House of Commons Hansard #118 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was salmon.

Topics

Certificates of Nomination
Routine Proceedings

12:05 p.m.

Saint Boniface
Manitoba

Liberal

Raymond Simard Parliamentary Secretary to the Deputy Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 110(2) I have the honour to table two certificates of nomination.

Government Response to Petitions
Routine Proceedings

12:05 p.m.

Saint Boniface
Manitoba

Liberal

Raymond Simard Parliamentary Secretary to the Deputy Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 36(8) I have the honour to table, in both official languages, the government responses to 17 petitions.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

12:05 p.m.

Bloc

André Bellavance Richmond—Arthabaska, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the 13th report of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade on chrysotile asbestos, a very important natural resource for the regions of Asbestos and Thetford Mines.

Pursuant to Standing Order 109, the Committee requests that the government table a response to this report.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

12:05 p.m.

Liberal

Raymonde Folco Laval—Les Îles, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the ninth report of the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills Development, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities on Bill C-280, an act to amend the Employment Insurance Act (Employment Insurance Account and premium rate setting) and another Act in consequence.

Members of the standing committee have been diligent in taking your two rulings into account as a guide in putting forward several amendments to this bill. The underlying principle in this private member's bill relating to financial initiatives by the Crown remains intact. Therefore, members on this side of the House voted against reporting Bill C-280 in its present form.

I wish to point out how cooperative the members of the committee have been, despite a divergence of opinions.

Parliament of Canada Act
Routine Proceedings

June 17th, 2005 / 12:10 p.m.

Conservative

Joe Preston Elgin—Middlesex—London, ON

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-408, An Act to amend the Parliament of Canada Act (change of political affiliation).

Mr. Speaker, this bill was written and co-sponsored by the member for Simcoe--Grey. I wish to thank her for her hard work and dedication on this issue.

Canadians speak of democratic reform and the failings of the democratic deficit. This private member's bill ensures that voters' wishes do not get ignored. All members of Parliament must honour the wishes of their constituents and not achieve personal gain. We as members are and must be accountable to the people. Voters must be listened to. If passed, this bill will ensure that happens.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

12:10 p.m.

Conservative

Loyola Hearn St. John's South, NL

Mr. Speaker, I move that the second report of the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans presented to the House on Tuesday, March 22, be concurred in.

I would like to thank my colleague, the member for Vancouver Island North for seconding the motion.

We raise this issue at this time because of the start of the salmon fishery in British Columbia and the concerns that all those involved, all stakeholders, have in this industry.

Yesterday we were presented with responses to two major reports on the failure of the sockeye fishery on the Fraser River last year. One of these reports was tabled by the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans. It is a comprehensive, pointed report that deals with the crux of last year's situation.

The recommendations made by the standing committee were responded to, and let me give the minister and his department credit, much more quickly than in ordinary situations. The committee emphasized to the minister the need for a quick response, so that action could be taken this year to prevent what happened last year where we saw the near decimation of the sockeye fishery on the Fraser River.

The second report was done by Justice Williams which was tabled shortly after the report presented by the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans, and the minister has also responded to that report.

One of the reasons the department was able to respond relatively quickly to both reports is that both were very similar. When we have thorough investigations, then we are going to get the same kind of evidence. There is only one way to respond to such evidence, and that is with clarity and truth. The two reports presented to government were very similar. They basically made the same recommendations and outlined the same problems.

In the past we heard that complaints were hearsay and we could not react to hearsay. We could not react to innuendo and we could not react to accusations or local jealousies. That has now been dispensed with and we are concentrating on the facts.

The Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans visited the area and had extensive hearings earlier this year. The Williams committee of course has been having hearings as well, throughout the late fall and into spring. Every stakeholder involved had the opportunity to come forward to express their various concerns about what happened last year and to emphasize to the department that action had to be taken to ensure that such a disaster would never happen again.

In one case last year on one of the runs, a provision had been made by the department, through its counting efforts and its monitoring, to actually start off with about 90,000 salmon reaching the headwaters for spawning purposes. Last spring and early summer, the temperatures were relatively high in the Fraser. This raised concerns because the higher the temperature the greater the stress on the salmon, particularly if there are other stresses up the river, such as gillnets, drift nets, overfishing, or whatever.

