House of Commons Hansard #209 of the 37th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was nafo.


Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

4:55 p.m.


Dominic LeBlanc Liberal Beauséjour—Petitcodiac, NB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for Matapédia—Matane for his important contribution to the work done by the committee.

Personally, I very much appreciated the member's efforts when our committee, the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans, presented a report on the issue of the gulf region, which affects me a great deal. Obviously, this is a very important region for the inshore fishery in my area, and the member for Matapédia—Matane provided us with tremendous support. I am grateful to him.

My colleague also heard from witnesses in Newfoundland. I think that his speech did a good job of summarizing the appalling situation that certain communities along the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador are experiencing. He also mentioned the provincial minister of fisheries from Newfoundland, and I think he agreed that he was right. We also heard from the mayor of Burgeo. We were given a fairly revealing picture of the situation caused by foreign overfishing, which harmed important stocks, such as the groundfish stocks.

I would like the member for Matapédia—Matane to describe a bit for us the situation that the moratorium has created in his region, in Quebec. I am not really aware of his riding or his region of Quebec being dependent on groundfish for example. I would be interested to hear his comments on foreign fishing and past excesses, including by some Canadian fishers and former Canadian governments.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

4:55 p.m.


Jean-Yves Roy Bloc Matapédia—Matane, QC

Mr. Speaker, it is obvious that what happened in Newfoundland is very similar to what people experienced in the Gaspé, particularly east of Matane, which is in my riding, and also from Chaleurs Bay all the way around the Gaspé Peninsula.

It is obvious that this was a true catastrophe; a whole economy was totally destroyed, just like in Newfoundland. The impact of this is still being felt to this day. Ten years have gone by since the 1992 moratorium. Whole villages practically shut down. To this day, the Gaspé is losing its people, just like the whole province of Newfoundland.

I did not mention this earlier, but according to the latest census figures, Newfoundland is experiencing the same situation as the Gaspé. It must be realized that Newfoundland's population is constantly diminishing and that whole villages have shut down following the moratorium. It is the same thing in my region and in the Gaspé.

The economy, which had been based on fishing for 300 years, was doing very well, but was totally destroyed. Everything closed down overnight. This is what a moratorium means. It means the complete destruction of an economy.

Let us try to imagine what this means to people who experience such a situation. It is almost like living through a war. People find themselves depending on governments when they are used to fending for themselves, to being gainfully employed. They become dependent on governments, on small ad hoc programs that provide them with what I would call a measly income. These people are kept in poverty, because the government was not aware of what was going on. It did not act with caution. It let the situation deteriorate.

In conclusion, if the government does not implement the recommendations of the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans, things will not change. If it does not implement the committee's recommendations, if it does not act with caution, and display excellence, then it is not governing properly.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

5 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Loyola Hearn Progressive Conservative St. John's West, NL

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for Matapédia—Matane. He is a good friend of Newfoundland's fishers. He visited Newfoundland with the committee. He knows the problem. He also familiarized himself with our culture and our resource.

I thank my hon. friend who is a very good friend to the fishermen of Newfoundland. I also thank other members who have participated in the debate. It has given us a chance to educate not only the House but the country as to how important the issue is.

My hon. colleague from Matapédia--Matane came to Newfoundland with the committee to listen to the people directly affected by the issue. He listened to people from industry, people from the boats, fish plant workers, people who had been involved in the industry before, politicians of all stripes, union workers, union representatives, government people and others, and especially the mayors of towns that have been decimated by what has happened.

Did my hon. colleague have any idea at all of the magnitude of the problem? How does he perceive it now compared to before he came to visit our great province?

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

5 p.m.


Jean-Yves Roy Bloc Matapédia—Matane, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question. I may not be a good example because I had a very good idea of what was going on over there. My region was experiencing the same problem, and I knew that Newfoundland was affected in the same way. As I said, I am not a good example because I was very well informed. I was familiar with the issue and I followed the situation closely.

However, I would like to go back to the fact that the magnitude of the problem is clear from a statistical point of view. We know that communities are affected. I could see that happening in the Gaspé, where I lived. But as long as one does not meet those affected, as long as one does not see what human tragedy really is, as long as one is satisfied with looking at statistics, one can say “Yes, Newfoundland's population is on the decline. Yes, villages have disappeared. Yes, the economy has been totally destroyed”.

However, we have met people who have lived through the tragedy, people whose village has closed down, people who had been honourably earning a living in a given area for generations, people who had been earning a living in an industry and, suddenly, found they had no future. They were forced to move away and, today, their 18 to 20 year old children must also move away, because there is no work. Basically, these people have been left alone to cope in a more or less active environment, the social fabric of which is gradually deteriorating. At that point, things are quite different, because you are really living with them—temporarily, for the time that you are there—going through what they go through daily and what they have been going through for years.

The government has said “We will create assistance programs to support you”, but these are essentially useless programs. All it is doing is keeping these people in poverty, when it should have been exercised caution and protected the resource, which we did not do.

The Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans is asking today that we protect the resource. This is what we are asking. It is quite simple: let us protect the resource, at least what is left of it, to ensure that it can renew and rebuild itself and that, one day, we can rebuild the economies of these regions.

Of course, they will no longer be based only on fishing, because this will not be possible. However, let us at least give the resource a chance, to ensure that we can rebuild the economies of these regions and that some of these people can go back to earning a decent living.

This is simple. This is what we are asking this parliament to do.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

5:05 p.m.


Bev Desjarlais NDP Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, I will take this time to acknowledge the work of the fisheries committee. At this point and in the past it has done an excellent job of doing what committees of the House need to do when dealing with issues and reviewing problems: go to Canadians, listen to them at the source and see the problems they are dealing with.

The fisheries committee has done this on a regular basis. I thank its members for that. I am grateful, especially as someone who has been sitting on a transport committee that has not so much as moved its butt outside Ottawa to listen to Canadians for a number of years. Sitting on that committee has been a rather bad experience.

The fisheries committee has shown what committees ought to be doing. The recommendations before us have come from all members of the committee representing all parties. They went out and listened to Canadians, saw what they were dealing with and recognized the anguish they were going through.

I was in Newfoundland in 1992 when the moratorium came into place. It was my first time in Newfoundland. The friends I was visiting wanted me to partake of that famous Newfoundland tradition: being screeched in. I do not think they are too happy about it now. The toughest job that day was to find a cod so I could be officially screeched in. We had to find alternative routing because no cod were available. The alternative was a puffin's behind. That was the rough spot of the day.

