1st Session, 41st Parliament – June 21, 2012

Senator Cowan:

“There are a number of proposed changes to the Fisheries Act that are causing deep concern among Canadians. The bill amends the act to limit fish protection to the support of “commercial, recreational and Aboriginal fisheries.” Protection of fish habitat is relegated to a vastly lower priority — something that caused those four former fisheries ministers, in their words, “especial alarm.”

The Current that day included a clip from an interview with Des Nobles, a fisherman and conservationist on Digby Island in British Columbia. Mr. Nobles explained that the fish habitat is very complex and everything in the marine environment is interrelated, something I would have thought was obvious. This is what he said:

There’s nothing here that stands alone. And for the Canadian government to begin to sort of “silo” fish as either economic or not, is just — it’s beyond belief. . . . What we’re seeing here is a slightly larger issue than just salmon and fish habitat. I think we’re seeing a very concerted effort on the part of the Canadian government to undermine the resource base that all of us in this country rely on. I think in the end they need to care about the people here and they need to care about the fish that’s here. This is one country. We can’t begin to silo it off into pieces and say this one is expendable and that one needs to be maintained.

Honourable senators, we need to listen to people like Mr. Nobles. Just as a vibrant and healthy society does not have any expendable parts, neither does a healthy environment or a healthy fishery have expendable species. To make matters worse, once again, we see the Harper government seeking to cut off any source of information that may lead Canadians to question the wisdom of its policies.

Bill C-38 eliminates $2 million in annual funding to the Experimental Lakes Area in northwestern Ontario. This research centre will close within a year if a new operator cannot be found. John Smol, a biologist at Queen’s University, has said that the Experimental Lakes Area is the best-known freshwater research facility on the planet.

The planned closure of the centre was the subject of an article on May 21 in Nature magazine. The article described the importance of some of the research that has been conducted in the Experimental Lakes Area. This is a quote from the article:

Scientists have manipulated the area’s lakes to show how acid rain destroys lake ecosystems, how the ingredients found in birth-control pills can cause the collapse of fish populations and how wetland flooding for hydroelectric dams leads to increased production in methyl mercury and greenhouse gases, while unmanipulated lakes have provided long-term comparative data. Studies done there have influenced policy, most notably the creation of an air quality agreement between the United States and Canada in 1991, which led to reductions in acid rain.

As an aside, that acid rain agreement negotiated so successfully with the United States in 1991 — by Prime Minister Mulroney — required a prime minister who was not raised believing in firewalls. This is what Prime Minister Mulroney said in his memoirs. He described the focused, determined efforts that achieving the agreement with the Americans required. He recalled pressing President Reagan for action “at every single one of our countless meetings, continually broaching the subject, even when members of his administration grew very tired of hearing it.” When President Reagan was about to address a joint session of Parliament, Prime Minister Mulroney took the opportunity to raise the acid rain issue again publicly. He said:

But this is more than a Canadian problem. It is a transboundary problem which requires a transboundary response. . . . In this matter, time is not our ally but our enemy. The longer we delay, the greater the cost. For what would be said of a generation that sought the stars but permitted its lakes and streams to languish and die?

Honourable senators may remember that speech. Mr. Mulroney recalled in his memoirs that MPs and senators greeted his words with “sustained applause.” Back to the Experimental Lakes Area research facilities, which senators opposite will be voting to close and which provided such valuable scientific information to Prime Minister Mulroney when he negotiated that agreement.

Dr. Jules Blais, President of the Canadian Society of Limnologists, which deals with the study of inland waters, has spoken about “groundbreaking research” conducted on the ELA on nano-silver. It is something used on clothing and as an antibacterial agent, but it is highly toxic. Scientists at the ELA demonstrated that nano material is absorbed more quickly into the food chain than traditional industrial substances.

Most recently — just this week — two provincial governments, Ontario and Manitoba, took the unusual step of writing to the federal Minister of the Environment and to the Fisheries Minister asking that the decision to close the Experimental Lakes Area be deferred and that the federal government explore the possibility of a new operating regime. They described the research station as a “gem,” and as a:

. . . unique, world-renowned freshwater research facility that has been a global leader in understanding human impact on fish and the freshwater they live in.

Honourable senators, this government says it is concerned about responsible managing of its resources. It will be saving $2 million a year by closing down this centre. However, as reported in The Globe and Mail on June 15, some estimates suggest that it will cost as much as $50 million to close the site and to remediate the lakes that have been part of the experiment.

Help me with this: For savings of $2 million a year, in times of severe fiscal restraint, the government is prepared to spend $50 million to close and remediate the site? How is that responsible management of finances?

