House of Commons Hansard #142 of the 36th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was work.


The House resumed from June 4 consideration of the motion that Bill C-302, an act to establish the rights of fishers including the right to be involved in the process of fisheries stock assessment, fish conservation, setting of fishing quotas, fishing licensing and the public right to fish and establish the right of fishers to be informed of decisions affecting fishing as a livelihood in advance and the right to compensation if other rights are abrogated unfairly, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Fishers' Bill Of RightsPrivate Members' Business

11:05 a.m.


Charles Hubbard Liberal Miramichi, NB

Madam Speaker, it certainly is a privilege today to join with my colleagues in the House to debate the motion of my colleague, the hon. member for New Brunswick Southwest, who represents a riding that is very much involved with the fishery.

Only about a week ago our provincial newspaper had a very lengthy article on the tremendous resource that we have in the Bay of Fundy. I am sure that the member, who is from that area, is very much concerned about the future and the longevity of the fishery for all of us in Atlantic Canada.

It is curious today that we are talking about a so-called fishers' bill of rights. If we go back, historically, we find that in the last 200 years rights have been developed for a very significant group of people.

I think of the original bill of rights and the work that was done by the American colonists when the United States was set up as a new country in this hemisphere. Then, of course, with the French revolution we had the declaration of the rights of man.

Also this week we have to reflect upon the stamp that came out only this past month recognizing a fellow New Brunswicker, John Humphreys, who was instrumental in writing the special human rights declaration for the United Nations. I am sure New Brunswickers are proud that the stamp was issued. We are certainly proud that a New Brunswicker received international recognition for his work on human rights.

In Canada, of course, we have our own human rights legislation. However I question the necessity for a fishers' bill of rights because across this country there are many different sectors of the economy. If this House is going to try to develop bills of rights, maybe there should be one farmers. They probably deserve a bill of rights because one of the first occupations on this earth was agriculture. Maybe some of our friends from that sector could have a farmers' bill of rights. We could go on and on to identify different groups that should certainly have rights. I think of animal rights. Maybe the member opposite should be thinking of a fish bill of rights.

In the last 25 years fish have had a very difficult time on our globe. As a very good source of protein, we find that many emerging nations or nations in difficulty have looked upon the waters of this earth as supplying protein for their people. As a result, the fishing industry, and fish in particular, have been under great stress. In the 1980s Atlantic Canada suffered great difficulties with the decline of the groundfishery.

My colleague from the west coast might worry about coho salmon. They too might need to have their rights protected. If we do not have some protection for these species soon our entire economy in terms of the fishery will be in difficulty.

I have certain concerns with the bill in terms of this group of people. I know that fisher people are a very important part of our economy. As a government we have attempted to regulate and to show fisher people that they have a responsibility to sustain their industry.

Through regulation and hopefully co-operation the various fisher people can work along with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to ensure that our fishery has a future.

The House should also recognize that with the decline of the east coast fishery and the problems on the west coast we have developed programs to assist those areas. The fisher people who have difficulties will have an opportunity to take part in programs to get assistance with training and to improve habitat, as we have done on the west coast with the salmon fishery.

On the east coast, as the member opposite from Halifax would certainly agree, we have developed good programs to make sure that people in the fishing industry can receive some assistance when fish become scarce.

If we look at the fishery in the great province of Newfoundland we find that today the resource from the sea is bringing more money to that province than it did during the best years of the groundfishery.

We are looking at alternate species. The fishermen may develop other aspects of fishing and sales for those fish, which will enable them to continue in their home communities. However, we have to be concerned with what has happened to the good people on the east coast and those who have encountered serious difficulties as a result of the economy.

We have to remember that fish have traditionally been very available. However, today we have to be concerned with the fact that we have to sustain the fishery.

I would suggest that the member is a bit off base in terms of trying to develop a charter of rights for fisher people. The minister has brought forward a committee to look at partnerships in fishing, to try to develop a co-operative venture between those who are out on the water and those sitting in offices trying to regulate the fishery.

We have to remember that fish are a public, not a private resource, and the Government of Canada has a definite responsibility to see it continue as a satisfactory industry.

In my riding of Miramichi the first minister of marine and fisheries in the original Government of Canada in 1867 was Peter Mitchell. We have watched over the years what has happened with the fishery since the time of Peter Mitchell. We have to be concerned with what our responsibilities are.

I know the member who brought forward this bill is concerned with his own area. He is very much involved with the area of southern New Brunswick. He needs to see that DFO and the fisher people work co-operatively to continue the fishery there. But I think we have to be more concerned as members of this government and people, in general, about our responsibilities to the fishery so that it can continue.

As chairman of the fisheries committee I would not support a bill for a particular charter of rights for one particular group. I would be more concerned with supporting the concept that we have responsibilities as a government to see that the fishery works well, that it works co-operatively and that it works in the best interests of all Canadians.

Fishers' Bill Of RightsPrivate Members' Business

11:10 a.m.


Bill Gilmour Reform Nanaimo—Alberni, BC

Madam Speaker, when we speak to a bill such as Bill C-302, proposed by the member for New Brunswick Southwest, there are commonalties all across the country and on all coasts. However I will be talking about this bill from a west coast perspective, as the member opposite said that we might have concerns in this area.

The bill describes a bill of rights for fishermen. This bill has multiple rationales and essentially would be a good counter-balance to the dominance of decision making on fisheries fronts by an overly centralized bureaucracy that we all know as the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. This bill is not responsive enough to local communities, to local fishermen or in fact to the recreational sector.

This bill is clear in stating that people who fish for their livelihood should be involved in decisions regarding the protection, development and harvesting of fish. This is good for two reasons. First, the fishermen have important local knowledge of the kind we cannot afford to prove scientifically, but which has stood the test of time. Second, if we do not involve the fishermen we do not get a buy-in with new policy directions and new management proposals.

It is also a primary way to develop volunteerism which is so critical in the development of fish stocks, whether through fish hatcheries, the development of riparian zones or developing a conservation ethic in children's or citizen's watch on poaching. Any number of things contribute to the good citizen aspect of looking after our resources.

Probably the most controversial aspect of the bill deals with the right of compensation to those whose rights were taken away or abrogated by the federal government through unilateral or actions which exclude affected fishermen.

The government and DFO bureaucracy will fight this clause tooth and nail because it attempts to make them accountable for decisions they make about people affected by their decisions. It is far easier for bureaucrats or ministers to sit ensconced, buffered and unchallenged and be securely protected from the results of their decisions. These people do not have repercussions from their bad policy decisions. Given a choice they would prefer not to deal with people affected by their decisions because plainly it is uncomfortable for them.

This is the crux of the bill, the strongest part of the bill. It is an attempt to bring accountability to the bureaucracy.

Despite all this I have some concerns about the bill which I discussed with the member for Vancouver Island North who spoke to the bill in debate on June 4 this year. Here are our concerns.

The bill does not establish a process to provide for fishermen's involvement or representation prior to the decision making process. There is nothing to say that the fishermen's representations have to be heeded. Nor does it give any meaningful decision making power to those affected. There is a prohibition against any decisions being made until all the hearings are exhausted. This could render the system too cumbersome when quick decisions are needed for conservation or other purposes.

In addition, clause 5(a) of the bill mentions fishing rights but this term is not defined. Licence holders who are active and who continue to invest in vessels, gear and so on, should have a right to renewal of that licence year after year. However this is not set out in the bill. It would also be useful to see that the minister could not create new licences without consultation and support from all existing licence holders of all categories affected.

