Debates of June 13th, 2005
House of Commons Hansard #114 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was information.
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- Fisheries Act
Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB
Mr. Speaker, we have just watched the member for Yukon, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources, dance around and skirt the salient issue here. I think the member must have missed the point completely. The Minister of Fisheries has been unilaterally and arbitrarily putting conditions on licences when he had no statutory authority to do so. He has been doing it for years. It makes one wonder who is driving the bus around here. Who is minding the store in the Department of Fisheries if this kind of irregularity has been the norm for years. It was up to the Joint Standing Committee on Scrutiny of Regulations to catch the irregularity. That is the real story of the day.
My colleague has a nice yarn and it was kind of a soothing, melodic flow to the diatribe he shared with us, but it had nothing to do with what is fundamentally wrong with the Department of Fisheries as managed by the Minister of Fisheries. He has been unilaterally and arbitrarily setting the conditions of licences for the fisheries in Ontario with no statutory authority whatsoever until we pass this bill to do so.
How my colleague can explain that irregularity? In the larger context, how can he explain this pattern, trend and obsession of the Liberals to grant even more unilateral authority to ministers in virtually every piece of legislation they have introduced since I have been a member of Parliament for eight years? It is a trademark motif of the Liberals to take power away from Parliament, to bastardize democracy, to minimize our participation and control of our legislation and to shift that authority incrementally, bit by bit, to ministers, giving absolute power to them.
Maybe the member for Yukon in a little more honest way could give us a response to those legitimate concerns that we are trying to address here tonight.
Larry Bagnell Yukon, YT
Mr. Speaker, I have a great deal of respect for the member. I might be happy to debate the issue he raised at some other time. Right now we are speaking about a single line regulation that says fishing licences have to be enforced.
I want to keep on that topic because I am pretty sure his party is supporting the bill. The member for Sackville—Eastern Shore spoke in favour of it last week. I think from what he said he was supporting the bill. We simply want fishing licences to be legally enforced.
I have never had my words and speech described as melodic and free flowing. I cannot take credit for that because those were not my words. They were words of experts in the field to whom I defer, of ministers whose whole careers have been in dealing with fisheries. There are anglers and hunters. I think one particular organization has 78,500 people who are interested. They have their professional legal resources who want this regulation to be made legal. I want to keep this very simply. It is simple to change the act without discussing the larger philosophy of where decisions should be made. I would be happy to do that at another time.
Just to recap, there is a regulation right now that says one has to follow one's fishing licence but that is illegal because penalties are involved. To the credit of an all party committee of Parliament, it figured that out. We are at jeopardy of being unable to enforce fishing licences. We simply move that one line, which says that one has to abide by one's fishing licence, into the act. That is why fisheries ministers, hunters and angler associations want to make this legal change so we can continue to enforce fishing licences.
John Cummins Delta—Richmond East, BC
Mr. Speaker, my friend is wrong on several counts in his speech.
First, he says that parliamentary scrutiny would continue over the bill. However, if he reads clause 10(2) of the bill, he would understand that is not the case. It states very clearly:
For greater certainty, those permissions, leases and licences—including their terms and conditions—are not statutory instruments for the purposes of the Statutory Instruments Act.
In other words Parliament really does not have too much to say about the bill.
Second, he also suggested somehow or another that it would be impossible to enforce the Fisheries Act if this amendment went through. Let me again quote from the scrutiny of regulations committee report. It was talking about disallowance of section 36.(2). It states:
Disallowance of that section may change the manner of enforcing compliance with terms and conditions of licences, but would certainly not affect in any way the ability to impose such terms and conditions.
The third point I would like to make is the member opposite attributed some concerns to the Ontario minister of fisheries and to Ontario Federation of Hunters & Anglers. In brief, he suggested that without licence conditions the minister could not regulate the species taken, the amount of fish taken, the gear used, the time for fishing and the location of fishing.
I would suggest that is simply wrong. If we look at the Ontario fishery regulations, those regulations quite clearly deal with those issues now. They talk about species taken, the amount to be caught, the location that the catch can be made and so on. The regulations in place already cover those issues.
However, as my friend from Winnipeg Centre is saying, what the government is trying to do is to avoid scrutiny of Parliament and make these regulations in secret without the benefit of gazetting so there can be public input and without the benefit of scrutiny of regulations examining those regulations to determine if they are in compliance with the intentions of the act.
Would my colleague care to comment on those issues?
Larry Bagnell Yukon, YT
Mr. Speaker, in relation to the first item, when we move the regulation that fishing licences must be a force to an act, we increase the scrutiny of Parliament because Parliament has control over an act, and ever so more in a minority government. Regulations are approved by cabinet.
In relation to what could be imposed and how it could be imposed, what the minister of natural resources of Ontario said was that this could limit the types of penalties available to him such as the cancellation of licences. This could not lead to the flexibility of the penalties under the present system.
On the last item, the member was correct. I think he may have misunderstood what I said. He listed a number of items related to fisheries and he thought I said that they would be not be under control of licences. However, I was listing a specific number of items that were under the control of licences and regulations could be made. That will not change. Changes to the old system or the new system will still be made by the same people. It is limited to that small subset of things that the member mentioned and with which I was in agreement.
