House of Commons Hansard #161 of the 37th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was endangered.


FisheriesEmergency Debate

9:40 p.m.

Some hon. members

Hear, hear.

FisheriesEmergency Debate

9:40 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Greg Thompson Progressive Conservative New Brunswick Southwest, NB

Mr. Speaker, I know you do not like this type of notoriety but it is due. It is also due the other members taking part in the debate and the hon. member for St. John's West who started it.

One of the previous speakers, my hon. colleague from the Cumberland area of Nova Scotia, mentioned some of the ironic twists of the debate. Mr. Speaker, he reminded us that about 10 years ago you, myself, the hon. member for Cumberland--Colchester and others here tonight were members of the House when the minister of fisheries from St. John's West, Mr. Crosby, made the tough decision to shut down the cod fishery. We are here tonight in the House of Commons talking about the same thing: the overfishing and depletion of fish stocks.

I was taken with the hon. member for Burin--St. George's who talked about the devastation of fishing communities in Newfoundland including those he represents. One point he made was that thousands of jobs have been lost and more are at risk.

Another point that was made, and I am not sure if it was by him or the hon. member for St. John's West, was that the population of Newfoundland is down to 1963 levels. There has been an migration of people from Newfoundland because they have been robbed of their resource by outsiders. Other nations have taken away their ability to make a living. It has been a tremendous draw on their economy. Families have paid a tremendous price. The stability we would like to see in any family in any village has disappeared along with the fish.

I thought about something interesting while listening to the debate. If this happened in any other jurisdiction we would be outraged. Let us think in legal terms. What would happen if someone stole their neighbour's car or destroyed their property? As members well know, there would be consequences. However other nations can do it to us as Canadians. They can come over here and rape our fisheries as the hon. member for Burins--St. George's put it. Yet nothing happens. It has been happening for years yet we allow them to get away with it.

I will confess something to the House of Commons. When I was a young man the first time I ever voted I voted Liberal. I know I would normally get a round of applause from the government side of the House for that statement but I say it with pride. I voted Liberal because during the FLQ crisis Prime Minister Trudeau was asked by journalists how far he would go. They asked if he would bring in tanks or the army. Mr. Trudeau's response was “Just watch me”. We did watch him.

Some people thought it was the wrong thing to do but a lot of Canadians, myself included, thought it was the right thing. It was the right thing for the right reason: to protect Canada. What we know today as Canada is worth preserving. The fisheries in Newfoundland and the rest of Canada are worth preserving. We must do so.

We have to flex our muscles and be tough. Unfortunately a lot of fisheries policy is not determined by the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans. We all know that. It is determined by foreign affairs. It is the toughest department any minister must deal with because as Canadians we must be polite. If people steal our resources or step on our toes we excuse ourselves for being there.

We cannot afford to do that for ever and ever, amen. We must take strong action. It must be now and not later. We have had this debate in the House of Commons year in and year out regardless of who has sat in the Prime Minister's chair. It is time we took action.

Mr. Speaker, I thank you and my House leader, the member for Pictou--Antigonish--Guysborough, one more time for the other night. I had a private member's motion that was supposed to come to a vote Monday or Tuesday night. Mr. Speaker, you were successful in deferring the vote to yesterday afternoon following question period. This allowed me to be on an island in the Bay of Fundy called Grand Manan Island which has a rich and productive fishery.

The level of income on Grand Manan Island surpasses that of many parts of New Brunswick and Atlantic Canada because inhabitants of the little island manage their fishery very well. They take care of the stock. They are good custodians. They understand that the health of their community and the future of their villages demands that they take care of the resource. They are considered by all of us regardless of political stripe as professional fishermen and true custodians of the resource.

One advantage they have is that a lot of the resource such as scallops or lobster is in the immediate area. A debate that is not uncommon to the community concerns the traditional fishery versus aquaculture and the impact it has on their fishery. The island's inhabitants are protective of their fishery. They want to see strength in the aquaculture industry but not at the expense of their fishery. It is a healthy and active debate. They manage both fisheries well because they are capable of doing so on their own. They do not rely on government to manage the fishery for them because they know it is in their best interest to preserve the resource.

As members well know, the fisheries committee is one of the most non-partisan committees in the House. The House would be a better place if all committees worked in the same fashion as the fisheries committee. The committee recently returned from Newfoundland. I will read into the record some of what it heard from the province's fishermen and municipal leaders.

Union president Earle McCurdy called on Ottawa to take action to curb foreign overfishing. At the hearings in St. John's Burgeo Mayor Allister Hann was critical of NAFO. He advocated that Canada extend its jurisdiction over the nose and tail. Hann said it was “time the federal government put as much emphasis on fish as it did on the softwood lumber trade dispute with the United States...When was the last time anyone here heard the prime minister say he was going to bring up the matter of abusive foreign overfishing that is taking place on the Grand Banks?”

It is a good question. When was the last time? Hann said he did not expect to hear any of this in his lifetime. I am not sure how old he is but he is right. We seldom hear anything about what we must do to protect this valuable resource.

Jim Morgan, chairman of the Newfoundland and Labrador Rural Rights and Boat Owners Association, advocated closing Canada's ports to foreign vessels engaged in overfishing. He said “It is not good enough to keep talking about custodial management. NAFO has not been acting adequately for protection of our stocks. It is time to take some action and not talk, talk, talk”.

Newfoundland's fisheries minister Gerry Reid said Canada needed to control the fish stocks that straddle the 200 mile limit. He said “NAFO is toothless and I think we should move to the next stage”.

We should follow Mr. Trudeau's lead.

These types of comments go on and on. What some vessels have gotten away with amazes me. Hon. members have mentioned the events of the last couple of days with the Otto and the Olga . I remind the listening public that the Olga is a Russian fishing vessel. Fisheries officials reported that when the ship landed in port, which it likely did to free some of the shrimp it had caught offshore, they discovered 70 to 80 tonnes of mature breeding cod in its hold. The species is under moratorium. It should not be caught. The Russians are stealing not only our resource but the world's resource. If we take away the breeding stock of a species near extinction we will have absolutely nothing left.

