Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-10, an act respecting the national marine conservation areas of Canada, at third reading debate on behalf of my riding of Skeena and my party.
I have much to say about this very ominous bill. My comments reflect not only my observations about the bill but those of the witnesses that came before the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage both last month and in late May of this year. My comments will echo the concerns outlined by numerous municipal and chamber of commerce representatives who wrote to the committee but were not afforded the opportunity to present their concerns as witnesses.
It was the government's wish to get the bill out of committee and through the parliamentary process as quickly as possible thereby eliminating debate and discussion. I will endeavour to explain why the government might have wanted to rush the bill through. I hope that the Senate and its committee will take more time to review the bill and consult widely with coastal Canadians before they decide the its fate.
I suggest that members in the other place take the time to travel with their committee to those coastal communities. That suggestion was made numerous times in the House of Commons heritage committee by the communities themselves but it was ignored.
I will speak to the lack of consultation on Bill C-10 by the heritage department and the lack of understanding of the effects of the bill on coastal communities. I am surprised Liberal members representing coastal communities and ridings are not as offended by the legislation as I am. They should take a long look at the impact the bill could have on the economies of their ridings and stand with me in opposition to the bill.
It is worth noting that many times during the clause by clause review of the bill in committee the opposition and a Liberal member or two were united in opposition to a clause or supported an amendment I was making. Unfortunately when it came time to vote the parliamentary secretary called the shots and all the good Liberals fell in line.
They gave the appearance of listening to the arguments of the opposition on issues like guaranteed consultation, jurisdictional concerns and provincial or coastal community vetoes. The record will show that in the end they voted against amendments which would have made the bill far more palatable to coastal communities. Government members were not interested in making Bill C-10 palatable. They were simply tired of the bill dying on the order paper.
Commitments were made that the bill would go through. The government believed that come hell or high water Bill C-10 would see the light of day in this parliament. It is my hope that it will not without serious amendment, and I will speak to that in the body of my speech.
I take exception to claims by government members that we on this side of the House do not care about the environment or parks so why we even consider supporting the bill. This is a totally false assumption on their part.
The Canadian Alliance has a good track record of concern for the environment. We do not, as opposed to the Liberal record, pander to one group over another. We seek a balance in legislation that speaks to the concerns of environmentalists and addresses the realities of industrial and socioeconomic problems.
I consider myself to be an environmentalist. Environmental groups in downtown Vancouver and Toronto may not subscribe to my definition of an environmentalist but that does not make their way any better than mine. I will explain.
I have lived in northern B.C. all my life. When one lives in northwestern B.C., surrounded by coastal mountains, the Pacific Ocean, the Grand Skeena and Nass rivers and blue glaciers, one cannot but have a healthy respect for mother nature in all its glory. Anyone I know that lives in the north respects the environment, not only for its beauty but for what it has given the communities that exist as a result of its riches.
Most northern communities in my riding of Skeena were founded on industries that harvested the renewable or non-renewable resources of nature. Thriving communities erupted as a result of a need for workers because industries took the risk and situated themselves in northern B.C., and the cycle continued.
It is because of one sided legislation like Bill C-10 and poor provincial management by the previous provincial NDP government of B.C. that natural resource industries fled northern B.C. As a result many people in those northern resource based communities had to pack up and leave as well. They had to go where the work was. Unfortunately that has been a reality of much of northern B.C.
I consider myself an environmentalist, not only because of where I am from and my respect for the environment, but because I hunt, fish and camp in that environment. It is in my best interest that I treat it with respect and ensure its strength for future generations to come.
I am not opposed to the creation of marine conservation areas. I am opposed to legislation such as Bill C-10. It was introduced and passed by the federal Liberal government without concern for the effect that it would have on coastal communities and without any real consultation with the people and industries that the bill would seriously affect.
How could bureaucrats in Ottawa really understand what a piece of legislation like Bill C-10 would do to the economies of coastal communities? The reality is that they cannot because Ottawa is too far removed from the issue of life on the coast.