Randy Kamp Dewdney—Alouette, BC
Mr. Speaker, I have a question for the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources. He mentioned in his speech that this is a technical bill designed to solve a problem that was identified by the Standing Joint Committee for the Scrutiny of Regulations, which I sit on. Although there is a little truth to that, let me read what the committee said when a similar bill was introduced in the 37th Parliament. It stated:
Our acknowledgement that the amendments included in Bill C-43 would resolve the Committee's objections to the legality of the relevant regulatory provisions does not imply an endorsement of those amendments particularly as regards the proposed section 10(1), which impose a legal duty to comply with the terms and conditions of a licence, we can conceive that some parliamentarians might object to subjecting such non-compliance to penal sanctions that include imprisonment. To deprive a citizen of his liberty on the ground that the citizen has failed to abide by requirement imposed by a public official in the exercise of an administrative power, such as a term or condition of licence, could be thought undesirable as a matter of legislative policy.
That seems to be the crux of the issue. It is not just a technical change. Yes, it solves the legality of the problem, but there is still the underlying fundamental policy issue. Is it fair and right for somebody to be subjected to those penalties because of a condition that a bureaucrat has laid down? I would appreciate the member's comments on that.
Larry Bagnell Yukon, YT
Mr. Speaker, this is a different issue, but I agree with the member that it is an issue that should be debated and discussed as to what is appropriate in the regulations, but it does not change under the new system or the old system. Officials still make them and they are still accountable to the minister and the minister is still accountable to Parliament. He can be called to task. Whether it comes through regulations or an act, he is still going to be called to task if he is doing something inappropriate in his department in regulating a fishery.
I agree with the member. That would be a great debate to have and that debate can be had under the present system, which may be illegal, or under the new system, which will be illegal. The minister is still accountable to Parliament for what happens in his department. I know the opposition will ensure, if something is inappropriate, that it is raised in Parliament, which is why we are here.
Peter Van Loan York—Simcoe, ON
Mr. Speaker, this is a debate on a bill that is intended to give the government new powers to act in a way that is essentially unaccountable. This is a matter of great concern to us.
The issue that is being addressed is the Ontario freshwater fishery and that is of course a matter of great interest to my constituents in York—Simcoe which surrounds Lake Simcoe. What is interesting is that this issue only came to light and became a serious problem on May 5 of this year.
The government responded immediately with legislation that is quite dramatic and quite draconian to deal with that. Yet, there are other issues that have been affecting the freshwater fishery in Ontario for years and years. The government has had at its disposal the power to act by regulation for years to resolve those issues but it has not done so.
Why is the government so hasty to accumulate unaccountable powers while failing to exercise those very powers already at its disposal that would address the serious problems in the freshwater fishery? By that I mean the impact of alien invasive aquatic species on the aquatic environment and the freshwater fishery, all of which are suffering because the government will not act and exercise those powers that it already has.
A perfect example of that, the very fishery the bill purports to assist, can be found not just in the Great Lakes but in the Great Lakes basin including Lake Simcoe with regard to those invasive species. In fact, the failure of the government to act has become so serious and so drawn out that I have taken the step of submitting a private member's bill to protect our aquatic environment against invasive species named the Canadian ballast water management act.
Invasive species are a problem for the fishery, but they are also a problem for the ecosystem and the balance in the ecosystem in general. Related to both of those things, there are economic problems resulting from both the impact on the fishery and the environment. It is a major problem in the constituency of York--Simcoe, particularly because of the fact that it is a horseshoe around Lake Simcoe.
One can go from communities at one end of the constituency at Port Bolster, through Petrolia, Jackson's Point, Roach Point around to Keswick, over to the other side of Cooks Bay to Lefroy and Bell Ewart and to Alcona, and around Big Bay Point all the way along the shore of Kempenfelt Bay. This is the coastline, including the coastlines of a series of islands as well, that we have on that freshwater fishery of Lake Simcoe and that freshwater resource.
Much has changed with Lake Simcoe and the surrounding watershed since I was a young boy. I remember playing on the farm in the streams flowing into Lake Simcoe and playing at Willow Beach not too far away from where I live. A lot of what has happened in those changes has been the introduction of those invasive species. As I have said, the government could have acted on that front through regulations that are already available to it, but it has failed to do so.
Since the failure of the government to act, we have seen the introduction of numerous invasive species, far too many to list, but the media stars among those invasive species are well known. The zebra mussel and more recently the quagga mussel have made their way into Lake Simcoe and the round goby is right around the edges of the lake including the surrounding waterways such as the Pefferlaw Brook. Those are species which started in the Great Lakes and have spread directly through various vectors into Lake Simcoe.
Those invasive species upset the balance of the ecosystem. Because they are not native to the area, they do not have any natural predators. That allows them in many cases to be extraordinarily successful in their competition for resources with native species. In fact, in some cases they are predators on those native species. As a result of that competition and predation, the introduction of the non-native species can effectively squeeze out the native species that have been part of that ecosystem, in some cases for tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of years, and alter it forever.
