Bill C-33 (Historical)
An Act to amend the Fisheries Act
This bill was last introduced in the 37th Parliament, 3rd Session, which ended in May 2004.
Geoff Regan Liberal
Not active, as of April 30, 2004
(This bill did not become law.)
Business of the House
Oral Question Period
May 13th, 2004 / 3:05 p.m.
Jacques Saada Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister responsible for Democratic Reform
Mr. Speaker, the true miracle is the number of bills we have been able to pass, notwithstanding their opposition to them.
This afternoon, the House will continue with the opposition day motion. Tomorrow, we will return to Bill C-34, the migratory birds legislation. This will be followed by a motion to refer to committee before second reading Bill C-36, respecting communicable diseases. We will then return to Bill C-33, the Fisheries Act amendments, Bill C-10, respecting marijuana, and Bill C-23, respecting the first nations.
When the House returns on May 25, it will resume this list and take up bills that are introduced or reported from committee in the interim.
Thursday, May 27, shall be an allotted day, something that may not interest them.
May 12th, 2004 / 5 p.m.
Shawn Murphy Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans
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.
Points of Order
Oral Question Period
May 4th, 2004 / 3:05 p.m.
May 3rd, 2004 / 6:20 p.m.
Gerald Keddy South Shore, NS
Mr. Speaker, on the final comment of the member for Bras d'Or—Cape Breton's, it is my understanding, from what the Minister of Fisheries stated in the House, that he had not met with the fisheries committee on this legislation and that any consultation had occurred under a former minister some time ago.
Again, when bringing legislation into the House of this magnitude and importance, it is absolutely essential that the minister of the day meet with the committee of the day. Things change, issues change, dynamics change and it would have been important to at least have met with committee.
The basis of Bill C-33, an act to amend the Fisheries Act, we have had a long and prolonged debate over that. I think we all understand where the bill came from and why, and I will review that.
Before I do, let us go back and look at the original aboriginal fishery strategy of 1992 and the Sparrow decision of 1990. There has been nearly 14 years to bring the aboriginal community into the fishery. In Atlantic Canada, to a great degree, the aboriginal fishing strategy has worked well. Certainly, a majority of the bands have fishing licences, if not all, which range everywhere from mackerel, to crab, to offshore shrimp, to offshore clams, to the lucrative lobster industry and to the groundfishery. It is not as if suddenly today the aboriginal community will start to partake in this fishery.
Let us look at 12 years of an aboriginal fishing strategy. I just pulled a clip off the wire and the best comparison to that is the same amount of time, actually 13 years, or 12 years of this government dealing with the offshore, specifically the nose and tail of the Grand Banks and foreign overfishing.
I am not about to try and blame all the ills of the fishery upon the foreign fleet. It is not only the fault of the foreign fleet, it is our fault as well. However, it is important to be consistent with regulations and it is extremely important to be consistent with enforcement. I do not see any of that in this legislation, Bill C-33. I certainly have not seen any of it on the nose and tail of the Grand Banks for the last 12 years.
Newly released data shows that more than 90% of foreign ships caught illegally fishing on the Grand Banks of Newfoundland over the past decade got off scot free. Between 1992 and 2003, Canadian fisheries officers caught foreign ships illegally fishing 319 times on the nose and tail of the Grand Banks, but the foreign ships faced fines in only 21 cases. Basically it was carte blanche. They could do what they wanted and fish where they wanted. I am not certain we will see anything different here.
The success of the fishery is to base it on conservation, to have trained fishery officers and to have trained fishermen who understand the resource. There is a willingness to incorporate the aboriginal fishery, certainly there is in the South Shore. There is no question that the aboriginals have a stake in the fishery and they will be participants in that fishery.
The question is how does one bring legislation like this into being without talking to the fishery committee, without having committee hearings that include first nations and other stakeholders? How can that happen.
I agree with the member from Bras d'Or that absolutely, there is a very important economic component to this piece of legislation. It provides opportunity for first nations. It provides much needed opportunity for first nations entry into the fishery. What are the parameters of that opportunity? What are the rules and regulations that will govern it?
There is not even agreement among the individual Mi'kmaq, Maliseet, and Passamaquoddy bands. They have not all signed onto this. There are still a few of them that are holding out. There is far from unanimity on this subject. There is still division even among the first nations.
As was mentioned here a few times, the September 17, 1999 Marshall decision affirmed the treaty rights of the Mi'kmaq, Maliseet and the Passamaquoddy people to hunt, fish and gather in the pursuit of a moderate livelihood. That court agreement has come down. No one is arguing about that decision.
There needs to be open and intelligent discussion on how we can best incorporate first nations into the fishery. It was not DFO that said we are not going to have extra effort in the fishery. It was the first nations who put that idea forward because they and the non-native fishery saw the importance of not over-exploiting the resource.
There are a number of amendments. The bill amends the Fisheries Act to expressly provide that a breach of a term or condition of a permission granted under section 4 of the act or of a licence or lease issued under the act is an offence. That is a change to the Fisheries Act.
Changes to the Fisheries Act should not be brought in without having a debate, without trying to look 20 years into the future to see how it could affect the individuals involved. How will it affect the aboriginal fishery? That is the first component we are talking about. How will it affect the non-aboriginal fishery?
My great concern is the whole basis of a communal fishery. I am not proposing at all that a communal fishery cannot work. It probably could work and could work well. However, how do we enable the mentoring and training of fishermen to be passed on intergenerationally within the fishing family? I do not think that question has been answered at all, and it is an extremely important one.
In summary, I do believe the bill is being rushed through. I do believe it has been brought in late. It has not really been thought through. Unfortunately, we need this piece of legislation, but we cannot use it in its present form.
May 3rd, 2004 / 6:20 p.m.
Rodger Cuzner Bras D'Or—Cape Breton, NS
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the intervention of my colleague from Yukon. A number of consultations took place among department officials and representatives from the minister's office with the various stakeholders and committee members. From all indications, the consultations have been ongoing. They started back probably a couple years ago. That is why we are this juncture, where Bill C-33 has come forward.
May 3rd, 2004 / 6:15 p.m.
