Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to address this particular issue again tonight. It is an issue of considerable concern back home. One of the difficulties we have had in British Columbia is the whole notion that somehow or another the management of the fishery was out of our control, that decisions were being made on which people did not have the ability to make proper comment and that decisions being made were simply onerous and at times expensive for the fishermen involved.
Let me give the House an example. Our problem today is with the ability of the government to put conditions on a licence and then to impose sanctions on that condition. The sanctions, as we have suggested, could involve fairly substantial fines, time in jail or the seizure of the vessel and fishing equipment. Those are all significant penalties for breach of a licence condition. The problem with licence conditions is that we fail to provide the proper scrutiny for those regulations.
I just want to walk through the process. The Fisheries Act is the big Kahuna of the management of the fisheries. It is the body of law from which all the other authority derives. It advises the minister of his responsibilities and obligations and so on. It limits the responsibilities the minister has and it defines them very clearly. For example, in section 43 of the Fisheries Act, it states:
The Governor in Council may make regulations for carrying out the purposes and provisions of this Act and in particular, but without restricting the generality of the foregoing, may make regulations--
It then goes on to list a whole host of regulations:
(a) for the proper management and control of the sea-coast and inland fisheries;
(b) respecting the conservation and protection of fish;
(c) respecting the catching, loading, landing, handling, transporting, possession and disposal of fish;
(d) respecting the operation of fishing vessels;
(e) respecting the use of fishing gear and equipment;
The list goes on. It is fairly precise and yet at the same time it is open-ended and it does give the minister a fair amount of latitude to operate.
However, once that is said, in making the regulations that will apply to the fishery, the minister has certain steps to follow. To begin with, he has to provide a committee of cabinet with those proposed regulations which would then be subject to some scrutiny. That scrutiny is fairly well outlined in the Statutory Instruments Act.
For example, in the Statutory Instruments Act it suggests that there must be an examination of the proposed regulations. It states that the regulations must be presented in the usual way in both official languages and so on and then it states:
3.(2) On receipt by the Clerk of the Privy Council...the Clerk of the Privy Council, in consultation with the Deputy Minister of Justice, shall examine the proposed regulation to ensure that
(a) it is authorized by the statute pursuant to which it is to be made;
(b) it does not constitute an unusual or unexpected use of the authority pursuant to which it is to be made;
(c) it does not trespass unduly on existing rights and freedoms and is not, in any case, inconsistent with the purposes and provisions of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Canadian Bill of Rights;
and (d) the form and draftsmanship of the proposed regulation are in accordance with established standards.
It is fairly onerous, if we will, as regards the kinds of oversight that are carried out before that regulation comes into effect.
If the bill is acceptable by cabinet, what happens next is that the bill is gazetted, printed and then comments are invited from the public.
I have an example from October 1, 1998 of regulations amending the fishery general regulations. It lists the regulations. As we go down through the document, we come to a regulatory impact analysis statement. The minister is required to provide this regulatory impact analysis statement. It first describes the regulations and then goes on to suggest what alternatives may be in order. It talks about the benefits and costs of the particular regulations that will be there so that this thing is not just thrown out without those safeguards. It then talks about the consultation that took place, the compliance and enforcement that would be required and that would include the fines. It then gives the contact person in the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
Let me give an example of when we simply have licence conditions attached to a licence.
All of these requirements under the statutory regulations and, in particular, this regulatory impact analysis statement are foregone. They are not part of the process.
For example, on the gillnet fishery on the west coast, gillnetters are required by law to have a revival tank on the vessel. The purpose of the revival tank in the Fraser River fishery, for example, is if any coho are caught the coho, which we are not supposed to capture, are to be put into the revival tank and maintained there until they are fit to be put back in the water and then their survival would be ensured. That is the purpose of the revival tank. That, on the surface, makes sense.
However the government has done this by licence conditions and it really has not looked at the impact of this. These revival tanks cost somewhat better than $1,000 for the average tank. For a fisherman who last year only fished 39 hours and maybe only made $3,000 or $4,000 with his licence, $1,000 is a lot of money. The worst part of it is that fishermen are required to have that revival tank on their vessel in July and August when there are no coho in the river.
We have a case in British Columbia now where a fisherman was charged for not having a revival tank on his vessel in July simply out of spite. The bureaucrats were upset with this fellow because he had been protesting some of the actions of the department and was not satisfied with it so the bureaucrats used this section. They told the fisherman that because he did not have his revival tank in operation they were going to take him to court and march him through the process. They told him that under the terms and conditions of the licence he had to have the tank in operation whether it was needed or not therefore he would have to pay.
That is the kind of outrageous authority that I do not think we should be giving these bureaucrats. I do not think that is what is called for and I do not think it is what Canadians want or expect.