Where does a lot of it come from? The primary source, authorities agree, is through the ballast water of ocean going vessels that will end up in the Caspian Sea or the Black Sea, in freshwater ports or brackish water ports and they will take on ballast water there. In the process of taking on ballast water they will take on numerous aquatic life, whether it be animal, plant or other kinds of lower forms of life.
Those life forms can survive a trip across the ocean. When those vessels arrive in our shores, in the Great Lakes and elsewhere, and ballast water is discharged, they get introduced into that environment. There is the potential to regulate and act on this, but in Canada our rules on that remain only voluntary.
I know that the Liberal government likes to pretend that the track record of the government is good on the environment, but the fact is we fall far short of what even the Americans do. There are not too many members on that side of the House who hold out that the Americans are a sound example of environmental leadership.
On the issue of invasive species and on so many other issues, in fact, the American regulations and rules are stricter than those we have in Canada. Canada is failing the environment under this government.
On aquatic invasive species, not only do the Americans already have stricter ballast water rules, there is currently legislation in front of the U.S. senate and the house of representatives to provide for even stricter and more advanced regulations. All along this government dithers and fails to act.
I ask why in that context is it suddenly seeking to acquire other new powers that are unaccountable and in many cases extraordinary, involving discretion that could be exercised by officials and by the minister? Yet it will not exercise ones to address problems that we really know about, that are right there today.
What is the history? It is a problem that has been raised. It has been known as a serious problem since 1986 when the zebra mussel first arrived. It has been raised regularly by the International Joint Commission and by the Great Lakes Fishery Commission since 1988. When they put out a joint report in 1988, that is when we first began to see real action take place. Those two commissions called upon the United States and Canada to act.
The then Conservative government, in retrospect, had a very well earned reputation on the environment. In fact, a recent report done by a group of Canadian environmentalists rated that Conservative government, from 1984 to 1993, as the most environmentally protective and progressive government in Canada's history.
That Conservative government acted on that issue and introduced almost immediately, less than a year later in 1989, the first voluntary ballast water management guidelines in the world. It was unprecedented. That is what we call leadership and it was leadership on the environment. Guess what? That was the end of leadership because it was not too long before there was a change of government and we have seen for the past 12 years no action since that 1989 initiative.
As I said, in the interim, the Americans acted in 1990 with legislation, in 1996 with legislation, and now they have mandatory enforceable ballast water regulations, but in Canada there is no action.
That is why we need to have changes brought in. That is why I have submitted a private member's bill that hopefully will address that. However, the government could act right now. It does not have to wait for that bill to become law. It has the powers right now through the regulations in which it is failing to act even as it is seeking another new power grab for regulations.
I mentioned that the International Joint Commission, which governs the Great Lakes and the boundary waters between the United States and Canada, was the first to call for ballast water guidelines. It has called for it repeatedly, it should be added, and so has the environmental commissioner. The government has the power to act but has not.
If I look at the environmental commissioner's report of 2002, what did the commissioner find? The commissioner found that the federal government was ill-prepared to counter the threat of invasive aquatic species despite its commitments. There was no federal policy, no recognition in the department, and no plan to coordinate federal action to counter the environmental economic and social impacts of invasive species. The government was doing little to prevent the arrival of additional invasive species. It has a record of inaction.
When we talk about Liberals in action, it really means Liberal inaction. That is what we have seen for 12 years.
In 2002 the environmental commissioner repeated her call:
The federal government has not responded effectively to invasive species that threaten Canada's ecosystems, habitats, and other species. It has not identified the invasive species with the greatest potential to become established in Canada's ecosystems--
Nor has it determined the pathways by which they arrive, said the commissioner. The government has had that call made again and again. In fact, I believe the fisheries committee has just once again reported on the failure of the government to act on this and has again called on the government to act, but it still has not happened.
The environment is crucially important. Our ecosystems are crucially important yet we are not seeing them given the priority they need. Instead, the government is looking for new ways to penalize, in effect, the rights of those who seek to enjoy that environment, who seek to enjoy the fisheries. It is doing that rather than worrying about protecting the fisheries to make sure they are actually there for the long term, to make sure there is something to regulate. I know of course that it is the government's preference to regulate and penalize rather than actually preserve the resource and make sure it is there, but that is what it should be doing.
Let us take the example of the round goby. It is one of these invasive species. It is one of those species native to the Caspian Sea and the Black Sea. Now it has arrived in North America and has spread throughout the Great Lakes and the waterways.
The round goby is a highly adaptive invasive species and very aggressive. It increases in numbers very quickly and spreads geographically very quickly. It will compete for food and for habitat with the native species, in particular, in Lake Simcoe, species like the perch, the smallmouth bass and the walleye. It will actually prey upon the eggs and the young of those other native species and further enhance the competition and squeeze them out.
Unlike a lot of the native species, it will spawn not once a season but several times per season. Of particular import is the fact that it thrives in bad or poor quality water. It can survive in those harsh conditions. At a time when the environment is in decline because of the failure of the government to act, and in a whole bunch of ways, that creates even more opportunities for the spread of these invasive species.
