House of Commons Hansard #114 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was information.


Fisheries ActGovernment Orders

9:10 p.m.


Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I would like the opportunity to ask my colleague some questions about his speech.

Would the member agree with me that it is a worrisome trend in this Parliament and in the previous Parliaments under the auspices of the Liberal government, a pattern or we could even call it a trademark motif of the government, that virtually every piece of legislation it puts in place grows and adds to the arbitrary authority of the minister? The arbitrary powers of the minister are almost always enhanced by a bill. We never see those powers limited by any legislation.

In this case, Bill C-52 was made necessary because it became known that the minister had been setting regulations for years as it pertained to the fisheries in Ontario with no statutory authority whatsoever. We could view the bill as a way to further augment and enhance the powers of the minister to make it at least legal that he does set regulations.

I would ask the member to comment on two worrisome trends. The first one is the urgency and, seemingly, the goal of the Liberal government to enhance the arbitrary unilateral powers of ministers. The second one is the regulatory regime, setting regulations, leaving the details out of legislation and leaving it in regulations where they can be arbitrarily and unilaterally introduced by the minister.

Do either of those trends ring familiar with the member and is he concerned by those trends?

Fisheries ActGovernment Orders

9:15 p.m.


Greg Thompson Conservative St. Croix—Belleisle, NB

Mr. Speaker, we have mentioned that a number of times tonight. Basically it is circumventing Parliament and puts too much arbitrary power in the hands of the minister. That is the point we are attempting to make here tonight.

I see no reason why that would have to happen. In practical terms we are looking at a fishery that if we had the required number of fisheries officers out there today, I think they have the power under the present legislation to do their job. We simply have to give them the resources to do that job.

We could argue that changes have to be made. I believe the member would be correct in that. I believe they have to be scrutinized by Parliament. The key is that Parliament would have some control over that. The power to make changes would not simply be in the hands of the bureaucrats.

We are talking about arbitrary power being exercised by the minister on the advice of his bureaucrats. My feeling is that we should go cautiously on this.

My colleagues on this side of the House have introduced thoughtful amendments. They would add some clarity and certainty to the bill. I would suggest that those are the types of amendments the member from Winnipeg would most likely support. Hopefully the government members would support them as well.

We want the Fisheries Act to work. We want enforcement to take place when rules are being broken, but we do not want to give the minister unlimited power or the reporting mechanism to Parliament ceases to exist.

Fisheries ActGovernment Orders

9:15 p.m.


John Cummins Conservative Delta—Richmond East, BC

Mr. Speaker, my friend from New Brunswick Southwest and my friend from Winnipeg Centre have identified the real problem in the bill. The bill avoids parliamentary scrutiny. Very briefly I would like to show how the system works now. I think it works very well.

This was a British Columbia sports fishing regulation amendment. It actually came into effect on May 30, 1995. What is interesting about it is that the particular regulation amendment was gazetted in the Canada Gazette. As part of that gazetting a regulatory impact analysis statement was included. That impact analysis statement gave a description of what the bill did. In this instance it was to license people to fish for shellfish. It talked about the alternatives to the bill as well in this regulatory analysis. It talked about benefits and cost. It dealt with the benefits and the cost.

In the conclusion of the regulatory analysis it talked about the consultation. In this particular instance the consultation was with the sports fishery advisory board. It recommended that this regulation be put into place.

It went on to say that the regulatory change was prepublished in the Canada Gazette, Part I, on March 11, 1995. It was prepublished so that the public could comment on the regulatory change. It was noted that no comments or representations were received at the time, which is fine.

The bill met with approval; people did not feel it necessary to comment on it. Then most revealingly it gave the names of the bureaucrats who were responsible for the new regulation and whom to talk to.

That is a pretty open process. That is the kind of process we on this side are talking about that we think is appropriate. It opens up government and allows the light of day to shine in and does not give licence to some to act in any manner they may wish.

I wonder if my colleague would care to comment on that open process that is in place now and if that meets with his approval.

Fisheries ActGovernment Orders

9:20 p.m.


Greg Thompson Conservative St. Croix—Belleisle, NB

Mr. Speaker, I totally support Parliament's role in this whole process. What the member is saying in very technical terms is that the power of Parliament will be subverted and it will then go from a level of scrutiny by Parliament to the bureaucrats and the minister. At the end of the day, obviously it is the minister's signature that will make the difference on advice from bureaucrats.

What we are speaking of is arbitrary power. The checks and balances one would expect to have in any Fisheries Act simply will not be there. We have seen many examples in the House of bad behaviour on the part of the government simply because of those unlimited powers. Political masters are telling the public servants what to do and they simply go out in a blind rage and do it. That is the type of thing we do not want to see exercised under the Fisheries Act.

Our argument is a very simple one. Allow Parliament to scrutinize the regulations and do not give excess powers to the minister and the bureaucrats. It is a very simple message and one which we are hoping the government will listen to. As I pointed out, there are many examples of where that has been abused in the past. We should try to minimize those abuses of power in this place. I am afraid that if this bill passes without those amendments, we are basically heading in a direction that we have seen other departments move in, much to the displeasure of most Canadians.

We have an opportunity to make it right in the House. I am urging all members to support the amendments brought forward by my colleagues. If that happens, most fishermen will be happy. The department will have the powers it needs but will also have the oversight of Parliament, something that we do not want to lose, nor do I think can we afford to lose.

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9:20 p.m.

Yukon Yukon


Larry Bagnell LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources

Mr. Speaker, there may be some confusion regarding exactly what we are talking about. Although it is a minimal change, it is about what the shift in power is. In fact, it may be exactly the opposite of what some of the members opposite believe.

The basic issue is that fishing licences have to be enforced. I do not think anyone would disagree with that. Fishing licences have to be enforced so that we can protect the fishery. If commercial or other fishermen did not have to live up to their fishing licences, there would be chaos in the fishery. The fishermen and the fisheries organizations have made that quite clear to us.

The parliamentary committee for the scrutiny of regulations has said that this enforcement cannot be in the regulation because it leads to penalties and there cannot be penalties in a regulation. It could at any time eliminate that ability of the enforcement and it would be totally justified. It is a proper parliamentary procedure. The fact is that people have to follow their licences. Otherwise there would be chaos. This is what fishermen and anglers are so worried about and it is why they want us to make this change.

There is the jeopardy of losing control over enforcing licences. The way it has to be done legally is to put it in the act. As members know, the act comes under the scrutiny of Parliament. Regulations are determined by cabinet and acts are determined by Parliament. Parliament actually has more control with this change.

The hunters and anglers and the anglers' associations are very worried because of this parliamentary procedure and that this particular enforcement is in the regulation where it is not valid, as opposed to being in the act. There could be chaos in the fishery and they are urging us to move ahead on this issue.

I will quote some letters. The first one is from the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters. Members from Ontario will know how huge that organization is and its expertise and how long it has worked on protecting the fisheries. It states:

On behalf of the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters (O.F.A.H.), our 78,500 members and 640 member clubs across Ontario, I am writing to express our strong support for Bill C-52, An Act to amend the Fisheries Act (terms and conditions of permissions, leases and licences)--

The bill appears to be a straightforward attempt to deal with a procedural issue raised by the Standing Joint Committee for the Scrutiny of Regulations, and once passed, will ensure that the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources continues to have the authority to enforce the regulations applying to commercial fishing licences. For the over one million licensed anglers in Ontario, it is critically important that the regulations and the enforcement of these same regulations by provincial authorities, is supported and allowed to stand. Otherwise, the current protections for the $2.5 billion a year sport fishing industry in Ontario will be useless, and render the Province impotent in terms of being able to govern the species of fish taken, the amount taken, the type of gear used, and the time frame and location of that activity. This in turn will also jeopardize the work of thousands of individual anglers and angling clubs who have invested a huge number of person hours and hundreds of thousands of dollars in running hatchery and stocking programs on the Great Lakes and inland waters.

We urge you in the strongest possible terms to quickly move forward with the legislation, and trust that your colleagues on both sides of the House will recognize the importance of the bill and vote accordingly.

