House of Commons Hansard #46 of the 37th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was aboriginal.


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4:35 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Gerald Keddy Progressive Conservative South Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, I have another question for the minister.

In the regulations that would be changed under this bill, it states that it provides that the terms and conditions of some licences to aboriginal organizations would prevail over certain regulations to the extent of any inconsistency. Could the minister explain that?

It provides that the terms and conditions of some licences to aboriginal organizations would prevail over certain regulations. I would like to know what those regulations are? Are they regulations on fish stocks? Are they regulations that concern conservation? Are they regulations over vessel size? There are hundreds of regulations that govern the fishery, so which regulations are we talking about?

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4:35 p.m.


Geoff Regan Liberal Halifax West, NS

Mr. Speaker, there are a variety of different kinds of agreements that are reached with aboriginal groups and they contain a variety of provisions.

In fact, it is important to have the flexibility to mould our agreements to each individual case, because as my hon. colleagues know, there are a wide variety of fisheries across our country and a wide variety of fisheries in which aboriginal groups are involved.

Therefore, it is important to have the flexibility to have licences that have a variety of provisions and respond to situations. That is why this provision is in place.

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4:35 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

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

Mr. Speaker, we have it clear and on the record that the minister himself did not talk to the people involved at the committee. If hon. members listened to him in the beginning when he introduced the bill, it sounded as if he had all these serious discussions and that he completely understood what went on here, and that the committee was in full support.

The scrutiny of regulations committee recommended the changes for the legality of the move that we see occurring here in the bill, which is an old bill, by the way. This is not something that was just introduced. This is an old bill that has been dusted off and brought back. I would like to ask the minister, did the scrutiny of regulations committee endorse the recommendations and the changes that the minister intends to make?

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4:35 p.m.


Geoff Regan Liberal Halifax West, NS

Mr. Speaker, the important thing to know about the whole nature of the bill is that it is brought forward in response to the concerns of the Standing Joint Committee for the Scrutiny of Regulations. It responds very well to those concerns.

My understanding is that the committee in fact endorses the vast majority of these provisions. It has some concerns about a couple of them and might have done them a little differently, but I am confident, having gone through the bill, that it responds to those concerns and does so in a way that meets the requirements of the law.

As I said earlier, it is our view that the regulations that are in place are already authorized under the Fisheries Act. While the bill responds to the concerns of the committee and does so in a way that is complete in my opinion and settles the issue, I hope, once and for all, the fact of the matter is that we have legislation and a regime in place that is already effective.

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4:35 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Gerald Keddy Progressive Conservative South Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, the issue here about regulations and the absolute necessity to have consistency in the regulatory package is a major fault of this bill. The minister certainly understands that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans is responsible for conservation. Quite often, when dealing with first nations, that is the overriding responsibility of DFO under the Sparrow decision.

However, my concern on the regulations is that they could further encourage inconsistency in the regulatory regime. For instance, in lobster fishing area 34 in southwest Nova Scotia, one could have a ministerial permit that would allow first nations to fish fewer traps than any other fisherman in that area, or they could perhaps fish more traps. They may be allowed to set those traps earlier. One could look at different seasons. There are a whole number of issues that are of great concern to myself and certainly a concern to fishermen.

More importantly, it takes a long time to train someone to be a capable fisherman. This is not something that just happens in a heartbeat. Quite often it takes generations. If these licences that the aboriginals will now have are not going to be passed on intergenerationally, we could be setting ourselves up to lose all of that knowledge that needs to be passed down from licence to licence in the fishery.

It is not only just a matter of being able to fish, it is a matter of being able to find one's way back to shore. It can be, quite frankly, a matter of life and death.

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4:40 p.m.


Geoff Regan Liberal Halifax West, NS

Mr. Speaker, I mentioned earlier during my comments the fact that we have the mentoring process. In fact, we have seen a successful development of the mentoring process and the relationships between first nations and commercial fishers. That has been very important in developing the aboriginal fishery.

My colleague stated that it takes a long time to learn to be a fisherman, and in fact that is true. If one wants to be successful and have a profitable fishery, one does not just get a licence, go out, and put a bunch of traps in the water. There are many skills that one has to learn. Whether fishing lobsters, mackerel, halibut or whatever it may be, it is important to learn those things and it takes time.

That is why we have put in place supports for things like the mentoring program that provides a mentoring process to aboriginal fishers and improves the linkages between the commercial fishing community and the aboriginal community. That is the kind of thing in which we can see positive results. My colleague would recognize the benefits of that kind of relationship.

In fact, by having regulations that allow the mentoring process and these licences to exist, we are going to be able to carry on that kind of mentoring in order to allow people in the aboriginal fishery who are getting started to have the time, which can take as much as 9 or 10 years, to learn to run a profitable fishery.

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4:40 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

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

Mr. Speaker, this is turning out to be a very interesting bill. When it was reintroduced, the impression was left that it was housekeeping and that there was nothing to it. We were to nod heads and off it would go. We have found out that a lot of people have concerns with the bill, and the minister will find that out over the next couple of weeks of debate on the bill.

Having said that, it might be interesting for us to sit back and assess what is going on in the House today.

The government kicked into its second phase early in the new year when it reopened the House under a new captain but with the same old crew. We saw absolutely nothing on the government's agenda. The new Prime Minister, with the old team and the old government, wanted a change of face. Who could blame him. Except for you, Mr. Speaker, if someone had to look at that some bunch every day, one would think it would be time to put a new look on government.

The Prime Minister wanted to do that. I always say to the Liberals, the only positive thing they have sitting on that side of the House is that they can look over here and see a real opposition. I even give credit to some of my colleagues to my left who have been very supportive on some of the issue we have raised in the House.

When the Liberals came back, the Prime Minister's intention was to put a new face on government, have a quick election and clean House. He was more interested in cleaning his own house than in cleaning the Houses of Parliament. However, it did not work, and for all kinds of reasons the election has dragged and dragged.

What happened was it was the continuation of the old government with absolutely no plan whatsoever. It had no agenda when it came to new legislation. There was absolutely nothing. For a number of weeks, it brought back and regurgitated old legislation, the same legislation that was under the previous leader.

Eventually it ran out of time because there was very little substance to anything it had and it flowed fairly quickly, seeing that we are so cooperative on this side of the House. The government was caught, first, by not being able to call an election because of what the people of the country thought about the Liberals. People began to find out about the scandal-ridden government being led by the Prime Minister, the person who led the Department of Finance and was supposed to be the boss in all of this.

What has happened? It is now scrambling to try to bring in old legislation again. However, some of the legislation is important and very pertinent to society today, such as the previous bill we discussed today on impaired driving under. That bill has been referred to committee. Why was it not brought in earlier? Why have people been asking for years to deal with such legislation? Because it was not a priority for the government. Only when it got stuck, did it start scrambling for legislation.

It is also looking at the possibility of an upcoming election. Therefore, the legislation it is bringing forth are pieces of legislation that it hopes will endear the Liberals to certain segments of society.