We have seen it now on the shores of Lake Simcoe in the creeks leading right up to its edge. It will soon be there. In fact, there was a derby this weekend that was under a special scientific permit, a goby derby, whereby folks were encouraged to actually go out and fish to see if they could capture them, the hope of course being that they would not find them. Unfortunately, many were captured in the surrounding waterways. Fortunately, there were not any in the lake yet but that is perhaps only a matter of time.
As we know, in Lake Simcoe the fishery is important, but it is based on the environment. The environment is important for the people there because there are thousands who draw their drinking water from Lake Simcoe. There are thousands for whom it represents their recreational playground and their very own backyard, figuratively but in many cases even literally. It plays a role in recreational fishing during the summers and ice fishing for recreation in the winters, but more important than those economic reasons and those reasons that are anthropomorphic or important for people is the fundamental importance of the environment, the balance in the ecosystem that has to be maintained.
As these invasive species multiply and begin to take up the room that has been previously enjoyed and lived in by the native species, we also risk seeing a biodiversity loss. It is not just a question of balance. There is actually the very real risk of the loss of species, forever changing what we have seen and what we have enjoyed in that local environment.
When I look at a bill like this one that is being put forward by the government, I can only say this. Why the dithering for a decade on the things that really matter yet the instant action on the things that, from my perspective, look more like they were designed to protect the rights of bureaucrats to act unaccountably rather than to actually protect the environment?
For years and years this government has been asked to act by every credible environmental organization, by non-partisan organizations, by the International Joint Commission, by the environmental commissioner, by Parliament and by the House of Commons fisheries committee. It has failed to take any steps to do so. The government races off within days or weeks to address other issues while the issue of aquatic invasive species continues to languish.
I cannot understand this failure to take into account the importance of our environment. I cannot understand the deliberate and wilful ignorance and the damage being done to our environment.
For me and for my constituents, the priorities are clear. My constituents want to see a real commitment to protecting that local ecosystem in Lake Simcoe and to ensuring that it is treated as part of that Great Lakes basin.
That is another issue. There has been funding to worry about the environment of the Great Lakes, but for some reason the government has failed to apply that same kind of funding to Lake Simcoe even though it is at the centre of the Great Lakes basin. Even though those are waters that are part of the watershed and discharge into the Great Lakes and represent a very significant source that is at environmental risk, the money is not there.
That is a decision made by this government. It treats Lake Simcoe differently. It ignores the fact that it is a critical part of that Great Lakes water basin. The government ignores the potential it represents. Properly husbanded it is a positive asset, but also, if allowed to deteriorate and decline any further, it has the potential to destabilize and damage the health of the rest of the Great Lakes into which it flows.
I look at the record of the government on the issue of the freshwater fishery and the state of the health of the Great Lakes basin, in particular that of Lake Simcoe, and I look only with sadness.
I encourage the government to respond to the private member's bill I put forward as quickly as it has responded to this particular issue in the freshwater fishery and to actually do something after a decade of dithering to exercise the powers that are already there to protect our freshwater lakes from further damage by the regular introduction of new invasive species.
Bev Desjarlais Churchill, MB
Mr. Speaker, my colleague from the Conservative Party has mentioned the situation with possible invasive species coming into lakes within Ontario. I would hope that he is also aware of a situation being faced in Manitoba. States in the U.S. are diverting water, which will cause the risk of invasive species coming into Manitoba's largest lake, Lake Winnipeg, thus risking the fisheries as well as the lake in general within Manitoba.
I am curious to hear if he or his party has a position on what the U.S. is doing by diverting water into Lake Winnipeg and jeopardizing one of the greatest lakes in Canada.
June 13th, 2005 / 10:05 p.m.
Peter Van Loan York—Simcoe, ON
Mr. Speaker, with the way North American waterways work, we do not even need to have that kind of diversion for the species to spread. They can be spread simply through recreational boats that get transported from one lake or waterway to another. They can be spread by those who travel on those boats or through other pleasure craft or other ways of travelling about.
The bigger problem is the fact that those species come from overseas. Once they are here, a small measure like that, while it may be significant, will not be sufficient to protect against the spread of invasive species. They have to be stopped at the most critical and most significant vectors and points of entry. We have had continual evidence from every authority that the major source of the invasive species is the introduction of ballast water from overseas, where the species are indeed genuinely non-native.
The red goby is a perfect example. It was perhaps only introduced on one occasion in one spot in the Great Lakes, yet it has spread all over North America, without water diversion. Water diversion is not necessary. Whatever impact that may have, the spread of invasive species is far more aggressive and far more dangerous than that. That is why we have to look to address it right at the root of the problem with serious, enforceable and mandatory ballast water management rules.
Michael Chong Wellington—Halton Hills, ON
Mr. Speaker, I agree with my colleague from York—Simcoe on his criticisms of this government's very hastily crafted and ill-conceived bill, and more particularly, on how this government has failed to address the real problem facing fisheries across Canada, such as those in Manitoba and Ontario, that is, the degradation of the watersheds and the Great Lakes due to the decline in water quality and the invasive species.
