“Mr. Speaker, I present a petition in regard to Canada’s Experimental Lakes Area and what the government is doing regarding closing down the research section. The petitioners are asking for the government to reverse its decision, recognizing the importance of the ELA to the Government of Canada’s mandate to study, preserve and protect our aquatic ecosystems.”
“Mr. Speaker, today I am going to talk about the government’s decision to eliminate the experimental lakes program, or to do away with it. I think that decision is catastrophic.
Research on the quality of our water is critical to Canada. The development of the oil sands and the resulting pollution and contamination due to mining operations, not to mention acid rain and so on, are increasingly important stressors for our lakes and rivers. And we are not even talking about the risk of environmental accidents caused by offshore oil and gas development. It is hard to understand why this government has decided to axe a program that was contributing to Canada’s reputation abroad.
The program includes research on blue-green algae, on the impact of climate change on our lakes and fish habitat, and on the impact of contaminants on the lakes’ biodiversity. The studies being done by scientists in 58 lakes in their natural state are unique and cannot be replicated anywhere else in the world.
Why? Because it is the only place where research is done directly in the lakes, in constantly evolving complex ecosystems rather than in laboratories. Scientists around the world know this very well. That is why they criticized the cuts from the very outset. In Canada, more than 20,000 people signed the petition to continue the existing public experimental lakes.
Why eliminate this program? The government’s answer is that it wants to save money. And yet the Conservatives estimate the savings generated by this decision at only $2 million, when closing the lakes will cost $50 million.
This irresponsible decision by the Conservatives will cost us $48 million and threaten the quality of our waterways.
Canada recently announced that it had signed an agreement with the United States on monitoring water quality in the Great Lakes. Will the government be able to meet its international commitments if it cuts all research programs like the experimental lakes program?
The cuts at Fisheries and Oceans Canada will affect hundreds of scientific jobs all across Canada. In Bill C-38, the first mammoth budget implementation bill, the government took the axe to the environmental assessment process. There were over 3,000 fewer environmental assessments this summer. Bill C-45 goes after lakes and rivers. There are now only 97 lakes and 62 rivers in all of Canada that will continue to be protected. All the water quality monitoring mechanisms are being ditched, one after another.
And then the government goes and tells our neighbours to the south that we will monitor the water quality of the Great Lakes. It is completely absurd.
In addition to axing water quality monitoring programs, the Conservatives are gagging scientists. Scientists working on the experimental lakes program cannot talk publicly about what is going on or explain the impact of the cuts on their research program. Tom Muir, who was formerly a biologist with Environment Canada and who is now an independent researcher, found that there was politicization of research within the department.
Scientists can no longer explain their research findings. They have to refer all questions from the media to the department’s communications branch, staffed by employees who are trained to dish out propaganda rather than scientific facts.
Today we learned that Environment Canada research conducted on the oil sands was censored once again. Scientists at the University of Alberta discovered that contamination levels in snow and rain near the oil sands extraction sites were much higher than average.
Here the department made the researchers use a series of canned responses when speaking to the media. In most cases, the scientists were not allowed to answer media questions and had to refer all interview requests to the departmental communications people. We can no longer ask questions, and the public has no right to know whether our lakes and rivers are being polluted.
I have a question for the minister or the parliamentary secretary. What will happen to our Experimental Lakes? Will the program be privatized?”
“Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity today to respond to the member opposite on the important issue of the Experimental Lakes Area.
As part of the government-wide deficit reduction action plan, Fisheries and Oceans Canada reviewed all of its operations and is now implementing measures to reduce the cost of operations and program delivery. As a result of the review, the Government of Canada made its decisions, and Fisheries and Oceans will no longer operate the Experimental Lakes Area.
However, the department hopes to transfer the facility to another operator better suited to managing it and ensuring it is available to scientists and universities, or elsewhere, that need to do whole lake manipulations. Such a transfer would allow the research to continue by other parties and the department is working hard to find another operator. Officials are continuing discussions with the Province of Ontario, which owns the land, as well as other interested parties about transferring the facility.
The department is now focusing on work that is being conducted at other locations across the country to meet its research needs. The department will focus its use of research-dedicated resources to priority areas and invest in areas where it achieves the best results for Canadians. Indeed, departmental scientists are out in the field undertaking freshwater research in various locations across Canada, including the Great Lakes, the Fraser River, lakes and streams in the Northwest Territories, Lake Winnipeg and the St. Lawrence River.
The department is conducting research in these areas where scientific advice is needed to guide sustainable development and enhance economic prosperity. Departmental scientists and biologists will continue to conduct relevant research that is essential to guide environmental policies and regulatory decision-making and they will continue to provide scientific advice to support the department’s mandate.
Fisheries and Oceans Canada has an active freshwater science program in many priority areas, including aquatic invasive species, species at risk and freshwater fish habitat. For example, staff at the Freshwater Institute in Winnipeg and at the Great Lakes Laboratory for Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences in Burlington are conducting research on freshwater fisheries related to fish habitat and invasive species such as Asian carp and sea lamprey. We are proud of the work they are doing.
Departmental scientists will also continue to collaborate with academia, industry and non-governmental organizations on priority research. For example, departmental researchers will continue to partner on projects with universities and supervise graduate students. The results of these research collaborations are part of the important information that the department uses to develop policies and make decisions about our aquatic environment and fisheries resources.
As we can see, the department remains committed to freshwater science in support of its mandate. The department will continue to conduct research on the aquatic environment and fisheries resources, which supports long-term sustainability and conservation. We will continue to invest wisely in priority science areas that directly support conservation and fisheries management.”
“Mr. Speaker, as I said earlier, the government talks about saving money, but here it is losing $48 million. I do not know whether the parliamentary secretary understood that.
He wants to hand this program over to the private sector. Why lose the expertise of our public sector scientific researchers? Is it not more logical for the federal government to be responsible for the Experimental Lakes Area? That is entirely consistent with the government’s mandate.
The federal government is responsible for ensuring water quality, the protection of biodiversity and pollution attenuation. Furthermore, public sector management of the Experimental Lakes Region makes for stable funding and greater accountability.
Development of the oil sands presents significant risks to the quality of our waterways, and the research conducted at the Experimental Lakes Area research station will help develop data to minimize the risks and environmental impacts of this sector, but that irritates the Conservatives and their industry friends.
I am nevertheless asking the government whether it can commit to retaining public management of the Experimental Lakes Area and avoid being partisan in an area that has such a significant impact on human and environmental health.”
“Mr. Speaker, Fisheries and Oceans Canada is continuing to conduct scientific research that supports long-term sustainability and conservation objectives in an efficient and cost-effective manner.
The department believes that universities and non-government research facilities are better suited to conduct the type of whole lake ecosystem manipulation that is being done at the Experimental Lakes Area. As such, the department looks forward to transferring the experimental lakes facility to another organization.
In the meantime, DFO will continue to conduct freshwater research in various locations across Canada in response to departmental needs. The department has an active freshwater research program with priorities that include fish habitat and aquatic invasive species.
Science continues to be the backbone of Fisheries and Oceans Canada. We will continue to invest in important research on Canada’s fish and their habitats.”