Mr. Speaker I move that the fourth report of the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans presented on Tuesday, May 27, 2003 be concurred in.
It is a pleasure to debate the report as tabled by the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans.
During the last year and a half, members of the House, some more than others perhaps, have spent a lot of time learning about the fishing industry in this country, particularly the problems we were experiencing on the Atlantic coast.
Many members from all parties stood in the House to support the efforts of the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans and the people in Atlantic Canada, particularly in Newfoundland and Labrador, to try to get some control over the area outside our 200 mile limit known as the nose and tail of the Grand Banks and the Flemish Cap, to protect our resource from the pillaging by foreign countries. Because of the emphasis that has been placed on that topic, because of the concern and the interest that has been created in the fishery, others across the country have realized that they also must get involved in protecting our resources.
A lot of people do not realize that right in the heart of our country, in Ontario, is one of the greatest fisheries anywhere. Thousands of people make their living in relation to the fishery in the Great Lakes and the economic benefits to the country are tremendous. However, as with the fishery on the east coast, and I would add as with the fishery on the west coast, we have seen complete and utter neglect by the present government in maintaining, protecting and enhancing that fishery.
The biggest problem in the Great Lakes and the seaway is what is referred to as an invasive species, or unwelcome visitors. In recent years we have seen develop, in the Great Lakes in particular, species which are foreign to our waters, species which are having a devastating effect on the resource in that area. I will mention a few of them and will talk about how this came about, where they came from, how they got there and more specifically, what we can do about the problem.
Over the last few months the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans has had visits from several people who have a tremendous concern about what is happening in the Great Lakes. One of the individuals who visited our committee spoke not only with knowledge of the Great Lakes, not only with knowledge of invasive species, not only with knowledge of what is being done in the Great Lakes by invasive species, but also with tremendous knowledge of the parliamentary system, how it works, how it can work and more specifically, how it should work to prevent this major catastrophe which is happening right in the middle of Ontario. That individual is a gentleman by the name of Mr. Herb Gray. If there is anyone in the country who understands politics, it is Mr. Gray. If there is anyone who understands the government's ability to address this serious situation, it is Mr. Gray.
Let me also say, Mr. Speaker, that to my left and to your right, in the government ranks, a number of members, some of whom are here presently, brought their concerns to the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans.
The committee has worked exceptionally well. The committee has presented to the honourable House a number of reports. For all intents and purposes, I could say that all of them were unanimous, with the odd disagreement here and there on a couple of occasions.
Because of the interest that has been generated, or maybe regenerated, in the fishery, the members representing Ontario have raised the issue of invasive species. They have brought in the agencies in the area that are extremely concerned and that have been working so hard to make this an issue.
It does not matter how much talking we do behind the scenes. It does not matter how many town hall meetings we have. It does not matter how often we tell each other how important the problem is. If we do not address the problem openly, nothing will ever be done.
The members from Ontario stood in the House and supported us in Atlantic Canada when we raised our own problems. They supported us in relation to how we have to protect our resource. Therefore, they in turn deserve to be supported by us. It is with pleasure today that we stand to get this issue on the floor of the House of Commons.
The agencies that are directly involved in this issue have major concerns. I am sure when the members from Ontario speak to this issue they will get into they specifics. They will let us know who is really involved, what devastation has been caused in the area and what can be done about it.
In order to get the government and people in general interested in such a topic, the place to raise the issue, to discuss it, to debate it, and hopefully to make recommendations to address the problem is right here.
Our main aim today, besides introducing the topic, is to give those more directly involved--and I speak particularly of the Ontario members--a chance to get it on the public record, to bring to the public's attention and more fully to the government's attention this extremely serious problem.
I will address just two or three of the invasive species that are causing major problems in the lakes. One might ask what we can do. If we do not try to stop them before they spread too far, it will be extremely difficult to do anything.
One of the major concerns which the agencies and Mr. Gray have is that the funding to deal with these invasive species is being threatened by government. The budget of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans over the last few years has been cut year after year after year. This means it has fewer dollars to handle growing problems and challenges in the country.
The Coast Guard is falling apart. The whole fleet and the infrastructure have to be strengthened tremendously. We were told by people within the small crafts and harbours division that 21% of their facilities are unsafe to use and that it would take $400 million to bring their facilities even up to par.
Fisheries scientists and scientists generally from one end of the country to the other will tell us that the scientific branch has been cut so much that we no longer have the ability to understand what is happening in our oceans or to come up with suggestions to deal with the challenges, or to determine what the quotas are in the oceans.
A while ago the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans announced his quotas for this year in relation to several stocks. Many people, particularly in Atlantic Canada, were extremely concerned. They said that the minister was basing his decision not on scientific facts, because he did not have them, nor on the advice from the FRCC, an independent council set up by the minister to advise him. He did not listen to the advice that came from that council nor certainly from those involved in the fishery directly.
That puts into perspective the situation in which the department finds itself. To correct all of these major concerns, the answer is an influx of funding to restore the money that has been whittled away from that major department over the years.
There is such a crying need for funding and so many hands are being held out for it. The people specifically in the area of the Great Lakes in Ontario are extremely concerned. If the budget to address the invasive species is not increased and more specifically if it is decreased, they will not be able to contain the species that are playing havoc with the localized stocks in those areas.