Ontario is home to the greatest freshwater fishery in the world. The Great Lakes are home to some of the best freshwater fisheries anywhere on the planet. The government has done absolutely nothing over the last 12 years to address ever increasing declines in water quality and the threats to native species such as those posed by invasive species.
There are heritage rivers in York region, Simcoe County and Wellington County, all across southern Ontario: the Grand River, the Maitland River, the Saugeen River, the Thames River, the Don River, the Credit River and the Humber River. In northern Ontario, there are the French and Spanish Rivers. All these rivers and their watersheds and all of the Great Lakes that these river watersheds feed into are under threat. I include in that Lake Simcoe.
There is a lack of resources in the Department of Fisheries and Oceans in Ontario to address some of the problems facing our watersheds. We do this with very short-sighted vision, because these watersheds provide the drinking water for 13 million Ontarians. The damage to these watersheds, which is a direct result of lack of attention from this government, is absolutely unfathomable to Ontarians.
Yet the government can rush through a flawed bill such as Bill C-52 just like that. I cannot understand why the government would have the resources and the political will to rush through a bill like Bill C-52 without addressing the real problems facing Ontario's watersheds and watersheds across the country.
My question for my colleague from York—Simcoe about Bill C-52 concerns why this government is putting forth such a flawed piece of legislation. Why is the government allowing regulations that would be created under Bill C-52 to be exempt from parliamentary oversight and the Statutory Instruments Act? It seems to me to be a tack very similar to the one the government has taken with the $9 billion in foundations. Those too are not subject to parliamentary oversight or to scrutiny by the Auditor General.
In much the same way, the government is exempting itself from scrutiny under the Statutory Instruments Act with this bill. It is another example of the command and control style of executive management best typified by the government instead of Parliament being allowed the legislative and parliamentary oversight. Could my hon. colleague comment?
Peter Van Loan York—Simcoe, ON
Mr. Speaker, the member for Wellington—Halton Hills has put his finger on something that I know in my past life as a lawyer and in my academic studies in law school we spent a lot of time on. It is the concern about discretion in the administrative process.
By that we mean when we take the power to make decisions away from those who are accountable, meaning Parliament, a provincial legislature or a municipal council, and put that decision making power into the hands of unaccountable bureaucrats and officials and those against whom there is no right to appeal the decisions, those who we do not have a right to see true accountability for the decisions that are made, that is a slippery path.
When society becomes increasingly sophisticated, which, unfortunately, is all too common, it is something that becomes very common when government becomes big.
The government has been growing at a rate of 10% a year. Is it any surprise that as the public service grows and the cost of program spending grows that we see the spread of unaccountable discretion in the process where unaccountable, faceless, nameless bureaucrats make decisions, such as in the area for which I am the critic, Human Resources and Skills Development Canada where every day the lives of thousands of people are affected by decisions made by civil servants acting entirely on their own discretion and applying their own judgments?
What happens is that when the process occurs it is not just inequity and unfairness. It is also an invitation to political interference. We saw that happen in the sponsorship scandal and with the former HRDC scandal because then people could plead their case for special treatment. If they were well connected politically and if they knew the right people, suddenly the special treatment came forward.
When that is all hidden by depositing it at a level beyond the scrutiny of the public, the voters, and it is put in the hands of faceless, nameless officials who do it quietly with a phone call from the minister's office, or in their own discretion and judgment based on their own biases, prejudices or personal appeals, who knows what, then bad things happen.
If we think about the places in the world that have a lot of corruption, countries that we like to think of as banana republics or third world dictatorships, that is what is happening. That is when officials take to themselves the power to make decisions, to give out licences and to impose conditions on licences and in the process extract favours from those who are seeking the licences and permissions.
Anyone who has ever tried to do business in a place like Russia today will say that that is the kind of thing they encounter from officials at every step of the way. Why? It is because those officials have the ability to make decisions in their judgment and with their discretion that affect the livelihoods and day to day well-being and survival of people trying to start businesses or trying to get by, trying to do the things they want to do in a society that they otherwise thought would be free.
It is important that this decision making power not be vested in those who are unaccountable but rather that there remain parliamentary oversight, that there is responsibility, that there is accountability and that when decisions are made people are responsible for them.
We have had countless scandals in the time that the Liberal Party has been in government and yet no minister has ever resigned or taken responsibility. It is always the work of somebody else, some nameless, faceless parallel organization, some officials acting unaccountably.
We had the parliamentary secretary come to us today and say that was a good thing, that was the way things should work and that everyone thinks it is all right for regulations to be made unaccountably and without authority because that is what is needed to make things work.
I do not think that is the way we need to have things to make them work. I think things work best when people are responsible and there is accountability. We do not get that out of this legislation.
Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have an opportunity to join the debate on Bill C-52 on behalf of my NDP caucus colleagues and the people of Winnipeg Centre.
Mr. Speaker, I intend to split my time with my colleague from Burnaby--New Westminster.