An allowance was made that there would be some losses due to mortality because of the water temperatures. The number of breeders was raised to 129,000. We had a significant increase in the number. When the count was finally made, of the 129,000 salmon expected to reach the headwaters it was discovered that only 9,000 salmon reached the headwaters for breeding purposes.

This means that four years from now, when the salmon return to the river, that run in particular will be to the point where it will be unable to be fished. If t it happens again this year and over the next couple of years, we could see the complete destruction of the salmon fishery on the mighty Fraser River.

People would think this is unheard of, but I remind them that 30 years ago one could go anywhere off the coast of Newfoundland and catch cod using any method whatsoever. Cod was in abundance. People never thought they would see the day when they would be unable to catch one fish for a meal of fresh cod, which they were used to having, certainly during the summer and fall. The same thing can happen to salmon on the west coast if we are not careful.

The Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans presented a pointed report to the minister. The Williams commission did the same thing. Both reports were very similar. If we listened to the evidence presented by stakeholders involved and if we used the collective experience around both the tables of the standing committee and the Williams committee, the recommendations would have to be similar because the people involved have a concern about the future of the stocks.

The minister's response, even though there are positive components, does not give many of us a hope that much work will be done to preserve the stocks. It has an awful lot of what I refer to as government wording, such as “we have to study”, “we have to monitor” or ”testing will determine”. All these things are wonderful, but the monitoring, testing and experimentation have been done. It is over with. The evidence is hard and fast that we have a major problem with the salmon fishery on the west coast. Fingers were pointed at certain aspects of the harvesting and it is up to the minister to respond.

When we met with the various stakeholders, it was made quite clear that the department's monitoring of the stock was inadequate. The enforcement certainly was inadequate.

The minister this year says that the government will to zero in on enforcement. That seemed to be the biggest problem, as highlighted by both committee reports. He has not said the government will increase the number of fisheries officers on the river. He has said it will give them overtime, let them work a bit longer.

Fisheries officers are very dedicated individuals. They do not just sit around when there is work to be done. They do not necessarily work their eight hour days, punch the clock and go home. Many of these people work a lot of overtime anyway. Many of them work a lot of overtime for which they never get recognition or pay. Therefore, to ask them to work overtime will not give us the type of surveillance that is necessary on the river. It was recommended by the standing committee that the number of fisheries officers be greatly increased, that it be brought up to the number of officers who originally patrolled the great Fraser. The minister refused.

The other consolation he has offered is if we need other fisheries officers above and beyond what we have now, they will be taken from other parts of the province and moved into the Fraser. Unfortunately for the minister, and fortunately for the people involved in the fishery, salmon do not stop and wait until the fisheries officers come back before they head off to the various rivers. They do not stop and wait to go up certain rivers because the fisheries officers have gone up the Fraser.

The salmon runs approximate each other in most rivers. At the time when the fisheries officers on the Fraser are busy, they are busy everywhere else. To think that we can move fisheries officers around during peak season is a pipe dream. If we try to solve a problem in one area, we create a bigger one somewhere else.

It was a disappointment to us when the minister refused to add to the fisheries officers on the Fraser. He did say, however, that we would have more overflights with helicopter and fixed wing aircraft. Having said that, he admitted that a lot of the overfishing, for want of a better word, took place in the canyons.

Flying through canyons is not a pleasant chore for anybody. The minister also mentioned, maybe without thinking, that a lot of the overfishing and the illegal fishing went on at night time. Can hon. members imagine what it would be like to fly a fixed wing aircraft through the canyons off the Fraser at night time? I do not know if the department will call for proposals for kamikaze pilots, but that is what we would need. It is impossible to patrol the Fraser by air at night time, certainly in the areas of the canyons.

This does not make any sense whatsoever. It is a big area so overflights in the day time would be of some help. I am not trying to belittle the amount of assistance being provided. I am just saying it is completely inadequate.

