Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with my colleague who seconded the motion, the member for Vancouver Island North.
While it is always a pleasure to rise in the House and it is a privilege to move the motion, I wish it were under better circumstances. We are here today because of the case of the missing fish.
Let me put the facts of the case as simply as possible. The sockeye salmon runs on the Fraser River this year were estimated to be about 4.4 million fish. Some were caught before reaching the mouth of the river as they came down the coast. Others were caught as they made their up the river to Mission where they were counted.
According to that count, about 2.6 million fish had made it to Mission. Others were caught in the river above Mission. In fact there was a recorded catch of close to 500,000. That should have left about 2.1 million fish to make their way toward the spawning grounds but the early escapement figures show that only about 250,000 made it.
What happened to the other 1.85 million fish, give or take? Certainly some would have died on the way due to environmental or other causes, but there is no expert opinion that I have seen that suggests that the figure would be anywhere close to that. What happened to the missing fish? Or, does it even matter whether we know? They are just fish, after all, weighing about five or six pounds.
However to us in B.C. they are more than just fish. They help provide a livelihood for commercial fishers and their families who have a huge investment in licences and equipment.
The sockeye fishery is an essential part of the aboriginal culture and for many it is the key source of food upon which they depend. So, for example, imagine the impact when those at the headwaters of the Fraser were only able to catch about one fish per person this summer.
The fish are an important source of enjoyment for thousands of recreational fishers. In 2002, for example, salt water sport fishers purchased 333,000 fishing licences and in that same year sport fishing generated an estimated $1 billion in related sales and provided close to 8,000 jobs. The fact is that relatively speaking they do not catch many fish. Some, like me, do not catch any.
Make no mistake about whether the salmon fishery is important to B.C. I do not know what will happen next year and the year after that, and even the year after that. I wish I could say that I am optimistic that those years will be fine. Maybe they will be but that is what DFO said about the fishery this year.
I think I can tell members what will happen in 2008. Nothing will happen in 2008 because that is when the salmon that are the offspring of those which spawned this year will be returning. They will likely be so few that the river will be closed. The commercial boats will be tied up as the fishery continues its decline toward insolvency. The aboriginals will go without and sport fishers will stay home. Fishing stores will struggle to stay afloat.
The reality is that it is not just the fish that are missing, because with them has gone so much more. The government tells us to relax, that it has it all under control. It has set up a post-season review led by former B.C. chief justice Brian Williams that will figure out what went wrong. Any day now, maybe even today, we will to start hearing that Liberal mantra, let Justice Williams do his work.
We have yet another post-season review in a long line of post-season reviews. There were problems with the fishery in 1992 and Doctors Pearse and Larkin conducted a thorough investigation and released a very fine report. There were problems in 1994 and the hon. John Fraser, conducted another thorough review with another good report. There were problems in 2001 and the standing committee conducted a study and issued a unanimous report with 10 helpful recommendations. In 1997, 1999 and 2000, the Commissioner of the Environment and the Office of the Auditor General conducted reviews and provided clear recommendations. She recently told the standing committee, “that the implementation gap is significant and the track record of progress is unimpressive”. Therein lies the heart of the problem.
Madam Speaker, I was raised by good parents, as I am sure you were, and they tried to teach me the values upon which to build a successful productive life. Among those important principles was a simple, yet profound one: admit it when you are wrong. I have discovered that they were right. The truth will set us free. It might hurt at first but it will set us free.
Over and over I was reminded of that principle as I followed the case of the missing fish. I was reminded of it when the first news releases were issued about the shortfall, as it was called, when the minister offered a briefing to B.C. MPs, when he and his departmental officials appeared before the standing committee, and when the dozen or so Pacific region executives testified at the recently conducted hearings in Vancouver.
We heard a lot of explanations about what might have gone wrong. Maybe warm water was to blame or low water. Maybe the Americans took more than their share, or some other group. Maybe the sonar fish counter at Mission was wrong. By the end it was a good thing that I am a pretty reserved kind of guy because I was ready to shout, enough with what might have gone wrong. What was done wrong? Did nobody do anything wrong?
When the head of the salmon team in the Pacific region said that according to the calculations in their fisheries management plan there should have been plenty of fish for conservation, I waited in vain for him to add, “But we were wrong”.
If I had heard that or if I had heard the minister admit that this has happened too many times and the stakes are too high, and as the manager of this resource he was prepared to take responsibility for not doing good enough for British Columbians, then I might have been confident that the right changes would be made to ensure that this does not happen again. However I did not hear that and I am not confident.
Therefore, on behalf of all those who value this resource, I bring this motion.
As I was growing up I did not always follow the principle that when one is wrong one admits it. When I did not, as a last resort we had our own little judicial inquiry to get to the truth. To do so, they exercised what constitutional legal experts might call their coercive powers. Some of those inquiries were fairly memorable, by the way.
It appears that in the case of the Pacific salmon fishery, the apparent lack of a commitment by the minister to get to the truth requires a judicial inquiry with such coercive powers. An inquiry will be both thorough and independent because it will have the authority to compel testimony and the production of documents, even from those with the most to hide. A judicial inquiry will have the power to make forceful and compelling recommendations based on the facts.
Is there anyone here who denies that we need a credible fact finding process leading to well-informed recommendations? No investigation can deliver that more effectively than a judicial inquiry.
Do I want to spend the money? No, frankly I do not. I am first and foremost a fiscal Conservative and I would rather not spend the money, but clearly there is a systemic problem here and the department appears unwilling or unable to fix it.
Desperate times call for desperate measures, and for Pacific salmon the time is getting desperate.
Here is the question: Are we willing to let the Pacific salmon go the way of the Atlantic cod? I am not, my constituents are not and all British Columbians are not. Surely the House is not. I look forward to the support of all members.