Rodger Cuzner Bras D'Or—Cape Breton, NS
Mr. Speaker, my friend has alluded to the fact that the cultures, the training and skills have been passed down from generation to generation within a family enterprise. Obviously, from the aboriginal communities that I know, they have a communal nature and that enterprise lies within that aboriginal community.
First, we should know that Bill C-33 does not compromise any of the practices that are on the ground as we speak. What it does is allow for the flexibility and the respect within the aboriginal community that would allow the regulations from the fishery to be applied in its specific case.
May 3rd, 2004 / 5:55 p.m.
Rodger Cuzner Bras D'Or—Cape Breton, NS
Mr. Speaker, it is indeed a pleasure to enter into the debate here today on Bill C-33. It has been a very engaging debate and much has been said from the opposition benches and many concerns rendered on this particular bill about the fishery in general. With all the talk in the air, one might think that some of it might even be rhetorical. We are not above that in the House.
I myself have been around the harbours in the last number of weeks and have been able to speak with a great number of fishing groups. In my constituency of Bras d'Or--Cape Breton, we start in the harbour of Glace Bay and run through to Morien around the Louisbourg-Gabarus coast and up to Richmond county, up the Strait of Canso, and then back around the other side of the island, the west side, Port Hood, Mabou, Inverness and up to Chéticamp. Like most MPs from the Atlantic, I will say that the fishery is the engine that drives the economy in coastal communities in Atlantic Canada.
I have been speaking with those fishermen and there is a great deal of enthusiasm. There is excitement and there is anticipation at this time of year. We have had a number of meetings with harbour authorities. This is the time of the year where we have had great success with some of the investments we have made through many harbour authorities in my constituency. I look at the jobs that have been done in Glace Bay, Morien and Louisbourg. There has been a major investment in Petit-de-Grat where the aboriginal fishery is fishing hand in hand with the traditional fishery with great success.
Going up the other side of the island, again we have had investments in a number of harbours, investments that have made those harbours safe, effective and great places for my constituents to ply their trade. We are hopeful. I just spoke today with a group from Grand Etang. It is the first time in over 50 years that a dredging project was done in Grand Etang. Over 50 years since that harbour was dredged and we got that done last year. We were very fortunate. Obviously as we go forward here over the next while, I think that some of the anticipation is banking on further announcements in the coming weeks.
Another reason for some of the anticipation and excitement is the FRCC's proposal coming forward to the minister. Today in the House the Minister of Fisheries responded to a question from the member for St. John's West. He is currently in receipt of the recommendations coming forward from the FRCC. Of course the FRCC is an independent body. The Fisheries Resource Conservation Council is primarily responsible for the science that surrounds the resource.
The minister will accept that report and study the recommendations put forward from the FRCC. He in turn will make allocations of the resource as we go forward into the season. Of course, the bottom line with the minister, when those decisions are made, is that the conservation of the resource and the orderly management of the fishery remain the priorities of not just the minister but the department. Certainly what we hope is that he will study the recommendations closely.
The decisions have to be science based, but the anecdotal information in our conversations with fishermen and fisheries groups is that the stocks on the east coast are subtly starting to grow. There are some very positive signs. I am not trying to dismiss the state of the fishery there. I am not trying to make light or say that we have fully recovered the cod stocks on the east coast, not at all. I would not want to mislead the House in that regard, but if we speak to the individual fishermen and to the crews that are on those boats, they will tell us that a lot of the signs have been encouraging. Some of the tows and some of the catches have been very surprising at times and very encouraging at the least. I would hope that the minister, as he goes forward to make his recommendations on this year's quotas, weighs these factors as well.
Of course there is a lot of excitement and anticipation. I have fishermen friends who are looking out at the pack ice each day hoping for a good wind to move the ice off so the crabbers and the lobster fishermen can get going. There are some very positive early indications that in several of the areas catches will be strong. This is a tribute to the conservation efforts that have been undertaken in some of the management areas. There has been a great deal of sacrifice in some of those areas over the last number of years. Looking at just outside of Glace Bay, for example, they have increased the carapace size over the last four years. They are in a four or five year management plan. They think this might be a year where they will see the benefit from that sacrifice and from those years of increased conservation. The price is still a little low, but that will come as the season progresses.
The other thing in speaking with the various fishermen from the different harbours is that what I have seen over the last number of years is the growth in acceptance, understanding and cooperation between our aboriginal and traditional fishers. I know that it varies from harbour to harbour. Experiences change from harbour to harbour, but overall I think we are starting to see through this. It has been much more accepted and it is very positive and encouraging to see these people fishing side by side as fishermen. I think we have come a long way and I think there is still a ways to go. Again, it varies from harbour to harbour, but overall we have made significant progress in the last number of years.
The Government of Canada has been clear in its desire to increase the participation of citizens in the nation's business and to re-establish confidence in the federal government and in those who represent Canadians.
The bill being debated today is one example of how the government and the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans is reaching out to members of Parliament and, by extension, to Canadians.
By introducing Bill C-33, the government is responding to concerns raised by the Standing Joint Committee for the Scrutiny of Regulations. I know that the hon. Minister of Fisheries and Oceans appreciates the hard work of the committee. The issues are complex and the committee felt that they were important and worth studying.
Over the past few years, hon. members from both sides of the House and the Senate have spoken about the need for greater clarity on matters addressed in the bill. The Fisheries Act is a general piece of legislation that is used to conserve and protect the fisheries and to govern the way our government manages fishing. The amendments proposed add more detail to the broad general authorities in the Fisheries Act and address issues raised by the committee.
While the bill is limited in scope, it offers a range of changes that will provide greater clarity and certainty on matters of legislative authority. Quite simply, it is aimed at clarifying existing authorities.
For instance, the bill is intended to clarify the authority of the minister and aboriginal organizations to designate persons who may fish under the authority of a licence and vessels that may be used to fish. It will define what is meant by the term “aboriginal organization” and, to the extent that there may be inconsistency, provide the authority for licence conditions issued to an aboriginal organization to prevail over regulations.
These proposed amendments address very specific issues that were the subject of a commitment by the Government of Canada to the standing joint committee.
