An Act to amend the Fisheries Act and other Acts in consequence


Dominic LeBlanc  Liberal


Second reading (House), as of Feb. 13, 2018

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This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment amends the Fisheries Act to, among other things,

(a) require that, when making a decision under that Act, the Minister shall consider any adverse effects that the decision may have on the rights of the Indigenous peoples of Canada recognized and affirmed by section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982, include provisions respecting the consideration and protection of traditional knowledge of the Indigenous peoples of Canada, and authorize the making of agreements with Indigenous governing bodies to further the purpose of the Fisheries Act;

(b) add a purpose clause and considerations for decision-making under that Act;

(c) empower the Minister to establish advisory panels and to set fees, including for the provision of regulatory processes;

(d) provide measures for the protection of fish and fish habitat with respect to works, undertakings or activities that may result in the death of fish or the harmful alteration, disruption or destruction of fish habitat, including in ecologically significant areas, as well as measures relating to the modernization of the regulatory framework such as authorization of projects, establishment of standards and codes of practice, creation of fish habitat banks by a proponent of a project and establishment of a public registry;

(e) empower the Governor in Council to make new regulations, including regulations respecting the rebuilding of fish stocks and importation of fish;

(f) empower the Minister to make regulations for the purposes of the conservation and protection of marine biodiversity;

(g) empower the Minister to make fisheries management orders prohibiting or limiting fishing for a period of 45 days to address a threat to the proper management and control of fisheries and the conservation and protection of fish;

(h) prohibit the fishing of a cetacean with the intent to take it into captivity, unless authorized by the Minister, including when the cetacean is injured, in distress or in need of care; and

(i) update and strengthen enforcement powers, as well as establish an alternative measures agreements regime.

The enactment also makes consequential amendments to other Acts.


All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Fisheries ActGovernment Orders

February 13th, 2018 / 10:05 a.m.
See context

Beauséjour New Brunswick


Dominic LeBlanc LiberalMinister of Fisheries

moved that Bill C-68, an act to amend the Fisheries Act and other acts in consequence, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, it is a great privilege for me to speak in the House of Commons on this important legislation. You, Mr. Speaker, are a former minister of fisheries and oceans yourself and will understand the significance of the Fisheries Act in communities like the ones you and I represent, so it is a privilege for me to have this opportunity to stand in the House.

Canada is uniquely blessed with an abundance of freshwater and marine coastal areas that are both ecologically significant and linked to the economic prosperity of Canadians. Our government knows that we have a responsibility to steward these resources for future generations while maintaining economic opportunities for many people and communities who depend on them.

In my mandate letter, the Prime Minister asked me to restore lost protections and incorporate modern safeguards into the Fisheries Act. In 2012, the government got rid of a number of fish habitat protection measures without engaging indigenous peoples, fishers, scientists, conservation groups, coastal communities, or the general public in any meaningful way and without their support. What made that decision even more unacceptable was the fact that the changes were buried in a 430-page omnibus bill in the hope they would slip by unnoticed. Canadians definitely noticed.

Indigenous and environmental groups were especially concerned with changes made to the act and rightly perceived those amendments as weakening what should be of shared concern for Canadians: the protection of fish and fish habitat. Industry partners were thrust into uncertainty with regard to their responsibilities under the act.

Our government has worked and consulted with a broad range of Canadians, and we encouraged everyone to be part of this important conversation. Provinces, environmental groups, fishers associations, indigenous groups, and thousands of Canadians helped shape the amendments currently before the House of Commons.

The proposed amendments to Bill C-68 are part of the government's broader strategy to review environmental and regulatory processes and cover several key themes, including partnership with indigenous peoples; supporting planning and integrated management; enhancing regulation and enforcement; improving partnerships and collaboration, including with industry; and monitoring and reporting back to Canadians.

The Fisheries Act is one of Canada's oldest pieces of legislation. It was enacted shortly after Confederation. It has been amended very little since that time, which is why it needs to be updated and modernized. To that effect, Bill C-68 adds new provisions dealing with the objectives and considerations that must be examined in the decision-making process under the act. The proposed objectives seek to create a proper management and control framework for fisheries and the conservation and protection of fish and fish habitat, particularly through pollution prevention.

The new considerations under these amendments are designed to clearly guide the responsibility of a minister of fisheries and oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard when making decisions under the act. Bill C-68 proposes amendments that would restore protections for fish and fish habitat to ensure that these protections apply to all fish. We are reintroducing the prohibition against the harmful alteration, disruption, or destruction of fish habitat, as well as the prohibition against the death of fish by means other than fishing.

We are also introducing measures that would allow for the better management of projects that may be harmful to fish or fish habitat through a new permitting scheme for big projects and codes of practice for smaller ones, so that industry partners, as well as everyday Canadians, can be certain about their responsibilities but not unreasonably burdened when undertaking small, local projects.

In the past, uncertainty in the act has caused some uncertainty among project proponents with respect to their obligations and responsibilities. The proposed amendments create regulatory authorities that will make it possible to establish a list of designated projects, including the commitments and activities that will still require a licence.

Our goal is to streamline these processes, and we will be engaging with provinces and territories as well as indigenous peoples and stakeholders to decide which kinds of projects should be on the designated project list.

We are also formalizing the creation of a proponent-led habitat banking regime. Habitat banking is an international best practice for offsetting project impacts where a freshwater or marine area is created, restored, or enhanced by working to improve fish habitat in advance of a project's impact.

Habitat loss and degradation as well as changes to fish passage and flow are all contributing to the decline of freshwater and marine fish habitats in Canada today. It is imperative that Canada restore degraded fish habitats. That is why amendments to the Fisheries Act propose requiring the consideration of restoration as part of project decision-making.

These amendments provide clearer, stronger, and easier rules to establish and manage ecologically significant areas and provide stand-alone regulations to protect sensitive or important fish habitats. Given the important ecological characteristics of sensitive areas, certain types of work and activities may be prohibited and others may be identified as being subject to a special information gathering under a new authorization regime.

During the review of the 2012 changes to the Fisheries Act, we heard over and over again about the need to improve access to information on government activities related to the protection of fish and fish habitat. Indigenous communities, industry associations, environmental groups, universities, and my colleagues on the House of Commons standing committee all talked about the importance of transparency in the decision-making process under the act.

In order to re-establish public confidence, we are proposing amendments to establish a public registry, which would be available online. By enabling greater transparency, the registry would allow Canadians to hold the government to account in its federal decision-making with regard to fish and their habitat.

Fisheries resources and aquatic habitats have important social, cultural, and economic significance for many indigenous peoples. The respect for the rights of indigenous peoples as well as taking into account their unique interests and aspirations in fisheries-related economic opportunities and the protection of fish and fish habitat are important means of renewing our relationship with indigenous peoples.

For instance, the Fisheries Act is being amended to require the minister to consider any potential adverse effects resulting from decisions the minister might make in accordance with the rights of Canada's indigenous peoples, as set out in section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982.

In addition, our government recognizes the importance of the traditional knowledge of Canada's indigenous peoples in sound decision-making regarding fish and fish habitat.

Indigenous peoples across Canada, and other Canadians from coast to coast to coast, can rest assured that the government will act to protect the confidential traditional knowledge that indigenous people would share with the government under the provisions of this legislation.

Many indigenous communities are in close proximity to areas where projects that may affect fish and fish habitat are proposed, and many communities see new roles for themselves in how these decisions are made.

We have proposed long-overdue amendments that would provide for the making of agreements with indigenous governing bodies to further the purposes of the act, as we have done in the past with provinces and territories.

There are currently no legislative or regulatory requirements in place with respect to the rebuilding of depleted fish stocks.

The commissioner of environment and sustainable development, as well as our colleagues on the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans, have recommended that any revisions to the Fisheries Act should include direction for the restoration and recovery of fish habitat and fish stocks.

Environmental groups have also called on the government to adopt measures aimed at the rebuilding of depleted fish stocks within the Fisheries Act. This is why we are proposing amendments that would require decisions affecting a stock in the critical zone to consider whether there are measures in place aimed at rebuilding that stock, and, when a minister is of the opinion that habitat degradation is a cause of the decline of the stock, whether measures are in place to restore such habitat.

This positive obligation on governments and greater transparency, we believe are essential to strengthening the Fisheries Act.

We also heard Canadians' views on other important issues related to the Fisheries Act. Although the number of aquariums that keep cetaceans in captivity for public display has fallen overall, this is still a sensitive issue that Canadians are deeply concerned about.

Our government recognizes that it is now wrong to capture these magnificent creatures for public display. Consequently, we are proposing amendments to the Fisheries Act that would prohibit the capture of a cetacean when the intent is to bring it into captivity, except in circumstances where the cetacean is injured, in distress, or in need of rehabilitation.

The Senate has, for a long time, done good work in respect to this important issue. I want to salute former Senator Wilfred Moore of Nova Scotia and others in the Senate who have continued to press this important issue in the minds of Canadians.

Some 72,000 Canadians make their living from fishing and fishing-related activities. Most of them, including self-employed inshore harvesters, are part of Canada's growing middle class. In many places across Atlantic Canada and Quebec, the fishery is the economic, social, and cultural heart of communities. As the fisheries minister, one of my duties is to ensure that these important traditions endure. However, threats remain to this way of life. Fish harvesters, particularly in Atlantic Canada and Quebec, have told us time and again that they need greater protection for their economic security, and they need help to ensure their economic independence.

It was clear to me that these important policies, like the owner-operator and fleet separation policies, were being circumvented by controlling agreements, which threaten the independence of the inshore and midshore fleets by removing the control of licences from individual harvesters to larger corporate interests. The amendments we are proposing would entrench existing inshore policies into law, with all the legal enforcement power required to protect small coastal communities and independent inshore harvesters.

I stand firm in supporting the economic and cultural fabric of these coastal communities. Our government has recognized that a licensing regime that supports independent inshore harvesters is critical to the economic livelihood of these communities and the families and Canadians who depend on them.

As I said, we looked at ways to strengthen the independence of the inshore sector and enforce the act more robustly. That is why we are proposing amendments that enshrine a specific power in the Fisheries Act, rather than a policy, in order to develop regulations that support the independence of inshore commercial licence holders. The amendments proposed today would entrench into law the power to make regulations on owner-operator and fleet separation policies in Atlantic Canada and Quebec.

In so doing, this act helps to protect middle-class jobs in our coastal communities by ensuring that present and future fisheries and oceans ministers may consider the preservation and promotion of the independence of licence-holders in commercial inshore fisheries in the decision-making process.

