Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to discuss Bill . This is a very ambitious bill designed to replace the current Fisheries Act, which has undergone some changes but is more than 136 years old. There is general agreement that the current legislation is flawed and must be amended. However, there are problems associated with amending this sort of legislation.
People in the fishing industry will often say that they do not like the legislation as it stands, but that they can survive nonetheless. They have an industry and are getting by. If this legislation is replaced, it must be replaced with a better bill that will improve the fishery for families, fishers and coastal communities.
This bill contains several provisions to that end, but it also has some weaknesses. I am finding resistance and fear in the fishing communities in my riding and elsewhere. People are asking me to vote against this bill. I think this is unfortunate, because with a few amendments, the bill could be very good for the fishing industry and could bring stability.
But the government is refusing to make those amendments. We are being asked to adopt the bill at second reading in order to introduce the necessary amendments, but we know that they will not be in order. They would be now, but they will not be after second reading, in committee. I think this is unfortunate.
Now, the minister controls the wording of the bill. I believe he should hold consultations on the bill's wording in coastal communities, in fishing communities, with the groups concerned, and make amendments. They are not major amendments. The bill the minister is introducing does not have to be rejected. With minor changes, it would be an excellent bill.
The minister could do that. According to the motion introduced by the Liberal fisheries critic, the minister could make the amendments that have been introduced. I therefore encourage him to do so.
However, what we have here and what we are going to discuss is the bill in its current form. Again, I do not think this is a bad deal. I think it has some weaknesses. I participated, as many others did, in the Atlantic fisheries policy review, a wide-ranging session of consultations with the industry, communities and the provinces, and we came to the acceptance of a document. We accepted the proposals of the review and I see pretty well all of them within this bill.
As for where I have problems with the bill, I am going to talk about two areas. Other colleagues will talk about other areas. I am going to talk about two areas that are problematic. They are not easy to resolve. Now that he has the text of the act, I would encourage the minister to consult, based on the text he received from the communities, on the modifications that would improve that act and that he consider bringing them forward to Parliament, as the committee will not be able to do it at second reading.
One problem is the question of licence ownership. It has been stated by the courts in decisions that a licence is not a property. It is a permit. It is not property. That is understood. It has been understood in jurisprudence. However, in the evolution of our fisheries it has become an asset. It has value. It is often the pension plan of the family participating in that fishery. When the family leaves the fishery, it transfers the right to exercise that licence for a consideration of capital, of money, and that forms the pension plan for that family.
Now the proposed act states directly that the licence is not transferrable. The minister has said in the media, and he probably will say it again in the House, that his intent is that it continue as it was in the past and that people be permitted to transfer or sell their interest, to sell their right to apply for that annual permit. I believe he is sincere in that desire.
What worries me is what a judge will say in 5, 15 or 20 years when he is presented with a case wherein people are objecting to a transfer of a licence. He will be presented with a case and with an act which specifically states that the licence is not transferrable. If an organization, a petitioner to the court, wants a licence to cease existing on the retirement of a fisherman because it thinks cute little crabs should be swimming around the bottom of the ocean forever and should not be harvested, what then would a judge say in that instance? I believe there is some work to be done there.
The other area that I want to discuss is the question of the tribunals. Currently in the act if there is an offence or allegations of an offence under the act, the choice of the department is to charge the fisherman or fisher person or company and take them to court. It is a long, arduous and expensive process that clogs Canadian courts. This proposed act wants to bring back the way it was a while back and which had been successfully challenged in court, that is, the administrative sanctions. It would bring them back in the form of a tribunal, so that rather than going to court, sanctions could be imposed by the department with agreement of the offender or after a trial before the tribunal.
That is all good. I think that is excellent. What is lacking is a method of appeal. I hear concerns in fishing communities that the people on these tribunals are going to be named by the government of the day and are going to be political hacks. I do not have a problem with the government of the day naming the people on the tribunal. As a government is replaced, people will be named by the new government.
What I am concerned about is that the people on the tribunal have the ability and ethical values to do their job properly, that is, that they are able to do it and that they do it properly. The only way we can ensure that is if their decisions can be appealed to a higher instance. If their decisions cannot be appealed, then they stand, whether the decisions are good or bad. Rather than properly exercising their judicial or quasi-judicial responsibilities, their master remains the person who appointed them, the minister. As long as they make the minister and the deputy minister happy, they will continue to be reappointed. I believe there should be an appeal process. It would ensure that their job is done with integrity and transparency.
I want to return to the licensing and give an example of a good principle poorly applied and its negative impact. I want to give an example of the ministerial order given by the minister a few weeks ago with respect to trust agreements.
Trust agreements exist in my part of the world in two areas. They exist in the groundfish industry and the lobster industry.
The minister has stated that it is his intention to legitimize the existing process and permit vertical integration within the groundfish industry. I applaud him for that. That is the direction I was suggesting. It is the direction in which we have been going. I think that is excellent.
In the lobster industry there are 1,000 licences in Digby County, Yarmouth County, Shelburne County and in part of my colleague's riding across the way, South Shore, in St. Margaret's.
Twenty or 30 years ago the cost of getting involved in that industry would have been $20,000 to $100,000. A young person who wanted to enter that fishery would use the old backing system. He would see a lobster broker or buyer and the lobster buyer would sign at the bank or lend the young person $15,000 or $20,000. The young person would have to find another $10,000 and then he would be in. By a gentleman's agreement the harvester would sell his product to that buyer. That buyer would have security of supply. The young person starting in the industry would have a reasonable source of capital. Over time, times were very good in that industry.
The Marshall decision created the government buying lobster licences and other licences which quickly inflated the prices. All of a sudden, with the combination of the Marshall decision implementation and the economic benefits of that industry, licences hit $200,000, $300,000, $400,000, $500,000, $600,000 up to $800,000. The vessel and the gear would cost another $300,000 to $600,000.
The gentleman's agreement did not work any more. The person who was going to shell out or guarantee up to $1 million had to have some security. He needed two things. As a broker he needed security of supply; he needed lobster. He was not going to spend hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars marketing lobster if he could not be guaranteed supply. The other thing is he needed to be sure that if he lent $1 million to somebody that he would get it back.
The lawyers worked behind the scenes and they found ways around the policy and they came to the trust agreement. DFO policy continues to state that the licence must be held by an individual. They did the beneficial use or trust agreements. They were able to integrate in that way. In the beginning it worked fine, but with time there was movement by a few companies toward accumulation of a disproportionate share of the licences. It put fear in the community that no longer would it be an independently held industry contributing its maximum to the economy, creating riches for a lot of people.
There is another type of trust agreement. Of 1,000 licences my estimation would be that there are a couple of hundred in corporate trusts and probably 300 in individual and family trusts.
A lobster fisherman wants to turn over his assets to his son or daughter but it is $1 million and that is his pension plan. He is worried because he has to protect himself in case it does not work out, so he creates a trust and he turns the shares over bit by bit to the second generation and gets his pension. As people retire, a father or mother might want to buy licences in the market for two or three of their children. They will create trusts for those purposes. Those are not seen in the community as being dangerous. They are not seen as undermining the independence of the industry.
The minister, based on the good principle that the independence of the fishery has to be protected, said that only the banks would be able to mortgage and that within seven years all the other corporate trusts would have to be dissolved. The principle is good but what happened with the implementation of that is that the other 300 what I call reasonable trusts got caught in that trap. The average fisherman who was preparing to retire saw his licence value decrease from $600,000 to $300,000 overnight. About $600 million disappeared in capital value of fishing families, people preparing for retirement, in western Nova Scotia.
I have written to the minister asking him to reconsider. I understand there is a question of extending the sellout period or the dissolving period of those trusts to 17 years.
I would ask the minister to go further. I would ask him to look at the underlying causes that created those trusts. How do we change our policies in a way that would promote reasonable economic development of the fishery and maintain as much as possible the independent nature of the fishery? There are four points that I continually raise.
The first is the elimination of the capital gains tax. I congratulate the government for having done that. The government went further with this year's budget than it did with last year's budget and it came to what was in our Liberal policy platform. That was the responsible action to take and I thank the government for doing that.
The second point is access to capital. For an independent fishery to exist, the individual has to be able to compete with anybody else who would be trying to integrate into that fishery.
I should point out that what scares me under the tribunal system is the tribunal could decide who could and could not be a fisherman. That is risky. A fisherman should be a person who can acquire a licence or be entrusted with a licence and leave the wharf. It should be decided like that. It should evolve naturally and normally as it always has. A fisherman needs access to capital. He needs to be able to compete for it.
Then there is the brokerage sector. The brokerage sector, or the lobster buyers as we know them, need security of supply. They need to know they will be able to buy lobster in the future. They should have a reasonable way of competing with everybody else who is trying to do the same. That maximizes the value of lobster. It maximizes the revenue to the fisherman. It maximizes the return to the country and to the community.
I suggest that the licences be under a financial instrument. Because a licence is not property, it is difficult to call it a mortgage so I call it a financial instrument. We should let the banks enter into a financial instrument, or whatever the proper term would be, with the fisherman, so if he does not make repayment, the bank can get the licence, force its sale, and recover that way. The courts have found that to be okay and it is under appeal now.
I would suggest that we go further and let lobster buyers and the marketing industry get into those types of instruments. Then they would not have to do a trust. It would also cost them a lot less money. They would have more financial security as long as the person whose name the licence is in could buy out of the obligation in a reasonable manner as a person would on a mortgage on any other business or real property. That would help a lot.
Families or lobster fishermen should be permitted to create companies and put their licences under companies. Partnerships should be permitted. However, holding more than one lobster licence within a corporation or any individual or corporate entity having shares or interests in more than one of these corporations should not be permitted. Any one of those corporations or any fisherman should not be permitted to have licences in more than one lobster fishery area. We see that now in areas where they do very well. Fishermen use the capital to compete with larger vessels in other fisheries in their off season. That has a huge risk.
Existing trusts could be grandfathered. They should not be stale dated. If ever the fisherman sold his assets of the company holding the trusts, he could not sell those trusts with them. The fisherman could not sell one company to another. Any time those licences were moved, they would have to go under the new rules. I think that the market would level off.
People holding 20 or 30 licences in trust would have $20 million or $30 million tied up and they could not use that asset at the bank. They could not because of their trust agreements, their counter-policy with the department; with the signature on an order, the minister could dissolve the licence so it would have no value at the bank. The person could not use it to negotiate working capital in his corporation, but if the person sold the licences to the captains, if he got a financial instrument with the captains who owned the licences now, with an agreement that they sell their lobster to him at market value, they could buy out the person anytime, but the person would have a reasonable security of supply. The person could go to the bank freed up of the $20 million or $30 million obligation and as he negotiated his working capital, he could tell the bank what he expected in the amount of product he would be selling on the market in the next five years based on those things. Suddenly that business plan makes sense.
That broker has the ability to market Canadian product in the Japanese, oriental and European markets. The independence of the fishery is maintained and there is competition to buy that product from the fisherman maximizing in value.