I think it is important to note at this point that these amendments will not change existing practices on the ground. Rather, they will provide greater clarity and certainty on matters of legislative authority with respect to regulations that govern Canada's fisheries.
As the February Speech from the Throne made clear, the Government of Canada is committed to helping aboriginal Canadians attain greater economic self-reliance and a better quality of life.
The Department of Fisheries and Oceans has been a key contributor to this long term, government-wide goal. For example, DFO's response to the 1999 Supreme Court of Canada Marshall decision served to increase opportunities for Canada's first nations to participate in the fisheries. I think the comment that was made by the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans earlier today in the House recognized that over 1,200 jobs have evolved as a result of this decision.
Every member of this House can be proud of the achievements realized through the Marshall response initiative. Today we have an orderly, regulated fishery, where hundreds of aboriginal fishers are learning new fishing skills, learning how to run a business and assuming their new role in the fishery. While there is still a great deal of work ahead, there has been measurable progress over the last four years. To build on this, the minister announced two new initiatives in February.
The new at-sea mentoring initiative, with total funding of $6 million over the next four years, will help the Mi'kmaq and Maliseet first nations in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and the Gaspé region of Quebec further develop skills to fish safely and effectively in various fisheries.
Trial and error is one way of learning, but trial and error is an inefficient and unsafe way to learn new skills. Mistakes at sea can be costly. They can be costly in loss of gear, costly in loss of revenue and, in extreme cases, costly in the loss of life.
I think the mentorship program will go a long way in continuing to bring the aboriginal community along. It will also assist first nations in diversifying the catch in these inshore fisheries and improving overall fishing skills in the midshore fishery as well as learning vessel maintenance.
The fisheries operations management initiative, with total funding of $1 million over the next four years, will support these first nations in learning more advanced skills to manage their communal fisheries assets with the objective of maximizing benefits for fishers and their communities.
DFO seeks to manage fisheries in a manner consistent with constitutional protection provided to aboriginal and treaty rights. Policies such as the aboriginal fisheries strategy and the Marshall response initiative, together with a legislative framework that includes the aboriginal communal fishing licence regulations, provide a flexible framework that assists DFO in this regard.
It is important to note that the minister will continue to issue communal licences to aboriginal organizations under the regulations should this bill pass. The aboriginal communal fishing licences regulations will continue to serve as an essential tool in the effective management of fishing by aboriginal groups while conserving the resource on behalf of all Canadians.
The minister and indeed the Government of Canada are committed to working cooperatively with aboriginal groups in the management of the fisheries. This is the best way to achieve the department's priorities of conservation and an orderly managed fishery.
Bill C-33 will provide clarity and certainty on matters of legislative authorities while supporting our government's ongoing work to improve the quality of life of aboriginal Canadians. This is why I encourage all my colleagues in the House to support these amendments.
May 3rd, 2004 / 5:40 p.m.
Peter Stoffer Sackville—Musquodoboit Valley—Eastern Shore, NS
Mr. Speaker, it is unfortunate that we are debating Bill C-33 today. It is rather insulting that a temporary Minister of Fisheries and Oceans would introduce a bill this late in the mandate when we all know that an election could be called within a few weeks or even a few days.
The bill deals with aboriginal issues and should not be debated lightly. The issue of giving aboriginal people their rightful due access to the fishery resource has been quite a contentious issue throughout Canada for some time.
I could go back in history for quite a long time, but I will just go back as far as the Marshall decision. My colleague from the Bloc was right. In September 1999 the Supreme Court issued its decision in the Marshall case. Why did this issue go to the Supreme Court? It went because the Liberals refused to negotiate with aboriginal people at that time. They would not deal with them and suggested they take the matter to court. They took it to court and the aboriginal people won yet again.
The government took quite a long time to figure out how much that case cost Canadian taxpayers. The Marshall decision cost Canadian taxpayers $750 million. Would it have been more cost effective to the taxpayer if the government had negotiated with Donald Marshall and the aboriginal groups in Atlantic Canada, such as the Mi'kmaq, the Maliseet and Passamaquoddy? It probably would have. However, the Liberals did not do that. They decided to go to litigation instead.
The Liberal government is not a party of negotiation but rather a party of dictatorship. If people do not like the rules, the government urges them to go to court. In this particular case the aboriginal people won. As a little sidebar, disabled veterans took their case to court, but unfortunately, they lost and that decision has left a bitter pill in the mouths of many veterans in organizations throughout the country.
Bill C-33 basically corrects an addition that was done when the House of Commons Standing Joint Committee for the Scrutiny of Regulations reviewed the legislation. The committee has been at it for quite a while regarding some concerns brought up by aboriginals. Nobody on this side of the House is denying the inherent right of aboriginal people to aquatic resources in terms of the fishery.
We believe they should be equal partners in the debate. We believe they should be equal partners when it comes to access regarding quotas, and when they fish, how they fish, and with what they fish. They have an inherent right to be at the table when decisions are made.
The government has effectively split aboriginal communities against one another. We just need to look to the west coast for an example. The Native Brotherhood of British Columbia, an aboriginal group, fishes predominantly in the salt waters off the west coast. It has been pitted against aboriginal groups which fish, for example, on the Fraser River. There are two sets of rules. The government has pitted those aboriginal groups against one another. That is not negotiation. That is simply divide and conquer and is simply unacceptable.
We in the NDP have been saying for a long time that aboriginal people, along with non-aboriginal groups, regardless of whether they fish up river or in salt water, should be brought together to the table to negotiate these deals. This would finally provide a community-based and cooperative co-management of the fishery.
One of the problems we have is that management decisions are made in Ottawa at 200 Kent Street and brought down to the water, instead of having decisions brought from the water back to Ottawa. Decisions should not be made and then groups brought together to be asked what they think.
We know what to do with a particular species and how it should be fished. Aboriginal groups, non-aboriginal groups, and coastal communities should be brought together and allowed to be part of the decision making process. We have had success with that before.
The Fogo Island co-op is a fine example of a co-op that works quite well. In Sambro, Nova Scotia, there is a co-operative fishery going on there. There are a few hiccups here and there but it works fairly well. That is what happens when fishermen and their families are allowed to be part of the decision making process.