Also the definition of the public right to fish in clause 2 is not consistent with the general law that extends this right to the commercial sector. This misdefining of the public right to fish could be taken as an abolition by parliament of the public right to fish in any area beyond the areas defined specifically in the bill.

On the west coast the public right to fish, the common law right that dates back to the Magna Carta, is a public right of access that in the commercial and recreation sector is tempered by limited entry licences and other restrictions, but this public right is still the overriding check on the predominant powers of the minister.

Removal of this public right would essentially give the minister the power to allocate fisheries quotas to anyone, any group, institution or person. This is the crux of the debate over the ethnic based aboriginal fisheries strategy, a pilot sales program which the federal government implemented in 1992.

British Columbians oppose a separate commercial fishery based on race. Ongoing polarization and division have been created by natives and non-natives on the issue every since.

In 1998 the public protest against this fishery included native commercial fishermen in the all Canadian commercial fishery who also opposed the separate fishery but are now fully prepared to go public with their concerns. All legal challenges to this fishery have succeeded. Yet the government and the minister persist in pursuing this policy.

The legal rights protest has gone on since 1992 which has detracted from focused management of the fisheries. It has focused people's energies on divisive issues instead of allowing them to look at the big picture and conservation issues.

Another concern is that clauses 4 and 5 of the bill extend into areas covered by provincial legislation. These clauses are probably unconstitutional. If something is validly authorized by provincial legislation it is beyond the reach of federal legislation. Given the exclusive nature of the division of powers under our Constitution, I feel it should be left that way and these clauses should not be left in the bill.

In conclusion, I support the intent of the bill to create a fishermen's bill of rights and hope we can give qualified support so that the bill can move forward to committee where we can address some of our concerns. There are very good areas within the bill but there are also areas of concern.

I give it qualified support and look forward to it going to a vote in the House and then on to committee.

Fishers' Bill Of RightsPrivate Members' Business

11:20 a.m.


Gordon Earle NDP Halifax West, NS

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise today in the House to support Bill C-302.

People who make their living from the sea have always been central to the culture, economy and social life of the maritimes and certainly of my riding of Halifax West. For the many people who work to sustain themselves, their families and communities today, dating back to the very first aboriginal inhabitants of our region, fishing has been a way of life in the deepest sense of the word.

For untold generations people have challenged themselves and the elements to sustain their livelihood and that of their families from the wealth of resources beneath the waves. From their own successes and mistakes people have learned about fishing. They have become knowledgeable about tides, seasonal variations, fish stocks, the winds, equipment, and all that is necessary to learn and develop the profession of fishing. Fishers have been taught by their parents and by their communities as a whole. They have also learned from other communities and increasingly from fishers in other countries. There have been times when even government efforts and research have proven useful.

The people of Halifax West who make or hope once again to make their living from the sea face a growing danger. This danger has caused thousands of people to lose their livelihood and equal numbers of families to lose any security for their children's future. This peril is responsible for the unbelievable event of entire fish stocks being wiped out. This danger is the federal government's mishandling of fisheries issues.

I support the right of fishers to be involved in every aspect of decision making and the implementation of those decisions that affect their livelihood. Who else has the knowledge to craft the best answers about fish stock assessments, fish conservation, the setting of fish quotas and fishing licences? Certainly not the Department of Fisheries and Oceans bureaucrats living in Ottawa.

It boggles the mind that the Liberal government has chosen not to involve those who make their day to day living in the fishing industry as part and parcel of the decisions that in turn will directly affect and often threaten their livelihood.

The decisions made by the roughly 800 DFO bureaucrats in Ottawa are based on what knowledge? Is it by studying and analysing the movement of fish in the Rideau River in Ottawa or by consulting the occasional ice fisher on the Ottawa River? It is certainly not by working on a day to day basis with those in the industry, armed with the experience and skills to assist the government in making decisions.

We can be sure that the government consults very closely with top executives of big banks about decisions that might affect their billions of dollars or with top multinational corporate executives about decisions the government might implement that would affect their operations. However the government treats fishers as the uneducated and insignificant. It is a crime. The cost of that crime is a mismanaged government department making bad and often absurd decisions. It hurts people who make their livelihood from fishing in St. Margaret's Bay and throughout my riding.

A case in point is the announcement early this year that fish quotas for Nova Scotia would be 5 fish per person or 25 fish per boat for non-commercial fishers. We could hear the laughter of fishers in response to this in my riding all the way from Herring Cove to Black Point. Just who would those supposedly enforcing this regulation charge if there were a number of people in a boat and too many fish? Would it be the one in the boat closest to the shore or the tallest one? Who? This decision is absurd and unenforceable because the decision was made in Ottawa without the proper input of those who do the fishing.

The government's mishandling of TAGS and the post-TAGS program has condemned thousands to poverty and helplessness. There are over 40,000 fishers out of work. The government has spent over $3.4 billion in income support.

Ultimately decisions made by Ottawa bureaucrats about the livelihood of those living over 1,000 kilometres away pits people against people and community against community. Fishers should be consulted about the allocation of quotas as the bill recommends and about proper gear and equipment. Fishers should be consulted about fish stocks. We all know fishers were warning about the cod stocks long before the government in its too little, too late fashion slammed the door shut on an entire industry.

The people in my riding who make their living from the sea are not millionaires. The people who fish or want to fish in Sambro, Ketch Harbour, Portuguese Cove and East and West Pennant cannot easily weather huge losses due to bad federal government decisions. However they have to, time and time again, simply because people who fish are not considered by the Liberal government to be key players in decisions about the fishing industry. With the fisheries dying the last budget of the government did nothing for those in the industry.

Bill C-302 which sets out to ensure fishers are central to decisions affecting the fisheries is nothing more than plain sense. Everybody would win. The bill should certainly be sent to the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans for study, improvement and support.

One example of the government's fisheries minister hiding his head in the sand is the current serious dispute in the lobster fisheries in southwestern Nova Scotia. This dispute involves commercial, aboriginal and non-aboriginal lobster fishers. Did the government play a leadership role with the long term security of this fish stock and the livelihoods of these people at the forefront? No. Once again it has hidden its head in the sand and refused to sit down and talk with those in the industry about the best and most reasonable long term solution for all involved.

It seems everybody but the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans and the Ottawa top bureaucrats is able to reach an agreement on the threat posed to this industry by the government's refusal to centrally involve fishers in every step of decision making and implementation. The Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans was able to produce two reports unanimously agreed to by five different federal parties.

How did the government respond? It was by yanking the member for Gander—Grand Falls out of the committee chair spot. This committee did its best to base its efforts on what it has learned from people in the industry, and that is what may have upset the government.

It only makes sense for those who fish for their living and those in fisheries industries to participate in a meaningful way in federal government decision making. I fully support the bill and challenge every government member to support it. The people who make their living or hope to make their living from the fisheries in my riding of Halifax West deserve no less. All those in similar positions across the country deserve no less.

Fishers' Bill Of RightsPrivate Members' Business

11:25 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Bill Matthews Progressive Conservative Burin—St. George's, NL

Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to participate today in debate on Bill C-302, an act to establish the rights of fishers.

I listened with great interest to the hon. member who just concluded. How can anyone stand in his or her place and be against involving fishers or fishermen in stock assessment, fish conservation, the setting of fish quotas and fishing licences? How can anyone be against that consultation and involvement process?

As well I listened with interest to the hon. member for Miramichi when he talked about a fish bill of rights. I could not help but wonder, as the member made that suggestion, if he had consulted with the fish and what response he got back. I wonder if the fish are positive to his view that there should be a fish bill of rights.

