Will Canada object to US Navy underwater bomb testing with new president elect?

Elizabeth May (Saanich—Gulf Islands)
2020-11-17 18:27 [p.2035]

Madam Speaker, I am raising an issue today in our Adjournment Proceedings that I originally raised on October 2 in question period and again on November 5.
Tragically, in that intervening time the government did nothing to address the concern I was raising and it is a matter that has now had a significant change for the worse, in that the U.S. government has now approved seven years of naval testing activities in the habitat of our southern resident killer whales. We are now in a position where I am not asking the government just to take action, but to remedy its failure to take action when the comment period was open.
Here, in brief, are the facts: The U.S. Navy proposes to run offshore testing throughout the extent of the Pacific offshore from Alaska to California, of course including the waters of the Salish Sea and the critical habitat of one of our most iconic endangered species. The southern resident killer whale population is now down to 74 individual animals, and they are threatened by many things.

They are threatened by lack of food supply and from the failure to take action. It was 14 years, just to make note, between when the species was identified as endangered and when a recovery plan came out. We know we need to protect their supply of chinook salmon. That is their favourite food. They are starving.
We know they need to be protected from ship strikes and increased shipping activity, yet the current government is pushing ahead with the now taxpayer-owned and funded Trans Mountain pipeline with an increase in tankers in their waters. We know they are threatened by ship strikes of other vessels, including not just ship strikes but the intrusive activity of whale-watching vessels. We created a sanctuary zone for the whales but we have not enforced it. That is in the area around Saturna Island, Mayne Island and Pender Island. It is not being enforced and their so-called sanctuary, which is the size of a postage stamp, and their habitat are being intruded upon without penalties and without fines.

Here is what a responsible government would do. I am going to quote from a letter from an elected official who said, “Simply put, [this jurisdiction] considers the level of incidental takings of marine mammals in [these naval exercises] to be unacceptable.” The governor of the State of Washington, Governor Jay Inslee, wrote those words in July 2020, urging the U.S. government not to approve these naval tests.

In response, Canada has said nothing. Every time I have raised it on the floor of the House of Commons, every time anyone in the media has asked any minister in the current government, we are told, and this is the talking point and I am sure we will hear it soon, that the southern resident killer whales are important to Canada and we will work with our partners, that being, I guess, the U.S. Navy, while they conduct sonar tests, while they use torpedoes, while they detonate bombs and they use underwater drones. These activities could not make matters worse for our population of southern resident killer whales.
We should have been taking a strong stand, telling the U.S. Navy what the governor of Washington told them: This is dangerous for our whales. What they call “incidental takings”, as many as 243 incidental takings of key requirements for the southern resident killer whales over seven years, are completely unacceptable.

Therefore, I put this to the minister in debate tonight: What will we do to take this up with the incoming president-elect? Can we put this on the list of things where Canada needs action from the U.S.?

Terry Beech (Burnaby North—Seymour)
2020-11-17 18:31 [p.2036]

Madam Speaker, our government is committed not just to the protection of our southern resident killer whales, but to actively investing in restoring their populations.

This endangered species has cultural significance for indigenous people as well as for coastal communities in British Columbia, all British Columbians and people right across the country. Obviously it is completely unacceptable for any harm to come to our precious killer whales. It is important for British Columbians and all Canadians to understand the significant measures and investments we are making to restore this species and to improve their habitat.

With 74 individual southern resident killer whales remaining and a population that has declined, despite the recent addition of a new calf, it is more essential than ever that we work in collaboration with all stakeholders to recover the species. I had the opportunity to work directly with some of Canada and the United States’ top experts in this field when we held our southern resident killer whales symposium only a couple years ago, and this has led to many strong initiatives.

For the last five years our government has taken unprecedented steps across many different ministries to aid in this recovery. This includes regulatory changes, such as those seen in the Fisheries Act and the Oceans Act, which have to date increased our total marine protected areas by more than 14 times since 2015.

Building on the $1.5-billion oceans protection plan and the $167.4-million whales initiative, our government has committed an additional $61.5 million to help deliver on further measures to protect and recover the southern resident killer whale. These investments contribute to additional research, monitoring and management measures to support the mitigation of the primary threats to the southern resident killer whales.

As well, in May 2020, the Government of Canada announced enhanced management measures to further support the protection and recovery of the southern resident killer whale. These management measures build on efforts from past years. They focus on increasing prey availability, reducing physical and acoustic disturbance and addressing contaminants through a variety of initiatives.

Measures introduced this year reflect advice from first nations, the southern resident killer whale technical working groups, the indigenous and multi-stakeholder advisory group and from public consultations. As a transboundary species, the need for cross-border collaboration is critical. The Government of Canada appreciates the ongoing close co-operation with the governments of the United States, Washington State and British Columbia. Through this co-operation, we have reinforced our commitment to work together to mitigate the threats to the survival and recovery of the southern resident killer whale and to maintain a long-term strategic plan for their recovery.

The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration led the review of the proposal by the United States Navy to conduct training and testing activities in their waters, from November 2020 to November 2027. Fisheries and Oceans Canada is engaged with our U.S. counterparts on this matter to ensure a common understanding of the planned activities and mitigation measures, with particular attention being paid to the southern resident killer whale.
NOAA has indicated an adaptive management component to the final rule that was issued and has demonstrated a willingness to work collaboratively on this file. This allows for the consideration of new information over the course of activities and the consideration of modifications of mitigation and monitoring measures. Our close partnership has proven successful in the past and it will remain important that we continue to work to help ensure that we both protect and restore this endangered and iconic species.

Elizabeth May (Saanich—Gulf Islands)
2020-11-17 18:35 [p.2036]

Madam Speaker, I am afraid, as predicted, that was a pathetic response. I am very sorry the parliamentary secretary could not find it in his talking points to say that the government would raise this with President-elect Biden, that it would take up the fact that the State of Washington thinks that what the U.S. Navy is proposing to do and what NOAA has shamefully signed off on is acceptable. It is unacceptable.

We have recent evidence, which the parliamentary secretary should know because I have raised it in the House, that the tests by NATO off the coast of Scotland last month also led to the death of whales stranded. Bottlenose whales were found along the shores, affected by the sonar from the testing of the NATO military.

With 74 animals critically endangered, we should know that we are not doing enough. The government needs to stop patting itself on the back and start protecting our southern resident killer whales.

Terry Beech (Burnaby North—Seymour)
2020-11-17 18:36 [p.2037]

Madam Speaker, the assertion the member has made that our government is doing nothing is simply incorrect. Our government is not only committed to the protection of our southern resident killer whales, but fully dedicated to the recovery of this iconic species. We have taken significant steps to address key threats to their survival and recovery, and have invested more than a quarter of a billion dollars in protections, habitat restorations and legislative changes.

As it is a transboundary species, I believe the co-operation of the United States will be critical to our shared efforts, and of course we are engaged in those conversations. The department is engaged with NOAA on this matter to ensure a common understanding of the planned activities and to ensure that our whales are kept safe.