The official opposition would likely have been in favour of the bill had the government taken the time to travel to B.C., Atlantic Canada and northern Canada. It should talked to coastal communities about Bill C-10 before it introduced the bill as opposed to drafting it with only the environmental lobby on hand. We are opposed to the bill because of the Liberal government practice of secrecy at all costs and input at a minimum.
We should not for a second believe what the government says about the environmental record and concerns of the Canadian Alliance. It is just not correct. We are strong on the environment but also strong on balance, and the bill is not balanced.
We have major concerns over the lack of consultation. I will give members of the House some background on the lack of consultation on Bill C-10 prior to it coming back to the House at third reading.
The parliamentary secretary and members of the government will say that in its previous incarnations as Bill C-48 in the first session of the 36th parliament and as Bill C-8 in the second session of the same parliament the subject matter was consulted on widely. Let me clarify that claim by explaining that the government circulated Bill C-48, the predecessor to Bill C-10, to about 700 stakeholders across Canada.
Only a few were ever heard in committee, some of whom came from my riding of Skeena. Many expressed their concerns over the bill's obvious duplication of efforts with the recently created Oceans Act by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
We are told that departmental officials listened to the concerns of those stakeholders and amended the bill accordingly, reflecting their concerns in the new Bill C-10. Not only do I disagree with this claim, because Bill C-10 does not reflect the changes the witnesses asked for, but I find it disturbing that the supposed new and improved bill was never sent back to the original 700 stakeholders to see if the changes met with their approval.
If the government amended a piece of legislation based on comments from the stakeholders from which it had requested comments, it would seem logical that it would take the time to show off how well it listened and acted on their concerns. In this case it did not.
The point could be made by the government that it did not see the point in mailing the new and supposedly improved bill to the 700 stakeholders because it was not new or improved. If the government had done a proper consultation on Bill C-10, it would have found out early on, like its predecessors, that it too was not satisfactory to the identified stakeholders.
I guess the minister did not feel it necessary to tip off opponents to the bill that nothing had changed. She was prepared to push through unwanted, inaccurate legislation that as currently written would have an adverse effect on the economies of most coastal communities in northern British Columbia, particularly in my riding of Skeena.
Many of my constituents and I believe the committee consultation process was equally disappointing. The consultation process prior to the drafting and introduction of Bill C-10 was a farce. I will elaborate.
Bill C-10 was introduced in the House in February and sent to committee shortly thereafter. Initially the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage had every intention to do precious little in the way of consultation and planned to send the bill back to the House for report stage and third reading prior to the House rising for the summer recess. This did not happen as planned and I will explain why.
As a member of parliament representing a coastal riding, representatives of coastal municipalities and various chambers of commerce came to me asking for an opportunity to be heard by the committee dealing with Bill C-10. I immediately expressed this concern to the committee, which had at that point in early May decided to limit the number of witnesses and close off debate. I had to fight hard with the committee members to allow my witnesses to be heard. They used every trick in the book and blamed me, if members can imagine, for my constituents not being heard.
Because I pointed out rather publicly that the committee had only heard from witnesses representing either environmental groups, industries or communities from eastern Canada and had ignored the west coast, the committee reluctantly agreed to re-open the witness list.
Throughout the summer months the concern over certain aspects of Bill C-10 grew in my riding, and in fact all over coastal B.C., to the point where my list of witnesses expanded from a mere 3 or 4 to a full 25 to 30. These were not industry representatives. They were mayors, councillors, presidents of chambers of commerce, small business owners, fishermen and even people currently living close to a marine park on the Queen Charlotte Islands. They all had their areas of concern and all wanted their opportunity to speak to the committee.
Mr. Speaker, you can imagine my surprise when I presented this enthusiastic list of concerned coastal Canadians to the committee and received a less than enthusiastic reply. It was obvious the committee was not pleased with what had transpired over the summer.
I will not single out any particular member of the committee as they know who they are, but I was faced with the committee saying that it could not hear from all my witnesses because it would just take too long. The committee also said that if it heard from all the witnesses from my province then it would have to hear witnesses from other provinces and that there simply was no time.
I think there was a lot of time. If we are going to create a proper bill we should listen to witnesses from all over. If we take the time to do it right there will be a whole lot less opposition to the bill. The committee said that the bill had to be back in the House right away.
