Madam Speaker, I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak today on the subject of sustainable development and the environment. The bill seeks to amend the Federal Sustainable Development Act. It does so by looking at changing its purpose and simply by adding some other nice words, “to advance sustainable development and respects Canada's domestic and international obligations relating to sustainable development, with a view to improving the quality of life for Canadians.”
The problem for the Liberals with the bill and with the act it seeks to establish a strategy for, what they do on the environment for so many things, is the difference between good-sounding words and action that is dramatically different from the good-sounding words. We see it on so many files, but the environment file is a perfect example.
We often hear the Liberals talk about the importance of combatting climate change. The member who spoke before me did that, but what did the Environment Commissioner of Canada have to say about the efforts of the Liberal government on exactly that environmental file? He said:
We concluded that Environment and Climate Change Canada, with support from other government departments and agencies, did not make progress toward meeting Canada's commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
We concluded that Environment and Climate Change Canada, in collaboration with other federal partners, did not provide adequate leadership to achieve the federal government's adaptation to climate change impacts....there was no action plan nor clear direction to ensure that the federal government would integrate climate change considerations into its own programs, policies, and operations.
The Environment Commissioner also said of the Liberal government's efforts on the environment and climate change:
Most of the federal departments and agencies we examined did not take appropriate measures to adapt to climate change impacts by assessing and managing the climate change risks to their programs, policies, assets, and operations....Stronger federal leadership is needed.
Like so many other areas on the environment, on sustainable development, the Liberals talk a great talk but they simply do not deliver results. I served under a leader who was very motivated as prime minister to be judged by his results because it grated on him that for years and years the Liberals would say great things but never actually deliver the results. It was that gap between great-sounding words and actual action. He wanted to be judged by those results. Our government could be judged by those results and those actions. On sustainable development, legislation like this may be nice words, but what are the Liberals doing in practice?
Our Conservative government took action on the environment in a tangible way in my part of Ontario by establishing the Lake Simcoe clean-up fund. Close to $60 million flowed over 10 years to help clean up that critically important lake, the largest body of fresh water in Ontario other than the Great Lakes. What did the Liberal government do? It cancelled that, a program that was helping sustainable development, helping eliminate and reduce environmental impacts, that was doing positive things and delivering results for the environment.
That is when I talk about the difference between words and results and words and deeds. Liberals may talk a good line on the environment, but when it comes time to actually act, as they have done with the Lake Simcoe clean-up fund, they are environmental vandals putting back the cause of the environment, putting back the cause of sustainable development.
What was the Lake Simcoe clean-up fund? As I said, it was an innovative fund. It was $60 million over 10 years, two five-year stretches, but it focused not on building a bureaucracy, not on great policies and speeches and marketing, but on actual measures and actions and steps taken to improve water quality and to reduce environmental impacts. These were actual remediation efforts that delivered physical results on the ground. What is more, it did so without a bureaucracy, using volunteer committees, folks who had been involved in environmental cleanup issues in the community for years, who assessed projects. The funding was given to those groups to carry out projects and they used it to leverage money. It is estimated that the $60 million over 10 years actually produced well over $200 million in real remediation work because of matching funds and in-kind contributions from partners and volunteer contributions from organizations. That made real results happen.
The Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority would say that it was able to make development in the watershed more sustainable, to ameliorate some of the impacts of previous development, to make sure that new development actually was sustainable for the future. That is the kind of thing that was happening because of the Lake Simcoe clean-up fund. What did the Liberals do? They cancelled that. They cancelled that, harming the quality of life for people throughout the Lake Simcoe watershed.
Under the Lake Simcoe clean-up fund, how was the environment protected? How did we see sustainable development? Over 72,000 trees, shrubs, and grasses were planted in the watershed to help prevent and reduce phosphorus runoff, phosphorus being the major contribution to eutrophication of the lake and harming the lake's health. Over 20,000 metres of fencing was installed to restrict 1,300 livestock from fouling watercourses, again adding nutrients that would harm the water quality. There were 5,000 kilometres of stream and lake bank that were stabilized and, significantly, in previously developed areas, stormwater pond retrofits were undertaken.
What is significant about it is that not only was it encouraging sustainable development, but going back to previous development that was not sustainable and making it sustainable and improving environmental impacts. What did the Liberals do? They cancelled that.
What were some of the projects that were funded, the kinds of projects that the Liberals have now cut off funding for? Things like the adopt-a-stream-crossing program run by the Regional Municipality of York. The recipients stabilized and revegetated stream shoreline areas with native plant species and encouraged the community to become stewards of those streams. Educating landowners and others through these actions was a main component of the program. That, again, resulted in a more sustainable environment. The Liberals have now cut off that funding.
The Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority got funding for a program called CNSRVS. The description of the program is as follows:
The recipient will support projects including retrofitting septic systems, tree planting, improving/retrofitting streams and on-line ponds, stormwater management pond retrofits, managing milk house waste, managing manure, livestock restrictions, controlling cropland erosion, enhancing wildlife habitat, and irrigation water management.
Again, they were real, physical measures on the ground that delivered sustainable development, that produced results for the environment, not high-minded words, not fancy opportunities for politicians to make speeches and people to puff themselves up and be proud of saying the right things. It is not enough that one's heart is in the right place. It is the actions that matter, and the action of the Liberal government on the Lake Simcoe clean-up fund was to cancel it.
There are over 200 projects like those I already read, and there are more. The Oro-Medonte best management practices focused on improving the sustainability of development locally. ReWilding Lake Simcoe was a great one. The people and the nature new stewardship program, run by the Ladies of the Lake Conservation Association, delivered 24 on-the-ground restoration projects and also developed a set of unique urban-suburban best practices to improve habits. This was specific to the watershed, specific to the kind of private lake and beach associations they had, remarkable, great work that engaged the community, and involved volunteers and citizens. They did real, physical things to remediate the lake. All they needed was a little help, a little funding from the government, and they would take that initiative and leadership. They did that stuff, but now the Liberal government has cancelled the Lake Simcoe clean-up fund and the kinds of projects that it was producing.
There was the RainScaping retrofit program for low-impact development demonstration projects. Can anyone think of anything that is more focused on sustainable development? How can we take the normal development of houses and reduce their environmental impact in this sensitive area on Lake Simcoe and make it more sustainable? The description of this project, which was again through the conservation authority, was as follows:
This project will identify opportunities to control phosphorus and improve water balance in seven major urban centres in the Lake Simcoe watershed. Each of the seven municipalities will undertake one low impact development (LID) demonstration project. The projects will help transform current stormwater practices in both developed and to be developed lands. Low Impact Development methods to be demonstrated will reduce water pollution (especially phosphorus), alleviate flooding, and reduce stream bank erosion by controlling water quantity and increasing infiltration of rain water back into the ground.
That is actual physical, real sustainable development. It is the kind of stuff that was going on under the Lake Simcoe Clean-up Fund, but the Liberal government has said no. It has cancelled it and said that it is over.
The Liberals are going to talk about the environment and say nice things. They say their hearts are in the right place, but they are not actually going to deliver action. In fact, they are going to stop what has been happening and the work of hundreds of citizens across the community.
What have people in the community been saying about this, people who care about sustainable development and the environment? Richard Simpson was the head of the citizen's advisory group that approved all of these projects and would review them. These were unpaid volunteers reviewing the projects and assessing what was important for the community. Richard, who also happens to be the current vice-chair of the Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority because he is no longer head of this advisory committee abolished by the Liberal government, says that “The Lake Simcoe Clean-up Fund advisory board was proud to select projects for funding and work with partners across the watershed to deliver real results for Lake Simcoe's environment. The cancellation of the fund puts Lake Simcoe at risk once more, and it is disappointing given how much progress has already been made to clean up Lake Simcoe.”
There are more comments by people who have written to me, telling me their views. John from Newmarket says, “All reports from the Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority point to improved water quality. This affects water quality for towns around Lake Simcoe. Tell the Liberal government not to reverse these improvements.”
People care that this fund has been cancelled. People in the communities were engaged. It was having real results for the environment. The real action by the Liberal government is to cancel it.
Steven from Keswick says, “I live on the shore of our great Lake Simcoe. I have seen it go from bad to much cleaner as a result of the Clean-up Fund—it must be continued to keep to ecosystem healthy.” Sue from Brown Hill says, “Having fresh, clean water is one of our treasures. Cancelling the Lake Simcoe Clean-up Fund is very sad: one step forward, and two steps back.”
All these people understand what our Conservative government understood, that we should be judged by our actions and what we really do. Let us deliver material results. That is what the Lake Simcoe Clean-up Fund did. I give credit to Stephen Harper and Jim Flaherty, both of whom took the decision, despite what the Department of the Environment at the time might have wanted, to fund this initiative and structure it in this unique way that did not build the bureaucracy but rather put money in the hands of people in the communities who would deliver actual remediation, and in the process leverage those funds into tremendous results.
