Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the occasion to rise in the House today to respond to the disallowance resolution tabled by the Standing Joint Committee on Scrutiny of Regulations. I thank the committee for its consideration and its considerable effort in reviewing hundreds of regulations each year and for specifically looking at subsection 36(2) of the Ontario fishery regulations.
Canada's new government values the insight provided by the committee. However, I must join the minister and the Minister of Natural Resources for the Government of Ontario, the Hon. David Ramsay, in not supporting the committee's resolution to revoke subsection 36(2). Our new government has continuously maintained that the regulation as it stands is legally sound, within the authority of the Fisheries Act, and supported by case law.
This position, I add, is fundamentally the same position that was presented by the previous government. It is with a certain degree of consistency that our new government is supporting a position which is more procedural than it is political, but we do agree that bringing further clarity to compliance with licence terms and conditions as a requirement of the Fisheries Act would be important and useful in managing our fisheries.
We are doing that and more through Bill C-45, which the minister tabled recently, but until such time as Bill C-45 is passed into law and the new fisheries act comes into force, we must keep the regulation in place.
Far be it from me to suggest that politics is playing a role in the actions of the opposition members of the committee in pushing for disallowance. However, I believe it is important to step back and view this matter in context.
I understand the concerns expressed by the committee. However, members of the opposition, when they sat on this side of the House, took the same position as our new government. The apparent flip-flop is what makes average Canadians cynical about the political process.
We have a responsibility as parliamentarians to be accountable for our actions. This includes ensuring that Ontario can continue to conserve and protect its fish stocks and manage its fisheries in an effective manner.
Subsection 36(2) of the Ontario fishery regulations is crucial to doing so. It makes compliance with licence conditions, which are a part of the rules that protect the fishery, a requirement.
As the minister mentioned, we are talking about 500 commercial licences and some 1,400 commercial bait fishery licences in the province. The landed valued of Ontario's commercial fishery is somewhere around $50 million a year, contributing between $250 million and $400 million to Ontario's and Canada's economies.
Fishing is important in my riding of Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke. As a gateway to beautiful Algonquin Park, its residents are concerned about what effect disallowance will have on conservation efforts in Algonquin Park and all parks. They fail to see where unrestricted fishing in our parks will benefit anyone, which could be a result of a vote of disallowance.
I am pleased to confirm that the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters is in total support of our new government and the Government of Ontario in the need to maintain conservation measures to protect the resource.
Our fisheries are valuable and valued resources. Fishing licences, with the terms and conditions they carry, are fundamental to protecting and managing them. They set the rules for and limits on fishing activities to preserve these resources for the future so everyone can have a chance to enjoy and benefit from them.
The provisions of the Fisheries Act and its regulations give the minister the authority not only to issue fishing licences but also to place conditions on them. Fishing licences establish everything from the type and quantity of fish that can be taken to the start and close of particular fisheries, where fishing can take place, and the type of fishing gear that may be used.
Requiring licence holders to comply with the terms and conditions of their licence is one of the most fundamental parts of an enforceable fisheries management regime. Revoking subsection 36(2) would leave Ontario in a state of limbo in enforcing these licence conditions. This could result in potentially dire economic and environmental consequences for Ontario's fishing industry and thousands of Canadians who rely upon it.
Let me share part of a recent letter that was copied to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans. It is from the Ontario Minister of Natural Resources to the standing joint committee joint chairs. It reads:
This subsection currently provides Ontario with a suite of adaptable enforcement tools, resulting in an effective deterrent system to ensure the conservation of the resource and proper conduct of the fishery. It also assures us that the deterrent system will be certain, effective, timely and proportional to the severity of the offence.
In the absence of subsection 36(2), we lose the ability to address licence violations, thus imposing unnecessary hardship to fishers for minor offences. In addition, we would also lose the ability to enforce terms and conditions on fishing licences, which would compromise the management of the commercial fishery and jeopardize conservation objectives.
