House of Commons Hansard #115 of the 35th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was fishing.

Topics

Business Of The House

10 a.m.

Fundy Royal
New Brunswick

Liberal

Paul Zed Parliamentary Secretary to Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I move:

That, immediately after the conclusion of Private Members' Business on Tuesday, December 10, 1996, the House shall consider a motion "That this House take note of the fiftieth anniversary of the adoption of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1998 and the importance of this declaration in the promotion of human rights both domestically and throughout the world," and that during the consideration of this motion no quorum calls or dilatory motions shall be received and that, at the end of the three hours of consideration or when no Member rises to speak, whichever is earlier, the House shall adjourn to the next sitting day.

(Motion agreed to.)

The House resumed from November 27, 1996, consideration of the motion that Bill C-62, an act concerning fisheries, be read the second time and referred to a committee; and of the amendment and the amendment to the amendment.

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10 a.m.

Bloc

Yvan Bernier Gaspé, QC

Mr. Speaker, before I start my speech, I think it should be pointed out that there were five minutes left for questions and comments, following the Reform member's speech. I believe the hon. member concerned is not here this morning. Therefore, I will get on with my speech.

I am pleased to address the amendment and the amendment to the amendment proposed by the Reform Party, asking that the bill be not now read a second time but that it be referred to the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans, so as to allow the government and members of this House to review the basis of this legislation. In our humble opinion, we in the official opposition agree with Reformers that, in its current wording, the bill does not make sense. Therefore, we will support the amendment proposed by the Reform Party.

I should remind the House of the Bloc's position. During the debate on the main motion, I mentioned three major irritants. The amendment and the amendment to the amendment proposed by the Reform party provide us with another opportunity to stress the three major irritants in this legislation.

Let me say from the outset that those main irritants relate to the management agreements referred to in clause 17. These agreements allow the minister to invite, at his discretion, classes of fishers or persons of his choice to enter into management agreements, and therefore share the wealth among themselves.

However, all this is discretionary. Fishers involved will not know the rules of the game, because the bill is silent on this issue.

The second major irritant relates to the delegation of powers. While our views may sometimes differ from those of Reformers, we should discuss them again in committee and then come back here with a proper solution.

According to the Bloc Quebecois, the delegation of authority proposed in the bill is inadequate and, more to the point, contradictory. I will explain why in a bit more detail later on.

The third irritant in the bill is the creation of fisheries tribunals, to be found in part III, I believe. In my view, these tribunals are just an excuse so the minister can set up a quasi-judicial system of administrative awards.

They say that future members of the tribunals will be appointed for three years only. At the present time, decisions are made by the regional directors of Fisheries and Oceans. What is the difference between a decision made by a regional director and an official appointed for three years by the minister? Three years is not very long to learn how to exercise one's responsibilities with diligence and transparency, and in a non-political manner.

There are other irritants, particularly concerning the environment. My colleague, the member for Laurentides, will have an opportunity to speak to this today. I must point out right off the bat

that the Bloc Quebecois sees serious problems with the provinces. The way the bill is worded, the government is giving itself new powers, or increasing those it already has. If the federal government does not like the way the provinces are managing their environment, it will be able, with this new bill, to claim that its authority takes precedence. We object to that.

I will now be more specific. I spoke about the main irritant of the management orders. I think the government is up to no good. I see that the secretary of state for agriculture, and fisheries and oceans is listening to us very attentively this morning. I will therefore take this opportunity to try to instruct government members.

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10:10 a.m.

An hon. member

It will not be easy.

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10:10 a.m.

Bloc

Yvan Bernier Gaspé, QC

No, it will not be easy, but I will try to be as clear as possible.

I will start by giving an example, and perhaps the secretary of state will understand. Last spring, the fishery helped develop an agreement in principle for the management of certain stocks.

I would remind the secretary of state that crabbers from zone 12, whom he must have heard of, participated in good faith in last spring's exercise. What happened? At the request of the former Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, officials of that department worked in good faith with fishers to establish a framework agreement. It will be recalled that officials duly authorized by the former minister ratified the agreement with the crabbers in question.

When the new minister took up his duties in February 1996, he repudiated their signatures, signing the death warrant for this agreement in principle.

The secretary of state will have a chance to speak shortly.

The main thrust of this is that, when one wants to establish a partnership, first of all, if one wishes to respect the spirit of partnership-I see that the hon. member from Newfoundland understands, and is listening to me; I hope he will be speaking shortly-one must establish an atmosphere of trust. That relationship of trust has been broken. Without going into further detail, I know there is a case currently before a judge, in Moncton I believe, in which crab fishers are seeking a decision on whether the minister was justified in dumping this agreement in principle, as well as on who will have to pay the costs the industry incurred to establish this agreement.