What has the government done to this point? It has done nothing. The sister ship to the Olga , the Otto , was also headed to Newfoundland with shrimp aboard. Can members guess what? The Otto turned away in midstream and headed back home to the Russian port to get rid of its load. There is pretty convincing evidence it too had mature cod on board that should not have been caught. It again goes back to the toothlessness of NAFO.

Rogue nations that have no desire to comply with international law must be dealt with. We could call it terrorism on the high seas. Taking away the food chain and the ability of communities to make a living and feed their people is a high crime and should be punished. We need to go beyond just talking about it. How will the government approach the issue? Will it have the fortitude and the backing of the House to do something? Will the Prime Minister allow the fisheries minister to do something?

We do not want the same scenario that played out with Captain Canada, the former minister of fisheries by the name of Brian Tobin who put on a huge publicity stunt by taking on the Spanish over the lowly turbot. After the charade and the pictures of him with his head stuck through a life preserver on the New York shore nothing happened. The Spanish continued to overfish. European nations continued to overfish. Nothing has happened.

FisheriesEmergency Debate

9:50 p.m.

An hon. member

He gave them our turbot.

FisheriesEmergency Debate

9:55 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Greg Thompson Progressive Conservative New Brunswick Southwest, NB

He gave them our turbot. He gave away the sovereign rights of Canada. We did not have the fortitude to go the distance and take on the nations that continue to overfish.

The day will come when we will not be talking about cod stocks in this place because they simply will not exist. We will not have to be concerned about the Russians coming into some of the areas just off the 200 mile limit to overfish our cod because there will simply be nothing there for them to fish. The problem is that serious.

We have to have the strength and fortitude to exercise our rights as international citizens. Canada is the laughing stock of these countries because they can get away with overfishing here.

This debate is timely. It is ironic in a way because we have gone through it before. It is reminiscent of the early 1990s.

I do not want to sit down until I take the Prime Minister to task on the softwood lumber dispute. There has been some comparison in that it is a renewable natural resource. The Americans again are making a laughing stock out of Canada. The Prime Minister made a mistake on this file by not accepting the fact that there are international trade rules and international tribunals that have consistently ruled on Canada's side in relation to the bogus charges brought on by the Americans in relation to the importation of softwood lumber into the United States. The Prime Minister is simply negotiating away our rights under NAFTA and the WTO. It does not make any sense.

Some Newfoundlanders compare the softwood lumber dispute to overfishing. There is somewhat of a comparison. The commonality between the two files is the weakness and lack of leadership on the part of the Government of Canada.

When we get into these disputes we have to depend on the leadership of the government and the office of the Prime Minister to do something. No longer can we be polite Canadians and simply ignore what is going on because of the possibility that we may fall into disfavour with certain nations around the world that are intent on destroying our resource. We have to do more.

The member for South Shore said yesterday in the House of Commons that we do not have enough fisheries officers and we do not have enough patrol vessels and we do not have enough aircraft.

If we are going to protect our resource, we have to put resources into protecting the very fish being exploited. We need the officers. We need the enforcement tools. We have to do something. We cannot procrastinate this problem away as the government often does. In other words, if we wait long enough the problem will disappear on its own. Sadly in this case that is probably what will happen, but the problem will not disappear, it will simply be the fish.

A few years back a minister of fisheries said that he was not the minister of fisheries, but he was the minister of fish. He said he was there to protect the resource. Unfortunately that minister did not protect the resource, but he was absolutely right in saying that if there are no fish, there are no fishermen.

It is time for the government to take action. It is time for it to do something. The time is now. The Prime Minister will have our support in terms of going into any negotiations that will put a stop to overfishing in Canada and offshore Canada. It is simply stealing jobs away from all Canadians. It is taking away our future as Canadians.

FisheriesEmergency Debate

10:05 p.m.


Charles Caccia Liberal Davenport, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate the member for St. John's West for bringing forward this item for discussion tonight. I have carefully read his letter and note that he is inclined to blame foreign overfishing in the Atlantic Canada region as the cause for the shortages of the resource.

I will try in the limited time available to put this discussion within the framework of sustainable development. It seems to me it is a classic item for discussion under the general heading of sustainable development.

It is interesting that in 2002 we are discussing something that is not new. This item has been raised in various reports over the last decade at least. It is an item about which not much new can really be said. It is interesting to note that while the member for St. John's West chooses foreign overfishing as the reason for this debate tonight, back in 1997 the Fisheries Resource Conservation Council already had expressed a major concern in its report. I will quote from the report:

A major concern is the management of fishing activities because some gear types are capable of making large catches in a short time irrespective of location, biological behaviour of the fish and season of the year.

The report goes on to say:

This translates into great concern about the excess capacity of the existing Canadian groundfish fleets and the constant improvements in efficiency of harvesting operations, in terms of how effective the operations are in finding fish and catching them.

Evidently the conservation council is not pointing at foreigners. It is pointing at ourselves. I wonder perhaps if it would not be more appropriate and fair to engage in a debate of this kind also with an analysis of our own performance in our own harvest of the resource.

Let me put on record a fact which is very well known to many of us here tonight. In the case of cod, in the 1970s and throughout the whole decade we were catching something like 650,000 tonnes a year. That level of 650,000 tonnes fell in the 1980s to something like 250,000 tonnes a year. In the 1980s the majority of the fleet was Canadian, unlike in the 1970s.

We can see from that comparison a jump from 650,000 tonnes down to 250,000 tonnes. That was a great indication that there was something wrong in the resource. The resource was not as abundant as in the previous decade.

Then all of a sudden by 1990-91 we saw a decline to 41,000 tonnes, if I remember correctly in 1991. In 1992 the moratorium was called and the cod fishery was suspended all of a sudden.

What is the point in blaming the foreign fishery if we ourselves are also part of the problem? It is an issue that we have to keep in mind. Over the centuries there has been the tendency vis-à-vis our natural resources for humans to take out more than the resources can offer. We find a similar pattern also in forests.