I hope people out there are more sensible than to be bought off by a bill that is introduced and may never see the light of day if we get a quick call. The government wants to be able to say that it has introduced legislation to deal with the problems and issues which people have been begging it to do for years, including the issue of driving while drunk.

We had another one earlier today that dealt with aboriginal issues. The government is starting to look at special interest groups, people concerned with driving while drunk and the aboriginals concerned about the way they have been treated over the years. To try to attract some attention and get some votes, the Liberals have rushed in a few of these bills and dusted off some of the old ones that have been ignored and put in the trunk.

Now this bill has come in and the government has said that we should not worry about it, that there is nothing to it and that it is a minor change of regulations. Because the scrutiny of regulations committee has told the government that the authority for implementing the regulations may not be vested in the minster, it has made some changes.

I asked the minister how much consultation he had. If we check Hansard and listen to the minister's remarks, we will easily see that he talked about the consultation with the scrutiny of regulations committee. He admitted afterward that he probably did not have any because he did not seem to know very much about it. Now he is only a minster for--

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4:45 p.m.


Geoff Regan Liberal Halifax West, NS

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a point of order. In fact in my speech I said that after close consultation with the committee, I was confident the amendments to the Fisheries Act that were being proposed would address their concerns. I want to table--

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4:45 p.m.

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

This is not a point of order. It is a point of debate. The hon. member for St. John's West.

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4:45 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

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

Mr. Speaker, I know what the minister is trying to say. He is trying to say that guy over there embarrassed him so he tried to clarify his position. He still talks about close consultation. I asked the minister specifically if he had meetings with the committee and with whom. He did not say he had, but that is the impression he left.

All I wanted to do was clarify the impression. The minister did that. I accepted his explanation earlier. I just wanted to get it on the record so the people across the country knew the kind of consultation the minister had.

I also asked the minister if the committee had given approval to the amendments. I do not want to misquote him because he can get the blues and correct me. Maybe the minister could read the exact words, but I think he said that he agreed with something.

I would like to put some comments on the record. It is a letter to the minister from the joint committee. It states:

We thank you for your recent letter in relation to the reintroduction of legislative proposals included in--

It was the old Bill C-43 and now Bill C-33 I believe. I am interested in what is meant by “We thank you for your recent letter”. I am wondering if that is the extent of the consultation. The letter goes on to say:

You have asked for the Committee's views “on whether the amendments as proposed in Bill C-43 address the Committee's issues”. We are pleased to confirm that the proposed amendments would, if adopted, remove the basis of the Joint Committee's objections to the Aboriginal Command Fishing Licences Regulations and to SOR/8993, the Ontario Fishery Regulations, 1989. We would appreciate your advice as to when you propose to reintroduced the proposed legislation.

The minister undoubtedly has reintroduced legislation and the committee members are asking about his views. The letter further states:

Our acknowledgement that the amendments included in Bill C-43 would resolve the Committee's objections--

The committee members are saying, “Yes, our objections are met”. The letter continues:

--[in relation] to the legality of the relevant regulatory provisions does not imply an endorsement of those amendments....

Therefore, the committee is not endorsing the amendments that the minister proposed to make. The letter goes on:

Particularly as regards the proposed section 10(1), which impose a legal duty to comply with the terms and conditions of a licence, we can conceive that some parliamentarians might object to subjecting such non-compliance to penal sanctions that include imprisonment. To deprive a citizen of his liberty on the ground that the citizen has failed to abide by requirement imposed by a public official in the exercise of an administrative power, such as a term or condition of licence, could be thought undesirable as a matter of legislative policy.

Given that the matter is one of policy and, as such, lies beyond the remit of the Joint Committee, we do not wish to be perceived to be taking a position on the desirability of those legislative amendments. We trust that this will be satisfactory....

It is signed by the joint chairs and the vice-chair of the committee. One of the two joint chairs of course is one of our members and the vice-chair is a Liberal.

Therefore, the committee is raising a major concern about the amendments the minister intends to put forth. Will the minister during the debate over the next couple of weeks clarify for us why he is bringing in a bill that might have an adverse effect on the people who will be affected?

The minister talks about the scrutiny of regulations committee, and let me give him credit. He is a new minister and there are things he is doing and there are issues he has taken up. The way he is presenting himself on the issues is refreshing compared to what we have seen in the past. However, maybe it is time for this new minister to realize that he has a department under his thumb which, if properly run, and for which, if he does not let himself be run by some of the bureaucrats who have been around and if he wants to set a direction that should be set on fisheries in this country, we have a chance to take a renewable resource from the west to the east to the north and in the Great Lakes, of course, and at points in between, because we have tremendous fishery resources throughout the country.

If there is some proper management and if there are some proper regulations put in, if we eliminate, as we saw when I raised some of the points earlier in question period, the manipulation of that resource for the sake of friends and colleagues as we have seen in the past, if we properly manage and let this resource grow and multiply, if we see that it is harvested properly, if we see it is processed properly, and if we get the right markets, the amount of employment and the enhancement of the economy that could be derived from the proper care of this resource would be phenomenal.

We get caught up in the Atlantic provinces, and I look at my friend from Cape Breton, and off Nova Scotia in the minister's own province, off my province of Newfoundland and Labrador, where we have tremendous oil and gas resources. A lot of people look at us--and what is that old saying we cannot say anymore because it is not politically correct?--and say, “Why are you flogging a dead horse? Give up on the fishery, boy, it's a thing of the past. Oil and gas is the order of the day”.

Oil only lasts for a while. Gas only lasts for a while. Eventually the oil will be gone and the gas will be gone. And we have seen some great mines come and go. We have seen places like Bell Island, and we can go across the country, pick a province, and pick an area or the mines. Certainly, again looking at my friend from Cape Breton, he knows all about it. People lived for years and raised their families based upon working the mine. Everybody was proud to be a miner. We had whole communities such as Buchans and Bell Island in particular, I think, wiped out when the mines closed. There is only so much ore in the ground and it does not grow. It may develop over hundreds and thousands and millions of years but it does not grow back.

Fish, on the other hand, can grow and multiply rapidly, but not if we pursue the direction we are seeing happen and not if we let every enemy of the cod, the salmon, the herring, the squid and the whole works, every enemy of the species, go out and just pursue that fish.

With the science we have today, with the big dragger stuff we have, with the technology we have, we can find every last fish in the ocean. Unless somebody manages that resource, and with some teeth, we will see that last fish being caught. That is a travesty and the minister has a heavy responsibility on his shoulders.

So when we talk about scrutiny, I believe that instead of worrying about rushing in bills that may cause all kinds of problems, we should be looking at the resource we have and trying to bring in some bills we can enact into law so that we can address what is happening to our renewable resources, so that we can address the predators, whether they be human or animal, so that we can make sure there is a balance in nature once again, and so that we can make sure that those from other countries who share that resource do so under the rules and regulations that are set out.