It is immediately evident that the government took a position right from the start, by wishing to implement these partnership agreements.

An additional remark can be made here concerning the fisheries management orders. I have already referred to the discretionary powers of the minister. I have met with several fishers' associations and they are anxious to find out who can be a party to these agreements, how one becomes party to one, and what the mechanisms will be.

There is nothing in this bill to indicate how it will be done. Nothing. This is even more dangerous. Without prejudging who is entitled and who is not, let me give an example of what happens when nothing is clearly established: the social chaos this fall in Chaleur Bay. I am not challenging the right of aboriginal people to fish, but they are nonetheless a new group, a new player in the game. This is an example of what happens when no provision has been made for how a new player can be brought into the game.

Those who were already involved in this fishery were surprised. Now, what is going to happen? How will a place be made for them? And who is to say that there will not be other groups tomorrow? Because the act speaks of classes of permit holders, and it is therefore understood that this refers to people already active in the commercial fishery, and reference is made to any group of individuals, but it is all at the minister's discretion. Some of the government literature refers to partnership agreements. I repeat, when partnerships are involved, there must be an atmosphere of trust. But such trust is not there at the present time.

The minister could have a second chance, if we assume that this was an oversight, that he forgot to include the mechanisms. If we could at least have some specifics on the mechanism that will be used, once the cod fishery is resumed, to decide who will work in the fisheries, since we do not expect the cod fishery to be resumed at the same pace at which it was abandoned?

When I look at what the government is doing now, I see no indication of how this long awaited rationalization will be implemented. I saw no indication of how the core groups involved in the fisheries will be defined. I even raised this question with an official at the department where I was told: "We will let the industry take care of that". As far as the Atlantic fisheries strategy is concerned, $1.9 billion was wasted. These people were given financial support, but we thought that the government, to make the most of its $1.9 billion investment, would require an accounting of the money spent, and that there would be a deadline and a schedule. Representatives for the department told us right off the bat: "No, we left it up to the industry". So there is no obligation on fishers to define their core activity as such before a given date and to rationalize their activities accordingly. It used to be management for the short and medium term.

There is no indication of a mechanism the minister could have started using on a trial basis and then included in his legislation,

with the comment: "I tested this on a group of fishers". Nothing was done. This shows there is much that will have to go back to the drawing board.

The official opposition is prepared to go along with this exercise of informing the government. It is willing to meet the industry with members of other parties and then ensure the government listens to the industry. That is the tenor of the amendment proposed by the Reform Party. However, I wonder what members opposite who rise in the House today will have to say about this.

The clock seems to be moving very quickly this morning, and I want be sure I do not run out of time, but before discussing the other main irritant, the delegation of authority, again in the management agreements the department wants to arrange, there are other points we should not overlook. The management agreements, according to paragraph 17(d), I believe, provide that fishers who are parties to the said agreement-and this is probably what the government will want to do on a large scale-will pay their share of management fees.

As a member of the opposition, it seems to me that the sole purpose of this bill is to help the government deal with a financial problem and that the government certainly has no intention of dealing with the fundamentals of managing the industry, because it is still discretionary, but what is not discretionary is the fact that fishers will have to pay management fees.

We must not forget that the father of this bill, Brian Tobin, left a little present for the fishers before going: he increased licence fees. So in two years, we will have had two proposals affecting a group that pays taxes like anybody else. This means double taxation. That is what we said when licence fees were proposed, but I find it very sad that fishing communities are more likely to have problems with unemployment insurance.

I realize the government is taking money out of the pockets of people who may have a little more money than others if they have their own fishing vessels, but does the government realize that when it takes this money, it is taking wealth out of the community and sending it back to Ottawa? These are people who already have a high rate of unemployment in their community, and the government goes and makes money even scarcer. I find that appalling.

At the time, I proposed to Mr. Tobin, if this measure had to be introduced, and the Bloc Quebecois also advocated rationalizing the deficit like any good parent or farmer, that we have part go directly to Ottawa. If the fisher could prove he invested in his community, in order to distribute the wealth and create jobs, he would not have to remit the entire amount to Ottawa. The government did nothing. Not only did it not act, but we were told immediately that new administration fees will be charged.

There is another small point. Since we are discussing the government's invoice, there was another case pending which, I think, has been settled. There was a decision by the court and, if I am not mistaken, the federal government either tried to pass other legislation or signed contracts with fishers, but there is still no mention in the present bill of landing fees.