I am not making light of the issue. Since then there has been recognition of the anguish felt by the fishermen and concern about their livelihood. There was willingness among the fishermen to recognize that to sustain a long term fisheries industry they would need to make sacrifices. They did that and have continued to do it for a number of years. Yet the stocks have not improved.

The province's fishermen see foreign fishermen come in pretty much every day and sit outside the fence of where the fish are, so to speak. So members from the prairies can understand, it is like someone sitting outside a fence waiting for animals to cross over, or in this case fish, so they can be caught. The fish stocks are not given the opportunity to fully come back. It has been disheartening for these people, yet the fisheries committee has made recommendations that were totally disregarded by the government.

It is crucial that with respect to the five recommendations regarding this fragile area of Newfoundland and Labrador's economy the government not just do a lot of talking. Committee members need to do more than talk their faces off for the sake of talking. The government needs to respond to their recommendations. For once it should stand up for Canadian fishermen and all the industry people involved in the issue. It should stand up against the foreign countries taking the stocks. It should do so not because Canada wants the stocks for itself. We want them to improve. That is what it is about. It is about fishermen caring for their industry and for the resource. It is about conservation.

I encourage the government not to let it all be for show. Let it not be a bunch of talk. Let us not totally ignore the recommendations again. We are running out of time. The government at some point will need to stand up strongly for Canadians. It must not go to the table for Canadians merely to negotiate on its knees or not at all.

My hon. colleague Nelson Riis who was here previously got on his knees one day in the House and said it was Canada's way of negotiating with the U.S. It was somewhat of a joke then. However as time has gone by I have seen many issues come into the House. Quite frankly, that is the way the government negotiates with the U.S. and numerous foreign countries on issues that relate to the well-being of the Canadian public.

It is time the government remembered it is the government of the people of Canada and should be standing up for them.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

5:10 p.m.


Svend Robinson NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, I commend the hon. member for Churchill for her comments. I congratulate and thank all members of the fisheries committee for the important work they have done not only with respect to the crucial issues on the east coast but in my home province of British Columbia.

As members will know, many British Columbians are deeply concerned about the possibility of a significant expansion of the aquaculture industry. Given the serious concerns that have been raised about problems in the industry such as the Atlantic salmon issue, I and my colleagues in the New Democratic Party have called for a rapid move toward closed containment in the aquaculture industry.

On the grounds that foreign nations are overfishing the stocks on the nose and tail of the Grand Banks and the Flemish Cap, the motion focuses on the importance of gaining control of the fish stocks that lie on Canada's continental shelf. The recommendation of the committee is clear: The stocks rightfully belong to Canada. They could keep many fish plants open year round while still maintaining appropriate conservation standards.

I will never forget my trips to Newfoundland and Labrador in the mid-1990s. On more than one occasion I met with fishers who talked, in some cases with great emotion, about the fact that the future for their children in the industry was bleak indeed. They pleaded with us as members of parliament to put far more emphasis on conservation. Frankly, it is unbelievable that Canada is not in a position to take stronger action with respect to the nose and tail.

I want to pay particular tribute to my hon. colleague who is not able to be with us today, our member of the fisheries committee, the hon. member for Sackville--Musquodoboit Valley--Eastern Shore. I am sure other members of the committee would agree that he has worked long, hard and diligently to bring these matters to the attention of parliament. He would be here today to speak strongly in support of the motion were he able to. Unfortunately, due to a family emergency he cannot be here but I want his position recorded.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

5:15 p.m.


Bev Desjarlais NDP Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, I certainly acknowledge the comments made by my hon. colleague from Burnaby.

The fisheries committee travelled to an inland fishery in Manitoba some years back and made recommendations that would have improved the inland fisheries of Canada. It met with people from the northern end of my riding to the southern end. It made good, strong recommendations because it recognized the problems. Its members, a very knowledge based group of individuals, made great recommendations that were totally ignored.

The fisheries committee has done a great job. It is now in the government's hands to do something about it and follow through on the committee's recommendations.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

5:15 p.m.


Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, I agree with what the member for Burnaby—Douglas said about the member for Sackville—Musquodoboit Valley—Eastern Shore. The committee does work well together and he is a great addition to the committee. However the member for Burnaby—Douglas, in quoting one section of the report, might have wrongly left the impression that we want to take all those fish beyond the 200 mile limit for ourselves. That is not what we are saying. We want them managed properly. We may undertake custodial management to do that. I will quote directly from the report so that it is on the record. It states:

We believe that there is a third option: custodial management. Under a custodial management regime, Canada would assume sole responsibility for the management and conservation of the areas of our continental shelf beyond the 200-mile limit: the Nose and Tail of the Grand Banks and the Flemish Cap. However, foreign fishing interests would not be removed; instead, historic allocation and access would be respected.

We do not feel NAFO is working the way that it is supposed to work. Member states of NAFO are violating their own scientific recommendations. They are overfishing, using smaller gear, using targeted fishing in terms of bycatches and so on. We believe it must be managed properly. We would not take over complete control but we would manage the resource according to historical allocation so that Canadians and foreigners could benefit from that fishery for the future and for future generations.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

5:15 p.m.


Bev Desjarlais NDP Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, I would acknowledge that because in my comments as well I indicated that it was not a matter of Canada wanting everything. It is a matter of wanting to ensure that the resource is maintained and that there is a sustainability to it.

Canada can do a good job managing it. The point is we have to take the initial position. We have to take that step, stand firm and tell those countries that they will do this and that we will ensure they do it because it is best for all of us. We have to either get them onside or, as the recommendations say, tell them to take a ride.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

5:15 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Chuck Strahl Canadian Alliance Fraser Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am interested in the comments from the member, particularly about the inland fishery in Manitoba. I am not particularly familiar with it but I know that the member for Dauphin—Swan River has been pretty fervent about the problems in that inland fishery in Manitoba. I know he is concerned about the future and the viability of it in the long term if the fishery continues to run as it does currently, almost unchecked.

Could the member comment specifically on what she sees as a solution and what she sees as the current problem so that people are aware of that inland fishery, which is significant? Could she also perhaps comment on the position of the member for Dauphin—Swan River, who feels that the fishery is in real danger if something is not done to curb what he considers is an excess of overfishing?

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

5:15 p.m.


Bev Desjarlais NDP Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, issues have been raised that in some areas there has been overfishing. The perspective of the fisheries committee when it travelled to Manitoba was that what it had seen was rather unfair allocations in certain areas; the fresh fish marketing war; putting in place rules that favoured one area of the province over the other, as far as taking in fish stocks; and different rules for different groups of fishermen throughout the province. That was a major issue at that time. Good, solid recommendations were made.