Those four points, and there can be variations, would take away the underlying circumstances that have forced these trusts. These trusts were not some diabolical plan of people to take over the lobster fishery. If we talked to the people who are the beneficial owners of these trust agreements, they would tell us that they are not efficient at harvesting. The captains would tell us that it is not the most efficient way. The most efficient way is for the captain to own and operate his vessel. He will take care of things. He will fish when the conditions are right. He will take decisions that are appropriate for the safety of his crew and he will bring in the product.
People get involved in these trusts to have that security of supply. Lobster brokers need one thing. They need lobster. That is what they do very well.
As a young man growing up in Comeauville and fishing in the spring, I remember when there were two buyers who would come to Comeauville wharf. Essentially they were selling to two brokers in the U.S. The buyers would buy the lobster at the cheapest price possible. The price would be fixed in the spring and fixed in the fall and they would sell the lobster at a quarter a pound profit on the American market. The broker would make whatever money there was in marketing it on the American side and our fishermen lived in poverty.
Twenty or 30 years ago there started to be competition on the brokerage side. All of a sudden people were paying 15¢ to 20¢ more per pound. There were large fluctuations during the season. Fishermen themselves were brokering, developing lobster holding ponds and the lobster fishermen have done very well. They have very good family revenues. Their children are being well educated. They are contributing greatly to the economy. It is important that we protect that.
I hope the minister will give my reflections some consideration in protecting the retirement assets of these families as they approach the time to leave the fishery, as well as protecting the future of the fishery and the economy of western Nova Scotia.
Mr. Speaker, I rise today on behalf of our federal party with sort of mixed feelings. The reality is that it is always good to talk about the fisheries policy of Canada. The unfortunate part is that we need to take a little history test before we go into the context of the bill, the future of the bill and what we believe the bill means for Canadian fishermen and their families across the country.
The bill was tabled in the House of Commons for first reading on December 13, 2006. It was heralded as a bill that would modernize the fishery. It is 138 years old and it needs to be modernized. I agree with the department and I agree with the government that any bill that old needs to be looked at again and needs to be modernized.
However, we are not fishermen. We are politicians. One would think that something this important to fishermen and their families across the country would have had their valuable input into the bill prior to its tabling.
The government said, on many occasions, that this bill was brought to the House of Commons based on extensive consultations but that is simply not true.
What the consultations were on were specific regions of the country and the policies of those regions, for example, the Atlantic policy review and the west coast Fraser River review. Areas of the country where there were certain specific problems were dealt with in a consultative form in terms of various policies. It was those policies from across the country that were brought to bureaucrats and, thus, they came up with the bill that was introduced on December 13, 2006.
I would remind my Liberal colleagues that this is similar to a bill that was tried to be introduced in the mid-nineties but there was such pressure by the then Conservative Party, the Reformers at that time, that the bill was dropped, died on the order paper and did not see the light of day until last December.
Based on the minister's own comments about consultation, I asked for a list of all the people who were consulted on the bill prior to its tabling on December 13, 2006. I am still waiting for the list.
Therefore, I called fishermen, their organizations and provinces across the country and I asked them one simple question: “Were you consulted on the new fisheries act prior to its tabling on December 13 for your input?” I have spoken to aboriginal groups, to the provinces and to various fishing groups right across the country.
At the last Maritime Fishermen's Union convention in Moncton, the stood and told everybody in the crowd that this bill was based on extensive consultation. I spoke after the minister and, with the minister in the audience, I asked the people in the audience to raise their hands if they were consulted on the new fisheries act prior to its tabling. Not one person in that room put up a hand.
If we are not going to consult with the fishermen on something that is that important in their lives then right away we have a problem.
The government, of course, has said that we should get it to second reading and then we can have consultations after the fact. The danger of that, and why we support the Liberal hoist amendment, is that after second reading there are certain clauses and amendments that cannot be brought forward. They will be ruled out of order.
The government talks about the fact that the Fisheries Act maintains the publicness of the fishery. However, I would remind the government of the 1997 Supreme Court decision in Comeau's Sea Foods Ltd. v. Canada where the Supreme Court unanimously stated that the fisheries was a common property resource going back to the Magna Carta days. The fish and the resources are owned by the Canadian people, not the government. There is no reference at all in the bill to the Supreme Court decision of 1997. In fact, the only thing the bill says is that Parliament is committed to maintaining the public character of the management of fish and fish habitat. Those are two different things. Any corporate lawyer can tell us that as well.
In fact, Chris Harvey, a QC lawyer from British Columbia, said that this bill was the greatest expropriation of a public resource in the history of Canada. I did not say that. That was said by a very well-qualified lawyer who understands the constitutional aspects of fish law in this country.
I also remind the Conservative Party of Canada that there is only one commercial fisherman who is a member of Parliament, and that is the member for . Naturally one would assume that individual would have some knowledge of the commercial fishery.
This individual who cannot be named is a Conservative member, has been here since 1993, has been on the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans since 1993, and voiced his concerns about this report quite loudly. Because of his objections, the Conservative Party of Canada removed him from the committee.
If the Conservatives are so proud of this act but say they understand there are problems with it that can be changed in committee, then why would they remove the only commercial fisherman in the House of Commons from the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans? Why would they do that? It is because they do not like the idea of dissent within the ranks.
The reality is that the member for , who I have differences of opinion with obviously being that he is a Conservative and I am a New Democrat, is right in his objections to this bill. He was removed from the committee because of his objections.
I have travelled the country and spoken to many fishermen and their organizations. They have very serious objections to the method of this bill. I have also spoken to many environmental groups. I have held press conferences with environmental groups across the country. This bill does little to protect the integrity of fish and fish habitat. We see the direction the government is going in terms of what it is doing in the way of protection of fish habitat.
Let us look at Trout Pond in central Newfoundland, a lake that had five species of fish. What did the government allow the province to do under schedule 2 of the Mining Act? It allowed that healthy lake to become a tailings pond for a mining company. Instead of telling the mining company to keep its tailing pond separate from the water system, it allowed this lake to be destroyed, with the intention of course that it would restore something else so that there is no so-called net loss of fish and fish habitat. We have yet to see that in this country.
If we look at the bill very carefully, it says the government must take into account certain aspects of habitat management. If we turn over a couple of pages it says the governor in council may do something completely different.
Let us look at the bill. On page 22 clause 48 says very clearly, and I love this, “No person shall kill fish by any means other than fishing”. It seems fairly straightforward. If we turn over the page, we see that it says the governor in council may authorize “the killing of fish by means other than fishing”.
What is the government trying to tell us? It says, “You can only kill fish by methods of fishing, but don't worry, the governor in council can override the department, the minister, the government, Parliament and committees and say you can kill fish by other means”, which means pollution and destroying fish habitat. For anyone in this country to say DFO has done a good job maintaining the habitat of our fish stocks is simply out to lunch.
I remind Parliament and those who may be listening, the Conservatives were in power in 1992 when the greatest collapse of a natural resource happened just off our east coast shores and that was the northern cod. Over $4 billion have been spent readjusting the east coast fishery and not one person at DFO or in government was ever held accountable. Even though the Hutchings and late Ransom Myers report said very clearly in the late 1990s that there was manipulation of their scientific reports within the department, not one person was ever held accountable for that act.
It cost $4 billion tax dollars. There was the readjustment of many people, who had to move away from the great province of Newfoundland and Labrador to central and western Canada. One would think somebody would have the honour to stand and say the government screwed up, but no one has. Now this same department and the same Conservatives are saying, “Trust us, we know what we are doing. Just get it to a committee after second reading and we will fix the problems that have been addressed”.
I reiterate one more time that there are certain amendments and certain clauses that cannot be passed after second reading. This is why we have offered the government the olive branch prior to Christmas and again in January. The olive branch was offered again with the hoist amendment to allow this bill to come to committee prior to the vote at second reading, so that we can have consultations with fishermen, the provinces and aboriginal groups and come up with an act that definitely works for the majority of fishermen and people across the country.
I have been on the fisheries committee now since 1997. With the removal of the member for , I am now the longest serving member on that committee. I am very proud to be on that committee working with members of other parties. We tabled well over 27 reports I believe and almost 23 of them have been unanimous.
If the Conservatives, the Liberals, the Bloc and the NDP agree time and time again on various fishing reports throughout this country, that shows that the committee process works. It shows that the recommendations can be dealt with within committee and the committee can deal with proper evidence and analysis, so we can come up with the recommendations that will help government.
We want to help the minister come up with a new act, but if this goes to committee after second reading, we simply will not be able to do it and thus will have no choice but to defeat the bill any way that we can. We would love to be able to work with the department and the government prior to that to put in the amendments that definitely work.
We suspect that the intention of the government is what has been going on for a long time and that is the corporatization of the public resource. I remind the House that just recently in committee Larry Murray, the deputy minister of Fisheries and Oceans, rightfully said that the debate in this country is going to have to be about the future of the fishery. What he is basically saying is, do we retain it as a common property resource or do we go more to an ITQ system which means individual transferable quotas?
Two countries have recently moved toward that system: New Zealand and Iceland. Those are smaller countries with different fishing areas than we have, but they went from a common property resource to a more private managed resource. Both of them say they have had success with those systems although many people had to get out of the industry. It made other people very wealthy and there is still dissension within those countries on that type of system. I do not fear debate on an ITQ system. We need to have an open, honest debate and dialogue across the country, not slip it through the back door as we have been saying over the years.
The Supreme Court said in 1997 that the fisheries is a common property resource owned by the people of Canada. If that is the case, why does the Jim Pattison Group control most of the wild salmon stocks on the west coast? Why does it control most of the herring stocks on the west coast? Why is it that the Barry Group controls most of the redfish stocks on the east coast? How is it that the Clearwater company managed to get just about all the scallop stocks on the east coast?
Why is that just the other day the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, along with the minister of fisheries in the province of Nova Scotia, allocated a 10 year allocation for clams on a particular beach in the Annapolis Valley? It is restricted now. Only this one company has access to those clams for a 10 year period. Everybody else, out the door. If it is a common property resource, how does the government consistently give a fisheries resource to private hands?
We see that happening over and over again, and this bill will just entrench that. We will not be able to change the direction of that bill after second reading. The government knows it and we know it. We have had it on legal advice from the Library of Parliament, and from the lawyers who said very clearly that certain amendments cannot and will not be accepted after second reading. That is not the way to conduct open and transparent government, and open and transparent processes.
We have asked consistently that the bill be brought to fishermen and their families for active consultation. Let us bring in the amendments and we can make the bill actually work. As my colleague from said, there are some good aspects in the bill. Just on a percentage basis, I would accept 40% of the bill right now having studied it very carefully.
However, we have concerns with other aspects of the bill, namely, the relationship between the minister and the governor in council in terms of fish habitat, the fishery management orders and how allocations are done.
The government is now talking about 15 year allocations. It is saying that a licence is a privilege and not a right. If that is the case, then how does someone take something that is a privilege to a bank to get a loan for something that may be a 15 year allocation? It is going to be very difficult to do that.
I have spoken with members of the Canadian Bankers Association and they have looked at this. They say that without sound collateral and something tangible in their hands, they simply will not loan the money that these fishermen need. That is a different topic related to fishery loan boards with the provinces and it is something that can be discussed at a later date.
