41st PARLIAMENT, 1st SESSION – November 20, 2012

Mr. Ted Hsu (Kingston and the Islands, Lib.):

“Mr. Speaker, my second petition is from constituents who are asking that the government fund the Experimental Lakes Area so that freshwater ecosystems can be studied, understood and properly managed for the benefit of all Canadians, and that the government use the evidence and the data that comes from that research to protect freshwater for Canada and, indeed, provide the data to protect freshwater ecosystems around the world.”

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Ms. Joyce Murray (Vancouver Quadra, Lib.):

“Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present five petitions on the issue of saving the funding for the Experimental Lakes Area. It has been a trust between the public and its government that these lakes would be used in this way and would be restored, and that the research would be made available to protect the environment Canada-wide and to help internationally. This is in the public interest. It is very much the government’s role and responsibility. For the government to abdicate that role and toss this program aside is completely unacceptable.

The petitioners are pointing that out. I have five petitions to that effect.”

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Mr. Dennis Bevington (Western Arctic, NDP):

“… When it comes to the environment, the Conservative government has shut down investigation into climate change, taken out the Experimental Lakes Area, closed Arctic research centres and has muzzled scientists from speaking in public. What is going on? What is it about science that Conservatives feel the rest of the Canadians should not know? What is it about science that the government wants to hide from us?…”

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Mr. Bruce Hyer (Thunder Bay—Superior North, Ind.):

“Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to follow up on the government’s decision to close the Experimental Lakes Area. The government has now thrown up a wall of secrecy around the ELA extending beyond just muzzling scientists. Now visitors are increasingly denied access to the ELA facilities themselves.

One example is that last month the Department of Fisheries and Oceans blocked the Council of Canadians from visiting the ELA. The council noted subsequently that:

All media requests with scientists have been denied by Fisheries and Oceans Canada. Requests from Members of Parliament have been denied multiple times. Requests from citizens for ELA scientists to speak about their work have also been rejected.

I am one of those members of Parliament who was denied access to visit that government facility, when in previous years MPs would have no problem paying a visit. How are we elected members supposed to do our job if the government is now denying us access to the very facilities and program personnel we are supposed to make decisions on?

The wall of secrecy does not end there.

I would like to quote from a letter sent to The Hill Times by Peter Kirby of Kenora, Ontario. Mr. Kirby notes the lack of transparency and the lack of attention by key Conservatives to constituents on the ELA. He asks:

Why does the [Member of Parliament for Kenora] refuse to debate the closure? He declined to appear on a television program or attend a public forum in Kenora.
[The member] advertises himself as a “strong voice”. [But]…what good is a strong voice, if it does not listen to the people it should be speaking for?
The [Member for Kenora], the [Minister of the Environment], the [Minister of Fisheries and Oceans] are determined not to debate or discuss the ELA or give the public information.
The [Member for Kenora] says that a “deal” is being worked out to “transfer” the ELA, but gives us no details.

Mr. Kirby continued by asking what organization would take over the project. What would its capacity, technically and financially, be now and into the future to handle ELA research? Would the ELA scientists be transferred? Who would determine what research got done? Would the research be of the same world-class quality? He concluded that it was time to break the silence and end the secrecy surrounding the deal.

Mr. Kirby is not alone among residents of Kenora and across Canada in raising these important questions. I would like the member opposite to explain how Conservative Party insiders in Manitoba are pushing for oil companies to take over the Experimental Lakes Area. Are we going to see the Imperial Oil Experimental Lakes Area? Handing the ELA to big oil interests will end up tainting the very science that makes the ELA so valuable. Independent and impartial scientists will be independent and impartial no longer.

Taxpayers have invested millions in the ELA and now the government will hand it over to private interests for a song and a prayer. Taxpayers have spent $5 million upgrading the facilities over the last few years, including a new fisheries laboratory and two new residences. The member for Kenora once crowed about an $800,000 investment in the ELA, though I notice that this press release has now been removed from his website.

This would not just be a sell-off but a bald-faced assault on public science. It would amount to Canadians losing a unique and vital research platform that is crucial to the government fulfilling its obligation to protect Canada’s lakes and fisheries.

