[Recorded by Electronic Apparatus]

Thursday, October 21, 1999

• 0908


The Chairman (Mr. Wayne Easter (Malpeque, Lib.)): I'll call the meeting to order.

The minister is slightly late. While we're waiting for him, there are a couple of things we could maybe discuss. I understand that the officials and the minister as well have to leave, and I think we need to consider that they said they're willing to come back at a date in the not-too-distant future. We need to decide whether or not we want to do that. We can discuss it at steering committee, or we can discuss it now while we're waiting.

What we had in mind as a preliminary for next week was that on Tuesday we'd have people come in and explain Mr. MacKenzie's role, and they would be available for questioning. On Thursday we would have Bernard Christmas, who is a Mi'kmaq negotiator, on video conference from Halifax, as well as Mike Belliveau from the Maritime Fishermen's Union, to look at the two sides and go from there. So that's what we have in mind at the moment. We'll have a steering committee meeting later. But while we're waiting, I was wondering if anybody wanted to toss around when we request the minister back, because we are going to be short of time, and I am disappointed that he's late.

Mr. John Cummins (Delta—South Richmond, Ref.): We could read his speech, and when he gets here, we could get at him.

The Chairman: The meeting was called for 9 o'clock, and I really think it's inappropriate. When the meeting is set for 9 o'clock and he's short of time, he should be here at 9 o'clock. As chair, I'm disappointed in that, and I don't mind admitting it at all.


Mr. Peter Stoffer (Sackville—Musquodoboit Valley—Eastern Shore, NDP): Thank you, Mr. Chair.

In terms of who we have for next Thursday in terms of Mr. Christmas and Mr. Belliveau, is it possible to get at the same time representatives from P.E.I. and Nova Scotia as well? I'm thinking of Mr. Rory McLellan of the PEIFA, for example, and someone such as either Mr. Wayne Spinney down in the Yarmouth area or Mr. Wayne Eddy from the Halifax area, as well as other aboriginal people, so that we don't just get one person's view but there's more of a maritime flavour to this.

• 0910

The Chairman: I was thinking that in the following week, Peter, we could get into more witnesses. We can talk about that at steering committee. We need a cross-section for the following week, including from the Gaspé region.

The minister is here now. Maybe we can go directly to the minister.

Mr. Mark Muise (West Nova, PC): Mr. Chairman, what is the questioning timeframe? Since we're short of time, how much time do we have?

The Chairman: It's ten minutes for Reform, five for the Bloc, ten for the Liberals, five for Reform, five for the Liberals, five for the NDP, and five for the Liberals.

An hon. member: And five for the PC.

The Chairman: And five for the PC.

Mr. Mark Muise: Good. I'm very glad I asked that question, Mr. Chairman. Thank you.

The Chairman: We're going to try to get everyone in, Mark.

Mr. Sarkis Assadourian (Brampton Centre, Lib.): Can I ask a question? With regard to the meeting on Tuesday, has that been set, or can it be changed?

The Chairman: We'll catch them at steering committee later, Sarkis.

Mr. Sarkis Assadourian: I hope you keep it in mind, because many of us are on many committees. So if you would take that into consideration, I would appreciate that. Thank you.

The Chairman: Thank you.

Welcome, Minister Dhaliwal. I gather you have a short statement, and then we'll go directly to questions.

Just for the interest of the media and the committee, pursuant to Standing Order 108(2), we are looking at the implications of the September 17 Supreme Court decision on Marshall on the management of fisheries in the Atlantic region.

Welcome, Minister.

Hon. Herb Dhaliwal (Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, Lib.): Good morning to all the committee members. Congratulation on your appointments and, Mr. Chairman, on your appointment as well.

Certainly, I'm familiar with the committee. As you know, I was a member of this committee for a number of years when I first came to Parliament. I know the work you do, and I know about the excellent work of the members who served on the committee with me and their knowledge in this whole area. So I'm glad to come before you for the first time as the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans.

What I would like to do today, Mr. Chairman, is make a short statement and then open it up to questions. I do apologize because I have to be at cabinet committee this morning to make a presentation, so I am limited on time. But I want to assure you that if you want me back at some future time, I would certainly take every opportunity to come back before this committee.

It is appropriate that our first discussion is on the very important judgment handed down by the Supreme Court in the Marshall case, as the chairman has said. The Marshall case judgment is a landmark decision. While there remain aspects of the judgment that require further clarification and interpretation, the dimensions of the judgment as it pertains to fisheries are becoming clearer.

The court affirmed that the modern-day beneficiaries of the treaty have a right to fish, hunt, and gather for the purpose of trade. The court has told us that the right is limited. It does not extend to the accumulation of wealth, nor does it provide for an unregulated harvest. The federal government retains its authority and responsibility for the overall management of the fishery.

