Madam Speaker, one would have thought that members on the government side would have been eager to now stand in their allotted time and defend their bill, but apparently that is not the case. To be quite honest, I can certainly understand why the members opposite do not want to stand to defend this particular bill.
Let us look at the bill. Bill C-52 amends the Fisheries Act to “provide that a breach of a term or condition of a permission” granted under section 4 of the act, “or of a licence or lease” under the act is an offence. This amendment is meant to make it easier for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to enforce the act, so the department says.
The issue here is that Bill C-52 was before this House as Bill C-33 in the third session of the 37th Parliament, and as Bill C-43, again in the 37th Parliament. Both of these bills died on the order paper. In a sense, it does not really take a whole of thought to understand why.
At the introduction of Bill C-52, the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans suggested that the bill comes about because the Senate and House of Commons Standing Joint Committee for the Scrutiny of Regulations tabled a disallowance report, and the government failed to respond to that disallowance report with substantive legislation.
There is a problem there. If we look at the backgrounder document that the government distributed to members of the opposition and others, we will see that it states that this bill adds a clause to the Fisheries Act requiring licence holders to obey conditions of their licence, effectively moving the regulation in question into the act and thereby obtaining permission from Parliament for such a requirement.
That particular phrase rather clouds the issue, because it does not really tell the story of what this bill would do. The government says it would like to have passed the bill in all its splendour this afternoon and alluded to the fact that it is “hurry up” and that if the bill is not passed the Ontario minister will be unable to manage the fishery.
It should be noted today that the scrutiny of regulations committee first advised the Department of Fisheries and Oceans in 2000 that the governing Ontario fisheries regulations were illegal, which means that five years ago the government was advised that these regulations were illegal.
The regulations governing the Fisheries Act and the act itself actually make up quite a good document. It is 137 years old, as some members opposite suggested today, and to be quite honest I think it is still quite a good bill. The bill itself makes very clear what the minister's powers are and it makes very clear what the minister's obligations are when it comes to protecting the resource.
On the offence side, sections 181 through to 184 make clear the procedures that government must follow if it is going to enforce the act, and I think those procedures are laid out in a very clear fashion for everyone to understand. The regulations that flow from that act are scrutinized by the joint committee of the Senate and the House of Commons to ensure that the regulations are in fact consistent with the obligations as set out in this particular act.
Therefore, I do not have a problem with the Fisheries Act and neither does the Senate and House of Commons Standing Joint Committee for the Scrutiny of Regulations, which makes it very clear that within the act itself the government has the authority to manage the fisheries.
If Bill C-52 is not passed today, it does not mean the end of the world, as the Ontario Minister of Natural Resources suggests. It simply means that perhaps a little more work is going to have to be done by the bureaucrats to put in place appropriate regulations to ensure that those regulations are in compliance with the Fisheries Act and meet the demands of the act. That should not be too difficult for government to do. In fact, that should be the obligation.
I would like to now turn the clock back a little. My friend from Winnipeg will probably remember this issue better than most. I am referring back to March 6, 1986, and a speech in the House by the Hon. Ray Hnatyshyn, who was the President of the Privy Council at that time and the minister responsible for regulatory affairs. At that time he introduced in the House the citizens' code of regulatory fairness. He stated that it was a unique initiative based on the principle that Canadians are entitled to know in as much detail as possible exactly how government regulations are to carry out responsibilities. Citizens have a right to know the rules of the game and know that they will be fair.
That is what the citizens' code of regulatory fairness was all about. I will quote from the guiding principle of this regulatory policy. Principle No. 6 notes, “Regulation is legislation and, as such, will be brought more fully under the control of elected government representatives and subjected to more effective review by Parliament”.
Principle No. 7 of the regulatory policy stated that “the public has an important role to play in the development of regulation and the government will increase public access to and participation in the regulatory process while simplifying procedures and restricting legalities to the minimum”.
Is that not interesting? Back in 1986, almost 20 years ago, introduced in the House was a document which in fact I think speaks very clearly about what the government is not doing today and what it should be doing, the document being, of course, this citizens' code of regulatory fairness.
According to the policies and the guiding principles of this piece of legislation from 1986, it required public participation in the regulatory process and input from the public to ensure that the public fully understood the regulatory process that they were to be governed by and guided by, and that they had input. “Anything but” is the case today.
The code's purpose, as Mr. Hnatyshyn stated, was “to provide a high set of standards for ensuring regulatory fair play”. He said, “The code also provides an explicit basis for judging the performance of regulators. In this way, the code is intended to regulate the regulators”.
There is no regulation of the regulators in this particular bill. In fact, what the bill does is give the departmental bureaucrats, who visited upon the country the cod crisis of 1992 and who visited upon fisheries on the west coast the disaster of 2004, the ability to make regulations on the fly without public input and without the scrutiny of the Standing Joint Committee for the Scrutiny of Regulations. It gives them carte blanche to do what they want and to establish regulations as they see fit without any scrutiny whatsoever. For me, that goes beyond the pale.
