That this House recognize the urgent need for action to address the serious problems in Canadian fisheries on both the Pacific and Atlantic coasts, and calls upon the government to establish a comprehensive national fisheries policy that demonstrates real commitment to resource conservation, leadership on the issue of resource sharing with foreign interests, and sensitivity to the individuals, families and communities whose futures are linked to the health and sustainability of the Canadian fishing industry.
I am honoured today to have the privilege of moving the very first motion of the Progressive Conservative caucus in this House on an opposition day on an issue that requires urgent attention, given recent events.
I would also remind the Chair that only a few days ago we pressed the Chair for an emergency debate, given the last set of events. We were unsuccessful in obtaining that debate, but we are using the very first opportunity available to us to put this matter before the House.
The crisis in the fishery on the east coast and on the west coast did not happen overnight. It is important, as we begin this debate, if we are going to have any intelligent discussion about its future, to recognize that the issues are complex. The issues we are dealing with today have developed over many years.
If the answers were easy, frankly, we would have solved a number of problems. In all honesty, we all have to recognize that the problems are not easy to solve. Governments, both provincial and federal, have grappled with these issues, with success in some cases. However we must recognize today, having done our best in some circumstances, nonetheless we are faced with a real crisis on both coasts.
The fishing industry affects the communities, the men, the women and a lot of rural areas across this country.
Not one region of the country is unaffected by this issue, by this crisis in the fisheries, whether they be in the Atlantic provinces, on the coast, in Gaspé, or in Ontario or some other place where they are directly or indirectly connected to the industry. I scarcely need to point out that the entire Canadian population is affected.
I would like to refer to the crisis in the salmon industry in British Columbia. That industry employs thousands of hard working men and women. The salmon industry accounts for about 30% of the total wholesale value of the west coast fishing industry.
Last year in B.C. was the lowest year in 36 years of commercial fleet revenues, totalling less than half the average of the 1990s. That in itself tells a story.
Poor resource management tops the list of reasons for the decline. Other factors that have brought the west coast salmon fishing industry to its knees include habitat destruction, changes in the ocean's climate—a complex issue which also affects the east coast—poaching, overfishing, new technology and overcapacity in the industry.
The issue of overcapacity is not new. For a number of years various commissions of inquiry have studied the issue. Task forces, one after another, have all commented on the very important problem of overcapitalization within the commercial salmon fleet and have recommended that the number of vessels be significantly reduced.
Among those within the B.C. industry, there is widespread recognition of the necessity to reduce the fleet. Less obvious is the question of the best way to make it happen. What is apparent is that the approach taken by the Liberal government to date has not worked.
In the spring of last year the federal government unveiled its Pacific salmon revitalization plan and presented it as a panacea for the problems in the B.C. fishing industry. It was called the Mifflin plan. It called for a speedy reduction of about 50% of the capacity of the commercial salmon fleet. Single-gear ships and area licensing would be implemented, as well as license stacking.
The people who knew the industry at the time, it needs to be said, told the government that this plan would not work, that the plan was flawed. The people who support their families through their hard work and earn their living through this industry in rural communities along the coast of British Columbia were the ones who spoke up. They told the government that this plan was a mistake. They told the government that the management strategy had to be longer term, that the pace of fleet reduction must be within the industry's capacity to absorb, and most of all it must be within the capacity of individual communities and families to absorb these very important changes.
I regret to say that the government did not listen. What we got was the typical Ottawa knows best and “We are on the eve of an election campaign and we have to move”. The Liberal government chose to move ahead with its plan.
Guess what happened. People were right. Strong opposition to the Mifflin plan expressed valid fears that it would wipe out smaller fishers and home fleets in the coastal communities, concentrating the industry and fishing in larger boats in urban areas. In too many cases that is exactly what has happened as people have been thrown out of work and communities have been crippled by the implementation of this plan.
Not only that, but from the point of view of resource sustainability that must be the cornerstone of anything we undertake. In fact this is the very essence of the motion we have put before the House today. From the perspective of how we will maintain and manage this resource, this plan is a dismal failure. While it sought reduction to the actual number of boats there was no component to address total fishing effort.
What has it meant? It has meant that fewer boats are taking the same amount of salmon out of the water. The result is that we now have zero salmon stock conservation benefits. That is the net effect of the Mifflin plan.
