have we seen this many downed power lines posing a threat to workers and the public. It could be weeks before some of the Nova Scotia Power workers get a full eight hours' sleep, I suspect, and we owe them our thanks.
On top of that, we are welcoming more than 300 power workers from other provinces and even, as we heard earlier, power workers from New England. It is is our tradition in Atlantic Canada of supporting New England and of New England supporting us in times of crisis. Atlantic Canadians have a reputation of helping out our friends in need, and we always get that same treatment from other parts of the country.
Additionally, I want to extend my appreciation to the police, paramedics, firefighters, the Coast Guard and members of our armed forces for everything they are doing to keep our communities safe and to try to help us rebuild.
In typical Maritime fashion, the community is coming together in light of the disaster. Warming centres and evacuation shelters are being staffed and supplied by generous donations. Nova Scotians are tough, and the character of our communities is most present in times of tragedies such as this.
As we start to rebuild, I know the resolve Nova Scotians and Atlantic Canadians have will not be diminished. I have been impressed with many groups and organizations that have swiftly begun assessing the damages of the storm. In Atlantic Canada, that includes industry groups representing many of our farmers, fishers and forestry workers, all of whom are reeling from the damage.
Of course, in coastal communities in Atlantic Canada, big storms always pose a threat to our wharfs and small craft harbours. I heard reports from constituents and people in coastal communities around the region about the extent of the damage they have witnessed at wharfs. I have talked to mayors in Newfoundland, ministers in P.E.I. and fishing associations in New Brunswick to understand the early assessment. A lot of those groups are really only getting on the water now and getting out to see the extent of the damage to the wharfs, the fishing gear and the farms because it is relatively safe to do so now, bar running into downed power lines.
As well, I spoke over the weekend and today with the Maritime Fishermen's Union, the FFAW-Unifor in Newfoundland and the PEI Fishermen's Association in my capacity as shadow minister for fisheries. They have conveyed to me that the situation in southwest New Brunswick is serious and that the north shore wharfs in P.E.I. have had major damage. As well, we have seen the destruction in southwest Newfoundland, which is complete and devastating.
I have had reports from fishermen in P.E.I. that they hauled their boats in preparation for the storm, and when they went to see their boats, they were not there anymore. I have had fishermen tell me that the shed where they store their halibut gear and lobster gear is completely gone. I know New Brunswick fishermen were out in the water today, and will be tomorrow, trying to find the lobster gear they left in the water in the fishing areas. That will be a big challenge.
David Sansom, president of the Red Head Harbour Authority in P.E.I., said:
Our lower wharf, the tide bumped so high, it pulled it right out and destroyed that. And our east wharf this evening, the tide came up and lifted it right out of where it's secured.
Just everything is loose and everything is unusable at this point.
On top of that, gear has been lost, and some fishers will lose out on days, if not weeks, of fishing due to the infrastructure damage. They may even lose a season. The P.E.l. summer lobster season is ongoing, as is New Brunswick's, but as we await the assessment of damaged wharfs, it looks like some fishermen may not get back out this season. They have three weeks left in the season.
That is why the fisheries minister must take a serious look at extending the seasons in those communities and keep in mind the severe financial setback the hurricane is causing fishing families. The Department of Fisheries must also immediately begin to prepare plans to repair wharfs under its jurisdiction and expedite permits to get vessels back at the docks as quickly as possible.
FFAW-Unifor, which represents many inshore fishers in Newfoundland, issued a news release this morning on the situation in southern Newfoundland. I will read the brief release it put out this morning, which reads:
Professional fish harvesters on the southwest coast of the province are left reeling after post-tropical storm Fiona made landfall in the area on Friday and Saturday. The damage left in Fiona’s wake has impacted multiple enterprises, leaving significant damage to gear, boats, motors, and sheds. FFAW-Unifor is seeking financial support from federal and provincial governments to assist these inshore harvesters in their rebuilding efforts.
“The damage from Fiona has been felt in particular by folks located between La Poile and Port aux Basques. Some inshore harvesters have lost all their gear, motors, boats, and sheds – just washed away with the storm. As small-scale operators, they have no financial recourse through traditional insurance channels and we are therefore asking for financial relief from our federal and provincial governments,” explains FFAW-Unifor Secretary-Treasurer, Jason Spingle.
“Support following hurricanes and tropical storms has been provided to inshore harvesters in the past, and we expect that Fiona will be no different. These fish harvesters will require financial help to replace their lost investment in order to resume fishing next season,” Spingle says.
Harvesters in this region rely mainly on lobster and halibut as their primary, and in many cases, sole source of income. Rebuilding infrastructure and replacing lost gear and other equipment will be paramount to the region’s ability to rebound from Fiona’s destruction.
In the immediate-term, FFAW-Unifor is communicating with members on the ground to continue to assess the full impact of damage, and to ensure our members and their families have their basic needs met in the coming days and weeks. The Union will also be approving a donation to the Canadian Red Cross via the Executive Board as soon as possible....
“Recovery on the southwest coast will certainly not happen overnight and we acknowledge that there is significant work to do. What our members need now is commitment from our elected officials that support will be given to the inshore harvesters that need it. Without that commitment, their livelihoods will be lost,” concludes Spingle.
From our perspective, as the official opposition, we are advocating that support.
Commercial fishing organizations and their members and those who manage port authorities are doing an inventory of the wharves damaged in the hurricane. Some concerns that have been expressed to me by port authorities are that under normal situations, the federal government cost-shares repair work with port authority revenue through small craft harbours funding. The concern now is that many port authorities do not have their share of funds to pay half the cost of repairing the damage, and in some cases replacing a destroyed wharf. They will be looking to the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard to provide sole-source funding from small craft harbours to pay 100% of reconstruction costs to help these port authorities bring back infrastructure to proper safety and operating standards.
As the fisheries minister is aware, but perhaps not everyone in this House is, there are a number of active fisheries that are open currently, and many fishers are attempting to assess damaged and lost gear. The fishing organizations I have spoken to want to know up front if the financial aid will be there.
The Minister of Fisheries is well aware that the fall lobster fishery in LFA25, between New Brunswick and southwestern P.E.I., is open. The season is short and is almost over, but the loss of these few days has had a big impact. As we asked in the House today, we are asking for the minister to extend the season so that they can complete it. I will ask the government again tonight if it will consider extending that season.
As I said in the House earlier today, our small craft harbours are the Trans-Canada Highway of our oceans, and without them, boats cannot get on the water, which means seafood cannot be caught, which means there is less Canadian product on supermarket shelves and less income for our coastal communities.
The men and women on the sea who feed us deserve a government that will remove the bureaucracy, cut up the red tape and get our wharves functioning again. These commitments from the government are serious and must be upheld.
In light of the situation, we as legislators must come together, listen to what is needed on the ground, and deliver quickly to Atlantic Canada what they need to recover from this hurricane in a time that would allow people to resume their ability to earn an income and support their families.