I say that in a light manner because what we are talking about in Bill C-302 is involving those people directly in the harvesting of fish, in stock assessments, in licensing and in the setting of quotas and so on. As my my hon. colleague who spoke before me said, for years in Atlantic Canada people involved in the fishing industry, the harvesters, warned the federal governments of the day that we were heading for a crisis in our groundfish stock, particularly our cod stocks. Year after year the federal government ignored those people, and we all know the consequences now.

Hundreds of our rural communities are on the verge of extinction. There is no employment in those communities because there is no fish to harvest and consequently no fish to process.

I commend my colleague for bringing forward this fishers bill of rights. It is a step in the right direction.

I want to speak for a moment about the public right to fish. My hon. colleague who spoke just before me mentioned what we call the food fishery in Newfoundland and Labrador. He talked about five fish a day and so many people in a boat.

In Newfoundland and Labrador for all of our lives we have been allowed to go out and catch a fish for supper. That has all changed in the last four or five years. We cannot get in our boats and go out and fish any more. We have to wait for the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans to inform us if he is going to allow us to catch a fish and then he sets the date. Over the last couple of years he has given us one weekend to fish. He basically has given us three days to fish for our food fishery.

Nova Scotia, P.E.I, New Brunswick and parts of Quebec get a 68-day food fishery. We get three days. It is something we were allowed to do all of our lives, and now we can only fish if the minister allows us to fish and for a maximum of three days. That is very difficult for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians to accept. We are catching the same fish that the people in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Quebec are catching. They are the same fish stocks. They swim back and forth. These are the fish that Nova Scotians catch, and we catch and so on. Somehow the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans and his parliamentary secretary, who I see shaking his head in disapproval, do not understand that fish swim.

Why should we not be allowed to fish for 68 days for a food fishery. If the parliamentary secretary can fish for 68 days in Prince Edward Island, why can we not do it? It is the same fish. What he is allowing people in Nova Scotia to fish for 68 days is the same fish stock we can fish for three days.

If only some of them over there knew a little bit about fish, what a relief it would be.

Fishers' Bill Of RightsPrivate Members' Business

11:30 a.m.

An hon. member

They swim around the globe.

Fishers' Bill Of RightsPrivate Members' Business

11:30 a.m.

Progressive Conservative

Bill Matthews Progressive Conservative Burin—St. George's, NL

Yes, they swim around the globe.

The other troublesome point is that fishermen for years warned the federal government of the impending disaster. On the west coast of Canada, British Columbia, fish harvesters are warning the federal government of the same problems. The government is ignoring what is happening in British Columbia and the problems are increasing and getting bigger.

I support the bill to include fish harvesters in conservation, in licensing and in fish stock assessments. How can anyone argue against it? How can anyone be against those who are directly involved in the harvesting of fish resources having more involvement? Have the Department of Fisheries and Oceans listen to them and take into account what they are telling it, then weigh that in the decision making process so that wiser decisions are made in the future than have been made in the past. God knows if there is one federal government department that has made unwise decisions over the years, it has been the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

I support the bill. I commend my colleague for bringing it forward. I commend those who have stood in their place today to support this piece of legislation.

If we involve those people in a more meaningful fashion, it will mean that we will make better decisions. We will have greater fish resources for the future. We will not go through the crisis in Atlantic Canada and the west coast of Canada that we are going through today.

People are unemployed. Out-migration is staggering. The survival of rural Canada is seriously threatened today. When I go through my riding of Burin—St. George's it is difficult to find anyone left in those communities who is under 45 years of age. What future is there for people? This has been forced upon people because there is no employment.

The Government of Canada mismanaged our fish resources. It has to take responsibility. All we are asking is that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the federal government involve the people who harvest those fish resources. Include their assessments in decision making and make wiser decisions for the fish resources so that people who depend on those resources will be better off in the future.

Fishers' Bill Of RightsPrivate Members' Business

11:35 a.m.


Lou Sekora Liberal Port Moody—Coquitlam, BC

Madam Speaker, the bill before the House is impractical and unnecessary and as such should not become law. It is unnecessary for many reasons.

One of the reasons is that the participatory role it seeks for fishermen is already becoming a standard practice. Procedures and processes for ongoing consultations with stakeholders are in place as a matter of policy.

For instance, fishermen are already involved in stock assessment and conservation issues on the east coast through their participation in the fisheries resources conservation council. Last month the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans announced the formation of a similar council on the west coast, the Pacific resource conservation council chaired by Hon. John Fraser. In addition co-management arrangements are in place in a number of fisheries that give fishermen an expanded role in the decision making process.

The bill is also impractical because it would tie the minister's hands and prevent him or her from making decisions to protect the fisheries at a time when this protection is urgently required.

For example, the bill would require that fishermen be represented on or be heard by a body involved in the process intended to produce a division or recommendation respecting fisheries stock assessment, fish conservation, the setting of fishing quotas, fishing licensing or the public right to fish or, in the case of an order to be made by the governor in council, to have the opportunity to comment on every proposed order before it is made.

The hon. member must know that the minister issues many such orders in response to changing conditions in the fisheries. Sometimes these orders must be made on an emergency basis. This clause would institute a cumbersome and time consuming review process that would delay the implementation of any decisions until all appeals had been exhausted. It would bring fisheries management in Canada to a standstill.

The bill is impractical for another reason, its potential cost to the taxpayers. The bill would require that every fisher who suffers a loss as a result of the abrogation of fishing rights other than as a result of a process that would involve fishermen shall be entitled to compensation for a loss. This could create a huge financial obligation for the government. Where does the hon. member think this money would come from? It is fine to be free with the taxpayers' money but we have spent five years sacrificing to bring the country's deficit under control. Now is not the time to be incurring substantial obligations.

Consider the double bind that this would create for the minister and his officials. Suppose they were faced with making a decision to protect a specific stock but to do so would mean paying a huge sum of compensation. Is the intent of this bill to discourage the minister from taking needed measures to protect the fisheries, or is the intent to load the taxpayers up with new financial burdens?

The bill is not precise in its wording and focus, touching on many legal issues, including some that are outside federal jurisdiction and would be impossible to implement in any effective manner. The wording is so vague as to be open to multiple interpretations.

We can take our pick of phrases but let us take this one: the consideration of the effect of fishing on traditional lifestyles including but not restricted to aboriginal traditional lifestyles. What exactly does this mean? Leaving aside the ambiguity of “the effect that fishing on traditional lifestyles”, how much consideration would the bill require? Whose traditional lifestyle? How do we distinguish traditional lifestyle versus a non-traditional one? The bill does not say.

The bill is both unnecessary and unworkable. Worse still, it misses entirely what should be the focus of our attention: protecting the ocean and its resources.

It is not just Canada that has seen the consequences of overfishing. Other nations from New Zealand to Norway have all seen fish stocks damaged by overfishing. We all now recognize that the survival of some of these stocks hangs by a thread and that if we do not take action now, it may be too late. That is why the focus of government policy must be and is on conserving and protecting the fish stocks. This bill would do nothing to advance those goals.

What we need are effective conservation based management policies, policies that balance the competing demands we make on the oceans with their ability to sustain their demands. This government is putting those policies in place. It continues to work through the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization, NAFO, to implement mechanisms to stop overfishing.

Last month we saw the formal adoption of 100% observation coverage for all fish vessels in the NAFO regulatory area. The decision meets one of the most important conservation objectives advanced by Canada at the NAFO annual meeting held in Lisbon in September. NAFO has acknowledged the success of the pilot program for 100% observation coverage and has noted that the apparent infringements of its rules have declined by over 80% since the pilot program was implemented.