I do not want to give the minister the power to have bureaucrats create regulatory offences without some safeguards; I am not prepared to simply turn over to fisheries bureaucrats the ability to make regulations governing the fishery without the appropriate scrutiny. I think that is wrong and I think that for this place to allow this to go forward is just outrageous. It is beyond the pale that the government would bring in a bill of this sort.
The citizens' code of regulatory fairness addresses this issue as well in point 6 of the code. It states that “the rules, sanctions, processes and actions of regulatory authorities will be securely founded in law”.
If a bureaucrat can make regulations on the fly, where is the guarantee that those regulations would be securely founded in law? Where is it? Where is the scrutiny to see that in fact the regulations the bureaucrat is putting in place are regulations that were envisioned by this place when the Fisheries Act and its amendments were passed? It is not there.
Point 7 of the code states that “the government will ensure that officials responsible for developing, implementing or enforcing regulations are held accountable for their advice and actions”.
Accountable? When have we ever held officials in the Department of Fisheries and Oceans accountable? Can anybody name one official in the Department of Fisheries and Oceans who was held accountable during the cod collapse on the east coast or during what went on last year on the west coast? The crisis last year was about the fourth we have had since 1992 and nobody has ever been held to account.
In fact, let us look at one of the latest newspaper headlines: “Ottawa pays officials $32-million in bonuses”. There is also a graph showing us that 223 of 237 executives at the fisheries and oceans department received bonuses totalling $1.7 million. Those bonuses went to officials and executives of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans last year when those boys last year cost the economy of British Columbia probably $70 or $80 million, at a modest estimate, and maybe even as much as $150 million, also a modest estimate, because of lost opportunities in the next cycle of the 2004 fishery. In other words, in 2008 the loss to the economy of British Columbia could total $150 million, yet those guys received bonuses this year.
Where is the accountability? The citizens' code of regulatory fairness says that these bureaucrats should be held accountable. I do not see any accountability in the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, none whatsoever. What I do see with Bill C-52 is the transference of this regulation making authority from the minister or from this place to a bureaucrat, without any scrutiny whatsoever, none, zero.
Nobody is standing there saying that this particular licence condition does not meet the demands or the expectations of the act. It simply says that the bureaucrat can put in place a condition and nobody has any right to challenge it.
If the issue is brought to court, the court would simply acknowledge that Parliament put that regulation in place and it gave that bureaucrat the authority to make that particular condition that is attached to the licence and nobody can do anything about it. The court will simply acknowledge that the bureaucrat has the authority and it will do absolutely nothing to protect the fisherman who is hurt.
As I said to my colleague earlier, if a fisherman who is hurt by that particular piece of legislation comes to a member of Parliament, there is essentially nothing that we could do short of trying to obtain some change to the act to rein the authority of the bureaucrat, but nothing else could be done.
Not one member in this place should find any solace in this bill, nor should there be support for it. It is beyond the pale and my wildest imagination why anyone would want to give this authority to the bureaucrats who caused the destruction of the 2004 Fraser River sockeye run or who were directly responsible, in many ways, for failing to serve notice at the very least to government that there was a crisis in the cod fishery on the east coast before it was too late. Why would we want to give these bureaucrats authority to continue to act with licence? I do not know. I just plain do not understand it.
Bill C-52 would make it a criminal offence to break an unpublished secret law written by unaccountable bureaucrats.
Bill C-52 would put no limits on the nature and scope of the terms and conditions that can be imposed on fishermen.
Bill C-52 would put no limits on the penalty, the breach of every secret term or condition that is punishable by imprisonment. The penalty is not tailored to fit the crime.
Bill C-52 would remove the requirements to publish or make public the regulations.
There is no requirement in Bill C-52 that everyone in a fishery should face the same set of licence conditions. There is no requirement that every fisherman would face the same sets of terms and conditions to fish, so that the fishery then could be tailored and there could be different rules for different people.
Regulations under the Fisheries Act make those who write regulations accountable to Parliament as a whole and in particular the scrutiny for regulations committee, as well as the fisheries committee. In Bill C-52 neither the scrutiny for regulations committee nor the fisheries committee would ever see this new form of regulation. This is not a scheme of regulations that was ever intended by the Fisheries Act.
The Fisheries Act provides for open, public and accountable regulations. Bill C-52 would remove that. These amendments would undermine that scheme of open, public accountability that is built into the Fisheries Act. When regulations are created under the Fisheries Act, they are published prior to going into effect so that members of the public can comment on them.
That will not happen with these terms and conditions. When regulations are created under the Fisheries Act, a publicly available regulatory impact statement is a legal requirement. There is no such requirement for a term or condition as proposed under Bill C-52.
Bill C-52 is simply a way for the minister and the bureaucrats to regulate the fishery outside the requirements of the Citizen's Code of Regulatory Fairness. It would substitute the regulation of the fishery through public accountable regulations grounded in law and would substitute instead a scheme of regulations by unaccountable bureaucrats, all done behind closed doors.