Mr. Speaker, I am paraphrasing but I hope you get the picture I am painting about the reluctance of the committee to hear from my witnesses. In the end I was told to negotiate with the clerk of the committee to get my witnesses on the list.
I understand that the committee did decide, reluctantly I believe, to set up video conferencing facilities in my riding and in Vancouver in order to hear from some of these witnesses. It was not enough to open the witness list to witnesses expressing concern for areas of the bill. The government would not be outdone. It filled the witness list with more environmental groups or representatives supporting the bill in order to more than even things off.
In the end the committee heard from more environmental groups supporting the bill than representatives of coastal or affected communities expressing concerns or reservations about certain aspects of Bill C-10.
I have to say that I am particularly disappointed that of my 25 to 30 prepared witnesses I was in the end allowed representation from 12 but only 4 of those were allowed to come to Ottawa. However I will say that those 12 witnesses were very representative of areas in B.C. I had, for instance, the mayor of Prince Rupert, Don Scott; the mayor of Kitimat, Richard Wozney; the mayor of Port Clements, Joan Ann Allen; the mayor of the village of Telkwa, Sharon Hartwell; the chair of the regional district of Bulkley Valley-Stikine, Joanne Monaghan; the regional district of Skeena-Queen Charlottes represented by Paddy Greene; the village of Smithers mayor, Brian Northup represented by Cress Farrow; industries like the B.C. Fishermen's Survival Coalition president, Phil Isaac; and the B.C. Seafood Alliance president, Michelle James. Representatives from the north coast oil and gas task force, Dave McGuigan and Reg Stowell were also present, as was a representative from the B.C. Chamber of Commerce who spoke on behalf of both the B.C. chamber and the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, noting that both had concerns about the potential economic effect the bill would have on communities.
I know I am going into a lot of detail about the process of the bill at committee, Mr. Speaker, but to understand just how much distrust there is out there, particularly in my home province of B.C., over the bill and its supposed guarantees of consultation, you need to know how little consultation there actually was and how hard it was to achieve the little leeway I was given for witnesses by the government.
Mr. Speaker, you need to understand that there were a number of letters received by the committee, phone calls to my office, faxes from concerned communities and even a unanimously passed resolution by the Union of B.C. Municipalities. By the way, it is nearly unheard of for UBCM to pass a resolution on the need for further consultation on federal legislation, and to pass it unanimously is an even greater feat. Even with that kind of pressure to slow the process down of approving Bill C-10, and with that strong suggestion from a group of elected officials representing a province with over three million residents, the committee chose to limit debate and discussion and, most of all, testimony from concerned witnesses to a mere 12.
I would suggest that it is no wonder British Columbians take no solace in the federal Liberal government's promise of full consultation with not only the provincial government prior to the creation of an MCA, but there is also no trust in its claim that an MCA will not go ahead if the local affected community is not in favour of it.
I would also argue that the government of British Columbia wanted more time to study the bill. To that end, I believe the B.C. minister of energy himself asked the federal government to delay passage of Bill C-10 until B.C. could complete its study on the potential for offshore oil and gas development in coastal B.C. This was a study planned to be completed by the end of January 2002 and the federal government could not wait a mere three months to appease the province with the largest coastline in Canada.
That is shameful and again exemplifies why coastal communities are simply afraid the federal government will come in with proclamations that it is there to help and charge in with directives and decisions without any concern for the needs and realities of those coastal communities. They believe, and with good reason, that the feds will force MCAs on coastal communities and the reality is that there is nothing in the bill that will prevent it from doing just that.
That brings me to the discussion on the amendments the official opposition tried to suggest in the committee's clause by clause review of the bill and were denied.
First I must say that we certainly did our homework. The official opposition listened to witnesses, read the submitted briefs and reacted. We came to committee prepared with a list of 30 amendments which, in our opinion, would have made the bill more palatable to both the province and, most important, to those affected coastal communities. Disappointedly, the Liberal government dominated committee and voted down all but one of my amendments.
Allow me, Mr. Speaker, to give you a brief synopsis of some of those defeated amendments, what they would have meant to the bill and how they could have been viewed as positive changes by the many concerned coastal communities.