Bill C-52 found its origin when the scrutiny of regulations committee virtually stumbled across the fact that the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans had been setting regulatory conditions of licensing without any statutory authority to do so. It begs the question: Is this the way the government has been running the DFO for the last decade or more? If that is true, it explains the absolute mess the fishery is in from one coast to the other.
A number of speakers who have spoken tonight have listed a myriad of grievances about the mismanagement of the fisheries from one end of the country to the other and the middle in the great freshwater fisheries such as we enjoy in my home province of Manitoba.
Lake Winnipeg is the fifth largest lake in North America and is home to the largest surviving freshwater fishery in North America and is valued at almost $30 million American per year. I am very concerned that inaction on the part of our federal Liberal government may sound the death knell for that important economic engine for the province of Manitoba.
As of July 1 of this year, the United States intends to divert, by inter-basin transfer of water, the dirty polluted water from Devils Lake, North Dakota into the Cheyenne River, into the Red River and flowing north into Lake Winnipeg. If Bill C-52 were to grant regulatory authority to the minister, I hope he would use whatever authority he might have to intervene on behalf of the people of Manitoba to counter this egregious breach of Canadian sovereignty, an environmentally disastrous move of the wholesale inter-basin transfer of water from polluted Devils Lake, North Dakota ultimately into Lake Winnipeg.
Let me explain some of the frustration that Manitobans feel. Not only is this a catastrophic move environmentally, but as far as diplomatic relations between Canada and the United States are concerned, this single unilateral action by the United States could be the death knell of the boundary waters treaty of 1909, an international instrument that has proven critically important in protecting the interests of both signatories to that treaty from the unilateral actions of the other.
The International Joint Commission, of which the House I am sure is familiar, deals with complaints regarding the boundary waters treaty. Both parties have to refer an issue to the International Joint Commission and the Americans have refused to do so. It is a diplomatic slap in the face to have them say that they will solve their flooding problems in Devils Lake by cutting a channel and diverting all that water into Lake Winnipeg.
One of the serious problems that comes to mind with this is the invasive species aspect. At least one well-known parasite exists in Devils Lake called the gyrodactylus hoffmani which is a flat worm that parasitically attaches itself to the gills of channel catfish, minnows, et cetera. No environmental assessment has done on the Devils Lake diversion and so the scope and magnitude of this invasion by this species is unknown.
The scale of the spread of it is unknown because we are talking an inter-basin transfer here and the drainage basin that flows into Lake Winnipeg is most of western Canada. It is from the Rocky Mountains to Hudson's Bay essentially. This drains into all of Saskatchewan and most of Alberta. A great deal of the northern country in Nunavut directly to our north flows down and toward Lake Winnipeg. That same parasitic invasion could flow the other way and infect vast regions.
Not only that, in recent years the Americans, as do Canadian prairie farmers, have been overloading their fields with chemicals and pesticides to such a degree, and the wetlands have been drained, that a lot of this runoff goes into Devils Lake.
By the cruelest of ironies, the Americans have chosen Canada Day to turn the tap on for this diversion of water into Canada and when they do, an extra 40,000 pounds of phosphorous water a year will be going into Lake Winnipeg. It is bad enough that we already have our own agricultural contaminants going into Lake Winnipeg from Canada but we also have mercury, sulphates, nitrogen, diammonium phosphate, some of the popular fertilizers. All of these nutrients will be flowing into Lake Winnipeg seriously compounding the algae problem that exists there already with floating algae beds that are acres in size. The U.S. army corps of engineers has ignored the well-being of Canada in digging this diversion.
We had a similar problem in 1977, called the Garrison diversion, where the Americans again wanted to solve their water drainage problems by diverting through Garrison. They had a plan to divert their water north into Canada to follow the drainage into Lake Winnipeg. With a great deal of protest we managed to stop that.
We have tried everything this time. I personally went down with Lloyd Axworthy when he was the minister of foreign affairs to meet with senators and congressmen in Washington, D.C. and implore them to reconsider the disastrous and catastrophic idea of the inter-basin transfer of water. They simply accepted our representations to them, acknowledged that it was a serious environmental threat and then said, “If it ever comes down to doing what is best for North Dakota and what is best for Canada, we will do what is best for North Dakota. Don't let the door hit you in the ass on your way out”. Essentially, that was all they would do for us.
Now we are desperately urging Canada to use every diplomatic measure possible to appeal to the Americans to block this catastrophic move. Our Minister of Fisheries and Oceans has a role to play. Surely there is a joint interest, an international element to the Department of Fisheries. There always has been, whether it is offshore with our fishing limits or, in this case, the interprovincial and international flow of water that can have a devastating effect.
However one of the most frustrating things is that reason and logic do not seem to penetrate this barrier we are getting from the Americans. Even their own research shows that by diverting this water they will lower Devils Lake by 1.5 inches per year. It has risen three feet in 10 years. They will devastate the largest freshwater fishery in Canada, possibly, all for the sake of making their water levels static and dropping it by 1.5 inches per year. At what cost?
Some day we have to start looking at ourselves as global citizens. We cannot let this arbitrary 49th parallel be the place where reason stops. That is simply not progressive thought and there is no future in that way of thinking.
