Mr. Speaker, I move that the eighth report of the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans presented on Wednesday, November 18 be concurred in.
I will be splitting my time this afternoon with the hon. member for .
I wish to raise on the floor of the House of Commons the serious issue of the revised NAFO convention and the effect on Canadian sovereignty on the capacity of Canada to manage fish stocks not only domestically, but on the nose and the tail of the Grand Banks as well as the Flemish Cap. These are very serious issues that are conjured by the revised NAFO convention. Quite frankly, we have had quite a discussion outside of the House on this issue.
The government tabled the revised NAFO convention on June 12 as a sessional paper, invoking its new procedure for parliamentary consideration of international treaties and conventions. On several occasions, post that tabling, my opposition House leader attempted to bring forward debate in the House on this important treaty, however, was met with no success, even with actual interference from the government itself.
However, we were able to circumvent the government's intent not to allow debate on this issue to occur by bringing the matter to the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans to have the matter debated. There we heard expert witness testimony from people such as former deputy ministers and assistant deputy ministers from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and former director generals of international policy, all of whom told our committee that this revised NAFO convention was not in the Canadian interest. It is a direct affront to Canadian sovereignty and will provide significant negative impact on the capacity to properly manage fish stocks with the point of view of conservation in mind.
Canadians call on their government to ensure that Canadian sovereignty is protected and secured. They call on Canada to use all legal instruments, those that were provided such as in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, to take advantage of any and all new opportunities for increasing Canadian sovereignty over our current coastal limits.
A point in case is this. One such expectation that is top of mind with Canadians is the issue of Canadian Arctic sovereignty in the Northwest Passage. We expect the extension of Canadian jurisdiction to beyond our current recognized international limits to include a huge area of sea and subsurface area of the Arctic stretching toward the North Pole.
We also expect our government to entrench exclusive Canadian sovereignty over the area of the fabled Northwest Passage, the body of water inside the Canadian 200 mile exclusive economic zone that meanders through an Arctic Archipelago of islands, all claimed by Canada.
Let me put in perspective what the revised NAFO convention will do. It is the equivalent of our Conservative Canadian government standing in the House and saying to the people of Canada that it is no longer asserting a greater jurisdictional control over the waters extending toward the North Pole beyond our 200 miles, that Canada is now abandoning our policy of Arctic sovereignty.
Regarding the Northwest Passage, it is also the equivalent of Canada saying that it no longer views this as an exclusive Canadian jurisdiction, that it is actually now providing a right for the circumpolar Arctic council to come forward with a proposal that we will jointly manage the Canadian Northwest Passage. That resonates with Canadians as being wrong. It should resonate with the government as being wrong.
The problem is that exact same model is being applied to the waters of eastern Canada from Baffin Island right to the southern tips of Nova Scotia, our entire exclusive economic zone on the east coast, an area of equivalent size.
The particular offensive passages within the revised NAFO convention include the following. The inclusion in the rights of NAFO, an international management body, a legal tool for NAFO to enter and manage inside Canada's exclusive economic zone, our 200 mile limit. That right does not currently exist under the NAFO convention. If NAFO tried to do such a measure at this point in time under current circumstances, it would be barred from doing so under the NAFO convention itself. Under the revised convention, article VI, paragraph 10, that legal opportunity, that tool, would actually exist at the request of the Conservatives.
The measures of the revised NAFO convention also include a continuation of the objection procedure that would allow contracting parties to fish unilaterally set quotas throughout the entire fishing season. Fishing industry stakeholders understand extremely well the consequences of the current objection procedure.
After NAFO makes a decision, any contracting party, any member of the 13 members of NAFO can simply say that it does not accept the decision and that it is filing an objection. That party can begin immediately to fish unilaterally at its own set quotas, well above the conservation limits.
In this revised NAFO convention, the objection procedure is not done away with. In fact, it is legalized and institutionalized. The objection procedure still exists. The contracting parties can still file an objection and still continue to fish unilaterally at their own pre-set quotas. The only difference is that three years down the road, after the fishing season is over and the consequence of the decision is already exhausted and expired and the fish are now gone, a legally binding tribunal under the International Court of Justice or some similar international legal mechanism can present a binding ruling.