Implementing the judgment will not be a simple task. The challenge is to accommodate the treaty right while at the same time remaining sensitive to the interests of those who rely on the fishery for their livelihood. The solution must involve all parties coming together and seeking measures that will balance the rights and interests of aboriginals and non-aboriginals, and we must accomplish that in a manner fully consistent with conservation.

In terms of fishery resources, we have been working with the fishing industry and with aboriginals for several years now to increase aboriginal people's access to the fisheries. What the Supreme Court of Canada judgment in the Marshall case provides is a much greater impetus to accelerate that process and to provide aboriginal people with a meaningful role in co-management.

The treaty right to fish, as affirmed in Marshall, is a reality that is here to stay. The voices that call for quick fixes or that promote civil disobedience and intolerance are doing a disservice to their neighbours and to themselves. Those tactics are futile and counterproductive and have the very unfortunate effect of creating tension and animosity within otherwise peaceful communities.

• 0915

At the same time, I would encourage bands that have chosen to exercise their right immediately to show restraint in their fishing activities and to respect their fishing regulations. Defiance of the rules by anyone is not acceptable.

This is an extremely difficult file with a great deal at stake for those involved and with heavy investment of emotion and anxiety. I do not expect things to be resolved overnight, but I am encouraged by the progress that has been achieved.

With respect to the short term, it has been evident that we have had some difficult situations to manage in a few areas. However, I wish to point out that the vast majority of native fishers are not currently on the water. They are giving us time to work out mutually acceptable arrangements.

I also commend the area 35 commercial fishermen and the chief of the Annapolis Valley First Nation for their cooperative effort to find a community-based solution to address the reopening of the commercial lobster fishery in the Bay of Fundy.

This issue has been a top priority from the moment the Supreme Court rendered its judgment. Since day one, my officials and I have been working non-stop with aboriginal leaders, representatives of the commercial fishing industry, and my provincial colleagues to address immediate and long-term solutions.

The issue was prominent in discussions with my provincial colleagues at both the Atlantic and national councils of fisheries ministers just days following the decision.

In a series of statements beginning on September 20, I have kept the media and the public informed of progress on this file. I have continuously kept in contact with aboriginal leaders and representatives of the fishing industry. In early October I met personally with the parties in both Ottawa and Atlantic Canada to hear their concerns and their views about potential solutions.

Based on these consultations, on October 10 I set out the direction that I believe in the short term best respects the treaty right to fish while providing for a regulated fishery. More recently I announced the appointment of James MacKenzie to represent the federal government in discussions about the implementation of the Marshall judgment as it pertains to east coast fisheries.

Mr. MacKenzie has already met with representatives of the interested parties and is laying the groundwork for arrangements that will allow the fishery to operate in a well-managed way into next year's season.

On Monday of this week, Mr. MacKenzie, my colleague Mr. Nault, and I met with the chiefs of the Atlantic Policy Congress and the Assembly of First Nations. I am pleased to report that there was agreement to address, on a priority basis, the issue of access to the fishery. At that meeting we were also pleased to hear that the aboriginal leadership had identified mediators to work with Mr. MacKenzie on long-term solutions.

There is no question that we are a long way from the finish line, but we are making progress.

I have just outlined for you how we are dealing with the Marshall decision. I'd like to spend a moment or two talking about some of the concerns that have been raised in terms of the government's response, starting with the claim that we should have had a more comprehensive response from the outset.

It was always reasonable to expect that there would be a period of time during which the judgment would be reviewed before any process of implementation or response could be initiated. There is little doubt that the decision is a complex one. Many of the specifics of the judgment simply could not have been anticipated. Our analysis is being carried out as expeditiously as possible.

On the matter of a stay of proceedings, it is my view that negotiation is better than litigation. We should devote all of our efforts and use the time available to work out practical solutions.

In conclusion, I believe the efforts we have made over recent weeks position us well to achieve the objectives we have set for both the short and long term. I recognize that we will continue to face some difficult challenges, but I am hopeful that the arrangements we have already put in place will serve the immediate requirements and that Mr. MacKenzie's consultations with the parties in the fishery will yield arrangements for next year's fishing season.

My officials and I will continue to work closely with Mr. Nault and the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development to ensure that our plans for the fishery fit well within the broader process he has underway.

Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. I'd be happy to take questions at this time.

The Chairman: Thank you, Minister.

I failed to introduce the two accompanying you. Wayne Wouters is your deputy minister, and Pat Chamut is ADM, fisheries management.

Mr. Cummins.