When I see Bill C-52 and I think of the pattern of unilateral and arbitrary powers that the government likes to give ministers and the lack of respect for Parliament when it squirrels things away, it reminds me of a saying that the devil is in the details of any piece of legislation.
The government has put all the details into the regulations and very little of the specifics into the legislation. We rarely get to debate all the facts surrounding a piece of legislation in this House of Commons. We end up debating the shell or the outline of a bill but the regulatory changes, where the real meat and potatoes are, remain the exclusive domain of the minister to introduce at a later date.
In this case, we are appealing to the government to become seized of the issue of the crisis that is looming in the Devils Lake diversion and use whatever arbitrary powers that it has granted this minister to intervene on our behalf.
We are at the eleventh hour. The clock is ticking. July 1 is almost here. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is about to turn on the faucet and flood Lake Winnipeg with a bunch of invasive species and chemicals that we do not want or need. It will be the end of an era for Manitoba tourism and fisheries. It will be the death knell for Lake Winnipeg.
I urge my colleagues to please help us address this issue. I certainly implore the government to use whatever is in its power to help us save Lake Winnipeg.
John Cummins Delta—Richmond East, BC
Mr. Speaker, I fully support the comments of the member opposite on the Devils Lake issue. What we have is a government which is prepared to get tough on fishermen in a very arbitrary way, yet refuses to get tough on our neighbour to the south when our watersheds are going to be devastated by environmentally irresponsible actions on the part of the U.S. That has to be troubling for us all. I can assure my friend across the way that he certainly has the support of members of the Conservative caucus on steps that could be taken to address that most important issue.
I would like to get my friend's comments on a couple of items with regard to Bill C-52. The first is that we asked the Library of Parliament if it would investigate whether there was another area where government had used regulations or statutes in the same way as it is doing with Bill C-52. In fact, it was only able to find two other statutes where there were similar provisions. One was with regard to regulating nuclear facilities and the other was airlines. In both of those instances, the industries are governed by public regulatory tribunals and not by secret regulation, so they do not apply.
The Library of Parliament, in essence, was not able to find similar statutes where bureaucrats are allowed to add terms and conditions to a licence that could lead to jail time or forfeiture of fishing equipment and so on. I am wondering if my friend is aware of any.
The second point to which I would like to draw my friend's attention is something that he addressed in his interventions. I found that very intriguing. In the process of developing regulations, under the Statutory Instruments Act, the cabinet at committee is presented with a review of the proposed regulation. The regulation must be examined to ensure that it is authorized by the statute pursuant to which it is to be made; that it does not constitute an unusual or unexpected use of the authority pursuant to which it is to be made; that it does not trespass unduly on existing rights and freedoms, in other words, that it is not in violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms; and that the form and draftsmanship of the proposed regulation are consistent with what is expected.
There is some real scrutiny on any regulations that proceed under the normal process, a process which Bill C-52 intends to ignore.
I wonder if my friend would like to comment on the process involved in the Statutory Instruments Act, as well as the inability of Parliament to find similar situations.
Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB
Mr. Speaker, those are very useful questions. It was helpful to me to learn some of the tests that exist with the creation of regulations. I fully agree that any new regulatory regime should meet those basic standards.
I would be very concerned that Bill C-52 seeks to bypass that methodology, those tests that were put in place for very real and important reasons. This is another example of how we are encouraging the arbitrary authority of unelected individuals instead of meeting the tests of scrutiny, by the scrutiny of regulations committee at least.
I am also very concerned to learn that the bill contemplates vesting this authority in bureaucrats to set conditions of licensing. This is not a matter for unelected officers, especially when penalties are associated with violation of the conditions of these licences. This goes far beyond the ordinary and acceptable scope of any bureaucrat. Frankly, as a member of that bureaucracy, I would not want that authority or that responsibility that comes with it. That should be vested in the legislative branch of government and not the administrative branch of government.
Bill C-52 is riddled with flaws. It is a continuation of a disturbing trend that we have noticed, a motif that we have recognized to be the characteristics of the Liberal government, a disrespect for Parliament and a penchant for vesting ministers with absolute arbitrary authorities. It is a worrisome trend that we should discourage every time we can.
Peter Julian Burnaby—New Westminster, BC
Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for Winnipeg Centre for sharing his time with me.
This is an extremely important issue, not so much the amendments that I will read into the record shortly, but the whole issue of the fisheries across the country, including in my province of British Columbia. What we have seen is the systematic mismanagement of our fisheries which has had huge repercussions on communities throughout British Columbia, up the coast of British Columbia and up the Fraser River as well.
I would like to touch briefly on what Bill C-52 does. My colleague from Winnipeg Centre was very clear about the fact that it is just another sign of the mismanagement by the Liberal government when it found that it did not have the ability to assure statutory compliance with the terms and conditions in the Fisheries Act.
Bill C-52 adds the following new section 10, entitled “Compliance with terms and conditions”:
(1) Every one acting under the authority of a permission referred to in section 4 or of a lease or licence issued under this Act shall comply with its terms and conditions.
(2) For greater certainty, those permissions, leases and licences--including their terms and conditions--are not statutory instruments for the purposes of the Statutory Instruments Act.
