Speech on Budget 2010

As we know, today is International Women's Day, so I thought I would take a moment to tell the House about some of the incredible women in my riding. I am proud to say in New Westminster, Coquitlam and Port Moody there are many women making significant contributions to our communities in the areas of education, health care, local businesses and social and community services.

Both the president of the New Westminster Chamber of Commerce and the chair of the Tri-Cities Chamber of Commerce are women. The CEO of the major hospital in my riding, the Royal Columbian Hospital and the president of the Crossroads Hospice Society are women.

The Austin Heights Business Improvement Association and the two largest non-profit community service providers in my riding all have women as their executive directors.

I have the honour to share this riding with two provincial NDP MLAs, Diane Thorne and Dawn Black. Both are forces to be reckoned with.

Notwithstanding the pride I feel about my riding and the high-profile women who are helping to shape it, I know we can and must do better over the decades to come to address women's issues.

Last week the government tabled its budget I was very disappointed. First, on the west coast we just witnessed a major collapse of Fraser River salmon run. Yet in this budget there was not a single reference to salmon. This is incredulous. West coast salmon are a significant component of British Columbia's and Canada's economic activity.

In an article that appeared in the Vancouver Sun this past weekend entitled, “Forecast not looking good for B.C.'s salmon stocks this year”, writer Stephen Hume makes a case for the importance of salmon to British Columbians, and I will add “Canadian”, economy.

For the benefit of the House, I thought I would share with the hon. members some of what he says. He says:

Another disastrous season for B.C.'s iconic wild salmon appears to be unfolding even as yet another inquiry gets underway, this time into the collapse of last year's Fraser River sockeye runs.

Meanwhile, some scientists in the department of fisheries and oceans are warning that the outlook for 2010 is already worse than it was in 2009, when only about 10 per cent of expected Fraser River sockeye returns materialized.

Conservation concerns during the 2009 collapse of sockeye runs returning to the Fraser forced federal fisheries authorities to close commercial sockeye fisheries and first nations' food fisheries, which are important both to subsistence and cultural practices in many communities. The inquiry, struck last November and led by B.C. Supreme Court Justice Bruce Cohen, isn't expected to make an interim report before August, with a final report not expected until 2011.

The 2010 forecasts could have serious implications for aboriginal, commercial and recreational fisheries, the fish-processing sector and nature-based tourism. These industries represent a combined economic value in excess of $2 billion a year for the B.C. economy.

Earlier this week, letters from the department of fisheries and oceans were circulated to chiefs, councillors and aboriginal fisheries managers notifying them of the preliminary stock estimates and possible conservation measures. Ottawa has also confirmed it is deferring treaty negotiations involving salmon until after the inquiry into salmon declines makes its findings.

Forecasting salmon returns is a notoriously inexact process. Runs can be influenced by many variables, including weather that affects water temperatures and can influence in-river survival and disease outbreaks, mistimed harvesting during migrations and poorly understood conditions affecting ocean survival.

However, based on estimates from previous spawning escapements and recent ocean survival rates, early assessments for salmon abundance in 2010 predict that only 29 of the 88 stocks evaluated on the West Coast will be at or above the target abundance for sustaining or rebuilding depleted or declining runs.

He goes on to say how difficult and important it is to manage the fishery. He further states:

Although 2009 was a catastrophe for commercially valuable Fraser River sockeye and triggered the judicial inquiry--harvest of these stocks is jointly managed under treaty arrangements between Canada and the United States--a dismal outlook for chinook salmon in 2010 will be of equal concern.

On many spawning grounds, 2009 marked the third successive year in which the number of fish failed to replace even the parental spawning abundance.

On the Cowichan River, once so famous a stream that anglers' catches merited reports in The New York Times, the return of natural-spawning chinooks in 2009 was the lowest ever recorded.

The abundance of wild spawning stock on Vancouver Island's outer coast was the lowest it's been since 1995.

Coho stocks returning to the upper Fraser and its tributaries, the lower Fraser and streams flowing into Georgia Strait, all continue to be of concern due to declines and depressed abundance.

Chinook and coho are the linchpins of B.C.'s vigorous recreational fishery. Although sports anglers harvest only about three per cent of the total catch, research shows they take more than 30 per cent of the chinook and coho salmon caught in coastal waters.

Although counts vary, some recent studies show the recreational fishery sustains almost 7,500 jobs, paying $125 million a year in wages and benefits and more than $75 million a year in taxes to provincial and federal governments.

