Motion No. 104
That the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development be instructed to undertake a detailed study with regard to the creation of an Ottawa River Watershed Council, which would bring a comprehensive, inclusive, co-management approach to the Ottawa River Watershed, in order to foster ecological integrity, sustainable economic opportunities, and quality of life; in its study, the Committee shall examine (i) the council membership, which would include, but would not be limited to, federal, provincial, regional, and municipal governments, First Nations, industry groups, non-governmental organizations, and academic institutions, (ii) important indicators such as water quality, biodiversity, and shoreline integrity, in order to assist with the creation of a co-management plan and conservation strategy, (iii) the economic, cultural, heritage, and natural values within the Ottawa River Watershed; and that the Committee report its findings and recommendations to the House no later than December 2017.
Madam Speaker, it is an honour for me to rise this evening to speak to this motion. I have the good fortune of being the grandson of Irish pioneers who settled in the Ottawa Valley and my great grandparents lived very close to the Ottawa River. There is a very strong tradition that runs through the veins of so many Canadians in this region and beyond, those who have been touched by the beauty and stupendous power of the Ottawa River, which I have always described as the jewel in the crown of the national capital region. I am pleased to move this motion not only as the MP for Ottawa South, but also as the chair of the government's national capital region caucus.
There are now 1.4 million Canadians living in this catchment area called the national capital region and it is growing at a rate of 7% to 8% a year. This is the fifth largest census metropolitan area in the country.
The motion calls for a study to revamp our thinking when it comes to managing the way we do business and the way we relate to something as essential as a watershed. It is an incredible opportunity for Canada, not just in the context of the Ottawa River watershed but right across the country. I will come back to that theme in a moment, because there are many trends and positive developments in this regard right across the country.
This is a case where we get to illustrate, through the study, the fact that we need a new form of management. We need a new form of co-management, which is widely described as integrated watershed management. It tries to overcome a fundamental challenge when it comes to the way in which we organize our affairs as a society and how we interface with something as important as, for example, the Ottawa River, how we interface with natural carrying capacity. It is to overcome the challenge of what my parents used to present to their 10 children when they would say that we just could not have a situation where everybody's job was nobody's job.
The Ottawa River watershed, and watersheds writ large across the country and the planet, is what we have to start addressing. Although there is a myriad of actors that interface or deal with the Ottawa River watershed, there is only one watershed. That is one of the stark realizations that folks who live around the watershed, the provinces, the federal government, and different actors, have now realized, that it is a delicate, important asset. It is, frankly, a very valuable asset that forms part of our overall natural capital, not necessarily built capital or human capital but our natural capital.
The motion calls for a major study that would analyze how we could take the management of the Ottawa River watershed to the next level, to the next iteration. This has been informed by the good work of a number of examples in Canada, for example, the Fraser Basin Council in British Columbia. It began in early 1990 and has proceeded in a very sophisticated way to bring together different stakeholders and groups that treat the Fraser Basin as one. They realize it is an asset to be managed with great determination and care as there is only one Fraser Basin. There are not 10 or 20; there is one.
On that note, I am also delighted that many stakeholders in this region are strongly supportive of conducting a study, not least among them the Ottawa Riverkeeper. I really want to commend the Ottawa Riverkeeper and the team, Meredith Brown and Jean Perras, in particular, for their extraordinary leadership and work. They are to be congratulated on pushing out the envelope and thinking in terms of the opportunity in front of us to do something very powerful in our national capital. From here, we can springboard and challenge national capitals right around the world.
We have many competing interests with the Ottawa River, but, first, why this motion? It is the border. The Ottawa River forms the border between Ontario and Quebec and makes it an interprovincial waterway. Therefore, the management of the Ottawa River is an area of shared jurisdiction. Obviously, the federal government is implicated, the provincial governments of Ontario and Quebec, regional and municipal governments, watershed organizations, and our indigenous peoples.
This motion recognizes the importance of the Ottawa River watershed to our overall economic, ecological, and cultural well-being. A comprehensive study on the creation of an Ottawa River watershed council would ensure that multiple levels of governments, indigenous peoples, and all stakeholders work closely together to coordinate their activities and their decisions that serve to protect and to preserve this incredible asset for all Canadians.
What kinds of competing interests do we have when it comes to something as powerful as this Ottawa River? By the way, Canadians should know that the Ottawa River's flow on a daily basis is greater than every western European tributary combined. It is a mighty, powerful river and in large part helped build lots of early central Canada. There are competing interests. For example, economic ones are hydro power, tourism, forestry, fisheries, agriculture. On the environment there is water quality, with this city and the city of Gatineau extracting most of their drinking water from the surface of the Ottawa River. There is biodiversity, pollution, and climate change. Within the Ottawa River watershed, there are 18 Ontario parks and eight Quebec parks. When it comes to social well-being as I referred to a moment ago, we can speak to water quality and drinking water. We must consider flood risk, recreational purposes, and of course river access. The Ottawa River watershed is a massive part of our local culture, our economy, and our environment. It is an asset. It is, as I said, the jewel in the crown.
