Mr. Speaker, I have the great pleasure of leading off this final debate in the House of Commons on the oceans act, which confirms Canada's role as a world leader in the management and protection of oceans and marine resources. It is a bill in which I take a great interest because of my training in international law, including the law of the sea.
The bill being presented to Parliament is an extremely important one for two reasons. First of all, this bill confirms Canada's role as a world leader in the management and protection of oceans and marine resources. Second, this bill is proof that our Parliamentary process can work in the best interest of all Canadians.
The bill which was introduced June 1995 was very good legislation. The bill we have before us today, however, is much better legislation. The Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans under the chairmanship of the hon. member for Dartmouth and then under the chairmanship of the hon. member for Egmont has demonstrated the thoughtful, practical and far sighted vision Canadians expect from members of Parliament.
Last September the former minister of fisheries and oceans told the House of Commons we want the strongest possible bill that can be provided. In doing so, he called the members of the standing committee the conscience and the voice of the oceans.
The standing committee conducted an exhaustive and pragmatic review of the bill. There were and there are some disagreements, as there almost always are, on the details of comprehensive legislation. Those differences were aired in a spirit of honesty, and an earnest exchange of views between committee members and witnesses allowed for some common ground to be found.
When the former minister had the chance to appear before the committee, the opposition members gave him a fair hearing. The hon. member for Gaspé, representing the Bloc Quebecois, showed a keen interest in this bill as he provided his views and concerns with the bill. These issues were thoroughly discussed and debated at that time, and some consensus was reached despite his very profound differences on other issues of national importance. And the Reform Party represented by the hon. member for Skeena showed a commitment to put the well-being of our oceans above the well-being of our respective political parties.
Indeed it was the member for Skeena who stated at the committee: "I would like to say that the principle of the bill is valid and it is past time that Canada should adopt such an act".
The legislative process, the committee process, has worked partly because the government has responded positively to suggestions made by members of Parliament. The real success, however, comes from the fact that the standing committee listened attentively to the recommendations, a wide range of witnesses and then acted on those recommendations by suggesting improvements to the bill.
Jeremy Bentham recognized that law is not made by judge alone but by judge and company. The member for Dartmouth put it this way at committee: "People outside of the ministry and outside of senior advisors to ministers actually have a role to play in ensuring that there is better legislation".
The witnesses making valuable contributions to this bill ran the gamut from the Canadian Nature Federation to the Naval Officers' Association of Canada, from the Snow Crab Fishermen's Association to the Inuit Tapirisat, from the Newfoundland Oceans Industries Association to the Pacific Fishermen's Alliance. Canadians
spoke, the standing committee acted, the government acted and now Parliament is acting.
The oceans act accomplishes three key legislative ends. It stakes out Canada's jurisdiction over 6.5 million square kilometres of ocean areas. It establishes the framework for proactive oceans management strategy based on collaboration among all Canadians. It gives authority to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans to act as the federal lead in ocean related policies and activities.
The basic principles underlying the bill are quite straightforward. The first principle is that we must ensure the sustainable development of our oceans. The economic and environmental actions we take to meet our needs must not compromise the ability of future generations to meet their needs.
The second principle is the need for integrated management of activities in our marine coastal waters. For too long we have allowed our actions to be thought of sector by sector. We cannot afford to compartmentalize ocean activities, because each of these activities can have a profound impact on the health and wealth of the oceans as a whole.
The third principle is the need for a precautionary approach to oceans management. We must choose to err on the side of caution. We cannot take the risk of destroying our oceans ecosystems forever because we took a gamble today.
This bill has been a long time coming. Over 70 per cent of our planet is covered by oceans. Canada's oceans have shaped us a country and defined us as a people. Our oceans have long served as beacons of hope for individual success and collective prosperity. Our Arctic, Pacific and Atlantic waters make Canada the only country in the world with three distinct ocean ecosystems. Our country has the world's longest coastline.
The simple fact is that Canadians, whether we live along the coast or thousands of kilometres inland, have long had a love affair with the oceans. We have long shown strong international leadership on the protection of ocean resources. It is time to turn those noble sentiments into wise policy. It is time to back up our strong global voice in ocean resources with strong domestic action.
Canada has never had a comprehensive co-ordinated blueprint for responsible management of our three oceans and the renewable and non-renewable resources they contain. It is time to lead by example. It is time to respond to changes in international law and to advances in environmental understanding. It is time to end what the former national advisory board on science and technology, now the Advisory Council on Science and Technology, called our haphazard and ad hoc approach to ocean policy.
The World Commission on Environment and Development and the Rio summit both called for actions taken in this legislation. Our experience from resource crisis and the turbot dispute calls for the actions undertaken by the bill. Our oceans are deeply important to Canadians. We need to exercise jurisdiction over those oceans not only in the interests of Canadians but in the interest of the wonders those oceans contain.
The national advisory board on science and technology specifically called for an oceans act. At the meeting in Charlottetown last November provincial and territorial fisheries ministers publicly endorsed the intent of the oceans act. At hearings across the country during the last year, Canadians from every sector and every community overwhelmingly urged the adoption of an oceans act.