The United Nations fisheries agreement, the result of a Canadian initiative, provides the means to strengthen international arrangements such as NAFO. Parties to this agreement will help to create a new enforcement system for the high seas. This system will provide for the protection of straddling and migratory fish stocks on the high seas. It will provide a binding and compulsory settlement for fishing disputes among states.

Canada is in the process of developing an oceans strategy that will set the course for management of our ocean resources into the next century. This strategy has three principles: sustainable development; integrating the management of human activity in estuaries, coastal and marine waters; and the precautionary approach, a commitment to err on the side of caution.

The strategy is based on the premise that everyone with a stake in the future health of the oceans must work together to preserve and protect them. This is the thrust of the government policy with regard to the oceans and their resources, and it is both appropriate and effective.

Rather than focusing on creating rights for any particular group, we must concentrate on protecting the oceans and the conservation of their resources for all Canadians because without them, there will be no fishermen and fishing communities, traditional or otherwise.

I urge the House to reject this bill.

Fishers' Bill Of RightsPrivate Members' Business

11:40 a.m.


John Cummins Reform Delta—South Richmond, BC

Madam Speaker, the fundamental protection for fishermen against arbitrary action by the government is found in the public right to fish. The fishers bill of rights introduced by my colleague from Charlotte recognizes the importance to fishermen of this right. It is for this reason I stand today to offer my support for this bill of rights for fishermen.

This ancient public right, a right for all citizens, until recently was so ingrained in our law making that it was not often spoken of. As of late it has become fashionable for ministers of fisheries to trumpet the importance of the creation of exclusive or private fisheries. Sometimes well meaning but weak ministers have been tempted by the idea that they could buy peace on the water and end lawlessness through the creation of private fisheries. This happened in British Columbia in 1992 with the creation of the exclusive native commercial salmon fishery on the Fraser.

Another insidious trend is just as great a threat to the fishery as the attempt to buy peace through the creation of private fisheries. That is the turning of a fishery over to a large corporation, to the rich and the powerful.

In the rush to create these private fisheries, our policy makers have forgotten our history and our fisheries law in regard to the public right to fish. The legal principles underpinning the public right were not arrived at overnight or in some great economic think tank. The public right is not the preserve of the right of economists on the right or the left. The public right knows neither left nor right.

It has stood the test of time. When we tinker with the public fishery we can do great harm unless we have understood what the public right is and its proven utility over hundreds of years, that it has given all citizens access to the public fishery, rich or poor, large or small, native or non-native. That equality of access deserves careful tending in a fast changing world.

Like so many of our legal and political conventions the public right developed in English law, but from the earliest days of settlement found root in Canada. The public right to fish has been a recognized feature of our law since the reception of English law into what is now Canada.

It became codified in 1215 when it was set down in provision 47 of the Magna Carta. It was designed to address a public grievance caused by the practice of the king in those times to clear the public off the fishing grounds whenever he wished to go fishing.

Since 1215 it has been accepted in English law that the king does not own the fisheries in tidal waters. They are public. The king has no power to transfer such public fisheries to an exclusive group. All members of the public are equally entitled to access.

Because the public right to fish has an ancient basis, it is sometimes asked by those not familiar with fisheries or marine law if it still has any basis in law in Canada. The courts and the law officers of the crown have from the earliest days in Canada recognized the public right to fish.

In 1996 the Supreme Court of Canada in deciding Van der Peet, Gladstone and NTC Smokehouse, fisheries cases from British Columbia, relied on the legal principle often referred to as the public right to fish.

This ancient right has stood the test of time and is very much alive today. It guarantees the public right of access in public waters. Fish in navigable or tidal waters are not owned by the crown. Rather, the crown is the guardian or trustee for the public in this right of access to a fishery in public waters.

The supreme court's 1996 decision in Gladstone relied on the position our courts and law officers have been taking for the past 150 years. The court in Gladstone relied on and restated the decision in the 1913 British Columbia fisheries reference:

Since the time of the Magna Carta, there has been a common law right to fish in tidal waters that only can be abrogated by the enactment of competent legislation.

The 1913 reference certainly established that the public right of access was a part of Canadian law, yet it operated in Canada long before 1913.

The National Archives contains an 1866 letter from the solicitor general of the province of Canada that is still quoted today. In the 1866 legal opinion the solicitor general states:

Without an act of parliament—no exclusive right could thereby be gained—as the crown could not—grant an exclusive privilege in favour of individuals over public rights—in respect of which the crown only holds as trustee for the public.

The National Archives also has a handwritten letter to Sir John A. Macdonald from one of his ministers dated 1882 advising him of the centrality in fisheries law of the public right to fish:

Fishing rights in public waters cannot be made exclusive excepting under the express sanction of parliament.

Justice LaForest, a recently retired justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, in his legal text “Water Law in Canada” describes the federal government as a trustee for the public of the public right of fishing.

The federal government in its argument in the supreme court in Gladstone neatly summarized the law:

Since Canada was not settled by the English prior to the Magna Carta there could not be exclusive fishing grounds in tidal waters in those parts of Canada which are governed by the common law (unless granted by statute).

“Fisheries Law”, a document prepared by the Continuing Legal Education Society of British Columbia as an aid for lawyers seeking to upgrade their knowledge of fisheries law states:

[The public right to fish] places a restriction on the power of the crown, and therefore on the discretion of the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, which applies to this day—Without clear express statutory authority common law rights in the public fisheries—cannot be extinguished.

I have taken a great deal of time addressing the public right of access to the fishery because it is fundamental to any bill of rights for fisherman.

Recent actions by the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans reveal that he has played fast and loose with this ancient right in British Columbia.

My views on the legality of the native commercial fishery regulations are well known.

The provincial court of British Columbia ruled this year that these regulations were outside the law. The court found the minister in contempt of the law but I am not here today to talk about the now illegal exclusive native commercial fisheries regulations.

If the minister and his officials had respect for the law and the ancient right of public access to the fishery, we would not be confronted by an illegal act by the minister of fisheries.

Fishermen must know their rights if they are to protect themselves from those policy makers who would create private fisheries for the profit of the powerful, whether they be large corporations or those that engage in lawlessness.

The best advice, whether in 1866, 1882, 1913 or 1996 by law officers of the crown and the courts has been to remind ministers that their job is to protect the public right. They are its trustee, its guarantor.

I support this bill of rights for fishermen because it acts to remind the minister of his responsibility as trustee of the public right to fish in public waters.

I bring to the attention of the House another area of arbitrary action by the minister of fisheries where fishermen are in need of protection.

Last summer at a time when American Fisheries Society scientists had named at least 214 coho stocks in B.C. at a high risk of extinction, the department's chief spokesman on fisheries management told fishermen that of the 900 individual coho stocks in B.C., only two were threatened with extinction and that efforts would be made to protect them.

On June 19 the minister stated: “In order to meet my coho conservation objectives announced on May 21, all areas on the coast will be defined as either red zones where there is an objective of zero fishing mortality or yellow zones where fishing will be allowed if and when the risk of coho bycatch mortality is minimal”.

When it came to putting in practice the notion of protecting fish, the minister was nowhere to be seen. In fact, he allowed fishing in a red zone area around the Queen Charlotte Islands, an area where coho stocks were at high risk of extinction.

John Disney, a respected fishermen from Masset in the Queen Charlotte Islands, tells me that in the last cycle year commercial gill net fishermen in that area killed only 1,038 coho as bycatch for the whole season.

