Alistair speaks on protection of fish habitat

Mr. Alistair MacGregor (Cowichan—Malahat—Langford, NDP):  

    Mr. Speaker, I am proud to rise in this House as a representative of rural communities on the coast of Vancouver Island in British Columbia. I can tell members with all honesty that my constituents in the rural communities of my riding are very happy with this bill. They are very happy to see these provisions reinstated.

    In the short time that I have to speak to the bill, I want to concentrate on one aspect of the bill that I think needs an amendment at committee. It has to do with the need for legal protection for environmental flows, which is the amount and type of water needed for fish and aquatic systems to flourish.

     I have presented many petitions in this House to deal with the weir at Lake Cowichan which controls the flow rates in the Cowichan River. It is a particularly important piece of infrastructure, especially during July and August when the flow rates are very low, endangering fish and fish habitat.

    When I presented petitions, the government's response acknowledged that summer low flows in the Cowichan River are a threat to fish and fish habitat, and that raising the Cowichan weir could provide additional water storage in the lake to deal with the problem. The government acknowledges that low flows are a danger to fish habitat, but we do not see the explicit protection in this legislation that I think is needed to protect those flow rates.

    It is not only in the Cowichan River. On the southwest coast of my riding, the Jordan River, a river which has been decimated by an old copper mine and by B.C. hydro dams, has seen its fish population absolutely wiped out. When the reservoir was opened up, the flow rates increased, and magically, the salmon returned. That is all it took. An increased flow rate was needed to dilute the copper that is in the water and to give the fish colder temperatures. They have a narrow bandwidth of temperatures in which they can survive.

    Also, if we have protections for flow rates, it would oblige the government to live up to its obligations to put those funds in to make sure that we have the infrastructure to control flow rates. It would allow tributaries of these rivers to act as important breeding grounds for salmon.

    I see my time is up. I am thankful for this small opportunity to comment on this bill, and I look forward on behalf of the great residents of Cowichan—Malahat—Langford to supporting it when the vote comes.