Mr. Speaker, I am glad to rise today to speak to Motion No. 104, brought to this House by the member for Ottawa South. As a former chair of the environment committee, and having lived in a primarily rural area of Ontario all my life, this topic is of special interest to me. It is critically important that we do all we can to protect our water, our land, and our air.
While today we are discussing an amendment made to this draft motion, an amendment that was made by the Liberals themselves, I will first read the original motion. Motion No. 104 reads as follows:
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.
The amendments that have been made to the motion are:
(a) replacing the words “the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development be instructed to” with the word “, in the opinion of the House, the government should”; (b) replacing the words “the Committee shall” with the words “the government should”; [and] (c) deleting all the words after the words “within the Ottawa River Watershed;”.
It is clear that the Liberals tabled this amendment to the motion because they did not support their member for Ottawa South in his original motion, as it was simply pandering to local stakeholders who are seeking an audience on a federal committee. Therefore, the purpose of this motion is now redundant and is a simple exercise to make sure that the member does not lose face within his own party; hence, the referral to the government for examination. This matter no longer requires valuable parliamentary time, as the member could simply have asked the responsible minister to evaluate whether her officials believe it would be worth establishing an Ottawa River watershed council similar to the Fraser Basin Council the member used as an example in his speech.
The Ottawa River received heritage status on July 15, 2016. This was granted by the environment minister, the member for Ottawa Centre. The Ottawa River, from Lake Timiskaming to East Hawkesbury, which is about 590 kilometres in length, now joins the Rideau Canal as Ottawa's second river to be classified under Canada's national river conservation program.
It is important to note that the Quebec side of the river is not subject to the heritage classification, as the Quebec government has repeatedly refused handing over control of this waterway to the federal government. In fact, the Quebec provincial government of the day, represented by the then provincial minister of the environment, the current federal member of Parliament for Outremont, took the position that the provincial government was not interested in participating in the designation process, as this could result in relinquishing provincial jurisdiction to the federal government.
The current Motion No. 104 is asking to set up a management plan for the Ottawa River watershed, with no authority to act in fully two-thirds of the Ottawa River watershed. The Province of Quebec has no interest in inviting the federal government to interfere in matters of provincial jurisdiction.
On December 2, 2016, the member of Parliament for Ottawa Centre tabled the motion we are debating today, calling for the House of Commons Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development “to undertake a...study with regard to the creation of an Ottawa River Watershed Council, which would bring a...co-management approach to the Ottawa River Watershed”. None of Canada's other 41 designated heritage rivers has been studied by a standing committee and tasked to determine members of a council.
As I stated earlier, I was chair of the environment committee, and as chair, I was proud to hear from Mr. Joe Farwell, the chief administrative officer of the Grand River Conservation Authority, in my riding. The Grand River, which runs through my riding, became the first river in a working landscape to be designated a Canadian heritage river, in 1994. There was no parliamentary committee created to appoint members to the conservation authority. I am proud of the work the Grand River Conservation Authority has done and continues to do today.
Let me share some facts about the Grand River watershed. It is made up of four other rivers that feed into the Grand: the Conestogo, the Nith, the Speed, and Eramosa. The combined length of all of the rivers and streams is about 11,000 kilometres. The watershed crosses four climate zones, Dundalk Upland, Huron Slopes, South Slopes, and Lake Erie counties, and crosses two forest zones, the Alleghanian and Carolinian.
The GRCA manages floods and keeps the rivers flowing in dry weather with a network of seven reservoirs. Eighty species at risk are found in the watershed. More than 90 species of fish are found in the river system, about half of all species in Canada. Close to 250 species of birds have been reported at Luther Marsh Wildlife Management Area. Forest cover in the watershed was as low as 5% in the early 1900s, but today forests cover about 19% of the land.
River flows, reservoir levels, weather, and water quality are all tracked in real time by a large network of gauges that feed their data to the GRCA website around the clock. Municipal water systems draw their water from wells and the river system in contrast to most major Ontario communities, which depend on the Great Lakes.
I have had the privilege to visit a number of the streams and tributaries that feed into the Grand River and to see the great work that the GRCA has done in protecting our waterways, by creating buffer zones so cattle and other wildlife cannot enter into the streams, to allow grass and trees to grow, and cooling the water so fish which were not able to survive in the hot water are now able to come upstream, surviving in much cooler water. I have seen the good work it does in wetland restoration, working in partnership with Ducks Unlimited and other partners.
Motion No. 104 asks for yet another study to join the multitude of studies that have already been done on the Ottawa River and its watershed. The motion then asks for a study to justify the expenditure of more taxpayer dollars to create a new layer of bureaucracy to interfere with the lives of people who call the Ottawa River watershed home.
It is also important to inform the House that the detailed study that this motion calls for has already recently been completed. A detailed study of the Ottawa River watershed was done in preparation for the designation of the Ottawa River as a Canadian heritage river, and that was not done in the distant past. Less than one year ago, on July 15, 2016, this river was designated. I would encourage all members interested in this motion to look at that report.
This is not the first case in the House where we have seen the Liberals make environmental decisions based on politics instead of on the environment. One of the first actions of the government was to allow the dumping of eight billion litres of raw sewage from Montreal into the St. Lawrence River. It is certainly not a good environmental decision.
As much as possible, it is ideal that while we recognize the right of the federal government to impose certain things like this, we always try to take advantage of existing mechanisms like an organization that is already in place and pass the authority and control over, as much as possible, to more local entities that can be more directly accountable and responsive. Again, the Grand River Conservation Authority comes to mind as a gold standard in this regard.
When we have motions like Motion No. 104, we are asking the House of Commons as a whole to pronounce on something that has a particular impact on a particular region. Giving authority to those closest to that region creates maximum responsiveness to the needs of that community and it also creates far better accountability.
The hon. member for Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke has done a phenomenal job in standing up for her constituents who stand to be greatly affected by what seems to be needless political decisions. The hon. member has stood up for those residents, specifically those in the rural parts of her riding, who will be asked to pay for this new level of bureaucracy being proposed in this motion. It will be those who live on the land who will be required to pay. She also did a great job of addressing the point of the negative aspects that the motion would create as it related to our relationship with the first nations people.
In light of all these items, I will not be supporting the motion. I encourage all my colleagues in this place not to support it either.