The minister allowed sports fishermen, in particular his friend, the owner of the Oak Bay Marine Group, to conduct a sport fishery in that area which Mr. Disney estimates was killing 900 coho per day.

A fishers bill of rights as proposed by my friend from Charlotte would have prevented this arbitrary transfer of allocation designed to profit a rich friend of the minister and would have offered protection to the resource.

Fishers' Bill Of RightsPrivate Members' Business

11:50 a.m.


Paul Steckle Liberal Huron—Bruce, ON

Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to address private member's Bill C-302 by the member for Charlotte.

All Canadians and all members of this House want to see a healthy fishery into the coming century, one that provides a good living to independent professional owner-operators and employees, one that supports flourishing fishing communities along the nation's coastlines that is sustainable and supports a flexible, versatile and self-reliant industry largely self-regulating and operating without subsidies.

We may argue how to achieve it but few would disagree with this goal. How to best realize this goal is where we differ. Is it by adopting the legislation before the House or by instituting a so-called fishers bill of rights? I do not believe so. This is not the way to achieve this goal.

Passing this bill could actually be counterproductive, harming not only the resource but also the very communities the bill is intended to help. Let me explain why.

Let us first take a look at what the honourable member wants to achieve. In presenting the bill, he said it is an act to establish the rights of fishermen, including the right to be involved in the process of fisheries stock assessment, fish conservation, setting of fishing quotas, fishing licensing and the public right to fish and establish the right of fishermen to be informed of decisions affecting fishing as a livelihood in advance and the right to compensation if other rights are abrogated unfairly.

The hon. member must know that fishermen already participate in most if not all these activities and that in practice they are actively involved in stock assessment, fish conservation and monitoring. Fishermen participate through consultation along with other stakeholders in the development of integrated fishery management plans and the setting of fishery quotas. Many fishermen are already involved directly in managing fisheries through the co-management approach or joint project agreements with DFO.

DFO developed the co-management approach as a way to give the people who work in the fishery more say in how it is managed. An example of the co-management approach in the maritimes is the Cape Breton snow crab fishery where fishermen have entered into a multiyear joint project agreement with DFO.

Other examples of co-management include shrimp on the Scotian shelf and exploratory fisheries in skate, monkfish, rock crab and red crab.

Co-management works well as a voluntary approach that increases the participation of fishermen in decision making. The government is planning to introduce a new fishers act that would allow individuals and communities more say over decisions affecting their lives and the capacity to do longer term planning.

Fishermen and others in the industry have said repeatedly that they want government out of the daily operations of the fisheries. The government has listened.

The bill before the House today is unnecessary. There are other reasons for rejecting this bill, among which is it would be impossible to put into practice. Let me give an example of why this approach is impractical.

The bill requires that decisions not be implemented until all appeals have been exhausted and reasonable notice has been given to the fishermen involved. In 1995 the west coast groundfish trawl fishery exceeded its TACs for many species so the minister of fisheries ordered the fishery closed early in the season.

The minister did this not to deprive fishermen of their rights but to exercise his responsibility to protect the fishery. How would that situation have been handled under this bill? Would overfishing have continued while consultations dragged on and on until everyone was satisfied that perhaps the fishery should be closed? What condition would the stocks have been in by then?

Sometimes we need a person in charge with the authority to act. Those with a stake in the fishery should be consulted and they are. But to tie the minister's hands so that essential decisions cannot be made when they must be made would be folly.

The minister of fisheries is the member of cabinet responsible for fisheries. It is up to him or her to set policy to decide when to fish, where to fish and what to fish. If the policy does not work the minister can decide to change it, usually after consulting with those affected.

But to mandate a legislated requirement to consult while the health of the stocks hangs in the balance fetters the minister's ability to act quickly in the interest of conserving the resource.

Surely the intention behind this bill is not to frustrate conservation efforts, not now when some fish stocks require extremely careful management and not when we have already made progress in adopting responsible and co-operative management.

The west coast groundfish trawl fishery now operates under an innovative management regime. This regime includes individual quotas that establish individual accountability for the harvest limits. Community representatives actively contribute to the management of the fishery through the groundfish development authority which was established jointly by the federal and provincial governments in 1996.

Change is happening and not just in the case of groundfish. Management of the west coast herring fishery is also changing in response to recommendations from the industry. Many shell fish fisheries are managed under co-operative agreements with fishermen who are contributing to innovative monitoring and observer programs.

As we all know, the west coast salmon fishery has also undergone major changes. Last June the government announced a major restructuring of the Pacific salmon fishery. It was a momentous decision and was taken only after extensive study and consultation with fishermen and others in the industry.

This consultation is continuing. After the government announced conservation measures last May to protect and restore coho salmon stocks, 23 community meetings took place throughout that province. More than 1,450 British Columbians attended these meetings and their ideas were taken into consideration.

Following the June 19 announcement of $400 million in federal funding the government held extensive discussions with fishermen and other stakeholders on program design. They discussed licence retirement, incentives for new selective harvesting techniques, options for diversifying fishing income and opportunities and the impact of changes on coastal communities. It is interesting to note that many stakeholders requested more activity and less consultation. The government has continued to consult with fishermen on how the licence retirement program should be set up and run.

It is clear that fisheries management in this country is undergoing a transformation. It is this transformation that has been long sought by fishermen. We can see that fishermen and others with a stake in the fishery have a greater role today in managing the fishery than ever before, and that role is growing.

Nevertheless, it is essential that the minister retain the ultimate responsibility for conserving and managing the resource for the benefit of all Canadians. After all, it is important to remember that Canada's fish resources are managed for the benefit of all Canadians. Fishermen receive from the minister the privilege of exploiting these resources and we must remember that conservation is the government's first priority.

If there are no fish there can be no fishers. If we are to ensure that the fishery is there for our children and for their children we must conserve the resource. The bill before the House does nothing for conservation. As for giving fishermen more say in the management of the fishery, that process is already well established.

It is well for us to talk about rights, but with those rights, particularly in the area of fishing, as in all other rights, as citizens of this country we bear a responsibility to the resource, in particular as we look at conserving that resource for generations to come. It is my hope, as we anticipate further discussion on this bill and as we anticipate the vote, that we will consider the impact of those rights and responsibilities.

From a drafting perspective this bill is vague. It touches on many legal issues, including some that are outside federal jurisdiction. That is very clear. Given its vagueness this legislation would be impossible, in all likelihood, to implement in any effective manner. It is for these reasons and others which I have not mentioned this morning that I urge my colleagues in the House to reject Bill C-302 when it finally comes to a vote.

Fishers' Bill Of RightsPrivate Members' Business


Progressive Conservative

Charlie Power Progressive Conservative St. John's West, NL

Madam Speaker, I know we only have about two minutes left in today's debate, but I want to make a few preliminary comments before concluding my comments at a future date.

First, I want to commend the member for New Brunswick Southwest for bringing in an excellent bill which would protect the rights of people who are involved in the traditional fishery all across Canada. In the 500 year history of the fishery in Newfoundland, never has there been as great a need to have the rights of fishermen protected.

All the member wanted to do when he talked about the rights of fishermen was to make sure that fishers have access to and are involved in the process of fisheries stock assessment, fish conservation, the setting of fishing quotas, fishing licences and the public right to fish.

If fishers are not allowed to be involved in that process then there is something very seriously wrong. Never has the need been as great as it is this day. We saw what happened in this House in the last month or so. The Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans, which had probably the best chairman that committee ever had, the Liberal member for Gander—Grand Falls, along with eight other Liberals on the committee, made a series of recommendations which were agreed to and passed by the committee. However, when those changes came before the House of Commons, none of them were allowed to vote in favour of their own recommendations.

