Mr. Speaker, first of all, I would like to tell my colleague, the hon. member for Gaspé, that I agree with many of the things he said about our colleague, the hon. member for Gander-Grand Falls-
-who is taking great advantage of blaming everything that is happening on the Conservatives while he is reluctant for the Liberals to take any blame for what has happened in the fisheries.
The government has put before the House Bill C-62, the fisheries act. This legislation will radically change the management of the fishery as we have known it for over 150 years. If passed, Bill C-62 would give the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans unlimited discretion to carve up the public fishery into private and exclusive fisheries. That is bad news.
The bill contains no requirement for any publication of private or exclusive fisheries agreements. There would be no guidelines on who might be the recipient of these agreements. The private fishing agreements can override any regulation governing the public fishery made by the governor in council, that is, the cabinet.
These fishing agreements would be similar to the aboriginal fishing agreements that the government currently enters into with native bands under its aboriginal fishery strategy. We heard nothing about that from the member for Gander-Grand Falls.
Under this bill the minister would be given unlimited discretion to make his own regulations and to organize the fishery by ministerial decrees or orders. These ministerial orders could override a condition of a licence. The bill would give the minister the power to take away the historic common law public right to fish in exchange for a privilege dependent on the whim of the minister.
The government would be able to transfer its constitutional responsibilities for fisheries management, enforcement, and habitat protection to the provinces without coming back to seek the consent of this Parliament.
The government views this new legislation as a political necessity following three decisions of the supreme court last August. The court held that British Columbia natives do not have a constitutional right to a separate commercial salmon fishery. The
decisions exposed the native only commercial fishery arrangements undertaken by the government as a fraud.
In the past the public was assured that the government had been required to establish the separate fishery by the courts. There is now greater awareness that the present Fisheries Act does not give the government authority to establish a native only commercial fishery. The government has been operating outside the law.
Without the new powers in the bill, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans would probably be unable to operate a separate native commercial fishery. The government would also have to admit that the criticism levelled by fishermen against this separate native only commercial fishery was correct.
The bill would give unlimited discretionary power to the minister to regulate the fishery, to enter into private fishing agreements, to transfer control to the provinces but without any accountability, without yardsticks with which to evaluate what the government is doing.
A new fisheries act ought to deal with the real problems in the fishery, not simply make life easier for the government. It ought to solve problems, not create new ones. It ought to respect the law, not try to get around the law.
Let me remind the government of some issues that Bill C-62 ought to have addressed. John Fraser, a respected former Speaker, in his study of the mismanagement of the salmon fishery on the Fraser River in 1994 identified problems with fisheries and oceans. Then the government in the spring of 1995 undertook to implement all 35 recommendations from Mr. Fraser.
A study undertaken in the spring of this year by DFO evaluated the department's success in implementing Fraser's recommendations. Let me read directly from the study. DFO's own study speaks eloquently of the department's failure. One of Fraser's recommendations was:
That DFO retain and exercise its constitutional responsibilities and not in any way abrogate its stewardship of resources under federal jurisdiction. Conservation must be the primary objective of both fisheries managers and all others participating in the fishery. That conservation must prevail throughout and be adhered to by all.
The evaluation study instead found that "stock-specific conservation of the Fraser River sockeye is threatened. DFO cannot hope to succeed without a clear vision of what it is trying to achieve". It stated: "The first requirement therefore is an explicit definition of conservation". It also stated: "There can be no conservation of Fraser sockeye salmon in the long run without equivalent care and protection for habitat on which fish stocks rely".
Bill C-62 does not contain any definition of conservation and Bill C-62 weakens habit protection. Bill C-62 would allow the government to transfer to the provinces responsibilities for habitat protection, the very opposite of what Fraser recommended.
Let me go on with Mr. Fraser's recommendations: "That DFO and the Pacific Salmon Commission"-of which we heard nothing from the member from Gander-"adopt a risk aversion management strategy because of the great uncertainty on stock estimates, in season catch estimates and environmental problems". The evaluation study undertaken this year by DFO under contract found: "A risk averse strategy has not yet been developed. We found that DFO's actions were not the result of an explicit, well defined averse management strategy but rather were a response to the unprecedented events of the 1995 fishery".
Therefore we can conclude that Bill C-62 does not contain any requirement for risk averse management of the fishery or even a definition, totally contrary to what was recommended in the Fraser report. Let us take another recommendation of Mr. Fraser's:
DFO develop better co-ordinated inter-party communications among its staff and between staff and the Pacific Salmon Commission, First Nations, commercial and recreational fishing groups, with a greater degree of co-operation aimed at enhanced in season management and post season evaluation, and at fostering working arrangements among all parties-
So much for the recommendation by Mr. Fraser. The evaluation study found: "Tensions between DFO and the Pacific Salmon Commission persist particularly with respect to the free flow of data. This is true of integration with both ocean fisheries and in river aboriginal fisheries".
We conclude that Bill C-62 does not contain any requirement that there be a free flow of scientific data between DFO and the salmon commission. In fact Bill C-62 would continue to leave the openings for aboriginal fisheries outside the commission. There is only one set of fish and there cannot be two competing organizations managing it in isolation from one another.
Bill C-62 would give the minister unlimited authority to sign such agreements but without any recognition of Fraser's recommendation. Let me cite another recommendation from Mr. Fraser:
That the Canadian section of the Fraser River Panel be vested with responsibility for in season management for Fraser River sockeye and pink salmon fisheries in Canadian waters beyond the current Pacific Salmon Commission convention area. Further, to facilitate communications and understanding between DFO and PSC of the in season run and stock size estimates, a member of the DFO stock assessment division be assigned to work closely with PSC during planning, estimation and evaluation of run estimating procedures.
Instead, after that recommendation the evaluation study found that there are still problems in the integration of DFO and Pacific Salmon Commission activities particularly with respect to the transfer of information. The evaluation study found that based on numerous interviews with DFO staff and industry reps, it is clear
that certain difficulties still face the integration of panel fisheries and non-panel fisheries.
The evaluation study found instead: "We understand from both parties, DFO and PSC, that relations between the two organizations have been somewhat strained in recent years-effective communication and co-operation between the two are essential to conservation and good management of Fraser sockeye", that is Fraser River sockeye. "Whether the problems arise from politics or personalities, immediate action is required to ensure effective communications and co-ordination between DFO and PSC".
Bill C-62 ignores this problem. Because it is a structural problem involving two separate organizations each operating under its own statutes, specific recognition of this problem in the bill would have gone a long way to solving it. Ignoring this longstanding west coast problem will not make it go away. Unfortunately it guarantees that it will be with us indefinitely.
Let us look at another Fraser report recommendation:
That an independent Pacific fisheries conservation council be established to act as a public watchdog for the fishery, to report to ministers and the public annually and from time to time as is appropriate.
What did the evaluation study find with regard to that recommendation? It found to date that DFO has not developed an annual review process as recommended in the Fraser report. It found that the consolidated annual review process such as was called for has not yet been implemented.
The Fraser commission made a whole series of recommendations. Fraser is a well-respected man. The evaluation study, which went hard on its heels, has virtually ignored many or most of the recommendations.
Bill C-62 as a bill is good news, but only for the minister of fisheries. To the fish, fishers and people of Canada it is bad news. The Reform Party cannot in any way support Bill C-62.