We have seen results. Guess what? We did not think this would happen in the short time it did, and the conservation authority has expressed its surprise that the improvements were as great as they were. We thought it would take 15 to 20 years before we would start seeing improvements, but just seven years into the initiative, native species that had not bred in the watershed, cold water fish species, were suddenly returning and breeding in parts of the watershed. Real results were happening for the environment. It was improving. Moreover, phosphorus levels were being measurably reduced. Testing is undertaken all the time by the Ministry of Natural Resources in Ontario.
Why is this so important? Lake Simcoe is in an area that is under huge pressure from development. There are massive new subdivisions going in. The provincial Liberal government has identified Barrie on the shores of Lake Simcoe as a growth target area. If one cared about sustainable development in a serious way, one would think that would make it a target area for sustainable development efforts. One would want to reinforce something like the Lake Simcoe Clean-up Fund, but instead the Liberals chose to cancel it. In fact, Eleanor from Sharon, who wrote to me, made exactly that observation. She said, “With all the development in our region it is important that the Lake Simcoe Clean-up Fund continues!"
While I commend the effort that went into this bill—and I think the bill is fine—the bigger question when we talk about sustainable development is not saying nice things about objectives and creating strategies, and so on. It is about what people's actions are, what is being done on the ground, and what is being done for the environment. The environment commissioner has said the same thing as the people in Lake Simcoe. The Liberal government may say nice things, but its deeds do not match its words. In fact, they are the very opposite, and we have seen that with this very dramatic cancellation of the Lake Simcoe Clean-up Fund.
It is a very sad thing to have happened, and I can tell members, as one who worked with so many of these community organizations, they are remarkable people. I mentioned the Ladies of the Lake. Another another is Kids for Turtles, a beautiful group out of Oro-Medonte. There were remarkable groups throughout, such as Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition, the conservation authorities, the municipalities, and even provincial departments, which eventually got engaged and started supporting and helping with some of these projects. The farmers and the Federation of Anglers and Hunters got involved in support of physical, material projects.
Members of the Holland Marsh Growers' Association have a problem with the canals in their area. Because it is Ontario's richest farmland, there are already a lot of nutrients there naturally in the soil that they farm, and with normal agricultural practices, one would try to manage nutrients as well. Guess what? They had an opportunity to donate land. As a result of this fund, they donated land that was matched by partnering with plantings by the clean-up fund and other organizations that got involved, thereby again making real, material, physical improvements to the health of the lake.
There are others that are remarkable. There was the project to evaluate development best practices for residential developments in NewMarket, including a fairly recent one, Mosaik Homes in the Glenway subdivision. This project demonstrated and evaluated the widespread application of low-impact development techniques in a new residential subdivision in the Lake Simcoe watershed, exactly addressing those sustainable development challenges. The project included rain gardens, vegetated biofilters, an underground exfiltration system, and best practices for the management of soils in landscaped areas.
It would be nice to think that after 10 years and $16 million, enough was done, that the health of the lake was secure for the future and that we did not have to worry any more, because Lake Simcoe was in good hands. However, the fact is, every single expert, including the provincial Liberal officials at the Ministry of Natural Resources, all tell us that while good progress is being made, there is a real need for more to happen. This is why there is such disappointment with the cancellation of the Lake Simcoe Clean-up Fund.
Fausto from Cookstown is another person who wrote to me. He says that “Lake Simcoe needs to be taken care of today.” Greg from Sutton says that “Water is our most important resource!” Robert from Keswick says that “Programs like this are important to the future of safe water for our communities for years to come!”
The local Georgina Island First Nation in Lake Simcoe is involved right now in a lawsuit trying to protect the lake's health. Its members were partners in this fund. They also have been working hard. Why are they concerned? It is because there is a proposal for a new large sewage waste treatment plant in the watershed. While there was work done on that, it is a legitimate concern.
However, why are we, at the same time those folks are using their own funds to try to protect the lake, taking away funds from others who are trying to protect the lake and allowing potentially injurious actions to go ahead?
Marie from Jackson's Point says, “Lake Simcoe is very important to the people near it because of tourism, fishing, and many people rely on it for their livelihood.” Brian from Sutton wrote to me that “To bring economic prosperity to the area, we need to continue to protect and restore Lake Simcoe—our most important resource!” Charlie from Holland Landing wrote: “Clean water and protection of this resource must remain a high priority!” Madeline from Willow Beach said it simply: “We must save Lake Simcoe!”
This is what sustainable development means when it is actioned. This is what it is about when a government has real programs that deliver real remediation that improves the environment, and people from the community get a stake in it and feel a part of it. This is a classic example of where a Conservative government delivered results, and chose to be judged by its results and not by great words. However, this action and real results were cancelled by the current Liberal government, which is focused more on words, photo ops, images, and impressions and not on delivering real results for sustainable development on the ground.