Madam Speaker, today I will be sharing my time with the member for Edmonton Centre.
It is a pleasure to stand today and address the Speech from the Throne, but before doing so please let me thank the voters of Mission—Matsqui—Fraser Canyon for putting their trust in me. To my core campaign team, Jeff Wilson, Alison Rachel, Baljinder Brar, Marc Vella, Christopher di Armani, Jagjit Toor, Jalen Kropf and Sukhpreet Kang, I am thankful for their efforts and contributions. To all my volunteers and donors, I thank them for their time and generous financial support. My wife Kathleen has sacrificed and given so much to allow me to stand in this House. I thank her from the bottom of my heart.
I thank my two boys, Declyn and Nicholas, for their sacrifices and the sacrifices to come. Their dad is here to serve, set an example and fight for a better future for all Canadians. They are both young, but if they learn anything from my time here and what it took to get here, it should be to fight for what they believe in, be relentless in their efforts for excellence and do it all for the glory of God.
Turning to my riding of Mission—Matsqui—Fraser Canyon, it is an enormous riding, encompassing parts of the Fraser Valley Regional District, Thompson-Nicola Regional District, and Squamish-Lillooet Regional District. My riding is one of the most beautiful regions in all of Canada, with endless potential. It is rich in natural resources, fisheries, rail transportation and agricultural land. The area is a world-class tourist destination and a nature lover's paradise. We are home to world-class river rafting in Lytton. Rugged Lillooet hosts the award-winning Fort Berens Estate Winery and a burgeoning agricultural sector. There is the Sasquatch ski resort in Harrison Mills. Ashcroft features the vital Ashcroft Terminal, a key component of Canada's Asia-Pacific gateway and a key interior port for the Canadian Pacific and Canadian National railways.
The Fraser Valley boasts the richest and most productive agricultural land in all of Canada. We have the highest farm gate sales per capita. The community of Yale is intricately tied to the history of British Columbia, the gold rush and the foundation of our province. First nations have inhabited these lands since before recorded history, and all have a common connection to the Fraser River. The Stó:lo people, for example, are the people of the river.
Mission—Matsqui—Fraser Canyon is 22,000 square kilometres of ruggedness and complexity that literally spans climates and cultures, between the Fraser Valley and Fraser Canyon regions. This brings me to the challenges that we face today on the Fraser River, challenges that our salmon, sturgeon, steelhead, eulachon and many other species face as well. These challenges were not even touched upon during the Speech from the Throne from the Liberal government. Pacific salmon are an iconic feature of British Columbia, and the Fraser River is one of the most productive river systems, if not the most productive river system, in the entire world. The future viability of some of the most threatened populations of these once-vibrant salmon species is under threat.
This brings me to the Big Bar landslide. Satellite imagery confirms that over a year ago, a landslide occurred on the Fraser River, just north of Lillooet B.C. in the northern part of my riding near the Big Bar ferry crossing. A large rock slab calved off upstream in a narrow portion of the river, creating a significant blockage and resulting in an over 16-foot high waterfall. However, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans only became aware of the Big Bar landslide last June. Since then, to its credit, it has been working with provincial and indigenous partners to address salmon passage around and over the obstruction. Sadly, this is too little and too late for many of the salmon that attempted to return to their natal spawning grounds this fall. Approximately 60,000 fish were captured, stored in tanks and transported past the obstruction by helicopter or other means, while others made it through when water levels subsided. However, Fisheries and Oceans has said that the majority of the fish that did make it through were too stressed to spawn, and it has yet to release the mortality numbers of those transported around the slide.
In a year of already record-low returns, this will devastate future generations of salmon in the upper Fraser.
There could very well be a total collapse of the salmon stocks above the slide. That is not fearmongering. In fact, scientists from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans reported to the Pacific Salmon Commission that there is “a meaningful chance of extinction” for three salmon runs as a direct result of the Big Bar landslide.
Despite this, the federal government only issued an emergency request for information to the private sector to solicit plans and solutions for how to solve this crisis on November 26 of this year. That was two weeks ago, for a landslide that occurred in October of 2018 and that has been on the radar of the authorities since June 2019. That is simply not fast enough for the many indigenous communities, hunters and anglers who rely on these fish for their commercial, ceremonial and cultural well-being.
I have heard directly from numerous concerned individuals and share the frustration of those who have demanded and continue to demand quicker action to save our iconic wild salmon in British Columbia. Just this week, the Pacific Salmon Foundation called this a salmon crisis, and I join with the first nations leadership council in British Columbia in calling on the federal government to declare a state of emergency. If the work to remove the slide debris and remediate the area is not completed now, over the winter months, when water levels are lowest, then next season's returning salmon will again be impacted and threatened with extinction.
As a side note on British Columbia history, a natural slide occurred during the construction of the railway in British Columbia in 1914, and it took over 50 years for the fish to maintain their stocks after that slide.
Therefore, I call on the federal government to take whatever immediate, extraordinary action is necessary to get workers and resources to the site, declare a state of emergency and free up the funds necessary to immediately solve this crisis and save the fish.
I would like to thank my NDP colleagues, including the member for Courtenay—Alberni who has raised this issue in response to the Speech from the Throne. I look forward to working with all sides of this House to address this crisis. This is not a political issue, it is a Canadian issue that we must work on together.
After question period, I met with the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, and she is aware of this crisis and is doing her best as a new minister to address this. I will be holding her to account to make sure our fish are saved.
I wish I could say that the Big Bar landslide is the only major threat to the Fraser River watershed and the wildlife that call this ecosystem their home, but unfortunately that is not the case. In the southernmost part of my riding, between the cities of Abbotsford and Mission, the District of Mission has been working tirelessly to replace its sewage pipeline, which crosses beneath the Fraser River to the sewage treatment plant in Abbotsford. Close to 50,000 people rely on this critical piece of infrastructure. The existing pressurized pipe is over 30 years old, at capacity and at risk of imminent failure. According to Mission's engineers, it is not a question of “if” but “when” this sewage pipeline fails. The environmental devastation of raw sewage lining the banks of the Fraser River would be unprecedented.
In 2017, the District of Mission was allocated $6.9 million from senior levels of government, but only a small portion of that funding has actually been transferred to date. Since that time, construction costs have skyrocketed, and government review after government review has bogged down the process with red tape. An immediate cash injection is needed to see this project through. This will provide an essential service to an expanding community and ensure our environment is protected for future generations, as the District of Mission in the Fraser Valley continues to grow at an accelerated pace. I cannot stress enough the importance of moving quickly on this critical infrastructure issue.
In conclusion, the health of the Fraser River ecosystem is far too important to leave to chance. As previously mentioned, this year's salmon returns were already troublingly low. Faced with development pressure, warming waters, climate change, poaching and overharvesting, our salmon cannot afford additional stressors. There are viable, timely solutions to these looming challenges, but only if the federal government and this Parliament take action now. I stand ready, as a member of the Conservative Party, to work with the Minister of Infrastructure and Communities, the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans and the Minister of Environment on these pressing issues.