I want to thank a number of organizations that have played a key role in these amendments with respect to owner-operator and fleet separation. The FFAW, the Maritime Fishermen's Union, le Regroupement des pêcheurs professionnels de homard du sud de la Gaspésie, the Gulf Nova Scotia Fleet Planning Board, the Prince Edward Island Fishermen's Association, and the Canadian Independent Fish Harvester's Federation have been instrumental in this important work.

Fishing can be a dangerous occupation, involving many risks not only for fish harvesters, but for the marine environment as well.

With the unprecedented death of 12 North Atlantic right whales in the Gulf of St. Lawrence from June to September last year, we know that Canadians expect prompt and urgent action by their government. This is why we are proposing amendments to the Fisheries Act that provide a new fisheries management order power to establish quick and targeted fisheries management measures. These measures will be used for 45-day increments where there is a recognizable threat to the conservation and protection of our marine ecosystems. The proposed fisheries management order power is meant to address emerging issues when a fishery is already under way and when time-sensitive and targeted measures are also paramount.

In my mandate letter, I was asked by the Prime Minister to increase the proportion of Canada's marine and coastal areas that are protected to 5% by the end of 2017, and to 10% by 2020, which is the target we are now on track to achieve. I am pleased to report to the House that we have not only achieved our 2017 target, but we will continue to work diligently to ensure that we surpass the 10% commitment through the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity.

To help us fulfill these international commitments and obligations, we are proposing amendments to the Fisheries Act that provide ministerial authority to make regulations to establish long-term spatial restrictions to fishing activities under the act specifically for the purpose of conserving and protecting marine biodiversity.

We are also proposing amendments that will strengthen the act. During the many public engagement sessions that were held, Canadians made it clear that they wanted to see more fishery officers, conservation officers, and patrols, as well as more offenders being caught and punished.

To incorporate modern protection mechanisms into the act, some amendments are being proposed to clarify, strengthen, and modernize enforcement powers under the act, for example by empowering fishery officers to intercept any vessel or vehicle and require it to be moved to a place where an inspection can be carried out.

The proposed amendments also seek to increase the authority of the courts with respect to seizure and forfeiture under the act, and allow the use of alternative measure agreements to address certain contraventions.

As I mentioned earlier, the Fisheries Act is one of the oldest and most important environmental laws in Canada. It was passed in 1868, just one year after Confederation, and did not change much until the late 1970s, when habitat protection provisions were first added by one of my predecessors, who, coincidentally, was my father, Roméo LeBlanc.

Then, as now, the act remains a model among Canada's environmental laws. That is why we have ensured the amendments we have introduced to the Fisheries Act include updated and modern tools that are the hallmarks found in other environmental legislation. We are proposing modern provisions such as the power to create advisory panels, fee-setting authorities, and provisions respecting the collection of information.

I consider myself privileged to stand in this House, as my father did in 1977, to introduce amendments to the Fisheries Act that served his generation. I hope that this new modernized act will live up to my father's legacy and do for our generation what he and the previous Parliament did for theirs.

Fisheries ActGovernment Orders

February 13th, 2018 / 10:35 a.m.
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Robert Sopuck Conservative Dauphin—Swan River—Neepawa, MB

Madam Speaker, it is a great pleasure to stand in the House and speak about the new Fisheries Act. I have had numerous interactions with the minister over my time in Parliament and I know his heart is in the right place. I do have some issues with the new Fisheries Act, however. My background is in fisheries. I have a graduate degree in fisheries biology and have been active in the field of fisheries science for over 20 years.

I also sat on the fisheries and oceans committee in the previous government and for two years of the current government and was involved in the hearings regarding the new Fisheries Act.

The Fisheries Act was written in 1868 and had three fundamental functions: the proper management and control of fisheries, the conservation and protection of fish, and the protection of fish habitat and the prevention of pollution. It was considered one of the strongest pieces of environmental legislation that Canada had, but it evolved over the years to such a point that when we were in government we had to make some changes to the old Fisheries Act.

The courts had determined that what was considered fish habitat was expanded and expanded so that almost all of Canada became fish habitat. Therefore, the act became quite unwieldily and these were some of the problems with the act. This is from a paper that I wrote in 2001 for the Frontier Centre for Public Policy where we looked at the current Fisheries Act. That was about the time when, what we called back home, the “fish cops” descended on prairie Canada and wanted to inspect every drainage ditch that every producer had put in place. The old Fisheries Act created a lot of uncertainty and created more uncertainty in the development process in prairie Canada, especially for rural communities. It was very unclear as to who had jurisdiction over natural resource development.

It had a wide scope. The definition of fish habitat under the old act included entire watersheds and extended the reach of the federal government to policy areas such as watershed and land use planning, areas where DFO clearly lacked expertise. Again, we are going back to this old regime. The program removed any regulatory discretion since all fish habitat was considered important. There was no ranking of significant fish habitat versus habitats that were less significant.

Canada is a very large place. In my province of Manitoba, for example, we have 100,000 lakes and no one can know everything about all these water bodies. I think Ontario has 250,000 lakes. We look at our coastlines, and the amount of fish habitat and fisheries water in Canada is absolutely enormous. Most of these fish populations are fairly poorly studied, and because of that, all water bodies are presumed to be fish habitat until proven otherwise.

Under the old act and again with the new act, the costs of compliance are not considered and for poorer rural municipalities the costs of compliance under the old act and probably under the new act will add a major burden. It also adds to the regulatory burden. The new act is layered on top of other regulations and I am going to return to this very important point later.

Ironically, the old Fisheries Act actually threatened existing conservation programs. There are many angling groups that work very hard to enhance and improve fish habitat. When a fish habitat is enhanced and improved, I guess that is an alteration. For example, in my constituency the walleye is considered the most valuable fish. One way to enhance walleye populations is to take trucks on the ice in the middle of winter, put gravel on the ice, and when the ice melts the gravel sinks and voila, there is a new walleye spawning area and it increases the population of walleye. One wonders if that is an alteration of fish habitat. I guess it is, but again, this will inhibit very important conservation programs. Again, we think that the new act would have these same attributes.

As I said in my question for the minister, in 2009 the commissioner of the environment and sustainable development conducted an audit under the old Fisheries Act. Again this is the regime we are going back to and this is what the auditor found in 2009:

Fisheries and Oceans Canada and Environment Canada cannot demonstrate that fish habitat is being adequately protected as the Fisheries Act requires. In the 23 years since the Habitat Policy was adopted, many parts of the Policy have been implemented only partially by Fisheries and Oceans Canada or not at all. The Department does not measure habitat loss or gain. It has limited information on the state of fish habitat across Canada—that is, on fish stocks, the amount and quality of fish habitat, contaminants in fish, and overall water quality. Fisheries and Oceans Canada still cannot determine the extent to which it is progressing toward the Policy’s long-term objective of a net gain in fish habitat.

The auditor went on to point out, “There has been little progress since 2001, when we last reported on this matter.” Therefore, the old way of doing business clearly failed.

We are going back to the old definition of fish habitat. Bill C-68 says that fish habitat means spawning grounds and any other areas, including “nursery, rearing, food supply and migration areas, on which fish depend directly or indirectly in order to carry out their life processes.”

The key word is “indirectly”. Ultimately, every drop of water, unless it is evapotranspired, flows into a smaller waterway, then to a larger waterway, and then eventually to an area where fish exist. The word “indirectly” means that basically all of Canada would become fish habitat. The lawn on Parliament Hill would be fish habitat. Therefore, clearly, such a wide definition of fish habitat would give great licence to fisheries officers or as we call them back home “fish cops” and could cause some grave difficulties for communities and municipalities.

This wide definition of fish habitat was emphasized over and over by witnesses at the fisheries and oceans committee, of which I was a part of. I sat through every single meeting during the revisions to the Fisheries Act that the government was proposing.

The Canadian Federation of Agriculture is the largest farm group in Canada. Mr. Ron Bonnett is the president and also an active farmer in Ontario, and these are his comments regarding the pre-2012 Fisheries Act:

The experience that many farmers had with the Fisheries Act, unfortunately, was not a positive one. It was characterized by lengthy bureaucratic applications for permitting and authorizations, and a focus on enforcement and compliance measures taken by officials....

Many farmers were then relieved when the changes that were made just a few years ago [by the Conservative government] drastically improved the timeliness and cost of conducting regular maintenance and improvement activities to their farms as well as lifting the threat of being deemed out of compliance.

Mr. Bonnett went on to point out:

There are also many accounts of inconsistency in enforcement, monitoring, and compliance across Canada with different empowered organizations, which led to a confusion and indiscriminate approaches to enforcement and implementation. Even at the individual level, there were different interpretations of the act based on one's familiarity with agriculture....

It is CFA's position that a complete revert to reinstate all provisions of the Fisheries Act as they were would be unproductive, would re-establish the same problems for farmers, and would provide little improvement in outcome for the protection and improvement of fish habitat. Human-made water bodies such as drainage ditches simply should not be treated as fish habitat.

He went on to talk about the Fisheries Act of 2012 that we put in. He said:

The current streamlined approach is working far better for all and efforts should continue this approach....

Overall, any changes to the current Fisheries Act [2012] should be considered as to how they will support outcomes-based conservation rather than a process-oriented approach.

This is a very important point. Here is a farmer saying that the old Fisheries Act actually inhibited conservation projects that the agriculture community wanted to implement on their own land. The old act, which sounds like the new proposed act, was process and process, and enforcement and enforcement. If we really want to improve fish habitat, then we should get out there and improve it, but it is going to be very problematic whether projects like these will be allowed to continue.

Again, regarding the changes that the Conservatives made, Mr. Bonnett said, “There are still some challenges when you have multiple jurisdictions working on that”, but again, he says the Conservatives Fisheries Act 2012 “has improved dramatically from what it was.”

Regarding the old act, Mr. Bonnett had this to say:

...we saw a lot of inconsistency, depending on the DFO office. One would come in and say, no, there's no problem, go ahead. Another one would come in and it would be a whole bureaucratic process that you had to go through. I guess that would be the caution about just putting HADD back in place without having some clear and enforceable guidelines that spell out how you treat a municipal drain.

It is important to talk about the issues agriculture had with the old Fisheries Act. I and many others on this side of the House represent agricultural communities. I saw first-hand, prior to my becoming a member of Parliament, the problems the act created.

What did we do to modify the former Fisheries Act? In the old Fisheries Act, there was equal consideration of all fish species and all fish habitat. We focused on the sustainability and ongoing productivity of commercial, recreational, and aboriginal fisheries and on effective management of key threats, such as aquatic invasive species.

Going back to the old act, all projects were reviewed for any impacts on fish and fish habitat, and advice was provided on a project-by-project basis. We went to the effective management of projects linked to fisheries of commercial, recreational, and aboriginal importance through the adoption of tools.