We have not seen any leadership in fisheries. Over the last number of years, way back, we have seen governments that have thought more about being friendly and appeasing their friends across the ocean than they have about the people who live within the borders and the boundaries of our country. That has to change.

Let me say this to the minister. There are so many games being played today within the fishery, many of them completely outside his control. There seems to be this big package of greed that has developed and everybody wants a piece of what is left. Nobody cares about the other person. Whether the plant workers get any more work does not matter as long as we can catch the fish, whether I can catch more than the next guy whether I can sell it or not, and if I can keep the other guy from getting any. All of this stuff is developing. That is terrible stuff. The only way this can be cured is with a firm hand at the helm. I believe that is the challenge to the minister.

I suggest to the minister that instead of worrying about little things, which may cause major problems, as the committee points out to him, he should start looking at the big things that could solve a lot of our problems.

In the two minutes that remain to me, let me pick up on another phrase that the minister talked about, “democratic reform”, and letting committees have more say. If the minister had not used that phrase, I would not have asked him the questions I asked. We hear so much from this continuation government, the Liberal government continued, phase two. We hear so much from these Liberals about democratic reform and the democratic deficit. We certainly have a democratic deficit. We all realize that. We have a democratic deficit that is widening daily. We had a new Prime Minister come in with the old government and he talked about addressing the democratic deficit. In reality, that is the biggest joke we have heard for years, because all we have seen is a widening of the democratic deficit.

Ministers have been told to go out there and pretend the government is doing something. When the minister talks about the great work of committees and having to use committees more, and about how the government has to consult with them and it is consulting with them, and committees are advising, we find out that is really not the case. The minister writes a letter to the committee. The committee basically responds and says to him, “Mr. Minister, phase one, yes. The legislative part needs to be tightened up, but the amendment you want to make, we cannot say because it is not our job. We do not have the jurisdiction to say, but we would suggest to you that you are way off line and we think these amendments can cause irreparable harm”.

So there are two things. Number one, there is no consultation. Number two, when committees talk to the government members, they ignore them. That is not correcting the democratic deficit. That is just digging a hole for themselves. It is like being down three to two and playing a bad game. We have to get our act together and try to turn it around. It can be done. We must have faith. It can be done, but it takes leadership.

My time is up, but I will say to the minister that he has a tremendous challenge ahead of him. He should forget the facade. He should forget about trying to appease government and just coming out with the little frills. Let us attack the big issues and, instead of making critical remarks from this side, we will work with him and applaud the efforts that he will put forward, I am sure, on behalf of the government and on behalf of our country.

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5 p.m.

Halifax West Nova Scotia


Geoff Regan LiberalMinister of Fisheries and Oceans

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate my hon. colleague's comments. I also appreciate his offer of advice in the future. I listened carefully to his speech, and there were some complimentary words in it. I heard the word refreshing and so forth, and I appreciate the kind words, but I would not want him to leave the impression that there has not been substantial consultation on this bill with the Standing Joint Committee for the Scrutiny of Regulations.

It is important to comprehend that while my consultations with the committee were primarily through correspondence, I think leaving the impression that there has been substantial consultation is in fact quite accurate if we consider these facts: my predecessor and his staff in the department met with the Standing Joint Committee for the Scrutiny of Regulations on April 11, 2002; staff also met with the committee on two subsequent occasions; and the parliamentary secretary of the time went to two additional meetings. That is a long series of meetings.

I want to table the correspondence that I have had with the committee. I think it is important to note that the committee did say this bill would remove its objections. As I said earlier, the role of the committee is to examine the regulations. If it finds the regulations are not authorized by law, it can object to and disallow them. The committee did not disallow them.

The key point is that Bill C-33 has in fact met the objections of the committee, and that is what its role is. I gather the committee felt that every licence ought to be authorized itself in some way through regulation. I do not think my hon. colleague would suggest that this is reasonable. I do not think it is realistic at all for us to do that. I think he ought to examine the implications of what the committee is proposing.

The key question I have relates not so much to that, because I think it is clear and the member knows that this bill does not adversely affect the process of the way the fishery is managed. It does not change that process. It reinforces the existing provisions of the act. Bill C-33 reinforces the government's ability to make regulations.

However, there are members now in his party who were formerly in the Alliance and talked very negatively in the past about the government's efforts and the decision of the Supreme Court of Canada in the Marshall case. I would like to know if he shares their view that there is no basis for an aboriginal fishery. I wonder if he shares their view that there should not be what those in his party sometimes call a race-based fishery. How does he feel about the comments of his new colleagues toward this aboriginal fishery that is providing opportunity to these communities?

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5:05 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

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

Mr. Speaker, it is great to get questions from the minister. Maybe someday soon we will reverse the roles. We could have a lot of fun with it. One never knows what could happen.

Let me answer the last questions directly in case I am accused of avoiding them.

There are people in this country who were here before any white men came. They lived off the land and had access to the resources of the land historically. When the Europeans came and settled this country, they did not treat those people very well originally. History did strange things to a lot of people over the years. There is not one of us here in the House who is not aware of that. We could go back one or two generations in our ancestry, and some of us do not even have to go back one generation, to see how others in society were treated. However, dealing with events in history sometimes can be extremely dangerous because we are dealing with the events in the present day society and setting, but the events actually happened in an entirely different society and setting. We have to be aware of that.

Having said that, the aboriginals in our country always had and always should have proper access to the resources. Sometimes if the rules and regulations governing the resource are not properly put in place then it is open for abuse by all of us. We have to make sure that does not happen.

The Minister of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans dictates who can and cannot fish in this country. Earlier this year I asked the minister directly who is it that really determines who fishes because third parties were telling people who could fish and who could not fish. The minister made it clear that a person who has a valid licence and is given that licence has permission from the minister and the minister only.

Consequently, the result is a concern about blanket licences and third party decisions on who can participate and who cannot. We must control our resource. There has to be central control on that resource, in proper cooperation and consultation with the groups. That is one of the concerns I have about this whole issue.

The minister talked about consultation. First, we clarified the fact that the minister himself had done very little consultation. He wrote a letter and got an answer. That is not consultation with a committee. The former minister had a couple of meetings and the staff had a couple of meetings. It would have been interesting to know, and the minister might be able to provide this information, how many discussions were held with stakeholders. How many visits were made to where the regulations, these amendments, will have an effect on the people involved in the fishery? Do the people know that we are talking about such things as imprisonment for non-compliance? The committee raised that question. Do we deprive somebody of his freedom and stick him in prison because of non-compliance with some regulation?

There are questions that have not been answered. The minister has not answered them. The committee raised them. It has stated it is not in a position to do it.

This bill is opening up a can of worms. We have to get the whole issue clarified before we put people in the position of finding out that they are a lot worse off after the passage of the bill than they were before.

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5:10 p.m.


Peter Stoffer NDP Sackville—Musquodoboit Valley—Eastern Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, the hon. gentleman from Newfoundland likes to teach us all a little history. I am sure a little history that he probably does not wish to recall is that the Conservatives were in charge of the fisheries department between 1984 and 1993 and there were many problems back then.