These are some of the major problems with the bill. The thing is that we cannot say, as the minister or the government state, that a bill was brought to the House of Commons based on wide and active consultation when that simply is not true. That is simply unacceptable.
We know that the minister comes from Newfoundland. He has worked in the fishing areas for most of his younger life, as did the previous minister of fisheries. We respect them for what they did while working in those small communities.
The should know more than anybody else about the plight of fishermen in his own province. Over 50,000 people have had to leave the outports of Newfoundland and Labrador to find work elsewhere because of the collapse of a common property, the northern cod.
We now see on the Northumberland Strait between Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick and Cape Breton Island that many lobster fishermen are having a difficult time meeting their catches this year, although catches are up in other areas.
We know about the problem with trust agreements. I must give credit to the government that recently it came out with an agenda on how to deal with those trust agreements separate from the bill. I say to the minister right now that I am willing to work with him on that specific issue. The minister is correct that the last thing we need in this country are slipper skippers.
If the bill were to pass the way it is now without putting in the strong Canadian content that we want it to have in terms of the public access and public right to the fishery, there would be nothing stopping John Risely of the Clearwater Group from selling his entire operation to foreign interests. What we would have down the road is what is now a common property resource owned and controlled by foreigners. That is what scares the hell out of fishermen and their families.
I look at the plight of the great people of Canso, Nova Scotia. My hon. colleague from knows the area extremely well. Here is a community that has been fishing for over 400 years and had fish processed in the town of Canso. What happened this year? Nothing. What happened to the people of those areas? They are gone or they will leave. Hopefully, they will try to find something else. Hopefully, they will retire with some dignity.
This is the plight of fishing communities in this country when the fish are turned over to the corporations that now are looking at China and other areas for processing of their fish. We know that pickerel from Lake Winnipeg is caught on the shores of Gimli, Manitoba. The corporations take that fish and freeze it, and send it to China, process it, freeze it again, send it back, and sell it in the Safeway stores in Winnipeg. That is apparently cheaper than processing it right there in Transcona. The package says “Product of Canada”, “Made in China”. The fish was caught in Lake Winnipeg and sold in Winnipeg. We are talking here about exporting our jobs and also the environmental aspect of that.
In conclusion, I want to say to the government that it has missed a terrific opportunity to work with the opposition, to work with the committee in order to ascertain a proper, brand new, modern fisheries act that would meet the needs of fishermen in the communities from coast to coast to coast and address the issues of our first nations people.
This is why we ask one more time for the government to delay the proceedings of this bill, bring it before the committee, so that we can have those true consultations that the fishermen and their families have asked for. We can then come up with a modern bill, reach an agreement in the House of Commons, and have something of which we can be very proud.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak in this debate on Bill , but in reality we are on the hoist amendment, and I have less pleasure in speaking to this amendment made on February 23 by the member for . I think it has done a disservice to the lives of fishermen and those who are engaged in the debate.
We find ourselves debating a hoist amendment which, if passed, will have a result that is exactly the opposite of what we want to do here. I think we all want to do what the purpose of the act is and that is to strengthen the fisheries and the sustainability of the fisheries. I do not see us getting there with this amendment. We all understand that it is the opposition's role to oppose, even if it does so just for the sake of opposing, but it seems to me that in this case the member has chosen a poor route.
Let me clarify this for some members, because I think there is some confusion on this score, and certainly for those who may be watching. In fact, to an outsider, the member's motion might be construed as relatively benign. After all, how could a further delay of six months hurt? It could hurt the fishery stakeholders a lot if the majority of hon. members vote in favour of the amendment. We are not talking about a delay in proceedings with the amendment. Rather, hon. members would be killing Bill in its entirety, period. Those are the facts.
How so? It is very important to fully understand what would happen if this amendment should pass. Allow me to quote from the authoritative House of Commons Compendium of parliamentary procedures, which can be found on our parliamentary website:
The hoist is an amendment that may be moved to a motion for the second or third reading of a bill. It requires no notice, may be debated and may not be amended. A hoist amendment requests that a bill not “now“ be read a second time, but instead that second reading be postponed for three or six months.
A hoist amendment must meet a number of requirements. The purpose of the amendment is to neutralize the word “now” in the motion for reading. It must therefore amend the motion by eliminating all of the words following the word “That” and replacing them with the following proposition: “Bill (number and title)--
In this case, it is Bill :
--be not now read a second...time, but that it be read a second...time this day three months (or six months) hence.
I notice that the hon. member has been very careful with the wording of his amendment to meet those requirements. I commend his research staff for getting that part right. However, what we do not notice in his remarks is the following, and I quote again from the Compendium:
The adoption of a hoist amendment is tantamount to defeating the bill by postponing its consideration. Consequently, the bill disappears from the Order Paper and cannot be introduced again, even after the postponement period has elapsed.
Some might say that a better word for a “hoist” amendment would be “hijack” amendment.
I find it very hard to believe that members in good standing would effectively want to defeat the bill without letting it go through the normal parliamentary channels of debate, second reading, committee debate, clause by clause review and so on, all on a purported pretense that not enough consultation has taken place.
Let me turn to that matter of consultation, which has been raised this morning a couple of times already, and the truth of what has or has not taken place in the last number of months and even years.
During the debate on February 23, 2007, the member for , as he said again this morning, said that there is this myth of consultation.
Let me preface my remarks by saying that if certain members are suggesting that stakeholders were not asked to comment on the actual text and specific clauses of Bill before it was tabled, I would say that of course they were not. In fact, it is parliamentary tradition to present the bill to Parliament for its consideration and it is up to Parliament to consult on draft legislation.
However, if we ask if stakeholders were consulted on the principles, themes and common sense ideas contained in Bill , I can only say yes.
Did interested parties, ranging from unions to aboriginal groups, know in advance the broad tenets of the proposed bill? Did they know it would highlight expanded roles for them in decision making? Did they know that a renewed Fisheries Act would more carefully take into account the conservation and protection of fish and fish habitat when fisheries management decisions were made? Did they know that it would provide for greater stability, transparency and predictability in fishery access and allocation?
Of course they did. It was the stakeholders themselves who put these items on the consultation table and implored us to act accordingly.
Veterans of this place should know that work on a new act has been ongoing for a number of years. Indeed, much of the initial consultative work was carried out under the watch of the previous government. We commend the previous government for that and for the incredibly valuable input from the standing committee over the years.
The fact is that Bill grew out of hundreds of fisheries renewal consultations and information sessions from coast to coast to coast, all designed to build a modern fisheries management regime that meets the challenges of the 21st century. These consultation efforts included: the Atlantic fisheries policy review, the Pacific new directions report, the Pearse-MacRae report on the future of the Pacific salmon fishery, the aboriginal fisheries strategy review, and the environmental process modernization plan, to name just a few.
Therefore, to say that the minister had an extraordinarily strong basis for proposing changes to the act is really an understatement. Bill reflects most of the significant findings and policy directions stemming from these and other consultation initiatives.
To talk a little about just two of these initiatives is quite illustrative of my point, so let me talk first of all about the Atlantic fisheries policy review. In fact, it was a huge consultation exercise that lasted over five years and much of it informed the provisions that we now find in Bill .
The review was actually initiated in May 1999 to create a framework for managing east coast fisheries and to build consensus around a renewed vision for the fishery. It was a collaborative process with a broad citizen engagement approach through which advice and feedback were continuously sought from fish harvesters, processors and industry representatives, from the governments of the Atlantic provinces, Quebec and Nunavut, from aboriginal groups, community representatives and environmental groups, and from academics and other interested individuals. This is a very high level overview that I have given of a very comprehensive process that has lasted a long time. Therefore, in the interests of time, I would like to table a document listing in detail the consultations undertaken during the Atlantic fisheries policy review.
In February 2001, DFO released a comprehensive discussion document that served as a springboard for public discussion and debate. The department subsequently sought advice and feedback based on the discussion document during in-depth public consultations in 19 communities across the region. Out of that exercise came the Atlantic fisheries policy framework and it reflects the many voices heard during consultations.
In June of the same year, the independent panel on access criteria was established to review and make recommendations on access criteria for providing new or additional access in increasing Atlantic commercial fisheries. The panel sought input from industry, the Atlantic provinces, Quebec, Nunavut and aboriginal organizations and released its report in April 2002.
The minister of the day responded to the IPAC report in November 2002 and adopted the new access framework to guide all decisions on new or additional access to Atlantic commercial fisheries that have undergone substantial increases in resource abundance or landed value.
DFO has begun implementation of some of the key strategies of the policy framework that I have mentioned. However, it is only through a modernized fisheries act, which we have here before us in Bill , that we can provide the tools and authorities to both DFO and industry to make significant strides in our achieving of the vision in these two policy documents. Here is how.
The objectives of the Atlantic fisheries policy framework address the major fisheries management challenges. They include: threats to conservation, excess participation and impediments to economic viability, ineffectiveness of top-down management, uncertainty in access and allocation, and closed decision making processes.
Legislative proposals in Bill directly address these fisheries management challenges through a number of specific proposals within the bill. They include provisions concerning conservation and sustainable use, self-reliance and collaboration, shared stewardship, and stable and transparent access and allocation.
However, consultations have also taken place with environmental and conservation NGOs. In fact, the environmental conservation and habitat protection provisions found in Bill were equally informed by the process with non-fishery stakeholders, as I have mentioned, so I think it would be useful to touch upon NGO engagement in what is known as the environmental process modernization plan, or EPMP. It is an engagement that actually connects the dots back to Bill .
Building on the results of an earlier national habitat blueprint initiative, DFO launched the EPMP in early 2004. It was aimed at making the habitat management program more effective in the conservation and protection of fish and fish habitat, more efficient in the delivery of its services to Canadians, and more integrated with the interests and priorities of partners and stakeholders.
Shortly after launching the EPMP, 13 national or regional conservation and environmental NGOs were invited to a consultation meeting held on June 15, 2004. All participants expressed support for the direction that DFO was taking on the EPMP and made a number of suggestions on how they could help. In September 2004 eight NGOs agreed to establish a steering committee to identify common areas of interest and priorities for fish habitat management and the development of an agreement.
Throughout 2005 and 2006 the steering committee held numerous meetings, prepared discussion papers, and organized and conducted a national workshop. The purpose was to confirm areas of common interest, to set short, medium and long term priorities, and to establish objectives to be addressed through an agreement expected to be signed in 2007.
On October 12, 2005 the department held a session with environmental NGOs on the EPMP and Fisheries Act renewal. The meeting took place in Ottawa and via webcast across the country.
In April 2006 DFO wrote to the Canadian Environmental Network and several prominent ENGOs proposing that a joint committee be established to organize a major national workshop on these and related matters. The joint committee was established and a workshop was held in October 2006 with 25 conservation and environmental NGO representatives from across Canada, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, an observer from the Assembly of First Nations, and staff from DFO's regional offices and national headquarters.
Among other things, and I stress this, the workshop discussed renewal of the Fisheries Act. Following the workshop, an ENGO delegation met with staff from the minister's office and senior DFO officials. The workshop provided a sound base for establishing an important dialogue on habitat management with ENGOs and has resulted in the establishment of a national fish habitat management coordinating committee to pursue its recommendations.
