Call to create national plan to fight plastic waste gets full House support

Posted on December 10, 2018 in Policy Context – Politics/Federal
Dec. 6, 2018.   By

A motion calling for Canada to create a national strategy to combat plastics pollution received unanimous support in the House of Commons on Wednesday.

By a vote of 288 to 0, M-151 will now move on to committee for study and to the environment department to start work.

Gord Johns, the NDP MP for Courtenay—Alberni who put the motion forward, was floored by the overwhelming support.

“Even a month ago, we didn’t think they would pass it. A year ago we didn’t think any other party would support it other than the Greens and the Bloc,” he said. “We’ve come a long way.”

He gives full credit for that to those who have been on the front lines, cleaning up beaches, educating others about the perils of plastic and pushing for change, as well as the 170,000 people who signed a petition supporting the motion and local governments that did the same.

Johns is also grateful to colleagues who reached out, asked questions about the issue, and then threw their support behind him.

“They put the environment first, ahead of partisan politics,” he said.

“This is a commitment the government has just made, and all MPs have made, that we’re going to take action. We are all united on this issue.”

Introduced last November, the motion calls on the federal government to develop a national strategy to attack the root cause of plastic waste in the ocean, and to help organizations working to preserve coastal communities. Drawing on a report from the University of Victoria’s Environmental Law Centre, it presented seven directives to effectively remedy the problem of plastic pollution in our waters:

Create a permanent, dedicated, and annual funding for community-led cleanup projects;

Reduce and regulate consumer and industrial use of single-use plastics;

Create a plan to clean up derelict fishing gear;

Promote education and outreach campaigns on the root causes and negative environmental effects of plastic pollution;

Extend producer responsibility; and

Address the root problem and redesign the plastic economy.While Environment Minister Catherine McKenna and Fisheries Minister Jonathan Wilkinson have been pushing against plastics, including at the G7 earlier this year, Johns said Canada hasn’t done enough, particularly when it comes to legislation and regulations.

“We’re in a crisis situation. We need urgent action to limit the incredible amount of damage that is being done,” he said. “We know plastics are in our rivers, streams and ocean, and are a growing threat to our ecosystem, but currently there are no laws to protect our waters from them.”

Canada uses more plastics than any other country in the developed world.

A 2017 report from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, in partnership with the World Economic Forum, predicted that by 2050, the amount of plastic in the ocean will outweigh fish. By that point, it’s estimated the ocean will contain at least 937 million tonnes of plastic, compared to 895 million tonnes of fish.

“We’ve got to wean ourselves,” Johns said.

Given that Canada is home to the most lakes in the world and the longest coastline, he said we should be leaders as stewards for the environment and champions of protecting water, but that’s not the case.

“In fact, we’re lagging far behind. So many countries are taking action and showing that it can be done, in ways that still promote a vibrant economy and protect ecosystems.”

The good news is Canada doesn’t have to look far to find a way forward, as there is plenty that can be learned from those jurisdictions that have taken leadership.

“We need to apply their successes here in Canada,” Johns said.

His colleagues in the House would appear to agree. There were plenty of thumbs-up from MPs as they voted, and a standing ovation when the motion passed.

McKenna gave him a nod as she voted and came over to congratulate him after the vote.

“I told her I’m committed to continuing to work with the government on this,” Johns said. “There’s been a movement that’s been created in the last couple of years, but the real work begins now. This is an opportunity for Canada to find a better path forward.”

He added: “This is a big win for the environment. Anyone who drinks water should be celebrating today.”

Holly Lake is an Ottawa-based reporter for iPolitics.

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