That is not the whole premise. I agree with the hon. member when he talks about his distrust in the minister for introducing a bill now, just prior to an election. How committed is the minister and the government to the changes when it comes to aboriginal fisheries?

In committee the other day we heard witnesses from British Columbia who indicated a particular group of aboriginal people were drift netting within the Fraser River, an illegal act. DFO recognizes that it is an illegal act. It does great harm to the resource. We asked the department officials what they were doing to stop that, and their answer was, “We are working with them”. I am sure that for anyone else, under any other circumstances, the letter of the law would have been thrown at them.

No one was arguing on our committee that aboriginal people have an access and a right to fisheries, as long as, and we have seen this on the east coast, the cooperation and acceptance is done in accordance with the rules that are in place. The law is the law of the land.

I would like the member to comment on what he thought of those comments, when the DFO officials said that they are working with people instead of actually enforcing it.

Also, the Marshall decision was a Supreme Court decision. The government forced aboriginal people to use the Supreme Court to ensure that. Instead of negotiating with them, it went to litigation. That ended up costing us $750 million. I would like the member's comments on that please.

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5:10 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

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

Mr. Speaker, very briefly to my colleague, certainly I am, as he is and everyone else is, very suspicious of the fact that a bill which may never see the light of day has been introduced so that the Liberals can have bragging rights about introducing the bill just before the election.

In relation to his last question about people breaking the law, the law does not look upon us differently where we live, whatever colour we are, whatever historic rights we have. There are certain provisions made for certain groups of individuals. Outside of that, we are all equal under the law, and the law cannot treat us differently. Everyone must be treated the same way. We saw in this case direct evidence of the law backing away for whatever reason. That encourages other people to break the law rather than deal with the issue. Having said that, I have no real problems with consultation and bringing in supportive groups. If we all understand how important it is to protect the resources and so on, then we will do a better job.

Very quickly, on the member's first question, yes, I am well aware of how the Conservative Party in the early days dealt with the fishery. In many cases it did not do much better than we see happening now, but I really dread to think what would have happened if the NDP ever had charge of it.

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5:15 p.m.


Jean-Yves Roy Bloc Matapédia—Matane, QC

Mr. Speaker, I hope you will be lenient with me and my colleagues who are rather noisy, in spite of the fact that our favourite hockey team lost. It got walloped yesterday.

I will start by saying that the Bloc Quebecois is in favour of the principle of Bill C-33 before us. I would like to emphasize that I listened intently to the minister earlier. I noticed that, as my colleague from St. John's West indicated, the minister digressed for a long time, talking about the so-called democratic reform. Almost four, five or six minutes of his speech dealt with the so-called democratic reform the government intends to carry out, instead of dealing directly with the bill before us.

I too was wondering. Like my colleague from St. John's West, I was wondering if there was a fundamental reason why the minister digressed and talked about the so-called democratic reform. He mentioned the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs and the joint committee. I finally understood that the committee does not seem to be totally in agreement with the minister's proposal. In spite of the fact that the Bloc Quebecois supports the principle of Bill C-33, we realize that there is indeed a problem.

We realize that the Supreme Court ruling recognizes the power of the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans to regulate the fisheries. Moreover, the decision by the Supreme Court mentions that the primary purpose of the regulations should be conservation. That is where the problem lies.

The biggest flaw of the bill is the fact that it at no time mentions that, in its ruling, the Supreme Court said that restrictions imposed by the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans should be for conservation purposes only. For the most part, the decision to introduce new regulations should be based on the grounds of conservation. Is it truly for conservation purposes that Bill C-33 has been put forward today? I doubt it.

I want to go back in time and give a little history on the ruling made. This is another issue regarding which I have a lot of questions. There were other rulings before that one, but the Supreme Court decision known as the Marshall decision was handed down on September 17, 1999. This is now May 2004. This means that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans has not been able to clarify the situation since September 17, 1999. In other words, the department has not managed to do its job between 1999 and now.

As the hon. member for St. John's West said, the government is introducing a bill on the eve of an election. This bill may die on the Order Paper and never make it through third reading. Therefore, the decision to put this legislation before the House seems totally inappropriate and untimely, considering that the bill stands very little chance of being passed, which means that the situation will not be corrected.

This means that the situation will have remained uncorrected from September 17, 1999 until heaven knows when. This is a true reflection of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, and the federal government's fishery management program. We must realize that, at present, the management process is a haphazard one. It is based on events and situations, as opposed to being planned with very specific objectives in mind.

We must always remember that the only real goal of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans must be the protection and conservation of the resource. That is its fundamental objective. We can see that this is not at all what has happened in the past, ever since the federal government took control of the management of the resource.

Going back to when Newfoundland entered Confederation in 1949, look at what happened at that time, when there was a viable and extremely profitable fishery, and when the resource was abundant. And then, look at what happened in 1992, with the first moratorium on groundfishing, and also in 2002, with the second moratorium.

We see that the federal government has not really managed the resource adequately. Historically, one day or another, renewal of the resource will be impossible, particularly with respect to groundfish and cod.

Some extremely important decisions must be taken, and they have not been taken. What we want, as representatives of all fishermen in Quebec and eastern Quebec, is that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans engage in predictable, transparent management, in harmony with the priorities of the provincial governments.

Earlier we were talking about consultation. It has come to our attention that the consultation on Bill C-33 was done in writing. Indeed, communication with the committee was all in the form of correspondence. There were not any true discussions on the possible impact of the amendment being proposed today.

It is important that this be taken a little further. But this should have been done in the past. As I was saying earlier, the Marshall decision dates back to 1999. Perhaps very few people know what this Supreme Court decision was about. This case was simply a lawsuit filed by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans against Donald Marshall Junior, who had been found guilty of catching and selling eel out of season with inappropriate fishing gear, and fishing without a licence. This was an aboriginal man who had been charged and convicted. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court, which decided—in what is now known as the Marshall decision—to disregard previous court rulings.

It is therefore our hope that there will be some predictability to fisheries management. Such is not the case at present, with the bill before us. Not only is there no predictability, but all of us here in the House are well aware that it is very likely to die on the Order Paper when the House is prorogued. So later on we will be back at this again, trying to clarify what the department is trying to clarify today, which is what regulations will govern aboriginal fishermen.

As my colleague for St. John's West has just pointed out, a person, individual or group could be charged under the regulations as presented. The fundamental question remains, however. If a person, individual, or group does not comply with the conditions of a permit or licence, or section 4, this is an offence.

Was there really any negotiation on this, and is the purpose of this document—and perhaps this is what is not clear and has not been made clear—to subject aboriginal people to the same law and same regulations as everyone else?