On 10 separate occasions, in clauses 2, 5, 6 and 7, I tried my very best to include amendments that would have guaranteed the provinces a veto over the creation of any marine conservation areas created by the legislation and, as such, by the federal government, on either provincial land or areas where the jurisdiction of the land was under dispute by either the federal or provincial governments.
These were simple amendments that would have allayed any fears of either the province of B.C. or its residents of a unilateral federal government directive to institute an MCA in an area where, quite frankly, either the province did not see the need for one or because the provincial government of B.C. believes in consultation, that the coastal communities obviously did not want one.
In many cases the entire opposition parties were in agreement to these amendments. The Bloc member on numerous occasions expressed her concern about the legislation which once again trounces on provincial rights assured in the constitution. The PC/DR coalition member echoed these concerns as well and yet in the end, as per usual, the government members feigned interest but voted against the amendments.
At first I honestly thought it might be because they realized how good these amendments were and how needed they were to secure the support of coastal B.C. and, believe it or not, I thought the government might actually vote against these amendments in committee to save face and then introduce similar amendments at report stage to make it look like these were its ideas. We all know the government does that all the time with Alliance amendments. However, in this case, unfortunately, it did not.
This speaks to the horrible track record the Liberal government has when it comes to listening to the concerns of Canadians and then acting on them. As I mentioned earlier, it listens and feigns interest but rarely, if ever, does anything unless forced.
Here is an example of the wording of one of these amendments and the rationale I expressed as to why the bill needed to be amended. The amendment, known in committee evidence as CA amendment No. 3, dealt with clause 2. Specifically, we were trying to create a new clause 2, subclause (2) which would have read as follows:
For greater certainty, nothing in this Act shall be construed so as to abrogate or derogate from the existing rights of a province over public lands, including submerged lands, which fall within its provincial boundaries. As such, no marine conservation area shall be created without the specific approval of the affected province.
My rationale for such a simple amendment was simply that many of the witnesses on both sides of the issue expressed concern over not having an explicit provincial veto over MCAs in their province. Although clause 5, subclause (2) explains that the land needs to be the unencumbered right of Canada, it does not specifically address the requirement of the province to agree with the creation of the MCA.
Further to that, I explained that the purpose of adding the new clause in that section of the bill was specifically to mirror the reassurances the drafters of the bill felt necessary to include for the aboriginal peoples of Canada. We simply felt that if it was important for the sense of clarity that protection of rights given to aboriginal peoples in the constitution be included that it too was appropriate for the bill to include the rights of provinces to a veto as well.
It was not my intention to delete the current clause 2, subclause (2) dealing with the aboriginal veto to the creation of MCAs, but to move it to a new clause 2, subclause (3), thereby coming after the provincial veto in the bill. Although in my opinion this was, on the surface, a simple and practical amendment, the government decided to oppose it in committee and take another more negative approach to reassuring provincial rights in the bill. Allow me to explain.
The federal Liberal government members on the committee instead supported an amendment to clause 5 which put the onus of fighting the creation of an unwanted MCA on the backs of the affected province. The following is the government's amendment creating a new clause 5, subclause (3). It reads:
If a court of competent jurisdiction finds that Her Majesty in right of Canada does not have clear title to or an unencumbered right of ownership in lands within a marine conservation area, the Governor in Council may, by order, amend Schedule 1 by removing the name and description of the area or by altering the description of the area.
Further to my comments earlier about how this is the wrong way of going about creating MCAs, meaning that if they are created in an area that the province believes the ownership of that area is disputed and the federal government goes ahead regardless of that claim and creates an MCA, as mentioned, the onus is on the province to challenge the ownership of the federal government to that land. Not only could this process take years and end up costing taxpayers a hefty sum, but in the end a new clause is drafted such that even if the province wins the dispute and requests that the MCA be removed, the clause does not require the governor in council to amend it.
Instead it clearly states “The Governor in Council may, by order, amend Schedule 1”. That clearly is a may and not a shall, meaning that even if the province is successful in the courts, the federal government, through the governor in council, can choose to ignore the results of that court case.
