On the east coast we had a collapse of the cod fishery which essentially occurred as a result of the actions of the previous Tory administration and the fallout from this collapse has been exacerbated by the Liberals. We know the Tory government knew for at least five years before the 1992 moratorium that cod stocks were seriously declining. The then environment minister and now leader of the Progressive Conservatives, the member for Sherbrooke, could have used this information to save dwindling cod stocks while there was still hope.
Scientific studies said cod stocks would not recover until the end of the decade. Why was the moratorium put in place for two years only? They hoped the problem would go away. Rather than address the problem, the former government decided to experiment on fishermen. They wanted this program to get them past the next election. The Liberals then put in a five year program to get them past the next election again. This would take it to May 1999, but now that we have had the election early, they want to cancel the program early. Politics is rampant.
In April of this year the minister of fisheries announced he would re-open three areas of the cod fishery in Atlantic Canada without any support from fisheries scientists anywhere. With many fisheries scientists actually condemning the act, how could the minister have even contemplated such a move given the disastrous state of the Atlantic cod stocks? Now we have one set of information and two opinions. The former minister, Brian Tobin, recently stated that Atlantic cod are being “fished to the point of extinction”.
This is not a happy story. We have fleet overcapacity on both coasts. We end up with these gigantic social upheavals, fleet restructuring, displaced fishermen and communities marginalized. DFO has proven itself to be inept in handling these circumstances.
One more example of political incompetence, this morning in the Globe the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans stated that he wished the United States would live up to its obligations under the Pacific salmon treaty. I agree.
I also think that Canada should live up to its obligations under the international treaty which since 1955 allows the Great Lakes Fisheries Commission to run a very successful sea lamprey program. It has run successfully for 40 years and is the backbone of the Great Lakes commercial and recreational fisheries. Two years ago it was put at risk by the Liberal government. The government is currently $200,000 in arrears and has not responded to requests for budget allocations at least since July 2 of this year.
We went through the auditor general's report last week which condemned the government for turning the Atlantic groundfish strategy from what was supposed to be a fleet restructuring to primarily a poorly managed income support program and seriously criticized the lack of conservation focus on the government.
On the west coast the combination of restructuring the industry and low prices has resulted in the displacement of fishermen, associated workers, their families and communities. The minister announced in November and again in January an aid package for B.C. that consisted of a $7.7 million retirement program which has come to nothing, and a $30 million transition program. With this $30 million program we have seen a lack of strong commitment from the minister and the affected parties are very concerned that the government will renege on this commitment as well.
The minister this past winter went further and said they would spend whatever it takes. I can tell the minister that federal commitments are much less than $30 million and there are demonstrated transition proposals. What is he waiting for?
Why should any fisherman believe the government when it is reneging on TAGS and failing to deliver on its retirement and transition programs in B.C.? Why make announcements, raise expectations and affect personal plans and then renege? This is not fair to fishermen or their families.
Obviously a primary alternative employment for displaced traditional fishery workers is in alternate fisheries. We have heard many examples of DFO foot dragging in terms of responding to enlightened proposals to deal with putting people to work but still in fisheries related work.
I have correspondence on abalone on the west coast, sealing proposals on the east coast. Why is the government still sitting on the Liberal task force report on aquaculture which has been in the hands of the government since November 1996? We understand that there are some enlightened proposals in there.
We need a vision for the fishery. There is a need for more room at the table for fisheries managers from the provinces and communities because they are the most directly affected and are most directly accountable.
There is a better way. We need to depoliticize the licensing process. We need to separate scientific research from political control within the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
I agree with the minister that the scientists we have in Canada are among the very best in the world and in many cases are the best in the world. But we also have many documented cases this year of these very scientists complaining about the political interference and manipulation under which they suffer. The Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences ran a major article on this.
We had many scientists sign on. We had our previous fisheries critic for the east coast make appointments to visit fisheries scientists working for the department in the Atlantic provinces. When he arrived he was told he had no business going to visit scientists, that he must talk to the assistant deputy minister of science in Ottawa. This is total politicization and it is unacceptable.
We have some proposals that I think would work across the country in terms of helping fishermen, helping their families. We know that disposable income is an important concept. A family of four with one income of $30,000 would see 89% shaved off their tax bill with our proposals.
By cutting unemployment insurance premiums, what we have is a circumstance whereby employers will begin to add to their payrolls rather than lay off workers because Liberals and Tories put a tax on jobs.
We believe that the long term solution relies more on the people in the affected fisheries than on programs and plans designed by the federal government and operated out of Ottawa.
As a transition measure we are convinced that money currently devoted to regional development and a program such as TAGS should be given directly to municipalities or provincial governments. It would be money delivered in a much more focused and much less wasteful fashion.
Mr. Speaker, I understand I have three and a half minutes left. I would like to use that time for questions and comments. I would particularly like to have a discourse with the minister, but of course that is dependent on his co-operativeness in this regard.