Mr. Chairman, thank you.
Thank you for inviting me. Thank you for this opportunity to colleagues at the table. It's great to see you again.
I won't repeat the introductions that you offered, Mr. Chair, but the senior officials of the department and, of course, our colleague, the parliamentary secretary, are with me. If I am not able to struggle through an answer, I hope that you will indulge them and allow them to provide the information that all of you may be seeking.
Mr. Chairman, as I think you understand, or as we indicated, I am happy to stay here for about an hour, probably an hour and 10 minutes. I think we have a vote perhaps coming up a little later. If there is a bit of time before you adjourn for the potential vote, the officials have indicated that they would be happy to stay as well.
Colleagues, as all of you know, the ocean is extremely significant to our heritage, our culture, and certainly our economy. Our government, like previous governments, is committed to meaningful marine conservation measures that will protect both the environment and coastal communities and their economies. In our view, these are not, and should never be, incompatible principles. One of the reasons we would want to protect our oceans is precisely to protect the long-term sustainable economy that depends on them.
We know that our ocean is a vital part of the future of our country—ecologically, clearly, but economically as well. We also know that climate change is real and our ocean is under stress at many levels. We believe that it's time to act, together. It's time to act collectively, and we are asking Parliament to make amendments to the Oceans Act with that specific objective in mind.
Canada supports the objective of a marine-based economy that provides social and economic benefits for current and future generations and is based, as I said, on the twin principles of conservation and sustainable economic growth. By virtue of our unique geographic situation, Canada will be a leader on a marine-based economy that provides social and economic benefits for current and future generations.
Marine conservation will be achieved through working across all orders of government, alongside indigenous peoples, the industry, academia, and environmental groups.
Canada is helping to shape the international agenda as we move towards and beyond the 2020 targets, sharing our extensive work on guidelines, for example, for other effective area-based conservation measures, and working with other countries to advance criteria that can be used by all states that share our conservation goals.
Our government takes the commitments made in 2010 to the Aichi target 11 extremely seriously. We are making strong progress in increasing protections of our oceans. I am confident that we will surpass our interim target of protecting 5% of our marine areas by the end of this year. Obviously, we are on track to meet the commitments we made for 2020 as well.
Mr. Chair, Bill C-55, in our view, is an important step in achieving these marine conservation goals, and I am pleased to have the opportunity to discuss this with you as you prepare your review of this legislation.
To clarify, the 10% target is being implemented by the 196 countries that are parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity. Canada has an opportunity to demonstrate its commitment to this goal and demonstrate global leadership.
Bill C-55 is an important element of our marine conservation agenda. While the proposed amendments provide another tool for us to meet our marine conservation targets in a timely manner, our government's objective is, first, foremost and always, to protect sensitive and vulnerable marine and coastal areas for present and future generations of Canadians.
Years of experience in developing marine protected areas, or MPAs, have shown us that too many delays occur during the establishment process. Through this experience, we have also learned that there are some circumstances where greater harm can occur during these delays, and, in these circumstances, there needs to be protection sooner. The interim protection MPA proposed under Bill C-55 addresses this gap in conserving our oceans' biodiversity. This new tool would give us the option to establish interim protection where initial science and consultation tell us we need to act in a precautionary manner.
These MPAs provide a clearly defined geographical space that is recognized and managed through a new legal mechanism called a ministerial order, and are developed to achieve the long-term conservation of nature with associated ecosystem services and cultural values.
Respecting this definition, Bill C-55 provides good policy by taking a precautionary approach and enabling interim protection while science and consultations continue to establish a permanent MPA.
This new ministerial order will be formalized by publication in the Canada Gazette.
I have heard wide interest in Canada adopting protection standards across all MPAs.
The inclusion of standards in the Oceans Act, such as core protection zones and prohibited activities found in national marine conservation areas, requires careful consideration of the need to balance ecological integrity with the sustainable use of our marine resources.
As I announced at the Our Ocean conference on October 5, in Malta, work is under way to establish a national advisory panel to provide this expert advice on protection standards for future MPAs.
Mr. Chairman, we are also investing in enforcement capacity for marine protected areas as part of the marine conservation targets initiative and the oceans protection plan. As of June 1 of this year fishery officers have undertaken 1,482 hours in the monitoring and protection of marine protected areas. Before April 2018, enforcement plans for each marine protected area will be put in place to ensure compliance within those marine protected areas.
During second reading debate in the House, Mr. Chair, I also heard remarks on the importance of consultation in meeting our marine conservation targets. Consultation and seeking the knowledge and views of other governments, indigenous groups, other communities, marine resource users, and stakeholders are cornerstone principles for marine protected area establishment.
Bill C-55 does not take away from the requirement to consult and engage throughout the development of an interim protection MPA. Part II of the Oceans Act, which frames the strategy for managing oceans, is based on a collaborative approach with provinces and territories, indigenous organizations, and stakeholders who depend on the oceans. The Oceans Act is one of the first federal statutes to enshrine a non-derogation clause. Bill C-55 does not need to include provisions relating to indigenous rights and titles. This provision is already enshrined in the act and will obviously stay that way.
As I mentioned earlier, establishing interim protection is subject to the same standards for public consultations as Governor in Council regulations and follows the Canada Gazette process. Bill C-55 does not include sweeping changes to the Oceans Act. Aligned with the March 2017 recommendations of the Standing Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development, Bill C-55 strengthens the Oceans Act by enabling interim protection of MPAs prior to the formal establishment. The bill also strengthens the Oceans Act by adopting the precautionary principle and modernizing the enforcement provisions to align with other modern environmental legislation.
Mr. Chair, by way of conclusion, according to a 2016 World Wildlife Fund report, 98% of Canadians support designating parts of Canadian waters as marine protected areas. I hear, and I'm sure many of you hear, that support every day. This bill, Bill C-55, is one aspect of our government's broader suite of ocean protections being established since we took office two years ago, and obviously we'll continue to do that work in the coming months. The tools proposed will improve our ability to protect our ocean and fulfill the commitments we have made to Canadians, the international community, and the environment.
Once again, Mr. Chair, I thank you for having the chance to discuss this legislation. I look forward to the questions. I also look forward to the testimony of other witnesses who you will, in your judgment, decide to hear from and would work collaboratively with committee members. Obviously you have suggestions around amendments, and my department will be available to all of you as you contemplate amendments or want to understand further details of the legislation. All you need to do is let us know, and we'll be happy to be here and happy to accompany you on the work you're going to do.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.