When I say fishermen and their families, I also include the aboriginal people. I do not differentiate when it comes to fishermen. I believe they have rights and access to the fishery but I believe they also have a right and responsibility in the decision making process of how those quotas are divvied up, what gear type should be used and when they should be fishing, et cetera.
What we have had for many years is a corporate concentration of the resource. We now have a company like the Fishing Alliance of Nova Scotia which represents approximately 60 small processors in the province. The processors are saying that they should have access to the quota in order for their businesses to stay alive. They make a very valid point but at the same time fishermen are saying that they should have the right to sell their fish wherever they want.
Again, this is a rather contentious debate. Both sides make valid points but the worry is that the resource will become concentrated in fewer hands, that there will be fewer voices at the table and that there will be less economic opportunity to access a renewable resource.
We are saying that DFO should facilitate those meetings and bring the people together so that a long term plan can be made in order to decide exactly what process we should be going through. It is not that difficult.
Officials at the Department of Fisheries and Oceans could make their lives a lot easier if they got out of 200 Kent Street and realized once and for all that the fishery is a renewable resource. However, if it were done correctly it could sustain economic livelihood in Canada for a long time. That includes the aboriginal communities, not just those aboriginal communities on the east or west coasts, but the aboriginal communities in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and other provinces where we have a great inland commercial fishery.
I have been to Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, and Flin Flon, Manitoba, where a large number of aboriginal people make their livelihood from fishing in the great lakes of the northern provinces. However the way in which DFO operates, it makes their lives much more difficult.
We are saying that aboriginal groups should be brought to the table when it comes to the decision making process on the quota and access, and exactly how it should go.
I have very little confidence in the government to enact any positive legislation. Iinstead of dividing and conquering fishing people, it should be bringing them together. Decisions are made in the ivory tower. They are vetted on down and people are more or less allowed to say what they would like, but the fact is that the decisions are already made and that is the end of it. That is wrong.
Ever since 1984, we have spent close to $4.5 billion of taxpayer money readjusting the east coast fishery, let alone how much we have spent on the west coast adjusting the west coast fishery. It is all because of mismanagement by the federal government.
What we are saying, quite clearly, is that if the government wants to save money and have a better fishery, it should invite all stakeholders of the resource together and treat them as equals. In my dealings with aboriginal people throughout the country, they are saying very clearly that they have an inherent right to access the resource. We agree with them. They are also saying that they want to work with their non-aboriginal brothers and sisters in the fishing industry. They want to work together were they can all share the country's bounty.
If this is done correctly, their great-great-grandkids will be able to access the resource. However the way it is going, with various species throughout the country, we are seeing the decline in major stocks throughout the country and, for that matter, around the world. It is obvious to the government that what it is doing is simply wrong.
The Standing Committee of Fisheries and Oceans came up with a unanimous report in regard to our outer 200-mile limit on the nose and the tail of the Grand Banks and the Flemish cap. Nine Liberals on the committee signed off on that report only to have the minister at that time completely reject the report out of hand.
The committee was trying to protect a renewable resource from overfishing, not only from the domestic side but from foreign overfishing. What we basically said in the report was that NAFO simply did not work, that is was broken, that it was costing us a lot of money and that we were not getting any effort for it.
In today's Montreal Gazette it indicates that 90% of overfishing violations are never charged. These are foreigners who come in, rape and pillage our waters and we let them get away with it. That is simply unacceptable. A fishing violation is a fishing violation. We cannot harm these stocks any more than we are already doing. We need to fish them in a sustainable manner. The best way to do that is by bringing groups together and working in a community based, co-operative co-management way. If we do that we will have great success in the future.
May 3rd, 2004 / 5:35 p.m.
Loyola Hearn St. John's West, NL
Mr. Speaker, I would like to put a question to my friend from Matapédia—Matane.
He is right. I would like to ask him if he believes that the minister is playing games with fishermen. I say that because I believe that Bill C-33 is bad.
It is a bad bill simply because proper discussions have not taken place with the people directly involved. We have seen how much consultation there has been. Now we know why there is such a rush. We know there is a rush because this bill is brought in for appeasement.
I agree with the member that it will never see the light of day because by the time it goes through the process, the House will be closed; however, the government can always say to look at all the bills it brought in, in order to appease everyone out there.
I think it is a bad bill simply because it has been rushed in without consultation. There was a letter to the committee. The committee responded and said that it had concerns. The minister did not go out to talk to the people involved. He just brought it here and tries to ram it through.
I would like to ask the member, does he also think it is a bad law, that we should slow it down, consult properly, and then bring it back and deal with it perhaps when we have a government over there that cares?
May 3rd, 2004 / 5:25 p.m.
Gerald Keddy South Shore, NS
Mr. Speaker, I listened very closely to the member for Matapédia—Matane's debate on Bill C-33. After listening to him, I am surprised the Bloc would consider supporting the bill. Like the Conservative Party, we agree with the principles of the bill to try to develop a fair and equitable fishery policy that works both for first nations and for non-first nation fishermen.
My great problem with the bill is the lack of consistency, especially in the regulations. The life of the fishery, the success of the fishery and the future of the fishery is based on fair rules and regulations that allow people to fish and that allow individual fishermen to provide for their families to make an income. However, of primary importance is that the rules and regulations are there to protect the stocks and the species. That way we are guaranteed a fishery in the future.
If we have one set of rules for one set of people and another set of rules for another group of people, we run into a very serious problem. It sounds to me as though a lot of this could have been settled if the minister would have gone to committee with this, put it on the table and negotiated the process whereby the stakeholders, both first nations and non-first nations fishermen, could have had some input about the rules. It would have gone a long way toward making this better legislation.
In closing, I would like to member to comment on this. For the life of me, this reminds me of the way we have been negotiating with NAFO. We allow anything to happen on the nose and tail of the Grand Banks and outside the 200 mile limit, but we have these great motherhood statements that say that we will protect the resource on our side, as if the fish did not swim over the line. We all know that the fish migrate across the north Atlantic.
The difficulty with the rules and regulations and the absolute authority of the minister of fisheries to be responsible for conservation and to ensure that the bands fall within that policy are the parts of the bill that I have not heard clearly enunciated by the minister.