The main concern I have is that in response to all recommendations, at no time does the minister show or give us any encouragement whatsoever that there will be stronger enforcement. The one word that predominated at all meetings with all witnesses last year during our hearings and at the meetings held by Justice Williams was “enforcement”.

We have had fishery officers, people who fish on the river, all types of people state that they have been witness to blatant, illegal overfishing. In many cases nothing whatsoever is done. Either there is a lone fisheries officer or a couple of fisheries officers and the people involved greatly outnumber them. It is the fear factor. Other times, they do not want to cause a stir because it would cause poor relations, maybe with native bands.

It should not matter who is doing the overfishing. If somebody is illegally fishing, whether it be a recreational fisherman, or a trawler, or somebody with set nets, or somebody illegally using drift nets, or an aboriginal or a tourist, it should not matter. If people are deliberately destroying a stock, they should be punished for it. That has not happened. If we let people break the law, they just take it for granted that it is their God given right to do so and they continue to do it.

This is where I see the response completely and utterly fails. I will just read a couple of general elements of the response.

It says that additional resources will be provided in 2005, and we thank the minister and the department. However, additional resources mean nothing if they cannot be properly used and if there is no result to their effect.

Here is what the department will do. It will allow for more patrols, better surveillance and increased operational activities, including more helicopter and overflights. I am quite sure nobody has ever been charged yet from an overflight. All they can do is spot the activity and try to relay it to people on the ground. It depends on when, where, how far away and how many fisheries officers they have, and that is a difficult chore.

All these words are great but there is not one thing about taking action against those whom they catch breaking the law, using illegal gear or blatantly fishing illegally or overfishing.

It says that the department will increase catch monitoring and provide for better tracking of the catch. That needs to be done because there are questions as to how good the actual count was at Mission last year and whether the department had a good handle on the numbers. We know a lot of fish disappeared going up the river, but it is almost impossible to tell how many. People do not know how many went through the bridge in the first place.

It says that it will “evaluate”, another beautiful word, the feasibility for improved assessment of Fraser River sockeye abundance at Mission, using two technologies. This is wonderful, consoling stuff. We do not want evaluations. We do not need any more feasibility studies. We have all the information we would ever want. What we need is concrete action.

Another one says that the department will improve estimates and timeliness of environmental and fishing impacts. What we need to do is improve the conditions that are created by the impact of overfishing.

This is a beaut and a real dilly. It says that it will provide for specific research such as a drift net study to evaluate the implications of fishing methods and fishing plan preparation. In other words, it is not saying that drift nets should not be used, as everybody wants, except mainly those who illegally use them. It does not say that there are certain times or places where set nets should not be used. Nobody knows how much loss occurs from dropout from these nets which sometimes are left untended for days.

The department is not taking action against illegal drift netting or banning drift netting. It says that it must do more research to see the effects. Talk to the fishermen. It does not matter which type. They will tell us that there are negative effects. They will tell us that there is illegal drift netting taking place. How can the salmon get up a river if there are wall to wall nets? Salmon are great at jumping. I have seen them jump through waterfalls, but it is very difficult to keep jumping. Trying to go up the Fraser River is just like doing the hurdles at the Olympics. That is not how we will get salmon to survive. Also, water temperatures, stress and everything else are factors which negatively impact the salmon stocks on the Fraser.

What should we do? The minister is concentrating on trying to work his way around the real issues. Saying that he knows what is causing the decline of salmon on the Fraser and saying that he is going to take action and anybody who is involved in impeding the progress of salmon illegally will pay a price, would give us some consolation in that area.

However, just stopping people from fishing is not enough. Salmon, like cod, is a renewable resource. Once we understand what is causing the destruction, we must also be prepared to build the biomass. We must look at improving the habitat. We must concentrate on factors that will help grow the stock. Maybe some day will come when the amount of salmon we are taking now we can take legally because collectively we all work together to build the stock.

This is a serious situation. It does not seem that this year will be any better than last year. If we do not wake up, there will not be a tomorrow to worry about.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

12:30 p.m.