The federal government has already had its knuckles rapped once. I think it was in 1992. In 1994, the system was changed. They have already had their knuckles rapped for failing to provide a legal mechanism for the payment of these things. And yet, there is still no provision in this bill. It is easy to see the number of problems that have yet to be resolved.

Time is passing quickly this morning, Mr. Speaker. Perhaps with the unanimous consent of the House, I could have the five minutes for questions and comments the Reform Party did not use, since I was the first to speak this morning.

In any case, delegation of powers to the provinces is both inadequate and contradictory. There is not enough, and I hope my colleagues will discuss it some more this morning. One need only read the proposal the Government of Quebec made in Victoria in November 1994 for it to become clear. British Columbia too is asking to have its powers over fisheries management returned. They are currently negotiating. I think the negotiations are to conclude at the end of February.

Why is the federal government in such a hurry to introduce a bill like this one, given that negotiations are currently going on with British Columbia? The initial protocol provides that the agreement is not to be tabled before February.

I believe the government does not listen to itself. As evidence of the fact that this is inadequate, just look at the powers sought by the provinces and you will see how far off the mark it is.

There is also a contradiction here. In light of what I said about management agreements, if the federal government negotiates directly with fishers, or groups of fishers, regarding issues such as the number of fishing licences and traps, or who will share the wealth, what is there left to delegate to the provinces, since clause 17 takes precedence over clause 9? There will hardly be anything left to delegate. It will be a virtual delegation of powers.

I said the fisheries tribunal was a front. When people are appointed for three years only, how can they be non-partisan or not think about being re-elected or re-appointed? These people will be appointed for a period of three years, with specific directions from the minister. If they do not follow these directions, their mandate will definitely not be renewed.

Fishers are entitled to a system that is fair, a system with no strings attached. If we get such a structure, we will support the legislation.

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10:25 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Is the hon. member asking for unanimous consent of the House to complete his remarks, or did I misunderstand his point?

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10:25 a.m.

Bloc

Yvan Bernier Gaspé, QC

Mr. Speaker, I asked to have a little more time because I know there was time left over from the Reform. I still have lots of things to teach government members. If they want to listen to me-

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10:25 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

I will ask the question. Is there unanimous consent of the House for the hon. member to finish his speech?

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10:25 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

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10:25 a.m.

Some hon. members

No.

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10:25 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

Since I heard some people say no, I cannot grant more time to the hon. member. Questions and comments.

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10:25 a.m.

Bloc

Paul Crête Kamouraska—Rivière-Du-Loup, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened with great interest to the speech of my hon. colleague from Gaspé. Being myself a former employee of the marine fisheries branch in Gaspé, I know that the Quebec fishing industry is operating under dynamics very different from those in the west, for example, or even in the Atlantic provinces.

Fisheries are very important in concerned areas like the Gaspé peninsula, the North Shore, Magdalen Islands, all that area. They are also a small part of Quebec economy. Therefore special management is called for.

Looking at the bill, I am a little surprised because, from 1922 until 1984, there was a delegation agreement. Under that agreement, the federal government had delegated fisheries management to Quebec. In 1984, the minister of the day, Pierre De Bané, who now sits in the other place, decided-in a fit of anger, I believe-to withdraw that delegation. That shows the strength these administrative delegations have.

I would like to ask the hon. member for Gaspé whether it does not seem to him that the delegation of powers found in the bill has a needlessly complicated air about it. They want to give the provinces the power to issue permits and licences, but then, if I understand correctly, it will be the federal government that will enter into the resource management and protection agreements directly with the industry. The impression I get from this is that we will end up with the same squabbles as before, which may have been behind the withdrawal of the delegation set out in the 1922 agreement.

I would like to ask a question of my colleague from Gaspé: Does he not think that this piece of legislation will be a source of new conflict and will only feed the bureaucrats implementing it without meeting the needs of fishers, especially those in Quebec who are a little lost in the great Canadian whole as for the choices that are made?

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10:30 a.m.

Bloc

Yvan Bernier Gaspé, QC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague for Kamouraska-Rivière-du-Loup understands quite well where the government is headed concerning this issue. What fishers in the province and the province itself want is complete jurisdiction over fisheries. If we are to manage this, let us manage it entirely.

As things stand now, when cod are alive, they are under federal jurisdiction. As soon as they are taken out of the water, they are under provincial jurisdiction, because fish plants and fish plant standards are a provincial matter.