I am hoping that those members connected to the industry and who understand how it works and know the importance of it will see that there is a legal remedy to enforce fishing licences. I hope that members, such as the member for Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound, will step up and make sure that this case is made and that the concerns of people in the fisheries are heard. This is the simple change of the locus of the regulation which says that fisher people have to follow their licences. It moves it from a regulation where it is not legally valid because it includes penalties into the act where people will definitely have to enforce it. Of course it is still under the scrutiny of Parliament because all acts are under the scrutiny of Parliament. That can be changed at any time.

The second document I want to quote from is a letter from the Ontario minister of natural resources to a number of Conservative MPs, putting these principles on the table again, a simple change, to make it is legal to enforce fishing licences and to ensure it stays legal so there is no chaos in the fishery. It will still be under the scrutiny of Parliament because it is an act of Parliament.

He states:

Further to the debate that took place in the House of Commons on June 6, 2005, regarding Bill C-52, An Act to Amend the Fisheries Act, I would like to take this opportunity to address some of the issues that I understand you and your colleagues raised during that debate.

I understand that during the debate, it was implied that I did not understand the nature of subsection 36(2) of the Ontario Fishery Regulations, 1989, since I mentioned in my letter of April 14, 2005 to [the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans] that disallowance of section 36(2) would impair the ability to impose terms and conditions of licence. I would like to point out that the intent of my April 14 letter was to indicate that, while conditions can indeed be specified in fishing licences, without the ability to enforce the requirement to comply with these conditions of licence through prosecutions, the enforcement tools at our disposal would be inadequate. Conservation of the resource and proper conduct of the fishery requires a broad range of adaptable enforcement tools that include prosecution.

I understand that it was also suggested in the debate that civil servants could impose any kind of conditions without restriction. Conditions are an integral part of the licence and a vital component of the management of the fishery. However, subsection 36(1) of the Ontario Fishery Regulations, 1989 specifies the conditions that may be imposed in a licence.

The conditions are only a very limited number to start with, and are set by officials under any circumstances before or after the act goes through.

He goes on to say:

These include such matters as the waters from which fish may be taken; the species, size and quantity of fish that may be taken; and the fishing gear that may be used. These conditions all relate to the management and control of the fishery and the conservation and protection of fish.

We require compliance with licence conditions to ensure conservation of the resource and proper conduct of the fishery. While in principle it may appear that cancellation of a licence can be used as the only tool to enforce compliance, in practice it is inadequate. It would be analogous to trying to enforce highway speeding infractions only through cancellation or suspension of a driver's licence. In addition, under Ontario's process a commercial fishing licence cannot be suspended or cancelled until after a hearing before a hearing officer who makes a recommendation that I must consider. The current process can take time and the licence can only be suspended or cancelled for the remainder of its term.

Under a prosecution for a violation of a condition of a commercial fishing licence, there is the flexibility to seek a penalty appropriate to the circumstances. For example, one might seek a lesser penalty for a first time offender than a repeat offender. The size of fines can vary. Other penalties, such as forfeiture are also available. The cancellation of licences is not a flexible tool. The cancellation cannot be tailored to the infraction. It would mean that a person committing a minor infraction could see his or her licence cancelled. That remedy could threaten their livelihood and so must be used only in appropriate circumstances.

As the Minister, I take my responsibility for conservation of the fishery resource in Ontario very seriously. My ability to enforce compliance with licence conditions solely through suspension or cancellation of a licence is unrealistic from an operational perspective. Failure to maintain the ability to enforce terms and conditions on commercial fishing licences could very well put this significant resource at risk.

In summary, the minister who deals with fisheries and the anglers and hunters associations that are well versed in fisheries simply want to ensure that licences can be enforced. An all party committee has determined that it is not legal to have them enforced the way they are right now. It is in jeopardy because it is in a regulation. To be legal, it just has to be put into the act.

Acts are under the scrutiny of Parliament so there is no more authority for the minister. Perhaps there is less because Parliament can scrutinize that regulation. Remember, we are talking about is a regulation that says one has to abide by one's fishing licence.

Whether it is in an act that Parliament can change or in a regulation that cabinet enforces, I do not think it makes a lot of difference. Everyone agrees with it. It will be under the scrutiny of Parliament but it will protect the fishery which I am sure every member of Parliament wants to do. I am sure every parliamentarian wants fishing licences to be enforced.

It was determined that this technical change was needed, to the credit of the an all party committee of this Parliament. It recommends that we make it legal to enforce the fishing licence. It would be removed from a regulation where it is not valid, because we cannot have penalties in a regulation, and it would be moved into the act where it would be valid. Nothing will change, but it will legally continue to protect the fishery as everyone would like and it will not be at jeopardy.

Fisheries ActGovernment Orders

9:35 p.m.


Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, we have just watched the member for Yukon, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources, dance around and skirt the salient issue here. I think the member must have missed the point completely. The Minister of Fisheries has been unilaterally and arbitrarily putting conditions on licences when he had no statutory authority to do so. He has been doing it for years. It makes one wonder who is driving the bus around here. Who is minding the store in the Department of Fisheries if this kind of irregularity has been the norm for years. It was up to the Joint Standing Committee on Scrutiny of Regulations to catch the irregularity. That is the real story of the day.

My colleague has a nice yarn and it was kind of a soothing, melodic flow to the diatribe he shared with us, but it had nothing to do with what is fundamentally wrong with the Department of Fisheries as managed by the Minister of Fisheries. He has been unilaterally and arbitrarily setting the conditions of licences for the fisheries in Ontario with no statutory authority whatsoever until we pass this bill to do so.

How my colleague can explain that irregularity? In the larger context, how can he explain this pattern, trend and obsession of the Liberals to grant even more unilateral authority to ministers in virtually every piece of legislation they have introduced since I have been a member of Parliament for eight years? It is a trademark motif of the Liberals to take power away from Parliament, to bastardize democracy, to minimize our participation and control of our legislation and to shift that authority incrementally, bit by bit, to ministers, giving absolute power to them.

Maybe the member for Yukon in a little more honest way could give us a response to those legitimate concerns that we are trying to address here tonight.

Fisheries ActGovernment Orders

9:35 p.m.


Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, I have a great deal of respect for the member. I might be happy to debate the issue he raised at some other time. Right now we are speaking about a single line regulation that says fishing licences have to be enforced.

I want to keep on that topic because I am pretty sure his party is supporting the bill. The member for Sackville—Eastern Shore spoke in favour of it last week. I think from what he said he was supporting the bill. We simply want fishing licences to be legally enforced.

I have never had my words and speech described as melodic and free flowing. I cannot take credit for that because those were not my words. They were words of experts in the field to whom I defer, of ministers whose whole careers have been in dealing with fisheries. There are anglers and hunters. I think one particular organization has 78,500 people who are interested. They have their professional legal resources who want this regulation to be made legal. I want to keep this very simply. It is simple to change the act without discussing the larger philosophy of where decisions should be made. I would be happy to do that at another time.

Just to recap, there is a regulation right now that says one has to follow one's fishing licence but that is illegal because penalties are involved. To the credit of an all party committee of Parliament, it figured that out. We are at jeopardy of being unable to enforce fishing licences. We simply move that one line, which says that one has to abide by one's fishing licence, into the act. That is why fisheries ministers, hunters and angler associations want to make this legal change so we can continue to enforce fishing licences.

Fisheries ActGovernment Orders

9:40 p.m.


John Cummins Conservative Delta—Richmond East, BC

Mr. Speaker, my friend is wrong on several counts in his speech.

First, he says that parliamentary scrutiny would continue over the bill. However, if he reads clause 10(2) of the bill, he would understand that is not the case. It states very clearly:

For greater certainty, those permissions, leases and licences—including their terms and conditions—are not statutory instruments for the purposes of the Statutory Instruments Act.

In other words Parliament really does not have too much to say about the bill.

Second, he also suggested somehow or another that it would be impossible to enforce the Fisheries Act if this amendment went through. Let me again quote from the scrutiny of regulations committee report. It was talking about disallowance of section 36.(2). It states:

Disallowance of that section may change the manner of enforcing compliance with terms and conditions of licences, but would certainly not affect in any way the ability to impose such terms and conditions.

The third point I would like to make is the member opposite attributed some concerns to the Ontario minister of fisheries and to Ontario Federation of Hunters & Anglers. In brief, he suggested that without licence conditions the minister could not regulate the species taken, the amount of fish taken, the gear used, the time for fishing and the location of fishing.

