Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to rise and speak on Bill C-68 tonight. The comment that was made earlier this evening from one of my colleagues across the floor was that he was happy that a member from the west coast or a coastal riding was getting up and speaking about this. I am not picking on him for any reason, but I think it highlights one of the issues we are having with this bill. There seems to be a lack of knowledge or scope when it comes to our friends in the Liberal government not understanding the ramifications and implications that the decisions they are making with this bill will have on every region of the country. That is why we are seeing many of the rural members of Parliament from the Conservative side getting up to speak to this bill, because it will have very real and profound consequences on our rural communities.
I want to back things up prior to 2012, when these changes to the Navigable Waters Act and the Fisheries Act were made by the previous Conservative government. I recall I was a journalist at that time in a small community newspaper throughout southern Alberta. I remember covering numerous council and town hall meetings hosted by rural municipalities that were having significant issues when when it came to dealing with culverts, small bridges, drainage ditches, seasonal waterways, and irrigation canals, and the hoops, bureaucracy, and red tape they had to go through to try to complete some of those projects.
Prior to 2012, municipalities had to go through labour-intensive regulatory requirements when it came to areas of what was then called “navigable waters”. They were forced to endure lengthy delays, because the Department of Fisheries and Oceans was inundated with thousands of applications from municipalities that were waiting for it to come and make decisions on their projects, not to mention the length of those delays. It proved extremely costly to these municipalities that were having to endure these very long wait times. I would think many of us who have rural municipalities in our ridings understand that many of these municipalities are extremely small. They simply do not have the financial or staffing resources to be able to handle the workload and amount of paperwork that comes along with a Department of Fisheries and Oceans assessment. Therefore, our rural municipalities were coming to the previous Conservative government with these problems and issues with respect to managing their own lands. That is when the previous Conservative government came up with these changes to try to reduce some of that regulatory burden. We wanted to turn the focus to ensuring that the protections in that legislation focused on the most critical fish and fish habitat in navigable waters. At the same time, we wanted to take some of that regulatory burden off some of the waterways that probably never had fish habitat and would never have fish habitat, but were still under the same regime and regulatory layers of bureaucracy that any river, stream, ocean, or lake would come under, when we were just talking about drainage ditches and irrigation canals, for example.
When we talk about some of the changes that were made, I think we need to highlight that the act maintained a very strong regulatory regime and protected very important fish habitat, but it had more of a practical scope. It reduced that administrative burden on not only municipalities, but also the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. It had now freed up a lot of its time and resources to focus on the most important cases and waterways without having to deal with very minor projects for municipalities. However, it also empowered municipalities to be the environmental stewards of their own waterways. When it comes to those types of projects and waterways, who would be better to be the stewards of those lands than the municipalities, the councils, and their staff, who are on the ground each and every day? They know the history. They have that local knowledge. They know whether it is fish habitat. They know if it is a seasonal waterway. Certainly, they know that better than a bureaucrat in Ottawa. Therefore, I think it was a win-win situation for the municipalities, as well as the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
Now we are faced with these changes in Bill C-68, which would expand the definition of fish habitat, expanding it even wider and more broad than it was prior to 2012. That is very disconcerting in the fact that it was burdensome and difficult to deal with and almost impossible to enforce prior to 2012. How difficult will this be when not only we restore it to the previous definition, but have even expanded that definition to a much wider scope. It has re-engaged a lot of those same regulations, but it also introduces something that is new, which is designated projects. This will include any projects within a category that could impact any waterway, whether it has a specific impact on a known fish habitat or not.
What is even more concerning for our stakeholders, municipalities, farmers, and ranchers is the fact that there is no definition on what a designated project is. This is really a larger narrative that we have seen from the Liberal government. It rushed through this legislation without doing all the homework and all the background work first so that it tabled a complete document that everyone could understand exactly where they stood. The legislation is very clear. The rules and regulations are very clear. There are still some very large holes in it with which stakeholders are very concerned.
The other issue, which is a large narrative with some of the Liberal legislation we have seen, is the minister would have more expanded and broader powers. This is very similar to what we have seen with Bill C-69.
We now have proponents in the energy sector that are divesting themselves of the energy sector because they do not feel there is a clear path to success. If they do apply for a project, whether it is pipeline, a mine, a forestry initiative, LNG, they could go through the regulatory process, through every environmental review, could pass all of those things, but at several steps during the process, the Minister of Environment and Climate Change would have the authority to step in and tell them to go back to the beginning. The minister could cut it off right there and tell them the project was not in the public interest or it was not something that could be supported. That would be the end of that project.
There is no clear definition of how to reach success or if there is a definitive pathway that people would know their projects would not succeed. We cannot have those types of projects at the whim of one person. That is very similar to what we see in Bill C-68 where the minister would have similar powers.
This is a crippling burden for municipalities that do not have the resources or the infrastructure to deal with these things. Imagine the burden and the impact it will have on farmers and ranchers who absolutely do not have the wherewithal to handle some of these issues.
Prior to 2012, a farmer in northern Alberta explained to me that he had a spring run-off area that went through his field. He would put a couple of 2x4s down during the spring so he could drive his machinery over it when he sprayed or seeded. However, Fisheries and Oceans came to him before 2012 and said that it was a waterway because it could float a canoe or a kayak. Certainly it could for about two weeks in the spring, but the rest of the time it was dry. He had to build a bridge over that seasonal spring runoff area. We are not talking about a river for the last pirate of Saskatchewan to float down the plain. This was simply a spring run-off. He was very concerned that he would have to go back to this. This will very burdensome to him.
Again, this goes back to the narrative that the Liberal government implements knee-jerk legislation, without doing the due diligence, without having an idea of what the ramifications will be and the unintended consequences, or doing the economic impact analysis of these decisions and what they will have on other sectors.
This is again another attack on rural Canadians. It is not science-based, front of package labelling, food guide, carbon tax. These changes will impact our rural communities, farmers, and ranchers who are struggling just to stay in business. Now there is a potential trade war with the United States.
For farmers and ranchers in rural municipalities, their livelihoods depend on healthy waterways, lakes, rivers, streams, aquifers. No one would take better care of these waterways than those who are on the ground, rural Canadians, farmers, and ranchers.