Mr. Speaker, I thank you for allowing me to rise in the House today to speak on this issue. As Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, I appreciate the opportunity to add my thoughts to what has already been said earlier on this bill by the minister and to show my support for Bill C-33.
I would also like to add my thanks to the members of the standing joint committee, co-chaired by the hon. member for Surrey Central, for their interest in this issue, and their very hard work and efforts in bring their concerns forward.
I have carefully read about and listened to the committee's concerns. They have done a lot on this issue, as has been stated in the House by the minister and I believe others. That committee has reported to Parliament and its report, issues, concerns and recommendations have been taken very seriously.
Specifically, the committee has made a case for the need for greater clarity and certainty in the Fisheries Act. That, it is my submission, is exactly what Bill C-33 would do. It would provide greater clarity and certainty on matters of legislative authority with respect to regulations that govern Canada's aboriginal fishery. The Minister of Fisheries and Oceans has listened and the government is responding.
The bill would expressly provide that the governor in council could make regulations respecting the method of designation where a licence was issued to an aboriginal group. It would expressly provide that breach of a term or condition of a licence issued under the Fisheries Act would be an offence.
The bill proposes a number of amendments. It would amend the Fisheries Act to expressly make compliance with licence terms and conditions a requirement under the act. It provides that the terms and conditions of prescribed licences issued to aboriginal organizations prevail over other regulations. It defines for greater certainty the term “aboriginal organization”. It would permit the governor in council to prescribe an entity as an aboriginal organization. It provides express regulation making authority for designation provisions.
What we are offered today is an opportunity to clarify the Fisheries Act. Before we act on this opportunity, I would like at this time to highlight the government's longstanding, and I should add ongoing, efforts to strengthen the involvement of aboriginal groups in the management of fisheries on all three of our coasts.
Over the years many programs and initiatives have evolved to allow the Government of Canada to negotiate with and work cooperatively with aboriginal groups in the management of a regulated fisheries.
As everyone in the House knows, in 1990 the Supreme Court of Canada issued a landmark ruling in the Sparrow decision. In that case the Supreme Court found that where an aboriginal group had the right to fish for food, social and ceremonial purposes, it would take priority after conservation over other uses of that resource. The court also indicated the importance of consulting with aboriginal groups when their fishing rights might be affected.
In response to this decision, DFO launched the aboriginal fisheries strategy. Among other things, the strategy provides aboriginal groups with an opportunity to participate in the management of fisheries, thereby improving conservation, management and enhancement of the resource.
I would like to step back and talk about the aboriginal fisheries strategy. When the Sparrow decision came down, followed by the other decision on the east coast, the Marshall decision, there were certainly questions raised as to how these particular court decisions would be handled by society in general.
There was a certain feeling in the fisheries community, and I guess society as a whole, that we would have chaos in the fisheries industry. The principles of the fisheries industry as they are governed, conservation of the resource, sustainability of the industry and the whole precautionary principle would give way, and we would have chaos and things would be very troublesome.
That is not the case. This has been going on for quite a few years now. I am a little more familiar with the issues on the east coast rather than the west coast. I applaud the people who implemented the strategy. In my opinion, this is a strategy that has worked. As everyone in this House knows, not everything in Ottawa works; however, this strategy has worked. I want to congratulate everyone who was involved in the implementation of the strategy.
On the east coast we have, I believe, 34 native bands. There are presently agreements with 32 of the 34 bands. Unfortunately, with respect to one band, in the dying days, March 31 to be exact, the agreement just did not come about. It is a little unfortunate but again, 32 of the 34 bands have signed agreements.
In each case, the band has been given access to the fishery. It has been done on a coordinated basis and these principles of sustainabilty of the resource, conservation of the resource, and the sustainability of the industry have been adhered to.
Again, everything is not perfect. There have been a few problems along the way. As recently as last week, I talked with the executive director of the Prince Edward Island Fishermen's Association. I asked him specifically if in his experience the program had worked. He was very unequivocal. He said that it had definitely worked. He had nothing but good to say about the way this program had been implemented in that province.
Looking back, it has been a real credit to the officials in the Department of Fisheries and Oceans but also, and perhaps more importantly, to the band chiefs who negotiated these agreements.
