Mr. Speaker, I move that the first report of the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans, presented on Thursday, December 6, be concurred in.
First, I want to thank my hon. colleague from the Liberal Party from Newfoundland and Labrador for bringing this motion forward through the Standing Committee of Fisheries and Oceans to the House so we can have a proper analysis and a debate in the initial stages of what is called Bill C-32.
First I will give a little history. Bill C-32 is former Bill C-45 from the last session. Bill C-45 was an attempt by the Conservative government to bring forward massive changes to the Fisheries Act of Canada. The Fisheries Act of Canada is the oldest legislation in the country. It has been around since Confederation, in British Columbia time, since 1871, and in Newfoundland and Labrador time, since 1949. We and many people within the industry from coast to coast to coast and within our inland waters had many objections and concerns to BillC-45.
Through the delays and everything else, the House was prorogued and it came back as Bill C-32.
We said to the government then, and we are saying to it again, that we were willing to work with it. We are offering an olive branch, an open hand, to get the bill to the committee prior to second reading so we then can have the consultations from coast to coast to coast, to ensure that the people whose lives are at stake, environmental groups, first nations, fishing communities large and small, the industry, the provinces, the territories and the federal government, can get together and come up with the proper recommendations, changes and amendments to the bill.
Long after we are gone, this act, or whatever derivative comes out of it, will be left behind. We have to ensure we get it right. There is no sense in rushing this. We will assist the government in getting it to our committee before second reading so we can make the changes, the exact same principle and policy that my colleague from Skeena—Bulkley Valley had asked for with the environment act, Bill C-2, which was fine legislation. This is what we aim to do with the fisheries act.
Recently in a press release, the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans said that all we wanted were NDP amendments. That is not true. We said very clearly that we wanted fishermen to write the bill, not bureaucrats. In 1992-93 one of the world's greatest collapses of a natural resource happened off the coast of Canada and, more specific, off the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador. It cost the Canadian taxpayer over $4 billion to readjust the industry for the east coast, and we have not finished counting yet.
Not one person at DFO was ever held responsible, even though we now know the scientific information from DFO science was manipulated at the highest level and changed. Those are the facts, yet there was not one inquiry, not a public inquiry, not a judicial inquiry, nothing. Now we will trust the same department in one of the most vital areas of our industries in Canada, the fishery?
I remind members that sport fishing alone in our country is over $7.5 billion to our industries. Commercial fishing is between $3 billion to $4 billion. It has sustained first nations people since their entry into the North American continent and ever since European contact as well. Many communities along coastal areas, including the north and our inland waters, were sustained by the fishery.
It is our job to ensure that the number one goal of the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans is the protection of fish and fish habitat. What do we get from the government? Earlier this year, in the minister's province, two vibrant, healthy, fish-bearing lakes, two healthy aquatic lake systems, were being destroyed, to be used as tailing ponds for mining companies. In fact they are becoming cheap waste disposal solutions for the mining companies.
The NDP has nothing against mining. We only want to ensure that it is done to the highest environmental standards. We want to ensure, as other mining companies have, that it has independent, aligned tailing systems so it cannot leach out into water systems. The fisheries department has the authority to protect fish and fish habitat, but it simply has not done it.
After we raised this issue, the department did it again in Nunavut. We found out that two more lakes in Nunavut, which carry various species of fish, were slated for the disposal section of the mining act. The fisheries department allows these mining companies to dump their waste into healthy aquatic systems. Why would the government allow that? Maybe it wants to make it cheaper for the mining companies.
Once the ore is gone, then the fish are gone. If we do it right, the fisheries can be here for our great grandchildren. If we keep destroying the fish habitat, we are not only destroying it for our grandchildren, but we are destroying it for ourselves. That is the long reach we are looking for in this bill.
We also want economic opportunities for fishermen and their families from coast to coast to coast. We want members of Parliament to be able to grab a hook and line and take their children fishing, but in a healthy environment. We want them to have the opportunity to fish. However, a lot of our fish species on the east and west coasts and in the north are being reduced in numbers. In fact, many scientists are saying that the large pelagics on the east coast are down to 90% from what they used to be.