I would suggest that is simply wrong. If we look at the Ontario fishery regulations, those regulations quite clearly deal with those issues now. They talk about species taken, the amount to be caught, the location that the catch can be made and so on. The regulations in place already cover those issues.

However, as my friend from Winnipeg Centre is saying, what the government is trying to do is to avoid scrutiny of Parliament and make these regulations in secret without the benefit of gazetting so there can be public input and without the benefit of scrutiny of regulations examining those regulations to determine if they are in compliance with the intentions of the act.

Would my colleague care to comment on those issues?

Fisheries ActGovernment Orders

9:40 p.m.


Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, in relation to the first item, when we move the regulation that fishing licences must be a force to an act, we increase the scrutiny of Parliament because Parliament has control over an act, and ever so more in a minority government. Regulations are approved by cabinet.

In relation to what could be imposed and how it could be imposed, what the minister of natural resources of Ontario said was that this could limit the types of penalties available to him such as the cancellation of licences. This could not lead to the flexibility of the penalties under the present system.

On the last item, the member was correct. I think he may have misunderstood what I said. He listed a number of items related to fisheries and he thought I said that they would be not be under control of licences. However, I was listing a specific number of items that were under the control of licences and regulations could be made. That will not change. Changes to the old system or the new system will still be made by the same people. It is limited to that small subset of things that the member mentioned and with which I was in agreement.

Fisheries ActGovernment Orders

9:45 p.m.


Randy Kamp Conservative Dewdney—Alouette, BC

Mr. Speaker, I have a question for the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Natural Resources. He mentioned in his speech that this is a technical bill designed to solve a problem that was identified by the Standing Joint Committee for the Scrutiny of Regulations, which I sit on. Although there is a little truth to that, let me read what the committee said when a similar bill was introduced in the 37th Parliament. It stated:

Our acknowledgement that the amendments included in Bill C-43 would resolve the Committee's objections to the legality of the relevant regulatory provisions does not imply an endorsement of those amendments 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.

That seems to be the crux of the issue. It is not just a technical change. Yes, it solves the legality of the problem, but there is still the underlying fundamental policy issue. Is it fair and right for somebody to be subjected to those penalties because of a condition that a bureaucrat has laid down? I would appreciate the member's comments on that.

Fisheries ActGovernment Orders

9:45 p.m.


Larry Bagnell Liberal Yukon, YT

Mr. Speaker, this is a different issue, but I agree with the member that it is an issue that should be debated and discussed as to what is appropriate in the regulations, but it does not change under the new system or the old system. Officials still make them and they are still accountable to the minister and the minister is still accountable to Parliament. He can be called to task. Whether it comes through regulations or an act, he is still going to be called to task if he is doing something inappropriate in his department in regulating a fishery.

I agree with the member. That would be a great debate to have and that debate can be had under the present system, which may be illegal, or under the new system, which will be illegal. The minister is still accountable to Parliament for what happens in his department. I know the opposition will ensure, if something is inappropriate, that it is raised in Parliament, which is why we are here.

Fisheries ActGovernment Orders

9:45 p.m.


Peter Van Loan Conservative York—Simcoe, ON

Mr. Speaker, this is a debate on a bill that is intended to give the government new powers to act in a way that is essentially unaccountable. This is a matter of great concern to us.

The issue that is being addressed is the Ontario freshwater fishery and that is of course a matter of great interest to my constituents in York—Simcoe which surrounds Lake Simcoe. What is interesting is that this issue only came to light and became a serious problem on May 5 of this year.

The government responded immediately with legislation that is quite dramatic and quite draconian to deal with that. Yet, there are other issues that have been affecting the freshwater fishery in Ontario for years and years. The government has had at its disposal the power to act by regulation for years to resolve those issues but it has not done so.

Why is the government so hasty to accumulate unaccountable powers while failing to exercise those very powers already at its disposal that would address the serious problems in the freshwater fishery? By that I mean the impact of alien invasive aquatic species on the aquatic environment and the freshwater fishery, all of which are suffering because the government will not act and exercise those powers that it already has.

A perfect example of that, the very fishery the bill purports to assist, can be found not just in the Great Lakes but in the Great Lakes basin including Lake Simcoe with regard to those invasive species. In fact, the failure of the government to act has become so serious and so drawn out that I have taken the step of submitting a private member's bill to protect our aquatic environment against invasive species named the Canadian ballast water management act.

Invasive species are a problem for the fishery, but they are also a problem for the ecosystem and the balance in the ecosystem in general. Related to both of those things, there are economic problems resulting from both the impact on the fishery and the environment. It is a major problem in the constituency of York--Simcoe, particularly because of the fact that it is a horseshoe around Lake Simcoe.

One can go from communities at one end of the constituency at Port Bolster, through Petrolia, Jackson's Point, Roach Point around to Keswick, over to the other side of Cooks Bay to Lefroy and Bell Ewart and to Alcona, and around Big Bay Point all the way along the shore of Kempenfelt Bay. This is the coastline, including the coastlines of a series of islands as well, that we have on that freshwater fishery of Lake Simcoe and that freshwater resource.

Much has changed with Lake Simcoe and the surrounding watershed since I was a young boy. I remember playing on the farm in the streams flowing into Lake Simcoe and playing at Willow Beach not too far away from where I live. A lot of what has happened in those changes has been the introduction of those invasive species. As I have said, the government could have acted on that front through regulations that are already available to it, but it has failed to do so.

Since the failure of the government to act, we have seen the introduction of numerous invasive species, far too many to list, but the media stars among those invasive species are well known. The zebra mussel and more recently the quagga mussel have made their way into Lake Simcoe and the round goby is right around the edges of the lake including the surrounding waterways such as the Pefferlaw Brook. Those are species which started in the Great Lakes and have spread directly through various vectors into Lake Simcoe.

Those invasive species upset the balance of the ecosystem. Because they are not native to the area, they do not have any natural predators. That allows them in many cases to be extraordinarily successful in their competition for resources with native species. In fact, in some cases they are predators on those native species. As a result of that competition and predation, the introduction of the non-native species can effectively squeeze out the native species that have been part of that ecosystem, in some cases for tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of years, and alter it forever.

Where does a lot of it come from? The primary source, authorities agree, is through the ballast water of ocean going vessels that will end up in the Caspian Sea or the Black Sea, in freshwater ports or brackish water ports and they will take on ballast water there. In the process of taking on ballast water they will take on numerous aquatic life, whether it be animal, plant or other kinds of lower forms of life.

Those life forms can survive a trip across the ocean. When those vessels arrive in our shores, in the Great Lakes and elsewhere, and ballast water is discharged, they get introduced into that environment. There is the potential to regulate and act on this, but in Canada our rules on that remain only voluntary.

I know that the Liberal government likes to pretend that the track record of the government is good on the environment, but the fact is we fall far short of what even the Americans do. There are not too many members on that side of the House who hold out that the Americans are a sound example of environmental leadership.

On the issue of invasive species and on so many other issues, in fact, the American regulations and rules are stricter than those we have in Canada. Canada is failing the environment under this government.

On aquatic invasive species, not only do the Americans already have stricter ballast water rules, there is currently legislation in front of the U.S. senate and the house of representatives to provide for even stricter and more advanced regulations. All along this government dithers and fails to act.

I ask why in that context is it suddenly seeking to acquire other new powers that are unaccountable and in many cases extraordinary, involving discretion that could be exercised by officials and by the minister? Yet it will not exercise ones to address problems that we really know about, that are right there today.

What is the history? It is a problem that has been raised. It has been known as a serious problem since 1986 when the zebra mussel first arrived. It has been raised regularly by the International Joint Commission and by the Great Lakes Fishery Commission since 1988. When they put out a joint report in 1988, that is when we first began to see real action take place. Those two commissions called upon the United States and Canada to act.

The then Conservative government, in retrospect, had a very well earned reputation on the environment. In fact, a recent report done by a group of Canadian environmentalists rated that Conservative government, from 1984 to 1993, as the most environmentally protective and progressive government in Canada's history.

That Conservative government acted on that issue and introduced almost immediately, less than a year later in 1989, the first voluntary ballast water management guidelines in the world. It was unprecedented. That is what we call leadership and it was leadership on the environment. Guess what? That was the end of leadership because it was not too long before there was a change of government and we have seen for the past 12 years no action since that 1989 initiative.

