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.