The minister's proposal is not clear at all. Perhaps the government should look into correcting this. I understand that it wishes to include in the department's regulations the definition of “aboriginal group” and “aboriginal band”, that it would issue the licence to an aboriginal band and that, finally, it would negotiate the powers of each fisherman with the band. The question is how the fishing must take place, the size of the boat, the type of fishing, the date, and so on. However, does the government want to do this in the same way as it negotiates, among other things, with fishermen's groups or associations?

We must always remember that, for fisheries as a whole, the principle of fisherman as owner must be respected. This must be taken into account if the regulations of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans are slightly amended for the benefit of aboriginal bands. In any event, I, as well as members of the Bloc Quebecois, are in favour of adapting fishing regulations for aboriginal peoples, who, according to the Supreme Court's decision, can and must have access to the resource, as do the rest of citizens.

We are in favour of the bill, but we must remember that, according to the Supreme Court's decision, the minister's regulatory authority must be based on specific reasons. One of the reasons that I mentioned earlier is conservation. This raises a significant question at this time. The bill does not specify in any way that the proposed regulations are based solely on the conservation principle.

The Supreme Court's decision forces the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans to justify his decisions about the restrictions that he may impose on treaty fishing. Specifically, the decision says this, and it is very important. My colleague from Saint-Jean talked about it earlier. It says:

The Court was thus most explicit in confirming the regulatory authority of the federal and provincial governments within their respective legislative fields to regulate the exercise of the treaty right subject to the constitutional requirement that restraints on the exercise of the treaty right have to be justified on the basis of conservation—

This is the fundamental element that is not clarified in the bill now before us. In my view, it is a mistake. In any case, as the hon. member for Saint-Jean pointed out, it is highly unlikely that this legislation will ever be passed. Therefore, there should have been more consultation, to ensure that all would agree, instead of creating false expectations for aboriginal people, and to truly give them what they are entitled to, with their agreement and after consulting with them. This is very important.

I will conclude by saying that the Bloc Quebecois supports the principle of the bill. However, there are some serious flaws in this legislation. We would have liked to see more consultation, particularly with aboriginal people.

Mr. Speaker, I thank you and I wish you good luck for the next game.

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5:25 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Gerald Keddy Progressive Conservative South Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, I listened very closely to the member for Matapédia—Matane's debate on Bill C-33. After listening to him, I am surprised the Bloc would consider supporting the bill. Like the Conservative Party, we agree with the principles of the bill to try to develop a fair and equitable fishery policy that works both for first nations and for non-first nation fishermen.

My great problem with the bill is the lack of consistency, especially in the regulations. The life of the fishery, the success of the fishery and the future of the fishery is based on fair rules and regulations that allow people to fish and that allow individual fishermen to provide for their families to make an income. However, of primary importance is that the rules and regulations are there to protect the stocks and the species. That way we are guaranteed a fishery in the future.

If we have one set of rules for one set of people and another set of rules for another group of people, we run into a very serious problem. It sounds to me as though a lot of this could have been settled if the minister would have gone to committee with this, put it on the table and negotiated the process whereby the stakeholders, both first nations and non-first nations fishermen, could have had some input about the rules. It would have gone a long way toward making this better legislation.

In closing, I would like to member to comment on this. For the life of me, this reminds me of the way we have been negotiating with NAFO. We allow anything to happen on the nose and tail of the Grand Banks and outside the 200 mile limit, but we have these great motherhood statements that say that we will protect the resource on our side, as if the fish did not swim over the line. We all know that the fish migrate across the north Atlantic.

The difficulty with the rules and regulations and the absolute authority of the minister of fisheries to be responsible for conservation and to ensure that the bands fall within that policy are the parts of the bill that I have not heard clearly enunciated by the minister.

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5:30 p.m.


Jean-Yves Roy Bloc Matapédia—Matane, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would not say that my colleague may have misinterpreted my words, but he seems to be thinking somewhat along the same lines.

What we are saying is that we support the principle of the bill. However, the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans must respond to the rulings that were imposed following the Marshall and Sparrow decisions. The department has no choice but to respond.

However, we must look at the way of responding or the deadline for responding. It says September 17, 1999, and we are in May 2004. The Department of Fisheries and Oceans would have had quite enough time to consult and to ensure that the regulations are tailored, appropriate and consistent. It would have had quite enough time, since September 17, 1999, to amend them.

This seems totally unacceptable and surprising to me. This reflects the importance that this government gives to fisheries. We can see that decisions regularly taken by the government are political decisions, not decisions to ensure the protection and conservation of the resource. This is the precautionary principle. It is the basic principle that should guide the department and the minister in the management of fishery resources.

It seems obvious to me that it is not how the resource has been managed in the past. It is far from obvious since we had two moratoriums. It is wrong to think that the government has managed the resource properly. Its management has been political. Over the past 10 years, the management of the fisheries, a resource belonging to the community, has been political.

Indeed, political decisions were made to grant privileges. I am not talking about privileges for the native peoples. They should have been included right from the start, which was not the case. From day one, since the federal government has been responsible for managing the resource, native peoples should have been considered as stakeholders in the harvesting of the resource, which is only right since they had access to it in the past.

It is because of the way the federal government has managed the fisheries in the past that today we have to make decisions such as this. It seems to me to have been taken in a hurry since the bill put forward is flawed. The government has waited five years after the Supreme Court rendered its decision to put forward this bill. It does not seem to make any sense. This is representative of the way the federal government has been managing the fisheries ever since it has been responsible for them.

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5:35 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

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

Mr. Speaker, I would like to put a question to my friend from Matapédia—Matane.

He is right. I would like to ask him if he believes that the minister is playing games with fishermen. I say that because I believe that Bill C-33 is bad.

It is a bad bill simply because proper discussions have not taken place with the people directly involved. We have seen how much consultation there has been. Now we know why there is such a rush. We know there is a rush because this bill is brought in for appeasement.

I agree with the member that it will never see the light of day because by the time it goes through the process, the House will be closed; however, the government can always say to look at all the bills it brought in, in order to appease everyone out there.

I think it is a bad bill simply because it has been rushed in without consultation. There was a letter to the committee. The committee responded and said that it had concerns. The minister did not go out to talk to the people involved. He just brought it here and tries to ram it through.

I would like to ask the member, does he also think it is a bad law, that we should slow it down, consult properly, and then bring it back and deal with it perhaps when we have a government over there that cares?

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5:35 p.m.


Jean-Yves Roy Bloc Matapédia—Matane, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for St. John's West, who, by the way, is an active member of the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans and very positive when it comes to protecting the resource.

I mentioned that the Marshall decision was rendered on September 17, 1999. This is now May 2004. I would like to repeat that; it is now the month of May, 2004, and as my colleague mentioned, there have not yet been enough consultations to draft a bill. Among other things, there is a need to clarify the fact that the Supreme Court decision imposes restrictions on the minister, requiring it to be justified for reasons of conservation. That is not mentioned in any way in the bill.

The new regulations do not appear to be justified and the bill is not justified for reasons of conservation. That is the very basis of the existence of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. This department has one responsibility: the management and protection of the resource. That thought should govern all decisions and all amendments to regulations.