Clearly, the Ontario minister agrees that licence conditions are a key element of proper fisheries management and control in his province. In other words, they are indispensable to protecting and conserving fishery resources.
By applying for and accepting a licence, fishers agree to go about their business in accordance with attached terms and conditions. They know they will be held accountable if they do not. Fortunately, most fishers follow the rules, but let us make no mistake about it, violations do arise. Revocation of subsection 36(2) would be more than an exercise in legislative authority. It would carry very real impacts in terms of enforcement in the Ontario fishery.
Since the year 2000, more than 400 charges have been laid for failure to comply with this subsection, resulting in fines for the offenders, but I should point out, further to the standing joint committee's concerns, that no jail terms have been imposed.
Let me read for members part of another letter, again from the Ontario Minister of Natural Resources, this time to the former Minister of Fisheries and Oceans:
Without this provision, Ontario would literally have its hands tied with respect to the enforcement of the commercial fishery. It is entirely likely that the revocation of subsection 36(2) would result in chaos in the sector and threaten the sustainability of our fisheries resources.
Now consider the same prospect were fisheries governed by eight similar regulations. The standing joint committee has indicated that it would expect these regulations to also be revoked, based on the precedent this House could be setting here today. This would impact the management and conservation of virtually all fisheries in Canada.
Our party and our government accept very seriously our responsibility to the environment. The conservation pledge of the OFAH sums up our position completely:
I give my pledge, as a Canadian, to save and faithfully defend from waste, the natural resources of my Country--its soils and minerals, its air, water, forests, and wildlife.
This pledge of the OFAH is something that members should consider if they feel as strongly as I do when it comes to protecting our environment. Let us make no mistake about it: supporting disallowance of subsection 36(2) of the Ontario fisheries regulations will have an adverse effect on the environment.
As we proceed on this matter, I would like the members of this House to bear two things in mind.
First, by voting against disallowance of subsection 36(2) and returning the report to the standing joint committee, we would not be ignoring this regulatory concern. We would simply be taking a different approach and a more fruitful path for Canada's fisheries and the Canadians who benefit from them.
Second, the changes proposed to the Fisheries Act in Bill C-45 fully address the committee's concern with the regulation in question.
Bill C-45 clarifies that it is a requirement of the act to comply with fishing licence terms and conditions, but unlike a minor amendment bill, which the government would be forced to pursue to fill in the gap created by disallowance, Bill C-45 addresses the committee's issue and provides much more.
It will deliver greater predictability, stability and transparency in the sustainable management of Canada's fisheries. The new fisheries act will require ministers to manage the fishery, taking into account the principles of conservation, habitat protection and greater public input into decision making.
It will open the door to greater collaboration with the provinces, territories and resource users, who will work more closely with government in managing the fishery. It puts into place an effective administrative sanctioning system and brings greater stability and predictability to fishery access and sharing arrangements. It better protects fish habitat and provides a clear and more accountable licensing system.
The new licensing system will be more transparent. The minister will provide a context for all licensing decisions. That means licences will be issued according to the regulations made by the minister, but the minister will have no direct involvement in granting the licences to individuals.
Licensing officers will be the ones issuing licences according to these regulations and, under the new act, licensing officers will have the authority to refuse licences under specified circumstances. They can also attach conditions to the licence for the proper management or control of the fishery as well as the conservation or protection of fish and habitat.
However, under Bill C-45, the possibility of jail time as a penalty for contravening the requirement to comply with licence conditions has been removed.
Stakeholder groups in the provinces and territories have shown strong support for comprehensive changes to the 139 year old Fisheries Act. I do not believe it to be in anyone's interest to delay the speedy debate and approval of Bill C-45. We must move forward on this agenda as expeditiously as possible.
I do not support the standing joint committee's resolution to revoke subsection 36(2) of the Ontario fishery regulations. The better option is to concentrate our efforts on passing Bill C-45. That is why I am asking all members of the House to reject--