Liberal

Raymond Simard Saint Boniface, MB

Mr. Speaker, discussions have taken place and I believe that I would have unanimous consent to proceed to questions on the order paper.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

12:30 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Marcel Proulx)

Is that agreed?

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

12:30 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

12:30 p.m.

Some hon. members

No.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

Jay Hill Prince George—Peace River, BC

Mr. Speaker, today is indeed a good day to have this debate, although in the 12 years that I have had the privilege of representing my constituents of Prince George—Peace River here, it seems as if we have been debating it over and over in these last dozen years.

In the real world outside of Ottawa before I became involved in politics, I was a farmer. I know what tough times farmers are having, not only in my riding in northeastern British Columbia and in western Canada but indeed all across Canada.

Farmers are having a tough time, but I cannot imagine how some of the fishermen who rely on the Fraser River salmon have been able to survive in these last 12 years. As a farmer, I can probably project the tough times that they have had with this disaster that has faced the fishery for quite some time now.

I have a couple of questions for my hon. colleague. The first one deals with exactly what I am relating this back to, and that is the number of times this has happened over the last 12 years. Just as he is even more familiar with the disaster that faced the cod fishery in his home province of Newfoundland and Labrador, I am sure he is familiar with this ongoing disaster in British Columbia with the Fraser River salmon fishery.

What has he noticed in the last dozen years? How many times have the fishermen in British Columbia had to face this type of ongoing disaster and how little has the government done? The government has been in power for almost 12 years now, since the fall of 1993, and as with so many important issues, it seems that the Liberals get up to express their great concern and say they are going to study it and try to arrive at some solutions, but in the end nothing happens. It must be extremely depressing for those fishermen.

My second question is about this latest go-round. I have heard various numbers, but how much does the member project that this has actually cost the B.C. economy? One of the numbers I have heard is $80 million and some.

It is just incredible to think about the struggle that my home province of British Columbia has had in the last while. I am the first to admit that part of it is due to some very ineffective and inefficient governing by the New Democratic Party in the recent past, but this disaster has been an enormous hit, not only to those individual fishermen and their families but by extension to the B.C. economy as a whole. Does the member have any idea of a number so we can put some framework around what this has meant to the province of British Columbia?

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

12:35 p.m.

Conservative

Loyola Hearn St. John's South, NL

Mr. Speaker, in relation to how often concerns about the Fraser have come up, I have been here five years. Every year since I have been here, and for my four years on the committee, there has always been a problem, last year of course highlighted by the fact that it was a disaster. Every year stakeholders are expressing concerns.

The positive things that have happened around the west coast salmon fishery resulted basically from the part played by the different stakeholders through their organizations. They have done a great job, but of course they are not the ones to call the shots. They can set the scenario. They can make the recommendations. It is up to the government to carry out the recommendations.

It is the same thing on the east coast. The government has done a tremendously poor job of managing the stock, a lot of that because it has no real scientific basis. The science is readily available because the people involved in the fishery know exactly what is going on. It is a matter of collection, coordination and involvement. The department has done a tremendously poor job of that.

In relation to the loss to the B.C. economy, I think it would be much greater than $80 million. There are three main aspects we have to look at: the recreational fishery, the commercial fishery and of course the aboriginal food and ceremonial fishery. All of these are extremely important to the different sectors. All of them benefit greatly and all of them add tremendously to the economy. It is hard to get a handle on one.

To give the members an example, this year alone, one of the major concerns is what the department has been or was planning. Departmental people were telling me as late as yesterday that they have not made a final decision, but it looked as if the department was going to limit the sockeye fishery on the Fraser to try to preserve the colonies of sockeye. There are only a handful of them left. In order to prevent the complete decimation of that stock, they are limiting the fishery. With the small numbers, limiting the fishery has very little effect on the rebuilding of the colonies, but it has a tremendous effect on the fishery; in fact we are told it is perhaps as great as $60 million to the commercial fishery alone. That is just one phase of the total problem.

I would say that the effect on the province of British Columbia is astronomical, but if we let things go on the way they are and there is no science, no management and no enforcement, then a few years down the road the salmon fishermen in all sectors in British Columbia will be like the cod fishermen in Newfoundland. They will be asking the government if it will allow them to go out for one day to catch one fish just to set her back on the water and that is a pretty sorry state of affairs.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

12:40 p.m.