• 0920

Mr. John Cummins: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

I'd like to welcome Minister Dhaliwal. I also note the presence of Mr. Chamut, who has watched the Fraser River go from profitability to having no commercial fishery in 1999, under the same regulations that the minister is proposing for the east coast.

I also want to note before I get to my questions that in the minister's address he made little reference to the fishermen, their families, and their communities that are going to be affected by this decision. That, unfortunately, is the long-accepted practice of Liberal and Conservative ministers on this issue. Stick the shiv but don't look them in the eye, so to speak.

Minister Dhaliwal, does the Marshall decision confer on natives a priority right to earn a moderate livelihood from fishing without consideration for the needs of non-aboriginal fishermen, their families, and their communities?

The Chairman: Mr. Minister.

Mr. Herb Dhaliwal: First of all, let me say that I'm very much concerned with the livelihoods of fishermen. That's one of the reasons I've had the opportunity to meet with them and hear their views. That's the reason that our federal representative, Mr. MacKenzie, is also meeting with them. They are going to be important in the overall solution that we get for the long term.

In terms of the priority right, I think we have to be careful not to interpret this like the Sparrow decision, which is quite clear in terms of their priority right for food for social and ceremonial purposes. Clearly, I think, that is a priority right.

In regard to your comments on the aboriginal fishing strategy—and I know about it—on the west coast, that was progress which the government... First of all, it abided by Sparrow but wanted to go further to accommodate, to bring the aboriginals into the fishing community through a pilot sales program. But people—and you've expressed your view—have said that we should not go beyond what the court has said to do to accommodate those people. In fact, in light of this decision, I think the decision says it was wise that we did go beyond and have a pilot sales project.

I think we have to be careful. In terms of a moderate livelihood, what we're doing now is sitting down with the groups to determine what the treaty right means in terms of access to the fisheries. The Supreme Court judgment goes beyond the fisheries because it says fishing, gathering, and hunting. My objective is to deal with the fisheries part of it, and what we need to do is to sit down and find out what the treaty right means and what sort of access is required for it. That's why we have a representative out there talking to all the groups.

Certainly I'm not going to try to define what “moderate livelihood” means at this point. That's part of the larger objective. The Indian Affairs minister is looking at the totality of it as opposed to my dealing with the fisheries part of it. I'm going to stick to the fisheries aspect of it.

Mr. John Cummins: Minister, the question was about the priority right, and the court did find that there was a treaty right. Once the court found there was a treaty right, that right acquires a special protection or priority through sections 35 and 52 of the Constitution. It becomes, in the words of the court, a preferential or constitutionally protected right. I'd suggest that not only is that one issue you did not address this morning, it's a reality that you have given little consideration to at this point.

Minister, the decision gives aboriginals, as I say, a priority access to the fishery, and the minister is telling non-aboriginal fishermen to negotiate a share of the fisheries. I'd like to know what the minister thinks will satisfy this native priority. In Lunenburg, a couple of weeks ago, a former Liberal parliamentarian suggested that the simple transfer of 30 licences would do it. It has been suggested by others that 25% of the fishery should go to the natives, as negotiated in New Zealand, or perhaps 50%, as granted by Boldt in Washington state. I'd like to know just how much it's going to take, in the minister's view, to satisfy this treaty demand.

• 0925

Mr. Herb Dhaliwal: I think what you're asking me to do is determine what the access is going to be to fulfil the treaty right. This is something we have to work on with all the groups. That's why we have people at the table. It's through dialogue and cooperation that we'll determine that. Certainly at this time it would be premature to talk about what percentage of the fishery would satisfy the treaty right, but we need to make sure we have a dialogue, sit down around the table, and look at it.

You've pointed to other examples, Mr. Cummins, and let me say this challenge is not just for Canada. Other countries have to deal with a similar challenge. For example, you're familiar with the New Zealand case where a quarter of the fish resources were provided to the Waitangi tribe in New Zealand. You've also referred to the Boldt decision in Washington state, where 50% of the salmon harvest was provided for the aboriginal community. So this is a challenge not unique to Canada. This is also a challenge for other countries. That's why I'm confident we'll be able to deal with it.

But it would be premature to start talking about what the treaty right means in terms of how much access to the fishery and what percentage of it. This is something we must sit down at the table and work at and get a resolution to, something we can all live with. If we negotiate, it's better, because if we go to court, they may determine what the percentage would be. That's why I prefer to sit down and negotiate—sit around the table with all the groups and get something we can all live with.