The problem with that is very clear and obvious. The consequences of the decision take less than 12 months to extract. However, the process of resolving the objection proceedings, under this guiding set of rules under NAFO, takes three and a half years to complete. That is what makes the objection procedure a non-answer to the current problems of the NAFO convention. They tout it as being the answer or solution. It is definitely not.
There is also a change in voting structure within NAFO from a simple majority to a two-thirds majority requirement. That has a huge impact on conservation. Some stakeholders have pointed out that, in their opinion, it does provide increased protection to Canadian shares as shares increase in stocks that are rebuilding, that Canada gets to assert its traditional share structure by moving to the two-thirds majority.
The problem is obvious to anyone and everyone who understands the past track record of NAFO. The problem arises when stocks begin to decrease through overfishing. The problem is that certain NAFO members, distant water fishing nations that have no true coastal state incentive adjacent to the waters themselves to actually embark on and enact conservation measures, are the very ones that simply say that they will not subscribe to any reduction in quotas.
That is the past track record of NAFO. It will be entrenched as the rule of thumb of NAFO, the guiding principle of NAFO under a two-thirds majority rule. It will be tougher for NAFO contracting parties, our supposed partners in conservation, to arrive at a binding consensus to lower quotas when they are needed most.
In fact, recently the government has touted a new revised and strengthened NAFO and a new understanding and culture within NAFO. Just a few short days ago, the government brought forward to NAFO a request to suspend fishing of shrimp on the Flemish Cap. The NAFO Scientific Council itself recommended such a measure. What did NAFO do? The European Union and all of the other contracting parties said, “No, thanks. We are more interested in taking fish until the last fish is gone”.
That is not good enough in this current environment. An ethos of environment and conservation has to persevere.
The government has wasted a tremendous opportunity. Canada could have re-bolstered itself, reinvigorated its capacity as the coastal state to protect our fish stocks and those offshore. It failed to do so.
Imagine Canadians' contempt for a decision of the government to say that it is no longer acting to extend Canadian sovereignty in the Arctic, that it is no longer acting to enforce exclusive jurisdiction over the Northwest Passage, that it is going to allow foreigners to totally control the Arctic and that it is going to allow joint management of the Northwest Passage. That would meet with outrage from Canadians. That is what Canadians have to know. That is exactly what it has done on the east coast of Canada for an area just as great and just as significant.
Mr. Speaker, it is indeed an honour for me to rise today to talk about this particular issue. As my hon. colleague has pointed out, this issue has been going on for quite some time, for the past two years, since the agreement took place in 2007.
I would like to start by congratulating the individuals who first brought this to our attention, the four retired individuals who my colleague from mentioned earlier, people such as Bob Applebaum, Scott Parsons and of course, Gus Etchegary, in Newfoundland and Labrador, and their committee.
Over the past two years this has become a simmering debate that has now come to a head right in this House, which is where it should be. I think the House will cast its judgment on this. I hope the government will realize in this particular situation that it should seriously consider the amendments that are put forward in this House.
Certain countries have already looked favourably toward it. One has ratified it, in the form of Norway. Other countries are currently going through this process. For us, it is a situation where we have our country straddling some very precious fishing grounds, spawning grounds, the nose and tail of the Grand Banks, in particular. What we have here is a situation where it goes beyond our allotted 200-mile limit which was established for us in the late 1970s.
I think of two individuals in particular I would love to hear from in this debate. Unfortunately, they have departed and may God rest their souls. The two individuals I speak of would be the late Hon. Don Jamieson and the late Right Hon. Roméo LeBlanc. They fought so hard and so well for an issue that meant so much for the east coast of this country, and certainly for my province when they established that 200-mile zone off the coast. It is certainly to their honour that we speak of this issue today, whether one is for or against this subject.
Now we talk about NAFO, founded in 1979, on the tail of what was the International Commission of the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries, more commonly known as ICNAF. The NAFO website states, and this is very interesting:
NAFO's overall objective is to contribute through consultation and cooperation to the optimum utilization, rational management and conservation of the fishery resources of the Convention Area.