As I said, in the interim, the Americans acted in 1990 with legislation, in 1996 with legislation, and now they have mandatory enforceable ballast water regulations, but in Canada there is no action.

That is why we need to have changes brought in. That is why I have submitted a private member's bill that hopefully will address that. However, the government could act right now. It does not have to wait for that bill to become law. It has the powers right now through the regulations in which it is failing to act even as it is seeking another new power grab for regulations.

I mentioned that the International Joint Commission, which governs the Great Lakes and the boundary waters between the United States and Canada, was the first to call for ballast water guidelines. It has called for it repeatedly, it should be added, and so has the environmental commissioner. The government has the power to act but has not.

If I look at the environmental commissioner's report of 2002, what did the commissioner find? The commissioner found that the federal government was ill-prepared to counter the threat of invasive aquatic species despite its commitments. There was no federal policy, no recognition in the department, and no plan to coordinate federal action to counter the environmental economic and social impacts of invasive species. The government was doing little to prevent the arrival of additional invasive species. It has a record of inaction.

When we talk about Liberals in action, it really means Liberal inaction. That is what we have seen for 12 years.

In 2002 the environmental commissioner repeated her call:

The federal government has not responded effectively to invasive species that threaten Canada's ecosystems, habitats, and other species. It has not identified the invasive species with the greatest potential to become established in Canada's ecosystems--

Nor has it determined the pathways by which they arrive, said the commissioner. The government has had that call made again and again. In fact, I believe the fisheries committee has just once again reported on the failure of the government to act on this and has again called on the government to act, but it still has not happened.

The environment is crucially important. Our ecosystems are crucially important yet we are not seeing them given the priority they need. Instead, the government is looking for new ways to penalize, in effect, the rights of those who seek to enjoy that environment, who seek to enjoy the fisheries. It is doing that rather than worrying about protecting the fisheries to make sure they are actually there for the long term, to make sure there is something to regulate. I know of course that it is the government's preference to regulate and penalize rather than actually preserve the resource and make sure it is there, but that is what it should be doing.

Let us take the example of the round goby. It is one of these invasive species. It is one of those species native to the Caspian Sea and the Black Sea. Now it has arrived in North America and has spread throughout the Great Lakes and the waterways.

The round goby is a highly adaptive invasive species and very aggressive. It increases in numbers very quickly and spreads geographically very quickly. It will compete for food and for habitat with the native species, in particular, in Lake Simcoe, species like the perch, the smallmouth bass and the walleye. It will actually prey upon the eggs and the young of those other native species and further enhance the competition and squeeze them out.

Unlike a lot of the native species, it will spawn not once a season but several times per season. Of particular import is the fact that it thrives in bad or poor quality water. It can survive in those harsh conditions. At a time when the environment is in decline because of the failure of the government to act, and in a whole bunch of ways, that creates even more opportunities for the spread of these invasive species.

We have seen it now on the shores of Lake Simcoe in the creeks leading right up to its edge. It will soon be there. In fact, there was a derby this weekend that was under a special scientific permit, a goby derby, whereby folks were encouraged to actually go out and fish to see if they could capture them, the hope of course being that they would not find them. Unfortunately, many were captured in the surrounding waterways. Fortunately, there were not any in the lake yet but that is perhaps only a matter of time.

As we know, in Lake Simcoe the fishery is important, but it is based on the environment. The environment is important for the people there because there are thousands who draw their drinking water from Lake Simcoe. There are thousands for whom it represents their recreational playground and their very own backyard, figuratively but in many cases even literally. It plays a role in recreational fishing during the summers and ice fishing for recreation in the winters, but more important than those economic reasons and those reasons that are anthropomorphic or important for people is the fundamental importance of the environment, the balance in the ecosystem that has to be maintained.

As these invasive species multiply and begin to take up the room that has been previously enjoyed and lived in by the native species, we also risk seeing a biodiversity loss. It is not just a question of balance. There is actually the very real risk of the loss of species, forever changing what we have seen and what we have enjoyed in that local environment.

When I look at a bill like this one that is being put forward by the government, I can only say this. Why the dithering for a decade on the things that really matter yet the instant action on the things that, from my perspective, look more like they were designed to protect the rights of bureaucrats to act unaccountably rather than to actually protect the environment?

For years and years this government has been asked to act by every credible environmental organization, by non-partisan organizations, by the International Joint Commission, by the environmental commissioner, by Parliament and by the House of Commons fisheries committee. It has failed to take any steps to do so. The government races off within days or weeks to address other issues while the issue of aquatic invasive species continues to languish.

I cannot understand this failure to take into account the importance of our environment. I cannot understand the deliberate and wilful ignorance and the damage being done to our environment.

For me and for my constituents, the priorities are clear. My constituents want to see a real commitment to protecting that local ecosystem in Lake Simcoe and to ensuring that it is treated as part of that Great Lakes basin.

That is another issue. There has been funding to worry about the environment of the Great Lakes, but for some reason the government has failed to apply that same kind of funding to Lake Simcoe even though it is at the centre of the Great Lakes basin. Even though those are waters that are part of the watershed and discharge into the Great Lakes and represent a very significant source that is at environmental risk, the money is not there.

That is a decision made by this government. It treats Lake Simcoe differently. It ignores the fact that it is a critical part of that Great Lakes water basin. The government ignores the potential it represents. Properly husbanded it is a positive asset, but also, if allowed to deteriorate and decline any further, it has the potential to destabilize and damage the health of the rest of the Great Lakes into which it flows.

I look at the record of the government on the issue of the freshwater fishery and the state of the health of the Great Lakes basin, in particular that of Lake Simcoe, and I look only with sadness.

I encourage the government to respond to the private member's bill I put forward as quickly as it has responded to this particular issue in the freshwater fishery and to actually do something after a decade of dithering to exercise the powers that are already there to protect our freshwater lakes from further damage by the regular introduction of new invasive species.

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10:05 p.m.


Bev Desjarlais NDP Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, my colleague from the Conservative Party has mentioned the situation with possible invasive species coming into lakes within Ontario. I would hope that he is also aware of a situation being faced in Manitoba. States in the U.S. are diverting water, which will cause the risk of invasive species coming into Manitoba's largest lake, Lake Winnipeg, thus risking the fisheries as well as the lake in general within Manitoba.

I am curious to hear if he or his party has a position on what the U.S. is doing by diverting water into Lake Winnipeg and jeopardizing one of the greatest lakes in Canada.

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10:05 p.m.


Peter Van Loan Conservative York—Simcoe, ON

Mr. Speaker, with the way North American waterways work, we do not even need to have that kind of diversion for the species to spread. They can be spread simply through recreational boats that get transported from one lake or waterway to another. They can be spread by those who travel on those boats or through other pleasure craft or other ways of travelling about.

The bigger problem is the fact that those species come from overseas. Once they are here, a small measure like that, while it may be significant, will not be sufficient to protect against the spread of invasive species. They have to be stopped at the most critical and most significant vectors and points of entry. We have had continual evidence from every authority that the major source of the invasive species is the introduction of ballast water from overseas, where the species are indeed genuinely non-native.

The red goby is a perfect example. It was perhaps only introduced on one occasion in one spot in the Great Lakes, yet it has spread all over North America, without water diversion. Water diversion is not necessary. Whatever impact that may have, the spread of invasive species is far more aggressive and far more dangerous than that. That is why we have to look to address it right at the root of the problem with serious, enforceable and mandatory ballast water management rules.

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10:05 p.m.


Michael Chong Conservative Wellington—Halton Hills, ON

Mr. Speaker, I agree with my colleague from York—Simcoe on his criticisms of this government's very hastily crafted and ill-conceived bill, and more particularly, on how this government has failed to address the real problem facing fisheries across Canada, such as those in Manitoba and Ontario, that is, the degradation of the watersheds and the Great Lakes due to the decline in water quality and the invasive species.

Ontario is home to the greatest freshwater fishery in the world. The Great Lakes are home to some of the best freshwater fisheries anywhere on the planet. The government has done absolutely nothing over the last 12 years to address ever increasing declines in water quality and the threats to native species such as those posed by invasive species.

