Mr. Speaker, four years ago I came to this place excited at the prospect of trying to affect some change here. At that time, I shared the enthusiasm of my fellow Reformers for fiscal prudence and for promoting the notion of fiscal prudence and some sort of social responsibility. As well, I came with an interest in the fishery, especially the fishery on the west coast.
Canada's fisheries represent a valuable national resource. The responsibility for that resource is vested in the federal government. It is a constitutional responsibility, one that the federal government cannot ignore. Yet this government has failed miserably in that regard.
It has ignored the best advice of the Supreme Court of Canada. It has ignored countless participants and shareholders in the fisheries who have attempted to offer good and solid advice to the government. Most curiously, it was ignored by a former Speaker of the House whom this government appointed to conduct a review of the Fraser River fishery in 1994.
Why I bring this up in the context of the budget is that the federal department of fisheries has a budget this year approaching $1.2 billion. We are not talking peanuts here. We are talking about a huge budget, one which is not spent wisely and one which puts this valuable natural resource at risk.
Mr. Fraser in his comments suggested the same: "DFO must formulate a strategy and a plan that will marshal the personnel, facilities, equipment and communications systems needed to re-establish a credible enforcement deterrent. The first step in the process must be a proper assessment of what is required at minimum to ensure adequate enforcement. This cannot be achieved in the context of a budget exercise".
What the former Speaker was saying was that when there is a department like fisheries and oceans with a constitutional responsibility to protect a national resource, we cannot simply take the accountant's view and start slashing at the budget. We first have to determine what is needed to protect that resource and go from there. In managing the budget this government has not done that.
That is not to say, necessarily, that we are standing here saying that more money must be spent. What we are saying is that a proper assessment must be taken of what is needed. We must ensure that the moneys spent are spent wisely.
In 1994 the government reaffirmed its support for something known as the aboriginal fishing strategy. This was a strategy that established a racially segregated fishery on the west coast which the previous government said was an obligation as a result of a Supreme Court decision and Sparrow. This of course was false.
Nevertheless, a mid-term review was conducted of this program in 1996. In that mid-term review it was noted that reallocation of money from within DFO to the aboriginal fishing strategy starved the real needs of the department such as enforcement.
What we have here is an abuse of priorities. Where the key priority must be enforcing regulations and laws and protecting the resource, the government in its wisdom took money from that critical area and put it into an area which came about as a result of a political need rather than a constitutional need.
Within a year of coming to power, the government reaffirmed its support for this aboriginal fishing strategy and approved the continuation of AFS commercial sales projects and allocated money away from key enforcement areas. This is totally unacceptable.
DFO auditors went over the results of the mid-term review and they noted two things. The first thing they said is that it was difficult to get an overall sense of what had been accomplished through the expenditure of almost $100 million over four years. That $100 million was spent on this aboriginal fishing strategy.
The auditors went on to say that most of the examples used in the document contained no hard data, thus they had no way of knowing the magnitude of the project, whether it was cost effective or how the results were determined.
The government asked Mr. Matkin, former head of the B.C. business council, to conduct a review of this aboriginal fishing strategy. The review was completed toward the end of January and
the government promised that this review would be made public. We are still waiting for the publication of that review.
At the same time as we are waiting, it is preventing the government from doing its job and that is preparing for the upcoming fishing season. In a draft of the Matkin report, Mr. Matkin noted that these pilot sales programs were in a rut and that something must be done. Yet again we are waiting and waiting for something to come about here.
The government further spent money on another study, a study which would deal with the coast wide implications of using the Nisga'a treaty as a model for treaties which would be established coast wide and the impact of using that treaty as a model, especially with this fisheries component. In other words, what is the cost of replicating the Nisga'a treaty coast wide to the commercial fishing industry?
Over a year ago we applied under access to information to get a copy of that study. It took 12 months. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans, in its wisdom, refused to release anything to us, not even the cover page of that 98 page document. We are still working through access to information to get it. What does the department have to fear from the public understanding of what it is doing and what the cost is going to be in settling these treaties?
My colleague from Fraser Valley East has also asked the department for a study it did on the Sto:lo and their budget. He still has not been able to get that. There was a May report, again commissioned by the department. We are waiting for action on that. It is yet to happen. This report was delivered last December and we are still waiting.
As I said, the department spends about $1.2 billion a year. There is no denying that the problems it faces are complex. Unfortunately the department has not measured up to the job. Time is running out for Parliament to examine the workings of this department and yet examine it must.
Last fall a federal court judge accused the department of a litany of corrupt behaviour which included vote rigging and sham consultative process. This had reference to dealing with the establishment of a halibut quota system on the west coast.
The federal court judge noted: "A DFO official's unwillingness to face the obvious meaning of his own words caused the court to doubt the reliability of the evidence offered in defence of the minister's, DFO's, and his own position". This is a tremendous indictment of the department. The judge went on to say: "Rules were simply broken because it was necessary to do so to reach the planned objective".
The minister has refused to this point to dissociate himself from the action of the official named by the court.
If the federal court of Canada can come down with an indictment of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans with the intensity it did last fall, why should I or why should the Canadian public have any confidence in the ability of this department to manage this huge budget? It is an issue that needs to be addressed and addressed quickly by this House.