I think the Ontario minister and, unfortunately, the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters were in receipt of communications from the federal minister about this particular bill. The minister put the fear of God into not only the Ontario minister but the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters and all but told them that if these regulations were not in place and the committee's disallowance report went ahead, the government would not be able to manage the fishery and it would to be over. It would have to shut the fishery down because it would be impossible to manage without being able to attach conditions to a licence. The government said that in the absence of licence conditions the commercial fleet would be unmanageable, it would not be able to control the species taken, the amount taken, the gear used, the time for fishing and the location of fishing.
In fact, the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters said, “otherwise the protection currently in place through regulation for the $7 billion a year sport fishing industry will be unable to address the species of fish taken, the amount taken, the type of gear used and the timeframe and location of that activity”.
Unfortunately, that is not the case. For example, the Ontario fishing regulations talks about restrictions. No. 16 states:
No person shall engage in angling within 25 m of a cage in which fish are held for culture or a pound net.
No. 17(2) states:
A person who is angling from a boat may use two lines in the waters of Lake Erie, except in Rondeau Bay and the Inner Bay of Long Point Bay.
The Ontario minister is under the impression that the fishery cannot be managed without licence conditions. Well they do it in the regulations in Ontario already. That is just one example.
In No. 17(5) it states:
A person who is angling by trailing lures or baits behind a fishing vessel that is in constant forward motion created by muscle, motor or sail power may use two lines in the following waters:
(a) the waters of the St. Marys River west of 83°45'W. in Division 17; and
(b) the waters of Division 23, excluding
It goes on to list some exclusions.
In No. 18(1) it states:
--no person shall engage in angling through the ice with more than two lines.
In No. 18(3) it states:
No person shall engage in angling through the ice with more than one line in the waters set out in the table to this subsection.
The table is extensive. They are all doing things in the regulations which the minister in Ontario tells us that if Bill C-52 is not passed, they will not be able to do. Well they are doing it. It is just that these guys do not want to be bothered with open government and accountability.
The bureaucrats do not want to answer for the licence conditions that they put forward. Somehow they think it is okay for bureaucrats to put in place licence conditions which can result in imprisonment, large fines or the seizure of fishing vessels or fishing lodges if one is a sports fisherman, and I find that to be particularly reprehensible.
I responded to the Ontario minister of fisheries in a letter on July 8 in response to letter he sent to our fisheries critic on June 7. My friend, the parliamentary secretary for natural resources, read a good part of the Ontario minister's letter into the record. My letter read:
With respect, your response indicates that your office may not understand the objections of the Committee. The objection is not whether your Department’s objective is wise from a policy perspective. Its sole concern must be whether s. 36(2) of the Ontario Fishing Regulations is authorized by the Fisheries Act.
That of course is the issue. I also told the Ontario minister in my letter:
Furthermore, you seek to have Parliament amend the Fisheries Act to give your Department the ability to launch such criminal proceedings against fishermen who might breach a term or condition established by your officials.
I went on to say that the scrutiny of regulations committee has already refused to endorse such a course of action. On April 14, 2004 it warned:
Our acknowledgement that the amendments...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 would impose a legal duty to comply with the terms and conditions of a license, 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 a requirement imposed by a public official in the exercise of administrative power, such as a term or condition of licence, could be thought undesirable as a matter of legislative policy.
I do not know of anyone on this side of the House who does not subscribe to that point of view. It is highly inappropriate for someone to end up in jail because he or she was not in compliance with a regulation that was put in place by a fisheries bureaucrat as opposed to a regulation which was authorized by this place.
The fisheries minister in Ontario is simply asking Parliament for an authority that it has never granted to departmental officials. It is worth underscoring that this authority that is being asked for is one that simply has not been allowed in other places. As I said earlier, the Library of Parliament could find only two instances where regulatory schemes or conditions to a licence would be sanctioned by someone other than Parliament and without parliamentary scrutiny. They were in the airline industry and in the nuclear industry, but there are public regulatory bodies that are overseeing those industries, and in fact, there is full public disclosure.
The parliamentary secretary was suggesting that parliamentary scrutiny would still be available, but section 10(2) contained in clause 1 of Bill C-52 makes it very clear that the regulations referenced in section 10(1) will not be subject to parliamentary scrutiny. That is a deep concern.
I suggested to the minister in Ontario that he has two options available to protect the fishery in Ontario. He could continue to impose terms and conditions on a licence and employ licence sanctions as an effective means of censure. In other words, he could withdraw the licence for a day or two days, or simply suspend the licence if that is his wish. That course certainly would be available to him, or he could develop and seek passage of regulations to replace existing licence conditions.
Certainly that is the route I would prefer to see, regulations to replace these existing licence conditions. We have this public process in place to oversee those regulations, to get public input and to ensure that not just the special interest groups are heard, and those special interest groups may simply be the commercial fishing industry or the sport fishing industry or some such other body, but to ensure that the public at large has the ability to respond. That is important.
Quite often, as my friends down the way have been suggesting, on these fisheries issues the public at large has a very real interest in protecting the fishery because of the historical and cultural significance that maintaining a sustainable fisheries has.
Although the bill may be very small and does not quite fill a page, it is of huge significance. It is one that we certainly should not be supporting.