In the old act, there was duplication and overlap between federal and provincial review processes. Our act, the Fisheries Act from 2012, relied on best place delivery and partnerships with third parties.

As I said, it goes back to the old way of doing business. Interestingly, in 1986, the department wrote “Policy for the Management of Fish Habitat”. I gather that it is still DFO's fish habitat policy. It is a great piece of work, done when Mr. Tom Siddon was the minister.

The 1986 fish habitat policy talks about the national application of the Fisheries Act. It says:

The policy applies to those habitats directly or indirectly supporting those fish stocks or populations that sustain commercial, recreational or Native fishing activities of benefit to Canadians.

That was the vernacular in 1986. Fisheries and Oceans Canada recognized its responsibility to protect and increase fish stocks. That first sentence is interesting. Our act, the Fisheries Act from 2012, is directly in line with the fish habitat policy in 1986, which talked about specific fisheries being protected through the protection of their habitat.

It goes on:

In addition, Fisheries and Oceans recognizes its responsibility to protect and increase fish stocks and their habitats that have either a demonstrated potential themselves to sustain fishing activities, or a demonstrated ecological support function for the fisheries resources. In accordance with this philosophy, the policy will not necessarily be applied to all places where fish are found in Canada, but it will be applied as required in support of fisheries resource conservation.

Our Fisheries Act of 2012 was actually in line with current departmental policy. This is why the act, as we wrote it, was well received by industry groups, rural communities, farm groups, angling groups across the country, and many others.

When we held our hearings at the fisheries committee, we asked a clear question of many of the witnesses who were obviously not in support of the Fisheries Act, 2012. We asked them if they could prove that there were any impacts on fish populations in Canada as a result of the changes made by the Fisheries Act, 2012. Naturally, there was a lot of hemming and hawing and saying they did not have enough information and that there was not enough time. On and on it went, but not a single witness could point to any fish population in Canada that was negatively affected by the changes embedded in the Fisheries Act of 2012.

Again, I am going to talk about the pros of the Conservative approach to fisheries conservation. We much prefer the direct approach to enhancing fish habitat. We created a program that was actually enabled by the Fisheries Act of 2012, called the recreational fisheries conservation partnerships program, through which we partnered with fisheries conservation groups across the country. They provided half the funds for the work and the RFCPP provided the other half. Well over 800 fisheries enhancement projects were undertaken and successfully completed across the country.

I would note that the recreational fisheries conservation partnerships program is being sunsetted by the current Liberal government. Is “sunset” not a nice word? It implies sitting on the beach with a cool one and watching the sun go down. Actually, this program has been shot down and is going down in flames. There are hundreds of angry groups across Canada whose mission is to do direct conservation and enhancement of fisheries across the country that will now not be provided with support.

I would point out something about Atlantic salmon, a fish that is obviously near and dear to the minister's heart, I would hope. Our fisheries and oceans committee did a major study on Atlantic salmon, and not a single recommendation from that study has been implemented. We recommended a seal reduction program. We recommended a significant increase in the striped bass harvest. We also recommended that diplomatic action be taken against Greenland for overfishing our Atlantic salmon. Nothing has been done.

Here is a clear case of the minister talking a good game about caring for fish, but there is a fish right in his backyard, the Atlantic salmon, of importance to thousands of anglers and businesses in his region, and nothing is being done to help that particular fish species.

However, over $200,000 or $300,000 is going to the fish cops. I would rather see direct programming that would help Atlantic salmon stocks, and other stocks across the country, to rebuild.

I am pleased that there is a provision in the proposed act to talk about rebuilding stocks. I like the habitat banking portion. Hopefully the government will be open to some amendments on that and open to some ideas on how it could be done, because a number of us have a few thoughts on that. Again, all that money is going to enforcement when there are groups, like the Miramichi Salmon Association, which I belong to, and the Atlantic Salmon Federation, that do things like create cold water refuges for Atlantic salmon so the fish can summer better and survive better than they would otherwise. We hope that projects like that could go on.

Bill C-68 is part of the Liberal plan to kill development. The Prime Minister's principal secretary, Mr. Gerald Butts, once said: “The real alternative is not an alternative route, it's an alternative economy. We don't think there ought to be a carbon-based energy industry by the middle of the century.” I am sure the thousands and thousands of middle-class Canadians who work in the energy industry will be very disappointed to know that this is the thinking in the Prime Minister's Office. The ultimate agenda is to severely restrict Canada's energy industry.

I want to quote the Canadian Electricity Association. It is headed by the hon. Sergio Marchi, who said:

In practical terms, this means that virtually any action, without prior authorization, could be construed as being in contravention of this Act. Consequently, the reinstatement of these measures will result in greater uncertainties for existing and new facilities, and unduly delay and/or discourage investment in energy projects that directly support Canada's clean growth agenda and realize its climate change objectives.

Of course, the other shoe to drop is how investment is leaving Canada. Suncor CEO Steve Williams said, in a headline that reported what Suncor's activities will be, “Suncor to shun major new projects amid Canada's 'difficult' regulatory environment”.

I had the honour of working in the oil sands in 2009-10. I lived in a camp for an oil sands project. There were people from all walks of life. People talk about the industry as if it were some kind of bad word. The industry is workers and people. There was a young dad saving for his child's education, a young couple saving for a down payment on a house, and a senior couple saving for a dignified retirement. These are the kinds of people who work in the energy industry. These are the kinds of people who will be hurt by this excessive regulatory process that is killing energy and natural resources jobs across the country. I am afraid the new Fisheries Act is just part of that, so I will be unable to support it.

Fisheries ActGovernment Orders

February 13th, 2018 / 11:05 a.m.
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Fin Donnelly NDP Port Moody—Coquitlam, BC

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak in favour of Bill C-68, an act to amend the Fisheries Act and other Acts in consequence.

I would like to point out at the onset that we welcome the legislation to restore HADD, harmful alteration, disruption or destruction of fish habitat, to the act. We believe the Liberals should have done this immediately following the last federal election. There is no excuse for waiting.

Back in 2012, when the Conservative government gutted habitat protection from the act, 600 scientists and four former fisheries ministers, including two Conservatives, wrote to the government, stating that the changes in the act “would be a most unwise action, which would jeopardize many important fish stocks and the lakes, estuaries and rivers that support them.” They were right.

Over the past six years since these changes, the number of charges relating to a violation of the new section 35 under the weakened Fisheries Act legislation was zero. That means since 2012, there have been no charges. This, despite the fact that according to documents obtained by the Vancouver Sun in 2016, there were almost 1,900 complaints.

The vague language in the Conservative bill made it impossible to prove that a project would kill fish. Once habitat protections were restored to the act, we believed a thorough review to improve and modernize the Fisheries Act would engage Canadians, would be based on science, indigenous, and community knowledge, and the precautionary principle would have been undertaken, immediately after the 2015 election. That would have been the responsible thing to do, but here we are today, two years later, and finally we have this legislation.

The Fisheries Act is the key federal law for fish habitat protection and one of the key laws for marine biodiversity, and is an essential part of Canada's environmental safety net.

When announcing this legislation, the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard said that he was open to amendments that would strengthen the bill. Therefore, we will be proposing amendments for consideration.

In Bill C-68, the definition of fish habitat is improved by referring to the water fish need for survival. However, the proposed amendments do not include explicit legal protection for environmental flows, the amount and type of water needed for fish and aquatic ecosystems to flourish.

What are environmental flows? The Brisbane Declaration provides the most widely accepted and applied definition. It says, “Environmental flows describe the quantity, timing, and quality of water flows required to sustain freshwater and estuarine ecosystems and the human livelihoods and well-being that depend on these ecosystems.” Another document, which discussed the Brisbane Declaration, stated, “environmental flows are essential for providing both direct and indirect benefits on which current and future generations rely.”

We heard from Linda Nowlan of West Coast Environmental Law about the importance of protecting environmental flows at fisheries committee. She testified:

....the act must protect key elements of fish habitat, including environmental flows. The Fisheries Act should provide a legally binding national flow standard to conserve the quantity, timing, and quality of water flows, also known as environmental flows.

CSAS scientists point to this issue as a deficiency in the current regime and say that a national standard is needed. The act should define conditions of flow alteration that constitute HADD based on science advice from the Canadian Science Advisory Secretariat and used by DFO. Our brief contains more information on that. These are key changes, and if enacted, they will demonstrate the government's commitment to modernize the act.

I certainly agree with her, and on this would encourage the government to review West Coast Environmental Law Association's brief, “Habitat 2.0: A New Approach to Canada's Fisheries Act”, which includes an entire section on the importance of environmental flows.

One of the greatest disappointments of the legislation is that it would not remove the promotion of unsafe salmon farming practices and farmed salmon as a product from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans mandate, which in turn would lower impacts to wild salmon.

The government should be commended, however, for its commitment to the precautionary principle but it needs to show it with action.

The precautionary principle recognizes that in the absence of scientific certainty, conservation measures can and should be taken when there is a lack of knowledge of a risk of serious or irreversible harm to the environment and/or resources using the best available information. Under this principle, the trigger for government action to protect wild salmon is for science to demonstrate the existence of more than a minimal risk.

In my province of British Columbia, the evidence has been piling up. Graphic videos have surfaced of virus-laden bloody discharge from farmed salmon processors spewing directly into the ocean, where wild salmon migrate, blood which has been confirmed to be infected with the highly infectious virus piscine reovirus, or PRV.

CTV's W5 covered first nations' occupation of open-net salmon farms on the west coast, as the minister knows. It showed footage that contained graphic images of deformed farmed salmon and spoke about the disastrous effects of spreading disease, which, on an industrial scale, has an impact on our wild salmon population.

The documentary relayed the struggle of environmental activists to remove open-net salmon farms from wild salmon migration routes, highlighted how the farms were spreading dangerous viruses like PRV to wild salmon, and how their expansion had correlated to the dramatic decline of B.C.'s wild salmon fishery. Further, the documentary showed how the salmon farm industry colluded with government to deny what DFO had already confirmed, and that is that PRV is present in farmed salmon and is spreading to wild salmon.

In British Columbia, Gary Marty, the head scientist-veterinarian in charge of testing for disease also co-authors industry-boosting papers with Marine Harvest, the largest player in the B.C. industry.

Clearly, the federal government is in conflict because the department's mandate contains a provision to promote the salmon aquaculture industry. This goes against the Cohen Commission recommendations, specifically recommendation 3, which says, “The Government of Canada should remove from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans’ mandate the promotion of salmon farming as an industry and farmed salmon as a product.”