When I say “convention area”, I mean the northwest Atlantic.
To say that we have had our problems with this particular convention is perhaps a mild understatement.
Just a few days ago, we heard testimony from former federal fisheries minister Loyola Hearn. I can safely say that he was one of NAFO's most vociferous opponents. Whenever this House would talk about NAFO reform in earnest, the former fisheries minister and, by extension, the Conservative Party at the time, spoke so badly against NAFO that we were led to believe it is the worst thing that happened to the industry on the east coast of this country.
Is that part of the debate today? No, it is not. However, let us keep in mind that all of a sudden, this particular government is now pushing the virtues of what is NAFO. It is doing it by saddling up to an agreement that, in essence, I feel, gets it off the hook, as it were. Here is what I mean by that.
In 2006, that particular party, now the government, decided it wanted to extend the 200 miles. In its literature, the Conservative Party told the people of this country, and it certainly told the people of the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, that it was about to extend 200 nautical miles, therefore becoming a complete, exclusive Canadian jurisdiction. In return, what we got was a deal whereby it figured that it had achieved, through some kind of nuance, just that. But now, all of a sudden, we find ourselves in a situation where, after two years of compiling evidence, many of us realize that it has done just the opposite. By trying to extend a management zone beyond the 200 nautical miles, what it has done is relinquished its own sovereignty within that particular 200 nautical miles. In other words, it wanted to push the door open but, unfortunately, the door came back in.
For a government that prides itself, as my hon. colleague pointed out, on exclusive rights, sovereignty over the north and the Northwest Passage, this is a hard pill for it to swallow in this particular situation.
That is why we rise here in the House today. That is why we express the concerns we have in this debate here in the House, and now go forward with a vote so that the will of the people can be heard and certainly the will of the people of Newfoundland and Labrador.
The government states that it cannot see any situation in which it would invite NAFO to come inside the 200-mile EEZ, or the exclusive economic zone. If that is the case, why have Canada's negotiators agreed to this clause in the NAFO amendments? They defend this particular measure in the new amendments by saying that it can happen only by invitation, which begs the question why it is there.
I have a theory. I think it goes back to several years ago when the European Union decided that because of the situation in the North Sea and other parts of northeastern Europe, in which several states are bordering each other and things get confusing when the 200 nautical-mile rule is used, they have come up with a common management regime. The European Union has taken this common management regime and applied it to us, and the mistake we made was saying yes to that. That was the mistake. It is not the same situation. We are bordering the high seas here.
This is a situation in which boats from member states of the European Union, such as Spain and Portugal, are over here in the Northwest Atlantic. We are talking about Canada and the high seas. This is not the same management regime. They are trying to force that upon us, and the government has accepted it. The government wanted to say to this country that it did what it said it would do. Promise made, promise kept was its slogan, and in essence, it has given up far more than what it could have imagined itself.
The...Minister called this “improved decision-making” and stated that this will provide some protection for Canada's current allocation percentages.
In the short term, it is questionable.
The cost to conservation is, apparently, an acceptable casualty to improve our chances of maintaining our allocation percentages. Canada could have demanded both, a 2/3 system to protect the existing quota shares, and a simple majority system to promote conservation, but this did not happen.
At a time when Canada is trying to protect, as I mentioned earlier, the sovereignty of the north, we must consider that the sovereignty of the Atlantic coast is something that is paramount here and something that we feel is being threatened. Hopefully this House will pass judgment on that.
This is very important for us and for Newfoundland and Labrador, as well as for the east coast of Quebec. It is very important for the whole country.
For Canada and for ourselves, we must say to the entire region, to the entire international community, not just the people associated with NAFO but the entire community, that there is a move afoot around the world to go toward more international management regimes. We are seeing it in many jurisdictions around the world, through the Pacific, the Atlantic and the Indian Oceans. Bear in mind, however, that the issue of sovereignty has to be maintained for that one individual state, and this is what we are trying to do today.
They have made the straight giveaway of management within this jurisdiction that was so sacrosanct and that fought so hard for the past 30 or 40 years. We find ourselves in this situation today, and I hope that following this debate, changes will be made, certainly that an attempt will be made.