The biggest improvement we can make in a good many industries is to involve the people in those industries, get suggestions from them and follow through on the recommendations. That is what was done previously but the government ignored the recommendations. I would suggest that is a very important factor. It is what the fishermen in Newfoundland want to see in order to maintain their fishery.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

5:20 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Chuck Strahl Canadian Alliance Fraser Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, when I listened to the member for Dauphin—Swan River, he specifically mentioned that the aboriginal fishery was out of control, that there was not a sharing of the resource, that people were taking more fish out of the freshwater fishery than could be sustained and that something had to be done.

Does the member have some recommendations, or does she agree with that observation or does she think there is some other problem that could be addressed?

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

5:20 p.m.


Bev Desjarlais NDP Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, specifically on the area the member is talking about, investigations are taking place as to the whole course of activities in that area. I have no knowledge of what those investigations have found. As is often the case with issues related to first nations and non-first nations, we hear differing opinions. Until the investigation is thoroughly done we really do not know the answers.

I willingly admit that my understanding is that there are investigations taking place but I do not know the results of those investigations.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

5:20 p.m.


Dominic LeBlanc Liberal Beauséjour—Petitcodiac, NB

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to have a chance to speak to the House on this important report prepared by the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans. We have heard many of my colleagues give credit to the committee for the outstanding work that it did. If we looked at the transcripts of the hearings and if we heard the speeches this afternoon and on previous occasions, the committee really did do outstanding work.

We had a chance to listen to Canadians. We had a chance to visit Newfoundland and Labrador. I will never forget the couple of days that we spent as a committee in St. John's listening to people firsthand tell us of the devastation that the groundfish moratorium had on small coastal communities. Many of the members of the committee are like me and represent rural areas which are very dependent on resources and on the fishery in particular.

To hear people like the mayor of Burgeo, members of the house of assembly in Newfoundland and Labrador and the minister of fisheries for that province describe in detail the difficulty and the pain that many small communities have gone through since this devastating moratorium left a very important mark on the committee. We can see that clearly in the report.

What is also important is what some of my colleagues from the committee have alluded to as the outstanding work done by the chairman of the committee, the member for Malpeque. Many of us remember him in his previous life as a very effective leader of the National Farmers Union. The same passion and dedication that he brought to the farm movement he brought to the work of the committee.

The member for Malpeque has a perfect ability. I say that only having had the chance to serve on a couple of committees of the House. I have watched the skill that the member for Malpeque has in chairing the meetings. It is very much to his credit that we arrived at a unanimous report. It is important to pay tribute to the chair of the committee and thank him for the work he has done on this important issue.

We had the chance to hear from other colleagues who joined the committee and were present at the hearings. As I mentioned a minute ago, what struck me was the important spirit of unanimity that existed throughout the discussions. My colleague from Burin--St. George's, our new colleague from Bonavista--Trinity--Conception and the member for Labrador have consistently spoken out on this issue and on the impact this issue has had in their communities. They have been very effective advocates for the federal government taking a strong position and approach on this very difficult problem.

The committee has functioned in a non-partisan way. My colleague, the member for Delta--South Richmond, has been a consistent supporter of the committee's work on this important issue. He is an articulate spokesperson for fisheries issues on the west coast. I have learned a lot from listening to him talk about fisheries problems on the west coast. It is a testimony to his commitment, to the people of small coastal communities and to the protection of the resource that he too has been a very articulate and tough defender of the committee's work on this issue.

My colleague, the member for Sackville--Musquodoboit Valley--Eastern Shore, also has seen the effect of this moratorium and has worked effectively with all members of the committee.

When we were in Newfoundland and Labrador I had the chance to spend some time with the member for St. John's West. He has consistently spoken to the committee and publicly about the devastation that the closure of this industry has had in his community and throughout his province of Newfoundland and Labrador.

From the perspective of a rookie member of parliament, to have had the chance to work with a committee like this under the leadership of our chair, the member for Malpeque, has been an interesting experience and the report that we have before us is a testimony to the good work of members on all sides.

The issue of foreign overfishing, as we saw in the committee's work, is certainly not an easy one. Many countries are involved, many historical patterns of the fishery are involved and there is probably enough blame to go around for everyone. Previous governments perhaps did not do the job that ideally they should have done. International bodies, we have heard a lot about NAFO, have in many cases let down the people of these small coastal communities by simply not being as effective as we would have liked to be.

The Minister of Fisheries and Oceans himself understands the fishery very well. The minister comes from the great riding of West Nova, a constituency very much dependent on the fishery and on these resources.

I had the chance to visit the riding of West Nova with the minister. His knowledge of the fishery and of resource allocation issues is extremely impressive. He graduated from the University of Moncton, avec un diplôme de gestion des pêches.

The minister's knowledge of the fishery is both academic and practical, because he has lived in small communities along the coast of southwest Nova Scotia. He understands the issue of foreign overfishing and the devastating effect it has had on many communities in Newfoundland and Labrador. We heard the member for Matapédia--Matane tell us about the devastation in his province of Quebec. The parliamentary secretary to the minister of fisheries also has talked to us about the difficult circumstances of these communities. I think we can see that the committee wanted to take a tough position because we feel very strongly that foreign overfishing has been a major factor in the collapse of these important stocks.

As I said, the minister himself understands very well the principles of conservation. In my discussions with him, the minister has consistently spoken of the importance of conservation and how his decisions on allocating stocks over which he has jurisdiction must be based upon the principles of conservation.

Some weeks ago I was in New Brunswick with the minister. We met with the Maritime Fishermen's Union. The president, Ron Cormier, is a constituent and a friend of mine. He does outstanding work for the inshore fishermen of my community. We had a discussion about the difficulty with this spring's herring fishery. I mention this because of the difficulty of having a regime that ensures conservation while it at the same time respects the needs of the economic security and future of small communities. It is never easy. The minister, in his discussions with me and with members of the Maritime Fishermen's Union, showed great sensitivity to the important balance between measures that ensure conservation and protection of the stocks but also understand the need and dependence of the economy of many coastal communities on the fishery.

The loss of the groundfish fishery, as we have heard this afternoon and in committee, has been an economic and social tragedy for the people of Newfoundland and Labrador and for the people of other maritime provinces. We have heard horror stories about devastated coastal communities that previously enjoyed a sustained level of economic growth and activity. Now in many cases they are ghost towns. We heard stories of U-Hauls going in one direction as people have to leave communities they have grown up in and where their families reside to try to seek employment in other areas.