Sticking to the fishery, we can read the accounts of those who discovered North America four or five centuries ago. They wrote of an unbelievable abundance of fish. Apparently a person could almost catch fish by the tail, compared to what is happening today. This issue has to be examined and discussed over the decades and possibly over the centuries. Over time there has been a very serious and alarming decline.

I do not know whether it helps to get excited when there is a foreign boat overfishing because that is just a symptom of a much larger problem.

It is interesting to note that in the September 1996 fisheries and oceans department report there is an analysis of groundfish. It states at a certain point:

In the early 1990s the catches dropped rapidly. In 1995 it reached the lowest level recorded in recent decades.

We were already warned in September 1996 about this pattern.

Scientists all over the world from Iceland to Canada to the U.K. who have examined the behaviour of fisheries have been quite clear in their warnings about the necessity for producing measures of conservation, reducing fleets and suggesting that perhaps the fisheries should become community oriented rather than industry oriented so as to sustain villages rather than the large scale multinationals and so forth. We are unable somehow to put into practice the suggestions that are being given to us by those who are studying these patterns over a longer period of time.

I would like to bring to everyone's attention a study entitled “Beyond crisis in the fisheries: A prospective for community based ecological fisheries management” written by David Coon and Janice Harvey of the conservation council of New Brunswick. They attempted in 1997 to come forward with some policy recommendations in order to ensure sustainability, to reduce these devastatingly heavy harvest patterns. They suggested to shift the benefit of the resource away from the multinational activities on large scales and to bring the resource closer for the livelihood and survival of the local communities. They already said five years ago that we must undergo some radical changes in the way we treat this particular resource.

Another example is the April 1997 announcement by the then Minister of Natural Resources that the cod stock would be reopened in the famous 3P area, which everyone knows the location of, for a total allowable catch level of 10,000 tonnes. This is the very same area where we used to catch something like 60 times as much 20 years earlier. What is going on? Can we blame this on foreign fleets? Let us be realistic about this.

In tackling this particular issue, which is certainly not an easy one, it is important that we first, start from the premise of whether or not we can put into place a policy that will make the sustainability of the resource a priority over the long term. Second, whether we have reached the point of such low levels in the fishery that we must think of the livelihood of the survival of the community at the expense of large scale international operations which may be extremely productive and lucrative. Nevertheless, it takes out more from the ocean than the ocean can replenish.

There may be other policy suggestions which I hope will emerge in this debate. However for heaven's sake let us stop pointing the finger at foreign fleets. Let us stop the practice of gun boat diplomacy because it does not get us anywhere. It gets us into trouble over the long term with our potential allies who we want to bring around to our way of thinking, and I am talking now of the Europeans.

Let us use level-headed thinking about the method because the long term perspective that we have seen over the past two decades is the exploitation of the resource. We euphemistically call it harvesting but it is really taking out of the oceans.

We have taken out more than the resource can replenish and reproduce, and there is a deficit here. Somehow we are unable to deal with the deficit unless it comes to a moment of crisis, as it did with the moratorium on the cod fishery. The cod fishery is a classic lesson from which we must learn how to handle the other resources in the ocean if we are to prevent further sad experiences.

FisheriesEmergency Debate

10:15 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Peter MacKay Progressive Conservative Pictou—Antigonish—Guysborough, NS

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the comments of the previous speaker and all speakers tonight on this most important issue.

One of the most important things that I heard from the hon. member who just sat down was that this is not a partisan issue. That sentiment has been echoed around the Chamber. Yet we have heard that this particular issue of overfishing and the plight of the east coast, and to a large extent the west coast of Canada, that our fishermen are currently experiencing has been with us for literally a generation.

The problem of overfishing has paralyzed and crippled many communities throughout the country. If we collectively in this Chamber were going to do something about it, now is the time to do so. Otherwise we are all just a bunch of fictitious Don Quixotes who are somehow tilting after windmills. We are talking and putting forward some great rhetoric and some great ideas but we must actually do something about it.

The person who is most capable and charged with doing something about it is the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans and I would say his second in command in this particular issue has to be the Minister for International Trade, the softwood lumber man. However, we heard a lot of discussion about how we do it and what we should be doing but to date the government has not been able to deliver.

The incident that brought us to this point today, much in part due to the efforts of the hon. member for St. John's West, was the issue with the Russian trawler, the Olga , polluting Canadian waters. That was the offence that led to its capture, yet we know now it was actually in the process of once again raping our natural resource and taking tonnes of mature breeding cod from Canadian waters. Now we can talk about putting the blocks to the Faroese and talk tough.

We have seen instances in the past where we did the same things. Mr. Tobin did a wonderful job exploiting his virtues as minister of fisheries. For what? Here we are five, six years later facing the same problem.

We know that there were 26 reported incidents in the past year. This is just the tangible figure of those who were apprehended. The reality is it is probably double that. While the Olga was arrested for pollution there was another ship that turned tail and ran. Suffice it to say that ship was engaging in the same activity.

It will be interesting to see what happens as a result. Is the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans and the government up to the task of actually doing something about it?

I, like previous speakers, commend the members of the fisheries committee who have undertaken a very indepth study of the issue. My colleague from Cumberland--Colchester mentioned this as well, that most importantly they have allowed the stakeholders to have a forum, to come forward and speak with knowledge, experience and tangible proof and evidence of what has been happening. The members of the committee are to be commended. Yet it will all be for naught unless something happens, unless the federal government is prepared to make a strong intervention.

What should that intervention be? One route to follow is obvious. It is the same route that we pursued with softwood lumber in previous disputes that we were engaged in. The potato wart was another incident where through neglect, inaction, and a lily-hearted response we waited at the peril of those who make a living from the land with potatoes. With respect to the fisheries we have waited at great cost to that industry.

One of the issues that was brought to my attention that is most interesting in a legal sense deals with illegal fishing on the continental shelf.

My colleagues, particularly from Newfoundland, would know that on the continental shelf there is jurisdiction that goes beyond the 200 mile limit, that extends to the seabed and what is found directly on the seabed. I am talking in particular about sedentary species such as clams, crabs, scallops and other species such as sea urchins.

