I gave the following 10-minute speech today (March 24th) in the House of Commons on an Opposition day motion calling on the Conservative government to add microbeads to the list of toxic substances under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act.
My speech on microbeads - small pieces of plastic found in consumer products like facial cleaners, shower gel and toothpaste - begins in the year 1997.
Eighteen years ago in the waters off the northeast coast of Newfoundland.
And an incident that came to mind the instant I heard of this Opposition Day Motion outlining how microbeads could have serious health impacts, and calling on this government to add microbeads to the list of toxic substances managed by the federal government under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act.
Now getting to my story.
The year 1997 was the 500th anniversary of John Cabot’s discovery of Newfoundland, and a great year in the history of the world it was, Mr. Speaker.
Newfoundland and Labrador being the God’s country that it is.
In 1997, to mark the 500th anniversary of John Coboto’s historic voyage from Bristol, England to Bonavista, Newfoundland a recreation of Cabot’s ship, The Matthew, was built and sailed from Bristol to Bonavista.
I was in Bristol back then, Mr. Speaker, a young journalist covering the launch of The Matthew for The Telegram, the daily newspaper in St. John’s, Newfoundland.
Hundreds of thousands of people watched The Matthew sail down the River Avon.
What a sight, Mr. Speaker.
Thousands more people were in Bonavista, Newfoundland weeks later, Mr. Speaker — including the Queen herself — when The Matthew sailed in the harbour.
And a grey foggy day it was, Mr. Speaker, just like the great Newfoundland song.
Once The Matthew arrived in Newfoundland, Mr. Speaker, over a period of several more weeks she proceeded to circumnavigate the island of Newfoundland.
Everyday Newfoundlanders and Labradorians — from secretaries and plumbers, lawyers and businessmen, reporters and politicians — took overnight trips on The Matthew from one leg to the next, one community to the next.
I sailed on The Matthew, Mr. Speaker, on the first overnight leg from Bonavista to nearby Grate’s Cove.
The memory will always be with me, Mr. Speaker.
The Matthew - a wooden caravel, 78-feet long and 50 tonnes - bobbed in the North Atlantic like a cork in a bottle.
It was nasty weather, Mr. Speaker — old timers called that kind of weather caplin squall, a mixture of bone-chilling winds, rain and fog that typically hammers the Newfoundland coast in late June just as the caplin are coming inshore to spawn.
I took my turn at the wheel, Mr. Speaker, and I was on the deck of The Matthew the next morning when the sun rose and finally started to burn the fog to shreds.
And what’s the very first thing I saw in the waters off Grate’s Cove, Mr. Speaker?
What was the very first thing I saw in the waters off Grate’s Cove aboard The Matthew, the recreation of John Cabot’s ship?
A plastic shopping bag, Mr. Speaker, a plastic shopping bag floating in the ocean.
I can tell you with certainty, Mr. Speaker, that John Cabot didn’t see a plastic shopping bag.
He was too busy, as legend has it, dropping buckets over the side of The Matthew pulling in cod, Mr. Speaker.
Oh, and on a side note, Mr. Speaker, there’s a news story out today about how it may be another 10 years before the moratorium is lifted on northern cod, the same cod that Caboto caught in buckets.
By then the ban on commercial fishing on northern cod — which was first brought down in 1992 — will have lasted 33 years, Mr. Speaker.
A ban that was supposed to last two years.
And a moratorium that was instituted as a direct result of overfishing and federal government mismanagement, Mr. Speaker.
We’ve suffered for 33 years, Mr. Speaker.
Oh, and my apologies for yesterday during Question Period, Mr. Speaker, when I lost it in my seat after a Conservative MP, the member for Pitt Meadows-Maple Ridge-Mission, said his government’s management decisions are “always based on science.”
Mr. apology, Mr. Speaker, for reacting to such ridiculous statements.
Scientists under this Conservative government are known more for being muzzled than anything else.
Back to plastic.
As I said to start, Mr. Speaker, microbeads are small manufactured pieces of plastic used in consumer products like facial cleansers, shower gel and toothpaste.
Microbeads have been found in high concentrations in the Great Lakes, Mr. Speaker.
And if they’re found there, Mr. Speaker, you can bet a bushel of plastic bags that they’re found in the North Atlantic, in the waters off Newfoundland and Labrador.
There’s a bid by Memorial University, Mr. Speaker, to study ocean plastics, waste and cod fish consumption in Newfoundland.
Let’s hope that goes through.
New Democrats believe the best way to deal with pollution is to prevent it in the first place, Mr. Speaker.
Hard to argue with that.
Mr. Speaker, microbeads were first patented for use in cleaners in 1972.
But it wasn’t until the 1960s that manufactures started using them to replace more natural materials such as almonds, oatmeal and seal salt …
Alternatives to microbeads do exist, Mr. Speaker.
Because of that, they’re not considered an essential ingredient in cosmetics and personal care products.
If microbeads are not essential, Mr. Speaker, and if they’re known to cause harm to fish and other wildlife …
If microbeads cause asphyxiation or a blockage of organs in marine mammals …
If microbeads are not essential, and they’re found in fish eaten by people …
Why are we allowing them, Mr. Speaker?
Haven’t we learned yet that we put people first by putting the environment first?
Haven’t we learned that we put people first, by preventing pollution in the first place?
Mr. Speaker, in recent years, a $171 million sewage treatment plant has been built in St. John’s.
But wastewater treatment plans like the Riverhead Treatment Plant aren’t able to filter out microbeads because they’re too small and buoyant.
Mr. Speaker, there are hundreds of communities around Newfoundland and Labrador that don’t have sewage treatment plants.
Hundreds, Mr. Speaker.
Upgrading the $171 million treatment plant in St. John’s, Mr. Speaker, would cost tens of million of dollars more.
Where would that money come from, Mr. Speaker?
And there are no known ways to effectively remove microplastics after they make they’re way into the environment.
So Mr. Speaker, what do we want?
What do New Democrats want with regards to microbeads?
We want this government to take immediate action to designate microbead plastics as toxic under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act.
That would allow the Government of Canada to regulate, phase out or eliminate the use of microbeads used or produced in Canada.
Already, Mr. Spekaer, two states in the United Sates have banned the use of microbeads in personal care products.
Countries around the world are doing the same.
Here at home, Mr. Speaker, a private member’s bill has been introduced in Ontario.
But we need federal regulation, Mr. Speaker, one law for all provinces and territories.
What do New Democrats want overall, Mr. Speaker?
We want a clean environment.
We want healthy fish.
We want healthy people.
New Democrats want a level playing field for all businesses that manufacture products containing microbeads.
What do I want as a Member of Parliament for Newfoundland and Labrador?
I want the fish to come back, Mr. Speaker.
That’s wish one.
But an equally important wish is for this government, the Government of Canada to become a better steward of the environment.
Because more and more, Mr. Speaker, this Conservative government is failing the environment.