Mr. John Cummins: Well, Minister Dhaliwal, negotiations by your government are scary. Fully 25% of the salmon in the Nass were given up in the Nisga'a treaty. There are still four bands yet to negotiate, who have a right, under your definition, to fish in the Nass, and yet 25% of the fishery is already gone. With regard to the Fraser River, over the last number of years as much as 50% of the total allowable catch in the Fraser has been given up under this aboriginal fishing strategy as a commercial right.

So people have a very real concern about just how much the government thinks is appropriate. What are you going to do if the bands demand, say, 70% or 80%? Where are you coming from on this?

Mr. Herb Dhaliwal: First of all, Mr. Cummins, on your figure of 50%, you should keep in mind that that percentage goes up and down depending on the total harvest of the salmon. The average is much lower if you take the five-year average. Of course if there were very little commercial fishing or none, the 50% would be high, but if there were a larger harvest, that percentage would drop dramatically. What's important is to look at the five-year average as opposed to taking one year, which skews it way out of proportion. So I don't agree with your figure, on the overall average, of 50%. It is much, much lower than that.

But in that case, in the food, ceremonial, and social, clearly there is a priority right that says you have to fulfil that right after conservation. The priorities are conservation first, then food, ceremonial, and social, and then we go to the commercial fishery.

Certainly we have done everything possible to make sure, under the Constitution, we fulfil that right. By law we have to do that, and we're doing it. But certainly those percentages, if you look at the average, are not acceptable.

The Chairman: Mr. Bernier.

Mr. John Duncan (Vancouver Island North, Ref.): John still has three minutes.

The Chairman: No, the 10 minutes are up.

Mr. John Duncan: Your watch runs faster than mine.

The Chairman: I'm going by the clerk.

You have five minutes, Yvan, and we're short of time, so be concise.


Mr. Yvan Bernier (Bonaventure—Gaspé—Iles-de-la- Madeleine—Pabok, BQ): I trust my five minutes won't start until the minister has joined the team. First of all, I'd like to welcome Mr. Dhaliwal. Unfortunately, the presentations will be brief, but we'll have the opportunity to argue later, if you'll allow me to use that expression.

Since you cannot define "moderate livelihood", you seem to have assigned the task of coming up with a definition to a team reporting to the Minister of Indian Affairs. However, the thing that doesn't quite sit right with me is the criteria that you have set out with respect to treaty and fishery regulations compliance. For example, on the basis of what criteria do you allocate 600 or 900 traps to the aboriginals of Burnt Church who want to exercise their fishing rights immediately, without waiting for any negotiations?

I want to know how you go about determining these criteria and which regulatory authority you look to. Apparently, as the treaties are now written, we cannot impose too many restrictions, the Fisheries Act as such would seem to be unconstitutional and your discretionary powers in terms of awarding licensing does not apply to aboriginals.

• 0930

Which regulations can you look to in support of your actions? Is there a regulatory provision somewhere stipulating that the fishing season is the same for everyone? I'm anxious to hear your answer.


Mr. Herb Dhaliwal: First of all, I think it's pretty clear that the Supreme Court judgment says this right is not an unfettered right but a regulated right. The government's interpretation of this is that the government can regulate, and I as the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans have the mandate and authority to regulate.

Now, what we've done—

Mr. Yvan Bernier: By season as well, or only—

Mr. Herb Dhaliwal: Let me finish.

The vast majority of bands are not fishing out there. Two bands in particular have said they want to fish. On an interim basis only, which is without prejudice in terms of what the longer-term solution and arrangements will be, we gave them, based on their fishing effort, based on conservation, based on what we could manage, an interim amount of traps—600 traps for Burnt Church and 800 traps for Indian Brook.

I want to be clear that this is on an interim basis. It doesn't reflect what the long-term arrangement may be with those bands. First of all, though, it's important that the Supreme Court judgment has said there is a treaty right. We are making every effort in the short term, in the interim, to work with those bands who are interested in exercising that.

The one infrastructure we had in the decision-making for that was the aboriginal communal licensing regulations, through which we would allow that to happen. It was on that basis that we would provide interim fishing opportunities until we had a longer-term arrangement. That's what we did with two of the bands out of 35, Indian Brook and Burnt Church. I think that's worked out well in the short term.


The Chairman: Mr. Bernier.

Mr. Yvan Bernier: In the short term, Minister, our main problem is getting people to fish in season. Is there something somewhere in your regulations which could help you get across to people the idea that they should fish in season?

Our main problem—and let's call a spade a spade—is that native fishers are facing the same financial problems as we are. All Maritime fishers are currently grappling with financial problems. I understand that not all native bands are fishing and I recognize their rights, but it's during the first two weeks of the lobster fishing season that our fishers do about 50 per cent of their business. If someone else has beaten them to the punch, their fishing season will be compromised, regardless of the number of traps they set.