If trawlers dragging steel doors and apparatus that rip, tear and take these species off the ocean floor are illegally fishing and if Canada has jurisdiction over that property, why can we not launch an action in international court? Why can we not go to the United Nations as we have in the past and make a legal challenge on what is taking place? Why can the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade not launch that particular aggressive action?

My friend from New Brunswick spoke of Canada's need to flex its muscles, exert its control over its proprietary interest and take them on at the UN. This is what has to happen. If we want enforcement we have to be prepared to act. If we want to see something some change, we have to be prepared to take a stance. We cannot continue this lily-livered approach with respect to overfishing. That is one area in which there is a need and a direct call. An alarm bell is going off for the government to respond.

I want to turn my attention to an issue that is of great concern to myself and many in Nova Scotia and many around the country. What is taking place in the historic fishing town of Canso is not a local issue. Canso is in peril. The scenario that is playing out now in the village of Canso is indicative and a perfect example of what has happened in Burgeo and Trepassey and many communities on the east coast.

It is a time for action but it is also a time for compassion from the government. It is a time for understanding for the human impact of what is happening in a town like Canso. There is a breakfast program to feed hungry children because their parents do not have work in the local plant. The only restaurant in town has closed like many businesses before it. If there is going to be a response that demonstrates that compassion, it will have to include other departments. It will not be solved simply by the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans allotting quota, be it quota for redfish, shrimp, crab, or opening seasons early or extending seasons. There has to be some action.

To date there has been little forthcoming even to give people something to which they can cling. There is a timeline that is looming. I would suggest there is a very real timeline when the school year ends. Parents will then have to make the decision as to whether they will relocate their families and look elsewhere for work. The sad reality of that scenario playing out is many of these families are already teetering on the brink of bankruptcy or beyond. They do not have the financial means even to relocate their families. They will be totally reliant on social welfare.

There is not, short of losing one's health, a more demeaning place to find oneself in this life, being totally reliant on the government and on the goodwill of taxpayers to survive. That is not where people in Atlantic Canada want to be. It is not where the people of Canso want to be. My friend from Musquodoboit Valley knows that.

There are people in Guysborough county who are in just as dire straits as the people of Newfoundland. Outport Newfoundland has the same scenario that has been playing out now for over a decade, a decade that has seen out migration of gigantic proportions that have left towns literally desolate with abandoned houses, schools closed and hospitals packed up.

This a very real emergency. I along with other members commend you, Mr. Speaker, and respect you for recognizing that and giving the nation an opportunity to rivet its attention upon this very real problem

There will have to be a compromise for towns like Canso that would involve programs under ACOA or programs under HRDC that would allow for an attempt to bring some other form of industry to the area, whether it be call centres or some other form of industrial development. However that should not be a compromise that involves one or the other. That is not to say that because of these other approaches, we should abandon attempts to revitalize the fishery.

That is not what the people of Canso want. This is a town that is coming up on its 400th anniversary of fishing from that location. To find a solution, these other departments may be part of that but this is not to say that we should abandon or in any way denigrate the efforts to revitalize the fishery.

In the town of Canso there is a very famous songwriter who has immortalized some of the plight of people in Atlantic Canada, not just Canso, because it is certainly not particular to only Canso. Stan Rogers immortalized in song much of the sentiment that people feel. One song in particular, Make and Break Harbour , and I am not going to sign a rendition of it, does in fact lament the trials and tribulations of people in Guysborough county. One line speaks about “foreign trawlers go by with long seeing eyes taking all where we seldom take any”.

That type of feeling has been there for a generation. It is not the long suffering people of Canso, or Mulgrave, or Trepassey or other Atlantic villages that are taking that quota and taking that resource from the sea to such an extent where plants are closing and where people are out of work. It is foreign trawlers.

The most recent example was the Russians or the Faroese. However the Spanish, the French, the Portuguese and other countries, Iceland and Greenland, are still coming into our waters and taking that resource. It is simply unacceptable. The knowledge is there. It is as if we have seen the crime and yet we have chosen not to react, not to lay a charge, not to go forward and bring these people to justice.

It absolutely flouts our sense of what is right and wrong. When something is happening and we choose to do nothing we are complicit. We are a part of the problem.

Here in this historic Chamber, in this debate, as in times previous, we have to go beyond the rhetoric. We have to go beyond simply talking about it. It will take a concerted effort on the part of many departments, but in particular the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the Department of Foreign Affairs, to send that message.

One of the most telling statistics that we heard was that there were enough fish caught that were under moratorium, fish that were not to be taken from the ocean, to provide thousands of jobs to Atlantic Canada, enough to keep a plant like the Seafreez plant in Canso running seven days a week, 365 days a year. Instead we have seen that town slip to the point where its very existence is in question and is in peril.

The mayor of the town, Frank Fraser, is calling upon all political leaders in the province of Nova Scotia and federal departments to come to Canso to offer solutions and to take part in efforts to find some way to turn things around.

When it comes to looking for solutions, this where again sadly the minister of fisheries has let down the town of Canso. When Canso requested an opportunity to go into 30 for redfish and take quota from that zone, there were other options on the table and those were not assessed or certainly not responded to in the letter that it received.

They were left with this feeling of being completely blanked and completely ignored. At a town meeting just a week ago, the very able representative of the Canso Trawlermen's Association, Pat Fougere, addressed a crowd of over 300 in a small fire hall and he spoke of this problem. In specific reference to the financial value of the fishery in Atlantic Canada, he stated “People seem to forget that the seafood industry is worth more now than ever with respect to the Nova Scotia economy. Last year the value of exported seafood in our province was worth more than $1 billion”.

We can look to natural gas, we can look to the movie industry and all sorts of new and exciting ventures that are taking place in our province of Nova Scotia, but the fishery if managed properly, if controlled and if there was a concerted effort, we would ensure that we could continue to take our fair share from the ocean. We would ensure that those who are overfishing are rebutted and refuted in their efforts to continue to rape this natural resource. Because it is the overutilization of species by foreigners, not by Canadians, that has led to these dire straits, this moratorium and this risk of complete extinction of some species. It is not Canadian fishers.