In the W5 documentary, the minister said that the government was committed to not expanding the industry until the science was settled. Even the department's own scientists have shown PRV and HSMI have entered the wild in the Pacific Ocean. How much more risk do we need to demonstrate before it takes action? Clearly, this industry presents more than a minimal risk. It is time to get these diseased-ridden farms off of the wild salmon migration routes.

Last week, I was copied on a letter to the Prime Minister from Chief Ernest Alfred of the 'Namgis First Nation. He wants the Prime Minister to know why they walked out of his town hall meeting in Nanaimo. It is an important message that everyone in government needs to hear. I would like to read it onto the record. It states:

Open letter to the Government of Canada

Dear Mr. [Prime Minister],

I've been asked to provide an explanation as to why our People walked out of the Town Hall in Nanaimo. Important statements needed to be made to your Government, and on behalf of our People, I'd like to strongly express our total frustration for not getting the chance to address our serious concerns.

Representatives of numerous First Nations can be clearly seen seated in front of the giant Canadian flag. I am dressed in a Peace Dance Headdress. One that we use to show our peaceful welcome, and resolve. I am also wearing a woven cedar bark tunic used in war. My peace headdress was quickly removed after we left the building. A symbolic act to show the total lack of respect being shown our Nations. In our territorial waters off the Broughton Archipelago, war has been declared against us, and the livelihoods of our coastal People.

168 days ago, we started Occupations on the fish farms in our territories. Our mission has been to peacefully record, report and protest the illegal practices in our waters. This mission is not a new one. Our People have been demanding the removal of these feedlots for over 30 years. Until now, we have never had an investigation into fish farm operations in this manner before. This self-regulated industry cannot be trusted with such important information. To be very frank, we have become more than frustrated and impatient. During the last 168 days, we've seen Fisheries Officers only twice. There is no problem with Piscine Reovirus, and that is because the Department of Fisheries and Oceans has been trying to hide it. [The Minister of Fisheries and Oceans] has teamed up with Marine Harvest and is fighting us in Court. It seems to me that the Government of Canada is attempting to reconcile with Norway but using our territory to do that. That is wrong! Our waters have never been surrendered, neither has our lands and our hereditary rights to oversee them.

The very status of fish farms in the Broughton Archipelago have come into serious question. A Norwegian Invasion has taken place in our waters and we have been forced to act to defend our investments in wild salmon. Eviction notices have been given, heavy RCMP involvement, arrests, B.C. Supreme Court proceedings, lost aquaculture industry status and reputation, Government reviews and investigations have had little or no influence on the reckless practices of the aquaculture industry, within our territories. In fact, the companies have restocked almost all the fish farms in our waters, against numerous warnings of serious consequences. We have had enough!

First Nations People, environmental groups, ecotourism organizations, and countless wild salmon economy contributors, from one end of the Province to the other, have shown us their full support and solidarity. Emails of support continue to pour in from all over the world. It seems as if British Columbia's fish farm industry has the world's attention. Meanwhile, I find it troubling, sad and embarrassing that we do not have the attention of the Federal Government of Canada. We are all saying the same thing.

Our wild salmon economy must be protected. The jobs that fish farms provide will still be there when the farms are moved to shore using closed containment technology. The economy that is so important to your government will return along the west coast. Fish farms do not create jobs - Fish farms have killed jobs along the coast!

The Federal Government must remove the open net fish farms in the Broughton Archipelago that have remained in the territories of 6 allied Nations without the consent or consultation for over 30 years. Immediate action is required if the Federal Government has any hopes of reconciliation in our territories.

With all due respect, stand with us!

Sincerely, Kwakwabalas

Chief Ernest Alfred

Swanson Island Occupation--'Namgis First Nation

Clearly, first nations have had enough. How can a government that purports a true nation-to-nation government relationship with first nations ignore these pleas for action? It is shameful. I implore the government to listen. No more studies, no more words, it is time for action. Please meet with them.

In 2017, the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans studied the Fisheries Act. The New Democratic Party of Canada submitted recommendations to be incorporated into the Fisheries Act in order to fully modernize it. We recommend that in order to advance the nation-to-nation relationship with first nations, a new modernized fisheries act should: one, recognize indigenous rights in the act; two, move beyond delegation to work with first nations as full partners in fisheries management; three, recognize first nations' right to commercial trade and barter opportunities; four, include guiding principles of reconciliation that allow for and promote consent-based shared decision-making processes, for example, co-management or co-governance with first nations, and that have the flexibility to reconcile pre-existing sovereignty and first nations jurisdictional authority; five, expand factors considered in decision-making to include principles of sustainability, including ecological integrity and cultural sustainability, indigenous law, protection of inherent aboriginal rights, and the principles found in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples; and finally, ensure meaningful consultation, accommodation, and a consent-seeking process with first nations to build new regulations.

I hope those recommendations can be incorporated into Bill C-68 at the committee stage.

Another concern we have is that Bill C-68 gives the minister too much arbitrary power to authorize harmful development and industrial projects. I hope the government will consider amendments to update language in the bill to require decisions based on scientific evidence rather than the minister's opinion. Let us put science in and keep the politics out.

Martin Olszynski, an assistant professor in law at the University of Calgary, an expert in fishery law, agrees. He is quoted in DeSmog Canada as saying:

[T]here's an unfortunate use of "discretionary language, meaning that many components of the proposed legislation are basically up to the opinion of the minister—and requiring no specific evidence.

He went on to say:

For example, there's a section about implementing measures to manage the decline of fish stocks. The newly amended legislation includes the phrase “if the Minister is of the opinion that a fish stock that has declined to its limit reference point or that is below that point would be impacted.” That's not satisfactory for some.

In the same article, Brett Favaro, research scientist at the Fisheries and Marine Institute of Memorial University said:

I was hoping for a line that was not “if the minister is of the opinion that a fish stock has declined”, but “if the fish stock has declined as determined by the best available evidence then there should be measures in place aimed at rebuilding the stock.”

I am hopeful that we will be able to clean up some of these language issues at committee.

Bill C-68 also enacts the NDP recommendation to the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans on rebuilding. We recommended that in order to prioritize the protection of fish and fish habitat, a new modernized Fisheries Act should mandate rebuilding fish stocks when they have fallen below healthy levels and mandate a report annually to Parliament on the status of Canada's fish stocks and the management decisions made for stocks in critical zones.

In October 2017, Oceana Canada released a comprehensive review of the state of Canada's fisheries and the first annual assessment of how the government is managing them. The results were alarming. They revealed that Canadian fisheries are in serious trouble with only one-third of stocks considered healthy and 13% of those in critical condition. Further, 36% could not be determined due to insufficient information.

Although the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada reported 19 Canadian marine stocks in critical condition, Oceana found 26 in its analysis using the same sources of information. At the time of the report, Dr. Robert Rangeley, director of science, Oceana Canada stated, “What's more concerning is that there are only three plans in place to rebuild these 26 dangerously depleted populations."

It is shameful that Canada lags behind international standards of sustainable fisheries management. In countries where governments are legally obligated to rebuild, fish populations have bounced back. The numbers are impressive. Mandatory rebuilding in the United States has meant that in the last 20 years, 43 stocks have been rebuilt. Those stocks now generate on average 50% more revenue than when they were overfished.

This is the first time rebuilding of depleted fish stocks has been included in Canada's Fisheries Act; however, details on rebuilding will be in the regulations. This does concern me, but if those regulations are strong, with timelines and targets, and if they consider the impacts of climate change and species interactions, we will be on a path to success.

I will finish with a quote by Susanna Fuller from the Ecology Action Centre, who agrees. She stated:

We will continue to advocate that the regulations require timelines and targets as well as an ecosystem approach to rebuilding, taking into account impacts of climate change and species interactions.

I am—

Fisheries ActGovernment Orders

February 13th, 2018 / 11:30 a.m.
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Colin Carrie Conservative Oshawa, ON

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague for his very important speech and his comments to the government which really does not listen.

I wonder if the member could comment on a statement by the Hon. Sergio Marchi from the Canadian Electricity Association. He is a previous Liberal cabinet minister. He said that Bill C-68 “represents one step forward but two steps back”. He went on to say:

In practical terms, this means that virtually any action, without prior authorization, could be construed as being in contravention of this Act...will result in greater uncertainties for existing and new facilities, and unduly delay and/or discourage investment in energy projects that directly support Canada’s clean growth agenda and realize its climate change objectives.

Here we have a government that is not listening to the conservation side of things, first nations, and is not listening to the business side of things.

I wonder if the member could comment on how much work has to be done in committee to get the bill right.

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February 13th, 2018 / 12:05 p.m.
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Bob Zimmer Conservative Prince George—Peace River—Northern Rockies, BC

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Selkirk—Interlake—Eastman.

First, I would like to highlight a comment made by my colleague from the Lower Mainland. He said that they wanted to make the act even better than it was before. I agree with him. It was pretty good. Back in 2012, the changes we made under our previous government were substantive.

Being the parliamentary outdoor caucus co-chair, we deal a lot with fishing, specifically recreational fishing. If people were lucky enough to get out last weekend to do some ice fishing, good for them. I did not have time. However, a lot of the time we have as families together, we to do exactly that.

However, it always seems a little disingenuous of the Liberals across the way when they cannot just say that they are doing something good for fisheries or they are doing something positive in Bill C-68 without giving us a shot. I would like to argue about that and defend our record.

We started a very substantive program, the recreational fisheries conservation partnerships program. We provided millions of dollars to basically local organizations to help people who were interested in seeing their own rivers and tributaries have a sustainable fishery for recreational fishers.

An article from 2015, which references the OFAH, a non-partisan group, states:

...the largest the largest non-profit charitable fish and wildlife conservation organization in Ontario, applauds the federal government’s decision to substantially increase the funding to the highly successful Recreational Fisheries Conservation Partnership Program by providing an additional $15 million over two years.

When it mentions the federal government, it is referring to the Conservative government. This is just one announcement of many. The article goes on to say, “Ours was one of 96 projects from across Canada funded in the first year of the program.” We are talking about millions of dollars.

Some people think that just the odd person goes out and fishes on a weekend, but recreational fishing generates over $8 billion in annual economic activity. Frankly, we like the heritage part of it. Personally, I like going out to fish. However, the economic activity is something to support, and that is what we did in the previous government.

For the Liberals to say that Bill C-68 is a great saviour of recreational fishing in Canada is a stretch. A lot was done before. Can a lot be done? Absolutely. We are all concerned about the numbers of fish we see in certain tributaries off the west coast and east coast, and we want to do all we can. The Conservatives and Liberals can agree upon that. To say that the previous government did nothing is not true.

I want to speak a little about Bill C-68 and what it seeks to do. This is where the previous government had it right.