Is there a regulatory provision which would ensure that the fishing season for natives and for conventional fishers coincides? That's our most pressing problem in the short term.

What means are available to you? What about the regulations in place? Or what about providing financial assistance to alleviate some of the fishers' financial problems? Money speaks even louder than principles.


The Chairman: Be concise, Mr. Minister, if you could.

Mr. Herb Dhaliwal: I think I said in the statement I made some two weeks ago that we would be sensitive to those people who are directly impacted by the decisions we made in the interim. I was very clear on that situation.

In terms of fishing out of season, we have lobster fisheries that happen throughout the year. One of the tools is conservation, of course, but conservation that's based on the effort on the resource. As well, the timing of that is based on tradition, on marketing opportunities, and on all those aspects.

Specifically in the local areas where there's an impact, yes, I've said we will be sensitive to those people who are directly impacted by the decision we've taken in the interim period of time.

• 0935

The Chairman: Mr. Matthews. Bill, I'd like to restrict it to five minutes to give all opposition members a chance.

Mr. Bill Matthews (Burin—St. George's, Lib.): Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

I'd like to welcome the minister and his officials. I just want to follow on Yvan's line of questioning. The question I have is, regardless of whether it's an aboriginal or a non-aboriginal fishery, wouldn't it be the same season? Obviously, lobster seasons are established for a reason. To my knowledge, and following it from my end of the world, it is for conservation reasons. We don't know what the final results are going to be, but wouldn't it be logical that aboriginal and non-aboriginal fishers would fish for the same lobster season? That ties directly into what Yvan says, because if you follow a lobster fishery, regardless of where it is, in the first few weeks the fishermen do make a large percentage of their earnings, and in the last few weeks of a lobster fishery it's hardly worth their while to go, but they do.

The court has ruled that it will be a regulated fishery and that there are limits. Is it fair to say that regardless of the number of traps and other things, the seasons will be identical? Is that a fair assessment? I'd like to get your response to that.

I guess the other question that puzzled me watching this thing unfold from a distance was we asked for a 30-day moratorium, yet we gave a couple of bands 600 traps to fish. Unless I missed something, can you explain why that decision was taken? You asked for a 30-day moratorium, yet you let some people fish. I think that really complicated the issue, and people said, well, there's no 30-day moratorium because some people are allowed to fish. Could you respond to those two concerns for me, please?

Mr. Herb Dhaliwal: Those are very good questions, Bill.

Let me say, first of all, that in the lobster fishery we do have fisheries that are not in the regular commercial season—for example, the food fishery. The food fisheries happen during a time when we don't have... So there are areas where we have fisheries that are not in the regular season.

In terms of the long-term solution, I think you have a very good point. The long-term solution we get should be integrated into the normal fishing season, and I think that's a very good point. It's a point that has to be considered when we make the long-term arrangements. Obviously, from a management point of view, it's a lot better, and certainly from getting everybody to cooperate, I think that's one of the options that should be looked at, but it is something we have to negotiate. But certainly I think that would be something that in the long term would work to the benefit of everyone.

Mr. Bill Matthews: Since the court has ruled that it is to be regulated, can't you say what the season will be?

Mr. Herb Dhaliwal: Certainly, as I said, we have a situation now where we have food fisheries that happen outside the commercial seasons. Some people in the fishing community have articulated that view as well, that they want to work with the aboriginal community, but they would like to see it integrated into their existing seasons, and I think that's one of the options that should be on the table.

The other thing is, in terms of why we let some of the groups fish, the moratorium was a voluntary moratorium. It was not an enforced moratorium by this office, the ministry of fisheries and oceans; it was voluntary. Thirty-five of the bands decided on their own not to exercise their treaty right, but to sit down at the table and try to work out a practical arrangement. Unfortunately, two of the bands decided that they could not get support from their constituents, that they could not go along with it. They all agreed at first, and when they went back their constituents wouldn't go along with it and said they wanted to exercise that right. Because they did, we've always said we would respect their decision, that this was strictly on a voluntary basis, and we commend many of the chiefs, who said themselves that they would not be fishing, that they were not going to be fishing. They've asked their members not to fish.

It's not always possible to control all your members either. Even though the chiefs may say they don't want to, sometimes members there will not accept that and ignore their advice, and that has happened on occasion as well.

• 0940

So that was the reason we made this compromise and made sure we were able to give them a sufficient amount of fishing opportunity that was consistent with conservation and that would be regulated, and that was the basis on which we provided for Indian Brook and Burnt Church. You have to remember that the total provided is only a little over three fishermen in terms of commercial fishermen when they go out.