There are heritage rivers in York region, Simcoe County and Wellington County, all across southern Ontario: the Grand River, the Maitland River, the Saugeen River, the Thames River, the Don River, the Credit River and the Humber River. In northern Ontario, there are the French and Spanish Rivers. All these rivers and their watersheds and all of the Great Lakes that these river watersheds feed into are under threat. I include in that Lake Simcoe.

There is a lack of resources in the Department of Fisheries and Oceans in Ontario to address some of the problems facing our watersheds. We do this with very short-sighted vision, because these watersheds provide the drinking water for 13 million Ontarians. The damage to these watersheds, which is a direct result of lack of attention from this government, is absolutely unfathomable to Ontarians.

Yet the government can rush through a flawed bill such as Bill C-52 just like that. I cannot understand why the government would have the resources and the political will to rush through a bill like Bill C-52 without addressing the real problems facing Ontario's watersheds and watersheds across the country.

My question for my colleague from York—Simcoe about Bill C-52 concerns why this government is putting forth such a flawed piece of legislation. Why is the government allowing regulations that would be created under Bill C-52 to be exempt from parliamentary oversight and the Statutory Instruments Act? It seems to me to be a tack very similar to the one the government has taken with the $9 billion in foundations. Those too are not subject to parliamentary oversight or to scrutiny by the Auditor General.

In much the same way, the government is exempting itself from scrutiny under the Statutory Instruments Act with this bill. It is another example of the command and control style of executive management best typified by the government instead of Parliament being allowed the legislative and parliamentary oversight. Could my hon. colleague comment?

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10:10 p.m.


Peter Van Loan Conservative York—Simcoe, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member for Wellington—Halton Hills has put his finger on something that I know in my past life as a lawyer and in my academic studies in law school we spent a lot of time on. It is the concern about discretion in the administrative process.

By that we mean when we take the power to make decisions away from those who are accountable, meaning Parliament, a provincial legislature or a municipal council, and put that decision making power into the hands of unaccountable bureaucrats and officials and those against whom there is no right to appeal the decisions, those who we do not have a right to see true accountability for the decisions that are made, that is a slippery path.

When society becomes increasingly sophisticated, which, unfortunately, is all too common, it is something that becomes very common when government becomes big.

The government has been growing at a rate of 10% a year. Is it any surprise that as the public service grows and the cost of program spending grows that we see the spread of unaccountable discretion in the process where unaccountable, faceless, nameless bureaucrats make decisions, such as in the area for which I am the critic, Human Resources and Skills Development Canada where every day the lives of thousands of people are affected by decisions made by civil servants acting entirely on their own discretion and applying their own judgments?

What happens is that when the process occurs it is not just inequity and unfairness. It is also an invitation to political interference. We saw that happen in the sponsorship scandal and with the former HRDC scandal because then people could plead their case for special treatment. If they were well connected politically and if they knew the right people, suddenly the special treatment came forward.

When that is all hidden by depositing it at a level beyond the scrutiny of the public, the voters, and it is put in the hands of faceless, nameless officials who do it quietly with a phone call from the minister's office, or in their own discretion and judgment based on their own biases, prejudices or personal appeals, who knows what, then bad things happen.

If we think about the places in the world that have a lot of corruption, countries that we like to think of as banana republics or third world dictatorships, that is what is happening. That is when officials take to themselves the power to make decisions, to give out licences and to impose conditions on licences and in the process extract favours from those who are seeking the licences and permissions.

Anyone who has ever tried to do business in a place like Russia today will say that that is the kind of thing they encounter from officials at every step of the way. Why? It is because those officials have the ability to make decisions in their judgment and with their discretion that affect the livelihoods and day to day well-being and survival of people trying to start businesses or trying to get by, trying to do the things they want to do in a society that they otherwise thought would be free.

It is important that this decision making power not be vested in those who are unaccountable but rather that there remain parliamentary oversight, that there is responsibility, that there is accountability and that when decisions are made people are responsible for them.

We have had countless scandals in the time that the Liberal Party has been in government and yet no minister has ever resigned or taken responsibility. It is always the work of somebody else, some nameless, faceless parallel organization, some officials acting unaccountably.

We had the parliamentary secretary come to us today and say that was a good thing, that was the way things should work and that everyone thinks it is all right for regulations to be made unaccountably and without authority because that is what is needed to make things work.

I do not think that is the way we need to have things to make them work. I think things work best when people are responsible and there is accountability. We do not get that out of this legislation.

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10:15 p.m.


Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have an opportunity to join the debate on Bill C-52 on behalf of my NDP caucus colleagues and the people of Winnipeg Centre.

Mr. Speaker, I intend to split my time with my colleague from Burnaby--New Westminster.

Bill C-52 found its origin when the scrutiny of regulations committee virtually stumbled across the fact that the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans had been setting regulatory conditions of licensing without any statutory authority to do so. It begs the question: Is this the way the government has been running the DFO for the last decade or more? If that is true, it explains the absolute mess the fishery is in from one coast to the other.

A number of speakers who have spoken tonight have listed a myriad of grievances about the mismanagement of the fisheries from one end of the country to the other and the middle in the great freshwater fisheries such as we enjoy in my home province of Manitoba.

Lake Winnipeg is the fifth largest lake in North America and is home to the largest surviving freshwater fishery in North America and is valued at almost $30 million American per year. I am very concerned that inaction on the part of our federal Liberal government may sound the death knell for that important economic engine for the province of Manitoba.

As of July 1 of this year, the United States intends to divert, by inter-basin transfer of water, the dirty polluted water from Devils Lake, North Dakota into the Cheyenne River, into the Red River and flowing north into Lake Winnipeg. If Bill C-52 were to grant regulatory authority to the minister, I hope he would use whatever authority he might have to intervene on behalf of the people of Manitoba to counter this egregious breach of Canadian sovereignty, an environmentally disastrous move of the wholesale inter-basin transfer of water from polluted Devils Lake, North Dakota ultimately into Lake Winnipeg.

Let me explain some of the frustration that Manitobans feel. Not only is this a catastrophic move environmentally, but as far as diplomatic relations between Canada and the United States are concerned, this single unilateral action by the United States could be the death knell of the boundary waters treaty of 1909, an international instrument that has proven critically important in protecting the interests of both signatories to that treaty from the unilateral actions of the other.

The International Joint Commission, of which the House I am sure is familiar, deals with complaints regarding the boundary waters treaty. Both parties have to refer an issue to the International Joint Commission and the Americans have refused to do so. It is a diplomatic slap in the face to have them say that they will solve their flooding problems in Devils Lake by cutting a channel and diverting all that water into Lake Winnipeg.

One of the serious problems that comes to mind with this is the invasive species aspect. At least one well-known parasite exists in Devils Lake called the gyrodactylus hoffmani which is a flat worm that parasitically attaches itself to the gills of channel catfish, minnows, et cetera. No environmental assessment has done on the Devils Lake diversion and so the scope and magnitude of this invasion by this species is unknown.

The scale of the spread of it is unknown because we are talking an inter-basin transfer here and the drainage basin that flows into Lake Winnipeg is most of western Canada. It is from the Rocky Mountains to Hudson's Bay essentially. This drains into all of Saskatchewan and most of Alberta. A great deal of the northern country in Nunavut directly to our north flows down and toward Lake Winnipeg. That same parasitic invasion could flow the other way and infect vast regions.

Not only that, in recent years the Americans, as do Canadian prairie farmers, have been overloading their fields with chemicals and pesticides to such a degree, and the wetlands have been drained, that a lot of this runoff goes into Devils Lake.

By the cruelest of ironies, the Americans have chosen Canada Day to turn the tap on for this diversion of water into Canada and when they do, an extra 40,000 pounds of phosphorous water a year will be going into Lake Winnipeg. It is bad enough that we already have our own agricultural contaminants going into Lake Winnipeg from Canada but we also have mercury, sulphates, nitrogen, diammonium phosphate, some of the popular fertilizers. All of these nutrients will be flowing into Lake Winnipeg seriously compounding the algae problem that exists there already with floating algae beds that are acres in size. The U.S. army corps of engineers has ignored the well-being of Canada in digging this diversion.