Several provinces guarantee fishing boat loans themselves. When cod die, there is a change in jurisdiction, but that does not solve any of the problems of fishers or the industry.

The Quebec government demands the devolution of all those powers if it is to manage something. It has to be in charge of licence delivery, administration and fish stock preservation. Provincial demands about this make a lot of sense. We all know that the cod resource migrates. The province of Quebec alone cannot be expected to manage biological research or the assessment of the cod biomass, because cod migrate.

We demanded first the right to manage the delivery of licences. How would the remaining responsibilities be shared? If the federal government does not know how to do it, it just needs to do proceed the same way NAFO does.

NAFO, or Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization includes a number of countries, and each one of them contributes to the assessment of stocks with the co-operation of biologists and commercial fishers. This information is then compiled by a secretariat. The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea even stipulates that border countries have primary responsibility for preparing and providing these assessments. If border countries do not comply, any other member state of the convention can step in.

The hon. member from Newfoundland could confirm that, in many cases, Russia has provided the biological data on the halibut stock off the Grand Banks of Newfoundland. So, as you can see, shared management systems do exist.

Have you ever heard of Canada having problems with Russia in terms of fish management? No. We have had problems with Spain, yes, because that country did not want to comply with what was behind our management philosophy.

What we have to do is apply whatever models we have. What would be the impact of managing our fish stock using an approach

similar to NAFO's model? Quebec's quota would be already set. Let us not kid ourselves, around 85 per cent of all the fish caught in the Gulf come under individual quotas. That does not leave much room for negotiation.

What else would happen? We could have a system where everything from beginning to end, from the harvesting to the dinner plate, from the fishers to the consumers, would come under one jurisdiction. The government could ensure resource allocation, namely defining fishing areas and classifying fish boats.

What people have to understand is that different types of fishing boats would be needed. Because of fish migration, I could not tell you what fishing boats would have to be used.

Everyone knows full well that when the fish comes in, trawlers cannot catch it off the coast of Gaspé, so trawl lines or gill nets have to be used. And then the fish heads back for the banks, at which time trawlers can get to work, but when they catch too much fish, there is less left for those who use trawl lines or gill nets. So, if we have a given amount of fish to catch in a given time in order for the fish plants to run a profit, then we would have to find some way to strike a balance.

The problem is, if we find a way to manage the system from beginning to end, once fishers land their catch, what do we do with it? The Bloc Quebecois once suggested-and nobody was against it but this is not possible under the current system-to provide some sort of buffer zone between fishers and processors. Why? Because our main problem is that our processing plants are overspecialized. A plant that used to produce salted and dried fish had to get fish measuring at least 20 inches, so when a fisher came in with a 16-inch fish, which is still legal, they were less interested.

They should have told him: "Unload everything at the same place and we will take care of market segmentation".

What is needed is a single jurisdiction and a will to assume responsibility instead of everybody passing the buck as is the case now, as my colleague from Kamouraska-Rivière-du-Loup pointed out.

The delegation of powers proposed in this bill does not seem very promising, since the federal government can choose anytime to opt out and say: "Get yourself out of the mess", as it did in 1984.

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10:35 a.m.

Liberal

George Baker Gander—Grand Falls, NL

Mr. Speaker, after listening to the Bloc and the Reform Party, I feel compelled to say at least a few words about this bill.

The Bloc does not like the bill. The Reform Party does not like the bill. The Tories do not like the bill and the NDP does not like it. There must be something terribly right about this bill if those political parties are saying they do not like it.

It is not just those political parties which do not like the bill. It is also making international news this morning in the European press. The reason is that the European Union is claiming now that it is not going to sign a co-operation agreement with Canada because according to this story that is in the papers from Canadian Press: "According to judicial services"-now that is in the European Union-"there will be more than 14 articles with extraterritorial effects in the fisheries bill presently before the House of Commons".

Let us get this straight. The Bloc, the Reform Party, the Tories and the NDP do not like the bill. There are countries around the world that do not like the bill. Therefore one has to ask the question: What is in the bill that all of those people do not like? I will tell the House what it is.

This bill before the House today is a historic piece of legislation. It is one of the best pieces of legislation ever to be brought before the Parliament of Canada. The first historic piece of legislation brought before the Canadian House of Commons was in 1977 and the fisheries minister at the time was also a Liberal, the hon. Romeo Leblanc. A lot of people today still talk about that fisheries minister as being such a great minister. He brought in a piece of legislation that created an exclusive fishing zone in Canada.

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10:40 a.m.

Liberal

John Harvard Winnipeg—St. James, MB

He is our commander in chief, is he not?