The Chairman: Mr. Duncan.

Mr. John Duncan: That's fine, thank you.

The Chairman: Mr. Cummins.

Mr. John Cummins: Minister, the indecision surrounding the Marshall decision is causing disruption in the marketplace. Recently, the head of a $6 million lobster plant in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, said that he couldn't obtain financing from the banks to operate this season, and so he simply wasn't going to open. He said that prospective investors have been put off by the uncertainty and tension surrounding the native fishery since the Supreme Court ruling. I'd like to know when we can expect some substantive, factual answers to the types of questions I've asked you this morning, responses you can take to the bank.

Mr. Herb Dhaliwal: Mr. Cummins, I'm sure you know that before I got into politics I spent most of my life in business, and I know that when there are uncertainties out there, it makes it difficult to make business decisions.

On the specific case you've brought forward to me, my understanding—and I'm only going by the newspaper clipping I read—is that the provincial governments themselves were not willing to support this venture along with the banks, and that was one of the reasons they may not put forward.

But I agree, and we want to deal with the uncertainty. The sooner we deal with this the better, and the sooner people don't create uncertainties out there and we focus on the long term, the better it will be for the fishing industry, the aboriginal community, and everyone else. That's why I have focused on this file as my number one priority in order to resolve it and to deal with the uncertainty.

But there's no magic bullet. It requires patience, dialogue, and cooperation. All of those things are required in order to deal with this situation so that we do have certainty and everybody is aware of what's going on. That's my objective, and that's why we're working as quickly as possible to deal with this issue.

Mr. John Cummins: Minister, yesterday in the House Mr. Goodale said:

That's a quote. You've denied that non-status natives are covered by the treaty. He went on to imply that they might be. What's the truth of the matter?

Mr. Herb Dhaliwal: I was in the House when Mr. Goodale made that response. My response and Mr. Goodale's aren't that different.

From day one my response has always been that clearly the judgment talks about the modern manifestation of those collective groups that are directly linked to the signatories of the treaty of 1760, and it is our interpretation that in terms of the non-status group that does not cover it. It covers the Maliseet and the Mi'kmaq. This is a collective group. But there may be exceptions in that, and those have to be looked at. Generally speaking, no, the groups you referred to would not be covered as beneficiaries in this. But there may be exceptions out there, and we have to look at those.

The Chairman: You have time for one quick question.

Mr. John Cummins: That's the concern, the exceptions. Is your Mr. MacKenzie taking that into consideration when he negotiates or when he discusses this issue with fishermen? Why is it that it has taken until now for you to acknowledge publicly that there may be exceptions?

Mr. Herb Dhaliwal: No. I think if you look back, you'll see those are the statements I've made, and that's my response to the media.

Mr. MacKenzie is dealing with those nations that have a collective link to the original signatories, and that is the Maliseet and the Mi'kmaq people, and he'll be carrying out discussions with them.

In terms of the broader discussions, my colleague Mr. Nault will be responsible for those.

But it is not in the mandate of Mr. MacKenzie to start talking to every group out there that may feel they have a right to this. From the fishing aspect we've clearly identified those groups, and he is meeting with those groups, and I've already met with those groups.

• 0945

The Chairman: Mr. Stoffer.

Mr. Peter Stoffer: Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

I welcome the brand-new minister to the greatest portfolio in the history of Parliament. Our previous minister, Minister Anderson, left kind of coincidentally just before this decision landed. If the DFO were a stock exchange, you could almost accuse him and his department of insider trading.

Some hon. members: Oh, oh!

Mr. Peter Stoffer: You talk about negotiation being better than litigation, and I agree with you. Unfortunately past Conservative and current Liberal governments have refused to do just that.

You've had the Delgamuukw decision; you've had the Sparrow decision. This is for Mr. Chamut as well, who's been in the DFO for a long, long time. These treaties have been hanging out there like a red flag for years and years. Constantly Parliament has refused to negotiate these outstanding treaties.

In fact as early as June this year, the aboriginal people, knowing or thinking the decision was going to go their way, wanted to talk to DFO or the government and start negotiating ways of getting access to the fishery, and they were refused any information at all in that regard. I find that absolutely unacceptable. They came to Parliament, and Parliament refused to deal with them.

You talk about a community-based solution for area 35. Mr. Arthur Bull and the Annapolis Valley First Nation are working very hard to find a cooperative solution to this. Unfortunately there's no assistance at all from government—no financial resources, nothing at all. It's very expensive to arrange these meetings, to rent halls, and to coordinate the efforts. There's been no help at all from government. I find that just absolutely unacceptable.