As my colleague from Winnipeg Centre mentioned, very clearly this is another side of the mismanagement in the fisheries that we have seen with the Liberal government.
I would like to talk about the fact that this is what we are considering in the House when there are so many other extremely important issues to deal with as a result of the Liberal government's inability to deal with fisheries issues and to take into consideration the impact of fisheries in places like British Columbia and all across the country.
The commercial fishery in British Columbia is responsible for maintaining about 15,000 jobs in communities throughout the province. Revenues across the province were about $358 million in 2002. We are talking about a significant industry in British Columbia, but what have we seen from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans? What kind of effective management have we seen?
I would like to read into the record portions from two reports that recall the mismanagement of the Liberal government with respect to fisheries. The first is the 2004 report of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development. This is what was said:
Overall, we are not satisfied with the progress made by Fisheries and Oceans Canada in responding to the recommendations we made in the three previous audits in 1997, 1999, and 2000. While many stocks are abundant, some Atlantic and Pacific salmon stocks are in trouble. We continued to identify significant gaps in managing risks.
The Department has not finalized the Wild Salmon Policy, which would set out clear objectives and guiding principles. The policy would also bring together biological, economic and social factors--for fisheries and resource management, habitat protection and salmon enhancement.
There are shortcomings in information on salmon stocks and habitat and scientific knowledge on the potential environmental effects of salmon aquaculture and aquatic ecosystems.
There are weaknesses in regulatory approvals, enforcement, and monitoring of salmon aquacultural operations. This includes approving aquaculture site applications, assessing cumulative effects, and monitoring salmon aquaculture operations to prevent harmful destruction of habitat.
There has been inadequate coordination between federal and provincial governments in managing fish habitat, undertaking research, approving aquaculture site applications, and sharing information.
I would like to read into the record comments made by the Pacific Fisheries Resource Conservation Council:
The federal government's capacity to conserve and scientifically manage the Pacific salmon fisheries continues to be eroded.
This was according to the annual report of the Pacific Fisheries Resource Conservation Council. The report notes that Fisheries and Oceans Canada has been focused on dealing with budget cuts when it should be directing its attention toward managing this valuable resource. It questions the government's capacity to do an effective job in areas of enforcement, habitat protection and restoration, salmon enhancement, research and stock assessment. It also calls for the department to open its management to public scrutiny about the effectiveness of its choices.
The issue is we effectively have report after report that condemns the Department of Fisheries and Oceans for its mismanagement, in this case of Pacific salmon stocks. Very clearly the issue of the mismanagement of the fisheries has not been adequately addressed by the government.
We have a couple of paragraphs in Bill C-52 that are, in a sense, the government's initiative on fisheries. At the same time, communities along the coast in British Columbia and in the river areas are being sorely impacted by the mismanagement of the government.
The B.C. NDP caucus, my colleagues, including the member for Nanaimo—Cowichan, the member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley, the member for Burnaby—Douglas and the member for Vancouver East have been standing front and centre on these issues. We have been fighting to ensure that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans plays an active role in fighting to ensure our fisheries can recover from the years of Liberal mismanagement.
I would like to mention two key points in the last few months. First, in mid-December both my colleagues from Burnaby—Douglas and Skeena—Bulkley Valley called for a judicial inquiry into the collapsing sockeye salmon stocks in the B.C. Fraser River.
Of the two million Fraser sockeye that were expected to reach their spawning ground in the spawning period last fall, fewer than 500,000 returned. In a very real sense, what we are seeing is a catastrophic fall in spawning. We anticipated two million Fraser sockeye and instead we saw fewer than 500,000. That is why the members for Burnaby—Douglas and Skeena—Bulkley Valley called for the judicial inquiry to absolutely ensure that we were aware of the fall in the stocks and of the catastrophic implication of Liberal mismanagement in the fisheries.
Another initiative the British Columbia members of the NDP caucus undertook last month was to call for a release of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans report on the results of sea lice tests that were conducted in the Broughton Archipelago. That is a very well known area north of Vancouver Island, an exceedingly beautiful area of British Columbia and of the country.
The sea lice tests that were undertaken on wild salmon in this area were not released prior to the provincial election. British Columbians had the right to have all the information in hand. Instead, to the shame of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, that the information on the impact of that culture on wild salmon in the Broughton Archipelago was not released.
We have some clear issues on which we have stood front and centre, issues that we have raised in the House. We are exceedingly concerned about the mismanagement by the Liberal government of fisheries, particularly the Pacific salmon fisheries in British Columbia. The impact on communities across British Columbia is enormous. When our resources are not effectively managed, it has an impact on communities throughout the coastal region.
What concerns me most about the debate this evening is the issues that are not being brought forward by the Liberal government. Resource allocation is not being addressed. The mismanagement of the fisheries is not being addressed.
British Columbia members of the New Democratic Party caucus as well as our fisheries critic, the member for Sackville--Eastern Shore, will continue to stand in the House and fight to ensure that our resources, our fisheries, are better managed and that we do justice to communities throughout British Columbia.