Madam Speaker, I would like to inform you that I will be splitting my time with the member for St. Catharines.
Today we are talking about Bill C-55, a bill that would amend the Oceans Act and the Canada Petroleum Resources Act.
Bill C-55 is an important element of our marine conservation agenda. While the proposed amendments provide another tool for us to meet our international commitment to increase the protection of Canada's marine and coastal areas to 10% by 2020, our government's objective, first and foremost, is to protect sensitive and important marine and coastal areas for the benefit of present and future generations of Canadians.
Decades of experience in establishing marine protected areas has shown us that too many delays occur during the establishment process. Through this experience, we have learned there are circumstances where greater harm to sensitive marine areas can occur during the time it takes to establish a marine protected area, sometimes up to 10 years.
The interim protections proposed under Bill C-55 address this gap in conserving our marine biodiversity and will give us the option to establish interim protection where initial science and consultation tells us we need to afford the area extra precaution.
While I thank the other place for the attention paid to the bill, the new amendments would negatively impact the government's ability to apply the precautionary principle and could put sensitive and important ecosystems at risk.
While we are rejecting the amendment from the other place, we are proposing to replace it with an amendment that would capture the intent of the changes sought by members of the other place. Indeed, we understand the concern that was shared by various senators regarding the consultations and ensuring the communities would not be negatively impacted by interim protection orders. We agree that consultations are important. In fact, they are the cornerstone of the development of marine protected areas.
That is why we are proposing an amendment that would require the geographical location, relevant information, as well as consultations that were undertaken, to be published when an order for interim protection is made. This proposed amendment will ensure that communities get the information they need and that we undertake the comprehensive consultations that are outlined in existing legislation in the designation of interim protection. It will allow us to continue to apply the precautionary approach, which underpins the objectives of this bill.
Most of the discussions held during the Senate review of Bill C-55 focused on transparency and consultations. I would like to provide an example of how the Government of Canada is demonstrating its commitment to work with many of its valued partners in an open and collaborative manner.
This government has been working steadily to build a partnership with the Government of Nunavut and the Qikiqtani Inuit Association to advance protection of Canada's High Arctic marine environment. As well, we have been engaging directly with northern communities and conducting scientific studies to better understand this ecosystem and its linkages to food security for indigenous peoples.
This area is of particular ecological importance as it maintains a relatively constant cover of old, thick and multi-year pack ice. As the ice melts in the rest of the Arctic, this area is expected to retain its multi-year pack ice further into the future and may therefore provide a last refuge for ice-dependent species, such as polar bears, beluga whales, narwhals and seals. Sea ice also provides habitat for the algae that forms a vital part of the Arctic food web. This area is also home to the last remaining ice shelves in North America.
This ongoing collaboration has led to a memorandum of understanding with the Government of Nunavut and the Qikiqtani Inuit Association, committing us to assess the feasibility and desirability of protecting the High Arctic Basin. This work will consider the social, cultural, environmental and economic benefits and impacts of establishing a conservation area in this region.
This conservation effort supports the development of a conservation economy in the Arctic and our budget 2019 affirms this commitment to protect the High Arctic Basin with our partners.
The ability to provide early interim protection to the High Arctic Basin depends on royal assent of Bill C-55 in a manner that does not contradict the fundamental spirit and intent of the bill; that is to take action quickly to protect ecologically sensitive and important marine areas following initial science and consultation.
In a recent letter, the Qikiqtani Inuit Association, which represents over 15,000 Inuit, expressed serious concerns about the amendments provided by the other place. In the letter, the president, PJ Akeeagok, states:
We are concerned that this proposed amendment risks undermining the actualization of Inuit rights by conflating the requirement to uphold the rights of Inuit with a broader engagement with the interests of stakeholders. The current version of Bill C-55, sets out the appropriate hierarchy. Interim measures allow parties the opportunity to commit to determining the final details required to establish protected areas. This important step is key to successfully ensuring all parties interests are taken into account prior to final establishment.
QIA further submits that striking a broader consultation after an interim order is appropriate and effective to assess whether formal designation of part or all of the area under an interim order should be recommended to be designated as a permanent MPA by regulation.
The Government of Canada respects the rights of indigenous peoples and we are committed to consulting, collaborating and partnering with the very governments and groups that are essential to interim protection and longer-term protection.
With the support of our Inuit and northern partners, we intend to establish an interim marine protected area for the High Arctic Basin. Following this step, Fisheries and Oceans Canada and Parks Canada agencies will continue to work with the Government of Nunavut and the Qikiqtani Inuit Association and others to continue important scientific work and explore the best ways of collaboratively protecting and managing this area through permanent protection measures.
On April 25, at the Nature Champions Summit in Montreal, the government announced new protection standards for marine protected areas. While these standards apply to future federal marine protected areas that are permanent and not to interim protection, the government's commitment to high protection standards was applauded in Canada and by the international community.
Marine conservation has always been, and will always be, an all-in effort. To date, we have protected 8.27% of our ocean estate. We did not get there alone. This tremendous achievement is the result of many protected areas established by provinces, territories and the federal government. It also includes the contribution of other conservation measures, like marine refuges, which have been developed in collaboration with many parties, most notably fisheries groups.
Reaching our target has been a high priority for this government and we are committed to achieving it together with our partners. We can no longer take our rich endowment of marine biodiversity for granted. We have been drawing economic benefit from our oceans for generations, but we need to invest in protecting our oceans to ensure the ecosystem services they provide can be maintained into the future.
Healthy marine ecosystems provide a range of vital benefits. They support climate regulation, provide nutritious food and support seafood industries and many other economic sectors and provide habitat needed to support species abundance.
Bill C-55 has been reviewed by Parliament for nearly two years. With interim protection, we will be able to act quickly and collaboratively to protect our oceans from coast to coast to coast. Bill C-55 is based on a vision to protect our oceans for future generations, and its success depends on partnerships. We must act today and pass the bill as the House intended.