My colleague opposite, the previous speaker, mentioned that Canadians have to partake actively in the preservation of the fishery. They have to take part in all efforts to ensure that overfishing is not continued, but it is not Canadian fishers who are doing this. We want to be able to create new Canadian exports from the available stocks. We want to ensure that there is an equal distribution of quota among provinces.

Sadly, one of the things that we have seen occur is that the poorest provinces in Canada are pitted against one another. We have Newfoundland and Labrador taking issue with quota being allocated to Nova Scotia or Prince Edward Island. We have New Brunswick fighting with Nova Scotia. This is what gets the government off the proverbial hook. By not having a concentrated effort, by not having all of the parties, the stakeholders and those interested in preserving the fishery ensuring its survival, the divide and conquer sentiment creeps in.

We are not always looking for an increase in quota, but rather a piece of the quota. Sometimes it is not harvested. What is the long term plan that is coming from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans? It does not seem to be clear. It does not seem to be clearly enunciated, that is for certain. Is it acceptable that foreign fleets are continually taking 80% or more of the total allowable catch of species like redfish? It is totally unacceptable. It is unacceptable that foreign trawlers are allowed to come into the waters and sail away with that fish, often to process it in other countries when it could be processed in our country.

There are other areas that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans could look to: developmental slope crab, for example, and looking at other species, experimental species that currently trawlermen and fishermen like those from the town of Canso are currently harvesting. Is there a long term plan? Is there an effort to ensure that the fishery will survive? There are many who are questioning that.

We have the northern shrimp quota. We know that there is a huge biomass and the total allowable catch will be greater than 110,000 metric tonnes. That is 242 million pounds of shrimp. Other provinces have been given an allocation of this northern shrimp. It is Canso's turn. It is fine for Nova Scotia to get their oar in the water.

The historic attachment of Canso and the fact that this fishery in which Canso has always played a part is being denied. Recognizing Canso's history, recognizing its historical attachment to that fishery, I would suggest that it is indicative. It is absolutely necessary that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, led by a Nova Scotia minister for the first time in 80 years, step up and make strong decisions on the part of his community and his department.

It is foolhardy and shortsighted if we do not step up now. The reality is that this dispute has been setting in. We have seen tensions between native fishers and non-native fishers. We have seen instances where foreign trawlers may very well in some cases have come under attack.

It is an opportunity for us to act. I hope the minister has the message. I hope he realizes he has the support of all members. We will be waiting with bated breath to see what the outcome will be.

FisheriesEmergency Debate

10:35 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Grant McNally Canadian Alliance Dewdney—Alouette, BC

Mr. Speaker, I have news to report to the House. The debate has made the national news tonight because it is important. Hats off to my colleague from St. John's West because he raised the issue.

The hours may be growing late in Ottawa, but we are here to debate important issues in this place. If there were another more important issue affecting many people right now in Newfoundland and Labrador and Atlantic Canada, I would like to hear what it would be.

My colleagues in the PC/DR coalition have enunciated tonight the reason this is an important discussion. We have been here in numbers to talk about the issue because we care and because we have been sent here to represent our constituents on important issues.

Although I am a member from British Columbia, from the other coast, I understand the importance of the issue, how it impacts communities in Newfoundland and Labrador and Atlantic Canada, and how that in turn affects all of Canada.

If we do not stand together in this place on issues that are important we lose an opportunity to chart a course for the future of our country, our people and our communities regardless of what the issue might be. Foreign overfishing is a very important issue. We have seen this incident arise as a result of a trawler that was pulled aside and found to have thousands of tonnes of cod fish on it. As a result it has brought to our attention that this kind of thing is going on all the time.

As one of my colleagues mentioned earlier in the House it is like the tip of an iceberg. I do not think the government is completely aware of all the incidents that are going on because we do not have the vessels to patrol and we do not have the resources. The government has not put forward the resources to make sure that these kinds of things are not happening. That has a direct impact on the livelihoods of people in the communities of Newfoundland and Labrador and Atlantic Canada who depend on fishing. It is simply not acceptable that it occurs over and over again.

It is positive that we are having a debate here tonight. I commend the government. I commend the minister for speaking earlier. I commend my colleague for bringing the issue forward. However we simply cannot debate tonight and think we have done our job and the problem has gone away.

We will continue to raise such issues, but it is dependent upon the minister of fisheries to act on this issue. If he does not, he is accountable and responsible for the effect that inaction will have on the lives of people in Newfoundland and Labrador and Atlantic Canada and by extension the impact it will have on the entire country. When the government fails to address a glaring problem we all pay the price.

Although we are talking about foreign overfishing, it brings to light a particular issue in my own riding involving the department of fisheries. It might seem somewhat small in comparison to the ongoing overfishing issue off the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador and Atlantic Canada, but it is somewhat related in that there is inaction on the part of the minister of fisheries.

I asked him a question in the House not long ago in February on the whole issue of dredging the Fraser River, one of the largest rivers in British Columbia. The salmon fishing industry depends on the Fraser and its tributaries. There is a problem in that the Fraser riverbed is getting higher and higher because of gravel accumulation. The communities along the Fraser in my riding and in other ridings have been pleading with the minister and with the government to allow for gravel extraction on the Fraser so the fishery can survive and flooding can be avoided. If that happens it will cause billions of dollars of devastation in the area.

I raised this question with the minister and not a week later found out that the department had already decided not to allow for gravel extraction. As a result some communities will be at risk over and over again because of the government's inaction and its inability to deal with a simple matter.

It seems like a simple matter to take some gravel out of the Fraser River to lower the risk or prevent flooding. The communities in my riding have been asking for that for over five years. It has not happened. It is just another example of the inaction of the government on an important issue that affects communities. It simply will not solve the problem but will add to it by its inaction.