My province, I believe, has 28 lobster fleets and two snow crab fleets. Nova Scotia and New Brunswick would have many times this amount, probably in the hundreds. I do not have the exact number. When a community, whether it is native or non-native, has three or four lobster fleets and maybe a snow crab fleet, or another fleet, it not only provides employment and economic development, but it also enhances the whole economic and social fabric of that community.
The coastal communities on the Atlantic coast rely on these fishing fleets, and the native communities are no different than the non-native communities. So with four or five lobster fleets and a snow crab fleet, they need gas, they need workers, and they need people to make repairs. There is the whole issue of the sale and marketing of the products. Name it, it is there. We can see the economic development opportunities that flow from this strategy, which again I applaud.
To turn the page, and keeping pace with change in recent years, Fisheries and Oceans Canada has renewed the strategy. Part of this renewal has included the development of two programs introduced last year that continue to increase the opportunities for first nations communities involved in our fisheries industries.
First, the aboriginal aquatic resources and ocean management, AAROM, program supports aboriginal groups in areas where DFO manages the fisheries and establishes aquatic resource and ocean management bodies. It enables these bodies to obtain access to skilled personnel and related support that allows them to participate effectively in decision making and advisory processes.
The second initiative is the aboriginal inland habitat program. That program shares the same objectives as the AAROM program but focuses on fish habitat management in inland provinces. This program facilitates the engagement of inland aboriginal groups in activities of fisheries and oceans in the fish habitat management program, and of course we are talking about aquaculture and fish farm management.
It encourages new collaborations among aboriginal groups and helps us build established working relationships. It is not part of the policy discussions, but I would hope that what happened on the Atlantic coast, with the inclusion of the native bands and the established fishery, that it would serve as a template for other industries, perhaps forestry or similar court cases that come down giving native groups rights, albeit limited, to some of our timber resources. That is also something that I think the government and perhaps our aboriginal leaders should consider. I really think this is a program that has worked and should be emulated in other areas.
Very recently the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans announced new initiatives for aboriginal fisheries mentoring and training. The at sea mentoring initiative will help Mi'kmaq and Maliseet First Nations in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and in the Gaspé region of the Province of Quebec to further develop skills to fish safely and effectively in various fisheries.
Again, we can see some of the challenges and dilemma of this program. In certain instances people are now fishing who did not fish before. It is not something that one can just go and do. One has to be trained. There is experience involved. It takes time. This program that I reported recently talks about some of the initiatives that the minister is taking to enhance the level of training and skills that our aboriginal fishers will need to have when they utilize the licences that are presently owned by their aboriginal communities.
It will assist the first nations in diversifying the catch in the inshore fishery and improving overall fishing skills in the mid-shore fishery as well as learning vessel maintenance.
There are always going to be challenges and it is never going to be perfect. I see the two programs that I just talked about adding two new layers to the existing program which has been so successful.
At the same time, the minister announced a new fisheries operation management initiative that will support first nations in learning more advanced skills to manage the communal fisheries assets with the objective of maximizing benefits not only for the fishers but also for the coastal communities. I want to reiterate how important that is.
Both of these initiatives respond to the training, the mentoring and the management expertise requirements identified by the first nation communities. In addition to helping aboriginal groups develop skills and capacity, we have increased their access to the fishery and we have signed multi-year fisheries agreements with 32 first nations.
Clearly this government continues to do its utmost to ensure that aboriginal Canadians can participate fully in the fisheries, with conservation and sustainability being the top priorities.
Despite all of these positive initiatives, as everyone is aware, certainly people who follow fisheries issues, the management of fisheries is extremely complex. We see that in what is going on off the coast of Newfoundland as we speak. There is nothing simple about the management of fish. Issues around treaty and aboriginal rights add to this complexity, but I believe they are being handled in a good manner.
As I first said when I rose, we certainly very much appreciate the committee's concerns around clarity. We are taking actions to address the issues that it has raised. I should point out also that there has been considerable consultation with aboriginal fishing groups and other fishing groups and I understand that the bill has received broad support from all concerned.
It is clear that Bill C-33 fulfills commitments made to the standing joint committee and addresses the issues raised in its reports. The bill proposes greater clarity and certainty on existing legislative authorities, a key component in an orderly and properly managed fishery.
I urge all members of the House to join me in supporting Bill C-33, which I consider a very important piece of legislation.