Thank you, Madam Chair. Thank you, colleagues.
Thank you for inviting me to appear before the committee again. I am always pleased to be here with you.
If you are having a hard time understanding me, it is because I have had a cold for about two weeks. My apologies.
Madam Chair, I want to congratulate you on being elected chair of the committee. You are very familiar with fisheries issues since the fishing industry is so important in your riding.
My sincere congratulations. I look forward to working with you and the members of the committee.
As you said, Madam Chair, I am joined today by two senior officials of our department, Philippe Morel and Mark Waddell. When you have very technical questions on particular sections of the legislation, rather than my trying to answer in a way that may mislead you, I would obviously want them to join in and provide you with that information.
On February 6, our government introduced in the House of Commons an anticipated piece of legislation that will bring some much-needed changes to one of Canada's oldest environmental laws.
Once again, I'd like to thank this committee for the study they did on the 2012 changes to the Fisheries Act. I have said before that I believe that a great deal of what our government has suggested as amendments was inspired by the work of this committee, so I want to thank you. Your hard work helped shape the legislation you have before you today, which was voted on at second reading in the House of Commons, and as a government, we look forward to working closely with this committee.
We reached out to all Canadians to hear their ideas about how to restore and modernize the Fisheries Act and I think we listened. The response was incredible. We received thousands of letters and emails and held hundreds of meetings with partners, stakeholders, and indigenous groups. Tens of thousands of Canadians participated in online surveys through two phases of public consultation.
We have worked very closely with our provincial and territorial partners and with indigenous groups across Canada to make sure we hear their concerns and take them into account.
In addition to protecting fish and their habitat, we recognize that certain fisheries management measures have to be modernized for the long-term survival of our fisheries. The amendments proposed in the bill before you are as follows:
new tools to conserve and protect important species and ecosystems through modernized fisheries management measures; measures that will help rebuild depleted fish stocks and make habitat restoration a priority prior to the development of major projects; and amendments that will help clarify, strengthen, and modernize enforcement powers under the act.
If passed, the proposed amendments will also provide the power to implement regulations on owner-operator and fleet separation policies in Atlantic Canada and Quebec and will give force of law to these essential policies, which have existed for over four decades. This in turn, as you all know, will support the independence of inshore and midshore harvesters, which is critical to their economic livelihood as well as that of the families and coastal communities who depend on these important economic actors.
Our government promised to listen to Canadians about how to update the Fisheries Act, and I believe we've kept that promise. We've also listened to the concerns expressed by our parliamentary colleagues, with an aim to further improve, clarify, and strengthen this legislation. During the debate in the House on February 13, I took note of some of the concerns that were raised by our colleagues in the House of Commons. They included but were obviously not limited to a heavier regulatory burden placed on industry and major natural resource development projects; a need to protect environmental flows, which refers to the quality and quantity of water in rivers and how it contributes to the ultimate protection of fish; an unease about DFO's dual mandate to conserve wild salmon while promoting salmon farming, especially on the Pacific coast; and once this legislation is passed, the need for strong regulations around the rebuilding of fish stocks that have clear definitions and also consider the impact of climate change and species interactions.
I'd like to express my hope that we can work together again in the spirit of co-operation that I think this committee has always exhibited. Your committee did, we think, important work in improving Bill C-55, an act to amend the Oceans Act and the Canada Petroleum Resources Act, in which five opposition amendments were accepted and passed by this committee. Those, in my view, made the legislation better.
I hope the legislation you currently have before you proceeds in the same spirit of collaboration. Obviously I would be happy to work with all members of the committee, if you have particular suggested texts of amendments. If there's any way that our department and the Department of Justice can work with you beforehand to ensure that, from our perspective, the text achieves what a particular member hopes, it's sometimes easier than having at the last minute some confusion whereby the Department of Justice says to us that a particular text, for whatever reason, is technically not achieving what the particular aim is. If any colleagues at this table want, in the spirit of co-operation, to share with us some ideas and we can help in any way, obviously we would be happy to do so.
As you have seen, Madam Chair, the proposed amendments in this bill that will have an impact on fish and their habitat are intended to better protect our natural resources for future generations, while preserving economic opportunities for the many individuals and their families and the communities that depend on those resources.
The proposed amendments will help reduce the regulatory burden on the industry while giving major project proponents greater certainty, which will improve the transparency and predictability of federal environmental assessments.
For small projects, the codes of practice will be published in part I of the Canada Gazette and will provide clear direction on how to avoid harmful effects on fish and their habitat. The same is true for agriculture and small municipal projects. People often say that they do not want to harm the fish and their habitat, and that they want to obey the law. So we are trying to find a simple way of balancing those aspects.
Another example is DFO's commitment to rebuild fish stocks. In 2017, our department launched a plan to put into effect rebuilding plans for 19 fish stocks on a staggered basis over four years. We have policies that set out requirements regarding stock rebuilding plans, including objectives and timelines aimed at rebuilding these stocks that take into account factors such as ocean conditions, species interaction, and habitat.
I believe that there are a lot of positive elements in this legislation that reflect input from numerous parties, including this committee, indigenous groups, industry, environmental groups, provinces and territories, municipal organizations, and the fishers themselves.
I've always thought that our collective responsibility as parliamentarians is to steward our environment with care and in a way that is practical, reasonable, and sustainable. I believe that the proposed amendments strike that important balance by safeguarding environmental protections for fish and fish habitat, something that Canadians are deeply concerned about, while also ensuring that mechanisms are in place for sustainable economic growth, job creation, and resource development.
As I look around the table, I see many colleagues here, Madam Chair, yourself included, who represent communities that depend, in some cases overwhelmingly, on the economic impact of Canada's fisheries. That's why this legislation, from our perspective, is an important piece of environmental legislation. It's also an economic piece of legislation in the sense that if we get that balance right, we can ensure the long-term economic prosperity of the communities that many of you represent, for generations to come.
Thank you, Madam Chair. Those are just a few opening comments, but obviously, I look forward to questions from colleagues.