Mr. Speaker, whatever time I do not use, I will share with my colleague from South Shore—St. Margaret's.
In speaking to Bill C-52, I support fisheries conservation. My riding of Wellington—Halton Hills has the Credit River and the Grand River, two of Ontario's heritage rivers running through it. The Grand River is world famous for its fly fishing. The Grand River Conservation Authority has done much in recent years to rehabilitate the river and ensure its use for future generations.
I also take the opportunity at every chance I get to go up to Algonquin Park and fish. Two summers ago I went down the Nipissing River. I made sure I purchased my Ontario outdoors card first and caught some brook trout in that river. Therefore, I am a big supporter of fisheries conservation.
However, Bill C-52, an act to amend the Fisheries Act, is a short bill hiding a major flaw and a major problem for the government. There is a bit of a historical perspective.
Before 1950, regulations did not come under parliamentary scrutiny. At the time, the size of the government was such that it was not required. However by 1950 the growth of regulation and the growth of government required legislation to be brought in place to ensure that the regulations had some oversight and in 1950 the regulations Act was introduced.
However, a flaw with that was the act did not provide for executive accountability and for ministry accountability back to Parliament for the regulations that were put in place.
Subsequent to that, in 1970 the government introduced the Statutory Instruments Act. This act provided for Parliamentary oversight of the regulations that the ministry or the executive had put in place.
Subsequent to that, in 1978 the statute regulations act was introduce which covered those parts of the consolidated regulations and those regulations enacted prior to 1971, I believe, to also fall under parliamentary oversight.
As I said initially, Parliament has oversight for regulations. However, Bill C-52 circumvents that. This is not about the fish or the fishery. There is a bigger principle at play here. This is about the improper use of delegated powers of the government to create offences that have not been approved by Parliament. Conviction for these offences could result in large fines or even imprisonment.
The problems of the bill are about the reluctance of the government to bring forward new legislation and a new Fisheries Act in this minority Parliament.
The problems of Bill C-52 came as a result of the Standing Joint Committee on the Scrutiny of Regulations that examined regulation 36(2). It did so in its second report which was presented to the House on May 9, and it recommended the revocation of this regulation on the grounds that the regulation created an offence that exceeded the authority found in the Fisheries Act.
The committee found that this regulation violated three principles or three criteria that it had set out.
First, the regulation is not authorized by the terms of the enabling legislation, in this case the Fisheries Act, and it has not complied with any conditions set forth in the legislation.
The second criteria it violated was that this regulation imposed a fine, imprisonment or penalty without express authority of having been provided for in the enabling legislation.
The third criteria it violated was that the regulation amounts to the exercise of substantive legislative power properly the subject of direct parliamentary enactment.
For these three reasons, the committee rejected regulation 36 in its report tabled in the House on May 9.
As a result, the government had to react, and react quickly, to ensure that it had its way. The government, in an attempt to block the revocation of regulation 36, produced Bill C-52.
Before I go into my critique of Bill C-52, let me quote from one more finding in the report presented by the committee on May 9 to this House. It concerns the regulation that the committee recommended be revoked. This is the heart of the matter, both in the regulation that was going to be revoked and in the bill that this government has introduced. The report stated:
To summarize, the purpose of section 36(2) of the Regulations is to make it an offence to contravene the terms and conditions of a licence. In section 78 of the Act, Parliament has provided that only contraventions of the Act and the regulations are to constitute offences. If Parliament had wished contraventions of licence conditions to constitute offences, it could, and no doubt would, have so enacted. Section 36(2) is nothing more than an attempt to treat contraventions of licence conditions, which are administrative requirements, as if they were contraventions of legislative requirements. Regardless of whether this is characterized as creating an offence or not, the requisite clear and explicit enabling authority for such a provision cannot [be] found in the Fisheries Act.
As I mentioned, in response to the committee's finding, this government very quickly introduced Bill C-52, which, I might add, is an extremely short bill that contains only two clauses. The first clause allows the government the authority to enforce compliance with a licence under section 4 of the Fisheries Act. The second part of the bill allows this government to not undergo parliamentary oversight. The second clause in this bill exempts this bill from oversight under the Statutory Instruments Act. This a roundabout way for this government to circumvent parliamentary oversight.
This bill does not address what is fundamentally at heart here, that is, the inadequacies of the Fisheries Act. Indeed, this bill will simply prolong the life of this legislation, the life of a statute that is badly in need of revision. It keeps major reforms out of this minority Parliament.
I have read and heard of concerns from certain people about the revocation of regulation 36 and this bill. In particular, the Ontario Minister of Natural Resources expressed concern about his ability to enforce the sustainable fishery. We too share these concerns. I share these concerns. However, this is not to be addressed in Bill C-52, not in a very poorly crafted bill that circumvents parliamentary oversight by not allowing the Statutory Instruments Act a purview over this amended section of the Fisheries Act.
This government has failed to introduce modern fisheries legislation and this bill is far too vague and far too encompassing and sweeping for us to support. With Bill C-52, the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans is trying to slide through Parliament an amendment to the Fisheries Act that would allow the jailing of fishers who might fail to meet a condition attached to a licence created by the department.
In principle, we are not against toughening penalties or fines for those who are found in violation of fisheries legislation. Indeed, I am not against jail terms for those caught polluting or damaging our fisheries or our environment. However, I believe that this should be done through legislation. It should not be done through regulation. The big principle here is that Parliament should be making these decisions concerning fines, penalties or imprisonment, not the minister through orders in council.
In conclusion, let me note that I find it highly ironic that while this Prime Minister has talked about the democratic deficit it is exactly legislation like Bill C-52 that circumvents the democratic will of Parliament. While many people who are watching this or who will read about this later may find the points nuanced and may find these points to be finer, I do believe that this is at the heart of the problem. That is, the democratic will of Parliament, the democratically elected members in the House, not only should have oversight of the regulations but should have a say in crafting legislation that would enforce penalties, fines and imprisonment. It should not be the minister through regulation and orders in council who does it.
I would like to move a subamendment to the motion. The member for Calgary Centre-North will second my motion. I move:
That the amendment be amended by adding the word “unelected” after the word “permitting” and before the word “public”.