The Liberals will say today that we do not need someone to protect the rights of fishers. Perhaps what I should do is bring in another bill to protect Liberals on standing committees. That bill would include a special provision to allow them to make all kinds of very serious recommendations and then allow them to come to the House of Commons and vote against their own recommendations.

A second provision of the bill might be to replace the nine members on the standing committee with nine codfish who would say more about what is wrong with the fishery than certainly the Liberal members on the standing committee.

Fishers' Bill Of RightsPrivate Members' Business


The Acting Speaker (Ms. Thibeault)

I must now interrupt the hon. member. He will have approximately seven minutes left when the bill is brought back before the House.

The time provided for the consideration of Private Members' Business has now expired and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.

SupplyGovernment Orders


Progressive Conservative

Jean Dubé Progressive Conservative Madawaska—Restigouche, NB


That, in the opinion of this House, the government should continue with the Employment Insurance Small Weeks Adjustment Projects and amend the legislation in order to make the adjustment projects a permanent feature of the Employment Insurance Act.

Madam Speaker, I thank you for letting me address the motion I am tabling today. I will share my time with the hon. member for Burin—St. George's.

The purpose of the motion before us today is to invite the government to correct in a permanent fashion the flaws in the Employment Insurance Act.

I realize that some parliamentarians know very little about the employment insurance small weeks adjustment projects. Yet, it is an initiative that applies to 29 regions of Canada where the unemployment rate exceeds 10%.

In fact, regions of Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, the Yukon, the Northwest Territories and the four Atlantic provinces have participated in adjustment projects. It is an issue that affects tens of thousands of Canadians, and this is why it is important to discuss it today.

Let us take a moment to look at the context that made it necessary to resort to small weeks employment projects. In 1996, the federal government adopted Bill C-12, which included a major reform of the employment insurance program. The changes made included using eligibility criteria that were no longer based on the work week, but on the hours of work, and calculating benefits by taking into account every week of employment in the previous 26 weeks, including the weeks with few hours of work.

This last point was a problematical one, because including the income from these small weeks in the calculation can significantly lower benefits, and this discourages workers from accepting short work weeks.

Toward the end of January 1997, or a few weeks after total implementation of the new provisions in the act, three Liberal MPs were mandated to propose solutions to the short weeks problem to the Minister of Human Resources Development. Following up on their recommendations, the minister announced his small weeks adjustment projects on March 5, 1997 What is rather unfortunate about all this is that the government had been aware of this problem for close to a year already.

When Bill C-12 was being debated, in fact, Conservative Senator Orville Phillips proposed an amendment intended to remove weeks of less than 15 hours from the calculation of benefits. Otherwise, the senator felt, EI recipients were at risk of drawing reduced benefits if they had worked only a few hours in a given week. Unfortunately, that amendment was given the heave-ho by the Liberal majority in the Senate.

This same problem was also recognized and brought to the government's attention by a number of other stakeholders. For instance, Mathilda Blanchard, a well-known union figure in New Brunswick, was quoted on November 4, 1996 in L'Acadie Nouvelle as saying “I really cannot see why this matter does not seem to get picked up in this region. The 26-week factor will do a great deal of harm in a region like ours, which is characterized by seasonal work. Plenty of people will end up having to get through the winter with nothing but a cheque for $60 or so a week coming in.

As I was saying earlier, despite warnings about this weakness in the EI act, the government took almost a year to offer some form of correction to the inequity. In fact, the Liberal response seemed to anger some business representatives who feared election politics were behind the small weeks adjustment projects since the announcement was made only a few months before the federal election.

With this motion the government has the opportunity to prove that the small weeks adjustment projects were not a mere electoral ploy, but an attempt in good faith to help workers accept as many hours of work as they possibly can. In my view, and in the view of my caucus colleagues, the small weeks adjustment projects have been very useful and successful. The preliminary aim of the adjustment projects was to ensure that every hour of work counts toward eligibility for the benefits and encourages people to take all available work without fear of having their benefits reduced by working small weeks.

The federal government adopted two approaches to the adjustment projects to evaluate and compare results. As I said earlier, 29 economic regions across Canada where the unemployment rate is consistently above 10% are participating in the program. Eighteen regions in Quebec and the eastern provinces are part of the bundling project. Bundling small weeks means to bundle the earnings in small weeks to meet the average earnings of the big weeks plus any small week needed to meet the minimum divisor.

Eleven regions in Ontario and the western provinces are participating in the excluding project. Excluding small weeks means that all small weeks not required to meet the minimum divisor will be ignored for the purpose of calculating benefit levels. They still count toward eligibility and duration.

These adjustment projects are slated to end on November 15, 1998, a mere three weeks away. We do not know the fate of this valuable program.

Most importantly, Canadian workers in the toughest employment areas of the country are still kept guessing.

This program has cost the government roughly $130 million a year, a mere drop in the bucket when we consider the $7 billion yearly surplus in the EI fund.

My colleagues in the Progressive Conservative Party have constantly argued since 1996 that the EI surplus belongs to Canadian workers and employers. It does not belong to the Liberal cabinet.

We have argued for cuts in EI premiums. In fact the chief actuary has concluded that the EI program could be sustained at a premium of $1.90. Therefore, continuing the small weeks adjustment projects would in no way preclude a substantial decrease in EI premiums as well. All in all, continuing the small weeks adjustment projects would be a positive step toward eliminating disincentives to work.

Back when the projects were announced in 1997, many Liberal members stood in this House to praise the value of these projects. The member for Vaudreuil—Soulanges had this to say: “The adjustments announced yesterday to the Employment Insurance Act confirm that our primary concern is to encourage people who are out of work to return to the workforce”.

Diane Brushett, the former member for Cumberland—Colchester, said the following: “This will ensure that workers in every region of the country are able to take full advantage of all available work without having their benefits lowered”.

The solicitor general issued this warning: “In recent days we have heard a great deal about the small weeks anomaly in the employment insurance program. Make no mistake, it is a serious problem that must be fixed”.

The member for Hillsborough was of this opinion: “The solution will work. Small weeks are counted for eligibility but are bundled for calculating benefits. This change gives claimants the best of both worlds. I doubt there are many who would argue that reforms were not needed”.

Canadians already have enough difficulty finding permanent or full time work. The last thing they need is an insurance system that penalizes them for working short weeks. It tells them that the federal government wants them back at work and that all work, whether it is five hours a week or forty hours a week, should be equally considered.

I invite all members of the House to join our caucus in supporting Canadian workers by voting in favour of the motion.

SupplyGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.


Paul Crête Bloc Kamouraska—Rivière-Du-Loup—Témiscouata—Les Basques, QC

Madam Speaker, I am delighted to put a question to the member for Madawaska—Restigouche. First of all, I can tell him that the Bloc Quebecois is 100% in favour of the Conservative Party motion. The riding of Madawaska—Restigouche is next door to mine and I know very well that the member's constituents are experiencing the same problems as mine with respect to this issue.

EI benefits have been substantially reduced throughout the eastern Quebec and maritime regions. As soon as it introduced its reform, the present Liberal government realized that there was a terrible problem and that a pilot project was needed to correct a situation which was leaving people with completely unacceptable benefits, lower even than welfare.

Two years ago, as we know, this government introduced a pilot project that will come to an end in three weeks. But it is not on November 15 that people will start suffering. They have already been suffering for two weeks, three weeks, one month, two months, five months. All those who worked this summer still do not know whether they will be receiving reasonable benefits on November 15.

