Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise this afternoon in support of Motion No. 104, sponsored by my colleague from Ottawa South. We have sat together in the House since our election, which was held the same year.
I would like to take a moment to pay tribute to my colleague, a great environmentalist and environmental lawyer who helped me a lot in my own journey on the issue of freshwater in Canada. He has often shared his knowledge with me.
I would also like to pay tribute to the hon. member for Pontiac, who is seated behind me and knew me before he was elected. As an environmental lawyer, he also offered me good advice. I contacted him before he was elected to seek his advice and to benefit from his knowledge on water and the environment.
I would like to speak a little bit about my riding because its geographical location is relevant to the debate on this motion. It is one of the reasons I am rising this evening to support the motion.
My riding could be called urban. It is a Montreal suburb covering the far west end of the Island of Montreal. What may be surprising is that it is almost 75% surrounded by water. There are few urban ridings in a similar situation. To the south of the riding is the St. Lawrence River, or more accurately Lake Saint-Louis, which is part of the St. Lawrence River, and to the north is the Rivière des Prairies. To the west of the riding is the Lake of Two Mountains, and those somewhat familiar with the local geography will know that this is where the St. Lawrence and Ottawa rivers meet.
The Ottawa River is a tributary of the St. Lawrence River, and its waters empty into Lake Saint-Louis. Boaters know that you can see both water flows—the one that is a bit cloudy comes from the Ottawa River, and the clearer other is the flow of the St. Lawrence coming from Ontario.
In short, what happens in the Ottawa River and the Ottawa River watershed has a direct impact on the environment surrounding my riding.
What I just finished saying in French is that what happens in the Ottawa River directly impacts my community because it is located where the Ottawa River and the St. Lawrence River meet. Also, as I was saying before, boaters tell me they can actually see where the Ottawa River enters Lake Saint-Louis as it is water of a different colour.
The Ottawa River is a majestic river in its own right. I will describe some of its characteristics. It is 1,270 kilometres in length. Its watershed covers 140,000 square kilometres. It has 17 tributaries. It includes 200 municipalities, including the cities of Ottawa and Gatineau. It provides drinking water for over one million people. It has 50 dams and hydroelectric generating stations. It includes 300 smaller impoundments or reservoirs and water control structures. It includes over 30 beaches. Therefore, water quality is obviously very important to the people in the watershed who wish to use these beaches for recreation and to cool off in our very humid, hot summers in eastern Canada.
The watershed includes 85 species of fish and 300 species of birds. I am told its flow is greater than the flow of all tributaries in western Europe, which is pretty remarkable. This is not a small stream or a small river. It is a major river, and its watershed is therefore a major watershed in Canada.
So far, unfortunately, there is only one coordinating body that oversees some aspects of the river’s management, and of course I am speaking of the Ottawa River Regulation Planning Board, which apparently was instituted in 1983. It involves co-operation between the Ontario and Quebec governments principally for the integrated management of dams and reservoirs in the river for flood prevention and hydroelectric production. The whole point of the motion that has been brought forward is that, despite this long-standing co-operative body, the Ottawa River watershed deserves greater and broader attention.
There has been a step in the right direction. The Ontario and Quebec governments have created a joint committee on water management to protect their shared water resources. Our provinces are very much linked by shared waterways. Motion No. 104 really is the logical extension, one could say, of this earlier initiative to create this Ontario-Quebec joint committee on water management. In fact, Motion No. 104 would give body to this initial joint management structure.
My riding is on the St. Lawrence River, and the St. Lawrence River fortunately has been the object of some fairly long-standing governmental attention in the last 25 years, and I am speaking of course of the St. Lawrence Action Plan. The St. Lawrence Action Plan could serve in some way as a model for the kind of co-operative council that the hon. member for Ottawa South is working to create.
The St. Lawrence Action Plan has created a highly integrated vertical and horizontal management structure for essentially monitoring the St. Lawrence River and the banks along the St. Lawrence River and essentially being a framework for action both locally and at higher levels of government, action to preserve the St. Lawrence River.
One of the most interesting aspects of the St. Lawrence Action Plan is the comités ZIP. ZIP means zones d’intervention prioritaire, and there are 13 along the St. Lawrence River. Essentially, these ZIPs divide the St. Lawrence into ecological and urban zones. I suppose we could compare them to areas of concern, which we have in the Great Lakes and so on, but these ZIPs go a little beyond simply focusing on problematic areas of the St. Lawrence. Their main objective is to involve citizen and stakeholder participation. In other words, they act to encourage communities to take ownership in protecting their stretch of the St. Lawrence River. As a group, these 13 ZIPs are managed or coordinated by an organization called Stratégies Saint-Laurent, which is a collection of Quebec environmental groups headed by the Union québécoise pour la conservation de la nature. The UQCN plays a big role in coordinating these groups’ activities.
There is also stakeholder coordination at higher levels. There is what I would call a council of the St. Lawrence. It is not formally called that, but it involves many federal departments and many Quebec provincial government departments and other stakeholders, First Nations, who get together to oversee the management from higher levels of the St. Lawrence.