We stand together in this place tonight on this issue because it matters. I should like to read some letters into the record. I may belay that for the benefit of my colleagues. The mayor of two of the largest communities in my riding and the neighbouring riding have raised a local issue concerning the inaction by the Department of Fisheries.

Getting back to foreign overfishing we heard the minister give a speech in the House in this emergency debate. He mentioned that he was concerned about the issue. He has taken some action. We applaud the small action he has taken but it simply will not be enough.

My colleague from Pictou--Antigonish--Guysborough pointed out what is happening in Canso. My other colleagues have pointed out what is happening in other communities. I had the opportunity to be in Atlantic Canada this past summer so I had a chance to visit some of these communities. I know the Speaker has made several trips to Atlantic Canada and is aware of what is happening.

FisheriesEmergency Debate

10:40 p.m.

An hon. member

Visit Canso.

FisheriesEmergency Debate

10:40 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Grant McNally Canadian Alliance Dewdney—Alouette, BC

My friend across the way is inviting me to Canso. I appreciate that. I will take him up on that offer. I have been to the riding. I did not spend as much time there as I would have liked to spend. I was in Cape Breton for a short period of time. I wish I would have had more time to be there; I would love to go back. I was in Malpeque as well this past summer. I also made a stop in Halifax.

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10:40 p.m.

An hon. member

Did you go to Fredericton?

FisheriesEmergency Debate

10:40 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Grant McNally Canadian Alliance Dewdney—Alouette, BC

Yes. I went to New Brunswick as well.

The point of the matter is not where I have been. That is not the important part. The communities that base their livelihood on fishing are important. If the government does not move to shut down foreign overfishing it will have a devastating impact. It already has. It should move ahead quickly.

I believe the government would find agreement from members on this side who applaud and appreciate movement on this issue. At the same time members of the opposition would hold the government accountable. They would not simply say that because we had this debate the issue is gone and has been dealt with.

Too many times in this place we have had debates in which we have raised important issues but have not seen any resolution, whether it be the ongoing softwood lumber issue, native issues, helicopter procurement or shipbuilding which also affects Atlantic Canada. We have brought forward an unending list of issues to this place.

The words have been said but the action by the government has not been implemented fully, the type of action that will lead to meaningful intervention on issues such as foreign overfishing. I can just imagine how tough it must be for the communities that see these trawlers cruise by their communities scooping up their fish when there is an international moratorium on codfish. How could that happen? How could that possibly continue to go on?

It is as if the government is saying to the residents of the communities affected by this issue that they do not really matter. If the government were to show by its actions that it cares and that this issue matters, it would act. It would do more than just allow for a debate in the House of Commons. It would do more than just take one action when the issue is raised in the media, alerted to the story by my friend from St. John's West, I might add. Perhaps we should call in the ethics counsellor. We have seen that kind of thing going on and how that has not solved problems either.

There is just simply a disbelief on this side of the House. The government can talk a good talk, allow for people to speak on the issue and at the end of the day just go home and think the job has been done.

We have raised the issue. We are doing our job. We are calling on the government to solve this problem with concrete action. The government is aware of it. It knows this is happening, so now it is faced with a choice. It can ignore the problem, hope it goes away, hope it subsides, that people do not come and knock on its doors for awhile, and that maybe this is an adequate enough safety valve release for people to be able to vent about the issue so that it calms people down for awhile.

FisheriesEmergency Debate

10:45 p.m.

An hon. member

Wait it out.

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10:45 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Grant McNally Canadian Alliance Dewdney—Alouette, BC

My colleague says “wait it out”. How many times have we seen that strategy employed by the government?

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10:45 p.m.

An hon. member

Wait for the weather to change.

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10:45 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Grant McNally Canadian Alliance Dewdney—Alouette, BC

Exactly, wait for the weather to change. We are reminded of what happened on the whole immigration issue, with the former minister of immigration just waiting for the weather to change to solve a problem with immigration.

We are not able to wait for the weather to change to solve this problem of overfishing by foreign fleets in and around our waters. We need a strategy, not a photocopied report on this issue offered year after year by somebody. We need concrete action. If it is not forthcoming, as I said before, we will raise the issue again and again because it affects our constituents' livelihoods. Without concrete action on this, people's lives will continue to be affected in a way that we cannot even fully understand ourselves.

The members from the ridings who have spoken tonight have a better glimpse into what is going on. They are there on the ground. They are hearing the firsthand stories from individuals coming to talk to them about how this lack of action by the Liberal government has a direct impact on their lives. Without the problem being solved, those stories will continue.

It is more than just a story. It is more than just saying that is too bad. These are people's lives. This is the bedrock of communities: their ability to earn a livelihood and support their families, to thrive as flourishing communities. It is nothing to be taken lightly and this is not a problem that will go away overnight.

We hope that the minister will be true to his word. We hope he will follow through and shut down the overfishing by foreign fleets coming in and basically scooping fish when the residents of Newfoundland and Labrador and Atlantic Canada do not have access to that resource because there is an attempt to rebuild the fishery. What the government is doing on this is pathetic. Without this action it is condemning these communities to a slow, painful death that will have a devastating effect.

I will close by highlighting the issue going on in Dewdney--Alouette where the Department of Fisheries and Oceans has denied consent for gravel extraction. I, the mayors and the Liberal MLA have written letters on the issue.

I think the member who just came said something about fools. I do not know if he is impugning that this is a foolish topic. I heard his eloquent speech earlier tonight. It was passionate. He lives in a community that has been affected by this fishery issue. I do not think he would say that this is a topic not without merit. Perhaps I misunderstood what he said when he came in.

The point is that the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans and cabinet have the power to do things. We have seem their power. When they want to steamroll something it happens within 24 hours. That is the way it works. We hope the minister of fisheries will take this issue forward to cabinet and get this dealt with. It is his responsibility as well as his government's responsibility. It is on their shoulders. We will hold the government accountable. People are suffering in communities where overfishing is allowed to continue unabated.

I hope my colleagues are not making light of this matter. Many of them have given meaningful speeches here tonight. I hope they raise this issue in caucus after the break. In the intervening two weeks, I hope they talk to the minister on this issue. We need this problem solved and we need it solved now.