Could this not be pointed out to the minister? I am looking for arguments that would convince him. I would like to hear what the member for Madawaska—Restigouche thinks could be done. His motion is a timely one, particularly as it also proposes making the projects a permanent feature of the legislation so that people from our regions no longer have to beg.

There is no reason why people should be forced to beg for every little morsel of the EI fund. Could the member for Madawaska—Restigouche provide the whole picture so that the government majority will finally understand and so that members, particularly Liberal members from the maritimes, will support us on this issue?

SupplyGovernment Orders

12:15 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Jean Dubé Progressive Conservative Madawaska—Restigouche, NB

Madam Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question.

Yes, there are only three weeks left before the end of this project. The government also knew, two years before, that there were problems with the employment insurance reform. At my first meeting of the Standing Committee on Human Resources Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities, I requested a thorough study of the employment insurance reform. This reform affected a number of regions in Canada, and the poorest Canadians were affected.

Today, we have to equip our young people with the tools they need to compete on the global market. Obviously, we are referring to education. Families are not even capable of paying for their children's education, which is essential today, because of the lack of employment and the lack of income. Today we see that only three weeks are left before the end of this project. The government should perhaps have announced its intention two months ago.

The employment insurance reform was a mistake from the outset. The government made these changes only a few weeks before the election. So, if there were problems three weeks before the federal election, I am sure there are still problems today. Canadians from coast to coast are waiting to see what the Minister of Human Resources Development recommends.

The problem is found not only in the Atlantic region, but in Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba and western Canada, especially with the upcoming fisheries problem there. I can tell you that the workers in western Canada, especially in British Columbia, are hoping for comments and a response from the Minister of Human Resources Development.

Canada Customs And Revenue Agency ActGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.

Glengarry—Prescott—Russell Ontario


Don Boudria LiberalLeader of the Government in the House of Commons

Madam Speaker, I regret to inform the House that an agreement could not be reached under the provisions of Standing Orders 78(1) or 78(2) with respect to the second reading stage of Bill C-43, an act to establish the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency and to amend and repeal other acts as a consequence.

Under the provisions of Standing Order 78(3), I give notice that a minister of the crown will propose at the next sitting a motion to allot a specific number of days or hours for the consideration and disposal of the proceedings at the said stage.

The House resumed consideration of the motion.

SupplyGovernment Orders

12:20 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Bill Matthews Progressive Conservative Burin—St. George's, NL

Madam Speaker, I commend my colleague from Madawaska—Restigouche for putting the motion forward today for debate in the House. It is a matter that is of great concern to many of us who represent areas of high unemployment.

There was great public debate throughout the country when the government reformed the EI regulations. There are still many people who do not fully understand the impact of the changes to the EI Act and the EI regulations.

Ten days ago I met with five union leaders from my riding who were very concerned about changes to the EI regulations and about the employment insurance small weeks adjustment program. I am very pleased to see that the Minister of Human Resources Development is listening. I look forward to the minister's involvement in the debate later today.

Many of us in the House of Commons cannot identify with what $40, $50 or $80 a week means to many low income families. It means that they are able to send their children to school fed, to buy some books and clothing, and to heat their homes. To some of us this amount of money does not seem like a lot, but to many people in high unemployment areas it is bread and butter on the table.

Adjustment programs and projects have been very positive. We should go out and about in our ridings to talk to people who through no fault of their own cannot get full time work, get called in for 20 or 25 hours a week and in many cases get paid the minimum wage. If it was not for the adjustment programs their EI rates would be severely cut.

I go on record as saying that adjustment programs have been very positive. I have written the minister and discussed the issue with him as late as Friday. Because we are running out of time quickly I am hoping the minister will bring in his evaluation of the two adjustment programs and make a decision that is positive for the thousands and thousands of workers throughout Canada who are relying or counting on the minister to make the right decision, to continue with the adjustment projects and to make them permanent.

We should not have to come back here in 18 or 24 months and face another deadline because another temporary measure will be running out. As a result of adjustment programs and the minister's evaluation we need some permanency in those programs. Workers should not have to go another 12, 18 or 24 months and be faced with the same deadline, not knowing if the bundling of small weeks or the elimination of small weeks, whichever the minister chooses, will be upon them again.

I appeal to the minister to move quickly, to make a positive decision and to make the decision permanent. It is very important.

I know Atlantic Canada best. Ridings such as Burin—St. George's have been devastated because of a downturn in the groundfish industry as a result of the collapse of cod stocks. People who have worked 12 months of the year for most of their lives are striving today to get enough weeks of work to qualify for EI. It has an effect on me, having grown up and worked with those people, to see what they are going through today.

Then people in corner stores and retail outlets are clawed back and get only 15 or 20 hours a week because the primary industry. the fishery, is pretty much gone. They rely very heavily on an adjustment program. If they happen to get 12 full weeks of work and make $250 the employer can only pull them into work for six or seven weeks more and they make less than $150 a week. It is very important that the weekly earnings average not be decreased, and that is what those projects do. They are very positive for those people. They keep their weekly earnings average up and consequently keep their EI benefits rate up.

In my meeting with union people about 10 days ago there were people sitting around the table who worked in fish plants and in stores. They know the impact of this program. They told me that without adjustment projects, without the bundling of small weeks, their EI benefits would be so significantly reduced they would not be able to maintain their households. That is what it means. That is the implication.

My colleague introduced his motion very well. He explained the criteria of the projects very well. I go on record as supporting the motion. I appeal to the minister. In a discussion with him on Friday he told me that he was working hard on this program. I respect and appreciate that.

We have about three weeks left. I hope we will get the minister's evaluation very soon. I hope we will get a positive decision very soon so that the thousands of people out and about the country will take some comfort in knowing there will be some stability and permanency in the minister's decision.

Whether it is the bundling of small weeks or the elimination of small weeks as in Ontario and out west, both adjustment programs have been very positive. It comes down to which one the minister chooses. Will he choose the bundling of small weeks or will he choose the elimination of small weeks?

I hope the minister will participate in the debate later and we will get some sense of where he is coming from. I am looking forward to the participation of members on all sides of the House in the debate. Most of us represent people who are benefiting from adjustment programs. We all have some people in our ridings that have benefited from this adjustment program. I look forward to their speaking in support of the motion as I do. I move:

That the motion be amended by adding after the words “and amend the legislation” the word “forthwith”.

SupplyGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

The amendment is in order. Debate is on the amendment.

SupplyGovernment Orders

12:25 p.m.

Malpeque P.E.I.


Wayne Easter LiberalParliamentary Secretary to Minister of Fisheries and Oceans

Mr. Speaker, I always enjoy listening to the member for Burin—St. George's. I am not really surprised.

He talked very much in general terms. To make a proper decision the government needs to deal with specifics in terms of how the pilot projects are working.

I am a little surprised that both speakers on this amendment never in their initial remarks would congratulate the government for having seen in the beginning there was a problem with short weeks and for having fixed that problem and for having coming up with some adjustment projects to look after it. They should stand and say thank you to the government on this side of the House for having made that great move in the first place.

Could the member for Burin—St. George's give us some specific examples of how people in his riding are benefiting by these adjustment measures? So that we can get down to some concrete action, could he tell us which of the pilot programs he favours? Is it the bundling or is it the excluding?

SupplyGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Bill Matthews Progressive Conservative Burin—St. George's, NL

Mr. Speaker, for some reason the parliamentary secretary wants to burn me. He wants to call it Burn—St. George's.

On a serious note I did say that it was a positive initiative. They have been positive adjustment programs. We only hope the government in its wisdom continues with one form or the other.