The lobster fishery is one of the last great independent fishing opportunities that independent fishermen have. You've corporatized and you've put the ITQ system into scallops, herring, and many of the groundfish, so the majority of the fish stocks now are in a few corporate hands.

My question to you, Mr. Dhaliwal, is very simple. The Auditor General said last April that the way the DFO manages the shellfish industry is very similar to the way they managed the groundfish industry prior to its collapse. He sent out a huge warning over there that the pressure on the shellfish stocks, including lobsters, is very great, and any additional effort would just cause it to further erode.

With regard to Mr. Bernier's and Mr. Matthews' questioning, under section 43 you have the right to shut down any fishery in lieu of conservation. In an article in the paper a few weeks ago, DFO was quoted as saying this is not a conservation issue; it's just a red herring. Well, the lobsters don't really care who's catching them, but if the lobster stocks go south, you're going to have more troubles than you ever had when the cod stocks went south.

So my question is for you. The DFO is holding back and really dragging its heels in this regard, in my interpretation. Are you planning to put an ITQ system into the lobster fishery?

Mr. Herb Dhaliwal: First of all, let me say conservation was a priority for the past minister and has been for me as well. That will be number one, because we've all learned a lot from what's happened in the cod fishery. We certainly are not going to make those mistakes we made in the past. So every time we sit down, conservation will be our priority and we'll take steps. If we need to close down certain fisheries to make sure we protect the resource, we will do that. I've said that before and I'll say it again.

In terms of your question on the funding for some of the people who want to get involved in the process, first of all we have to determine the process, and then we'll look at funding applications from people who feel they need some resources to do that. We certainly will be willing to look at those groups that are involved on any proposals they want to put forward to us. But first we need to determine the process.

That's why Mr. MacKenzie is out there now. He's determining that process and the participants of that process. Then we'll look at whether there are any funding requirements. I know both you and Mr. Muise have taken this up.

I'd like to commend you, Peter, on coming forward on cooperation and dialogue, and recognizing that's the real solution. I've said that from day one. I support that and I've fought for that position. When others have said they want to go back to court and do that, I've said no. It's through cooperation and dialogue that we're really going to resolve this issue.

Some people around this table see it as a negative. I think it's a real positive. Some of those aboriginal communities have 80% unemployment. There's a huge social cost there. This is a golden opportunity for us to work together with them, to create real economic opportunity for all of their members so that they can really take advantage of this treaty right, also taking into consideration the rights of the fishing community and the industry. That's the balancing act we have to play.

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In terms of ITQs, certainly none of that will be done without the full consultation, without the groups. We would never go ahead and unilaterally decide to do that. It would be done only if it were supported by everyone. I am certainly not aware of any intention of moving in that direction until we have some sort of consensus, because we don't move in these areas until we have full consensus from the individuals.

The Chairman: Mr. Minister, I realize time is tight. We have two more questioners. The cabinet understands that this is an important issue.

Mr. Provenzano, quickly, and then Mr. Muise.

Mr. Carmen Provenzano (Sault Ste. Marie, Lib.): Just quickly, Mr. Minister, the Supreme Court has put the government into a position where, essentially, the result was going to have to be a negotiated one, and what you're saying is what is said in business: you get what you negotiate.

Successful negotiations presume the willingness of all the parties to sit down and negotiate in good faith. Have you considered a timeframe within which these negotiations must be concluded? In the event that they're not concluded, do you have a game plan?

Mr. Herb Dhaliwal: First of all, it's in everybody's interests to do it as soon as possible, and I think every effort is being made to resolve this as quickly as possible by getting people around the table. Certainly I've said that I would like to see it resolved in the next few months in terms of having some sort of practical arrangement so that we don't have this problem coming into the next fishing season. That's my objective.

I'm quite confident that will happen, because I think there's a real impetus out there for people to want to resolve the situation. It's a very emotional issue and people want certainty. That's why this is a priority for me and that's why we have a federal representative to take as much action as possible to do this. He started working on this the day I announced it, Friday. He was phoning up the groups on the weekend and he's out there meeting today. We're making every effort to make sure we get some practical arrangements in place as soon as possible.

The Chairman: Mr. Muise, our last questioner.

Mr. Mark Muise: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Thank you, Mr. Dhaliwal. I'm very glad to see you here.

I'd like to start my comments by saying that I too believe in cooperation and dialogue. I've been asking since day one for calm and restraint, and our people have shown calm and restraint.