This is all under the watch of the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans and his department. I am not putting the total blame for all the destruction on the current government. For 13 years the Liberals had the watch and before that the Conservatives and back and forth.
We anticipate that in 2008 the runs up the Fraser may be very low. We know what happened in 2004. We are very concerned about the early Stuart run in the parliamentary secretary's area. He knows very well what I am talking about. There are great concerns about the future of salmon stocks on the west coast.
If we have proper and true consultations with fishermen, their families and their communities, including first nations, we could have an act that would be proactive and desired by everybody. We could move it forward. If the government had listened to us in December of last year, we may have had a new act by now. The government insisted that the bill go to committee after second reading. There was only one reason for that. The government knows very well that we cannot make substantive changes to a bill after second reading. Many of the changes that fishermen would have liked to have seen would be ruled out of order in the amendment process. The government knows that.
I remember very clearly when the current Minister of Fisheries and Oceans was in opposition. In February 2002 he said that the problem with DFO bureaucrats was that they sat around with their corporate fish buddies drinking cognac and ignoring the needs of small fishermen. When he became minister, I asked him about that statement. He jokingly said that he did not drink alcohol so he did not have time for cognac, but his people did great work.
A lot of people in the Department of Fisheries and Oceans mean well and do their best under the circumstances. If Canada is to have a brand new Fisheries Act, it should be written by the people who are most affected by fisheries, and that is the fishermen and their families from coast to coast to coast and those in our inland waters, not by politicians or bureaucrats.
One of the problems, besides the environmental concerns that we have expressed, is there will be a lot of downloading to the provinces. I remind the government that the terms of union in British Columbia for 1871 was the federal government had the financial fiduciary responsibility and management of all fisheries in tidal waters.
We see the government slowly but surely downloading the responsibility for our fisheries to the provinces. What happened a few years ago in the great province of Newfoundland and Labrador, the minister's own province? The government of the day cut the rivers keeper program. It was up to the province to hire 20 more people to keep an eye on the rivers for the protection of the wild Atlantic salmon.
In Prince Edward Island, every year around late spring we hear of another massive fish kill on the Tyne River. It is directly related to pesticide runoffs from the farms. The federal government should work with the provinces to have buffer zones near fish bearing lakes and rivers to ensure pesticides do not flow into the water system.
We cannot keep going and killing off massive amounts of fish for other industries. They can cohabit and they could work together, but we need a comprehensive plan that protects fish and fish habitat and not use it as an afterthought.
One DFO official asked me how far I wanted to go to protect fish. I told him his department received $1.6 billion of Canadian tax dollars to do one thing and one thing only, and that was the protection of fish and fish habitat. It should not be an afterthought.
As I tell DFO officials, fishermen are not a nuisance, they are their job and so are fish. That is what we are asking the Government of Canada, through its Department of Fisheries and Oceans, to do.
When the Minister of Natural Resources was in opposition, I remember he questioned, on many times occasions, what the people in the ivory tower at 200 Kent Street were doing for a living. Anywhere between 1,300 to 1,600 work at 200 Kent Street for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
Every morning when I come to work, I walk along the Rideau Canal. I have yet to see a trawler, a seiner, a gill-netter, a lobster pot, a crab pot or recreational fishermen. I never see anybody fishing in the Rideau Canal, yet we have 1,300 to 1,600 people working for the fisheries department in Ottawa. When the Minister of Natural Resources was in opposition, I remember him asking what those people did. I wonder if he ever received an answer on that.
The country requires more habitat officers, more money to science and enforcement and more cooperation between everybody to ensure that fisheries are protected now and in the future. That does not mean downloading federal responsibility to the provinces. We are very concerned about this.
The other issue we are very concerned about is the corporatization of a public resource. We are pleased to see that the government, after saying absolutely the reverse, has inserted the words “common property resource” in Bill C-32. They were not in Bill C-45. We had to push and push to get it in there. However, it is only in the preamble. We would like to see it in the main body of the text to ensure that the fisheries is a common property resource owned by the people of Canada and not the Government of Canada.