The issue of how to control and regulate foreign overfishing certainly is not an easy one. I remember that in 1977 my father was the minister of fisheries and oceans at the time when we proclaimed the 200 mile limit. I remember my father talking about how complicated it was for him at that time to lead the Canadian government's efforts to proclaim, on January 1, 1977, the 200 mile fishing limit. He spent many weeks visiting countries like Russia, Cuba and Poland to try to get those countries to accept the need for Canada to take jurisdiction over 200 miles of our coastline.

Small countries like Cuba played a key role. The Cuban government was a consistent partner of Canada in that effort. The deputy minister of fisheries, Mr. Enrique Oltuski, became a friend of my father's. He has been deputy minister of fisheries for some 30 years. As we can see, the changes in bureaucracy in Cuba are perhaps less quick than changes in the Canadian bureaucracy.

As I have said, the problem of foreign overfishing and the need to protect straddling stocks and those stocks that are beyond Canada's 200 mile limit is not an easy one. One of the great parliamentarians and a great Newfoundlander, the former member for St. John's West, the Hon. John Crosbie, when he was minister of justice in 1985, said:

Unfortunately, the nose of the bank is not within the Canadian 200-mile economic zone. So, we have no legal powers to act on the nose of the bank.

Some seven years later, Mr. Crosbie, when he was then minister of fisheries and oceans, said before a committee of the House:

NAFO is established by an international convention and all of the members, of course, have to consent. If they don't consent to change you certainly can't bind them.

The former member for St. John's West understood how complicated it is for a country to try to manage these fish stocks. I say that recognizing that the urgency has become greater. I say that recognizing that the situation now, 10 years after Mr. Crosbie made those comments, has deteriorated.

I recognize that NAFO certainly has not been a perfect organization. I have a lot of confidence in the ability of this Minister of Fisheries and Ocean to convince his NAFO colleagues of the importance of taking dramatic measures. We need some international structure in which to conduct these efforts.

I was struck, as were many members of the committee, by the comments of the assistant deputy minister of fisheries and oceans, a very distinguished public servant, Mr. Pat Chamut. When Mr. Chamut appeared before the committee to report to us on his efforts at NAFO, we could see the benefits of his long experience at managing fisheries, but we could also see the frustration he had, which he shared quite openly with the committee, about our inability at that time to persuade our NAFO partners.

Mr. Chamut's long and distinguished record of public service is a credit to the department and to the people who earn a livelihood from the fishery. I have felt for a long time that the public service and the Government of Canada are lucky to have a career public servant of Mr. Chamut's skill and dedication. I found his frustration very revealing, and alarming, to say the least, because he certainly painted a picture for us that left the committee with some considerable concern.

The issue of information and educating the public certainly struck me as very important as our committee did its work. Of the many foreign nations that abuse these resources that straddle Canada's 200-mile limit, I am convinced that if their own domestic populations understood the devastating effects that many of their actions are having, it would be the beginning, I think, of putting some political pressure on many of these countries to stop what clearly has been an abusive practice.

That is why recommendation 4 in the committee's list of recommendations would be a very important step. It states:

That the Government of Canada conduct a targeted public information campaign to increase awareness of violations of NAFO conservation measures by vessels under the flag of member states--

It would be an important step because that is one effective way for the populations of these countries, which do not want to see limited resources abused, to understand that the actions of their fishing fleets have absolutely devastating consequences on small coastal communities on the east coast of Canada.

The committee's recommendations merit close attention. I think the minister himself will certainly take a close look at what very effective steps the government can take. For example, when the minister closed the ports to vessels from the Faroe Islands and Estonia, it was an important step. I think it sent a clear message and I believe it had some effect. It is that kind of bold initiative that the minister will continue to take which will make this issue the priority that we believe it is.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

5:35 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

It being 5.40 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

5:35 p.m.


Bill Blaikie NDP Winnipeg—Transcona, MB


That, in the opinion of the House, the government should consider amending the Criminal Code to make it an offence to drive a motor vehicle while talking on a cell phone, except in circumstances where an emergency situation can be demonstrated.

Mr. Speaker, my thanks to my seconder, the hon. member for Churchill.

Every day millions of Canadians get in their cars and drive to work, drive home, drive the kids from one activity to another, drive to do errands, drive to visit relatives and drive all over the country. Every time those individuals get into their cars there are certain expectations of them: that they are of age; that they will have taken a driver's test; that the car is insured and roadworthy; that they will drive safely; and that they are not intoxicated.

These are all expectations that we have of people when they get behind the wheel of a car and they are all expectations that have been codified in various federal, provincial and territorial regulations. These requirements are all necessary to ensure that our roads are safe and that those individuals who are driving will do so in a way that ensures the safety of others. The overwhelming majority of drivers have no problems with these restrictions and recognize that they are necessary to ensure everyone's safety.

An area which is not regulated and should be is the use of cell phones while driving. In the last few years, there has been an increase in the number of accidents caused by drivers who were using their cell phone while driving.

Cellphones are certainly extremely useful, and I personally use one, but we should recognize that their ever more frequent use causes a number of problems. In the last two years, for example, the proceedings of the House and the committees have been more disturbed and interrupted than ever because of cellphones.

It would seem that people do not know when it is appropriate or not to use these phones. At least, when a conversation is interrupted, our security is not at stake. But when drivers use their cellular phones while driving, risks are greater for their passengers, for other vehicles and for pedestrians, and even for the users of the cellphones themselves.

The reports of accidents in which cellphones were involved are becoming more and more frequent. Just a few months ago two couples from Quebec were killed near Washington, D.C. when the car they were driving in was hit by an SUV whose driver was using a cellphone at the time. The driver was also killed in that accident. This is something that is becoming more common every day and I believe it is something that governments ought to address. It is a growing problem, but there is also a growing awareness that this is a problem that should be dealt with.

According to a poll conducted by the Traffic Injury Research Foundation three months ago, the majority of drivers, around two-thirds, feel that cellphone use while driving is a serious problem that should be addressed. Half of all the respondents felt that there should be an outright ban on the use of cellphones while driving.

There clearly exists the recognition that this is a serious problem. I suggest this is true even among those who are in the habit of using their cellphones while driving. I have had a number of people tell me that even though they use their cellphones while driving they would gladly welcome a law to prohibit it so that they might be freed from the temptation of using their phone while driving.

These opinion polls have been bolstered by a number of studies that have been done over the past few years in which the effects of cellphone use on driving were also examined. These studies found that not only was cellphone use unsafe, it was one of the most unsafe practices that a driver could engage in while driving.