Let me say to the parliamentary secretary, it basically means that if someone has 14 weeks of $300 earnings and six weeks or seven weeks of less than $150 earnings, then the bundling of small weeks which applies in Atlantic Canada keeps the average weekly earnings up. Consequently the EI rate keeps up and they get a higher benefit. Without the bundling of weeks adjustment program, the average weekly income would drop. Consequently they would get lower EI. That is the positive. Those are the specifics.

I can tell the parliamentary secretary that in Burin—St. George's thousands and thousands of people have found the bundling of small weeks to be very positive. It is beneficial to them and their families.

The current surplus in the EI fund is there in part because the government reduced the EI benefits across the board. The government cannot use the argument that the money is not there to continue with the adjustment programs. There is a surplus in the EI account. It is a surplus that has been contributed to—

SupplyGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. McClelland)

The hon. member for Sackville—Eastern Shore.

SupplyGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.


Peter Stoffer NDP Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, I put on the desk of the member for Burin—St. George's a copy of an EI statement that I received from someone on a recent visit to Canso, Nova Scotia. It is quite simple. The EI benefit for a person who is single with minimum weeks and without this program in place is $25 a week. If they are lucky and are married with children, they get $31 a week. These are actual statements from people whom I recently met in Canso.

I would like the member to comment. If the bundling which I agree with on a personal note is not allowed to help those people that find it difficult to get permanent work with full time benefits and good salaries, in areas of the country such as where I come from in Atlantic Canada, what should they do? What should those people who make $25, or $31 for those who are married with children, on EI do?

SupplyGovernment Orders

12:30 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Bill Matthews Progressive Conservative Burin—St. George's, NL

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for his comment and question.

It is obvious what people in those situations must do. With weekly incomes of these amounts, they cannot send their children to school fed. If they cannot find a job and the EI rates are $25 or $31 a week, then it is a sad reflection and a sad thing to have to say there is only one recourse. That is for them to go down to see the welfare officer at the social assistance office.

As I said in my opening remarks, for some of us who are fortunate, and that is almost all of us that sit in this chamber, we cannot identify with what $40, $50, $70 or $80 more a week really means to the people this provision helps. There is only once recourse for those people, which is to go and see the welfare officer.

SupplyGovernment Orders

12:35 p.m.

Papineau—Saint-Denis Québec


Pierre Pettigrew LiberalMinister of Human Resources Development

Mr. Speaker, I welcome this opportunity to speak on the motion presented this morning by the hon. member for Madawaska-Restigouche on employment insurance and small weeks adjustment projects. About 18 months ago, in my capacity as the Minister of Human Resources Development, I had the pleasure of moving these projects, which have helped resolve a problem we had identified according to the government's wishes.

I am pleased to see that the member recognizes the value of some of the important changes we had to make to the employment insurance system. As the member already knows, the old unemployment insurance system was 25 years old. It simply no longer met the needs of today's new workforce.

The old system did nothing for those who worked part time, and there are many such people. The old system did not recognize the long hours put in by seasonal workers and did nothing to help people get back to work.

That is why we took on the difficult task of modernizing the employment insurance system in this country. We have put in place a completely new system—it was the first major structural reform in 25 years.

Our objective was to find a balance between giving workers the temporary income support they need when they lose their job and giving them the tools they need to get back to work.

So far, the new EI program is having some success. Over 31,000 new jobs have been created in areas of high unemployment through the transitional jobs fund program. Canadians are benefiting from the $2 billion we invested in active employment measures and most of those who lost their job or quit with a good reason are getting income support.

Because of the size of this reform, we also put in place a monitoring system to help us assess the impact of the reforms and address any potential issues that could arise. Soon after the reform took effect, we identified the small weeks problem. One of the major objectives of the reform was to make every hour of work count toward eligibility for employment insurance benefits and to encourage people to take all available work.

It soon became evident that there was an anomaly in the system that was causing a disincentive for some workers to accept small weeks of work as it lowered their benefit levels. We therefore announced a series of adjustment projects targeting 29 high unemployment regions across Canada. The small weeks adjustment projects were put in place to address the disincentive identified by employers and workers.

We decided to test two types of adjustment projects. One type included the bundling of small weeks in Atlantic Canada and Quebec. The other excluded the small weeks in other provinces and territories.

An assessment of the two types of small weeks projects is currently under way. The collection of data is now being completed. The findings will permit the government to determine the degree to which a disincentive to accept small weeks of work exists. A decision on what action may be required over the long run will be made this fall.

For the time being my department continues to process claims as if the program were to be continued.

In light of the fact that we do not have all the information required, I am afraid that we cannot support the member's motion, but we do recognize his good intentions.

As the member knows, we are also continuing to monitor the impact of the whole reform on individuals and communities.

Under the new EI legislation, we are committed to tabling an EI monitoring and assessment report before Parliament every year for five years. We take this commitment very seriously.

We think it is important to fully understand the impact of the reform and we want to ensure that the program meets the needs of all Canadians. The second EI monitoring and assessment report should be released next spring.

Speaking of the EI program inevitably leads me to want to discuss the beneficiaries to unemployed or BU ratio report my department released last week. The opposition, and the spokesperson for the branch office of the PQ in this parliament in particular, have tried to confuse and frighten workers with their brilliant interpretation of the information contained in this report. The beneficiaries to unemployed ratio report is full of concrete figures and statistics on unemployment.

The opposition has repeatedly tried to mix and match figures to suit their purposes while refusing to look at the true conclusions of the report.

Two of the main issues the BU report tried to address were: Whether the BU ratio was a good tool to measure the effectiveness of the employment insurance program and whether the employment insurance program was meeting its objective of providing temporary income support to Canadians who were between jobs.

The study concluded that the BU ratio is not a good indicator to measure the effectiveness of the EI system. It also concluded that the EI system is meeting its objective of providing temporary income support to Canadians who have an attachment to the labour force. In fact, 78% of Canadians who have lost their jobs, or quit with just cause, are eligible for EI.

The reason that the BU ratio does not effectively measure the effectiveness of the EI system is because the BU ratio includes all unemployed Canadians. But not all unemployed Canadians are automatically covered by EI.

Following the opposition's logic, what the Bloc would have us do is pay EI benefits to people who have never worked a day in their lives. Obviously, someone who never worked a day in his or her life is not covered under the EI system. But we have other programs to help this person enter the workforce, one of which is the youth employment strategy.

If someone decides to quit his or her job to go back to school entitled to EI? Of course not, but we have other programs, including the Canadian opportunities strategy, to help this person go back to school.

Self-employed workers do not pay EI premiums and are therefore not entitled to EI. Someone who is being paid severance pay is not entitled to EI until this severance pay has been exhausted. It seems perfectly obvious to me, but the people across the way do not want to understand.

The government is there for unemployed Canadians who are not eligible for EI but who need help. We have a variety of EI supporting programs, such as the youth employment strategy, which helps youth with the transition from school to work.

We have the Canadian opportunities strategy, which gives Canadians access to a good education so they can get better jobs. We also have the transitional jobs fund, which is creating jobs in areas of high unemployment.

We have the post-TAGS program to help affected fishers and communities move on with their lives. We have active employment measures helping people get the skills they need to re-enter the labour market. Furthermore, we have the new hires program, which is helping employers hire more young Canadians.

The EI program is there to meet the needs of Canadian workers who are between jobs. Our government will continue to monitor closely the impact of our system and reform. We remain open to resolving problems that arise, like shorts weeks. When this problem was brought to our attention, we found interesting solutions, which the opposition has now approved, and I thank them for appreciating the amount of work we have put into this.