Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise in my place today to talk about this important issue.
It is nice to see an injustice done to a fellow colleague undone, just before I speak on this particular issue.
I was elected to this chamber in 2006. At that time, I was the proud member of Parliament for a constituency then known as Wetaskiwin, a large rural area between Red Deer and Edmonton. One of the biggest concerns I heard about at that time, from all the municipal reeves and councillors, was the onerous and very expensive, time-consuming process of doing something as simple as replacing a culvert under a gravel road out in one of the hinterlands of these counties. Some of these counties, such as Clearwater County, represent a massive tract of land. There are very few people in the eastern portion of that country.
There are massive numbers of roads, including forestry service roads, trunk roads, and all kinds of roads. There are constant little streams and so on in the foothills, and lots of small bridges and lots of culverts. The same thing could be said for Lacombe County, Ponoka County, Wetaskiwin County, Leduc County, or virtually any county or municipal district in Alberta. This would be the same for virtually any county or municipal district across the Prairies or anywhere else in the country, for that matter.
The Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties, the AAMD, SARM, in Saskatchewan, and various other organizations, all the way up to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, had the onerous and odious situation of dealing with the Fisheries Act. In particular, the habitat alteration damage and destruction clauses, and their implementation thereof, were simply causing numerous delays. Fisheries officers would show up at a construction site, and the term used was “showing up with guns drawn”, where a couple of county workers and a contractor might be trying to fix a culvert or unplug something. These are the situations that these folks faced on a daily basis in our vast rural areas.
This is moving back regressively, taking this legislation back. We just heard the parliamentary secretary talking about how they are going back to the way it was before. That is simply another attack and another assault, in a legacy of assaults that are happening right now, on our rural communities across this country, whether it is regressing in the firearms legislation, the carbon tax, all the environmental legislation, getting rid of the National Energy Board, imposing a tanker ban off the west coast, cancelling pipeline projects, like the northern gateway, and changing the goal post so many times on development projects that companies are pulling out of projects they have spent years developing and that had prior approval from very competent authorities set up under legislation. We just seem to be going backwards.
I have a degree in zoology, fisheries, and aquatic sciences from the University of Alberta. I do not want to date myself by saying when that happened, but it was a long time ago. I worked proudly for a number of years for Alberta Fish and Wildlife doing walleye minimum size limit experiments and working with DFO when I was a fishing guide in the Arctic. I know intimately some of the issues facing our country. I was an enforcement officer. I was a national park warden. As a conservation officer and a park ranger for the Province of Alberta, I enforced the Fisheries Act. I enforced the fisheries regulations therein, so I have a little knowledge about what I am talking about.
I am not saying, in any way, shape, or form, that the Conservative Party does not believe that we should be protecting our fisheries, protecting the environment, and making sure that we have sustainable development going forward. That is simply not the case.
In Alberta, some of the most active conservationists are people who work in the energy sector, people who work in the oil patch, people who work in rural areas, and people who work in the forestry industry. They come out of our cities, come out of Edmonton and out of Calgary. The May long weekend is coming up. The entire west country in Alberta is going to fill right up. There are going to be 40,000 or 50,000 people in Clearwater County alone over the May long weekend. They are going to be fishing in the Ram River and all the little lakes we have out there, and they are going to be enjoying themselves.
These people go to work every day, and they understand that they can get the balance right. What they do not understand is legislation that keeps on coming from Liberal governments, past and present, that denies them the opportunity, the livelihood, that would allow them to actually go out and enjoy the environment by preventing energy projects from going forward and by preventing all kinds of development.
There is so much capital flight happening right now. The lack of foreign investment in Canada is striking. The government says that it has all this economic growth. It is propped up by deficits. If the Liberals actually believed anything they said over there, they would have no trouble balancing a budget in so-called economic good times. The people of Canada have everything to fear from a government that says everything is going well but cannot balance the books. That is a different debate for another day.
I want to talk about the Fisheries Act and the onerous provisions that would come back on our counties. Our counties and ratepayers in our municipal areas will have to pay three to five times as much to replace a culvert and to repair a bridge. They will face delays. They will face road closures as a result of these delays and the enhanced enforcement.
Do my Liberal colleagues want to lose all their rural seats in the Prairies? Oh, they do not have any and here is why. After years and years of not listening when fisheries officers showed up, guns drawn, for something as minuscule as somebody wanting to drain a ditch off their property, this caused people headaches. They do not want to deal with this anymore, but we are sadly going back in that direction. Therefore, it will be more red tape, more delays, more costs, less development, and capital flight will be leaving.
I was proud to be part of some of the changes we made. In fact, I was even the legislative chair of the subcommittee on finance that brought in Bill C-38, which made common-sense changes. I remember bizarre stories coming out of Manitoba. For example, a farmer, after the Assiniboine and Red river floods, was charged for draining his field because carp had escaped the river during the flood and were in the field. Because he was draining his field, thereby taking away the fish habitat in which the fish were living in his wheat field, he was charged for destroying a fish habitat. This is how bizarre the implementation of the legislation was before, and we are going back to that legislation. We can count on a whipped vote on the other side, ensuring the legislation goes through, and we will be able to count on bizarre stories like this one coming forward again.
We do not need to go back to legislation from the 1940s and 1950s in this modern era. Counties and municipal districts are far more knowledgeable and far more responsible. There is far more education out there and far more oversight. We have social media oversight. We have all kinds of mechanisms right now. Not a single county wants to end up on the front page of a paper or anything like that after doing something that harms fish habitat.
That is the problem with the legislation. The legislation is not just focused on fish habitat, but focused on the harm of even one fish. If it happens, it is unfortunate and I get that. However, if we are not looking at the big picture of what we are trying to do and if we are focusing on something as minuscule as one fish and stopping an entire project because all the approvals are not in place, it does not matter what the methodology if going to be. The methodology will be the same. There are only so many ways to replace a bridge and only so many ways to replace a culvert. These things are well known and people will do them. However, if they do not have all the paperwork in place, they will be criminals it if they happen to kill a fish, notwithstanding the fact that the habitat was fine, all the process was followed, and all the offsets and restoration guidelines were followed. This is the problem with the legislation.
There was a great opportunity for the government to go in a positive direction, to send a positive message to the investment community. The Liberals tell us that they can get the balance between the environment and the economy right. They got it right from their perspective: no economy, all environment. That is the problem. They could have focused on natural fisheries sustainability. They talk about implementing the Cohen report. There are things in the Cohen report they will not do because they do not want to simply focus on natural fisheries and sustainability.
On fisheries enhancement, both in saltwater and in freshwater, my colleague from Dauphin—Swan River—Neepawa, I and several other members advocated in past budgets for fisheries programs where we would partner, through these organizations, to enhance freshwater fisheries. Why are we not asking organizations or companies like Shell to, instead of rebuilding lakes in northern Alberta where mining projects are, use the same offsets and enhance fisheries where the actual people would be, so people could enjoy those enhancements. Restore the disturbed area to what it was, but do the enhancements where the people are. Make the fishery opportunities better. There is a sad situation here, a missed opportunity in the bill to be progressive going forward in looking after not only fisheries and fisheries habitats but looking after the people who sustain them.