Charlottetown
P.E.I.

Liberal

Shawn Murphy Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans

Mr. Speaker, I agree with some of the comments made by the member across the way. This was a major issue that occurred in last summer's run of the salmon in the Fraser River. It has certainly been a major concern of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

I want to congratulate and thank the member and the other members of the fisheries committee for all the work they did over the last winter.

As the member knows, this is a very complex issue. There is no one simple solution that can be identified. The minister knew this last fall. He knew there was a real problem. He knew there were a number of different causes for the problem. People in British Columbia were pointing fingers at each other.

The minister appointed Mr. Justice Bryan Williams and another panel to do a post-season review and come back with recommendations and a report. Also, of course, the members of my committee, who are the masters of their own destiny, decided that this was the number one issue facing us over the winter months. We spent at least three to four months on this issue. Both the panel and the committee wrote reports and, as the member pointed out, they are both good reports, and the minister responded.

One thing concerned me in this whole thing. As a member of the House, I was very embarrassed about it. After the minister appointed Mr. Justice Bryan Williams, former chief justice of the British Columbia Supreme Court and a former president of the Canadian Bar Association, to chair the post-season harvest report in British Columbia, Justice Williams was met with a full court frontal attack in this House, led by the members opposite. He was criticized. He was ridiculed. There was a motion in the House for a judicial inquiry. There was a motion to the committee to fire him. Of course he had no means or mechanism to respond to these attacks. It was very embarrassing and unjustified. It brought this House into disrepute.

I have a question for the member opposite. Given the excellent report that Mr. Justice Williams prepared and given the work of the committee, is the member not embarrassed like I am? I should point out that the charge was led not by that member but by the member for Delta—Richmond East. As a member of the Conservative Party, is he not totally embarrassed by his party's actions over the last winter?

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

12:40 p.m.

Conservative

Loyola Hearn St. John's South, NL

Mr. Speaker, before I answer the last question, let me pick up on what the member was saying. He is a member of our standing committee and knows full well some of the serious issues we have taken up.

In fact, over the last four years that I have been on the committee, we has undertaken some major studies. I would suggest that there are issues being dealt with today which would never have surfaced if our standing committee had not done a great job. We have been able to do it because we have been strictly non-partisan. At our committee meetings it is very difficult to tell who represents which party. That is the way it should be; perhaps that is the way it should be here in the House.

One of the issues we dealt with certainly was the major report on the Fraser River. We have done it with infrastructure. We did a great report on overfishing. This coming fall we will be starting to ask the question of what happened to the northern cod and why it has not come back after 12 years. I hope we never get to the day when we are asking where the Fraser sockeye have gone and why they have not come back after x number of years. The committee does a good job.

In relation to Mr. Williams' report, I really cannot answer, because I do not know Mr. Williams. I have never met him. I do know that a lot of concern was expressed, not because of Mr. Williams but because of the way the department operates. Quite often it tries to sneak in some kind of activity to try to cover up for its inadequacies, and it appeared the government was picking someone who would probably tell it what it wanted to hear. It might have tried that with Justice Gomery and it was wrong there also.

I will be the first to admit that Justice Williams picked a very good representative group of people to be on his committee. Originally there was talk about bringing in everybody involved, over 30 people, to the committee, but no one thought that would work properly. He put together a concise committee of people heavily involved in the fishery, all of whom were stakeholders, many of whom also had concerns about how well the committee would operate, and they did a very good report.

I would say to the member that it was no better than our own, maybe not as pointed but a very good report, because we were dealing with the same topic and talking to the same people. One of the reasons our committee tabled its report before Justice Williams' report was so the minister could easily see that this was all legitimate.

The bottom line is that two good reports were done. It is the response that concerns us.

Committees of the House
Routine Proceedings

12:45 p.m.

Liberal

Raymond Simard Saint Boniface, MB

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I believe that if you seek it, this time you will find unanimous consent to proceed temporarily to questions on the order paper.