We are in favour of granting aboriginal people access to their resources; the Bloc Quebecois has been very clear about this. Nonetheless, there have to be certain conditions that are negotiable with the aboriginal people. Indeed, as fishers, we accept the fisher-owner principle, but there may be a difference with the aboriginal people.

It might be possible to issue a licence to an aboriginal band or group rather than issuing a licence to an individual. We cannot oppose such a thing. This must be negotiated in order to give aboriginal people access to the fisheries.

What bothers us in the decision before us is that no thought was given to protecting the resource.

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5:40 p.m.


Peter Stoffer NDP Sackville—Musquodoboit Valley—Eastern Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, it is unfortunate that we are debating Bill C-33 today. It is rather insulting that a temporary Minister of Fisheries and Oceans would introduce a bill this late in the mandate when we all know that an election could be called within a few weeks or even a few days.

The bill deals with aboriginal issues and should not be debated lightly. The issue of giving aboriginal people their rightful due access to the fishery resource has been quite a contentious issue throughout Canada for some time.

I could go back in history for quite a long time, but I will just go back as far as the Marshall decision. My colleague from the Bloc was right. In September 1999 the Supreme Court issued its decision in the Marshall case. Why did this issue go to the Supreme Court? It went because the Liberals refused to negotiate with aboriginal people at that time. They would not deal with them and suggested they take the matter to court. They took it to court and the aboriginal people won yet again.

The government took quite a long time to figure out how much that case cost Canadian taxpayers. The Marshall decision cost Canadian taxpayers $750 million. Would it have been more cost effective to the taxpayer if the government had negotiated with Donald Marshall and the aboriginal groups in Atlantic Canada, such as the Mi'kmaq, the Maliseet and Passamaquoddy? It probably would have. However, the Liberals did not do that. They decided to go to litigation instead.

The Liberal government is not a party of negotiation but rather a party of dictatorship. If people do not like the rules, the government urges them to go to court. In this particular case the aboriginal people won. As a little sidebar, disabled veterans took their case to court, but unfortunately, they lost and that decision has left a bitter pill in the mouths of many veterans in organizations throughout the country.

Bill C-33 basically corrects an addition that was done when the House of Commons Standing Joint Committee for the Scrutiny of Regulations reviewed the legislation. The committee has been at it for quite a while regarding some concerns brought up by aboriginals. Nobody on this side of the House is denying the inherent right of aboriginal people to aquatic resources in terms of the fishery.

We believe they should be equal partners in the debate. We believe they should be equal partners when it comes to access regarding quotas, and when they fish, how they fish, and with what they fish. They have an inherent right to be at the table when decisions are made.

The government has effectively split aboriginal communities against one another. We just need to look to the west coast for an example. The Native Brotherhood of British Columbia, an aboriginal group, fishes predominantly in the salt waters off the west coast. It has been pitted against aboriginal groups which fish, for example, on the Fraser River. There are two sets of rules. The government has pitted those aboriginal groups against one another. That is not negotiation. That is simply divide and conquer and is simply unacceptable.

We in the NDP have been saying for a long time that aboriginal people, along with non-aboriginal groups, regardless of whether they fish up river or in salt water, should be brought together to the table to negotiate these deals. This would finally provide a community-based and cooperative co-management of the fishery.

One of the problems we have is that management decisions are made in Ottawa at 200 Kent Street and brought down to the water, instead of having decisions brought from the water back to Ottawa. Decisions should not be made and then groups brought together to be asked what they think.

We know what to do with a particular species and how it should be fished. Aboriginal groups, non-aboriginal groups, and coastal communities should be brought together and allowed to be part of the decision making process. We have had success with that before.

The Fogo Island co-op is a fine example of a co-op that works quite well. In Sambro, Nova Scotia, there is a co-operative fishery going on there. There are a few hiccups here and there but it works fairly well. That is what happens when fishermen and their families are allowed to be part of the decision making process.

When I say fishermen and their families, I also include the aboriginal people. I do not differentiate when it comes to fishermen. I believe they have rights and access to the fishery but I believe they also have a right and responsibility in the decision making process of how those quotas are divvied up, what gear type should be used and when they should be fishing, et cetera.

What we have had for many years is a corporate concentration of the resource. We now have a company like the Fishing Alliance of Nova Scotia which represents approximately 60 small processors in the province. The processors are saying that they should have access to the quota in order for their businesses to stay alive. They make a very valid point but at the same time fishermen are saying that they should have the right to sell their fish wherever they want.

Again, this is a rather contentious debate. Both sides make valid points but the worry is that the resource will become concentrated in fewer hands, that there will be fewer voices at the table and that there will be less economic opportunity to access a renewable resource.

We are saying that DFO should facilitate those meetings and bring the people together so that a long term plan can be made in order to decide exactly what process we should be going through. It is not that difficult.

Officials at the Department of Fisheries and Oceans could make their lives a lot easier if they got out of 200 Kent Street and realized once and for all that the fishery is a renewable resource. However, if it were done correctly it could sustain economic livelihood in Canada for a long time. That includes the aboriginal communities, not just those aboriginal communities on the east or west coasts, but the aboriginal communities in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and other provinces where we have a great inland commercial fishery.

I have been to Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, and Flin Flon, Manitoba, where a large number of aboriginal people make their livelihood from fishing in the great lakes of the northern provinces. However the way in which DFO operates, it makes their lives much more difficult.

We are saying that aboriginal groups should be brought to the table when it comes to the decision making process on the quota and access, and exactly how it should go.

I have very little confidence in the government to enact any positive legislation. Iinstead of dividing and conquering fishing people, it should be bringing them together. Decisions are made in the ivory tower. They are vetted on down and people are more or less allowed to say what they would like, but the fact is that the decisions are already made and that is the end of it. That is wrong.

Ever since 1984, we have spent close to $4.5 billion of taxpayer money readjusting the east coast fishery, let alone how much we have spent on the west coast adjusting the west coast fishery. It is all because of mismanagement by the federal government.

What we are saying, quite clearly, is that if the government wants to save money and have a better fishery, it should invite all stakeholders of the resource together and treat them as equals. In my dealings with aboriginal people throughout the country, they are saying very clearly that they have an inherent right to access the resource. We agree with them. They are also saying that they want to work with their non-aboriginal brothers and sisters in the fishing industry. They want to work together were they can all share the country's bounty.

If this is done correctly, their great-great-grandkids will be able to access the resource. However the way it is going, with various species throughout the country, we are seeing the decline in major stocks throughout the country and, for that matter, around the world. It is obvious to the government that what it is doing is simply wrong.

The Standing Committee of Fisheries and Oceans came up with a unanimous report in regard to our outer 200-mile limit on the nose and the tail of the Grand Banks and the Flemish cap. Nine Liberals on the committee signed off on that report only to have the minister at that time completely reject the report out of hand.

The committee was trying to protect a renewable resource from overfishing, not only from the domestic side but from foreign overfishing. What we basically said in the report was that NAFO simply did not work, that is was broken, that it was costing us a lot of money and that we were not getting any effort for it.