May 3rd, 2004 / 5:15 p.m.
Jean-Yves Roy Matapédia—Matane, QC
Mr. Speaker, I hope you will be lenient with me and my colleagues who are rather noisy, in spite of the fact that our favourite hockey team lost. It got walloped yesterday.
I will start by saying that the Bloc Quebecois is in favour of the principle of Bill C-33 before us. I would like to emphasize that I listened intently to the minister earlier. I noticed that, as my colleague from St. John's West indicated, the minister digressed for a long time, talking about the so-called democratic reform. Almost four, five or six minutes of his speech dealt with the so-called democratic reform the government intends to carry out, instead of dealing directly with the bill before us.
I too was wondering. Like my colleague from St. John's West, I was wondering if there was a fundamental reason why the minister digressed and talked about the so-called democratic reform. He mentioned the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs and the joint committee. I finally understood that the committee does not seem to be totally in agreement with the minister's proposal. In spite of the fact that the Bloc Quebecois supports the principle of Bill C-33, we realize that there is indeed a problem.
We realize that the Supreme Court ruling recognizes the power of the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans to regulate the fisheries. Moreover, the decision by the Supreme Court mentions that the primary purpose of the regulations should be conservation. That is where the problem lies.
The biggest flaw of the bill is the fact that it at no time mentions that, in its ruling, the Supreme Court said that restrictions imposed by the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans should be for conservation purposes only. For the most part, the decision to introduce new regulations should be based on the grounds of conservation. Is it truly for conservation purposes that Bill C-33 has been put forward today? I doubt it.
I want to go back in time and give a little history on the ruling made. This is another issue regarding which I have a lot of questions. There were other rulings before that one, but the Supreme Court decision known as the Marshall decision was handed down on September 17, 1999. This is now May 2004. This means that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans has not been able to clarify the situation since September 17, 1999. In other words, the department has not managed to do its job between 1999 and now.
As the hon. member for St. John's West said, the government is introducing a bill on the eve of an election. This bill may die on the Order Paper and never make it through third reading. Therefore, the decision to put this legislation before the House seems totally inappropriate and untimely, considering that the bill stands very little chance of being passed, which means that the situation will not be corrected.
This means that the situation will have remained uncorrected from September 17, 1999 until heaven knows when. This is a true reflection of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, and the federal government's fishery management program. We must realize that, at present, the management process is a haphazard one. It is based on events and situations, as opposed to being planned with very specific objectives in mind.
We must always remember that the only real goal of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans must be the protection and conservation of the resource. That is its fundamental objective. We can see that this is not at all what has happened in the past, ever since the federal government took control of the management of the resource.
Going back to when Newfoundland entered Confederation in 1949, look at what happened at that time, when there was a viable and extremely profitable fishery, and when the resource was abundant. And then, look at what happened in 1992, with the first moratorium on groundfishing, and also in 2002, with the second moratorium.
We see that the federal government has not really managed the resource adequately. Historically, one day or another, renewal of the resource will be impossible, particularly with respect to groundfish and cod.
Some extremely important decisions must be taken, and they have not been taken. What we want, as representatives of all fishermen in Quebec and eastern Quebec, is that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans engage in predictable, transparent management, in harmony with the priorities of the provincial governments.
Earlier we were talking about consultation. It has come to our attention that the consultation on Bill C-33 was done in writing. Indeed, communication with the committee was all in the form of correspondence. There were not any true discussions on the possible impact of the amendment being proposed today.
It is important that this be taken a little further. But this should have been done in the past. As I was saying earlier, the Marshall decision dates back to 1999. Perhaps very few people know what this Supreme Court decision was about. This case was simply a lawsuit filed by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans against Donald Marshall Junior, who had been found guilty of catching and selling eel out of season with inappropriate fishing gear, and fishing without a licence. This was an aboriginal man who had been charged and convicted. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court, which decided—in what is now known as the Marshall decision—to disregard previous court rulings.
It is therefore our hope that there will be some predictability to fisheries management. Such is not the case at present, with the bill before us. Not only is there no predictability, but all of us here in the House are well aware that it is very likely to die on the Order Paper when the House is prorogued. So later on we will be back at this again, trying to clarify what the department is trying to clarify today, which is what regulations will govern aboriginal fishermen.
As my colleague for St. John's West has just pointed out, a person, individual or group could be charged under the regulations as presented. The fundamental question remains, however. If a person, individual, or group does not comply with the conditions of a permit or licence, or section 4, this is an offence.
Was there really any negotiation on this, and is the purpose of this document—and perhaps this is what is not clear and has not been made clear—to subject aboriginal people to the same law and same regulations as everyone else?
The minister's proposal is not clear at all. Perhaps the government should look into correcting this. I understand that it wishes to include in the department's regulations the definition of “aboriginal group” and “aboriginal band”, that it would issue the licence to an aboriginal band and that, finally, it would negotiate the powers of each fisherman with the band. The question is how the fishing must take place, the size of the boat, the type of fishing, the date, and so on. However, does the government want to do this in the same way as it negotiates, among other things, with fishermen's groups or associations?
We must always remember that, for fisheries as a whole, the principle of fisherman as owner must be respected. This must be taken into account if the regulations of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans are slightly amended for the benefit of aboriginal bands. In any event, I, as well as members of the Bloc Quebecois, are in favour of adapting fishing regulations for aboriginal peoples, who, according to the Supreme Court's decision, can and must have access to the resource, as do the rest of citizens.
We are in favour of the bill, but we must remember that, according to the Supreme Court's decision, the minister's regulatory authority must be based on specific reasons. One of the reasons that I mentioned earlier is conservation. This raises a significant question at this time. The bill does not specify in any way that the proposed regulations are based solely on the conservation principle.
The Supreme Court's decision forces the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans to justify his decisions about the restrictions that he may impose on treaty fishing. Specifically, the decision says this, and it is very important. My colleague from Saint-Jean talked about it earlier. It says:
The Court was thus most explicit in confirming the regulatory authority of the federal and provincial governments within their respective legislative fields to regulate the exercise of the treaty right subject to the constitutional requirement that restraints on the exercise of the treaty right have to be justified on the basis of conservation—
This is the fundamental element that is not clarified in the bill now before us. In my view, it is a mistake. In any case, as the hon. member for Saint-Jean pointed out, it is highly unlikely that this legislation will ever be passed. Therefore, there should have been more consultation, to ensure that all would agree, instead of creating false expectations for aboriginal people, and to truly give them what they are entitled to, with their agreement and after consulting with them. This is very important.