Just recently, last week, I attended the Bonavista fisheries symposium, and we talked about how there are certain things that just do not add up in this particular situation off the east coast. Only so much shrimp is being landed and brought to shore in the east coast of this province, and yet only a fraction of that is being processed. People are asking why. A lot of people have questions.
A lot of people need the answers. Today I hope that we are going to provide enlightenment in this debate and provide people with the opportunity to see what is happening with these NAFO amendments, why we should debate them and why we should cast our opinion to vote this down.
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to enter into this debate. As my colleagues on the committee know, this has been before us for a while now. The notion that somehow our government is restricting debate on it is really difficult to understand. We have certainly done our best to allow debate in committee and to allow it to be brought before the House.
Let me start off by saying that we on this side of the House understand the importance of fisheries for our coastal communities. We know the income that they generate from the high seas for the processing sector as well as supporting industries, equipment suppliers, retailers and others. In fact, they mean billions of dollars in economic input for our coastal communities each year, and in these difficult economic times, this income is all the more crucial.
For these fisheries to continue to thrive we must, among other things, continuously strive to curb overfishing and to ensure the sustainability of the fish stocks and the long-term health of the ecosystems in which they live. As one of my colleagues has said, fish do not respect boundaries of any kind, so these concerns are global, international concerns. Areas beyond national jurisdictions require solutions that are achieved cooperatively with other fishing nations.
On the east coast of Canada, we have a vested interest in the successes and failings of NAFO, the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization. Its regulatory area abuts our national waters. Canada has been a full member of NAFO since its first convention was adopted in 1978, which came from the amended version of its predecessor, ICNAF, but a lot has changed since 1978. The face of the fisheries has changed, along with the expectations of those who manage them. These things have evolved.
Let me first talk about how we have gotten to where we are today. The 1978 NAFO convention predates the United Nations fish stocks agreement of 1995 and most other modern fisheries instruments as well. Fisheries management has changed radically since then also. We now have ENGOs, or environmental non-governmental organizations, at the table that report on the deliberations of NAFO. We have the marketplace insisting it will allow to come in only those products that can be demonstrated to be fished sustainably and caught sustainably through traceability programs, certification programs and other things. As of January 1, 2010, and we are not far from there, the European Union will require fish products entering its market to be certified as having been harvested sustainably. In short, the world of fisheries has evolved significantly, and our world-class fishing industry needs our support.
My Liberals colleagues would have us believe that this amended convention is some nefarious scheme, a document imposed on us against Canada's will. They discount the collective wisdom of the learned and experienced industry and legal members of our negotiating delegation. Canadians should know that in 2005 at the conclusion of the St. John's conference, which was called “Governance of the High Seas Fisheries and the UN Fish Agreement: Moving from Words to Action”, the member for , then fisheries minister, felt very differently about things. He signed a declaration calling for reform of organizations. He proudly stated:
The Government of Canada considers the Conference as a positive step toward stronger international fisheries governance.... We will continue to press for further progress to modernize fisheries management on the high seas.
Members should notice that last phrase, “to modernize fisheries management on the high seas”. In fact, that is what we are talking about today, our attempt to achieve in NAFO the modernization of fisheries management. As they have done on many issues, the Liberals talked a good game, but they did not deliver. They did not get to the action part of that announcement.
Our government pressed for action when Canadians voiced their desire for change in 2006, and NAFO members agreed that it was time to modernize the organization in order to bring it in line with the 1995 United Nations Fish Agreement, or UNFA, as it is usually called.
We know we have to be forward-looking and we need to give ourselves the modern decision making tools required to deal with the modern problems we face. I think my colleagues would agree with that.
First came the enforcement reforms in 2006. These reforms did not require an amendment to the NAFO convention, as such, and have been in force since 2007.
Let me say on the record that Canadians, especially those in Newfoundland and Labrador, owe a real debt of gratitude to the former fisheries minister, Loyola Hearn. This was his primary focus for many months. I worked with him on this and other issues, and he was committed to doing better in NAFO.
I am surprised at some of the comments I have heard so far. We need to admit that the NAFO that we inherited in 2006 was not working and for 13 years it is not clear to me what efforts the previous government made to improve it.