Bill C-26 will formally define for the first time in Canadian law a 12 nautical mile contiguous zone and also an exclusive economic zone that stretches 200 nautical miles from our coasts. In the contiguous zone, Canada will have new powers to enforce our customs and tax laws. In the exclusive economic zone, Canada will control the management of all resources. What is most important is that this new jurisdiction enables Canadians to apply the same environmental laws to our oceans as we apply in the rest of Canada.
Having staked out that jurisdiction, Bill C-26 establishes the basis for an oceans management strategy. This will allow Canadians to develop and implement high standards for ocean stewardship, high standards for partnership and co-operation and high standards for meeting national goals based on regional and local needs.
The foundation of the new strategy will allow Canadians to accept shared responsibility for ocean knowledge and understanding, marine resource management, marine environmental management, coastal economic development, ocean safety and continuing international leadership on ocean issues.
Bill C-26 obliges the federal government to rationalize and modernize its own ocean policies and programs.
At the present time, management responsibilities for oceans and marine resources are handled by 14 government departments and agencies. The oceans act clearly designates the Department of Fisheries and Oceans as the primary federal body with responsibility for these areas.
This means the elimination of overlap and duplication. This means a considerable increase in federal government accountability. The Minister of Fisheries and Oceans will not pass on to others the responsibility of taking action where oceans are concerned.
The debate on this bill has raised certain concerns that I feel deserve our attention.
There have been some fears raised that the oceans act may somehow be a means to deal indirectly with fisheries licensing and allocation issues. This bill is not about the setting of fish quotas or privatization of fisheries. This bill is not a fisheries management act. It is an oceans management act.
Parliament will be dealing with a new fisheries act. When it is debated I am certain it will spark, to put it mildly, lively debate. I trust though that members of Parliament will not delay the oceans act because of disagreements they may have over the future fisheries act. That would be a very unfortunate undermining of the really good work we have accomplished on the bill currently before the House.
Another concern raised about the oceans act is that it may lead to more bureaucracy and higher spending by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. We want to guarantee to Canadians that the reorganization of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans has resulted in significant spending cuts. Following the merger of DFO and the coast guard, the total reduction in net spending will be about $500 million by the year 2000.
The final concern raised by Bill C-26 is that it might give jurisdiction to the federal government at the expense of the provinces and territories. Let me make it as simple as possible: There is zero impact on the jurisdiction of the provinces or territories. This is not a bill about taking power from other governments; it is about bringing governments and people together to manage our oceans with intelligence, innovation and consensus.
In fact, I think it is fair to say that the legitimate reservations anyone may have had about this legislation were thoroughly considered during the committee hearings and thoroughly addressed through the valuable amendments made to the bill. The preamble to the bill is considerably stronger than it was only a few months ago.
The final bill underscores that our three oceans are the common heritage of all Canadians and that conservation based on an ecosystem is essential to the diversity and productivity of those oceans. The preamble now contains a clause which states that Canada will promote the application of the precautionary approach in order to protect resources and safeguard the ocean environment.
The preamble also highlights the point now made repeatedly throughout the bill. The Minister of Fisheries and Oceans will work with provincial and territorial governments, aboriginal organizations and bodies established under land claims agreements, as well as other federal ministers, boards and agencies to develop a comprehensive oceans management strategy for Canada. It emphasizes the important function of other levels of government and aboriginal people in assuring that a national oceans policy truly serves all Canadians.
The improved bill strengthens both the power and the fairness of enforcement procedures. The Government of Canada now has clear authority to prevent the entry to Canada of any person in the 12 nautical mile contiguous zone who is likely to commit an offence in Canada. The law now authorizes search and seizure and arrest powers in the contiguous zone if there is reason to believe that an offence was committed on Canadian territory.
The bill has been substantially strengthened by obliging the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans to show leadership in the establishment of marine protected areas. As amended, this bill enables the establishment of marine protected areas for a variety of purposes. These include: the conservation and protection of commercial and non-commercial fishery resources including marine mammals and their habitats; the conservation and protection of endangered or threatened marine species and their habitats; the conservation and protection of unique habitats; the conservation and protection of marine areas of high biodiversity or biological productivity; and the conservation and protection of any other marine resource or habitat as is necessary to fulfil the mandate of the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans.
The standing committee has made it clear that the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans may recommend regulations on zoning or the prohibition of activities within marine protected areas in order to protect fish and marine mammals, endangered species and their habitats, and any marine areas of high biodiversity or biological productivity. This is a major step forward in assigning responsibility and power for the creation of a national policy for the establishment of marine protected areas. The standing committee also amended the bill to give the minister emergency powers to protect any marine resource or habitat which is deemed to be at risk.
The original version of the bill authorized the minister to set marine environmental quality guidelines. The new version authorizes the minister to give those guidelines the force of normal regulations and also gives the minister the authority to set the duties of officers designated to enforce those regulations.
Once again, these amendments illustrate that the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans is the conscience and the voice of the oceans.