The Liberals always seem to want to increase bureaucracy. They are talking about funding different groups to study what is normally done by volunteers right now. A group in Valemount does a great job of establishing salmon and fish habitat in the rivers and doing what it can to build fish ladders, etc. A lot of it is done by volunteers. It is done by local people who are interested in fishing or who just want to see a healthy fish habitat in their local community of Valemount.

However, the Liberal government is now seeking to dump a bunch of money into funding different target and study groups, spending money on what is already being done by volunteers today. Again, I would question its logic of funding things that work quite well on their own right now, being driven by volunteers. Volunteers are a good thing. They are there because they are interested and want to make our rivers and streams a better place for fish. Again, why are the Liberals throwing more money at a situation, which does not always make it better?

We see a number of challenges with returning stocks, depending on the rivers. We see efforts needing to be made. With Bill C-68, the Liberal government is maybe trying to do something that is better, but building a bigger bureaucracy will not help one fish in one river, especially in my home province of British Columbia.

We support a strong conservation effort generally. I know the member who will speak after me is an avid fisherman. Most of our speakers grab a rod and reel, so we really do care about preserving the numbers, especially the returning fish. We absolutely support any efforts that would substantively increase the numbers returning and substantially help recreational fishers access particular lands.

One item of concern, which is not really related to Bill C-68 but does relate to recreational fishing in Canada, is marine protection areas that the current government is seeking to challenge for recreational fishers in the province of B.C.

The Liberals say that they are for fisheries, et cetera, but fisheries are meant to be used by the people. Any kind of restriction of that fishery is a concern for Conservative members on this side of the House. We are definitely concerned for the long-term future of recreational fishing, the history that it brings, and all the great experience families have. We fished a couple of years ago with my kids and they all caught a fish. It was a great experience. It was one of those memorable moments of our summer of 2016.

I wish the government would spend money where money is well-received, which is literally by the fish in streams. Back in the mid-1990s, I had the pleasure to work as a carpenter on a fish ladder in a fish creek area to the north of where I live. I saw the effort that went into that by people who cared about the stream and having a sustainable fishery. A lot of that effort was done by people who were volunteering and doing it out of the goodness of their hearts, not just for a paycheque.

The government should look at what works in the current system with conservation groups in British Columbia, my home province, in Atlantic Canada, and across the Prairies. In whatever province, there are people who like to fish. I would look at what is already working. The government should do more of that as opposed to trying to change the whole regime. I do not think that is a great way to spend money and it is not a great way to have a sustained fishery in our country.

The goal for everybody in here is to try to achieve a sustainable fishery so our kids, our grandkids, and our great-grandkids can fish well into the future. I know that is the goal of our members and I know it is the goal of some across the way. Again, we want to ensure that when the government spends taxpayer dollars, it spends them wisely, not just throwing dollars at a problem expecting them to stick, and not fix it.

Fisheries ActGovernment Orders

February 13th, 2018 / 12:15 p.m.
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Bob Zimmer Conservative Prince George—Peace River—Northern Rockies, BC

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the fact that the member's kids fish. That is a great example of why we want to keep fishing a viable thing in Canada and ensure we can have it for our future generations.

There is a key part to this conversation on Bill C-68 and that this great legislation will be a fix-all of all the problems. I have been reading multiple articles, but one article said that it was not a matter of legislation; it was a matter of implementation. If we need to fix our implementation to ensure that better results will ensue, we need to look a bit closer at what that would look like, rather than throw money at a completely different group, do something completely different, expecting to have a great result. Implementation is the issue here and we need to get to the bottom of how to implement a good process in Canada.

Fisheries ActGovernment Orders

February 13th, 2018 / 12:20 p.m.
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Bob Zimmer Conservative Prince George—Peace River—Northern Rockies, BC

Mr. Speaker, again, the previous government, which the member was a part of, as was I, as members of the British Columbia caucus, saw great rollouts in the salmon foundation and other really great initiatives.

Then we see where politics enters the fray. When we have something that is understood to work, where we have volunteers on the ground making this thing work in British Columbia, Bill C-68 and the rationale behind Bill C-68 should be to fund it some more, because it is going to work so let us keep it going. We have seen the opposite happen with the Liberal government retracting funding for things that do work. It is a strange thing that is hard for British Columbians in general to understand.

Does the current government understand what recreational fishing is, and not just recreational fishing but preserving fish, and not so that nobody can ever fish again? Again, we are getting concerned with marine protected areas that actually protect areas from people fishing. That is not what our goal should be. Our goal should be to protect the fish so we can go fishing, not the opposite.

Fisheries ActGovernment Orders

February 13th, 2018 / 12:20 p.m.
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James Bezan Conservative Selkirk—Interlake—Eastman, MB

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to rise on Bill C-68 today to talk about the changes to the Fisheries Act.

People are probably wondering why a prairie boy from Manitoba is getting up to talk about fisheries. I want to remind everyone here that I am the proud representative of Selkirk—Interlake—Eastman, which is home to Lake Winnipeg, Lake Manitoba, the Winnipeg River, Lake St. Martin, and the communities around them.

I represent over 1,000 commercial fishers, fishing families that make their living off that freshwater fishery. Lake Winnipeg is a three-season fishery. Fishers are on the ice in the winter, spring, and fall. Those families depend on the fishery. There are 23 small craft harbours on Lake Winnipeg alone. This is a great natural resource that deserves protection.

That is why Conservatives, I in particular, support protecting fish habitat and we support protecting the commercial fishery and the recreational fishery, which are also important to my riding. People come from all over the world to enjoy catching trophy walleye and northern pike. Some of the best channel catfishing in the world takes place in the north Red River in my riding. We are quite proud of the area. It is a fishery that we want to protect.

I have grave concerns with what the Liberal government is proposing. The Liberals have gone back to the future, to the old days when it was going to use a stick to hammer users of the land, hammer communities, to hammer down and whack-a-mole, so to say, any farmer, any municipality that was trying to do any improvement or developments.

The Liberals are also going to penalize clean energy like hydroelectric power. In my almost 15 years as a parliamentarian we have been dealing with the impact on protected fish habitat of doing hydroelectric generation in the development of those dams and the impact of federal regulations on them.

It is a stick here rather than a carrot. When the Conservatives were in government, we were proud to work with stakeholders, recreational fishers and commercial fishers. We were proud to work alongside municipalities to adopt best practices and to provide the enhancement dollars needed to protect fish habitat. We saw the greatest benefits using a carrot rather than a stick to reward good behaviour, to enhance fishery protection, and to protect natural ecosystems. That generated results.

The Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard announced $284 million for enforcement, for putting more fisheries and oceans inspectors out across the Prairies to tell municipalities they cannot do this, to stop farmers from draining their flooded fields, and to try to protect some fish habitat in the bottom of a ditch.

That did not work back in the nineties. It did not work in the early 2000s, and that is why the Conservative government put those enforcement officers where they were needed the most, where we saw overfishing, where we saw destruction of habitat, especially in British Columbia, where they enforced the legislation the way it should have been enforced, not by harassing municipalities, farmers, and other resource users.

We do not need more bureaucratic red tape. What we need is a government that understands the needs of all stakeholders and that wants to work together collaboratively to provide the best habitat and the best environment to protect our fishery.

The Liberals may have introduced more dollars for bureaucratic red tape but they cut spending from existing habitat protection programs. The member for Dauphin—Swan River—Neepawa and others in our caucus worked long and hard to bring about the recreational fish habitat protection program, a program that provided dollars to little wildlife organizations to protect habitat, mainly for angling, and a lot of it happened in our little lakes and estuaries along the bigger waterways. That program benefited both the commercial fishery and the aboriginal fishery. They were able to capitalize on the increased fish stocks and the habitat protection that happened, the natural groins going into our lakes, rivers, and oceans that allow that nutrient load to be soaked up through the marshlands and the swamp.

The Liberal government killed the wetland conservation program, which was really important, not just from the standpoint of fish habitat protection and protecting the habitat for upland game birds and wetland game birds like geese, ducks, and prairie chickens, but it also provided dollars to encourage land-use owners to keep those wetlands, because they are not just the kidneys but the main reciprocals for aquifers across this country, to feed the groundwater and build it up. It is shameful that the government is virtue signalling, telling people it is going to do more to protect fish habitat, when, in actuality, it has killed programs, reduced the dollars available to enhance and protect fish habitat, and will be spending more taxpayers' dollars on more red tape and bureaucracy.

There would be regulations, but we do not know what those regulations are going to look like yet. We have a case where the government is going to place more rules and regulations on municipalities, rural communities, first nations, and resource users, including clean energy producers like hydroelectric power, and in Manitoba, Manitoba Hydro, rather than adopt best practices. That is what Conservatives encouraged when we were in government. If municipalities were going to have to clean ditches, they would be told this is the time of year to do it and this is how to do it. They did not have to file a whole bunch of paperwork and hire engineers or environmental consultants to do these environmental assessments to get through the DFO checklist.

We also know that there are going to be more costs on municipalities. Every project they have to do would require them to do duplicative work and provide background documentation to the federal and provincial governments. There is no clarity in the bill as to how to get rid of the redundancy and all of the costs that are going to be borne by the municipalities, cash-strapped municipalities trying to serve their ratepayers.

I am an agriculture producer and my son-in-law is a grain farmer and one of the greatest things we deal with in my riding of Selkirk—Interlake—Eastman is flooding, excess precipitation, whether it is from snow runoff, excessive rain, or downstream flooding coming down the Red and Assiniboine Rivers from the United States and western Canada. We are at the bottom of the Lake Winnipeg basin, so we have to deal with this excess moisture. Farmers have to have the ability to drain their lands, do flood mitigation, and stop the harm and damage that happens.

We lived through this in the 1990s under the Chrétien government. When farmers tried to dig drains to draw the excess moisture away from their fields, which was drowning their crops and livelihoods and that could possibly bankrupt them, DFO was there to hammer them over the head with a big stick telling them they could not do it. They were fined and penalized and their projects were stopped. We have to adopt best practices to ensure that people can live on the land. I am scared that this is just another Liberal policy that is anti-farmer and anti-rural municipalities.

Finally, fishers have not asked for these changes. We already know that under the old system, we saw no results, the system the Liberals had back in the 1990s and early 2000s. We are going back to the future, where this is not resolved. My friend just said that there are no metrics on how to manage the actual result. If there are no results, then how would this benefit commercial fishers? How would this benefit aboriginal fishers and commercial fishers who enjoy angling and our waterways?