We now have deterrents in place in the NAFO regulatory area and foreign overfishing has dramatically declined. That really matters. After years of talk, Canada is finally seeing tangible results of increased co-operation. We have seen better adherence to scientific advice and enforcement vigilance.
Important stocks are now showing some signs of recovery and that is because we have done some work. We have air patrols, 2,000 to 3,000 air surveillance hours annually. Our ships are out there again. Approximately 800 Canadian Coast Guard patrol vessel days are dedicated to the NAFO regulatory areas.
In the last few years, we have seen fewer violations. There has been a dramatic reduction in the number of violations. In 2004, for example, I believe there were 13, perhaps more, serious violations. In 2008, I do not think there were any. This year, there have been three or four so far, but there is a dramatic reduction from the way it used to be.
Enforcement and science are only part of the solution. NAFO needed a modern governance framework according to which decisions are made and for which they could be held legally accountable. With a strict mandate from the previous minister, Canada took a leadership role and NAFO members negotiated and adopted amendments to the 1978 convention in 2007. The Government of Canada supports these amendments because we know they are the right way forward.
Let me say this clearly. All members of the Canadian delegation were onside throughout the whole multi-year negotiation process and were consulted extensively. That includes the representatives from the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador.
I must confess that our government was taken by surprise by the sudden about-face of the province of Newfoundland and Labrador in late summer 2009. It gave us its support to NAFO reform over the last three or four years, even in writing. For it to now say otherwise at the eleventh hour is very surprising and disappointing.
On the other hand, we have heard strong support from senior representatives of the Canadian fishing industry at the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans. Patrick McGuinness, for example, the president of the Fisheries Council of Canada, stated,
We do see specific improvements with respect to the current NAFO regime...Our recommendation to Parliament will be to ratify the document as presented.
Bruce Chapman, president of the Groundfish Enterprise Allocation Council and the Canadian Association for Prawn Producers, stated, “In our view, this is in our interest to ratify this new convention”.
For the member for to indicate that he is standing up for all residents of Newfoundland and Labrador is just not the case.
We have also heard equally compelling testimony at the standing committee from renowned Canadian legal experts. For example, Ted McDorman from the University of Victoria, originally a maritimer, which I am sure he would want me to say, and Phillip Saunders, the Dean of Dalhousie Law School, have both provided a balanced perspective on the NAFO amendments. Mr. McDorman noted:
By the standards of other organizations, there's actually been some significant progress made here with the NAFO amendments.
As I said earlier, NAFO faces some very different issues and much higher public and market expectations for our fisheries today than is supported by the existing convention, and despite promises by the previous government to implement the stronger UNFA provisions into NAFO, it simply did not do it, not in any way other than to promise NAFO reforms at the 2005 St. John's conference, the same NAFO reform that it is rejecting today. It kind of boggles the mind.
Canada needs NAFO to work. The opposition has not given us any solutions that I have heard so far. Our industry needs it. Ecosystems that cross the boundary from our 200-mile limit need it.
I will just briefly address some of the concerns raised by my colleagues in large measure through the material provided by expert witnesses at committee. Canadians deserve to hear in this Chamber that changes for the amended NAFO convention are widely supported by those who have read it and are directly affected by it.
First, and we should not miss this, under the current convention, fish stocks have increasingly collapsed. They are managed as a single species and decision makers are not bound to adhere to scientific advice. Everyone here I think would agree that this approach is ineffective, but the amended convention requires ecosystem-based and precautionary approaches to decision making. This is explicitly in the language of the convention, according to the amendments.
Given the proximity and overlaps with Canadian waters, it is high time that NAFO protected fish stocks and the ecosystems that support them. It is forward-looking and overdue.
For example, significant international pressure, including a 2006 United Nations General Assembly resolution, requires those fishing on the high seas to protect vulnerable marine ecosystems or risk broad bans of gear types used extensively by Canadian industry. NAFO members have led the way.