A study done in Toronto in 1997 found that drivers using a cellphone were four times more likely to be involved in an accident than those who did not. According to another report, issued by the transport research laboratory in Britain three months ago, talking on a cellular phone while driving can slow reaction and stopping times more than the effects of alcohol. Hands free kits for cellular phones were only slightly less dangerous. That is an interesting finding by this particular study because many people argue that all that is required is for the hand held cellphones to be banned and everyone can use the hands free set at much as they like. The study found that reaction times were approximately 30% slower when using a cellphone than when just over the legal blood alcohol limit and 50% slower than when driving normally. Further, drivers had more difficulty maintaining a constant speed and a safe distance from a car in front.

A number of arguments have been made against these findings but I believe they are all easily refuted. For example, there is the suggestion that using a hands free kit would mean that a telephone conversation would be just as dangerous as having a conversation with someone in a car. However a passenger would have the capacity to notice dangerous situations and put the conversation on hold until the danger passed, not something that someone on the other end of a cellphone link can do. Someone connected by cell would have no way of knowing what the driving conditions facing the driver are.

The idea of banning cellphone use while driving is not a new idea, although I believe this is the first time it has been debated in this Chamber. I am happy to have been a catalyst in that regard.

Currently there are more than 30 countries where using a cellphone while driving is illegal. Further, there are numerous countries where similar actions are being considered. I will be interested to see what the government has to say when the parliamentary secretary gets up to respond.

There are definite benefits to enacting this kind of ban. A Japanese study published in 2001 found that in the two years since 1999 when a ban was imposed the number of phone related accidents was halved.

There have also been numerous initiatives in Canada related to this kind of ban. Currently, in the Ontario legislature, a private member's bill is being considered that would ban cellphone use while driving. It was introduced in response to a particularly serious accident in Mississauga two years ago.

Further, the government of Newfoundland and Labrador recently announced that it will ban the use of cellphones while driving, something that has also been done in numerous jurisdictions in the United States.

The Minister of Justice could tackle this issue in a number of ways. The motion would make it illegal to use a cellphone while driving. I already asked the Minister of Justice to propose this to his provincial and territorial counterparts.

While the government of Newfoundland and Labrador is in the process of enacting a ban and other provincial governments are considering this issue, one government that has adamantly refused to consider this request is the Conservative government in Alberta. Members of that government voted against a private members' bill introduced by a Conservative member to introduce a ban. Although initially Premier Klein suggested that the provincial transportation department would do a review of this issue, within two weeks the Alberta government decided that it would not regulate a common sense issue. The rationale was that drivers would have the common sense not to use a cellphone while driving.

Mr. Speaker, I do not know if you have done any driving lately but a lot of people are not responding to this kind of common sense.

While I hope that most drivers would have the common sense to not use their cellphone while driving, many clearly do not. This is the same way that most people who drive have the common sense not to drive while intoxicated. There are a small minority who clearly have not learned that lesson.

The fact is that this small minority who still drive while intoxicated have become a minority. The common sense that we now associate with not driving while intoxicated is a common sense that was instilled over a number of years through changes in the law and through changes in the culture. It did not happen all by itself. It happened in part because the law changed, and of course the law changed because attitudes changed. This process here today is as much about changing attitudes or initiating the debate as it is about changing the law because this is after all a non-votable motion.

In any event, in the case of drinking and driving, we did choose to regulate this behaviour both through the criminal code and through the various highway traffic acts in all of the provinces. I would like to see a situation in which a similar mechanism exists for the use of cellphones, that the bulk of the regulation be under the rubric of provincial traffic acts with the possibility of a criminal code statute making it illegal to drive while using a cellphone.

I say the possibility because in the interim, between the time I first tabled this motion and to the time that I am debating it now, there has been a bit of a debate in the country. I have come to the point of view that is why it is non-votable. I chose to make it non-votable. I did not seek to have this motion votable because I did not see any point in having the House divide on this at this particular time.

For me the key thing was to help push along the debate on this without having it resolved one way or the other. In the final analysis I am not really all that uptight about whether or not it happens provincially or federally, just that it happens.

We should hold the federal power to amend the criminal code in reserve if in a reasonable amount of time provinces appear unwilling to deal with this in the context of their highway traffic law jurisdictions.

I say to the government that I would like it very much if it would put on the record its intention or its willingness to use the criminal code power should provincial governments over time not respond to this. I think we are at that point in the debate, particularly with Newfoundland beginning to do this.

Had there not been this initiative in Newfoundland I may well have decided to have made this votable and tried to force members to vote on this. However I do not think that would have been the best use of the House's time at this point in time in this debate about the use of cellphones while driving.

Whether it happens federally or provincially, I do not have a constitutional fixation about how this happens but I do think it needs to happen. More and more people are driving and someone whips through the intersection while yakking away on the telephone. This first happened to me when I was in the parking lot in front of my constituency office just after the election in 2000. Someone almost ran right over me in the parking lot. Sure enough, when I looked up, the person in the car was talking on a cellphone and did not even see me because he was so engrossed in the conversation. I said to myself that there ought to be a law. Then I said “Wait a minute, Bill, you're a lawmaker, why don't you put in a private members' bill or a motion to that effect.” That is why this motion is here, because there ought to be a law. Maybe it should be a federal law, maybe it should be a provincial law but there ought to be a law, which is the point I am trying to make here today.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

5:50 p.m.

Northumberland Ontario


Paul MacKlin LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased today to respond to Motion No. 116 introduced by the hon. member for Winnipeg--Transcona. The motion calls for the government to consider criminalizing the use of cellphones while driving.

Clearly it does identify a serious issue for Canadian society. However let me state at the outset that I cannot support Motion No. 116 for a number of reasons, but let me explain.

Many activities when combined with driving can decrease attention to the task of driving. One aspect of this broad area of driver distraction is driving while talking on a cellular telephone. I understand that the Minister of Transport and his road safety officials are closely monitoring the safety research in the area of driver distraction.

With regard to the criminal law aspect of driving while using a cellular telephone, there is currently no specific criminal offence for simply driving while using a cellular telephone. However it is very important to note that section 249 of the criminal code does criminalize the driver who carries on an activity to the point that it causes such deterioration in the driving that the driving actually becomes dangerous. In some circumstances using a cellphone could contribute to creating a situation of dangerous driving within the meaning of the criminal law, and this is so, regardless of whether the cellular telephone is hand held or hands free.

