Mr. Speaker, I want to congratulate the other Speaker.
I would like to congratulate the new Speaker of the House for his temporary promotion.
Of course, like my colleagues, I will be speaking against Bill C-62. It is rather strange that we are discussing a fisheries management bill at this moment, when it should have been done a long time ago. The existing act dates back to 1867, and the Bloc Quebecois is certainly not against the idea of modernizing it. What we are against is the way it is being done, particularly the excessive centralization that is evident in this bill.
I will start by saying a few words about the environmental aspect of this legislation because I have to admit that, before entering the political scene, I was a unionist and I had the opportunity to work with several environmental and social groups. It is sad to see that 100 or maybe 150 years after the adoption of the first act, we are facing a situation where our fish stocks are in a deplorable state. I think the ocean, particularly on the east coast, has been emptied. Even with the various attempts made to modernize the act, we are realizing that it is now the ocean on the west coast that is being emptied.
Therefore, it is important to have massive consultations with as many stakeholders as possible-and the provinces play a crucial role in this debate-if we are to rectify the situation and to ensure the recovery of our fish stocks, which we think are in the process of being completely destroyed.
Why are we saying there is excessive centralization? The heart of the problem can be found in clause 17.
It says that Her Majesty, in right of Canada, represented by the minister, may enter into a fisheries management agreement with any organization that, in the opinion of the minister-and the problem lies in these words: "in the opinion of the Minister"-is representative of a class of persons or holders.
Therefore the minister, surrounded by an array of officials, is the one who will decide, in the east as well as in the west, wherever there is jurisdiction. Some jurisdictions have been delegated to provinces, namely freshwater fisheries. The minister could at any time decide to withdraw this delegation. This, as we know, could create problems, but the minister holds all the cards. I believe that the way the bill is drafted, it sidelines provinces and some extremely important groups.
As honourable members know, I am the Indian affairs critic for my party. I believe there is a major problem with native fisheries and this bill does nothing to solve it.
We have just received the report of a royal commission of inquiry which lasted five years. Last week, this commission, created by the Conservatives, presented a 4,000 page plus report and 400 recommendations. Some of those recommendations deal with native fisheries. Nowhere in the bill does it say that the minister must consult natives. He will, only if, "in his opinion" it is justified.
The danger lies not only in the centralization but in the possibility that the minister could play political games with his decisions. Several people have already mentioned this. The minister could play political games. I will speak about Restigouche later, as an example.
First of all, I want to explain how natives negotiate. Negotiations are very important to them. In fact, when Europeans got here, natives already had their own governments, their own political system, their own justice system. Most decisions were reached by consensus.
Of course, that required much longer discussions. With a majority, you tend to say: Look here, we can cut the debate short, since the majority will win out in any case. I must say that the government realized it could do so a long time ago. We were gagged several times. Of course, it is hard to reach a consensus in this House. However, the government regularly brings forward some motions to gag the opposition. We are far from having lengthy discussions to try to improve bills, explain our positions and reach some kind of compromise. Unfortunately, the government gags the opposition a bit too often. That is not the natives' approach. They were always striving for a consensus.
We see that, under this bill, not only can provinces be excluded, but natives are excluded as well. The minister can set out classes of licence holders or fishers on his own initiative. One day, he could say that it does not include natives, and the next day, for political reasons, he could say that he is including natives and will ensure that their rights are upheld, as was done in Restigouche.
Unfortunately, this bill does not provide for a negotiation process. Once again, a minister, using his authority with his officials, may impose a procedure, a way of setting limits and issuing permits. The minister is allowed to do anything he wants without consulting the provinces and groups concerned.
As you can understand, as the opposition critic on Indian affairs, after such a meaty report as the one tabled last week, I think the minister falls far short of the goal of seeking a consensus, of holding extensive discussions, of ensuring the effective preservation of our fish stocks. When several parties agree on something, it is a lot easier to implement the decision than if the minister decided to impose his own vision despite the opposition of Quebec or another province or of native people.
That is what happened in Restigouche. Everything was improvised. The Micmac and other native people in Restigouche made a decision to resume subsistence fishing. As you know, the Supreme Court of Canada makes a distinction between subsistence fishing for aboriginal people and commercial fishing. The issue of subsistence fishing is quite clear and precise, and there are specific rules
on that. When preservation is not in jeopardy, there is no problem with giving priority to subsistence fishing by aboriginal people.
The problem in Restigouche is precisely that stocks are at risk, and there has been a lot of improvising on the part of the department. It is trying to impose its way of doing things, probably for political reasons. There are disagreements over this. Aboriginal people maintain they have the right to fish for subsistence; those who already have licences say that stocks are endangered and that more fishing licences should not be issued because stocks will be depleted.
Finally, we realize that the minister missed an opportunity to include a mechanism for negotiating. It would have been easy to say it must not just be "in his opinion", but, rather, that he must automatically and officially consult the provinces, interested parties-such as the native peoples-and licence holders. It would be a way of requiring basic agreement with a majority involved in order to have a chance of success.
Unfortunately this is not the case with the bill before us. The minister simply wants to impose his authority on everyone else, and this bill allows him to do so.
I would therefore like to make a suggestion. Obviously, we cannot vote in favour of the bill at second reading. Obviously this bill will be sent to a committee. I think the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans should consult his colleague the minister of Indian affairs to see if matters can be arranged.
I hope our representatives and colleagues on the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans will make this a concern. The provinces consider it vital the government provide for consultation in its bill. Consultation with the provinces should be almost mandatory.
When interest groups, including the provinces, are involved, I think we might succeed. I hope fish stocks will be restored to the level they were 100 years ago.