It could have been tempting for members of Parliament from coastal communities to water down environmental provisions of the bill in order to ensure short term economic gains for their communities. They have done exactly the opposite. They have toughened up the environmental provisions of the bill. They have strengthened the provisions to guarantee sustainable development, integrated management and a precautionary approach to oceans issues. They have made the substance of the bill reflect the preamble of the bill.
The standing committee has also toughened up the requirements on the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans to show leadership, to
seek consensus, to take action and to be held responsible for his actions. This same spirit of political accountability is found in amendments which make the minister, not senior officials, responsible for coast guard services and hydrographic services.
The minister will be ultimately responsible for federal policies on the safe, economical and efficient movement of ships, including aids for navigation, pleasure craft safety, and marine pollution prevention and response. The minister will be responsible for setting hydrographic standards and for providing hydrographic advice, services and support to other governments and international organizations.
The bottom line is that the standing committee has amended the bill to give the minister more powers to do the job of protecting Canada's oceans. The bottom line is also that the committee has amended the bill to make certain that the minister cannot hide behind public servants or cabinet colleagues in carrying out those powers.
There is one more amendment which deserves special praise. Clause 42 of the bill has been expanded to permit conducting studies to obtain traditional ecological knowledge for the purpose of understanding the life and the mysteries of our oceans. That is a very smart move. The people who for generations have survived by and on the oceans have enormous knowledge of currents, tides, temperatures and marine organisms. They more than any of us appreciate both the fathoms of the ocean and what is unfathomable.
When you live by the sea, you learn to revere the sea. I am certain all of us have much to learn from that hard won and time honoured knowledge. The truth is of course that Canadians have been learning about the oceans ever since the first inhabitants of our far north crossed over the Bering Strait from Asia thousands of years ago.
The oceans act is the modern day expression of what we know and what we do not know, where we are and where we must go. For all the accumulated wisdom, for all the international calls to action, for all the hard work by researchers, environmentalists, businesses, fishers, aboriginal peoples, governments, coastal residents and others, we are still only at the stage of saying it is time to claim full jurisdiction, time to get the federal government's oceans management structures in order and time to pull together on devising a long range oceans management strategy.
We are not yet at the stage of having a complete oceans strategy in place. The bill does not attempt to do that. Effective strategy can only come about through the formation of collaborative agreements among all Canadians and the acceptance of responsibility by all Canadians.
This bill provides the mandate and the basic tools to develop the strategy but it is only a beginning. Leadership by the federal government is important but we will only make the best decisions with local leadership, community involvement and an ongoing willingness to create a collegial, collaborative, holistic, cross-sectoral, cross-country approach to the management of our vast and diverse ocean resources. That is the new pluralism in our federalism and federal government.
This bill sets the stage but it is up to Canadians now to write the script and play our roles. Planning for the ocean jobs of the future is not a one day nor a one person operation. Decisions that affect our children's future and our grandchildren's future require the input, the initiative and the involvement of us all.
We do know that this bill may need to be revised in the future, that we may need to hold ourselves to account. To reassure those who worry that we may not have crossed every t or dotted every i in this bill, there is a critical and democratic improvement recommended by the standing committee. The amended bill now requires a review of the administration of the oceans act within three years by the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans. Parliament will have the right and indeed the duty to ensure that both the provisions and the operation of the oceans act meet the desires of Canadians and the needs of our oceans.
We all know from our contemporary history that Canadians have an enormous capacity to come together in order to defend the interests of our ocean resources internationally. It was two years ago that Parliament passed Bill C-29, an act to amend the Coastal Fisheries Protection Act, and Parliament passed it in two days. We know that Canadians will come together to support our global oceans conservation measures and that they will put aside partisan differences to do so.
Canadians all agree on the need to rally in support of the wise and prudent precautionary management of Canada's oceans and ocean resources. The bill before Parliament calls upon us to rally domestically for our oceans in the same way we are willing to rally internationally. The organisms of our oceans would not know one politician from another. We know however that unless we act to protect those organisms, they may not survive and we will all be the losers.
It has been 50 years since the Right Hon. Lester Pearson called upon Canadians to demonstrate international leadership through national commitment on the law of the sea and the oceans. It has been nearly 40 years since the Right Hon. John Diefenbaker ensured that Canada took a position at the vanguard of the first UN conference on oceans. It has been nearly 30 years since the Right Hon. Pierre Trudeau and our current Prime Minister as one of his colleagues acted to protect Arctic waters from pollution prevention. It has been nearly 20 years since our current Governor General asserted Canada's 200 mile fishing zone.
As members in this House, we do not, perhaps, have the vision of Mr. Pearson and of Mr. Diefenbaker. What we do have, however, is the common ability to work toward the achievement of their vision of a responsible country that undertakes to do what it can to resolve the major issues facing this planet.
We have in common the ability to introduce an oceans act, which marks a step ahead in meeting our own needs, while respecting those of generations of Canadians to come.
This is a good bill and it has been made much better by the diligence and the energy of a broad array of Canadians and by the very effective efforts of all members of the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans.
We encourage members of Parliament to pass this bill with enthusiasm and with optimism for the future.