It generates almost $650 million a year in retail sales and distribution.

As members can hear, salmon are an important economic resource for all British Columbians. They provide both jobs and taxation revenue at the federal and provincial levels, yet the government has committed no funds to dealing with the depletion of the stocks that Mr. Hume talks about.

How can the government sit idly by while this very important resource is devastated? Many of us on the west coast have been asking ourselves how this tragedy came about. While there may not be one specific culprit, a definite trend has emerged over the past few years.

Are members of this House aware that there have been four previous investigations into the decline of Fraser River salmon stocks since 1992? For the benefit of other hon. members, I will briefly outline these:

  • In 1992 about a half-million sockeye disappeared en route to Fraser spawning grounds. Then fisheries minister John Crosbie named two eminent scientists to investigate..
  • In 1994, 1.3 million sockeye went missing. Then minister Brian Tobin appointed a panel to investigate and make recommendations.
  • In 2002, sockeye conservation was challenged by a threefold increase in estimates of abundance, uncertainty over mortality rates and a huge fight over allocation. Then minister Robert Thibault named a panel to investigate and make recommendations.
  • In 2004, 1.3 million sockeye went missing again, so then minister Gerald Regan named former judge Bryan Williams to head an investigatory panel.

Over the past 18 years, we have born witness to a disturbing trend. It even provoked four separate investigations and now the Cohen Commission is the fifth.

I submit to the House that this constitutes a problem that requires immediate intervention and serious attention in addition to the important findings the Cohen inquiry may determine. This forces the question: Where is the government's commitment to action on salmon and the environment?

Just as action on the environment is missing, so too is a concerted plan to address housing issues that affect many Canadians.

Many may have seen recently the B.C. government's advertisements proclaiming B.C. as the best place on earth. As someone not prone to exaggeration, let me just say that it is.

Residents of B.C. live in a province with one of the most stunning coastlines on the planet. Surrounded by breathtaking mountains and gorgeous ocean views, our province is beautiful. In fact, my riding is nestled between the Fraser River and the Burrard Inlet with the coast mountains as a stunning backdrop.

All this beauty attracts many people from around the world, which also affects the cost of living. The average cost of a home in my riding is over $600,000. This may get a small, three-bedroom home that may have been built half a century ago.

For many in my community, home ownership is-- 

The Acting Speaker (Ms. Denise Savoie):

I will have to interrupt the hon. member. He may be able to continue during questions and comments.

As a new member, he may not be aware but it is not a practice to mention the name of a sitting member, as there was a reference to the member for Halifax West.

Hon. Larry Bagnell (Yukon, Lib.):

Madam Speaker, I have two questions for the member. I asked one question a couple of months ago so, hopefully, as the fisheries critic he has more information on this, which he was not familiar with at the time.

As the member knows, it is not only the lower part of British Columbia where the salmon are threatened. There are different stocks in the north, in particular, chinook salmon.

What is the Department of Fisheries doing to cut back on the pollock bycatch, the biggest fishery in the world taking our salmon by accident? What about the Japanese fish farms? Are they having an effect? What about the warming of the Pacific Ocean? What type of research is the Department of Fisheries doing to find out the real determinates of these problems?

My second question relates to a point he raised about land claims and putting them on hold until this study is finished. I do not think the people involved are very happy that their lives are being put on hold for months on end while these studies are being done. Why can we not, as they often do in land claims, set that aside to be determined at a later date and get on with these negotiations?

The Province of B.C. and the first nations people are ready. We know how upset Canadians were when their lives were put on hold for a couple of months by the government when it prorogued. We can just imagine how these people must feel when their lives are put on hold endlessly because they cannot continue the negotiations of these land claims that are almost finished except for the fisheries element.

Mr. Fin Donnelly:

Madam Speaker, the member mentions a number of very good issues: the pollock bycatch, the Japanese aquaculture and ocean warming. There are many issues that affect the west coast fishery. Unfortunately, Parliament was prorogued at the end of December and we have not, as a fisheries committee, been able to meet until today to address these issues. I want to ask these and many other questions. I believe on Wednesday we will get to that point where we can start to discuss the work plan. I will be happy to bring these and many other issues forward at that time.

In terms of the comment on land claims, I quite agree that these land claims are important and they must be dealt with. I do not believe this is something that can be put on hold. They must continue to be addressed as they are very important for many people, and not just the people in my riding of New Westminster—Coquitlam but many people in British Columbia and across the country. I agree that this issue must be addressed.