I will conclude by saying that the Bloc Quebecois supports the principle of the bill. However, there are some serious flaws in this legislation. We would have liked to see more consultation, particularly with aboriginal people.
Mr. Speaker, I thank you and I wish you good luck for the next game.
May 3rd, 2004 / 5 p.m.
Geoff Regan Minister of Fisheries and Oceans
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate my hon. colleague's comments. I also appreciate his offer of advice in the future. I listened carefully to his speech, and there were some complimentary words in it. I heard the word refreshing and so forth, and I appreciate the kind words, but I would not want him to leave the impression that there has not been substantial consultation on this bill with the Standing Joint Committee for the Scrutiny of Regulations.
It is important to comprehend that while my consultations with the committee were primarily through correspondence, I think leaving the impression that there has been substantial consultation is in fact quite accurate if we consider these facts: my predecessor and his staff in the department met with the Standing Joint Committee for the Scrutiny of Regulations on April 11, 2002; staff also met with the committee on two subsequent occasions; and the parliamentary secretary of the time went to two additional meetings. That is a long series of meetings.
I want to table the correspondence that I have had with the committee. I think it is important to note that the committee did say this bill would remove its objections. As I said earlier, the role of the committee is to examine the regulations. If it finds the regulations are not authorized by law, it can object to and disallow them. The committee did not disallow them.
The key point is that Bill C-33 has in fact met the objections of the committee, and that is what its role is. I gather the committee felt that every licence ought to be authorized itself in some way through regulation. I do not think my hon. colleague would suggest that this is reasonable. I do not think it is realistic at all for us to do that. I think he ought to examine the implications of what the committee is proposing.
The key question I have relates not so much to that, because I think it is clear and the member knows that this bill does not adversely affect the process of the way the fishery is managed. It does not change that process. It reinforces the existing provisions of the act. Bill C-33 reinforces the government's ability to make regulations.
However, there are members now in his party who were formerly in the Alliance and talked very negatively in the past about the government's efforts and the decision of the Supreme Court of Canada in the Marshall case. I would like to know if he shares their view that there is no basis for an aboriginal fishery. I wonder if he shares their view that there should not be what those in his party sometimes call a race-based fishery. How does he feel about the comments of his new colleagues toward this aboriginal fishery that is providing opportunity to these communities?
May 3rd, 2004 / 4:45 p.m.
Loyola Hearn St. John's West, NL
Mr. Speaker, I know what the minister is trying to say. He is trying to say that guy over there embarrassed him so he tried to clarify his position. He still talks about close consultation. I asked the minister specifically if he had meetings with the committee and with whom. He did not say he had, but that is the impression he left.
All I wanted to do was clarify the impression. The minister did that. I accepted his explanation earlier. I just wanted to get it on the record so the people across the country knew the kind of consultation the minister had.
I also asked the minister if the committee had given approval to the amendments. I do not want to misquote him because he can get the blues and correct me. Maybe the minister could read the exact words, but I think he said that he agreed with something.
I would like to put some comments on the record. It is a letter to the minister from the joint committee. It states:
We thank you for your recent letter in relation to the reintroduction of legislative proposals included in--
It was the old Bill C-43 and now Bill C-33 I believe. I am interested in what is meant by “We thank you for your recent letter”. I am wondering if that is the extent of the consultation. The letter goes on to say:
You have asked for the Committee's views “on whether the amendments as proposed in Bill C-43 address the Committee's issues”. We are pleased to confirm that the proposed amendments would, if adopted, remove the basis of the Joint Committee's objections to the Aboriginal Command Fishing Licences Regulations and to SOR/8993, the Ontario Fishery Regulations, 1989. We would appreciate your advice as to when you propose to reintroduced the proposed legislation.
The minister undoubtedly has reintroduced legislation and the committee members are asking about his views. The letter further states:
Our acknowledgement that the amendments included in Bill C-43 would resolve the Committee's objections--
The committee members are saying, “Yes, our objections are met”. The letter continues:
--[in relation] to the legality of the relevant regulatory provisions does not imply an endorsement of those amendments....
Therefore, the committee is not endorsing the amendments that the minister proposed to make. The letter goes on:
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.
Given that the matter is one of policy and, as such, lies beyond the remit of the Joint Committee, we do not wish to be perceived to be taking a position on the desirability of those legislative amendments. We trust that this will be satisfactory....
It is signed by the joint chairs and the vice-chair of the committee. One of the two joint chairs of course is one of our members and the vice-chair is a Liberal.
Therefore, the committee is raising a major concern about the amendments the minister intends to put forth. Will the minister during the debate over the next couple of weeks clarify for us why he is bringing in a bill that might have an adverse effect on the people who will be affected?
The minister talks about the scrutiny of regulations committee, and let me give him credit. He is a new minister and there are things he is doing and there are issues he has taken up. The way he is presenting himself on the issues is refreshing compared to what we have seen in the past. However, maybe it is time for this new minister to realize that he has a department under his thumb which, if properly run, and for which, if he does not let himself be run by some of the bureaucrats who have been around and if he wants to set a direction that should be set on fisheries in this country, we have a chance to take a renewable resource from the west to the east to the north and in the Great Lakes, of course, and at points in between, because we have tremendous fishery resources throughout the country.
If there is some proper management and if there are some proper regulations put in, if we eliminate, as we saw when I raised some of the points earlier in question period, the manipulation of that resource for the sake of friends and colleagues as we have seen in the past, if we properly manage and let this resource grow and multiply, if we see that it is harvested properly, if we see it is processed properly, and if we get the right markets, the amount of employment and the enhancement of the economy that could be derived from the proper care of this resource would be phenomenal.