How big is it? The Ottawa River watershed covers more than 140,000 square kilometres. It straddles the border between Ontario and Quebec. It is also the largest tributary of the St. Lawrence River. It is very large, larger than many European states, larger than the province of New Brunswick.
What is the present state of affairs now when it comes to the management of this precious asset? We have an Ottawa River Regulation Planning Board. It is the only governance body for the Ottawa River that includes both federal and provincial representatives, including Ontario Power Generation and Hydro-Québec. It is mostly concerned with the question of hydro-electric energy production and of course flooding and other related issues. It does not allow for the broader mandate that this study would examine where other stakeholders, a more diverse array of stakeholders, would come together and treat the watershed as one whole.
This is not simply something that is timely in the context of this region and this particular watershed. On the contrary, the watershed movement, this whole question of evolving toward what is now being called integrated watershed management, is a national and international trend. It allows for a meeting place, an agora as they said in ancient Greece, a place where we can manage human activities and ecosystems at the watershed scale. It would integrate multiple concepts and methods, including water- and land-use planning and management. It evaluates the management of cumulative effects from multiple environmental stressors. Therefore, if we have one municipality releasing waste into the river and yet we have another organization like Atomic Energy of Canada dealing with the challenge of nuclear waste also along the shores of the Ottawa River, we have these different stressors at play but we have no place to sit down collectively to say, “How do we manage these collectively so we can ensure the sustainability of this important watershed?”
It brings together many aspects of governance such as policy, planning, and legislation on the basis of a geographic area, this watershed approach. It brings people together so that their activities can be shared and their relationships are better fostered among the different actors who live, who operate, who act, and who have a bearing on the watershed. This is very important. It is something that exists right across the country.
I alluded earlier to the Fraser Basin Council in British Columbia. Many of my B.C. colleagues here know full well how successful it has been. It brings together dozens of stakeholders and has meetings to assess the overall health of the Fraser Basin and what different effects different activities are having on the Fraser Basin, because it reflects the reality of the concept of there being only one Fraser Basin. Here the study would examine the fact that there is only one Ottawa River watershed.
What are some of the drivers for this integrated watershed management trend in Canada this study might embrace? We know that activities upstream are going to have detrimental effects downstream. I am reminded of what New York City did. Instead of building a multi-billion dollar water treatment facility at the back end, it went upstream and negotiated a series of deals with different municipalities, industries, first nations, etc., to invest in cleaning up the river upstream. By the time the water got to New York City, it was cleaner drinking water. The cost of protecting that watershed in the context of upper New York State was much lower than the cost of building a tertiary water treatment facility in New York City. They treated it as it should, as a form of natural capital to be protected and invested in.
It is also now known that it is just not desirable or feasible any longer to have a single water agency. This is clearly not working. We know that water is connected through the hydrologic cycle, and groundwater and surface water have to be connected in our management activities.
Recently, in a meeting I had with a senior senator from California, I remember having a broad conversation, but the only thing he was fixated on talking about was whether California was going to have access to Canada's water and whether we would be performing inter-basin water transfers, not something this country is particularly interested in seeing happen whatsoever.
We need to know what is happening to the hydrologic cycles, and this can be analyzed through this study. We have to recognize that there will be water shortages, flooding, and water quality issues throughout the globe, including in Canada, southern Saskatchewan, the Red River, the Saguenay River, the Richelieu River, Walkerton, the Great Lakes, and many others.
We also have to consider and examine increased water users and the types of water use, including increased awareness of the need to better balance ecosystem needs and withdrawals. This has led to more conflicts and more difficulty in overcoming the conflicts. Having a watershed council would allow us to deal with and diffuse these conflicts up front, because we would know collectively what is happening in the watershed basin as a whole.
Canadians everywhere now insist on more opportunity for participation, for community-based management approaches. The council would provide such an opportunity.
There are many other drivers at play, not least of which is that we appreciate that aboriginal peoples living in parts of many watersheds, like here in the Ottawa Valley, and throughout Canada, rely on many water resource services, and they must be involved in the planning and management of those resources.
The case for the study to examine this watershed council is pretty darn strong. It is a question of sitting down with the right players, coming up with a management plan and strategy, and coming up with the metrics we need. We do not even have agreed upon metrics to evaluate the state of the watershed.
I am now convinced that all the stakeholders would want to be part of this council. That includes Quebec, the municipality of Gatineau and those on the other side of the river, and all of the communities located along the river, which is thousand of kilometres long.
I am asking my colleagues to support the notion that we examine this in greater detail, study the possibility of having such an approach, and use this as a wonderful opportunity to showcase what a national capital can do, not just in the context of other integrated watershed management approaches for Canada but globally. Let us start with Washington and the Potomac River, for example, and expand beyond there. Canada has this wonderful opportunity and obligation.
I am asking my colleagues to support the motion in due course, and it is an honour for me to present it.