It is ironic that today's National Post talks about the Magna Carta. That right was given to us by the Magna Carta. It is the public right to fish and the government must manage the fishery in the public manner to which we should be accustomed, not what happens now.
A public resource being slowly, or whatever way we look at it, privatized makes us ask this. Why does the Jimmy Pattison Group controls most of the salmon and herring stocks on the west coast. How is it that Clearwater control most of the scallop stocks on the east coast? If it is a public resource, how does one entity manage to have control of the vast majority of that public resource?
On trust agreements, again the government is very vague about this in the bill. This is when companies buy up licences and put them in other fishermen's names. Instead of the fishermen becoming independent, they end up working for the company store.
We want to ensure that the owner-operator and fleet separation clauses are intact in the legislation where they cannot have any wiggle room to get around them. If we have that, it would go a long way in protecting the interests of fishermen in the country.
Many times we stand in the House and we thank the fishermen very much. Every morning when I have breakfast I thank the farmers who give us our nutritious food. At the same time we must thank the fishermen. Fishermen risk their lives to give us the opportunity to have nutritious and good, wholesome food. We thank the fishermen for what they do.
It is our parliamentary obligation to ensure that fishermen can maintain their livelihood. Anyone who has been out on a gill netter off Texada Island off the coast of Vancouver Island at 4:30 in the morning and watched the sun come up slowly over the horizon as the fisherman had his second cup of tea while he put his line out has watched God's work at hand.
There is nothing better than to go out at about 3:30 or four o'clock in the morning off the coast of Canso, Nova Scotia with a fisherman to lay his 200 lobster traps in the water. When the job is done at six in the morning and the fisherman comes back, that is a wonderful day.
There are fishermen out there who love to do that work. They love living in their coastal communities. They love being able to earn a living with their own two hands, but consistently, year in and year out, we make it more and more difficult for them to ply their trade. It is simply unacceptable.
What happened in Newfoundland and Labrador after 1992-93 was that over 50,000 people left that province to seek an economic livelihood elsewhere because of the collapse of the fishery. Have we learned anything from that? Absolutely not. Does this act reverse that and ensure that it never happens again? No, it does not.
If the government is so confident that this bill is the way to go, then it should send the bill to committee before second reading. If the government does that, it already has our pledge, and I am sure the government has the pledge of my hon. colleague from Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, that we will constructively work with the government to bring a new modern act to this country. We can do it fairly quickly. In fact, that is what we said almost a year ago. If the Conservatives had listened to us then, we would probably have a new act now.
We are asking the government to work in cooperation with the opposition parties. We do not want to kill this bill, but if forced to, we will. If the government brings it to us after second reading knowing full well that fishermen in their communities cannot make major amendments to it, then we will have no choice but to delay and destroy Bill C-32. That is something we do not want to do.
We want to be proactive. We want to be constructive. We want fishermen and their families to have real input into what will affect their lives for many generations to come.
This is the minimum Parliament should be able to give to fishermen. We are not the fishermen. In fact, at the last count I believe there were only two members of Parliament who were commercial fishermen. One is from the Delta area, and I cannot mention his name of course, and the other is from the Kenora area. They are the only two commercial fishermen in this place.
Guess what happened to the Conservative member from the Delta area when he opposed Bill C-45. The government kicked him off the committee. He was the only commercial fisherman that we had and the longest serving member since 1993. He objected to the bill. He was standing up for his constituents. What did the government do? The government removed him from the committee so his concerns would be silenced, but he is not going to be very silent. The reality is we do not want that to happen to anyone else. We want to make sure that fishermen and their families have an opportunity down the road.
As a first nations friend of mine once said to me, we need to think in the seventh generation principle. We need to understand that what we do today will affect seven generations from now. If we do it right and if we protect the fish and the fish habitat, if we ensure an economic livelihood for fishermen and their families from coast to coast to coast and on our inland waters, then that would be a bill we could all be proud of.
I look forward to further debate on this particular issue and any questions or comments that anyone may have.