We get caught up in the Atlantic provinces, and I look at my friend from Cape Breton, and off Nova Scotia in the minister's own province, off my province of Newfoundland and Labrador, where we have tremendous oil and gas resources. A lot of people look at us--and what is that old saying we cannot say anymore because it is not politically correct?--and say, “Why are you flogging a dead horse? Give up on the fishery, boy, it's a thing of the past. Oil and gas is the order of the day”.
Oil only lasts for a while. Gas only lasts for a while. Eventually the oil will be gone and the gas will be gone. And we have seen some great mines come and go. We have seen places like Bell Island, and we can go across the country, pick a province, and pick an area or the mines. Certainly, again looking at my friend from Cape Breton, he knows all about it. People lived for years and raised their families based upon working the mine. Everybody was proud to be a miner. We had whole communities such as Buchans and Bell Island in particular, I think, wiped out when the mines closed. There is only so much ore in the ground and it does not grow. It may develop over hundreds and thousands and millions of years but it does not grow back.
Fish, on the other hand, can grow and multiply rapidly, but not if we pursue the direction we are seeing happen and not if we let every enemy of the cod, the salmon, the herring, the squid and the whole works, every enemy of the species, go out and just pursue that fish.
With the science we have today, with the big dragger stuff we have, with the technology we have, we can find every last fish in the ocean. Unless somebody manages that resource, and with some teeth, we will see that last fish being caught. That is a travesty and the minister has a heavy responsibility on his shoulders.
So when we talk about scrutiny, I believe that instead of worrying about rushing in bills that may cause all kinds of problems, we should be looking at the resource we have and trying to bring in some bills we can enact into law so that we can address what is happening to our renewable resources, so that we can address the predators, whether they be human or animal, so that we can make sure there is a balance in nature once again, and so that we can make sure that those from other countries who share that resource do so under the rules and regulations that are set out.
We have not seen any leadership in fisheries. Over the last number of years, way back, we have seen governments that have thought more about being friendly and appeasing their friends across the ocean than they have about the people who live within the borders and the boundaries of our country. That has to change.
Let me say this to the minister. There are so many games being played today within the fishery, many of them completely outside his control. There seems to be this big package of greed that has developed and everybody wants a piece of what is left. Nobody cares about the other person. Whether the plant workers get any more work does not matter as long as we can catch the fish, whether I can catch more than the next guy whether I can sell it or not, and if I can keep the other guy from getting any. All of this stuff is developing. That is terrible stuff. The only way this can be cured is with a firm hand at the helm. I believe that is the challenge to the minister.
I suggest to the minister that instead of worrying about little things, which may cause major problems, as the committee points out to him, he should start looking at the big things that could solve a lot of our problems.
In the two minutes that remain to me, let me pick up on another phrase that the minister talked about, “democratic reform”, and letting committees have more say. If the minister had not used that phrase, I would not have asked him the questions I asked. We hear so much from this continuation government, the Liberal government continued, phase two. We hear so much from these Liberals about democratic reform and the democratic deficit. We certainly have a democratic deficit. We all realize that. We have a democratic deficit that is widening daily. We had a new Prime Minister come in with the old government and he talked about addressing the democratic deficit. In reality, that is the biggest joke we have heard for years, because all we have seen is a widening of the democratic deficit.
Ministers have been told to go out there and pretend the government is doing something. When the minister talks about the great work of committees and having to use committees more, and about how the government has to consult with them and it is consulting with them, and committees are advising, we find out that is really not the case. The minister writes a letter to the committee. The committee basically responds and says to him, “Mr. Minister, phase one, yes. The legislative part needs to be tightened up, but the amendment you want to make, we cannot say because it is not our job. We do not have the jurisdiction to say, but we would suggest to you that you are way off line and we think these amendments can cause irreparable harm”.
So there are two things. Number one, there is no consultation. Number two, when committees talk to the government members, they ignore them. That is not correcting the democratic deficit. That is just digging a hole for themselves. It is like being down three to two and playing a bad game. We have to get our act together and try to turn it around. It can be done. We must have faith. It can be done, but it takes leadership.
My time is up, but I will say to the minister that he has a tremendous challenge ahead of him. He should forget the facade. He should forget about trying to appease government and just coming out with the little frills. Let us attack the big issues and, instead of making critical remarks from this side, we will work with him and applaud the efforts that he will put forward, I am sure, on behalf of the government and on behalf of our country.
May 3rd, 2004 / 4:20 p.m.
Geoff Regan Minister of Fisheries and Oceans
moved that Bill C-33, an act to amend the Fisheries Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker,I appreciate the opportunity to rise in the House today to speak to Bill C-33, an act to amend the Fisheries Act.
I would like to begin by recognizing the hard work of the members of the Standing Joint Committee on the Scrutiny of Regulations and thank them for their interest in bringing their concerns forward. I used to be a member of that esteemed committee in my first term between 1993 and 1997. The role of that committee is to examine regulations that have been put into force by order in council and to ensure that those regulations are authorized by an act of Parliament.
There have been times when disagreements have arisen between that committee and departments, or ministers and their offices about whether a particular regulation is duly authorized or not. There was one such disagreement in this case. I and my department have decided to bring forward Bill C-33 in response to the concerns brought forward nevertheless.
I greatly appreciate the advice and opinions of the committee members, who play a very important role in examining the existing regulations. Very often, their suggestions have proven extremely useful.
The committee set out its concerns in its reports on the Ontario fishery regulations and the aboriginal communal fishing licences regulations. More important, these reports brought forward a number of recommendations to provide greater clarity and certainty on matters of legislative authority with respect to these regulations. Because the government values the committee's role in providing parliamentary oversight, we have given serious consideration to the committee's views about these regulations.
Bill C-33 fulfills commitments that were made to the Standing Joint Committee on the Scrutiny of Regulations by the government. Our government strongly believes in increasing the participation of Canadians in politics. That is why in February the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister responsible for Democratic Reform, my colleague from Montreal, tabled an action plan for democratic reform.
The action plan was based on three pillars of democratic reform: improving ethics and integrity in government; restoring the role of members of Parliament in generating thought and ideas in debate; and increasing the accountability of our elected officials. Those are three key, very important pillars. I heard positive reaction to those from people in my part of the country.