One of the three most invasive species which causes more damage than the others is the Asian carp. These fish perhaps were introduced by someone bringing them into the country and letting them go into the Great Lakes. They have rapidly multiplied and are destroying many of our local stocks.
Zebra muscles are very small, minuscule, the size of one's fingernail and multiply tremendously. They congregate around practically anything, especially water pipes, whether they are intakes or outlets, in the Great Lakes.They clog the pipes and cause all kinds of trouble. As well, when mixed with other invasive species, they produce toxins that have a detrimental effect on the local habitat.
Another major concern in relation to invasive species is the sea lamprey. It is an eel-like fish and has a suction mouth which sucks the life out of other fish. Fishermen in the Great Lakes are finding sea lamprey stuck to the fish in their catch these days. The sea lamprey suck the life out of the fish. They are multiplying tremendously. The ability to address that problem is being hamstrung by the government's not providing the necessary funding.
These are extremely serious problems. Unless the government decides that it is going to look at a major renewable resource, then we are in trouble.
On the weekend our party had a tremendous convention, as the House knows. There were more people involved and more excitement than we have ever seen in the country in relation to electing a new leader. I do not think anyone doubts the fact that we made a great choice.
During the last 24 hours or so we have been hearing about deals that were done. We understand that one of the candidates who joined said that he wanted certain concerns addressed. Everyone thinks we sold the shop to get a deal.
There was one concern the hon. gentleman talked about, and there was an example today when we talked about the softwood lumber agreement. He said that within the free trade agreement there are certain provisions that are not the best that could be achieved for Canada and that we should make sure that we get only what is best for this nation. Who could argue with that? He also said that we should be paying more attention to the environment. I am talking about invasive species and what is going on in the Great Lakes, what is going on in the Fraser River, and what is going on in Atlantic Canada. These are environmental concerns.
He also wanted more emphasis placed on agriculture. Why? Because he is from the west. He is a farmer and that is what he should look for. If I had been the person making the deal, I would have asked that more attention be paid to the fisheries.
I do not have to ask it, because I think if we check Hansard over the past year or year and a half in the House since our Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans really went to work on national issues, we will find that the fishery and fishing issues have been discussed more than they ever have been in the history of this great House of Commons.
Not only have they been discussed, people have become educated as to what is happening to this great renewable resource. They understand the effect this is having on the people in Canada who work in the fishing industry directly and, might I say, indirectly. We think about the harvesters who catch the fish and we think about the processors who process the product, but what about all the truckers, the storekeepers, the packaging companies and the companies that make ice? I can go on and on. The fishing industry creates so much employment in this country from coast to coast, but people forget that it is only fish. Fish was always at the lowest end of our totem pole, but it is no longer there and anyone who thinks it is should go to the supermarket and try to buy some. We realize that it has become a very valuable product.
However, it is a resource that has created tremendous employment in the past, is creating good employment, although less than previously, and has the ability to create even more, because if we protect what we have and if we enhance it, there are several species that multiply tremendously. But we must protect our resource.
On the east coast we must protect our resource from predators. We must protect our resource from those who want to abuse their rights to catch it. We must protect our resource from foreign countries that go above and beyond quotas that have been set for them.
On the Fraser River and elsewhere in British Columbia, off the British Columbia coast and in the north, we must make sure that rules and regulations are enforced so that proper harvesting and processing methods are put in place to make sure we get the proper value for every dollar.
My good friend and supporter from Quebec, the member of our Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans, is here. People in Quebec fully appreciate the value of the fishing industry, but it is no good if government does not impose proper rules and regulations and give resources to the people who work for them. Let me pay tribute to the many solid, hard-working civil servants who work for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. With meagre resources, they try to do their jobs. If they had the proper resources, we could make sure the resource is protected and enhanced and not only maintain the status quo or watch a resource be whittled away.
This is exactly what is needed in relation to the Great Lakes. People might ask why someone from Atlantic Canada is talking about the Great Lakes fishery and the need to protect the resource. The fishery in this country is a common resource for all Canadians. It affects all of us. We have to stand by each other. It is no good if a Newfoundlander is standing up and complaining about the resource and what is happening if people from the other parts of the country, from British Columbia, Alberta, through the Prairies, central Canada and our colleagues on the east coast, do not understand and support what we are talking about. And they have done it.
We have had three special debates, I believe, on the east coast fishery in which members from every party, regardless of political stripe, from every part of the country regardless of geography or whether they live by the water or do not, were people who understand what is happening to our resource and stood to support us in what we did. Today it is our turn to support a crying need to address invasive species in the Great Lakes.
We have to make sure the boats that dump the bilge water and have introduced through that bilge water the invasive species into the Great Lakes are properly controlled and monitored so that it does not happen anymore. We can address, I think quite adequately, the prevention aspect of seeing any waters being dumped further. The problem is that we already have these species. What do we do about it?
One of the things we can do get the people from Ontario to do what we have done: create the awareness so that they have the support of us here in the House and so the government supports them. I look forward to my colleagues, those from Ontario in particular, bringing their issue here to the floor so we can continue to address this major issue. If we can correct it and get government involved, we can solve the problem of the invasive species in the Great Lakes.