Thank you, Mr. Chair, honourable members. I really appreciate being here today to speak about Bill C-55. Before I get into the substance of my remarks, I have just a quick, few personal notes. Some of you I've met in the past, through my work with the University of Victoria and with Ocean Networks Canada, but today I'm here as an individual and as a Ph.D. student at the University of Victoria's school of public administration. I have focused my research on ocean policy, and specifically on Canada's Oceans Act.
I really compliment the government on the initiative to amend the Oceans Act. As has been mentioned here in committee and in the House, it's been 20 years since the act was written and it's due time to ensure that we're meeting our international obligations, as well as the challenges of oceans management, and take another look at the act. I also applaud the government for seeking to meet the target of 5%, in 2017, of designated marine areas, as well as 10% in 2020. Designated marine parks or marine areas are important ocean management tools, but my objective here is actually to talk about the other 90% of the water. That's where I have focused my research.
Canada's Oceans Act was created as a foundation to ensure the wise development of Canada's oceans' waters. When I began my research three years ago, I was addressing the question of how we go about, as a country, making decisions about ocean use. I began my research by looking at that through the public consultation process that was under way for the northern gateway project. I'm a west-coaster, so that's part of the reason behind that. I was puzzled as to why there did not appear to be a framework through which the government was making decisions around ocean use. That puzzlement led to research, which led me back to Canada's Oceans Act.
I've also been investigating the public narrative that was exposed through that public consultation process that the joint review undertook as part of the northern gateway project. The intent of my research is to compare that public narrative around ocean use with the normative frame that is underpinning the Oceans Act.
There are three key observations that I want to share with you today. The first is that the Oceans Act contains, in its preamble, a set of principles that are intended to guide Canada in managing its ocean resources, and these principles remain relevant to today's challenges.
The second observation is that the act was a promise of a solid foundation upon which Canada would build its ocean management strategy, as the minister of the day described it, to address the “piecemeal, fragmented and scattered” character of Canada's ocean policy prior to 1996. From the evaluations conducted by this committee in 2000, by the Auditor General's office in 2005, and further government evaluation in 2006, the act has largely failed to meet this objective.
The third observation arising out of my review of the public consultation around the northern gateway project is that the public expectation around decision-making on ocean use has changed in 20 years. While the expectations are mostly in alignment with the founding principles of the act, there is a broader definition of what is “ocean”. It is no longer simply, to quote, the “gravel pit for fish”, as described in the Senate hearings in 1996, nor the transportation route for shipping. Instead there is a clear public awareness of the interconnectedness of the ocean within its own systems to the relationship with climate and human activity.
When Canada's Oceans Act was first passed 20 years ago, it was the first of its kind to put in statutory form the key principles of ocean management that had been developing through international law and agreement. During the same period, Australia had proposed an ocean policy that included many of the same elements as Canada's Oceans Act, but it was not given legislative form.
A key aspect, as I mentioned, of the act was the preamble that sets out the core principles to guide Canada's ocean management strategy. The two founding principles were sustainable development and integrated management.
The definition of “sustainable development” was drawn from the Brundtland commission that had in its 1992 report brought the concept to international stage. The concept of integrated management, according to the testimony provided to this committee at that time, was intended to be implemented at a federal level through better co-ordination and collaboration under the leadership of the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, and at a regional level through the creation of integrated regional plans. Other principles that were added to the preamble following the committee hearings included the recognition of the common heritage of the oceans, the importance of the ecosystem-based approach to maintain biological diversity, and the application of the precautionary principle.
These principles remain the guides of the ocean policy according to the broader literature. There's little evidence to suggest they cannot continue to guide Canada's decision-making around ocean use. They have, however, been evolving. One example of the evolution in the concept of sustainable development is that Canada's Federal Sustainable Development Act was amended recently by the Minister of Environment and Climate Change. It's important, in the interpretation of the Oceans Act, that it mirror the definition of principles outlined in the Federal Sustainable Development Act.
The real challenge with the principles, however, has been with the implementation. As noted, the act and the subsequent oceans strategy and oceans plan called for the creation of integrated regional marine plans that would incorporate aspects of coastal zone management. Five plans were initiated, and it took almost 20 years for them to be completed. It is worthwhile to note that Australia initiated a similar process, and after a decade, they vacated it.
Similarly, within the federal government there has been little success in moving away from sectoral-based decision-making towards a holistic and integrated approach. Explanations that have been given as to why that was not achieved include the lack of resources to enable implementation, the lack of political will to champion an integrated approach, and that the act lacked the prescriptive detail to direct the bureaucracy in its implementation. The good news is that today, the current government, through its mandate letters and the oceans protection plan, has demonstrated a commitment to a collaborative approach to oceans management.
The question for the committee is whether there's any need to amend or improve upon the act to ensure that future governments continue to promote this approach.
As I noted earlier, the public expectation around ocean use has been evolving over the past 20 years. As one official from Transport Canada noted to me several years ago, marine safety used to mean getting a vessel from point A to point B without collision or accident. Today marine safety includes evaluating the impact of freighter traffic on marine mammals in their habitat through such programs as the eco-project under way in Port Metro Vancouver.
It is a combination of science and technology that has fuelled this change in public expectation. Science, defined here to include natural and social science as well as the humanities, has exposed the important linkage between the ocean, climate change, and the impact of human behaviour. Technologies such as improved hydrophones allow us to pick up not only the different dialects among the orca, but also the distress that they exhibit around marine traffic.
Infrastructure such as Ocean Networks Canada and the Ocean Tracking Network are opening up the ocean in ways we were not able to see 20 years ago. The consequence in policy terms is that we can no longer make decisions about ocean use on a sectoral basis. We need to explore new mechanisms to support more holistic approaches to decision-making at a federal level, a regional level, and a local level.
Therefore, my question to the committee is whether the act should be amended to include a commitment to capacity building to meet this need—a suggestion made by the Brundtland commission 20 years ago.
I would like to thank the committee for providing me with this opportunity to share my observations regarding the Oceans Act and the impact on decision-making around ocean use, and I look forward to your questions and comments.