In 1985 parliament strengthened section 249 of the code by adding two new crimes: causing death by dangerous driving and causing bodily harm by dangerous driving. In the year 2000 parliament added to the criminal code two other amendments related to the failing to stop for police provision, namely flight from police that is aggravated by dangerous driving that causes death or flight from police that is aggravated dangerous driving that causes bodily harm.

Members of the House will recall that the dangerous driving amendment of 2000 came about through a private member's bill tabled by the hon. member for Pickering--Ajax--Uxbridge. It is my understanding that those countries and states that do have some legislative ban on cellphones typically prohibit only the use of hand held cellphones while driving. Drivers are able to legally use hands free cellphones. Prohibition is accomplished under the traffic safety legislation and not under criminal legislation.

I remind the House that in Canada it is the provinces that have the constitutional legislative responsibility for property and civil rights matters within the province. This encompasses many matters that are related to traffic safety. Also, provinces are responsible for driver licensing. So far only the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, as has been pointed out, is contemplating provincial legislation that would prohibit the use of cellular telephones while driving. On the other hand, Alberta has reportedly decided that it will not prohibit the use of cellphones while driving.

It is my view that we have a balance in Canada that is very appropriate. If a province wishes to ban the use of cellular telephones as a matter of road safety and collision risk, it is free to do so. It is also free to choose what exceptions, if any, there should be to such prohibition.

I do not believe there is any need for parliament to create a specific crime for simply driving while talking on a cellphone. To do so could in effect overturn the decision of a province, such as Alberta, to leave drivers who use the cellphone alone.

I am comfortable with this Canadian approach because I know that if driving while using a cellphone amounts to dangerous driving under the criminal code, then the police can lay a criminal charge under section 249 regardless of whether the provincial legislation permits cellphone use while driving or not. Any provincial permission to use a cellphone while driving cannot be used as an excuse to committing the criminal offence of dangerous driving.

Many Canadians who are very prudent in their driving habits will never talk on any cellphone while driving. This no doubt is the safest course. Other drivers will talk only on a hands free telephone and only when parked. Still others will talk on the hand held units if their province does not ban it without driving in a manner that is dangerous.

The criminal law is society's strongest sanction against behaviour that is typically morally blameworthy or dangerous. When looking at a particular kind of conduct we must ask ourselves whether the criminal law is the most appropriate instrument to address the conduct or whether other measures might better serve the purpose.

In the case of driving while using a cellphone without any hint of dangerous driving, provinces can choose to prohibit this activity. A driver could receive a fine, or a ticket and possibly a driving licence suspension were a province to create such legislation. However if parliament were to criminalize the act of driving while talking on a cellphone, the cohort of individuals who now use cellphones while driving and who could be criminalized would be enormous.

The hallmark of an offence placed in the criminal code is that incarceration is part of the range of potential penalties. A conviction carries a criminal record that could disentitle the offender from entering a foreign country. Given recent world events there may be countries that would make the decision to exclude any visitor from Canada who has a criminal conviction without considering whether the same behaviour is permitted in the home state or country.

Before turning to the criminal law as a solution there must be other instruments that could be chosen if it is desirable to end the behaviour of driving while using a cellphone. Driver education, provincial driving licence measures and provincial fine measures immediately spring to mind. These may well be more appropriate in addressing many forms of driving distraction and not just driving while using a cellphone.

If a cellphone presents a driving distraction problem that requires the weight of criminal law, then what other driver distractions might also require the weight of criminal law? Would it be necessary to criminalize other distractions even when they do not result in actual dangerous driving?

I appreciate that Motion No. 116 brings forward a serious matter for Canadians. We are all concerned about road safety. However I cannot support Motion No. 116. Our criminal law already does criminalize cellphone use while driving that results in dangerous driving. If provinces wish they could act through provincial legislation to prohibit cellphone use even if it does not result in dangerous driving.

The government does not happen to agree that driving while using a cellphone requires parliament to employ the criminal law against this behaviour.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

6 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Deepak Obhrai Canadian Alliance Calgary East, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise today to speak to Motion No. 116 brought forward by the member for Winnipeg--Transcona.

When I first looked at the motion I felt I needed to speak to this issue and express my point of view. During the last year I have experienced three occasions where an individual driving ahead of me was driving dangerously. In each instance this could have resulted in an accident as the individual was breaking the traffic law. On all three occasions the individual was deep in conversation on a cellphone and not paying attention to the issue of driving, which the individual was required to do.

These occasions brought a stark reality to bear--we must do something. While the motion is not votable the member from Winnipeg brought it forward because he thought it was necessary to have it debated. I would hope that the motion would become a private member's bill and, based on our new procedure, be brought back to the House so everyone can debate and vote on it.

I was interested to hear my colleague from the government side give his rationale on the motion. This is the second time I have listened to the parliamentary secretary on issues that have come forward during private members' business, including my issue dealing with break and enter.

I am left with the impression that the parliamentary secretary is not speaking on behalf of his constituents. That is what he is supposed to do as an elected member of parliament. It seems that he is speaking for the bureaucrats of the Department of Justice because his speeches and arguments are all based on a way that bureaucrats would present an argument. They are not based on what he has witnessed or what his constituents are telling him is out there.

We all know bureaucrats live in their offices and are not privy most of the time to what is happening out there. Democracy has been set up that allows our constituents to write and tell us about issues so that we can bring them to parliament and debate them. I find it strange that the government does not want to debate the issue and has brushed it aside very quickly, much like it did with my private member's bill.

The parliamentary secretary is blaming the provinces, saying that it was a provincial responsibility. Do members think Canadians care whether it is a provincial or federal responsibility? They want safe roads. That is the issue. As far as Canadians are concerned they could care less, constitutionally, who has the authority to do this. Let us not pass the buck.

We are elected members of parliament. People write to us and tell us about their concerns. We bring those concerns here and it is our job to take them forward, not make excuses. I hope that in the future when issues do come forward my colleague on the other side will not try to hide and say it is a provincial responsibility and has nothing to do with him. That is not what Canadians expect.

I am sure he will take time to ensure that his bureaucrats do not write his speeches and that he would listen to and represent his constituents.

In some jurisdictions people have stated that a hand-held cellphone should not be in use when driving. We are reaching the stage where the use of cellphones is increasing. Maybe at this given time it has not hit hard. However, we must do something.

I remember embarking on campaigns against drunk driving because the carnage on our roads was increasing. Through a concentrated effort a lot of bills were passed in the House amending the criminal code to address that social issue.

I hope we do not get to the stage where we will only stand up to take action when the carnage on our roads increases. There are warning flags being raised with this issue. The parliamentary secretary said that one of the provinces is talking about it and other countries are talking about it. Why are they talking about it? Is it because they see a potential problem arising?