The Liberal government has demonstrated a fondness about talking or doing some consultation in this area. A good example of it is that most of the consultation including some announced recently has not come before the implementation of the plan but after the implementation of the plan. Quite a consultation it will be.
Having inflicted this mess on the men and women of British Columbia and the salmon fishery over the course of the 1996 fishing season, the government now apparently scratches its head, shrugs and decides that maybe it is time that it actually talk to the people concerned and affected by the changes. Together with the provincial government they have formed a three member panel to study the effects of the Mifflin plan, study the damages they have inflicted on the people of British Columbia, to find out just how badly thought out it was.
I am sorry to report, without having the benefit of consultation, that what we know from the implementation of the plan is that some of the damage now incurred in these communities may very well be irrevocable. Many have already been forced out of the industry and those who remain have borrowed hundreds of thousands of dollars to stack licences. Now that they have borrowed the money and have not been able to generate the revenue to pay off the loan they are stuck. They are stuck in the plan. They cannot walk away from it. They cannot walk away from their commitments. They cannot walk away from their licences. They are struck within the whole framework.
Let me refer to the Liberal record on managing the Pacific fishery documented in the 1996 report for the B.C. Job Protection Commission. The imposition of an ill-conceived Mifflin plan on top of what was already a poor salmon season last year resulted in the loss of 7,800 direct jobs. If we apply the multiplier it means almost 20,000 jobs have been lost. That is the net result.
The impact of job losses, it needs to be stated, was felt the most in isolated communities, predominantly native communities with few alternatives of employment for the people in those communities. They are the ones in British Columbia who are now suffering the most from the plan.
One such community is Masset, British Columbia, home of about 1,500 people on the Queen Charlotte Island. It is just one rural place where as a direct result of the government's fisheries mismanagement the local fish processing plant closed down and left people without work.
I quote from a letter from someone who lives in that community, a women who said:
—Fisheries and Oceans Canada seems to be slowly and systematically reallocating the catch away from the traditional commercial fishing sector, upon which our small community relies. I would add that the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans has seen fit to send a letter to the Sports Fishing Institute of B.C. indicating that the recreational fishermen can expect an allocation of chinook salmon in 1997. There has been no indication of any allocation to the traditional commercial sector.
That is the sector most affected. Would this be what the government considers leadership in managing our fisheries? If the Liberals think that responsible public policies means taking shots at the little guy and if success is choking off the viability of rural communities along the coast of British Columbia, I am sorry to report today that the Liberal government would have succeeded.
For the longest period the east coast has been dramatically affected by this issue. There are very grave problems in the policies of the government with regard to the east coast fishery. We have had a lot of pronouncements, posturing, endless study and so-called initiatives, but it all speaks to the broader issue of the management of the fishery on the east coast.
One of the reasons we chose to raise the issue as a caucus in the House of Commons today is that the auditor general spoke on it so vividly in the report produced only a few days ago. In particular he spoke about the management of the TAGS program.
The auditor general is a servant of the House. He does not report to any particular department in government. He does not report to cabinet. He reports to us, Mr. Speaker: to you, to me and to members of the House. The auditor general is at arm's length from the government.
He offered a very vivid report in which he said there was no management plan for the fishery. In the context of TAGS he pointed to it as being the major flaw which explains the dismal failure of the TAGS program.
Throughout most of the Atlantic region cod stocks are at historic low levels. Debate continues about the contributing factors. There are many, as I said earlier in my remarks. It would be nice if we could say in this debate what is precisely wrong. I would like to be able to say that, or that one government decision was wrong over 30 years. If we were able to do that I would feel better. Why? Then we could fix the problem overnight. We could actually do what we are all here to do and help the people involved.
Whether it is the inshore fishers, offshore fleets, cold water temperature, size of quota, size of mesh, age of fish harvested, availability of food, the seal population, accessibility or reliable scientific debate, all these things affect the decisions we make. We are all prepared to acknowledge that the collapse of major stocks in the Atlantic ground fishery is a complex problem.
As with any complicated question it may be understandable that the solutions are not necessarily easy. The point of the debate today is to look to the future and the men and women who are in the industry now. What is inexcusable and unforgivable is that there is not a plan for the future. There is not an exercise of leadership on the government side that offers hope with regard to what must be done for the future.
The crisis in fishery management has been devastating for the communities and the families on the east coast. Literally hundreds of fishing communities have been seriously affected. By 1995 the groundfish fishery accounted for only 8% of the total catch, the value of landings on the Atlantic coast.
