Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to take part in this debate. If we look at the bill we see that it is a couple of minuscule clauses and if we were to listen to the governing party we would think that this is very simple, we will ram it through and life will go on.
But life for a lot people involved in the fishing industry will go on quite differently if this bill passes.
I cannot help but remark, in listening to the people who have taken part in the debate so far, that we have two members from the governing party, the minister and one of the members, both of whom are lawyers. They talk about the legal implications and show that they do not understand what it is all about, but they mentioned that in order to understand it one should have one's feet in a pair of fishing boots.
The other member who has spoken, the member for Delta—Richmond East, is a fisherman, so if we are going to take someone's observations on a bill like this, with the implications it might have for people involved in the fishery, I ask, who would we rather take advice from? Two lawyers who never caught a fish in their lives, or a person--I am sorry, the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans caught a trout one time, he told me--who is a full time fisherman who knows the ins and outs and the implications of legislation?
It is also very interesting to know who has been contacting members in recent days expressing concerns about this legislation. It was not members of the committee and not lawyers, but people involved directly in the fishery.
I am going to leave a lot of the technical parts of the bill to the other 17 or so speakers we have coming up after I finish. I want to refer to some of the comments made by the minister because he raised some issues or topics in his speech that certainly need to be discussed in this place.
The minister talks about conservation. He says that without passing this piece of legislation we could have problems with conservation. I hate to wake the minister up, but we have already major problems with conservation. We have problems with conservation all across the country. We have major problems in British Columbia. All we have to do is look at any report coming out on what happened on the Fraser River in recent years, particularly this year. A number of pointed reports talk blatantly about conservation practices or the lack thereof.
We can look at the east coast and the groundfish, which was once so abundant that we could catch it in a basket. In recent years, we have seen towns all around the rural areas crumbling in Newfoundland and Labrador and Nova Scotia, places whose very existence was because of the fishery, crumbling simply because that resource is no longer there, because we did not conserve the resource as we should.
Who is responsible for the fishery in this country? I have asked that question of at least two, maybe three and probably all four ministers I have seen since I have been here. Let us remember that it was only last week, on May 30, that I celebrated my fifth anniversary in the House. I have been here only five years and I have already seen four ministers of fisheries and oceans. One wonders about it. I will not let it put any colour at all on the ministers because I consider them friends of mine. I am sure they are very good people and I get along very well with the present minister.
However, one wonders how much any minister can do when he, or maybe eventually she, will have a year or less in a department as broad as the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. Therefore, a lot of what goes on falls into the hands of bureaucrats. This was one of the problems raised by my colleague: the concern that bureaucrats will now control who has a licence, they will control the terms of these licences and they will control who can be sent to jail for up to two years less a day because of any offence in relation to the regulations we are talking about.
Coming back to the conservation aspect, one of the problems we have in conservation is that we have absolutely no enforcement. The department mouths platitudes about conservation, but in order to conserve we need to have firm and fair regulations, which we can argue we may or may not have, but it is the enforcement of the regulations that is so important.
This is what the minister and the member from Ontario talk about: that we need to have control to be able to enforce the regulations. What about all the other regulations we have that we have not enforced? Why are our stocks at rock bottom? Simply because of the cuts that have been made by the department, the poor decisions that have been made and the loopholes that exist. It goes on and on.
If we are going to talk about conservation because we now have a problem at hand and we are panicking about how to solve it--and I assure the minister that there is a problem, as he will find out as the day progresses--why are we not thinking about the big picture of conservation and about the total fishery in this country?
He also talks about enforcement. I mentioned that. How can we expect to protect the resource if we have no enforcement? People turn a blind eye to what goes on in our salmon rivers. On many other rivers, we have seen such a large cut in the number of protection officers that people can do whatever they want. I guess it is human nature that if we can get away with something, we will do it. If it swims, catch it, and if it flies, shoot it: that is the feeling many people have. They do not worry about conserving, but that is what the department is supposed to do.
Then we have the abuses on the offshore off the Atlantic coast, whereby we send out our boats with solid men and women dedicated to the cause, to the department, whether they be members of the Coast Guard or the Department of Fisheries and Oceans patrol boats. They go out there and find, time after time, foreign boats blatantly abusing our resource by catching fish they are not supposed to catch, using gear they are not supposed to use and fishing where they are not supposed to fish. All our people can do is go aboard, sometimes to be kicked off, and issue citations.
A citation, as I have said over and over, is similar to a warning ticket on the highway, whereby all that can be done is give out a warning ticket, with no fines and no imprisonment. Nothing will happen. The next day the person can speed by the checkpoint again and pick up another warning ticket. Those boats throw their citations overboard, go home, unload and come back to fish again and abuse the resources, and we cannot do a darn thing about it.
Therefore, when we are talking about conservation and protection we had better look very closely at what we are doing when we have powers to do those things. The minister says we need powers in the act to be able to deal with this issue. What about the powers we have that we are not using and have not used over the years?
What about the bill itself? What does it really do? As I say, I will leave the technicalities to my colleagues who will speak after me, but I want to put on the record the section pertaining to the concerns expressed by the Ontario government and the minister from Ontario. What will happen if the regulation is revoked? That was basically the question. Is this fishery in danger? To listen to the minister and the minister from Ontario, if this regulation is revoked, we lose total control of our fishery. Everybody will be out there catching, poaching and whatever, and we will not be able to do a thing to control it. That is the height of nonsense.
The Standing Joint Committee for the Scrutiny of Regulations included in its report a letter from the Minister of Natural Resources from the province of Ontario. It expressed concern about subsection 36(2) of the regulations being revoked and concluded as follows.