People expect us to take action. My friend brought forth a motion which I wholeheartedly support. This is not a votable motion but it is a warning to the government. The parliamentary secretary should go back to his bureaucrats and solve this problem. We should go and have discussions with the provinces and see how we can do it so that it does not become a serious issue. That is my appeal to the government here today.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.


Robert Lanctôt Bloc Châteauguay, QC

Mr. Speaker, as the Bloc Quebecois' deputy critic for justice, I am pleased to rise today to speak to Motion No. 116.

The motion reads:

That, in the opinion of the House, the government should consider amending the Criminal Code to make it an offence to drive a motor vehicle while talking on a cell phone, except in circumstances where an emergency situation can be demonstrated.

From the outset, we would like to say that we are opposed to the motion mainly because it is a blatant infringement on one of Quebec's areas of jurisdiction, namely, road safety regulations. We are opposed to the motion because it is vague and unfounded.

Of course, it is aimed at ensuring motorists' safety and, as such, it is worthwhile. However, the method it suggests is clearly unreasonable.

Cellphones have entered our life so quickly that they are now commonplace and usual. Cellphones have become part of our daily life.

People understand that the benefits of this device are huge. Once again, this new technology is here to stay.

Some see it as a threat. The same thing was said of TV sets. Some even thought they were harmful to our health and intellect. We now understand it is how we use TV that is the problem.

Indeed, there are risks linked to the use of a cellphone while driving a car. According to the Société de l'assurance automobile du Québec, anything that distracts drivers' attention from the task at hand, which is to focus their attention on the road, increases the risk of accident. Indeed, chatting with a passenger, smoking, eating and fiddling with the radio can be harmful because it is distracting, but none of these activities has been banned.

The motion mentions an exception where a emergency situation can be demonstrated. This is extremely vague. A physician driving to the scene of an accident could use his cellphone without restriction as it would be an emergency.

A parent stuck in traffic and who is going to be late to pick up a child at the day care centre may also be in an emergency situation. All this is way too relative to allow for proper assessment of the scope of this part of the motion. As a matter of fact, any individual will probably be able to justify using a cellphone and the emergency situation that made it necessary.

Furthermore, the motion makes no provision for using a hands-free cellphone. These are seen as much safer, but there is no provision for such a situation in the motion before us. Using a cell phone can of course be another driving risk, but there is no excuse for making it a criminal offence.

This is another reason why the Bloc Quebecois is opposed to Motion No. 116. Any restriction, if one is needed, should be accomplished through regulations and not through an amendment to the criminal code.

It is up to Quebec, and the provinces and territories to assess the need for regulations which would limit the use of a cellphone while driving a motor vehicle.

There are three states in U.S. which limit the use of cellphones while driving—California, Florida and Massachusetts—but no state prohibits their use.

The Bloc Quebecois feels that it is up to the governments of Quebec and the provinces and territories to consider measures to limit rather than prohibit their use.

Nonetheless, it would be preferable to begin with a public awareness campaign to alert drivers to the dangers of using a cellphone in the car. It would also be appropriate to consider a campaign to educate people about safe methods of use.

The Société de l'assurance automobile du Québec could insist on safety precautions such as pulling over to the side of the road if a conversation might be lengthy; using a hands-free cell phone; not taking notes while driving; programming in the most frequently dialed telephone numbers in advance; not dialing while the car is in motion; letting the voice mail take calls; and being thoroughly familiar with the operation of the unit before using it.

If these public awareness and education campaigns do not work, consideration could be given to tougher measures, but for now, we are a long way from that.

This is what needs to be done first and, more importantly, by whom. Amending the criminal code is an extreme step that must be avoided at all costs. The criminal code is not the answer to everything that is not working in our society.

We must trust the public to use its judgment, rather than try to implement rigid rules of behaviour.

In conclusion, the Bloc Quebecois is opposed to this motion, because it represents interference in the highway regulations, which come under the jurisdiction of Quebec, and of the provinces and territories, and because its wording is too restrictive.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

6:10 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Gerald Keddy Progressive Conservative South Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, I have listened attentively to the debate on Motion No. 116 moved by the member for Winnipeg—Transcona. The closing comments by my colleague from the Bloc were apropos to the debate. He said that amending the criminal code would be a very drastic measure to take for this type of infraction. We should expect Canadians to rely on sound common sense and good judgment before we go about trying to amend the criminal code.

Since this is private members' business and it is a non-votable motion—and even if it was a votable motion—members may speak their own mind. In my mind this is not the type of motion that should be enacted into legislation at this stage of the evolution of cellphone use in Canada.

There are two sides to the argument. I do not have a difficulty with having the debate. There is an argument that says cellphone use should be regulated to the point that it does not cause unsafe or dangerous driving.

If we wanted we could look at the lighter side of the argument, but I am not saying in any way, shape or form that accidents that have been caused by cellphone use are somehow humourous. Quite frankly a number of things, including cellphone use, are illegal now if they cause an accident or if they cause a criminal infraction. If it is looked at by a police officer as dangerous driving, it is illegal now. We do not have to put it in the criminal code to make it illegal.

By the way, a number of other things that people do while driving are illegal too. We see people shaving; putting on makeup, especially lipstick at stop signs; drinking coffee; reading the paper; or looking for change if the person lives in Cumberland--Colchester and has to take the toll highway that the federal government helped to build. All those actions are dangerous and all of them are regulated now by the criminal code.

We do not have to have a police state that would regulate what should be common sense and should be looked after through an education process. That does not take away the importance of the debate. It does not take away the fact that it is probably time that we had this debate and that we looked at some way to change driver behaviour.

I would argue very strenuously that changing the Criminal Code of Canada may or may not change that behaviour, but that is not the first step I would take. That step is a long way down the road, and please excuse the analogy.

The ability is in the code now to sentence people if they drive dangerously or if their driving causes death or injury. We do not have to adjust the code to put in that ability.

I would rather put a challenge out to the cellphone companies. I have a cellphone and I recognize the importance of the tool. Most of us have used our cellphones to report car accidents, to report dangerous objects lying on the road and sometimes even to report drivers who we suspect are under the influence. Certainly cellphones are useful.

We all know that we cannot dial a cellphone and drive at the same time. That is dangerous. Common sense will tell us that. A driver who is looking at his or her cellphone obviously is not looking at the road any more than when the driver is looking at the radio or CD player or is trying to find something under the dashboard. A little common sense needs to be applied.

Rather than changing the criminal code, I suggest that we seriously look at the way we use cellphones in cars.