Honourable senators, to add some perspective, while insisting that this $2 million-a-year centre must close, the Harper government — and I said this earlier — is spending more than $28 million to mark the anniversary of the War of 1812. Here in Ottawa, cabinet ministers have run up a tab of more than $600,000 in overtime charges for their drivers. Of course, there was Minister Clement’s gazebo and the fake lake. In Harperland it is clearly better to spend money on fake lakes than on protecting real ones.

It has been suggested that there is a different motive at play here and that in fact the real reason the Harper government is cutting funding to the ELA is because it is producing data that the Conservatives do not want to hear, particularly about the impact of the oil sands.”

Senator Tardif:


Senator Moore:

“Those are the facts.”

Senator Cowan:

“The Globe and Mail interviewed Dr. David Schindler, an internationally renowned scientist, well known and highly respected by most of us in this chamber, and a professor at the University of Alberta. He has said that this decision will eliminate an effective monitor of the impact of the oil sands.

Senator Fraser:

“That is why they are doing it.”

Senator Cowan:

“From the article in the Globe:

Recent studies conducted at the station have found that when the mercury input to a lake is cut off, the lake begins to recover . . . That contradicts the oil industry’s position, which says that once mercury, it is beyond repair and adding more won’t make any difference.

Dr. Schindler says:

My guess is our current managers don’t like to see this kind of [research] because the oil sands have an exponentially increasing output of mercury . . . I think the real problem is we have a bunch of people running science in this country who don’t even know what science is.

Honourable senators, this is not just a theoretical problem. There have been three oil spills from pipelines in Alberta just in the past month, and eight in a little over a year. Two years ago, 3.3 million litres of bitumen — oil from the oil sands — spilled into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan from a rupture in the Enbridge pipeline. It is two years later and the cleanup is still under way. At that time, it was considered the worst oil spill in Midwestern history. Since then, it has become the costliest and longest oil pipeline cleanup in U.S. history, with portions of the river only just be to be reopened now for recreational use. Many residents say they will never eat any fish caught in those waters.

On Wednesday, CBC’s The Current interviewed Stephen Hamilton, a professor of aquatic ecology at Michigan State University who was hired by the Environmental Protection Agency to manage the cleanup from the Kalamazoo pipeline spill. He explained how the bitumen is different from crude oil and how unprepared authorities were for knowing how to clean it up after a spill. Bitumen, as we know, is thick and tar-like. That is the reason why some people call oil sands the “tar sands.”

To let it run through a pipeline it has to be diluted, usually with lighter hydrocarbons that are akin to gasoline. After the spill, the diluting liquid evaporates, leaving behind thick tar. It is deposited on vegetation, the banks of the river and anything else that happens to be in the way.

That is what happened to the Kalamazoo River as a result of that spill.

As Dr. Hamilton pointed out, had the pipeline break happened deep down in the groundwater or under a large water body, then as he described it, the dilutant would not have evaporated and its high toxicity in the water would have been an additional huge factor to deal with.

Honourable senators, the cleanup of that spill in the Kalamazoo River is still ongoing two years later. The river has been shut down for two years.

Pipelines break; there will be spills. We need research stations like the one in the Experimental Lakes Area so that we have the best scientific knowledge governing where pipelines should be built, how they should be built and what to do inevitably when there is an accident.

As I said earlier, it costs $2 million a year for this science from the Experimental Lakes Area. Meanwhile, Enbridge has estimated the cleanup costs for the Kalamazoo spill at $725 million. That is quite a comparison with the $2 million annual cost of maintaining the facility in the Experimental Lakes Area.

Indeed, honourable senators, I also note that the supposed savings of $2 million a year are a fraction of the $8 million in new funding that Budget 2012 was able to find to audit charitable organizations that engage in perfectly legitimate public policy activities.”

Senator Fraser:


Senator Cowan:

“We know that a prime target of this government has charitable organizations involved in environmental protection.

Could the Canada Revenue Agency not manage with $6 million for these audits and leave $2 million to this important research?

Unfortunately, the Experimental Lakes Area research station is not the only casualty of Bill C-38. The budget bill eliminates the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy. The Globe and Mail ran a lead editorial on this decision which was headed “Even a moderate body now must die.” They pointed out that the round table “is no bastion of radicalism.” In fact, it looks like a bit of a home for old Tories.

They wrote this:

But at a time when hearings into a major oil pipeline in the West will being held, and when Ottawa is opening up northern waters for oil exploration, this group was apparently imagined to be a threat simply because, as its name implies, the economy and the environment are equally important. Perhaps its very name made it vulnerable.

The government’s position has been that the round table is no longer needed; others feel its role is perfectly adequate. Senator LeBreton told us recently on June 11 that she recalls when the organization was established in the 1980s.”