For the record let me state that my amendment was not only much clearer and far simpler but was in the end opposed by the government. I hope the members in the House today and the senators, who hopefully will read this testimony, understand the picture I am painting. There is nothing in the bill explicitly stopping the federal government from imposing a marine conservation area on any province, whether it wants one or agrees to cede its rights to the land or not. This is a blatant abuse of power and is exactly why the federal Liberal government has such a poor relationship with the provinces of this great country.
That brings me to my amendment dealing with the environment and with resource uses within the MCAs. I brought forward, on eight separate occasions, amendments that would have made the legislation more balanced. As it is currently drafted, it is, in my opinion, far too heavily weighted on the environmental side of things and does not take into account the realities of life in coastal communities as well as the realities faced by industries that make their livings from harvesting the resources of the seas.
These amendments were not unrealistic and certainly were representative of the sentiments expressed by the witnesses who testified in committee and in written submissions sent by those who did not speak directly to the committee. Among those amendments, the most palatable to the committee should have been my amendment to clause 13. Clause 13 dealt with the prohibition of exploration and development of hydrocarbons within MCAs. The current clause 13 specifically outlines the prohibition of any exploration, development and exploitation of hydrocarbons, aggregates or inorganic matter from within an MCA. When I asked departmental officials to clarify whether this prohibition also outlawed directional drilling underneath an MCA, I was told that it did.
Therefore, again to allay any fears of coastal communities looking to the development of offshore oil and gas as a potential economic boom to their area, and because the passage of the bill would prohibit in perpetuity the development of that potential, I suggested the following amendment: “That clause 13 be amended to include an exception to the listed prohibitions”.
That exemption was to be a new clause 13.1 and was to read as follows:
The minister may permit the use of directional drilling equipment, in the case of sub-seabed drilling for hydrocarbons, from a point outside a marine conservation area, to a point below the seabed, within the marine conservation area, where the practices are determined by the minister to not pose any serious threat to the existing ecosystem of that marine conservation area.
To explain further, the amendment put the onus on the oil and gas industry to prove to the minister's satisfaction that directional drilling techniques are safe and pose no serious threat to the environment. I really thought this would be a win-win for both the government, or might I say the minister, and for the industry. In my opinion this was not slanted in favour of industry but, if anything, it did not close the door fully to oil and gas exploration but did not leave it wide open either.
However, as with the other amendments, the government summarily dismissed it and steadfastly voted against it in committee. That is why I had to move my report stage Motion No. 6 to delete clause 13. I felt that if we could strike a deal on setting guidelines for offshore oil and gas that the government should remove that clause and not specifically mention it so as to keep the door open a crack, just a little bit, for future consideration.
We can see the pattern. The government cracked the whip and its members one by one stood in their places and opposed this report stage amendment as well.
I could go on at length about the concerns I still have with the bill and about the abuse of power by the government throughout the entire consultation process on the bill but I do not have much time left.
I close by saying that this has been my first attempt at what is called shadowing a government bill. Many members may know that this is my first term in parliament and I am certainly new at it.
For a place which supposedly prides itself on its standards of democracy, on representing the wishes of those who elected its members and on working toward modernizing parliament to make it more effective, I can truly say that based on the experience I have had in dealing with the bill since early this year, this place and its committees are neither democratic nor representative.
I know the federal Liberal government has the seats and therefore the votes to pass the bill without a problem. However I stand here to strongly urge those MPs with coastal communities or MPs concerned about giving too much power to the federal government and the erosion of rights given to the provinces in the constitution, to stand strong with me and my party to oppose this badly flawed legislation. Oppose the bill. Send it back to the drafters for some severe editing.
If the government wants to create marine conservation areas, which I believe is a worthy endeavour, let us ensure it is done the right way the first time. I urge members to oppose Bill C-10 at the third reading vote.
Mr. Speaker, I move:
That the motion be amended by deleting all the words after the word “That” and substituting the following therefor:
Bill C-10, an act respecting the national marine conservation areas, be not now read a third time but be referred back to the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage for the purpose of reconsidering clause 10 with the view to ensure that the affected provinces are given explicit veto powers over the creation of marine conservation areas.