The first thing we need to look at is voice activated, hands free cellphones. That type of technology is available now and will be even better and more refined in the future.

There is no reason that we as parliamentarians cannot put that challenge out to the cellphone producers and suppliers on the planet. I say to the Motorolas and Nokias of the world to simply find a better way to make cellphones and to find a safer way to use cellphones in the car.

A person should be able to set the cellphone on a stand in the vehicle and automatically it should become a hands free, voice activated phone. If the driver wanted to call the office he or she would simply say “Call the office”. The key word would dial the office number. There could be a mike on the sun visor and the driver could speak on the cellphone and drive at the same time.

We should not think for a moment that we will be able to tell people in Canada that they cannot use cellphones in their cars. Newfoundland and Labrador may be discussing it but it has not been implemented to my knowledge. Alberta has said it does not want to do it.

I agree with the member from the Bloc. It is a provincial jurisdiction, unless we decide that somehow this has broader application across the country and that we should change the criminal code. Two years down the road if nothing is done, maybe that is a discussion worth having. I do not think it is a discussion worth having at this time.

I would ask everyone to look at the least drastic measures a public education program, a better way of limiting cellphone use in cars. Certainly I think the best way to do that is to challenge the suppliers of cellphones to produce an easy to use, voice activated, hands-free cellphone because we will not convince drivers not to use cellphones, especially on the highways.

We all spend too much time in our automobiles not to use the cellphones. Sometimes people pull off the road and sometimes they do not. That is a fact of life. Should people be using them in stop and go traffic? Should people be using them at stop signs and pedestrian crosswalks? Of course not.

There are provisions in the criminal code that can be enforced to prevent that if it causes dangerous driving. This is a worthwhile debate, but I personally would not support a piece of legislation at this time. However like all legislation, certainly there is a place for it in the House of Commons. I was particularly interested in the debate.

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

6:20 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired. As the motion has not been designated as a votable item, the order is dropped from the order paper.

Is there unanimous consent to see the clock as 6.30 p.m. and proceed to the adjournment proceedings?

Criminal CodePrivate Members' Business

6:20 p.m.

Some hon. members


A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved

Criminal CodeAdjournment Proceedings

6:20 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Bill Casey Progressive Conservative Cumberland—Colchester, NS

Mr. Speaker, on May 9 I asked if the Prime Minister approached the president of Spain about extending the overfishing limits to try to control overfishing on the Grand Banks. I asked if the Prime Minister specifically sought support for the Canadian proposal that would take quotas away from countries that overfished and impose lifetime bans on the captains.

Today that debate was expanded. We debated a motion about exactly the same thing, overfishing on the Grand Banks, lifetime bans, et cetera.

The fisheries committee brought out a very comprehensive, well thought out and well produced report recommending custodial management on the nose and tail of the Grand Banks as well as the Flemish Cap. The committee report was unanimous. It received all party support. It also received a lot of support outside parliament from the fisheries ministers in Atlantic Canada.

In Atlantic Canada we have seen communities devastated because of overfishing especially in Newfoundland but in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick as well. Fishing beyond the 200 mile limit has gone unchecked. It is uncontrolled because NAFO simply does not work. We have seen plants close, fishermen put out of work and boats tied up while foreign boats offshore outside the 200 mile limit are capturing fish by scooping them up with electronic technology we could not even imagine 10 years ago.

Will the government take the steps to extend custodial management over the Grand Banks and the Flemish Cap?

Criminal CodeAdjournment Proceedings

6:25 p.m.

Bonaventure—Gaspé—Îles-De-La-Madeleine—Pabok Québec


Georges Farrah LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans

Mr. Speaker, this issue has been abundantly debated in the last several weeks, especially last night and again this afternoon, with nearly two hours of debate.

Obviously, the government, and the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans in particular, is deeply concerned about the situation beyond the 200 mile zone, east of Newfoundland.

The minister has repeatedly acknowledged that it is unacceptable to have foreign vessels overfishing just outside the 200 mile zone. This has a catastrophic impact on the economy of Newfoundland. We all agree on this.

The Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans has had extensive discussions on the custodial management it would like to extend beyond the 200 mile zone. As you know, the committee tabled a report on this just last week, and this report was debated this afternoon.

There is a very fundamental problem here. As a country, can we can impose a way of doing things, a management practice in the international zone? This is quite an issue. My colleague, the member for Beauséjour—Petitcodiac, made this point earlier. The former member for St. John's West, the hon. John Crosbie, who was Minister of Fisheries and Oceans at the time, said that it was very hard, almost unthinkable and practically impossible for a government to impose rules in a zone that, unfortunately, does not belong to us.

That being said, I agree with the fact that this does not solve the problem. As I said before, there is overfishing within the 200 mile limit.

However, our government did take some measures to make our NAFO partners understand that they should follow the rules established by member nations, including Canada.

As you know, we arrested some vessels, we closed ports to foreign vessels that had not respected the fishing area, the minister went abroad, and even went to Russia a while ago—the member for St. John's West was there—in order to inform our international colleagues of the fact that their own fishers are not abiding by the rules.

The minister will be leaving this coming Sunday on missions to Spain, Portugal and Denmark, for the specific purpose of raising their awareness of the fact that regulations must be respected.

We need to go further perhaps, and that is what we are asking ourselves at this time. It must be admitted, however, that even if NAFO rules are not perfect, there has been progress in the situation since 1995, nevertheless. Not rapid progress, I admit. Not fast enough for the people of Newfoundland who are suffering—which must be understood, and we do indeed understand it—because of overfishing in international waters. As a result, the Newfoundland community is experiencing huge economic problems.

We believe that we must continue, and in a highly effective and efficient way, to pressure our partners so that our regulations are respected, precisely so that Canadian maritime communities such as Newfoundland may earn an adequate living from its fish resource. This is a very vital resource to the maritime provinces.

Criminal CodeAdjournment Proceedings

6:25 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Bill Casey Progressive Conservative Cumberland—Colchester, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am certainly pleased to hear that the parliamentary secretary is acknowledging the problem, the devastation and the fact that what we have done before has not worked.

I believe it is time we all realized that we need to do something new. We must be innovative. We must take a risk. We must stand up and be counted now. All the actions of trying to influence other countries to stop the devastation and havoc all over eastern Canada have not worked. Canada must do something now.

The member for Bonaventure--Gaspé--Îles-de-la-Madeleine--Pabok is a member of the fisheries committee. The committee had a unanimous report that recommended custodial management. Could the member confirm his support for the concept of custodial management over the Grand Banks?