We had a similar problem in 1977, called the Garrison diversion, where the Americans again wanted to solve their water drainage problems by diverting through Garrison. They had a plan to divert their water north into Canada to follow the drainage into Lake Winnipeg. With a great deal of protest we managed to stop that.

We have tried everything this time. I personally went down with Lloyd Axworthy when he was the minister of foreign affairs to meet with senators and congressmen in Washington, D.C. and implore them to reconsider the disastrous and catastrophic idea of the inter-basin transfer of water. They simply accepted our representations to them, acknowledged that it was a serious environmental threat and then said, “If it ever comes down to doing what is best for North Dakota and what is best for Canada, we will do what is best for North Dakota. Don't let the door hit you in the ass on your way out”. Essentially, that was all they would do for us.

Now we are desperately urging Canada to use every diplomatic measure possible to appeal to the Americans to block this catastrophic move. Our Minister of Fisheries and Oceans has a role to play. Surely there is a joint interest, an international element to the Department of Fisheries. There always has been, whether it is offshore with our fishing limits or, in this case, the interprovincial and international flow of water that can have a devastating effect.

However one of the most frustrating things is that reason and logic do not seem to penetrate this barrier we are getting from the Americans. Even their own research shows that by diverting this water they will lower Devils Lake by 1.5 inches per year. It has risen three feet in 10 years. They will devastate the largest freshwater fishery in Canada, possibly, all for the sake of making their water levels static and dropping it by 1.5 inches per year. At what cost?

Some day we have to start looking at ourselves as global citizens. We cannot let this arbitrary 49th parallel be the place where reason stops. That is simply not progressive thought and there is no future in that way of thinking.

When I see Bill C-52 and I think of the pattern of unilateral and arbitrary powers that the government likes to give ministers and the lack of respect for Parliament when it squirrels things away, it reminds me of a saying that the devil is in the details of any piece of legislation.

The government has put all the details into the regulations and very little of the specifics into the legislation. We rarely get to debate all the facts surrounding a piece of legislation in this House of Commons. We end up debating the shell or the outline of a bill but the regulatory changes, where the real meat and potatoes are, remain the exclusive domain of the minister to introduce at a later date.

In this case, we are appealing to the government to become seized of the issue of the crisis that is looming in the Devils Lake diversion and use whatever arbitrary powers that it has granted this minister to intervene on our behalf.

We are at the eleventh hour. The clock is ticking. July 1 is almost here. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is about to turn on the faucet and flood Lake Winnipeg with a bunch of invasive species and chemicals that we do not want or need. It will be the end of an era for Manitoba tourism and fisheries. It will be the death knell for Lake Winnipeg.

I urge my colleagues to please help us address this issue. I certainly implore the government to use whatever is in its power to help us save Lake Winnipeg.

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10:25 p.m.


John Cummins Conservative Delta—Richmond East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I fully support the comments of the member opposite on the Devils Lake issue. What we have is a government which is prepared to get tough on fishermen in a very arbitrary way, yet refuses to get tough on our neighbour to the south when our watersheds are going to be devastated by environmentally irresponsible actions on the part of the U.S. That has to be troubling for us all. I can assure my friend across the way that he certainly has the support of members of the Conservative caucus on steps that could be taken to address that most important issue.

I would like to get my friend's comments on a couple of items with regard to Bill C-52. The first is that we asked the Library of Parliament if it would investigate whether there was another area where government had used regulations or statutes in the same way as it is doing with Bill C-52. In fact, it was only able to find two other statutes where there were similar provisions. One was with regard to regulating nuclear facilities and the other was airlines. In both of those instances, the industries are governed by public regulatory tribunals and not by secret regulation, so they do not apply.

The Library of Parliament, in essence, was not able to find similar statutes where bureaucrats are allowed to add terms and conditions to a licence that could lead to jail time or forfeiture of fishing equipment and so on. I am wondering if my friend is aware of any.

The second point to which I would like to draw my friend's attention is something that he addressed in his interventions. I found that very intriguing. In the process of developing regulations, under the Statutory Instruments Act, the cabinet at committee is presented with a review of the proposed regulation. The regulation must be examined to ensure that it is authorized by the statute pursuant to which it is to be made; that it does not constitute an unusual or unexpected use of the authority pursuant to which it is to be made; that it does not trespass unduly on existing rights and freedoms, in other words, that it is not in violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms; and that the form and draftsmanship of the proposed regulation are consistent with what is expected.

There is some real scrutiny on any regulations that proceed under the normal process, a process which Bill C-52 intends to ignore.

I wonder if my friend would like to comment on the process involved in the Statutory Instruments Act, as well as the inability of Parliament to find similar situations.

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10:30 p.m.


Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, those are very useful questions. It was helpful to me to learn some of the tests that exist with the creation of regulations. I fully agree that any new regulatory regime should meet those basic standards.

I would be very concerned that Bill C-52 seeks to bypass that methodology, those tests that were put in place for very real and important reasons. This is another example of how we are encouraging the arbitrary authority of unelected individuals instead of meeting the tests of scrutiny, by the scrutiny of regulations committee at least.

I am also very concerned to learn that the bill contemplates vesting this authority in bureaucrats to set conditions of licensing. This is not a matter for unelected officers, especially when penalties are associated with violation of the conditions of these licences. This goes far beyond the ordinary and acceptable scope of any bureaucrat. Frankly, as a member of that bureaucracy, I would not want that authority or that responsibility that comes with it. That should be vested in the legislative branch of government and not the administrative branch of government.

Bill C-52 is riddled with flaws. It is a continuation of a disturbing trend that we have noticed, a motif that we have recognized to be the characteristics of the Liberal government, a disrespect for Parliament and a penchant for vesting ministers with absolute arbitrary authorities. It is a worrisome trend that we should discourage every time we can.

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10:30 p.m.


Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the member for Winnipeg Centre for sharing his time with me.

This is an extremely important issue, not so much the amendments that I will read into the record shortly, but the whole issue of the fisheries across the country, including in my province of British Columbia. What we have seen is the systematic mismanagement of our fisheries which has had huge repercussions on communities throughout British Columbia, up the coast of British Columbia and up the Fraser River as well.

I would like to touch briefly on what Bill C-52 does. My colleague from Winnipeg Centre was very clear about the fact that it is just another sign of the mismanagement by the Liberal government when it found that it did not have the ability to assure statutory compliance with the terms and conditions in the Fisheries Act.

Bill C-52 adds the following new section 10, entitled “Compliance with terms and conditions”:

(1) Every one acting under the authority of a permission referred to in section 4 or of a lease or licence issued under this Act shall comply with its terms and conditions.

(2) For greater certainty, those permissions, leases and licences--including their terms and conditions--are not statutory instruments for the purposes of the Statutory Instruments Act.

As my colleague from Winnipeg Centre mentioned, very clearly this is another side of the mismanagement in the fisheries that we have seen with the Liberal government.

I would like to talk about the fact that this is what we are considering in the House when there are so many other extremely important issues to deal with as a result of the Liberal government's inability to deal with fisheries issues and to take into consideration the impact of fisheries in places like British Columbia and all across the country.

The commercial fishery in British Columbia is responsible for maintaining about 15,000 jobs in communities throughout the province. Revenues across the province were about $358 million in 2002. We are talking about a significant industry in British Columbia, but what have we seen from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans? What kind of effective management have we seen?

I would like to read into the record portions from two reports that recall the mismanagement of the Liberal government with respect to fisheries. The first is the 2004 report of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development. This is what was said:

Overall, we are not satisfied with the progress made by Fisheries and Oceans Canada in responding to the recommendations we made in the three previous audits in 1997, 1999, and 2000. While many stocks are abundant, some Atlantic and Pacific salmon stocks are in trouble. We continued to identify significant gaps in managing risks.

The Department has not finalized the Wild Salmon Policy, which would set out clear objectives and guiding principles. The policy would also bring together biological, economic and social factors--for fisheries and resource management, habitat protection and salmon enhancement.

There are shortcomings in information on salmon stocks and habitat and scientific knowledge on the potential environmental effects of salmon aquaculture and aquatic ecosystems.

There are weaknesses in regulatory approvals, enforcement, and monitoring of salmon aquacultural operations. This includes approving aquaculture site applications, assessing cumulative effects, and monitoring salmon aquaculture operations to prevent harmful destruction of habitat.