Are the Conservatives looking into handing over the facility to oil sector interests? If not oil interests, just whom are they negotiating with to take over this facility?”

Mr. Randy Kamp (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans and for the Asia-Pacific Gateway, CPC):

“Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for raising this issue again and for providing me the opportunity to speak to the Experimental Lakes Area and the commitment of Fisheries and Oceans Canada to freshwater science.

As I have said before, Fisheries and Oceans Canada has conducted a review of all of its activities to reduce the cost of operations and program delivery. As a result, the department will increasingly direct its valuable resources to areas that support conservation and fisheries management priorities. As a consequence, the department will cease its operations of the Experimental Lakes Area.

The department believes that universities and other non-government research facilities are better suited to conduct experimental research that requires whole lake or whole ecosystem manipulation. Indeed, many other organizations are keenly interested in the type of research that has been done at the Experimental Lakes Area. This is why departmental officials are working to transfer the facility to another operator. We look forward to transferring it so that the work can continue by another party better suited to this type of research.

While Fisheries and Oceans Canada is phasing out its program at the Experimental Lakes Area, the department continues to maintain an active freshwater science program in support of its conservation and fisheries management priorities. The department will continue to conduct freshwater research at other locations across the country.

At the department’s Freshwater Institute in Winnipeg, science staff conduct research on freshwater fisheries and habitat science. Scientists are also undertaking aquaculture research in Lake Diefenbaker, Saskatchewan, under the program for aquaculture regulatory research.

In Burlington, Ontario, Fisheries and Oceans Canada also operates the Great Lakes Laboratory for Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences. Staff at that laboratory conduct freshwater research related to fish habitat and Asian carp and provide scientific advice to support the department’s mandate.

In Sault Ste. Marie, scientists conduct work in support of sea lamprey control. As members know, invasive species, such as the sea lamprey, are one of the leading threats to aquatic biodiversity and ecosystem health.

This past summer, departmental scientists and biologists at these science institutes, as well as other institutes across Canada, were out in the field and in laboratories undertaking science research and generating valuable scientific knowledge. This knowledge will help guide regulatory decision-making and various policies.

The department will continue to invest in priority freshwater research. For example, the department is investing in research on the risks of aquatic invasive species, assessments of freshwater species at risk and the impacts of human activities on freshwater fish habitat.

The department has created the strategic program for ecosystem-based research and advice. This research fund began funding research projects across the country this past summer, including priority freshwater research.

In addition, the department has developed the aquatic climate change adaptation services program. This research program supports departmental science that examines the impacts of climate change on Canada’s oceans and inland waters.

Departmental scientists will also continue to collaborate with universities, other government departments, industry partners and other science organizations to complement the department’s science program. Results from these activities become part of the scientific information that supports departmental decision-making.

As members can see, the department remains a science-based department and is absolutely committed to freshwater science in support of its mandate.

The department will continue to engage in research activities that support long-term sustainability. We will continue to dedicate resources to priority science areas that directly support conservation and fisheries management.”

Mr. Bruce Hyer:

“Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for his response but the government is being anything but transparent here. This, as we all know, is not about saving money.

The majority of Canadians know that the best option is, of course, to keep the ELA in government hands doing the work it does best by real scientists. There is no reason that Environment Canada could not run the facility, for example, because the work that the ELA does is central to the Environment Canada mandate. The second best option would be for a consortium of universities to take over.

Regardless, any transfer will take time. The March 31 closure is coming up fast and we need some certainty. Will the government at least commit to bridge financing to keep the ELA open for three to five years until a good partner can take over?”

Mr. Randy Kamp:

“Mr. Speaker, we do acknowledge the unique opportunity that the Experimental Lakes facility presented for researchers and the quality of research that can be undertaken there. That is why we look forward to transferring it to another operator who can continue to conduct ecosystem experiments.

While our science priorities may evolve, Fisheries and Oceans Canada remains a science based department and the Government of Canada will continue to invest in science where it counts most to achieve the best results for Canadians, according to the department’s mandate.

Scientists and biologists at Fisheries and Oceans Canada continue to undertake science activities in lakes and rivers across the country in support of the department’s mandate. The department will use this scientific knowledge to inform decisions and policies that will meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.”

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