I ask the government to look at this in detail to ensure that it is not being overly bureaucratic, that it is not adding more red tape to an already very onerous system, and to ensure that rural Canadians and communities, whether they be aboriginal, agriculture producers, or fishers, are all able to benefit from this, and that extra costs are not being layered upon municipalities and provincial governments, so there can be drainage, flood mitigation, and flood protection unhampered by an overzealous federal government.

Fisheries ActGovernment Orders

February 13th, 2018 / 1:05 p.m.
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Mel Arnold Conservative North Okanagan—Shuswap, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to rise today to speak to Bill C-68, an act to amend the Fisheries Act and other acts in consequence.

I would first like to extend my best wishes to the fisheries minister. It is good to see him here in the chamber as he perseveres through the health challenges of life. Even though we may exchange barbs and strong differences at times, at the beginning and end of each day, we are all Canadians with families, friends, and loved ones. I wish him well.

I would also be remiss if I did not also wish my good friend and colleague, the member for Cariboo—Prince George, a speedy recovery. We all know his determination will drive his recovery as he continues to advocate for his constituents and all Canadians.

Much of what is in Bill C-68 is aimed at one objective for the Liberal government, the perpetuation of the idea of lost protections. I propose that this idea is based on false and unsubstantiated claims, and I will speak today to how those claims have not been proven or substantiated.

The Fisheries Act is one of the oldest federal statutes in Canada dating back almost 100 years. Amendments have been made to the act from time to time, and whether the act actually included a purposes section or not, the overall principle of the act has been to manage and protect our fisheries.

As we know, Canada is a vast country with coastlines and fisheries on three different oceans covering a multitude of species, some sedentary and others very migratory. Canada also has a vast array of fisheries, varying from small local clam beds to fisheries for cod and salmon extending over hundreds of thousands of square kilometres. Managing all those fisheries is complicated by the very fact that some of the most sought after species are very migratory. Some fulfill their life cycle over vast expanses of oceans, while others migrate from freshwater to marine environments and back again.

Over the years, federal governments have taken different strategies on managing Canada's fisheries. Some management strategies have been successful, while the failure of others has been self-evident. What has been consistent is that successive governments have attempted to maintain the health of our fisheries so they are all conserved and managed in ways that allow perpetual value to be drawn from our oceans and fisheries resources. Our prosperity as Canadians depends on the sustainable management of these resources to support fishers, harvesters, and the communities that depend on them for the benefits of their subsistence.

Changes made to the Fisheries Act in 2012 and amendments in 2013 were developed to address long-standing weaknesses evidenced by the inconsistent interpretation and application of the pre-2012 Fisheries Act. In studying the 2012 changes to the Fisheries Act, the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans heard from Canadians that the pre-2012 act required amendments to modernize it and make it more relevant and functional for those who live under the act every day.

Input from Ducks Unlimited Canada stated that under the previous Fisheries Act, many of its conservation projects and activities that sought Fisheries Act changes to restore, enhance, or manage wetland habitat were deemed to be “fish habitat destruction” by DFO. In other words, these projects that could have improved our habitat and fisheries were not allowed under the pre-2012 definition. As such, the effect of the previous Fisheries Act limited this conservation organization's ability to “deliver new conservation programming designed to protect and conserve habitat that is essential to waterfowl and other wetland-dependent species, including fish.”

This is the reality of the previous prohibitions of the Fisheries Act. These are prohibitions that the government is seeking to restore in the bill. What we are presented with in Bill C-68 are proposals to amend the Fisheries Act, including some seeking to restore the previous elements of the act that had proven to be dysfunctional. The bill has a significant number of proposals. In fact, there are 58 pages of proposed amendments, not including the 13 pages of explanatory notes and revisions.

In poring over the bill over the past week, many questions have come up, which will likely take time to be answered by the ministry, by the minister, or eventually by the courts.

As parliamentarians, we are provided technical briefings on bills that come before the House. It is a privilege that we do not take lightly. These technical briefings are meant to provide us as legislators answers to some of the difficult questions that are hidden within draft legislation.

I must say that after attending a technical briefing on Bill C-68 earlier this week, there are more questions than answers received. I have heard from stakeholders, Canadians who live under the Fisheries Act across Canada, who also have a significant number of questions, and as a result, reasonable concerns related to the bill.

How will habitat banks be established? There seem to be no parameters. Much of this is left to be within regulations that no one has seen any drafting of at this point. How will those habitat banks be monitored and validated? Again, there is nothing specific in the proposed act, and it is all left open to what it might be down the road. There are many questions but so few answers.

What class of projects will qualify as designated projects, meaning which ones will or will not have prior approval? There are no answers.

What is the definition of an “ecologically significant” area? I found the definition within Bill C-68 to be very vague. There was no specific direction as to what might or might not be considered an ecologically significant area. Would this be an area that may hold a few goldfish or would it be a key component to a spawning area for some of our precious salmon stocks? There are no definitions within the act.

What information factored into ministerial decisions will the minister be able to withhold from Canadians with a direct interest in the decisions? We see portions of the proposed act that say information to the minister may be held confidential and not released. What about the proponent whose project is held up and has no access to know what information or what area of information might be withheld from them?

Who will be able to establish laws over fisheries and oceans? How will consistency be ensured to ensure that a patchwork of legal regimes is not created across Canada? There were provisions in the previous act where laws regarding fisheries were shared with the provinces under agreements. We also see this now as a possibility with first nations. We welcome the involvement of first nations in the management of our fisheries, but with the multitude of different first nations across the country, there are questions from people who may potentially be impacted by this as to how they would monitor these new laws that might be in place. Who would oversee them in general?

Again, on the new laws that may come into place, who will enforce laws of the various jurisdictions that the bill proposes to recognize? We do not know whether that would be under the laws of Canada, under the laws of the provinces, or under the laws of other bodies that may be created to create laws, which the bill would enable them to do.

Again, how will those laws be applied and enforced beyond Canada's 200-mile economic zone to the entire continental shelf? I do not know if anyone has addressed that point in the debate on Bill C-68. It proposes that the Fisheries Act apply to all waters on the continental shelf, beyond Canada's 200-mile economic zone. These are the types of questions that may only be determined through committee work and the further development of regulations, but this may eventually end up in the courts, and it could be years down the road before we have answers.

There are many proposals in this bill related to indigenous communities and their participation in the management and conservation of fisheries. The Conservative Party of Canada's policy declaration clearly supports the economic sustainability of indigenous communities. I believe that the fisheries could be a driving factor in sustaining those indigenous communities. However, the ambiguity of this bill's provisions for indigenous communities is not helpful. In fact, it may be counterproductive.

First nations, harvesters, and processors all need certainty of access to the resource to retain investments and to remain competitive in what is an ever more competitive world market. I have been meeting with stakeholders over the past few months, and their biggest concern is certainty of access to the market, but more so, certainty of access to the product, whether it is fish products, finfish fisheries, aquaculture, or other types.

Already I am hearing from indigenous organizations that work in fisheries that this bill is deficient in defining the essential details of what it proposes for indigenous communities. It is safe to say that the government's response will be something along the lines of, “Just trust us.” We have seen what the government does when we agree to just trust it. It has a Prime Minister who has been found guilty of breaking Canadian law four times, yet there are no consequences.

A significant number of indigenous governments and fisheries organizations have valid reasons for doubting the sincerity of the government. I will share with the House one example of how the government undermined the trust of indigenous peoples in the review process that led to this bill.

In 2016, the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard directed the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans to undertake a study to review the 2012 changes to the Fisheries Act and to table a report early in 2017. As such, a motion was passed to undertake a study and to table the report by January 30, 2017. Once the study was under way, it became very clear that the deadline imposed by the government was insufficient for the task at hand or for the process of consultation created by the government. The minister's office even put out a news release stating that feedback from public consultations would be provided to the committee for consideration in its report. That news release was revised a second and third time, but the original said that all feedback would be provided to the committee.

Opposition members of the committee tried repeatedly to pass motions for an extension of the study deadline. The government members on the committee eventually agreed to add four meetings, or two weeks, to the deadline. Indigenous fishery stakeholders were invited to participate in consultation sessions and to submit briefs for the committee's review of the Fisheries Act. In fact, through a participant funding program alone, 54 different indigenous groups received funding to assist in the preparation of their submissions to the committee. These 54 groups received over $900,000 to produce their briefs. What happened to their input? How did the government treat their consultations? Sadly, due to the government's refusal to extend the committee study deadline, these 54 briefs arrived after the committee held its last meeting for the study on December 12, 2016.

This is how the government has undermined the relationship with indigenous communities in the review process that led up to this bill. Indigenous Canadians deserve better. The government has repeatedly stated that this bill is necessary to restore so-called lost protections. I have asked the government for proof of harm resulting from these so-called lost protections numerous times. In response to one particular Order Paper question, the government indicated that it could not produce any proof, because the department did not have the resources or the mandate to make that determination. There we have it. This bill is meant to restore something the government cannot produce any proof of.

The minister made claims of face-to-face consultations when he appeared at the committee on November 2, 2016, yet an Order Paper question response, dated March 22, 2017, months after the minister stated that he was having face-to-face consultations, contradicted this, stating that no face-to-face consultations had taken place. So much for consultation, transparency, and accountability, a trend we see with the Liberal government.

Why should Canadians, indigenous or non-indigenous, trust the government's motivations in this bill? The proposed alternative measure section states:

No admission, confession or statement accepting responsibility for a given act or omission made by an alleged offender as a condition of being dealt with by alternative measures is admissible in evidence against them in any civil or criminal proceedings.

This is an absolute disconnect with accountability. The minister or ministerial staff do not have to disclose information or consequences to proponents. This is a case of a law being implemented with no consequences for breaking the law. Tie this to the fact that the Prime Minister has been found guilty of breaking the law on four counts, yet there are no consequences laid out in the law.

I also have concerns about the establishment of advisory panels, which would be remunerated and paid expenses. This sounds like typical Liberalism: creating additional layers of bureaucracy with no stipulations developed regarding membership, frequency and location of meetings, remuneration amounts, or any of the usual measures put in place to avoid runaway spending and lack of accountability.

Proposed subsection 8(1) of the bill sets out the establishment of fees for quotas, and proposed section 14 establishes the setting out of fees for conferral. In other words, more fees would be passed on to permit or authorization holders. Proposed section 14 would also create the ability to have fees for regulatory processes, with no parameters given as to who may be charged and how much. Proponents should open their wallets, because the government wants to empty them before anyone starts.

There are significant sections in the 2012 revisions to the act that gave the minister the ability to designate ecologically significant areas. This section has been retained. Many pieces of the 2012 legislation have been retained in this act. However, it will take more time to flesh them out and see what was done in 2012 that has been retained and is recognized as good work.