But I also have to say that I'm very disappointed that there was no contingency plan in place. All indications were that this was going to go in the direction that it has gone. I'm disappointed because that has caused these people to become frustrated. Having to wait one month for a negotiator to be put in place—and that is the only solution that they've seen—has caused the situation that we have presently on the Yarmouth wharf, where there are between 500 and potentially 900 boats, with frustrated people. They've been there almost a week. When you have people stewing for that amount of time, tensions rise. They have a very real reason to be concerned, because there has been no indication as to where this is going.

I recognize that this is not an easy case to be dealing with, but once you put your feet on the ground and sense what's going on—it's not easy for them and it's not easy for all of us—there has to be direction shown.

In your comments, Mr. Minister, you said that you remain “sensitive to the interests of those who rely on the fishery for their livelihood”. Well, Mr. Minister, that's not the impression that those people at the wharf—who come from many parts of Nova Scotia—are feeling. You keep saying that you have the authority to regulate. Why not impose a regulation that would force everyone to fish in the same lobster season? That would help to defuse the situation in the short term so that we can sit down and dialogue into the long term. Minister, I ask you this for the safety, for the ability of the process to continue and to work as it should.

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Mr. Herb Dhaliwal: Thank you very much, Mark. I want to say how thankful I am that you picked up the phone and phoned me on the occasions you felt you needed to talk to me to make me aware of the situation on the front lines. It's been very much appreciated by me, and I assure you that I want to continue that dialogue. Your input has been extremely important. When you've felt there's been an important issue, you have called me immediately.

I have had the opportunity to meet with the Maritime Fishermen's Union. I've had the opportunity to meet in Halifax with the coalition of the commercial industry, and to hear their view of it.

One of the things I've said is that we recognize that right, and that we would live in the spirit of the Supreme Court judgment. That's what I've tried to do by balancing and trying to compromise.

I am very concerned about the livelihood of those people who are the fishermen, and I'm extremely sensitive to that. One of the reasons I personally have tried to deal with this issue is that it's the human dimension that concerns me. The human dimension affects people's lives—

Mr. Mark Muise: And communities.

Mr. Herb Dhaliwal: Yes, and communities—every single day. That's why I've been extremely careful to make sure we make decisions with all the information and take consideration of the people who make it their livelihood. I understand their frustration out there, and that's why we're trying to meet with them. I will be meeting with more of them to get their view.

I also want to point out that as the fisheries department, we have tried to accommodate the aboriginal community by licence buyback, up to 200 commercial licences, to bring the Atlantic bands into the commercial fishery. We've done this on both the west and east coast under the aboriginal fishing strategy.

So there have been attempts in the past—

Mr. Mark Muise: But, Mr. Minister, with all due respect, with regard to imposing in the name of conservation and keeping the peace in the community so that dialogue can take place, I think it's incumbent upon you to show that leadership, to make this process work. If you don't show that leadership, the process could potentially fail, and it could fail as early as tomorrow, because there's a huge meeting set for tomorrow night. I'll be there, and I'll tell you, the feeling on the ground is that they need something, and they need it quickly, by tomorrow. Mr. Minister, I can't stress that enough.

Thank you.

Mr. Herb Dhaliwal: I would just say that one of the things we have to keep in mind is that out of the 35 bands, only two have been authorized traps, 800 for one and 600 for the other, for a total of 1,400 traps.

Generally, I think you have to give a lot of credit to the aboriginal community, who are cooperating and making every effort to cooperate with us. I think the same cooperation shown by the aboriginal community has to be shown by the non-aboriginal community if we want a solution. People who want to take the law into their own hands only make the situation tougher. They make it more difficult to have a long-term arrangement.

This is an issue that requires our patience. Patience is an important virtue. It's in times like this that we have to dig deep to make sure we show the tolerance, the patience, the generosity, and the goodwill that Canadians have out there. This is when we're tested, times like this. That's why we need to go to our constituents and say, okay, we need to make sure we show the Canadian tradition of tolerance and understanding.

The Chairman: Thank you, Mr. Minister.

Mr. Herb Dhaliwal: I have to go to another meeting myself.

Mr. John Cummins: If it was your job, your livelihood, how patient would you be, Herb?

The Chairman: Mr. Minister, just before we close, I would just say that I think you can sense from the committee how urgent and critical we feel this issue is. I think you can also sense from the committee that there's a strong feeling that there needs to be very clear direction coming out of your office.

Mr. Mark Muise: And soon.

The Chairman: We recognize that this is not an issue on the backs of just the fishermen. All Canadians have some responsibility here. The issue is urgent, and we really need a sense of direction on it very quickly from the Government of Canada.

We do thank you for coming, sir. There's no doubt you will be called back again. Good luck at the cabinet meeting.

Mr. Herb Dhaliwal: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

The Chairman: The meeting is adjourned for ten minutes, after which members of the steering committee will meet.