MP Report: Defending our oceans

Murray Rankin serves as Member of Parliament for Victoria

Spanning three oceans, Canada’s coastline is the longest in the world. Sadly, our oceans are increasingly threatened by rising temperatures, acidification and pollution. The impacts on humans, wildlife and the environment could be disastrous.

The University of Victoria’s Ocean Networks Canada monitors the country’s coasts to gather real-time data for scientific research. This research helps communities, governments and industries make informed, evidence-based decisions to promote better ocean management, disaster mitigation and environmental protection.

While we know that human activity has already caused significant changes in our oceans, important questions remain unanswered. How will marine ecosystems respond to increasing ocean acidification? How does the depletion of oxygen in coastal waters affect ecosystem services? What are the long-term effects of marine plastic pollution? These are of the questions Canadians need to address. Thankfully, organizations like ONC are working to answer them.

One concern right here at home is plastic pollution. A recent report by UVic’s Environmental Law Centre revealed that there are over 3,000 particles of plastics per cubic metre of seawater in the Strait of Georgia. It’s estimated that 90 percent of seabirds have plastic in their stomachs. Research like this has a big impact. In 2015, one of my NDP colleagues, Brian Masse, introduced a motion to ban harmful plastic microbeads in consumer products. I’m pleased to say that after years of effort that ban will go into effect on July 1 this year.

Plastic microbeads are just one of many pollutants that find their way into our oceans, but they’re a good example of how scientific research and evidence-based decision making can yield progress.

Unfortunately, a larger threat is looming. Despite the risks and against public opposition, the Prime Minister is still championing the Kinder MorganTrans Mountain oil pipeline and tanker project as being in the “national interest.” I fail to see how it can be in the national interest to retain the Harper government’s emissions targets, refuse to adequately consider the project’s upstream and downstream impacts, and dismiss the environmental and economic disaster that our coast would suffer in the wake of a major spill from a bitumen tanker.

These concerns aren’t speculative. We need only look at the record of Kinder Morgan’s existing pipeline. 82 spills reported in the last 57 years; averaging more than one each year. A bigger pipeline and more tankers crisscrossing our narrow, coastal waterways can only increase the chance of a major spill.

Like many Canadians, I expected more from Mr. Trudeau. I took him at his word when he said on August 20, 2015 in Esquimalt that the approval process would be “redone”. But it wasn’t.

My question to the Liberals is this: since when is breaking election promises, accepting unscientific assessments and inadequate consultation with First Nations, threatening endangered orcas, risking food security, and playing Russian roulette with BC’s coastal environment and economy in the national interest?

A couple of weeks ago, hundreds of fellow Victorians gathered around my community office on Fort Street to voice their rejection of the Kinder Morgan pipeline. I was given a symbolic gift of water from the Pacific Ocean. In return, I presented one of the organizers, Charlene Simon, with a Canadian flag to symbolize that taking steps to protect our precious coastline and the local economies that depend on it is exactly what’s in the national interest.

People in Victoria have told me that we cannot allow the Liberal government in Ottawa to gamble with BC’s coastline and economy. Those fighting to protect the west coast deserve to be recognized as proud Canadians for their efforts.

Whether you’re a surfer or a scientist, the voices of those who live, work and play on our oceans need to be heard in Ottawa now more than ever.

Murray Rankin serves as Member of Parliament for Victoria.

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