Gord Johns says Wednesday was an historic day for coastal communities when his private members motion to combat marine plastics pollution passed unanimously in the House of Commons.
Deflecting attention from himself, the Courtenay-Alberni MP credits the numerous individuals and organizations in his constituency who helped bring the issue to the attention of Ottawa.
“We started this campaign two years ago,” Johns said Thursday from Ottawa. “It’s been an incredible effort from the people that are out there doing the hard work everyday cleaning up on the beaches, to those environmental organizations, and the businesses and residents that donate to those organizations to help pick up the tab.”
He also notes support from local governments, and from school children who have written letters to the prime minister.
“I think this shows that when we feel hopeless on an issue so big, that it gives people hope that government will listen, that we can tackle these huge issues. And we have to,” Johns said. “Canadians use more plastic than any other country in the developed world. We have to ween ourselves off our addiction.”
The motion (M-151) calls for a national strategy to reduce and eventually eliminate plastic pollution in aquatic environments. Drawing on a UVic study — Seven Reforms to Address Plastic Pollution — it identifies actions to fill a void when it comes to preventing and disposing of plastic pollution in oceans and other bodies of water.
Johns’ campaign started to take shape after the Hanjin marine debris spill in November 2016 when 35 shipping containers broke apart and washed onto shores of the west coast of Vancouver Island.
“That’s when we saw that there was no legislation. There was a regulatory and legislative void.”
M-151 recommendations include regulatory action aimed at reducing plastic debris discharge from stormwater outfalls, and consumer/industrial use of disposable plastics. It also calls for annual funding for cleanup of derelict fishing gear, community beach cleanups, and education/outreach campaigns.
Johns says the fight to combat plastic pollution in Canadian waterways started in the Courtenay-Alberni riding.
“Two years ago, people thought we were crazy when we were raising this issue in Ottawa. Now they get it, because it’s not showing up on our beaches and in our aquifers. Anyone who drinks water is celebrating today.”
Some projections indicate plastics will outweigh fish in oceans by 2050 — unless our habits change.
“Right now, we’re on pace to double our plastic usage by 2040,” Johns said, noting European countries have set a target to ban most single use plastics by 2021. “That’s leadership. That’s what we need Canada to do. Stop talking about voluntary agreements and voluntary charters…We have to be stewards with this enormous responsibility we have.”
M-151 is the second Johns’ motion to pass unanimously in the last 30 days. On Nov. 6, he moved an Opposition Day motion on behalf of the NDP to re-invest $124 million in unspent funds for veterans’ benefits and services.
“It’s going to make a big change in the lives of veterans,” Johns said. “The government’s responded already. They’re injecting money immediately after that motion.”