There has been inadequate coordination between federal and provincial governments in managing fish habitat, undertaking research, approving aquaculture site applications, and sharing information.

I would like to read into the record comments made by the Pacific Fisheries Resource Conservation Council:

The federal government's capacity to conserve and scientifically manage the Pacific salmon fisheries continues to be eroded.

This was according to the annual report of the Pacific Fisheries Resource Conservation Council. The report notes that Fisheries and Oceans Canada has been focused on dealing with budget cuts when it should be directing its attention toward managing this valuable resource. It questions the government's capacity to do an effective job in areas of enforcement, habitat protection and restoration, salmon enhancement, research and stock assessment. It also calls for the department to open its management to public scrutiny about the effectiveness of its choices.

The issue is we effectively have report after report that condemns the Department of Fisheries and Oceans for its mismanagement, in this case of Pacific salmon stocks. Very clearly the issue of the mismanagement of the fisheries has not been adequately addressed by the government.

We have a couple of paragraphs in Bill C-52 that are, in a sense, the government's initiative on fisheries. At the same time, communities along the coast in British Columbia and in the river areas are being sorely impacted by the mismanagement of the government.

The B.C. NDP caucus, my colleagues, including the member for Nanaimo—Cowichan, the member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley, the member for Burnaby—Douglas and the member for Vancouver East have been standing front and centre on these issues. We have been fighting to ensure that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans plays an active role in fighting to ensure our fisheries can recover from the years of Liberal mismanagement.

I would like to mention two key points in the last few months. First, in mid-December both my colleagues from Burnaby—Douglas and Skeena—Bulkley Valley called for a judicial inquiry into the collapsing sockeye salmon stocks in the B.C. Fraser River.

Of the two million Fraser sockeye that were expected to reach their spawning ground in the spawning period last fall, fewer than 500,000 returned. In a very real sense, what we are seeing is a catastrophic fall in spawning. We anticipated two million Fraser sockeye and instead we saw fewer than 500,000. That is why the members for Burnaby—Douglas and Skeena—Bulkley Valley called for the judicial inquiry to absolutely ensure that we were aware of the fall in the stocks and of the catastrophic implication of Liberal mismanagement in the fisheries.

Another initiative the British Columbia members of the NDP caucus undertook last month was to call for a release of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans report on the results of sea lice tests that were conducted in the Broughton Archipelago. That is a very well known area north of Vancouver Island, an exceedingly beautiful area of British Columbia and of the country.

The sea lice tests that were undertaken on wild salmon in this area were not released prior to the provincial election. British Columbians had the right to have all the information in hand. Instead, to the shame of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, that the information on the impact of that culture on wild salmon in the Broughton Archipelago was not released.

We have some clear issues on which we have stood front and centre, issues that we have raised in the House. We are exceedingly concerned about the mismanagement by the Liberal government of fisheries, particularly the Pacific salmon fisheries in British Columbia. The impact on communities across British Columbia is enormous. When our resources are not effectively managed, it has an impact on communities throughout the coastal region.

What concerns me most about the debate this evening is the issues that are not being brought forward by the Liberal government. Resource allocation is not being addressed. The mismanagement of the fisheries is not being addressed.

British Columbia members of the New Democratic Party caucus as well as our fisheries critic, the member for Sackville--Eastern Shore, will continue to stand in the House and fight to ensure that our resources, our fisheries, are better managed and that we do justice to communities throughout British Columbia.

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10:40 p.m.


Loyola Hearn Conservative St. John's South, NL

Mr. Speaker, I enjoyed listening to the hon. member. I agree with him when he says that the fisheries critic has a great interest in the fishery and has done a lot of work. In fact, he sits with us on the fisheries committee. On many issues he along with others on that committee work closely together for the good of those involved in the fisheries in the country.

We are dealing with the subamendment, although we have got away from that. However, according to the government, the main motion is only a minuscule one, a two-liner that will solve all the problems. We have found it will create a tremendous number of problems in the country.

When we talk about rules and regulations, from the member's experience and involvement in his own region, how many rules and regulations does he see in the fishery that negatively affect the people trying to make a living in that industry?

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10:40 p.m.


Peter Julian NDP Burnaby—New Westminster, BC

Mr. Speaker, there is a whole variety of issues. It is not just the regulation that exists. It is the lack of action, particularly from the Liberal government, that has harmed most extensively the Pacific salmon fishery and the commercial fishery in British Columbia. As the hon. member knows, in many other areas as well we see the dithering of the government refusing to take action even in the midst of very clear indications that it needs to take action.

There was the catastrophic fall in the Fraser River sockeye spawning. Estimated numbers for sockeye salmon spawning last fall indicates to what extent we talk about a virtually catastrophic impact. While we anticipated two million spawning salmon, only 500,000 appeared. Very clearly action needs to be taken. When action is undertaken by the government, it is slow. Unfortunately it is virtually insufficient and there is a great deal of dithering prior to even a decision being made.

In answer to his question, yes, there are issues around regulation. However, in my mind, there are even greater issues around the lack of action that the government takes to address these critical issues, in this case the Pacific salmon fishery and the commercial fishery in British Columbia.

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10:45 p.m.


John Duncan Conservative Vancouver Island North, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to the subamendment to Bill C-52. I have enjoyed the debate in a way that I have not enjoyed some other debates recently. Whenever we start talking about fish, people's emotions very often come into it. Even though we have had some people with a background in the legal fraternity who have become quite involved in the debate tonight, I find it very satisfying to be sitting between two people with a legal background and two away from our fisheries critic from Newfoundland and Labrador. Being from British Columbia, I have a riding with a very strong fisheries component and influence.

This has been a great debate. We have learned quite a bit. One thing we have learned is that the government in this legislation specifically is trying to put a very bad patch on a flat tire. If it succeeds in what it is attempting to do, it only will have a blow out again. This is not the way to create a regime where we ask people to enforce a licence, to fine people or put them in jail on the basis of no statutory authority and we do it by declaring that the words in the bill do not constitute part of the Statutory Instruments Act.

This is the worst kind of an ad hoc emergency, short term, evasive, unprincipled way to approach this issue. Unfortunately, this has become a philosophical way of life for some of the senior management at the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. It exhibits itself in the way they manage the department.

If we go to the crux of the issue, it is all about enforcement of the fishery. How do we enforce the fishery? Presumably we do it through the act and then we do it through regulation. Administratively, we do it through the licence process.

We know the Department of Fisheries and Oceans has been remiss in its enforcement of areas where it has a very clear responsibility and authority. I will only talk about British Columbia because that is what I know the best for the purposes of example.

We had a Fraser River sockeye fishery that was being prosecuted by people, with no enforcement being carried on portions of the river. That was a deliberate decision by some people in the bureaucracy. There was no political will to give it what they really needed, which was police backup because of the fact that it felt threatened. This is all a matter of public record. We know that enforcement did not occur. This contributed in a major way to the collapse of that fishery.

While that very lack of enforcement was happening, we had enforcement officers in Johnson Strait boarding boats and fining them because they did not have the log filled out for that day. This is the kind of lack of appropriate priority setting that we see over and over from the department. This comes from a department which controls virtually every aspect of the livelihood of the commercial sector of the fishery.

That direct control requires parliamentary scrutiny and parliamentary approval if we are going to avoid the pitfalls of having the bureaucracy or junior officials carry out vendettas. It would put recipients of licences at the mercy of some entity that is not palatable. This already happens to some extent and is very problematical. There are no end of things that could be scrutinized in the system.

Recently, a fisherman who had been part of developing a new fishery, what is called an emerging fishery. Because he had been partaking in the experimental end of it, everything on the form that he filled out to indicate that he was eligible for a licence in this new regime of licensing, everything pointed to him being eligible. An employee of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans accepted the fee and it was only several weeks later that the applicant learned that there had been a judgment that the boat did not have a certain kind of licence in a certain timeframe and therefore did not qualify. That was based on the way the form was filled out and not the actuality. The judgment was that the form was controlling everything despite the fact that when the form was accepted, it all looked okay.

Here is an individual who is now not licensed in a fishery he helped develop through no fault of his own. One would assume that there would be a fairness test and an appeal, and that this would be a very easy thing to overcome. It just so happens that an emerging fishery is not eligible for appeal to a tribunal. The rules are not clear that there is any appeal and so presumably it could be ruled either way that there is an appeal or there is not an appeal.