In today's Montreal Gazette it indicates that 90% of overfishing violations are never charged. These are foreigners who come in, rape and pillage our waters and we let them get away with it. That is simply unacceptable. A fishing violation is a fishing violation. We cannot harm these stocks any more than we are already doing. We need to fish them in a sustainable manner. The best way to do that is by bringing groups together and working in a community based, co-operative co-management way. If we do that we will have great success in the future.

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5:50 p.m.

Canadian Alliance

Val Meredith Canadian Alliance South Surrey—White Rock—Langley, BC

Mr. Speaker, I got the impression from my colleague's comments that the government's proposed legislation is not where the priority should be, that there are more important issues in the fishing file that should be addressed.

I would like the member to expound on that, please.

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5:50 p.m.


Peter Stoffer NDP Sackville—Musquodoboit Valley—Eastern Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, I may have been misunderstood in some of my comments. There is no question that it is a priority, but it is a delayed priority.

The government has introduced the bill, but if an election is called the bill will die on the Order Paper. The reality of what I am trying to stress is that we have many issues dealing with aboriginal and non-aboriginal people when it comes to access to the fisheries. I do not believe that introducing a bill at this late stage of the game is the way to do it. If the government were serious about this it would have introduced a bill of this nature a long time ago and put it forward for serious debate.

To have a debate of this nature this late in the game on such a serious issue just shows the government's priorities, which is that there is no priority when it comes to this issue. The government will say “Look what we are trying to do but unfortunately there is an election”. We never heard the minister say that if the Liberals were re-elected they would reintroduce the bill. No, what we have, this is it.

I wish my colleague from British Columbia future good luck. She is a great member of the House of Commons but, unfortunately, circumstances dictate that she may not be back again. Although I am on the NDP side, I must say that it has been a pleasure working with her on many issues.

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5:50 p.m.

Progressive Conservative

Gerald Keddy Progressive Conservative South Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am not on the fisheries committee, but after listening to my colleague from the NDP, I got the feeling that maybe there was something in the bill that I had missed. The member was comparing a communal fishery and a co-operative fishery. It is my understanding that they would be two totally different things. I would like the member to clarify that first of all.

The second thing I would like the member to clarify is the term “aboriginal organization”, which is explained in the regulations. The regulations define and provide express regulation making authority to cabinet for designating persons who can fish and vessels that can be used to fish under a licence issued to an aboriginal organization and for authorizing designations to be made through licence conditions.

My difficulty with that particular term and my reason for asking about it is that it is not clear to me whether the licence will be handed down through the communal aboriginal fishery and therefore determined by the chief or if the licence will be determined by DFO and it will tell the aboriginal community who will fish the licence.

I raised the point with the minister that it takes a long time for a fisherman to become trained and become an expert in the fishery. It is not just throwing a net in the water or throwing a couple of lobster traps overboard. It is a matter of knowing the currents, the fog conditions and the different smell in the air. There is also a safety component. It is a huge job to train expert fishermen, especially fishermen who are going to be involved in the offshore fishery.

My first question for my colleague from the NDP is most important. Could he explain the difference, as he sees it, between a co-operative fishery and a communal fishery. The second question is how this licensing will work under the bill, because I do not see how it can work.

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5:55 p.m.


Peter Stoffer NDP Sackville—Musquodoboit Valley—Eastern Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, yes, there is a difference between what I would interpret to be a co-operative fishery and a communal fishery.

A co-operative fishery would be the example on Fogo Island in Newfoundland where the people operate through a co-op, through a co-management basis, which means that decisions on the fishery are done mutually between DFO and the fishing community. As well, that fishing community has obligations to pay, for example, for monitoring, for science reports, et cetera, but DFO does have the final say in that regard.

A communal fishery, as I see it, is where we have a group of people, for example in the Eskasoni Band in Nova Scotia. Let us say that band is issued 10 licences. It is then the band that decides which one of its people will be offered the rights to fishing and how that money, if there is any from the revenue sources of that, will go back into the band. That is my understanding of how that is supposed to work. However I have heard that there has been some favouritism as to who gets the licence and some of the difficulties with that.

My colleague from the south shore definitely brings up a very important point. We should not just give fishing licences and the ability to fish to just anybody off the street. It is a very hazardous and dangerous situation. He knows all too well, as I do in my riding, that every single year we lose people from our small coastal communities to the treacherous waters. These fishermen are experienced and even the most experienced fishermen can have great difficulty and risk their lives sometimes.

The lobster fishery, for example, is not an easy thing to partake in. It takes a lot of time to be properly trained and to understand the weather. One also needs the fishing gear and the ability to fish properly. This is why, when it comes to communal licences being issued, there should be opportunities for proper training and so on. We cannot just give someone a licence and tell him or her to go fish. It simply cannot be done.

The hon. gentleman also has other questions which I would have assumed would have been vetted by the department and the minister long before they introduced the bill. This shows us that the bill is a bit ad hoc. We also do not believe, because of this late stage in the game, that the government is very serious about it.

If we look at it objectively without dissecting it, we could almost say that we can understand what the government is trying to do. There are some good points and some other things that need to be rectified but by doing it at this late stage, we do not believe government members are very serious at all. They are just trying to muddy the waters for their own election benefits. Fortunately, we on this side of the House see through that and will be mentioning that on the doorsteps of Canada.

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5:55 p.m.


Rodger Cuzner Liberal Bras D'Or—Cape Breton, NS

Mr. Speaker, it is indeed a pleasure to enter into the debate here today on Bill C-33. It has been a very engaging debate and much has been said from the opposition benches and many concerns rendered on this particular bill about the fishery in general. With all the talk in the air, one might think that some of it might even be rhetorical. We are not above that in the House.

I myself have been around the harbours in the last number of weeks and have been able to speak with a great number of fishing groups. In my constituency of Bras d'Or--Cape Breton, we start in the harbour of Glace Bay and run through to Morien around the Louisbourg-Gabarus coast and up to Richmond county, up the Strait of Canso, and then back around the other side of the island, the west side, Port Hood, Mabou, Inverness and up to Chéticamp. Like most MPs from the Atlantic, I will say that the fishery is the engine that drives the economy in coastal communities in Atlantic Canada.

I have been speaking with those fishermen and there is a great deal of enthusiasm. There is excitement and there is anticipation at this time of year. We have had a number of meetings with harbour authorities. This is the time of the year where we have had great success with some of the investments we have made through many harbour authorities in my constituency. I look at the jobs that have been done in Glace Bay, Morien and Louisbourg. There has been a major investment in Petit-de-Grat where the aboriginal fishery is fishing hand in hand with the traditional fishery with great success.

Going up the other side of the island, again we have had investments in a number of harbours, investments that have made those harbours safe, effective and great places for my constituents to ply their trade. We are hopeful. I just spoke today with a group from Grand Etang. It is the first time in over 50 years that a dredging project was done in Grand Etang. Over 50 years since that harbour was dredged and we got that done last year. We were very fortunate. Obviously as we go forward here over the next while, I think that some of the anticipation is banking on further announcements in the coming weeks.