What answer was cooked up? It was the TAGS program. That was the government's answer announced with a great deal of fanfare in 1994. A lot of key code words were in there.
I will quote some that were part of the plan. It was to “provide an integrated approach to capacity reduction”. It was to “call for partnerships with all stakeholders”. It included “career planning and employment counselling” and “sustainable development in Canada's long term economic development”. These words were associated with the $1.9 billion allocation of funds, with a view to retiring licences. TAGS would have removed approximately 23% of the groundfish licences in place at that time.
This is much less than half the original target and will still leave 10,000 groundfish licences in place. The TAGS component of the program directed at retiring licences has failed even though $1.9 billion has been put toward this effort.
What did the auditor general have to say about the government's success in achieving its objectives? In his recent report he drew the following conclusion:
Groundfish harvesting capacity was not significantly reduced through TAGS measures. Active labour adjustment measures were halted, and whether they actually contributed to reducing the number of persons dependent on the industry is not known. Excess fishing capacity remains, and poses a major risk to the sustainability of the fishing industry.
That is a real indictment of the government. It was not by someone in the Chamber, not by someone with any partisan axe to grind, not by someone involved in the industry, but by an officer of the House of Commons who reports independently to us and has at his disposal the tools to evaluate these programs. He has indicted the government on TAGS for its failure to the men and women of Atlantic Canada.
We have a program that will run out of money six months before it is scheduled to without any sense or any indication. Every time I travel to the Atlantic, whether it is with my colleague from Burin—St. George, St. John's West or St. John's East, the people in the community always raise the same issue. How is it that the government came forward with the TAGS program, said it would be a five year program and now is telling us that will be over in four years?
Their lives have been disrupted. They have had to reorganize their families. They try to plan for the future. They planned for the next five years on the reasonable expectation that the government would meet its commitment. Now they are told “Do you know what, Harry? Do you know what, Bill? Do you know what, Selma? The program will end in four years and not five. We are sorry. You may have wanted to continue on to school but it is over. We are the Government of Canada in Ottawa. We know best”. Tough luck is the message they are getting from the government. It is a cruel message to people who are in a position where they are vulnerable, weak and in transition.
The Auditor General of Canada seems to see that and understand that but for some reason the government does not seem to hear the message. That is not new. Maybe we should not be surprised.
My colleague from the riding of Saint John, New Brunswick, fought very hard for good reason in the House of Commons when the employment insurance legislation was brought in. The legislation had hidden behind it a reduction of $33 million in benefits to the fishers in Atlantic Canada through a regulation.
The member for Saint John, who is with me today in the House of Commons—I remember it well—had me sign a petition so there could be debate on the regulation, not change it but debate it. She went to the Liberal caucus. There were 31 members of the Liberal caucus from Atlantic Canada out of 32. She asked them not to change the regulation but to sign a petition so we could debate it in the House of Commons and Canadians could hear what we had to say. Not one member would sign the petition. This was over and above everything else.
Finally, if we are to be successful in dealing with the issue we have to press the government, the House and all political parties to look to the future and move to a plan based on maintaining resource conservation, which has to be the cornerstone. Canada is a resource based economy whether it is the fishing industry, the forestry industry, the mining industry, the agriculture industry, the energy industry, hydrocarbons or hydroelectric energy.
Those who understand our economy would know that maintaining these resources on a sustainable basis is key to our future economic success and the success of our children. The same is true for the fishing industry.
The government needs to answer the cry of Canadians who want to know what exactly it intends to do so that they can move ahead and allow the industry to survive in the future.
I followed with great interest the debate of the government on the Pacific salmon treaty signed in 1985. Certainly from my own experience I freely offer some advice to the government today. I do not know whether it will be followed. I refer to an issue I dealt with in the 1990s when I was minister of the environment.
With my colleague at the time, the minister of fisheries, we fought hard in the international community to get an international convention on overfishing at the summit in Rio de Janiero on the environment and the economy. We were successful. We did it in only six months. But we were successful for a reason. We pressed every cabinet member to raise the issue with other governments at the time.
I see that my time is running out. There will be further opportunity to add some comments in the question and comment period. I look forward to that. I look forward to the next few minutes and in the day of debate today to offering some ideas from our caucus on how the issue must move forward and how we can help Canadians on the east and west coasts to regain propriety of their communities, their pride, the opportunity to work and the opportunity to make their contributions to Canada.