Sections 4.1 to 4.3 of the 2012 revisions provide the legal framework to guide future agreements with provinces to further the purposes of the act. They also allow the Governor in Council to declare that certain provisions of the act or its regulations do not apply in a province if a federal-provincial agreement provides that a provincial law is equivalent to the provisions of the federal regulations. This segment is retained in Bill C-68 and would be further extended to situations where there is an agreement with a recognized indigenous governing body.

The standing committee also heard from the Mining Association of Canada on the changes made to the act in 2012. I quote from Justyna Laurie-Lean, of the Mining Association, who said that the changes in 2012 have, “in practice, broadened the circumstances in which the section 35 prohibitions apply and increased the circumstances in which an authorization and offsets are required.”

These are only some examples of why I say that claims of lost protections are false and unsubstantiated. Many of the recommendations of the standing committee have been implemented. One of them, recommendation no. 3, was that the original definition of HAAD be revised before being reinserted.

As members can see, there are many more questions about this bill. I look forward to questions from my colleagues and to furthering this document in committee.

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February 13th, 2018 / 1:25 p.m.
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Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I note that my hon. colleague mentioned technical briefings to understand Bill C-68. I assure him that I did not need a technical briefing. I was so relieved to read legislation that made sense again.

When I was in this House in 2012, when Bill C-38 was tabled at first reading, it was over 440 pages long and changed 70 different pieces of legislation. We were never offered a technical briefing. There was a rush to push it through. Former fisheries ministers, two former Conservative fisheries ministers and two former Liberal fisheries ministers, ministers Fraser, Siddon, Dhaliwal, and Anderson, were united in saying that what was happening was the gutting of the Fisheries Act.

I would ask my hon. colleague to reflect that perhaps this legislation coming forward to re-establish the protection of fish habitat and to re-establish fundamental notions that we protect our fisheries and fish, regardless of whether they are destined for human consumption, would be an improvement in Canada's ability to steward the natural environment. We, as Canadians, hold an obligation to take care of these living marine resources far better than we have in the past.

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February 13th, 2018 / 3:50 p.m.
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Larry Miller Conservative Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today, but I am not pleased about the topic or Bill C-68. This is a large bill that would have huge impacts on fisheries and fish stocks across Canada. The bill would also have wide-ranging implications for economic development, farmers, rural municipalities, and more, and I will get into that in detail.

As a relatively new member of the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans, I was not on the committee when it studied the 2012 changes that were made to the Fisheries Act. However, I would like to focus a good chunk of my comments on the testimony that was heard during those hearings.

The committee started its study in October 2016 and presented a report to the House in February 2017. The committee heard from 50 different witnesses during the study and received over 188 submitted briefing notes. It was a very comprehensive study and I think would have been a useful tool for the government to use when it was drafting this proposed legislation. The study directly looked at the changes that the previous government made in 2012 to the Fisheries Act, which were changes that significantly improved the Fisheries Act.

One of the significant changes made in 2012 was a shift away from what is commonly referred to as “HADD”, which stands for harmful alteration, disruption or destruction of fish habitat. It is contained within proposed subsection 35(1) of the bill, where it states:

No person shall carry on any work, undertaking or activity that results in the harmful alteration, disruption or destruction of fish habitat.

Essentially this means that any sort of development that could be seen to be harmful, altering, disrupting or destroying fish habitats, would be subject to an immense amount of review and red tape and could be stopped or prohibited. Furthermore, it is unclear what constitutes fish habitat. It was found that DFO and others played fast and loose with this term, and used a broad definition to apply this to waterways that really had no impact on fish stocks. This system was ineffective, a nightmare for development, and had no measurable success in protecting fish populations.

Of the things that were affected the most by this, I have some on my farms. They are waterways after a very heavy rain or first thing in the spring runoff, but other than that, they are dry and able to be farmed the rest of the year. However, the same things applied to them as what would apply to, say, the St. Lawrence River, which is totally ridiculous.

The change in 2012 brought in a much simpler and effective definition to ensure that fish were protected but that reasonable projects could still move forward. This new definition was as follows:

No person shall carry on any work, undertaking or activity that results in serious harm to fish that are part of a commercial, recreational or Aboriginal fishery, or to fish that support such a fishery.

This definition is much more effective and provides certainty and clarity for developers, farmers, fishermen, first nations, and more.

In the report from the fisheries and oceans committee, the third recommendation stated that:

Any revision of the Fisheries Act should review and refine the previous definition of HADD due to the previous definition’s vulnerability to being applied in an inconsistent manner and the limiting effect it had on government agencies in their management of fisheries and habitats in the interest of fish productivity.

Therefore, I am slightly confused as to why we are now seeing what looks to be a return to HADD in Bill C-68. It does not make any sense. The testimony is there in black and white, and that testimony, of course, came from witnesses.

For example, as I mentioned, the committee heard from 50 different witnesses and received more than 188 submitted briefing notes. Not one single individual or organization was able to present the committee with any scientific or legal proof of harm that was a result of the changes made in 2012. We all know that, at the time, the environmental associations and others threw their hands up in the air, yelled, screamed, and kicked that these changes would be the death of all fish in Canada, but the proof is just not there. Six years later, I think our fish are doing pretty good. However, it is my distinct fear that the government is simply returning to the pre-2012 provisions just to appease these groups.

The return of HADD in Bill C-68 would undoubtedly be used as a way for opponents of projects to prevent development projects from moving forward. Just look at the pipeline that was discussed in depth yesterday. By returning to this system, a system that had proven to be ineffective, the government is playing right into the wheelhouse of those who seek to halt, delay, and do whatever they can to stop all forms of development in the country. That has to end.

One impact that is not always clear to many is the impact farmers face due to the Fisheries Act, and it will be 10 times worse under a system that uses the HADD definition. When farmers are looking to expand or develop their farmland they can get caught up in reviews of their projects under the Fisheries Act. A return to HADD would make the lives of farmers much more difficult.

When testifying before the committee, the Canadian Federation of Agriculture stated that prior to 2012 there were lengthy bureaucratic applications for permitting and authorizations, but the 2012 changes drastically improved the timeliness and cost of conducting regular maintenance and improvement activities to their farms. CFA expanded on this by stating that it is the CFA's position that a complete revert—which we are getting from the government now—to reinstate all provisions of the Fisheries Act as they were, would be unproductive, would re-establish the same problems for farmers, and would provide little improvement. That goes back to the example I used of intermittent waterways on our farms being treated like they were fish habitat.

What is ironic about the attack on farmers in the bill is that today is Canada Agriculture Day. As we should be doing every day, let us recognize the important work that farmers do and ensure that their voices are heard. Farmers do not want to return to a pre-2012 system. In fact, no one but those that oppose development do. The government should stop catering to these interest groups and abandon this plan.

The reason these changes came about was members of Parliament from all parties came together for the rural caucus to come up with ways to improve things overall, whether it was agriculture, rural health care, or whatever. The changes that came from the bill in 2012 came out of discussions there. Just because the government has groups of people who are against anything going on in the country, to appease them, to try to get their vote, it is saying, “Okay, we'll give you what you want.” That is not the way to do business or to govern.

It is not just farmers that have concerns though. The Canadian Electricity Association said that Bill C-68 is “one step forward but two steps back”. It went on to state:

CEA is particularly concerned that the government has chosen to return to pre-2012 provisions of the Fisheries Act that address “activity other than fishing that results in the death of fish, and the harmful alteration, disruption or destruction (HADD) of fish habitat”. In practical terms, this means that virtually any action, without prior authorization, could be construed as being in contravention of this Act. Consequently, the reinstatement of these measures will result in greater uncertainties for existing and new facilities, and unduly delay and/or discourage investment in energy projects that directly support Canada’s clean growth agenda and realize its climate change objectives.

To make a long story short, this is bad news for Canadian development, and will have no positive impact on the protection of fish populations in Canada. I urge the government to revisit the return of HADD and amend the legislation to ensure that economic development and environmental protections go hand in hand and not head to head.

I sit on the committee with my hon. colleague, the member for Avalon. I know he has the best interests of fish at heart, but I would ask him to consider agriculture in this. The examples are these intermittent waterways that are put back in the way they were before, which is just not right. It is a direct attack on agriculture and does not do anything for the environment, fish, or any other thing.

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February 13th, 2018 / 4 p.m.
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Larry Miller Conservative Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound, ON

Mr. Speaker, the easy answer to my colleague's question is that yes, this will cause negative problems. It will cost the consumers, who are Canadian taxpayers, more for the product, in this case hydro.

The changes in 2012 were done for a specific reason. They were done to still have a process where approvals could get done properly, but there were timelines put on them. I always point people who are opposed to anything and everything, and in this case, the people behind this bill, to the Mackenzie Valley pipeline. For 25 years the government, environmentalists, and other organizations held up businesses who were willing to invest in the project. Really, all that the government was saying in 2012 was to set a reasonable timeline and tell the companies yes or no, not maybe. Tell them one way or the other, and if the answer is no, they will accept that. Then they will take their money and invest it in other Canadian projects, which is only good for jobs, business, and the economy. That is what this is about. However, Bill C-68 reverses that and makes it longer and more onerous.

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February 13th, 2018 / 4:30 p.m.
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Wayne Stetski NDP Kootenay—Columbia, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my colleague across the floor for her work on this, and for bringing in both Bill C-68 and Bill C-69.

My riding of Kootenay—Columbia was Conservative for 21 years. Quite frankly, it was the Conservative government's attack on environmental legislation, including the Fisheries Act, Navigable Waters Act, and the Environmental Assessment Act, that led to the change in my riding of Kootenay—Columbia.

I was a regional manager with Fish and Wildlife for southeastern B.C. from 2002 to 2009. At the time, there was a DFO office in the Kootenays that had four staff working in it. They showed me a staffing chart. They were supposed to go to 12 staff, but by the time 2015 came along, there was not one DFO staff left in the Kootenays.

Would the member support re-establishing a DFO office in Kootenay—Columbia in the southeastern part of B.C.?

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February 13th, 2018 / 4:35 p.m.
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Ken Hardie Liberal Fleetwood—Port Kells, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is a real privilege to speak to Bill C-68 and its amendment to the Fisheries Act, especially given the opportunity I have had for the past two years to serve on the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans.

I want to take a moment to salute all of my colleagues on that committee, because all of them have demonstrated deep concern for the health of our fisheries and the communities that rely on them. We could have different views on what should be done or how it should be done, but the collegial approach to our deliberations has produced recommendations that will stand the test of time. In fact, all of them in one way or another are reflected in this legislation.

I also particularly want to salute our friend and colleague, the hon. member for Cariboo—Prince George, who may be watching, bored to tears, as he is on the mend from a significant health scare. We certainly look forward to getting him back into the saddle again.