In closing, the Committee wishes to briefly address the statement by the Ontario Minister of Natural Resources that:
Terms and conditions [of licences] are currently the only mechanisms by which Ontario can establish allowable quota, areas where fishing can occur, designates who can take fish under a licence, reporting for commercial fishing licences.
To the extent this comment suggests that disallowance of section 36(2) would impair the ability to impose terms and conditions of licences, it does not reflect a clear understanding of the nature of section 36(2).
These are not my words or the words of the member for Delta—Richmond East, who will again elaborate on this. We are not the ones making the regulations and we are not the ones saying this. It has been said by the scrutiny of regulations committee. These are the words of the committee.
The scrutiny of regulations committee is basically saying that the Ontario Minister of Natural Resources does not have a clear understanding of the section and his interpretation is wrong. 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.
Consequently, the concern about not being able to enforce regulations or protect the resource is not valid. The committee makes that quite clear. The committee goes on to say:
In the same letter, the Minister goes so far as to suggest that the disallowance of section 36(2) would “threaten the sustainability of our fisheries resources”.
The committee states:
Whether or not section 36(2) remains in the Regulations, the authority to issue licences and to impose terms and conditions on the licence would remain unimpaired, as would the ability to enforce observance of these terms and conditions. The imposition of a fine or a jail term for breach of a licence condition, as opposed to suspending or cancelling the same licence, has nothing to do with the sustainability of the fishery resource.
While your Committee understands that the federal and provincial Ministers favour the enforcement of terms and conditions of licences through fines and imprisonment rather than licence suspensions or cancellations, the Committee would be remiss in its statutory responsibility if it allowed this policy preference to override the principle that the Executive may not create offences punishable by criminal sanctions without clear authority granted by Parliament. It is the responsibility of the Executive to ask the Houses for that authority.
All the committee is saying is that the authority to issue fines or to bring on imprisonment has to be, of course, in the hands of the minister or the minister's bureaucrats, and that in itself is a very dangerous thing.
Really, the justification that is being used by the minister and the members on that side who have spoken so far certainly does not jibe at all with what the scrutiny of regulations committee members are saying, nor with the reality of the legislation.
Again, we have talked about the conditions around licences. Here we are in this House disputing perhaps what the Standing Joint Committee for the Scrutiny of Regulations is saying, backing up what a minister from Ontario was saying even though the committee says he is off base on his interpretation of the regulations, but we are not at all concerned about other conditions of licences.
I say to the minister, we have across the country a fishery where, in order to participate, we have to be a holder of a valid licence. That licence can only be given by the minister and can only be given to an individual who is fishing whatever resource it might be. That licence cannot be given to a friend, a sister or a brother, or even passed on, as it used to be, to members of one's family without the direction and the okay of the minister. I have no argument with that.
The problem is, of course, that many of the people who are fishing today have a licence, are supposed to be the owner off the boat on which they are fishing and supposed to have control of what they are doing, are there in name only because the fishery has been taken over by people who can afford to buy licences. Instead of the fellow down the road, who fished all his life, being able to walk up and pay his $100 to get a licence, a licence now, depending on what we are fishing, whether it be lobster, shrimp, crab or lucrative resources like that, costs anywhere from $100,000 to over $1 million. The average fisherman certainly cannot afford to buy such licences.
We have a whole new, under the table, set of dealings operating which gives control of the fishery to, first, industry in many cases where we have the owners, the processors, buying boats, buying licences and having some fisherman sign his name as if he were the real owner when he has no ownership and no control because of all kinds of trust agreements under the table.
We want to talk about conditions around licences. These are the issues with which the minister should concern himself because we are placing the control of the fishery into the hands of very few people and we are taking people who earned a living for years from the fishery out of the industry entirely.
Years ago, because of a lack of technology and because of the type of gear we used, many of our fishing crews were made up of several individuals, from a cod trap where there were five or six people because of the size and the weight, in order to be able to haul it, to operating some of our larger boats on the west coast, our seiner being is one.
Technology changed that to some degree but what changed it more than anything else was the change in the fishery. Instead of having all of these people now on the east coast fishing cod, most of them are fishing crab. In order to fish crab, one does not need five or six in his small boat any more. The owner needs himself and somebody to steer the boat, which, quite often, is his wife or somebody from the family, so whole crews are being wiped out and displaced.
Even though they fished all their lives side by side with the enterprise owner, question mark, these people are being told they are no longer equal. Only the enterprise owners can have a core licence to operate and they can go look for a job as they always have with them.
Of course, with the change in fishery there are no longer any jobs. In some cases we have had brothers who fished together all their lives in the same boat, using the same gear and sharing the same expenses but somewhere along the line the boat was licensed in the name of one of them rather than the other. The person who now owns the boat is the enterprise owner and he can get a core licence because he has his own boat and he had it registered. The other person is told that he cannot have a core licence because he does not own an enterprise even though he fished all his life in the same boat with his brother.
I do not envy the minister one bit. I am not saying this in a critical sense to the minister because he inherited this mess but it is getting worse and trying to deal with it is a major chore. However it has to be dealt with because too many people who have lived all their lives depending on the fishery are being pushed aside and the people benefiting from the fishery resource are the ones sitting in a condominium, quite often in Florida, with their feet up on the table, drinking pina coladas and calling back home to see how much crab they caught today and how much money went into their bank account. The crew member goes home with his minuscule cheque wondering if he will get 12 weeks so he can collect unemployment insurance while the owner is enjoying himself.
I am not exaggerating here. I say to the minister, we have a minor problem here, not a major one, that can be dealt with by leaving it alone, but let us deal with the big issues because we have lots of them.