I have certainly made my representations and to date it has been quite a few weeks without a response. In the meantime, time marches on and fishing seasons come and go, so this is probably becoming an academic question. These questions are not academic when somebody's livelihood is at stake. Over and over again, every aspect of fisheries policies, fisheries regulations, and fisheries licensing has everything to do with whether a person is able to make a living or not in the commercial sector.

We must ensure that what we are doing is appropriate and in the long term interests of the fishery, not just to ensure that our commercial harvesters are treated appropriately but to ensure that conservation and every other aspect of the fishery is being considered under a system that is open to scrutiny and has parliamentary oversight when appropriate.

We have had a real problem with the priorities of the fisheries department. We have witnessed the collapse of the Fraser River fishery and this was not the first time for the sockeye runs. We have seen places like Smith Inlet where we have had runs decimated. There is no longer any real attempt to even monitor what is truly going up the rivers and what is happening there. It was a major salmon resource in the mid-coast of British Columbia that for a generation or more has now been largely left to its own devices and abandoned, and it is not doing well at all.

We have seen extinctions of runs with no explanation. We have seen a lack of commitment from this administration on what really gets many people involved in the fishery which is salmon enhancement and our whole approach to habitat improvement and our hatchery system.

We have had over a $4 million cut to that program in British Columbia and Yukon. This is a program that enlists thousands of volunteers. I am not sure what the latest number is but I read that it is in the tens of thousands of people who volunteer their time on the west coast of Canada to do work in this area. A small program that has not risen in cost to the government is now being cut back because of so-called overspending some years ago, making many people very unhappy. There has never been a satisfactory explanation.

We know that the fisheries department is now divided between those who support these expenditures and those who are trying to grab part of that budget for their own because they are so stretched for funds. The sharp pencils in Ottawa are quite happy to let that game play itself out because in the meantime they are controlling the agenda. We have a situation where the public expectation of what the department should be doing and could be doing is quite different from the reality.

What happened in this latest round on the Fraser River is a perfect example. The fisheries office in the Fraser Valley was responsible for much of the enforcement in that area, but it was not happening. The people in the Fraser Valley were not hoodwinked in any way. They knew that the department lost its will, its ability or desire to enforce the rules on the Fraser River, and so they were not under any misunderstanding at all. That is consistent with the sort of elusive and ad hoc, unprincipled approach that the department was taking as to how it conducted business.

I started off by talking about the importance of this whole enforcement regime. The government can change the words. It is only trying to put a patch on a flat tire, but it is also trying to find a way to make its enforcement band-aid even easier from an academic, theoretical standpoint. It all means nothing if one is not prepared to do any of the enforcement.

We had cuts to the number of enforcement people on the west coast and we had a huge move to put enforcement people in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. That was several years ago. We are now at the point where that experiment turned out to be a bad idea. They really frustrated landowners in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba with this overzealous behaviour that rocked generations-old practices, carried out a whole bunch of counterproductive things, and attacked the basic premise that people who own private property had some say over how they were going to cultivate their land and so on.

Now we have the government retrenching those very people who they shipped out, but it is not translating itself into an improvement on enforcement efforts on the coast. We are still not getting the resources. This essentially means that once again what many view as a priority activity of government becomes an activity of government that government sees as non-essential and one that it can easily and largely dispose of, so this is not a happy time.

We have first level fisheries personnel who deeply care about the resource. They involve themselves in the community. They involve themselves with the people who are users of the resource. They provide an interface with the public and they are not governed by a clock. They deeply care about the resource.

We have members of the public in the very same category. I talked about the thousands of people who volunteer. We have school children with a deep appreciation of the wonders of the fisheries resource. They take school days, and go out and see what is going on. We have rural communities with a deep attachment and sometimes this is very much an economic question as well.

We have some of our coastal communities that have become quite dependent on the commercial recreational sector that occurs in the summer time. Those communities are feeling quite vulnerable to the actions of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans as well because if they choose to suddenly cut the activities of the local hatchery, this can have a devastating effect.

We have deep concerns being expressed by all of the communities on northern Vancouver Island within my riding regarding the behaviour of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

This has also been expressed through the aboriginal fishing groups in my riding, sometimes as an association. Sometimes on a personal level I have been approached. It is easier for them to talk to me; I can be the bearer rather than them.

What we have with this bill is a political and bureaucratic situation that is a failure of the public interest. I welcome any questions.

Fisheries ActGovernment Orders

11:05 p.m.


Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, the member for Vancouver Island North has given us a very knowledgeable speech on this subject and on the Bill C-52 subamendment, which I believe is what we are talking about now.

I know that my colleague actually comes from the industry. I often wonder what it would be like if we actually had a minister of fisheries who was in fact a fisherman. What a novel concept that would be. What a refreshing change it would be to have somebody with that personal experience actually running DFO.

I took note of the comments my colleague was making on the subamendment to Bill C-52. He both introduced it and summarized it by saying that it was about enforcement in a primary way. I believe that was his opening remark.

I can share with my colleague that I once built a house for a scientist who worked at the Pacific biological research station at Nanaimo. He was studying groundfish and the aging of groundfish. I asked him why. He said it was so that we know what age is the right time to harvest them and what would be too young and should be thrown back.

I said to him that it was 1985 and he was just then studying the appropriate age of groundfish and what time we should be harvesting them, and I asked where they had been for the last 50 years when we were talking about enforcement. That was just basic science that they were doing; it was elementary level science. As a lay person not in the field, I was shocked to learn that.

My question is about another project. I am a carpenter by trade. Another project I worked on was up in Alice Arm in Kitsault, B.C., where we were building a new molybdenum mine. We built all the houses for that new mine.

We talk about lack of enforcement, but I can personally attest to what it was like the day that mine opened up and the effluent and the tailings started dumping into Alice Arm. We could see the cloud, the plume in the water. As we flew over, we could literally watch that plume of effluent drive all the life out of that very narrow fjord-like inlet to the sea 80 miles down. It literally sterilized Alice Arm. The mine is now closed. I do not think Alice Arm has ever recovered.

I have a question for my colleague. If this is all about enforcement, in his experience where has the enforcement been? Where has the responsibility been over all these years when travesties like the experience at Alice Arm were taking place in his own general region of the country?

Fisheries ActGovernment Orders

11:05 p.m.


John Duncan Conservative Vancouver Island North, BC

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the comments by the member for Winnipeg Centre, but I think he has me confused with another member. I was not a fisherman in my previous life. I think he is confusing me with the member for Delta—Richmond East.

I do come from a resource background. I was a forester. I worked in the woods and with fisheries personnel as a consequence. I lived in coastal communities and overlapped many times at the local level with the commercial and recreational fishing sectors and of course participated in all of that.

The whole question of what we know about our fisheries resource I found very interesting, because indeed, what we do not know about so many biological things is amazing. I have a somewhat biological background. My father had a biological background. One of my brothers is a carpenter, like the member, and the other one is a geneticist. The geneticist deals with biological things too. It is just amazing what we do not know.

One of the things that the biological station in Nanaimo did determine is how long some of these groundfish live. Some of the ages are absolutely incredible, well beyond what anybody comprehended. That affects the rate at which we want to harvest them, because we want to make sure we have a sustainable resource. If these mature fish are 10 years old, maybe one-tenth could be taken on an annual basis, but if they are 50 years old that is a whole different ball game. In some cases, that is what the station staff were finding out.

In terms of the member's environmental question, I think that is an important question. There are several long since abandoned mines in British Columbia. There is one in my constituency, but there are others on the coast and in the province that are continuing to create acid runoff, which is putting heavy metals and other things into the rivers. This has created a situation that has basically sterilized some river systems. The most well known example is at Britannia on the way up to Squamish and Whistler from Vancouver. One can see the bottom of that river course.

Some of them actually would not be all that expensive to fix, but the original mining ventures are long since gone. The federal government is saying that they are not its responsibility and the province is saying the same and nothing happens. I think we need to change that approach. Surely to God if something is killing the fisheries resource there should be some joint federal-provincial way to deal with those sites, especially when we can prove there is a cost effective way to do it.