I commend my colleague for St. John's West for raising this issue. The minister acknowledged tonight that the member had the information before the minister.

FisheriesEmergency Debate

10:55 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Bill Casey Progressive Conservative Cumberland—Colchester, NS

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I am trying to listen to this riveting speech but I am being distracted by the parliamentary secretary who is here in his pyjamas. I wonder if you could have him correct that.

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10:55 p.m.

The Speaker

I can understand the hon. member being distracted if somebody was in his pyjamas but I have seen nothing like that. It is getting late but it is not that late.

FisheriesEmergency Debate

10:55 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Grant McNally Canadian Alliance Dewdney—Alouette, BC

Mr. Speaker, I will simply summarize the point I made throughout my speech. Government inaction and heckling from the government side is not the solution here. If we need to stay here until midnight to get the point across, we should do that. Are we in a hurry to leave? We are doing our job raising an important issue in this place on overfishing and its effect on Newfoundland and Labrador and the whole of Atlantic Canada. We will certainly not shrink away from that. We will stay here as long as we need to raise awareness of the issue.

This is something that needs to be addressed and dealt with by the minister of fisheries and the Liberal government. The inaction on their part is what has led directly to this problem. They have known about it for a very long time but have allowed it to go on with a blind eye. They can stand and say whatever they like but we would like to see action taken on this issue. We want to see the problem solved to help people in communities who are being affected by overfishing. It is having a devastating effect on their lives and their communities. We hold this government accountable. We do not want to hear just words. We want to see action and we want to see this solved soon.

FisheriesEmergency Debate

10:55 p.m.


Bill Blaikie NDP Winnipeg—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I did not intend to make an intervention tonight but I heard that the Liberal caucus was yearning for more NDP and opposition speeches and I did not want them to go without.

I have a few things I want to put on the record. First, it is very nice to see so many government members paying attention to what members of the opposition have to say. I want to congratulate the government on having more than its usual one or two members present in the House. I did not mean to drive the hon. member out by congratulating him.

Earlier in the evening I think the hon. member for Sackville--Musquodoboit Valley--Eastern Shore had occasion to remind the House that this unfortunately is an old problem. It is not something that we have just come to know about, although it appears that with the particular problem that was the occasion for this emergency debate, the appropriate ministers of the government knew about it back in September but did nothing about it and did not share that information with parliament. Instead they waited to deal with that information at an international meeting.

It is only now that the House is able to be seized of the impending crisis with respect to these particular fish stocks. The fact is that we have known for a long time, not just Canada but the world, that we are engaged in a form of overfishing and overconsumption not only of fish but of many other resources. Perhaps what we need to turn our attention to ultimately is the fact that it is our way of life and economic system which demands this kind of growth and that kind of consumption.

FisheriesEmergency Debate

10:55 p.m.

An hon. member

Capitalist conspiracy.

FisheriesEmergency Debate

10:55 p.m.


Bill Blaikie NDP Winnipeg—Transcona, MB

Someone said capitalist conspiracy. Now that he mentions it, there certainly is an economic element in this crisis.

There has been a corporatization of the fishing industry. We know that corporations are driven by shareholder value and the excessive need to provide profits for their shareholders. This means that the survival, quality and long term sustainability of the fish stocks is very low on their radar screen. What is very high on their radar screen is the next quarterly profit margin or what their shareholders are going to demand of them at the next annual meeting.

Capital conspiracy is an element and I thank the hon. member for mentioning it. There is a way in which our economic system drives us to do things to the environment that we should not otherwise do. I had an occasion to speak about that a long time ago. On October 19, 1979, when I made my maiden speech in the House, I talked about the depletion of fish stocks which was a problem then.

The fact is that as a civilization, not just the Liberal government or the Conservative government before that and many others, we have not faced up to the fact that we are depleting our natural resources, not only our fish stocks but all kinds of natural resources. We are just not willing to face up to the need to redesign our values, our patterns of consumption and our economic system so that we are able to lead a sustainable economic life on this planet.

I want to share a story which I think goes a long way to explaining the nature of the environmental dilemmas we find ourselves in. Earlier this week we saw the breaking off of a huge part of the ice shelf in the Antarctic, another sign of environmental damage. Sometimes we do not see that damage coming. We do not appreciate just how close we are to the critical point.

I ask members to imagine that there is a pond. I am not talking about a pond in the Newfoundland sense because I know that ponds in Newfoundland are more like lakes.

What I want to illustrate is that a lot of our environmental problems are geometric in nature. They are exponential in nature. They are not arithmetic. They do not go one, two, three, four, five. They go two, four, eight, sixteen, thirty-two, sixty-four. I will pretend I am an Alliance member and stop there. This is the nature of the problem we face.

Imagine there is a pond and it will be covered in 28 days by lily pads. It will be covered exponentially, geometrically: one lily pad, two lily pads, four lily pads, et cetera and it will be covered in 28 days. On the 27th day, how much of the pond will still be uncovered? Half. One could be sitting there on the 27th day of the 28 day period but the 28th day will be the critical day when all of a sudden everything is completed.

One could be sitting there and somebody could be saying “We have a problem. The pond will soon be covered”. Somebody could say “Are you kidding, half the pond is left”. On the 28th day, boom, the pond is covered.

That is the kind of situation we are facing with a lot of environmental problems. They are growing exponentially and geometrically. We do not know whether we are on the 24th, 25th, 26th or 27th day but scientists, the David Suzukis of this world and others, tell us that we are somewhere in the mid twenties. Let us hope we are not on the 27th day.

It means that we cannot wait until the 27th day because by that time we will have no time left. We have to act now with respect to fish stocks and all kinds of other natural resources and with respect to stopping pollution.

I wanted to tell that small illustrative tale which I have always found very powerful. I know I have been a bit facetious but I am not being facetious when it comes to that story because when I read it some 20 or 25 years ago, it spoke very powerfully to me of the nature of the cumulative environmental and depletion problems that we face as a planet and a civilization.