Further, throughout 2006, DFO regional and headquarters staff held sessions on the modernization plans and Fisheries Act renewal across Canada, with municipalities, industry associations, aboriginal groups, federal government departments, provincial agencies, consultants, associations of professionals, community and voluntary groups, and NGOs.
I know that I have gone into what some members might consider tedious detail on such endeavours to outline just how significant and comprehensive the consultation process has been. It is equally clear that broader based consultations have been just as rigorous.
As I reiterated in the debate held on February 23 in this place, between August 2005 and December 2006, DFO officials met over 300 different Canadian stakeholder groups to discuss the modernization initiative. They represented a very substantial cross-section of first nations interests, recreational and commercial fishers and processors, natural resource industries, ENGOs and the public.
Following meetings with provincial and territorial fisheries and aquaculture ministers in March and May 2006, it was evident that there was a strong desire from our provincial and territorial partners to push for changes to the Fisheries Act. As we have said many times already, it is 138 or 139 years old.
Then, at a meeting of the Canadian Council of Fisheries and Aquaculture Ministers in Yellowknife in October 2006, we were urged to introduce changes to the Fisheries Act that would foster enhanced federal, provincial and territorial collaboration and help promote a stable, transparent and predictable decision making environment. So much for the consultation myth.
Further, it is not as if the consultation process ended with the introduction of the bill. Following the tabling of the bill, DFO sent thousands of letters to stakeholders and provided over 100 detailed information sessions to a vast number of groups to help them understand the parliamentary process, details of the bill and how they could provide input. The department has also met with almost all the provinces and territories to provide technical briefings.
DFO headquarters, as well as regional offices, either held telephone conferences or met with about 125 key stakeholders within 48 hours of tabling. These stakeholders included the commercial fishing industry, the recreational fishing industry, ENGOs, resource industries, aboriginal groups, other federal government departments, as well as representatives from provincial and territorial governments. The department continues to hold follow-up information sessions.
The minister himself sent out over 1,000 letters to stakeholders in mid-December, including about half to first nation and aboriginal groups, alerting them to the fact that the bill was tabled and where to find it. Canadians across the country are making their views known now by communicating with their MPs, their minister, myself, the media and so on, which is exactly how the democratic process should work.
In short, we took and are taking extraordinary steps to engage our stakeholders and seek their input into the policy directions on the new legislation.
If the process should be allowed to go forward, formal consultation on Bill will take place through the parliamentary process. The standing committee may invite individuals and representatives of organizations who have an interest in the legislation to provide comments either in writing or by personal appearance. The public will also have an opportunity for input as the bill goes through a similar process in the Senate.
Once the bill becomes law, stakeholders and anyone who has an interest in the issue will have a further opportunity to provide input and offer views of how the various sections of this legislation should be made operational, that is, through the regulations. This will be done through a transparent and open process.
Under the renewed Fisheries Act, the commitment to encourage the participation of Canadians in the making of decisions that affect the management of the fisheries and the conservation or protection of fish or fish habitat will be a principle that the minister and every person engaged in the administration of the new act will take into account.
In addition to the ongoing engagement of stakeholders, this principle will be made a reality through general power for the minister to establish advisory panels for a wide variety of purposes. We find that in the bill.
Finally, stakeholders now have had more than four months to digest the information and few have indicated that there are elements of the bill that surprise them. They may disagree with some of the details on how certain sections are worded but there is no new policy change in the bill that has not been heard or seen before. Therefore, we strongly believe that it is now up to the parliamentary committee to consult on the wording of the bill after second reading.
Do we pretend that the bill is perfect? Of course not. However, we believe that it is as close to perfect that six years of consultation and compromise will allow.
If this amendment goes through, resulting in the killing of Bill , then the tens of thousands of hours of consultation with stakeholders that have taken place under our watch and under the watch of the previous government will have gone on for nothing. I cannot imagine anything more disrespectful to those stakeholders, not to mention the whole notion of parliamentary procedure, process and democracy.
It is time to move forward now. Fishery stakeholders cannot afford to wait any longer. The fishery has changed, the industry has changed and resource users have changed. The current act no longer gets the job done and Bill would.
I encourage all hon. members to not let this hoist amendment become a hijack amendment. What is on the line here are six years of intense consultations and the time and trust of stakeholders.
What is ultimately at stake here? Nothing less than the lives and livelihoods of countless thousands of Canadians, as well as the critical measures in the bill that would help preserve and protect our precious rivers, streams and ocean waters.
If we let Bill die on the order paper, who can predict when another version of the bill will see the light of day? It is time to move forward now. Fishery stakeholders cannot afford to wait any longer and we want to get the job done.
Mr. Speaker, I want to speak a little bit about my riding and the problems I have with Bill .
My riding is Sydney--Victoria in Cape Breton. It is substantially a large riding and fisheries is a big industry in my riding. I have what I call two bookend harbours: Pleasant Bay at one end of my riding and at the other end of my riding is New Waterford. There are approximately 300 kilometres of coastline between those two communities and probably 30 communities that rely on the fishery. Those 30 communities along with the fishers are a substantial amount and probably close to 1,000 families rely directly on the fishery.
In those communities we have fish plant workers, people selling supplies to the fishers, truckers, buyers, and even the tourist industry hinges on our fisheries industry in my riding and in Cape Breton. Many people come to Cape Breton Island to see the fishing communities. There are almost $100 million worth of products sold in Cape Breton. This is why the fishing industry is important and why we have to be careful with this bill.
The Liberal Party is not against changes to the Fisheries Act. The act is over 138 years old. The previous minister of fisheries from the Liberal Party said he instigated some changes to the act. He made it very clear in 2005 that he wanted the committee to do a proper job with an assessment of the fishery. He also wanted to make sure that the fishers and all the stakeholders were properly consulted. Problems arise today as they did in the spring of 2007 because consultations were not done. We had no choice but to decide that we had to hoist the bill. That was hoisted, as many know, on February 23.
On the home front, my colleague from and I received many calls over the winter about the concerns that the fishers were having and what was going to happen. We hosted a town hall meeting in Sydney River which is pretty well in the middle of our two ridings. We had a great turnout for that winter meeting. April 12 is still winter on Cape Breton Island. We had over a hundred fishers and they were very concerned. They were also very upset. They were overwhelmingly against Bill . There was a lot of opposition to the bill.
The people were very concerned about the bill and wanted it shelved. Our constituents at that meeting were very satisfied with what we did in February by hoisting the bill. The people wanted more consultation.
We were told that fisheries and oceans did not include how the fishermen would be impacted with this new act. A new fisheries act would place too much power in the bureaucracy and many fishermen felt the act was already dysfunctional. They were not comfortable with this bill at all from their previous experience.
The fishermen pointed out that the wording in clauses dealing with the transfer of licences was too vague. Fishermen need some assurances that the act will not take away the value of their licence. Sometimes that is all they have at the end of the day is the value of their licence. Many fishermen had no trust in DFO. This is largely a result of this ill-conceived legislation.
I do not want to get off the topic too much, but time and time again we see how this Conservative government puts bills forward in the House. When good bills are put forward and the committee does its work, the government squashes it. I have seen this with Bill .
I will not go into the problems we had with the previous government and dealing with bills. I want to stick to the facts, especially about the meeting we had in Cape Breton on April 12. Many of the people in that room also thought there needed to be changes.
One very eloquent spokesperson for a lot of the fishers, especially the crab fishers, was Josephine Burke-Kennedy. She stated at the meeting that she worried about what the bill would say about transferring licences, as I previously mentioned. She said that in time she wanted her son to be able to take over his father's licence if he wanted to and not have interference. She also took issue with the proposed bill's lack of clarity with trust agreements and the right of the department to refuse a licence based on suspicion in the licence transfer.
This is a very legitimate concern. She spoke on behalf of most of the people at that meeting. They wanted to make sure that fishers have a right to fish. They should also be allowed to sell their licence to whomever they want to. The fisheries minister has no right to take the quota away from anybody.
The new bill has impact. Fishers are concerned about their licences being taken up by large corporations. We can say that they should not fear that, but they do.
Now is not the time for consultation. As many of my colleagues from Atlantic Canada, and even those from the west coast realize, this time of the year many fishers get up at 4 o'clock in the morning and they are lucky to be done before 5 o'clock in the evening. They really have no time for consulting now. They are in a stressful situation and it is dangerous, but they have to make their money in a few months. Now is not the time of course. The time will be in the fall.
We agree that the Fisheries Act needs to be changed because it is over 100 years old.
A lot of things have changed in the fishery over the last 20 years. The fish population has changed dramatically, especially on the Atlantic coast where there used to be a lot of groundfish, but as a result of overfishing and the use of draggers that has changed.
As a result of the diminishing cod stock, which is a predator to shellfish, there is a lot more shellfish in our region, which is good. We want to administer that and regulate it properly because it is the fishing industry's salvation. The window is short when a fisher is in the shellfish business because he probably has to make his money in two months.
A lot of fishers go out west to work in the oil patch in between seasons in order to make ends meet. The business is not as good as people perceive it to be. It is a risky business; prices go up and down. One thing is for sure though and that is that the fishers have a licence. They believe they should keep their licence and it should retain value.
Let us look at the act a bit because it is not all bad. The new act would give fishers a greater say in their quotas and a greater say in conservation. Conservation is one of the key points for fishers involved with maintaining and dealing with the habitat of the fish stocks. This is a good part of the act. We agree that all is not bad here.
The tribunal system has been mentioned here many times today, and that really makes fishers nervous. Who is really going to have a say in dealing with the fish stocks? Who is going to have a say with respect to their fish licence? Are they just going to bring in some person? Fishers have a really major concern with that.
If that is not bad enough, provincial ministers are having a problem with the bill, and that really makes fishing communities nervous. This tribunal is probably one of the biggest concerns because fishers do not understand what the repercussions are going to be. There is too much uncertainty out there now.
There are some good things in the bill, but there are some major problems with it. The Fisheries Act is over 100 years old. Let us stop and think about what we should be doing. Why do we not take another year? Why does the committee not bring this up in the fall, make it a priority? The committee could bring in stakeholders from all around and get to the bottom of it. The committee could talk to fishermen throughout winter. We could have a good piece of legislation for next spring. There is nothing wrong with that. Everybody is comfortable with that. People are still going to fish this year. People are still going to have the same livelihood. Communities will still prosper when the fishing is good. Why not wait a year? That is the whole point here.
We are concerned about the rush job that is happening here. We are concerned about the economy in Atlantic Canada. These communities drive our economy. Whether it is a car dealership or teachers who teach kids, everybody has a connection in our communities.
I think that at the end of the day fishers and fish families want to be more in charge of their destiny. They want to have more say. They want to have a say in who is going to be on these tribunals. They want to have a say on how their stocks are going to be managed so they will continue to have a livelihood many years down the road.
Fishers definitely want their licence because it is a main value to have. Many times when a fisher retires he still owes some money on his boat; he still owes some money on his gear. A fishers licence is value and it is a value he wants to pass on. It is very important.
As members know, my hon. colleague from and I did our due diligence. We had a meeting in Sydney River and the people spoke. The fishers spoke to us and they told us to get back here and shelve this thing until proper consultations were done, they have a say and are comfortable with it, because we hope this new act can last another 100 years and be an act for the future of our fishing industry.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to join in the debate today. I think anybody following it can certainly see the theme that is running through it and the concern that is being expressed by the opposition parties today. We are not at odds with the principles or with the understanding that we have to modernize the Fisheries Act. It is the way the government has approached this. It has been wrong-minded and we are here to help.
I think people do not have a great deal of confidence in being told that someone is from the government and is there to help. That is what we want to do with this legislation.
A number of the speakers referred to the work of the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans. My friend and colleague, the member for , is the longest serving member of that committee, and I guess I would be the second. Over the last seven years, I have been on and off that committee.
I have sat on about eight different committees in the House and I am very confident in saying that the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans would be the least partisan. All members work every day. At each meeting and on each issue we undertake, we work in the best interests of those in the fishery. Members from the west coast are just as interested and as knowledgeable about the issues that impact on the people of Atlantic Canada and the members from Atlantic Canada understand a lot of the challenges faced by those in the fishery on the west coast.
It was mentioned in the House before that my colleague worked on 26 different studies done by the committee over his time and 22 of them were presented unanimously. All members on the committee supported those reports going forward.
We just completed a fairly extensive study on the concerns around sealing. It was a unanimous report. We went to Newfoundland and were out on the ice in the southern gulf. We witnessed it and stood together, shoulder to shoulder. When we come and stand behind the minister now, that gives the minister's position even greater strength. Canada and the House speak with a unified voice.
I think there is an opportunity and a willingness to do that with this legislation. The principles are not out of whack, but there is so much concern. My colleague from has mentioned some of the concerns we have.
I am concerned myself. I know in the last Parliament the previous fisheries and oceans minister had corresponded with the standing committee and requested it undertake a full and complete study so when legislation was presented, there would be a body of information from which we could draw on in order to develop the legislation for a new fisheries act.
The steering committee of the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans agreed to go forward with it, but the then opposition critic, the current , changed his mind, and the study died. He did not want to go forward with a study on the new fisheries act so we pursued another issue.
It was mentioned already in this debate that our colleague, the member for , a commercial fisherman, probably one of the most knowledgeable members in the House on the commercial fishery, is no longer on the committee because he voiced his concern over aspects of the new fisheries act. He was removed from the committee. That is a great disservice not only to the government, but also to the people in the industry from coast to coast to coast.
The said that we were opposing this just for the sake of opposing. That is not what is going on. We approve of many of these things, and I will talk about some of them.
Going forward, we approve so much of this in principle. A number of the ministers in the past government had tried to advance the new Fisheries Act and ran into some opposition, but in principle I think we can come out of this with a much better act should we bring this to committee prior to second reading.
A number of groups have approached us in opposition. Anybody opposed to government legislation were the first to be notified. As my colleague from mentioned, we hosted a round of meetings within the constituency. We met with a group in Sydney River not that long ago and the concerns were broad and deep.
I spoke with a group of fishermen in Canso just last week, representatives of the Guysborough County Inshore Fishermen's Association. Although they supported it, there were still a number of reservations that they wanted to register with me. It is deep.
I want to read from correspondence from the Atlantic Salmon Federation, which has done incredible work for decades on the salmon fishery. I know the minister would like to put himself out as a great supporter of Atlantic salmon. With the release of the Atlantic salmon endowment fund, it now can go forward. When we were in government, we established a $30 million fund that would go toward a number of community initiatives to support Atlantic salmon.
It is funny that when the $30 million were being peeled out and allocated to the endowment fund, the current voted against that budget. In fact, he had not supported Atlantic salmon at all. I know when he was ready to receive requests for funding and made that announcement, he pretty much separated his shoulders, patting himself on the back for all the great work that he did on Atlantic salmon. We know that is not the truth.
I know the Atlantic Salmon Federation has registered its concerns about this legislation. I will read from the correspondence. It states, “The Atlantic Salmon Federation is requesting that Bill C-45 be withdrawn and that a meaningful consultation process be put in place that allows the public the time to study changes that are being proposed in the Fisheries Act and provide considered input to the act”.
We understand the importance of Atlantic salmon in our recreational fisheries. We know the price per pound for salmon commercially, but recreationally it is over $300 per pound. When we talk about anglers going into a community, staying overnight or whatever, it is a very substantive component of our tourism industry. For them to voice their concern, the minister has to sit up and take notice.
We have received a great number of interventions by environmental groups. A couple of the members from the NDP had cited a few before. They are calling for us right away to withdraw Bill . These include the Alberta Wilderness Association, BC Federation of Fly Fishers, BC Nature, Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, Fisheries Recovery Action Committee and Georgia Strait Alliance. These are freshwater fisheries as well as east and west coast fisheries. Other groups are Watershed Watch Salmon Society, Yukon Conservation Society, the David Suzuki Foundation, Sierra Club and Ecology Action Centre. These groups say that the new act has no teeth to protect fish or fish habitat.
It does get a resounding endorsement from the Canadian Mining Association. I think that if I were a fisher and the only endorsement I could really hold in the window was from the Canadian Mining Association that would offer me a little concern.
What we have been getting from the government throughout this is the following: “Leave it with us. Trust us. We're going to look after this. It's not a problem. Don't be scared. We're okay. We're cool with that because we're going to look after it. We're going to look after the best interests of the fishers of this country.”
We have seen what has happened when we leave that trust in the hands of this government. We know how well the government supported its promise on income trusts. As for the Atlantic accord, where the greatest fraud was “a promise not kept”, we know that promise was not kept with regard to the Atlantic accord. We know that deal was torn up and thrown away. We can ask the people of Newfoundland and Labrador and the people of Nova Scotia how much faith they have in this government keeping its word.
I see it personally, too, from people in my riding, people such as Joyce Carter. She is a great lady, a beautiful lady, and the widow of a second world war vet, who was promised by the then leader of the opposition, our current , that the veterans independence program was going to be instituted as soon as the Conservative government took power. We know where that promise went as well. It was just thrown away.
There is no trust in the fishing community that the government can deliver on what it said, which was that the fishing community should leave it with the government and it would look after them. There is no trust there. I think we saw that last night with the election results in Prince Edward Island.
I have just one final point on this, which is about the hilarity of last week and the . The students of this country, the young people of this country, left their trust with the government and we saw how 80% of the student funding that was there last year no longer exists. We saw that millions were peeled out of the student summer job placement fund. We saw community groups that for decades have sponsored work opportunities for summer students in this country left stranded and out in the cold.
However, that minister stood here and said that everything was fine, everything was wonderful, and that we could look at the groups that got funding. He said there were five groups in my riding that got funding. If I had asked him seven more questions, and he gave me five groups, that would have covered the entire number of grants issued in my riding. But the minister said that everything was fine, everything was wonderful.
That has to be the playbook of this government.
There is a Conservative candidate in my riding who said the other day said that this new round of funding for the students is just typical second-round funding. There was never any second-round funding, but if the truth does not fit, let us make up an answer. That seems to be the modus operandi for this government, but people are not buying it.
With regard to the act, we have heard a number of great concerns. What we heard from the fishermen and what I have been hearing from the fishermen over the last while is with regard to the position on trust agreements. With DFO, under a past minister, we have just gone through a whole redevelopment of a crab plan in Cape Breton and the Eastern Shore. One of the rulings that came out was that some of the temporary access holders were forced by DFO, by the government of the time, to move toward trust agreements. In order to qualify for a licence, they were to band together and make a trust agreement. It was about two years ago that this provision came forward.
Now we are being told by the government that trust agreements are no more, that trust agreements will not be recognized and we have seven years to get out of them, but all trust agreements are not bad. There are people in the industry who would never have had an opportunity to get into the industry if it were not for trust agreements.
There should be some type of grandfathering. There is now so much uncertainty with regard to what is going on around the trust agreements. I know that we do not want big corporations holding the lion's share of quota allocations. That is not what we want for the industry. We believe in an independent industry.
All trust agreements are not bad. We need more consultation on the trust agreements. We have to find out what is right, what works, and what is best for the industry, and that is done through consultation. We must show the fishers some respect. Let us consult with the fishers.
It is the same for access to capital. My colleague from West Nova talked about that as well. I think that sort of spills right over to the trust agreements.
On B class lobster licence holders, we do not know where they are going to land after the new act comes out.
On tribunals, my colleague from the city of Victoria registered some concerns about the tribunals, so this is where the discussion takes place because I do not think the tribunals are going to be a bad thing.
There is a concern that there is no appeal after a tribunal decision is made, but I think that if we give tribunals the power to address violations in the Fisheries Act, it would make it more expedient. We know that there are people out there who abuse their privileges. They are caught the first, the second and the third time. There are abuses within the fishery, but they are minor.
The number of fishers who abuse their privileges is minor, I would think, but there has to be some kind of recourse. I think these tribunals certainly would be well positioned. I think they would make it a little more expedient. They would cut down on the wait times. They would take some pressure off the courts. However, I believe there should still be some type of appeal process. I hope that we can address this through the committee and through interventions with the committee.
The minister talked about the transfer of responsibility to the provinces. He listed a number of provinces that support this in principle. I really question where the provinces are coming from on this because I would be concerned. I know that the opposition members in those provinces are expressing concern.
Is this more downloading on the provinces, with increased responsibility? If the government is looking at an increased responsibility for provinces in habitat and in enforcement in these particular areas, we see no sign in the estimates of any transfer of money over to the provinces. Where are the provinces going to get the money to deliver on these additional responsibilities? I do not see that in the legislation.
I would think that a little bit of the spillover, as referenced earlier, is in the outcome in P.E.I. There is a fairly substantive fishing community around P.E.I., and I would think that a little bit of the spillover there lies in the lap of the fisheries minister and the federal government in trying to ram this down the throats of the fishers in this country and certainly the fishers in P.E.I. I am concerned about the transfer of those responsibilities to the provinces and the provinces' ability to execute on those responsibilities.
The cost of science has not been mentioned here so far today. I do not think it has been addressed. I think the cost of science and where we are going with the science is going to be a substantive aspect of where the fishery is going in the future, coming out of the Larocque decision. What we are hearing from fishermen, the guys who go out and harvest the resource, is that they are pretty much fed up with it. They bought into this. They know that in order to have a successful and sustainable industry science has to be the basis.
As I have only a minute left, I will try to wrap up with this. We have put so much on the backs of the fishermen. We have expected so much. They bought into it in that the allocations would go toward a portion of paying for the science, but it seems to be the slippery slope. More and more allocation is going toward science. We know now through the Larocque decision that this is not going to hold water any longer. Where are the moneys for that?
I think we should be playing a greater role in helping our fishermen with the provision of science, but I think that has to be addressed through the committee and committee hearings. We would like to see the bill go to committee prior to second reading, so that when we go forward the principles could be maintained, but we could have a fisheries act that serves this industry in a much better way.
Mr. Speaker, although I do not have a fishery in my riding, it does border on Lake Ontario where there is a fair bit of recreational fishing going on. I listened to the debate this morning and there obviously is some disagreement among the members with regard to the appropriate process which Bill should undertake. Let me address a couple of the points that have been raised in debate which deserve some comment.
First of all, the issue of a bill going to committee prior to second reading has been the representation of a number of members with regard to this bill. It has to do with the fact that the bill has not been amended in some 36 years. It has to do with the fact that there are numerous stakeholders. Fisheries in Canada are extremely complex and there are many stakeholders as has been pointed out.
We have heard the argument that the bill should be hoisted and go to committee for some consultations. The allegation is there have not been consultations and it would appear that representations made by various stakeholder groups would tend to support that allegation, that consultations should have taken place. I should note that even in the summary of the bill it is stated:
This enactment repeals and replaces the Fisheries Act. It seeks to provide for the sustainable development of Canadian fisheries and fish habitat in collaboration with fishers, the provinces, aboriginal groups and other Canadians.
I do not know how some members define collaboration, but I would suspect that it does constitute to some extent, maybe a great extent, that there has been ample consultation with regard to a draft text or at least the principal issues.
The question with regard to second reading has to do with once the House has passed a bill at second reading, Parliament has given the bill approval in principle. The bill then goes to committee where witnesses are called. There is an opportunity at committee stage to propose amendments from time to time. Sometimes there are an enormous number of amendments made and many of them are ruled out of order. The reason they would be ruled out of order is that they would be contradictory to the decision of Parliament that the bill had received approval in principle. Effectively committee stage amendments are meant only to correct errors or to make certain modifications which are compatible with the fundamental principles of the bill.
Today in debate members have provided a number of examples of changes they would like to see to the bill as it is right now as we debate it at second reading, which in their view and I suspect in the view of the committee clerk, would be out of order because they are beyond the scope of the bill or amend the fundamental principle of the bill which has been approved by Parliament.
It is a very important question. I wanted to comment on this because the himself rose in the House in posing a question in which he dismissed referring the bill to committee prior to second reading. Subject to checking the record, if I could recall his statement, it was basically that it would be an opportunity for a whole bunch of people and virtually everybody would want to come before committee and hijack the process and we would be subjected to listening to all the input from various stakeholders who might be environmentalists, fisher persons, regulators, jurisdictional representatives from the provinces or whatever.
I have two points to make. The first point is that is consultation. That is listening. That is an important part of the process of making good laws and wise decisions. On my second point, I would refer to what the member who is now the said in the House, that delay is an essential part of the legislative process. It is part of democracy to filibuster, to debate fully, to raise as many questions as one may have. To some it may be viewed as disruptive to the flow of business, and apparently the minister views it that way.
When members feel strongly enough about an issue related to a bill, they have tools they can use. They have the tools of debate. They have the tools to make motions. They have the tools to call witnesses. Under our Standing Orders, they have the tools to be very thorough and exhaustive in their attention to a piece of legislation.
The minister has made it clear on the record that he does not want to hear from all the stakeholders in any great detail. This bill was tabled in December 2006 and has been languishing around. I do not know why it did not come up sooner, because it is an important bill. There are a number of outstanding issues and it is very important that they be dealt with. The minister clearly did not want to hear from all of the stakeholders who would have all kinds of questions, ideas and concerns. That is what the legislative process is all about.
I dare say that many members in this place will not have had an opportunity to read Bill in its totality. It is over 100 pages long. This bill replaces the existing act fully. It repeals the old act. If we are going to do the job properly, we have to go through the bill clause by clause to determine what has changed and to determine whether or not there is an understanding of why it may have changed. It is very difficult. Even in the brief 20 minutes that each member is given to speak at second reading, a member would not get into very much in terms of the essence of some of the details.
The first speaker raised some very important points. One had to do with transferring a licence on retirement. Another was the role of the tribunals. Another one that I thought was quite interesting was the delegation of the minister's responsibilities to DFO officials. This is a whole new regime. There was a suggestion that there have been cases in the past of abusing that authority to grant or to refuse licences.
If we think about it, there is a lot on the table for parliamentarians. There is a hoist motion, which basically asks Parliament to cease this process at second reading and to send the bill to committee for consideration. Interesting enough, when the minister made his argument on why we should not do that because he did not want to hear from all the stakeholders, from the various groups, aboriginals or commercial fishermen or jurisdictional individuals, et cetera, he forgot about bills like Bill .
Bill , when it was first tabled in the House, was the government's alternative to Kyoto. It is the environmental plan. It was leaked to environmental groups so that they could have an opportunity to respond. A week before the bill was even tabled in the House, they critiqued it in its totality and it was unanimous that Bill C-30 was a failure and it was never going to get anywhere. The bill was tabled in the House, but we did not have a debate on it. We have never had a debate on that bill because the government decided to send it to committee before second reading.
As we know, Bill , a very bad bill, the clean air act, was totally rewritten by parliamentarians who heard a plethora of witnesses to make sure the bill was going to deliver in terms of our international commitments, and the appropriate processes and targets for our greenhouse gas emission undertakings.
That bill was totally rewritten by the committee. It was based on expert testimony and the best work possible by the members who were selected by each of the parties to be on this special legislative committee.
If consulting with Canadians on the clean air act is appropriate before second reading because it is complicated, there are a lot of diverging views, there are areas in which it is not overtly clear to members why certain steps have been taken, sending it to committee is the place to do it.
The minister makes his argument about it not going to committee before second reading because the Conservatives do not want to hear from these people and yet the government itself referred another bill to committee before second reading. In fact, that is not the only one. One cannot have it both ways. One either recognizes the circumstances a bill is in or one risks losing the bill and having to find another way to do it.
We cannot afford, quite frankly, to lose this new Fisheries Act because there are many changes that have taken place and many new areas that should be dealt with that are currently not in the existing legislation. One that I happened to notice and something that I have spent a fair bit of time on in my involvement with the International Joint Commission has to do with alien invasive species. In part 3 of this bill it actually refers to aquatic invasive species.
Canadians may be familiar, for instance, with zebra mussels, which are an alien invasive species or what is called an aquatic invasive species. I understand there are some 30 of these species in the Great Lakes system and they destroy the fish habitat. In the work that is being done so far, for every one alien invasive species that is treated, dealt with and gotten rid of, another one appears. How does it appear? There is certainly speculation about how they come in but it has to do with ship ballast. They are brought in by ships that come from abroad.
I noted in this area that it is an offence to transport an aquatic invasive species. I wonder what would happen if a ship coming to Canada has a listed aquatic invasive species that it is not aware of but is discovered. I am going to be very interested in seeing the regulations on how to deal with it. I suppose it could even involve a court case in terms of whether the ship owners knew or ought to have known that in the normal practice of managing the ballast of a ship, they would have probably collected certain species that would be classified as an aquatic invasive species.
There is certainly that area. The International Joint Commission is a group made up of representation from Canada and the United States which share common waterways. It is responsible for conducting studies and making observations to determine what the issues are and to suggest and discuss possible solutions.
The only problem with the IJC though is that it has no authority and no power because half of its members represent the U.S. government and the other half represent the Canadian government. It cannot unilaterally take charge of a situation and do something about it, so it takes a lot more work. I would be very interested to see how the responsibilities and the authorities that the minister has in the bill would be able to dovetail with the responsibilities of the IJC.
In part 3 clause 69.(1) states that: “No person shall export, import or transport any member of a prescribed aquatic invasive species”. When I read further, clause 70 states:
The minister may, subject to the regulations--
And regulations will be made at some future date.
--destroy or authorize any person to destroy, in accordance with any conditions imposed by the Minister, any member of
(a) a prescribed aquatic invasive species; or
(b) any other species that the Minister considers to be an aquatic invasive species as defined in the regulations.
I would think that this may be a problem because when the minister now has the authority to designate any other species to be an aquatic invasive species, we are probably making law through regulations and I am not sure that is going to get by the scrutiny of regulations committee but we will have to see on that.
In any event, even the small section which is only about four clauses in part 3 on aquatic invasive species, I could think of numerous questions that I would have of the IJC, that I would have of those who import and export and have ships using the waterways of Canada.
The other area that I want to comment on has to do with what was raised by one hon. member as an example of what can happen during second reading. As the member had indicated, we had Bill which was a bill related to replacement workers. It was to be amended at committee. There were some amendments. Ultimately, it came back that in the opinion of the Speaker, in consultation with the clerks, that the amendments made at committee were beyond the scope of the bill. Even though they were certainly directly related but what they did was they touched upon another bill which was not mentioned in Bill C-257.
Therefore, there are even good amendments which do not get incorporated into a bill on technical reasons. This is a very good example. In fact, right now a new bill on the same subject matter related to replacement workers, Bill , has been ruled to be non-votable by a subcommittee of procedure and House affairs for the reasons that it is same or similar.
I can understand the argument that the vast majority of Bill is identical to Bill which was defeated by the House. Therefore, we could argue that the majority of that bill has already been defeated by the House and to put the question on those provisions again would be redundant and therefore the bill in the subcommittee's view is not votable.
It has now been appealed and it is still under review, but even something as simple as a reference to another piece of legislation may be enough to undermine the acceptability of changes at the committee stage.
I have to say in my experience of almost 14 years now that it is extremely difficult to get changes made at committee which are substantive. I think the members know that. I think the minister knows that. I think the minister also knows that should we have the kind of consultations that members have been asking for, that changes are going to be required here. He should also know that there is a great deal of support for the vast majority of the bill but there are some areas of weakness and members have raised those.
I believe that in a minority situation, this is a prime example of where the parties should be collaborating on the areas in which the bill can be improved. With that, I will conclude my remarks.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to stand in the House today to speak to Bill . I want to acknowledge the very good work that my colleague, the member for , has done on this. Following his lead, I too will be speaking against the bill.
The bill would amend an act that was first proclaimed in 1868. Many who work on the Hill will understand this comment when I say that I work in West Block, which is just a few years older than the act, and we know the terrible state that building is in after 139 years. We, therefore, agree that we need a new Fisheries Act but the devil truly is in the details.
Although I agree with the premise that the Fisheries Act needs amendment to create a modern act that is responsive to the needs of conservation, habitat enhancement, community control and that accommodates the treaty rights of aboriginal peoples in Canada, this bill does not provide those amendments, which is why the NDP cannot support it.
My colleague from Sackville—Eastern Shore has consulted groups from coast to coast to coast on this issue and the overwhelming response has been to oppose this bill. I have consulted with recreational and aboriginal fishers in British Columbia and I would like to share some of their responses with the House today.
Recreational fishing in British Columbia is the largest single fishery in the province. It includes: over 330,000 individuals who purchase saltwater fishing licences; 125 lodges catering to recreational anglers; 500 charter boat operators; and hundreds of businesses and industries that equip and cater to the sportfishing industry, including businesses like the St. Jean's Cannery & Smokehouse in Nanaimo which has created a niche industry canning the salmon caught by recreational anglers.
Coming from the riding of that has a coastline and had a proud tradition of fisheries, I can understand how absolutely important it is, not only to the fishing industry itself, but to all the other spinoff industries that support those fishers. In fact, we actually have a number to quantify that. This means over $600 million in economic activity while catching less than 6% of the annual Pacific salmon harvest and less than 12% of the annual Pacific halibut harvest.
I do not think it is unexpected that such an important fishery would expect some consideration when a wholesale revision of the Fisheries Act is planned. However, sadly, that was not the case.
Bill does not acknowledge the fishery as a common property resource, nor does it acknowledge the public's right to fish as a key value. Instead, Bill says that Parliament is committed to maintaining the public character of the management of fisheries and of fish habitat, and that is a distinctly different concept.
The Supreme Court of Canada has confirmed that fishing is a right not a privilege and that the fishery is a common property resource. The premise that the fishery is a common property resource with the public right to fish must be included in any reform of the Fisheries Act. A failure to do so would open the door to greater privatization and the concentration of a public resource.
The Sportfishing Defence Alliance explains it this way:
...we also see an attempt here to usurp the “Right To Fish” held by all Canadians under the Common Law of this land that has existed from time immemorial. The record of this right begins with Roman Emperor Justinian. It was further recognized and affirmed by English King John in the Magna Carta on the fields of Runnymeade in 1215. Since that time there have been many findings by the various Canadian commissions and courts ranging all the way up through the Supreme Court of Canada. ...the majority ruling in Nikal, where Cory J, stated, “It is for the Federal Government to ensure that all users who are entiltled to partake of the salmon harvest have the opportunity to obtain an allotment pursuant to the scheme of priorities set out in Sparrow.” In Comeau's Seafoods, Major J., for the court, stated: “Canada's fisheries are a ‘common property resource’ belonging to all the people of Canada. Under the Fisheries Act it is the Minister's duty to manage, conserve and develop the fishery on behalf of Canadians in the public interest.”
As the NDP's aboriginal affairs critic, I have been coming up against the issue of consultation and how little consultation the government does with groups. In a media release in December 2006, DFO claimed that the new bill stemmed from extensive cross-country consultations and discussions. That is simply not true. Discussions and consultations did not take place across the country, specifically on the new ideas and the changes outlined in Bill .
Rather, Bill is the outcome of several major public engagement processes on fisheries management and policy that took place over the last several years, including the Pacific new directions and Pearse-McRae report, as well as the aboriginal fisheries strategy and the first nations panel on post-treaty issues.
It is very important to make the distinction that fishermen, commercial fishing groups, aboriginal people and other stakeholders were not consulted directly on the changes proposed in this bill. It is also interesting to note that last fall the provincial and territorial fisheries ministers urged the federal government to table new legislation that recognizes their important role in fisheries management but they also were not consulted on Bill prior to its release.
All stakeholders, including aboriginal people and fishermen, should have had an opportunity to participate in an extensive consultation process to recommend appropriate changes to a new fisheries act. I know we often talk about consultation in the context of aboriginal rights and I have a couple of papers here that are important to quote from.
In a letter from the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council dated February 12 to the it talks about the fact that the council was not consulted in any kind of fashion. The letter reads:
Nuu-chah-nulth are also concerned about the timeline that you have set for this initiative given that you have not approached Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations to discuss a proper consultation process.
Later on in the letter it states:
Merely appearing before a Parliamentary Committee with comments on the proposed Fisheries Act is not sufficient to meet the test of full and meaningful consultation and accommodation.
Oftentimes when we are asked what we mean by consultation, I have commented in the House that talk is not consultation and it is not. Simply sitting down and speaking to someone does not constitute consultation. I want to quote what the experts in consultation have outlined what a due consultation process would look like.
A recent report on matrimonial real property, written by Wendy Grant-John, identified the need for full consultation on any amendments to matrimonial property because it would affect aboriginal rights just as any full scale amendment to the Fisheries Act directly affects aboriginal rights.
In a very a deliberative and thoughtful way, Ms. Grant-John and the others who worked with her on this report outlined what a consultation process would look like. I would argue that a consultation process that is suitable for Indian and Northern Affairs would also be suitable for fishery. She outlines the following:
The Department should develop, as soon as possible, specific procedures relating to consultation in order to ensure that future consultation activities can identify and discharge any legal duty to consult while also fulfilling objectives of good governance and public policy by:
1) Ensuring First Nations have relevant information to the issues for decision in a timely manner;
When we are talking about first nations I would argue that we would have any stakeholders involved in fishery also have relevant information to the issues in a timely manner.
Ms. Grant-John continues to state:
2) Providing an opportunity for First Nations to express their concerns and views on potential impacts of the legislative proposal and issues relating to the existence of a duty to consult;
3) Listening to, analyzing and seriously considering the representations and concerns of First Nations in the context of relevant legal and policy principles including their relationship to other constitutional and human rights principles;
4) Ensuring proper analyses by the Department of Justice of section 35 issues relating to any proposed legislative initiative are thoroughly canvassed before, during and after consultations;
5) Seriously considering proposals for mitigating potentially negative impacts on aboriginal and treaty rights or other rights and interests of First Nations and making necessary accommodations by changing the government's proposal;
6) Establishing, in consultation with First Nations, a protocol for the development of legislative proposals.
As members can see from this very thoughtful and lengthy list, consultation is not an ad hoc process. It is a complex process that involves dialogue, that involves taking information and analyzing it, and including those people who are affected in that decision making process.
Consultation also needs to be well thought out and a well communicated plan. As was indicated by the Nuu-chah-nulth council, many people were surprised when Bill , the amendments to the Fisheries Act, was brought forward because their understanding was there would be a process that included some of those key stakeholders.
The other issue is that the government cannot declare previous meetings, which were not specifically focussed on a piece of proposed legislation, as consultation, especially if the people in those meetings were not aware that part of the purpose and intent of those meetings was to develop legislation.
I hardly call it consultation if the people in those meetings did not know the consultation was happening. People were not aware that their involvement in that meeting constituted consultation on this legislation.
Although the piece I read on matrimonial real property is specific to first nations, these considerations should also be in place for consultation with all Canadians on public resources, especially the idea that one cannot declare something was consultation when it happened in the past.
The Assembly of First Nations has examined the bill carefully and has a number of recommendations. I encourage other members to go to its website and look for this paper, “A Scoping of Aboriginal Implications of Renewal of the Fisheries Act 1985”. I will quote one of the priorities for governance issues from that paper because I feel Bill misses this point completely. It states:
Ensure meaningful references to Aboriginal and treaty rights with linkages to modern treaties, self-government, and the right to manage fisheries
New legislation needs to recognize the special relationship between Canada and First Nations. DFO suggests that language be added to recognize protection of Aboriginal rights and treaties....The purpose of “acknowledging” aboriginal and treaty rights in other legislation seems largely to be to avoid laws being struck down rather than to address Aboriginal and treaty rights. DFO obligations to involve First Nations in fisheries management are more than just good governance practice. The legislation should provide guidance on how regulators and policy makers need to recognize and accommodate Aboriginal and treaty rights and title in management.
As well, self-government is a core First Nations' value that could be supported in a reformed Fisheries Act. Self-government in fisheries may include involvement in decisions on management of First Nation, recreational and commercial fisheries, sharing of fish in a First Nations traditional territory and protection of habitat. First Nations may participate in advisory processes but should have a larger role in decision-making as discussed in the upcoming co-management subsection.
Finally, I will talk about the lack of habitat protection in the bill.
The new bill fails to strengthen conservation and protection measures for fish and fish habitat. There are far too many loopholes in Bill that would place the fishery and its habitat at risk.
Under the old Fisheries Act, development projects like the Tulsequah Chief mine in British Columbia, which is a large mining project that will impact on the Taku River watershed, were allowed to proceed even though they would have significant impact on fish and fish habitat. Under Bill , these projects would still be given a green light. The new bill simply does not strengthen opportunities to conserve and protect fish and fish habitat, and this must remain our top priority.
I need to mention my own recent experience with DFO and habitat protection. There are some concerns in my community over some contaminated soil being dumped on an industrial site near the Koksilah River by Kelvin Creek, near Duncan.
This is a really important issue in the riding of because the Cowichan River has been designated as a heritage river. The elders from the Cowichan people used to talk about the fact that the Cowichan River was so rich in salmon that people could walk across the backs of the salmon from one side of the river to the other. Sadly, nowadays the river is in trouble. Although certain fish return, they are not nearly in the numbers that they once were. Part of the struggle has been around the protection of the habitat.
We acknowledge the fact that it was a good thing that the river was designated as a heritage river, but the sad reality is it is simply in name only. There are no resources available to look at some of the very serious issues confronting the river. There are many users of the Cowichan River. The first nations people get fish for food and use it for ceremonial purposes. Agricultural lands abut the river. There are important recreational issues on that river. Yet we do not have a good plan in place to look at habitat protection and conservation for fish. I would argue that when we do not protect the river for fish, we do not protect it for any of the other users as well.
I digress slightly from the Koksilah River by Kelvin Creek, but Koksilah is also a fish-bearing stream. An industrial site abuts Kelvin Creek and the Koksilah River. This site allows contaminated soil, which needs an industrial standard, to be trucked from outside the riding and dumped in a gravel pit there.
Everyone will quickly point out that this is a perfectly legal use. It meets the provincial ministry permits. The larger question is this. Is this a suitable site when potential leachate could end up in the Koksilah River and Kelvin Creek? This is a question that nobody has been able to answer.
Part of my responsibility, as the member representing the riding, is to go and find out information and to work with the citizens in the riding who have raised a number of concerns about this site. This is just one example of the need for a stronger habitat protection for fish. I am sure this story is being repeated across the country.
When we started inquiring around who would take some responsibility for this very important salmon bearing stream, we found the proverbial finger pointing where everybody pointed to somebody else who should take responsibility for it. That was very distressing.
When we went to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, commonly referred to as DFO, it indicated that we needed to provide proof that habitat was being destroyed. It took the view that unless there was harm being done, it could not work proactively to protect that fish habitat.
We have something that many of us like to call the precautionary principle. The precautionary principle says that we should think ahead and prove that no harm will be done before we undertake an action that could have some serious impacts and long term consequences.
When we took a look at this, DFO could not do anything until we could demonstrate that the fish habitat was being destroyed. DFO also shares the responsibility with Environment Canada. We got the proverbial very thin wedge that it could do a tiny bit, but somebody else would have to do something else about it.
Although this new act aims to streamline projects that may alter fish habitat by making a distinction between small projects and large scale projects, the aim of these changes is to allow the department to focus on activities with more potential to cause harm. Streamlining projects in a new act could open the door more easily for industries that may pose a risk to fish and fish habitat.
We need to ensure that DFO streamlines projects for the enhancement of fish and fish habitat, not the other way around.
I want to go back again to the situation at Koksilah River and Kelvin Creek. Part of the frustration with this has been there are so many different levels of government involved in this situation. We have regional-municipal, or CVRD. The Cowichan Valley Regional District has responsibility for land use. It does not have in place a soil dumping bylaw.
Then there is the provincial ministry that takes a look at granting logging permits. Some logging is going on next to this river, which could have an impact on fish habitat. The provincial government has responsibility for the transportation and the dumping of soils, which it says meets an industrial standard that is perfectly suitable, but people cannot live on this soil.
Then we have the federal government where Environment Canada is responsible for water quality and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans is responsible for fish habitat.
Out of all those levels of government, there was not a coordinated response to the protection of fish habitat.
The bill now before the House does not provide that kind of assurance to Canadians and to the citizens of Nanaimo—Cowichan that fish habitat would be protected and conserved. I therefore I urge the members of the House to vote against the bill. The government should go back to the drawing board and do those meaningful consultations that will result in a Fisheries Act that protects the resource for future generations.
Mr. Speaker, it is with some concern that I rise to speak about Bill , the new Fisheries Act as proposed by the .
I certainly want to acknowledge the courage of the minister. The Fisheries Act is 138 years old. It has not been substantively changed in that period of time. However, as my late father used to say, caution has to be taken when judging actions. There is conventional wisdom that often takes place and one has to wonder whether a decision is taken based on convention or wisdom.
This bill, quite frankly, is quite flawed. All the stakeholders and anyone who has taken an opportunity to review it has come to the determination that it is substantially flawed and would endanger a $4.3 billion annual enterprise to this country, an enterprise that sustains thousands of communities throughout Canada and well over 80,000 individuals and their families.
One of the key points that has to be raised on the floor is the decision that was taken by the minority Conservative government not to have the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans review the legislation prior to second reading to enable the all-party committee to review the legislation, to conduct hearings and hear from Canadians from coast to coast to coast on the impacts of the bill. That decision was taken because there was a reluctance, an absolute denial of any opportunity for change based on good advice.
While the minister has acted with some courage in bringing forth the legislation, I regret he did not complement his courage with wisdom. The bill is flawed for various reasons. I will not, however, throw out the baby with the bathwater. The sanctions process, the ticketing process, quite frankly, is very reasonable. In fact, it is long overdue. The establishment of allowing officers and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to deal with relatively minor infractions of the Fisheries Act instead of through a court proceeding, through a ticket violation or sanctions process is a welcome change. It is welcomed by all fishers.
However, there are other elements to this which have to be viewed from the point of view of the law of unintended consequences. Unintended consequences can arise from the minister's decision to remove what is called his absolute discretion. A cornerstone that the minister brought forward when he tabled this bill is that he lauded the point that the absolute discretion, as was prescribed in the original act, would now be rescinded.
The minister tabled the bill on December 12, 24 hours before the House recessed for Christmas and January, not allowing any review from Parliament whatsoever. He did indicate that he was moving forward with very significant changes.
From my own constituents' point of view, what the minister had said was that the bill would now allow for fishers, industry stakeholders, to have a greater say in their own industry when it comes to management decisions, scientific decisions on allocation and who gets into their fishery.
When we look at it just at that broad brush, any reasonable person looking at that would say, “Imagine fishermen having a say in the management of their own fishery”. Who could argue with something like that on the surface? That is exactly what the minister and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans concluded, that there would be a statutory, obligatory requirement that existing stakeholders would actually have a legally guaranteed role to play in decision making related to the fisheries in which they are directly involved, fishermen managing their own fishery.
I will present to the House a scenario of the law of unintended consequences, and I will use a very specific example. That principle equally applies to industrial stakeholder fishers: dentists from Nova Scotia who happen to own licences in the northern shrimp fishery; other corporations that really never set foot in a boat, that are called slipper skippers simply because they own the enterprise and the licence and basically reap the benefits of it directly with no onshore, no adjacent benefits accruing to communities or to individual fishermen.
A case in point is the northern shrimp fishery. In 1997 there was a decision taken by the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans to allow inshore interests to participate, to prosecute the northern shrimp fishery. That was the first time ever. Since the late 1970s until 1997 the entire offshore shrimp industry was dominated exclusively by offshore factory freezer trawlers. Seventeen licences were issued, all of which were owned by large corporations or stakeholders that had no relevance to the adjacent communities to the fishery, with the exception of the Labrador Fishermen's Union Shrimp Company Limited.
That is a case in point. Under this bill the minister and the department would now have a legally binding requirement on them to listen to the views of the stakeholders. That would have been the 17 factory freezer licence holders, up until 1997, and those 17 factory freezer licence holders could effectively bar access to every inshore fishermen in Newfoundland and Labrador to gain access into this fishery. Why? Because that is exactly what this bill prescribes. As the minister says in the press release, the minister and every person engaged in the administration of this act or regulations must take into account the stakeholder interests. There is a case in point of the law of unintended consequences taking hold.
Another example of the law of unintended consequences that should have been reviewed by the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans to hear expert witness testimony would be the requirement that the minister must take into account the principles of sustainable development and to seek to apply an ecosystem approach in the management of fisheries in the conservation and protection of fish and fish habitat and must--not shall or may--must seek to apply a precautionary approach such that if there is both high scientific uncertainty and a risk of serious harm they will not be engaged in any management decisions that could impact on that.
The key word is “must”, not may, must. It is a complete removal of the absolute discretion of the minister that was applied under the previous act. That is a case in point of the law of unintended consequences.
Say, for example, a particular group wanted to challenge the validity of the minister's decision to maintain the harp seal quota throughout Atlantic Canada and Quebec. If a group came forward with substantial evidence from its point of view, and brought it forward to a federal court in Toronto, that particular NGO could actually challenge the minister's decision to maintain a harp seal fishery and could actually seek recourse through a federal court to actually shut down a particular fishery or challenge the minister's decision relating to quota or any specific management items. That particular court in a place very far away from where the fishery is actually prosecuted, very far away from the adjacent communities, could actually decide how an east coast, west coast, central or Arctic fishery was actually managed.
That is the law of unintended consequences that has to be understood by all members of the House before a formal vote is taken. That is why we asked that the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans review this legislation and hear expert testimony from stakeholders.
The point was brought forward that there were extensive consultations on the act before the bill was brought forward. First off, the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans put in a request to the minister and to the department to assist the department and the minister in crafting the bill before it was tabled so that we could bring forward as members key elements of the bill that we wanted to have included and key concerns. That request was denied. It was not acted upon.
On December 12, 2006, 24 hours before the close of the House, a bill was tabled. There were no further discussions for the next eight weeks.
We asked who exactly was consulted and what was the actual consultation that occurred. In my own constituency I found that next to no one was consulted and the few organizations that were were simply sent a letter from an official within the department indicating that a new fisheries act would be tabled soon.
There were no details about the act and no chance for input, with no relevance whatsoever to this act, and that is what has been put before us. It is an act that has been described as having endured extensive consultations when in fact no consultations whatsoever, no substantial consultations, have been conducted.
A third element of this that really gravely concerns me is the fisheries co-management process. Fishermen want to know exactly what that entails. They want to know if additional fees can be placed upon them as a result of a cooperative agreement or a trust arrangement being put in place between the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and an umbrella stakeholder group that states or claims it represents the interests of fishermen.
The first party would be the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, the second party would be the fishermen themselves, and the third party would be the organization in question. The fishermen want to know if that third party interest can apply for or create levies of additional fees on the fishermen themselves. That is a very important point, but I wish we could have had an opportunity to review this act in committee so that we could have put these facts on the table. This is a very substantial concern.
I appreciate the fact that the sanctions process, the ticketing process on relatively minor infractions, is a better process. It provides a substantial improvement to the current regime. However, there is the law of unintended consequences and possibilities. If there was nothing to fear from the concerns that I raised and that were raised by other members and industry stakeholders, this act should have been placed before committee for review before second reading. Witnesses and evidence should have been presented as to exactly where the act is going.
As well, I have grave concerns about the management process leading to extended terms. The minister will acknowledge that a recent agreement was just put in place with Ocean Choice of Newfoundland and Labrador and High Liner Foods, allowing for greater long term tenure to certain resources based on certain criteria. However, that is one example.
There are other examples that may not be beneficial to the people of Atlantic Canada and to fishermen and fishing communities generally across the board. We want to know exactly where that process is taking us. That is a major concern that has been expressed by my constituents.
Key among this is information about specifically where it is that we are taking the legal and binding right of interest groups that now have a formal and legally binding say in the management of our fishery.
The minister himself will acknowledge that on the northeast coast of Newfoundland there was a decision that was taken in 2J3KL cod, a decision to allow a small commercial scale fishery to fishers there in a resource that, generally speaking, scientists had described as significantly depleted.
Today, as was the case when the minister made the decision, the point of view of very few scientists has changed. Their point of view was that the resource was depleted to the point where any commercial fishery could cause a serious and negative decline in the overall abundance and health of stocks. Biomass would not be allowed to increase and would not be allowed to recuperate. Therefore, science was against that particular decision, or some scientists were, I should say.
If Bill had been in place at the time of this decision an interest group could have had the capacity or capability of bringing the minister's decision before a federal court for judicial review, because the law specifically states that the minister is no longer capable of making a unilateral decision. He no longer has absolute discretion. He now must adhere to a set of principles that must take into account sustainable development and the scientific information that is available at the time, the scientific information but not the stakeholder information, the information from fishermen themselves.
The minister was proven correct. His decision was a valid one. However, I would remind every resident of the northeast coast of Newfoundland and southern Labrador and the northern peninsula area that I represent that if this act had been in place at the time of that decision, it could very well have been that an organization from outside of the province, outside of the country, could have put forward a judicial action to actually suspend the fishery. That is a very real possibility.
If I am incorrect in what I state, if the minister does not believe it and the department does not believe it, what I can say is that we would have had an opportunity to bring this before a committee and hear expert testimony as to exactly what was happening here. This had to be done. The stakeholders were depending on it. The industry interests were depending on it.
I am concerned about the co-management agreement. I am concerned about the potential for additional fees to be imposed upon fishermen and their communities as a result of the legally binding cooperative agreements that could be put in place between DFO and the stakeholder groups.
I am concerned about the loss of discretion by the minister to act appropriately in ways that he or she knows would be beneficial to the fishery. I use specifically the case of the northeast coast cod as an example that probably would not have happened. I use specifically the case of the seal fishery and all those advocacy groups, the interest groups that are out there that at chomping at the bit for a way to shut down our seal fishery.
This act may provide them with that very possibility or opportunity, in a federal court in a place very far away from this fishery, with evidence or testimony heard by a judge that could result in a decision that the minister did not act in accordance with the act he has tabled. That is a very real possibility.
I have many concerns, but the last major one that I need to speak about in this House is the concern about the exclusion of legitimate fishermen from new fisheries as they emerge or expand.
For example, on the co-management agreement that was reached in the Gulf of St. Lawrence on crab in area 12, would the existing full time fishermen in area 12 have allowed small boat permit fishermen to come into their fishery when the resource skyrocketed in abundance and the price went up? Would they have had an opportunity to boycott or basically veto through a court action the decision of the minister of the day back in the 1990s, not too many years ago, to allow small boat permit entrants into that fishery?
Could the interests of the northern coalition, the large offshore factory freezer trawlers, have prohibited access to inshore fishermen for prosecuting the northern shrimp fishery? After literally decades of dominance by the offshore factory freezer trawlers, could that have been a possibility under this act? The evidence that I am receiving and the input in legal opinions and by industry stakeholders is yes, it definitely could have been. That is why this act should have been presented to committee before second reading before it went any further.