Our government recognizes that members of Parliament are an essential link between citizens and the federal government and, as such, must play a key role in our parliamentary system.
We must therefore expand the role of our parliamentary committees to enable members to define more clearly their approach and influence on policy. We feel that all of this will enhance the role of members of Parliament, the efficiency of government, and Canadians' participation.
In other words, by giving members of Parliament a more effective role, making committees more effective, giving them more influence on the development of policies, on the development of legislation, we give more power to Canadians. That is what is important. That is what Canadians are asking for.
After close consultation with the members of the committee, I am confident that the amendments to the Fisheries Act that are being proposed will address their concerns.
However I would like to reiterate my belief that the regulations currently in place are sound and that they properly authorize the fishing under the Fisheries Act. They offer a flexible, balanced approach in accommodating fishing by aboriginal communities with the responsibility to effectively conserve and manage our fisheries on behalf of all Canadians. The regulations support the ability to manage the fishery consistently with the Sparrow decision of the Supreme Court of Canada, the Marshall decision and other important court decisions that have had quite an influence and have had lots of commentary in our country in recent years.
Having a single regime in place that is flexible enough to take all of the numerous factors that I have mentioned into account is certainly a challenge. I believe that the current regulations give the balanced and flexible approach that is needed.
The committee has requested further clarity on these matters and that is exactly what the bill is intended to do. That is why the amendments being proposed represent a range of changes that will provide greater clarity and certainty on matters of legislative authority, as the committee has requested.
In particular, Bill C-33 amends the Fisheries Act in a number of ways, but I will mention two. One, the bill expressly provides that the governor in council can make regulations respecting the method of designation where a licence is issued to an aboriginal organization. Two, the bill expressly provides that breach of a term or condition of licence issued under the Fisheries Act is an offence.
My department has been working with aboriginal groups and stakeholders. We feel it is imperative and very important that the proposed amendments to the Fisheries Act are well understood by our key stakeholders.
I am sure my colleagues can see how important this is. I am confident of their support of the idea that we need to take into consideration the point of view of those involved in the fisheries.
We have also been working with the provinces and territories on this matter. Provincial and territorial support has been fostered through a renewed working relationship in a spirit of cooperation between the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and provincial and territorial agencies that have responsibilities related to fisheries.
I want to point out that the passage of these amendments into law will not change the existing practices on the ground. It is important, if one is involved in the fisheries, to know that there is going to be consistency, stability and certainty as we go forward.
The aboriginal communal fishing licence regulations remain founded in law and continue to be enforced. They continue to provide valuable mechanisms for implementation of the aboriginal fisheries strategy and the Marshall response initiative in keeping with case law.
In my capacity as minister, I will continue to issue community licences to aboriginal communities under these regulations.
Bill C-33 would also support the continued involvement of aboriginal groups in the management of fisheries. We would continue to work cooperatively with aboriginal groups in this regard.
Over the last decade, aboriginal participation in the fisheries has grown. On the east coast, for example, the Marshall response initiative has led to the creation of a significant number of jobs. Using an average of three jobs per fishing enterprise, it can be estimated that about 1,250 direct full time and part time jobs have been created as a result of the Marshall response initiative. That is a big impact.
Jobs have also been created in managing and management administration, boat repair, science and habitat, monitoring and mentoring. These are all important areas. Most of my colleagues here will recognize that that is very valuable.
We think of the history of aboriginal communities and of the difficulties with which they have suffered for so long and the fact that they are now seeing and seizing these opportunities to fish and take part in this industry is a sign of great hope. It is one of the many things the government is doing to work with first nations to try and build a strong economic life in those communities.
We can speak of the progress that goes beyond the fishery, like the emergence of new leaders and the profits that are being invested in housing, infrastructure and other social priorities. These and other benefits are resulting in an improved quality of life for first nations.
An acceptance of the presence of first nations in the commercial fishery is also growing. Aboriginal and non-aboriginal fishers are fishing side by side. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans mentoring pilot project went a long way in strengthening this relationship as first nations and non-aboriginal fishers worked together to transfer skills and knowledge.
Agreements on fisheries and the development of a different kind of relationship on the water have made greater understanding and better communication between first nations people and DFO staff possible.
Consequently, the first nations have a say in the departmental decision-making process.
The Government of Canada has also announced a recent initiative to broaden our progress and to further develop collaborative relationships with aboriginal groups. It was a very important announcement that was made in October 2003 when the department and the minister at the time announced the aboriginal aquatic resource and oceans management program, and the aboriginal inland habitat program.
Earlier this year, in February 2004, I had the pleasure of announcing the at sea mentoring and the fisheries operating management initiatives, both of which are to be carried out over the next four years.
In my opinion this cooperative approach with not only the Department of Fisheries and Oceans but with aboriginal groups and people in the commercial fishery is a key component of a soundly managed fishery. The government recognizes the challenges faced by aboriginal Canadians and is committed to bringing about concrete improvements in the economic opportunities and living standards of aboriginal people in Canada.
There is no doubt in my mind that this is what the vast majority of Canadians want and want it very seriously. They see and hear of the difficult circumstances of people living on reserves in many cases. They are concerned and anxious to see steps taken to improve that situation. It is a real concern for many Canadians.
The Department of Fisheries and Oceans has been a key contributor to helping aboriginal people attain greater economic self-reliance and will continue to do so.
This bill will provide the legislative authority with greater transparency and assurance, both of which are vital to proper and orderly management of the fisheries sector.
It will make it possible for us to continue to work with aboriginal groups to enhance quality of life and promote the overall objectives of the Government of Canada.
Therefore, in view of all these points I have made, my colleagues will see that this is a valuable piece of legislation. While we already have regulations in place, those will remain in force, it is important to listen to committees of the House and in this case a joint committee of the Senate and the House of Commons.
The House may be aware that this committee is co-chaired by a Conservative member of the House and by a Liberal Senator. It is worthwhile for the public who might be watching, some of them at least, to be aware of the fact that we do have committees where members work in cooperation from all sides of the House. This is one such committee where members have concerns about regulations and have put them forward.
I therefore ask all members of the House to join me in supporting this important bill.
April 30th, 2004 / 12:05 p.m.