No, it will not be easy, but I will try to be as clear as possible.
I will start by giving an example, and perhaps the secretary of state will understand. Last spring, the fishery helped develop an agreement in principle for the management of certain stocks.
I would remind the secretary of state that crabbers from zone 12, whom he must have heard of, participated in good faith in last spring's exercise. What happened? At the request of the former Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, officials of that department worked in good faith with fishers to establish a framework agreement. It will be recalled that officials duly authorized by the former minister ratified the agreement with the crabbers in question.
When the new minister took up his duties in February 1996, he repudiated their signatures, signing the death warrant for this agreement in principle.
The secretary of state will have a chance to speak shortly.
The main thrust of this is that, when one wants to establish a partnership, first of all, if one wishes to respect the spirit of partnership-I see that the hon. member from Newfoundland understands, and is listening to me; I hope he will be speaking shortly-one must establish an atmosphere of trust. That relationship of trust has been broken. Without going into further detail, I know there is a case currently before a judge, in Moncton I believe, in which crab fishers are seeking a decision on whether the minister was justified in dumping this agreement in principle, as well as on who will have to pay the costs the industry incurred to establish this agreement.
It is immediately evident that the government took a position right from the start, by wishing to implement these partnership agreements.
An additional remark can be made here concerning the fisheries management orders. I have already referred to the discretionary powers of the minister. I have met with several fishers' associations and they are anxious to find out who can be a party to these agreements, how one becomes party to one, and what the mechanisms will be.
There is nothing in this bill to indicate how it will be done. Nothing. This is even more dangerous. Without prejudging who is entitled and who is not, let me give an example of what happens when nothing is clearly established: the social chaos this fall in Chaleur Bay. I am not challenging the right of aboriginal people to fish, but they are nonetheless a new group, a new player in the game. This is an example of what happens when no provision has been made for how a new player can be brought into the game.
Those who were already involved in this fishery were surprised. Now, what is going to happen? How will a place be made for them? And who is to say that there will not be other groups tomorrow? Because the act speaks of classes of permit holders, and it is therefore understood that this refers to people already active in the commercial fishery, and reference is made to any group of individuals, but it is all at the minister's discretion. Some of the government literature refers to partnership agreements. I repeat, when partnerships are involved, there must be an atmosphere of trust. But such trust is not there at the present time.
The minister could have a second chance, if we assume that this was an oversight, that he forgot to include the mechanisms. If we could at least have some specifics on the mechanism that will be used, once the cod fishery is resumed, to decide who will work in the fisheries, since we do not expect the cod fishery to be resumed at the same pace at which it was abandoned?
When I look at what the government is doing now, I see no indication of how this long awaited rationalization will be implemented. I saw no indication of how the core groups involved in the fisheries will be defined. I even raised this question with an official at the department where I was told: "We will let the industry take care of that". As far as the Atlantic fisheries strategy is concerned, $1.9 billion was wasted. These people were given financial support, but we thought that the government, to make the most of its $1.9 billion investment, would require an accounting of the money spent, and that there would be a deadline and a schedule. Representatives for the department told us right off the bat: "No, we left it up to the industry". So there is no obligation on fishers to define their core activity as such before a given date and to rationalize their activities accordingly. It used to be management for the short and medium term.
There is no indication of a mechanism the minister could have started using on a trial basis and then included in his legislation,
with the comment: "I tested this on a group of fishers". Nothing was done. This shows there is much that will have to go back to the drawing board.
The official opposition is prepared to go along with this exercise of informing the government. It is willing to meet the industry with members of other parties and then ensure the government listens to the industry. That is the tenor of the amendment proposed by the Reform Party. However, I wonder what members opposite who rise in the House today will have to say about this.
The clock seems to be moving very quickly this morning, and I want be sure I do not run out of time, but before discussing the other main irritant, the delegation of authority, again in the management agreements the department wants to arrange, there are other points we should not overlook. The management agreements, according to paragraph 17(d), I believe, provide that fishers who are parties to the said agreement-and this is probably what the government will want to do on a large scale-will pay their share of management fees.
As a member of the opposition, it seems to me that the sole purpose of this bill is to help the government deal with a financial problem and that the government certainly has no intention of dealing with the fundamentals of managing the industry, because it is still discretionary, but what is not discretionary is the fact that fishers will have to pay management fees.
We must not forget that the father of this bill, Brian Tobin, left a little present for the fishers before going: he increased licence fees. So in two years, we will have had two proposals affecting a group that pays taxes like anybody else. This means double taxation. That is what we said when licence fees were proposed, but I find it very sad that fishing communities are more likely to have problems with unemployment insurance.
I realize the government is taking money out of the pockets of people who may have a little more money than others if they have their own fishing vessels, but does the government realize that when it takes this money, it is taking wealth out of the community and sending it back to Ottawa? These are people who already have a high rate of unemployment in their community, and the government goes and makes money even scarcer. I find that appalling.
At the time, I proposed to Mr. Tobin, if this measure had to be introduced, and the Bloc Quebecois also advocated rationalizing the deficit like any good parent or farmer, that we have part go directly to Ottawa. If the fisher could prove he invested in his community, in order to distribute the wealth and create jobs, he would not have to remit the entire amount to Ottawa. The government did nothing. Not only did it not act, but we were told immediately that new administration fees will be charged.
There is another small point. Since we are discussing the government's invoice, there was another case pending which, I think, has been settled. There was a decision by the court and, if I am not mistaken, the federal government either tried to pass other legislation or signed contracts with fishers, but there is still no mention in the present bill of landing fees.
The federal government has already had its knuckles rapped once. I think it was in 1992. In 1994, the system was changed. They have already had their knuckles rapped for failing to provide a legal mechanism for the payment of these things. And yet, there is still no provision in this bill. It is easy to see the number of problems that have yet to be resolved.
Time is passing quickly this morning, Mr. Speaker. Perhaps with the unanimous consent of the House, I could have the five minutes for questions and comments the Reform Party did not use, since I was the first to speak this morning.
In any case, delegation of powers to the provinces is both inadequate and contradictory. There is not enough, and I hope my colleagues will discuss it some more this morning. One need only read the proposal the Government of Quebec made in Victoria in November 1994 for it to become clear. British Columbia too is asking to have its powers over fisheries management returned. They are currently negotiating. I think the negotiations are to conclude at the end of February.
Why is the federal government in such a hurry to introduce a bill like this one, given that negotiations are currently going on with British Columbia? The initial protocol provides that the agreement is not to be tabled before February.
I believe the government does not listen to itself. As evidence of the fact that this is inadequate, just look at the powers sought by the provinces and you will see how far off the mark it is.
There is also a contradiction here. In light of what I said about management agreements, if the federal government negotiates directly with fishers, or groups of fishers, regarding issues such as the number of fishing licences and traps, or who will share the wealth, what is there left to delegate to the provinces, since clause 17 takes precedence over clause 9? There will hardly be anything left to delegate. It will be a virtual delegation of powers.
I said the fisheries tribunal was a front. When people are appointed for three years only, how can they be non-partisan or not think about being re-elected or re-appointed? These people will be appointed for a period of three years, with specific directions from the minister. If they do not follow these directions, their mandate will definitely not be renewed.
Fishers are entitled to a system that is fair, a system with no strings attached. If we get such a structure, we will support the legislation.