A year ago this month, our committee tabled in the House its sixth report, titled “Review of Changes Made in 2012 to the Fisheries Act: Enhancing the Protection of Fish and Fish Habitat and the Management of Canadian Fisheries”. The study was prompted by ongoing concern from a broad range of stakeholders about decisions made by the previous government that, to many, had the effect of stripping habitat protections from 98% of Canada's lakes, rivers, and streams.

Coincidentally, the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities, on which I also sit, examined the changes the previous government had made to the Navigable Waters Protection Act. Again, most stakeholders reacted to those changes with concern, in the belief that various works could have taken place without environmental reviews.

Throughout these studies, efforts were made to understand the reasons behind the changes made by the Harper government. We felt it was important to ensure that, where appropriate, measures that improved processes while preserving safeguards were maintained in the interest of modernizing the oldest legislation in Canada.

However, our review did shed light on a couple of critical issues.

One of the notable changes made to the act in 2012 was that of focusing its protections on the productivity of fish that are part of a commercial, recreational, or aboriginal fishery, or fish that support such a fishery, rather than on all fish and fish habitat, as was previously the case.

In addition, prior to the 2012 legislative changes, the act contained prohibitions against killing fish by any means other than fishing, and against carrying on any work or undertaking that results in the harmful alteration, disruption, or destruction of fish habitat, a prohibition commonly known as HADD. In 2012, those two provisions were replaced with a single new prohibition against carrying on “any work, undertaking or activity that results in serious harm to fish that are part of a commercial, recreational or Aboriginal fishery”.

As a term, “serious harm” struck many as being very subjective. The committee heard from witnesses who said that it created confusion, leading to uneven application of the regulations at best, or at worst possibly allowing damaging activities to take place.

The 2012 amendments to the Fisheries Act removed the protection for fish habitat from subsection 35(1). Witnesses submitted that this amendment shifted the focus from fish habitat protection to fisheries protection, which offered substantially less attention to fish habitat. Many believed that applying the term “serious harm” only to fish could allow the disruption and non-permanent alteration of habitat.

According to Dr. Kristi Miller-Saunders, a research scientist at Fisheries and Oceans Canada's Pacific Biological Station in Nanaimo, B.C., the requirement for the death of fish to be deemed “serious harm” created a problem. Dr. Miller-Saunders noted that fish that are stressed in one environment could become physiologically compromised but might not immediately die within the habitat where the initial stress took place. Their compromised state could leave them unable to adapt or thrive as they move to new habitats, disconnecting the original stress from the weakening or death of fish.

Dr. Miller-Saunders noted that the 2012 changes might not protect fish stocks that were once abundant but became degraded to the point that they were unable to support a commercial, recreational, or aboriginal fishery. In essence, the fear was that once a stock was no longer useful to humans, it might be left on its own, unprotected.

Our committee heard a great deal about the degradation of the DFO's ability to do the necessary science and to monitor compliance with protection regulations. Thus, when the time came to make changes, yes, indeed a lot of the science would not necessarily have been there.

The hon. member for Beauséjour, Canada's fisheries minister, reported that the number of fish habitat protection officers had been reduced from 63 to 16 in the previous government's final years. He noted that from 2010 to 2015, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans' budget was cut by $35 million, which led to the loss of almost 1,100 positions, including over 300 scientists.

Remediating that situation started two years ago, with the government's initiative to hire 135 scientists to boost the DFO's capacity, and the allocation of an additional $197 million to the department in budget 2016.

Let us go now to Bill C-68 itself. After extensive consultations, and with the standing committee's recommendations, this legislation establishes new criteria for decision-making, one of the key ones being an increased reliance on scientific information, but information bolstered by the traditional knowledge of our indigenous peoples and the experience of our fishing communities. This decision-making would look beyond the commercial factors that appeared to dominate the previous government's approach, to include the social and cultural impacts of the choices we make.

Clearly, this means that we have to talk among ourselves more often: scientists, academics, advocacy organizations, and the people whose livelihood and quality of life depend on our fisheries.

Just as we have to have broad-based processes above the waterline, we have to maintain care and concern beneath the water, care and concern beyond the commercial considerations, to entire ecosystems. Every fish, every plant needs to matter.

A potent tool at the disposal of the DFO and the minister in their decision-making is the application of the precautionary principle, understanding that we may never know conclusively what is behind an emerging situation in the ecosystem, and appreciating that an emergency usually cannot wait for the science to lead us to the fine points of a response. The precautionary principle mandates action.

The government's response, even before Bill C-68, was Bill C-55, which would give the minister the authority to designate interim marine protected areas, allowing time for science to reconcile evidence that we have a potential crisis on our hands.

Of course, Bill C-68 itself would restore protections that were perceived to have been either lost or seriously weakened by the changes in 2012. No longer will we focus on the subjective matter of “serious harm to fish”. No longer will our care and concern extend only to fish that are useful to humans. No longer will we be uncertain about how and where habitats will be protected.

Prohibitions are restored against causing the death of fish other than by fishing, and the harmful alteration, disruption, or destruction of fish habitat. In our standing committee's study, we often heard that we simply cannot consider the impact of each individual project or activity but have to consider the cumulative effects of industrial activities, public works, and recreational projects such as private docks on fish, their habitat, and the freedom to navigate.

At the same time, our committee considered the need to avoid causing undue delay to important municipal works, for example by requiring full environmental reviews for repairs to existing infrastructure. Bill C-68 introduces measures that allow the minister to issue permits for designated project types and to establish standards and codes of practice to provide proponents with more certainty in the planning, scheduling, and implementation of their projects.

I have selected only the issues that stood out in the notes I took at our standing committee's hearings, but many other important and positive aspects of Bill C-68 will undoubtedly be covered by my colleagues as this debate continues.

There is a lot to celebrate in this legislation, and as much as I am privileged to have made a contribution to its creation, I believe that once the process is done, this whole House will be justifiably proud of its passage, because so many of us care so much about the future of our lakes, rivers, streams, and oceans, and all the creatures and people they serve.

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February 13th, 2018 / 4:50 p.m.
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François Choquette NDP Drummond, QC

Mr. Speaker, before I begin, I want to mention that I will share my time with my charming colleague from North Island—Powell River.

Bill C-68, an act to amend the Fisheries Act and other acts in consequence, has been a long time coming. The NDP is very happy that this bill has finally been introduced. All of the environmental bills being introduced this week and those that were introduced last week should have been introduced and implemented much more quickly. The Liberals promised to do so, and then waited two years. I understand that they had to consult the public, but they could have implemented some of the provisions without taking all this time for consultations. We are a bit disappointed in this.

Nevertheless, this bill is extremely important, because it implements a number of the recommendations the NDP made in its dissenting opinion during the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans' review of the amendments made to the Fisheries Act in 2012. I remember that sad day in 2012 very well, when the Conservative government rammed the hundreds and hundreds of pages of its infamous Bill C-38 down our throats. This bill contained a number of amendments that weakened our environmental laws. As my colleague from Trois-Rivières pointed out, these amendments are unfortunately still in effect.

The Liberals endorsed Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain pipeline project even though the public does not support it. Furthermore, since the assessment was a total farce, two of our country's wonderful provinces are now in a dispute.

There are some good things in this bill, of course. The government will once again protect fish and their habitat from activities that could kill fish. With respect to this bill, many people have commented that we must not protect only fish used by humans. We must not forget that biodiversity is an ecosystem. Fish eat each other, and if we do not save the other fish, then those we eat will have nothing to feed on. That is why taking several fish species off the protected species list was so ridiculous. That protection will be restored, which is a good thing. The HADD provision on harmful alteration, disruption, or destruction of fish habitat will be restored.

In addition, the government will for the first time include recovery of depleted fish stocks in the Fisheries Act. That is a very good thing. There are some aspects of the bill we are concerned about, though. A number of my colleagues have mentioned that the bill gives the minister far too many discretionary powers. The Liberals have said they would make evidence-based decisions. However, if the minister is allowed to do whatever she wants regardless of science and ancestral indigenous knowledge, everything will depend on the minister's opinion rather than science. That is what we find so problematic about this aspect of the bill.

As I was saying, the Liberals should have reinstated fish habitat protections as soon as they took office, rather than waiting.

I must mention that many of these measures came from amendments proposed by the NDP.

Congratulations to everyone who worked on improving this bill. I commend the member for Port Moody—Coquitlam, who did excellent work on this. He worked to reinstate solid protections for fish habitat, to put forward suggestions on how to replenish fish stocks and ensure their viability, to advocate for establishing a public registry, which is very important, and to take into account indigenous knowledge.

Before I continue, I would like to talk about the very important report of the Cohen commission, which deals with Fraser River sockeye. The report recommended that the government, which is currently a Liberal one, act on the commission's recommendations to restore sockeye salmon stocks in the Fraser River. In the third recommendation of the report, Justice Cohen wrote:

The Government of Canada should remove from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans’ mandate the promotion of salmon farming as an industry and farmed salmon as a product.

In that regard, I would like to come back to the excellent work done by the member for Port Moody—Coquitlam. We know that, unfortunately, the Liberals defeated Bill C-228, which was an excellent bill that sought to transition to the use of closed containment facilities and protect the jobs of workers in that sector so that nobody would lose out. It was a very good bill but, unfortunately, the Liberals voted against it.

Right now, many Canadians, including many of my constituents, are questioning the Liberals' intentions, since they also voted against the bill introduced by the member for Sherbrooke, who is another excellent MP. His bill had to do with the mandatory labelling of GMOs.

As the Liberals were voting against the mandatory labelling of GMOs, they secretly approved the farming and sale of genetically modified salmon in Canada. In fact, Canada remains the only country in the world whose citizens have eaten genetically modified salmon. We do not know who ate it. We do not know where it was purchased. We do not know the circumstances, since labelling is not mandatory, but there is absolutely no question that we unfortunately ate it.

Meanwhile, the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, or ACOA, has invested over $3 million in the company that produces genetically modified salmon.

Once again in secret, genetically modified salmon is being produced in Prince Edward Island, even though there has been no environmental assessment on the potential dangers. Genetically modified salmon could escape from their enclosures during storms and other severe weather conditions that could occur. The potential impact of such an accident on Atlantic salmon populations has not been assessed. As we know, the wild Atlantic salmon stock is already threatened.

We will support this bill for all the reasons mentioned. However, we are very disappointed in the Liberal government's efforts relative to what could have been done to improve aquaculture on the Pacific coast, as well as the labelling, sale, and farming of genetically modified salmon. Canadians are angry. We need to take action on this, and we will.