For example, certain seamount areas have been closed to commercial fishing until scientific research shows that it is safe. A coral protection zone has been established which is closed to bottom-contact fishing. At the 2009 annual meeting, NAFO closed 11 areas which were identified by scientific studies as containing high concentrations of corals and sponges in the NAFO regulatory area. This is precisely the approach taken in waters in the Canadian zone and is fully in Canada's interest. No political spin or speculation will make that less true.
Let me mention one other issue, the objection procedure with which my colleague from the Liberal Party began this debate.
Objection procedures allow sovereign countries not to apply international provisions in conflict with their national interests. Unfortunately, the current NAFO convention does not fetter the use of objections and, as has been pointed out and we agree, the abuses leading to foreign overfishing are legendary in NAFO. NAFO parties can disagree with a particular catch or quota decision and fish as much as they want. The current convention also lacks a dispute settlement process, leading to longstanding disagreements, some of them still unresolved even to this day.
Under the amended convention, we will have a controlled and timely system to address objections. The grounds under which an objection can be made have been narrowed and a contracting party that objects will be required to set out alternative measures that it intends to take for conservation and management of the fishery, consistent with the objective of the convention. The objection can then be referred to an ad hoc panel which will examine the issue and make a timely recommendation to NAFO.
Should this process not resolve the issue, parties can use a binding dispute resolution mechanism that will ensure that the issue is resolved and does not linger for years, as is the case under the current convention.
We need to bear in mind that it is not about language. It is about protecting the fisheries resources. It is about compliance. It is about NAFO parties being willing to comply, realizing that it is in their best interests. This kind of objection procedure, the sort of name and shame approach that will be required of them, to state for the record why they are objecting, the grounds for that objection and how they think it meets the conservation objectives of the NAFO convention, is a whole new approach, and I think it will be successful.
Let me also just refer briefly to whether Canada is effectively protecting its sovereign rights under this amended convention. This has been brought up a number of times and will probably be brought up again. Let me be very clear. The amended convention explicitly and fully protects Canadian sovereignty over the 200-mile exclusive economic zone.
The previous Liberal government signed treaties that bound Canada to obligations such as ensuring compatibility between NAFO measures and Canadian measures that apply to fish stocks that straddle our 200-mile limit. This government ensured that, in the amended NAFO convention, it is clear that Canada will control the process of establishing such compatible measures in its own waters.
More specifically, measures will not apply in Canadian waters unless two conditions are met: first, the Canadian government requests the measure; and second, Canada's NAFO delegation votes to adopt it. In his testimony, Dean Saunders said:
I've tried to work through the scenarios in which it would become a real problem, and I find they mostly require an awful lot of steps to take place before something really bad could happen. Because the Canadian government holds complete control.
My colleagues will speak more on this matter, but any speculation by the opposition that our sovereignty is at risk is wrong-headed and irresponsible. In response to questions about the possible negative use of article VI.10 in the amended convention by another NAFO contracting party, Mr. McGuinness replied, “It is extremely far-fetched”, and we agree with him.
Fundamentally, these changes provide for a more modern governance process and a decision making process based on modern fisheries management principles that reflect today's challenges faced by NAFO. Canadian industry wants this. The provincial government was onside with us on this. It integrates the most up-to-date decision making and management practices while effectively protecting the interests of Canadians.
Where do we go from here? We essentially have two options. We can adopt the NAFO amendments as were recommended by Canadian industry representatives or reject them as proposed by the opposition. This may well lead to a restart of the negotiations. However, it is extremely unclear where this would take us or whether it is even remotely possible to expect a significantly different outcome.
Another possibility is to kill or withdraw NAFO as proposed by a small, more radical group. This is not a realistic option, as Canada would forfeit its fishing opportunities in the NAFO regulatory area as well as its voice at the table, where decisions are taken. Certainly, we do not want to go to a place where it is a free-for-all on the high seas. Only Canada loses at that point. Canada's interests and responsibilities in NAFO are clear to our stakeholders and they should be to the opposition members as well.
We will continue to advocate for change through multilateral discussions and through our important bilateral relations with likeminded fishing countries. We look forward to the next NAFO annual meeting, where we will have another opportunity to help the organization move forward on its commitments. Hard-working Canadians expect us to defend their interests.
Finally, let me take this opportunity to move the following motion. I move:
That the debate be now adjourned.