Another reason for some of the anticipation and excitement is the FRCC's proposal coming forward to the minister. Today in the House the Minister of Fisheries responded to a question from the member for St. John's West. He is currently in receipt of the recommendations coming forward from the FRCC. Of course the FRCC is an independent body. The Fisheries Resource Conservation Council is primarily responsible for the science that surrounds the resource.

The minister will accept that report and study the recommendations put forward from the FRCC. He in turn will make allocations of the resource as we go forward into the season. Of course, the bottom line with the minister, when those decisions are made, is that the conservation of the resource and the orderly management of the fishery remain the priorities of not just the minister but the department. Certainly what we hope is that he will study the recommendations closely.

The decisions have to be science based, but the anecdotal information in our conversations with fishermen and fisheries groups is that the stocks on the east coast are subtly starting to grow. There are some very positive signs. I am not trying to dismiss the state of the fishery there. I am not trying to make light or say that we have fully recovered the cod stocks on the east coast, not at all. I would not want to mislead the House in that regard, but if we speak to the individual fishermen and to the crews that are on those boats, they will tell us that a lot of the signs have been encouraging. Some of the tows and some of the catches have been very surprising at times and very encouraging at the least. I would hope that the minister, as he goes forward to make his recommendations on this year's quotas, weighs these factors as well.

Of course there is a lot of excitement and anticipation. I have fishermen friends who are looking out at the pack ice each day hoping for a good wind to move the ice off so the crabbers and the lobster fishermen can get going. There are some very positive early indications that in several of the areas catches will be strong. This is a tribute to the conservation efforts that have been undertaken in some of the management areas. There has been a great deal of sacrifice in some of those areas over the last number of years. Looking at just outside of Glace Bay, for example, they have increased the carapace size over the last four years. They are in a four or five year management plan. They think this might be a year where they will see the benefit from that sacrifice and from those years of increased conservation. The price is still a little low, but that will come as the season progresses.

The other thing in speaking with the various fishermen from the different harbours is that what I have seen over the last number of years is the growth in acceptance, understanding and cooperation between our aboriginal and traditional fishers. I know that it varies from harbour to harbour. Experiences change from harbour to harbour, but overall I think we are starting to see through this. It has been much more accepted and it is very positive and encouraging to see these people fishing side by side as fishermen. I think we have come a long way and I think there is still a ways to go. Again, it varies from harbour to harbour, but overall we have made significant progress in the last number of years.

That brings us to one of the main reasons why we are speaking today, which is Bill C-33. As I have said, it is a pleasure to speak to Bill C-33, an act to amend the Fisheries Act.

The Government of Canada has been clear in its desire to increase the participation of citizens in the nation's business and to re-establish confidence in the federal government and in those who represent Canadians.

The bill being debated today is one example of how the government and the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans is reaching out to members of Parliament and, by extension, to Canadians.

By introducing Bill C-33, the government is responding to concerns raised by the Standing Joint Committee for the Scrutiny of Regulations. I know that the hon. Minister of Fisheries and Oceans appreciates the hard work of the committee. The issues are complex and the committee felt that they were important and worth studying.

Over the past few years, hon. members from both sides of the House and the Senate have spoken about the need for greater clarity on matters addressed in the bill. The Fisheries Act is a general piece of legislation that is used to conserve and protect the fisheries and to govern the way our government manages fishing. The amendments proposed add more detail to the broad general authorities in the Fisheries Act and address issues raised by the committee.

While the bill is limited in scope, it offers a range of changes that will provide greater clarity and certainty on matters of legislative authority. Quite simply, it is aimed at clarifying existing authorities.

For instance, the bill is intended to clarify the authority of the minister and aboriginal organizations to designate persons who may fish under the authority of a licence and vessels that may be used to fish. It will define what is meant by the term “aboriginal organization” and, to the extent that there may be inconsistency, provide the authority for licence conditions issued to an aboriginal organization to prevail over regulations.

These proposed amendments address very specific issues that were the subject of a commitment by the Government of Canada to the standing joint committee.

I think it is important to note at this point that these amendments will not change existing practices on the ground. Rather, they will provide greater clarity and certainty on matters of legislative authority with respect to regulations that govern Canada's fisheries.

As the February Speech from the Throne made clear, the Government of Canada is committed to helping aboriginal Canadians attain greater economic self-reliance and a better quality of life.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans has been a key contributor to this long term, government-wide goal. For example, DFO's response to the 1999 Supreme Court of Canada Marshall decision served to increase opportunities for Canada's first nations to participate in the fisheries. I think the comment that was made by the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans earlier today in the House recognized that over 1,200 jobs have evolved as a result of this decision.

Every member of this House can be proud of the achievements realized through the Marshall response initiative. Today we have an orderly, regulated fishery, where hundreds of aboriginal fishers are learning new fishing skills, learning how to run a business and assuming their new role in the fishery. While there is still a great deal of work ahead, there has been measurable progress over the last four years. To build on this, the minister announced two new initiatives in February.

The new at-sea mentoring initiative, with total funding of $6 million over the next four years, will help the Mi'kmaq and Maliseet first nations in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and the Gaspé region of Quebec further develop skills to fish safely and effectively in various fisheries.

Trial and error is one way of learning, but trial and error is an inefficient and unsafe way to learn new skills. Mistakes at sea can be costly. They can be costly in loss of gear, costly in loss of revenue and, in extreme cases, costly in the loss of life.

I think the mentorship program will go a long way in continuing to bring the aboriginal community along. It will also assist first nations in diversifying the catch in these inshore fisheries and improving overall fishing skills in the midshore fishery as well as learning vessel maintenance.

The fisheries operations management initiative, with total funding of $1 million over the next four years, will support these first nations in learning more advanced skills to manage their communal fisheries assets with the objective of maximizing benefits for fishers and their communities.

DFO seeks to manage fisheries in a manner consistent with constitutional protection provided to aboriginal and treaty rights. Policies such as the aboriginal fisheries strategy and the Marshall response initiative, together with a legislative framework that includes the aboriginal communal fishing licence regulations, provide a flexible framework that assists DFO in this regard.

It is important to note that the minister will continue to issue communal licences to aboriginal organizations under the regulations should this bill pass. The aboriginal communal fishing licences regulations will continue to serve as an essential tool in the effective management of fishing by aboriginal groups while conserving the resource on behalf of all Canadians.

The minister and indeed the Government of Canada are committed to working cooperatively with aboriginal groups in the management of the fisheries. This is the best way to achieve the department's priorities of conservation and an orderly managed fishery.

Bill C-33 will provide clarity and certainty on matters of legislative authorities while supporting our government's ongoing work to improve the quality of life of aboriginal Canadians. This is why I encourage all my colleagues in the House to support these amendments.