I hope some day the government will see it is not enough to just keep assuring people that there is lots of time left or that there is lots of this or lots of that left and that we do not have to worry. We do have to worry and we need to act as quickly as we can to solve all these problems.

FisheriesEmergency Debate

11:05 p.m.


Pierre Brien Bloc Témiscamingue, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have been listening to the debate for several hours now, and initially I did not intend to participate but at this time of day, it will not make that much difference whether I do or not. I wanted to offer a certain perspective on the issue.

I remember—unfortunately it is becoming a habit here—about six years ago, Brian Tobin, the then fisheries minister, the ambitious former industry minister who has since quit, had engineered quite a coup. He had done so in the hope that one day the problem of overfishing, especially in Canadian waters by foreign fishermen, would be solved. He boarded a foreign trawler, and a media show ensued. Six years later, the problem is still here, it has not been solved.

Today, as we speak, negotiations on softwood lumber are underway in Washington; five years later, we are still faced with the same old problem. It is a trend that is becoming more pronounced, especially with regard to natural resources. These issues are extremely important for communities. People in large urban areas may be less sensitive to this reality, but for communities that rely on such important economic activities what is happening is really terrible.

It is not because we are here in Ottawa, far from this everyday reality, sheltered from it, that we should not move more quickly. I understand their cry from the heart. I must admit that earlier in the day, when an emergency debate was requested on this issue, I thought it was not necessarily a top priority for the constituents of Témiscamingue.

At the same time, one must appreciate that for some of our fellow citizens, this is a major issue, just as the ongoing negotiations between Canada and the United States on softwood lumber are for us, an issue the government dragged its feet on. Expectations were created by the promise to return to free trade, but it did not happen. People are waiting. Tomorrow morning, they will wake up wondering what happened.

In other communities of the Atlantic region, there are serious problems with fisheries. Let us look at the background of this matter. There have been some difficulties with stock management. There was a problem with foreigners fishing in our waters. That problem still exists and is not new. Why is it that six, seven years later--and I would guess more than that because the problem probably existed before we went there--nothing has been done and we are still at square one, we are once again discussing the issue just before we leave for the Easter holiday?

I understand the members representing those communities who say “Wake up; this is an emergency for us”. That is the message they want to convey this evening. I know some people are annoyed at having to debate this question tonight. Maybe there are other priorities just now. Some people might have preferred to go to bed earlier, but others are asking what will happen tomorrow with regard to this very important matter.

At first, I did not want to talk to this issue, but as it seems to be annoying the Liberals, the more they are annoyed, the more I will talk and use up all the time that is alloted to me.

FisheriesEmergency Debate

11:05 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh.

FisheriesEmergency Debate

11:05 p.m.


Pierre Brien Bloc Témiscamingue, QC

It is too bad we cannot have a more interactive debate. I feel like a dozen members are talking to me, all at the same time. But I am pleased to see, at such a late hour, so many Liberal members listening to us, which is seldom the case during the day. I see that you are agreeing with what I am saying, Mr. Speaker.

Indeed, what do we hear from the other side of the House except hubbub while we speak? It is silence, or almost. Nobody has anything to say for the moment. Where are the Liberal members representing those communities? What are they doing in practical terms to put pressure on their government after they went around during the election campaign, saying, “Elect us and you will see that we will get things moving”? Afterwards, they find themselves in their ridings justifying or defending the federal government. But here they do not rock the boat.

That issue is not a major issue in our area, but those who are raising the issue are the members from the Coalition and the Tories. Why are the Liberals saying nothing, or next to nothing, and why are they not very active? This is extremely disturbing.

Members of the Bloc Quebecois do not want to sit here for years and years, but I do not wish those who will be sitting in this House many years from now to have the same kind of debate we are having tonight. Mr. Speaker, I am convinced you will be in the chair for a very long time, and that you do not wish to have to preside over an emergency debate on the same subject matter four or five years from now.

One thing has struck me since I came here. I thought Canada was an important player internationally, but it is extremely disappointing to realize that its influence is very limited. Why is it that with this issue, we seem to be unable to take the leadership in order to find a solution? Why is it that fishers in Atlantic communities are once more in such a desperate situation that they have to beg the federal government to help, to take action and do something meaningful to bring about a settlement?

I made a comparison a little earlier. The same thing is happening with a lot of issues. Very often, the communities involved are rural communities. Right here, all we have is slick books and documents on the defence of rural life, but it does not mean much for the government.

In my own area, for example, during the election campaign over a year ago, a whole bunch of ministers came and visited us. We had never seen so many of them is such a short period of time. They kept telling us how important resource regions are. The Liberal candidate in the riding next to mine won the election, fortunately or unfortunately for him, by promising investments of $300 million in a resource region like Abitibi--Témiscamingue and northern Quebec. They have yet to materialize.

What promises were made to Atlantic communities and people who earn a living in the fisheries? What kind of expectations were created then and not met, so that people are is such a situation today?

The level of inactivity here is appalling when it comes to dealing with the problems of primary resource regions. The people across the way lecture the provinces that are having a hard time managing certain responsibilities. Let the federal government manage properly in its own jurisdictions before it tells the provinces what to do.

The fishery issue is a good example of the federal government's dismal failure. It has been a total fiasco from the beginning to the end. The situation might have been better many years ago, but since I have been here in parliament and since I have taken an interest in politics, the federal government's record on fisheries management has always been disastrous. We have seen it in Quebec in the Lower St. Lawrence, the Gaspé Peninsula and the Magdalen Islands.

At the time, the member for Bonaventure--Gaspé--Îles-de-la-Madeleine, who was doing a tremendous job on fisheries, had to fight constantly to ensure that the government would raise the issue and deal with it, a little. But now, his successor is nowhere to be seen. We never hear about him. I hope that the people from this region will soon realize the trickery or see that they were deluded into believing that a Liberal MP could help them to move this whole issue forward.

I see that I still have a little time and I have to admit that, with such a large audience, it is tempting to use all the time alloted.

FisheriesEmergency Debate

11:10 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh.