House of Commons Hansard #159 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was fishery.

Topics

Information CommissionerRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Peter Milliken

Pursuant to section 38 of the Access to Information Act, I have the honour to table the report of the Information Commissioner for the year ending March 31, 2007.

Pursuant to Standing Order 108(3)(h), this document is deemed to have been permanently referred to the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics.

Government Response to PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 36(8) I have the honour to table, in both official languages, the government's response to six petitions.

Interparliamentary DelegationsRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

Gerald Keddy Conservative South Shore—St. Margaret's, NS

Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Standing Order 34(1) I have the honour to present to the House, in both official languages, the report of the annual visit by the co-chairs of the Canada-Japan Inter-Parliamentary Group, held in Tokyo, Hiroshima and Miyajima, Japan, from March 10-16, 2007.

Public AccountsCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

Shawn Murphy Liberal Charlottetown, PE

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the 15th report of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts on Chapter 5 of the November 2006 report of the Auditor General of Canada, “Relocating Members of the Canadian Forces, RCMP, and Federal Public Service”; the 16th report on the 2005-06 departmental performance report and the 2006-07 report on plans and priorities of the Office of the Auditor General of Canada; and the 17th report on the main estimates, 2007-08.

In addition, pursuant to Standing Order 109, the committee requests that the government table a comprehensive response to the 15th and 16th reports.

Fisheries and OceansCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

Gerald Keddy Conservative South Shore—St. Margaret's, NS

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the fifth report of the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans on the main estimates for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2008.

Natural Health ProductsPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

May 29th, 2007 / 10:05 a.m.

Conservative

Colin Mayes Conservative Okanagan—Shuswap, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise to present a petition from my constituents of Okanagan—Shuswap. The petitioners are calling on Parliament to provide Canadians with greater access to natural health products by removing the goods and services tax on them and enacting Bill C-404, An Act to amend the Excise Tax Act.

Human TraffickingPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

Joy Smith Conservative Kildonan—St. Paul, MB

Mr. Speaker, this morning it is my honour to present hundreds of names on two petitions from people who are calling on the government to continue its good work to combat the trafficking of persons worldwide. This is a crime that is growing in Canada and organizations throughout our nation are amalgamating to combat this horrendous crime against humanity.

Income TrustsPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I present this income trust broken promise petition on behalf of Mr. David Sands of Mississauga, Ontario, who remembers the Prime Minister boasting about his apparent commitment to accountability when he said that the greatest fraud is “a promise not kept”. The petitioners remind the Prime Minister that he promised never to tax income trusts, but he recklessly broke that promise by imposing a 31.5% punitive tax, which permanently wiped out over $25 billion of hard-earned retirement savings of over two million Canadians, particularly seniors.

The petitioners therefore call upon the Conservative minority government, first, to admit that the decision to tax income trusts was based on flawed methodology and incorrect assumptions, second, to apologize to those who were unfairly harmed by this broken promise, and finally, to repeal the punitive 31.5% tax on income trusts.

Old Age Security ActPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow NDP Trinity—Spadina, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is my honour to table petitions from many seniors across the greater Toronto area. These seniors believe that the unification of seniors with their families in Canada through immigration is a core aspect of forming strong, healthy and vibrant families and communities in Canada and that newcomer seniors currently suffer unfairly from the 10 year residency requirement under Canada's income security programs.

They say that Canada's old age security, guaranteed income supplement and social assistance programs are age, capacity, and needs based benefit programs, not income security plans based on individual contributions. Therefore, the petitioners call upon the Government of Canada to amend the Old Age Security Act regulations and policies to eliminate the 10 year residency requirement for the OAS and guaranteed income supplement.

Canadian Wheat BoardPetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

Merv Tweed Conservative Brandon—Souris, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to present a petition on behalf of some of my constituents. The petitioners urge the Minister of Agriculture to allow farmers to determine their future in regard to the Canadian Wheat Board.

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre Saskatchewan

Conservative

Tom Lukiwski ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform

Mr. Speaker, I ask that all questions be allowed to stand.

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

Is that agreed?

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:10 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

The House resumed from February 23 consideration of the motion that Bill C-45, An Act respecting the sustainable development of Canada's seacoast and inland fisheries, be read the second time and referred to a committee, and of the amendment.

Fisheries Act, 2007Government Orders

10:10 a.m.

Liberal

Robert Thibault Liberal West Nova, NS

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to discuss Bill C-45. This is a very ambitious bill designed to replace the current Fisheries Act, which has undergone some changes but is more than 136 years old. There is general agreement that the current legislation is flawed and must be amended. However, there are problems associated with amending this sort of legislation.

People in the fishing industry will often say that they do not like the legislation as it stands, but that they can survive nonetheless. They have an industry and are getting by. If this legislation is replaced, it must be replaced with a better bill that will improve the fishery for families, fishers and coastal communities.

This bill contains several provisions to that end, but it also has some weaknesses. I am finding resistance and fear in the fishing communities in my riding and elsewhere. People are asking me to vote against this bill. I think this is unfortunate, because with a few amendments, the bill could be very good for the fishing industry and could bring stability.

But the government is refusing to make those amendments. We are being asked to adopt the bill at second reading in order to introduce the necessary amendments, but we know that they will not be in order. They would be now, but they will not be after second reading, in committee. I think this is unfortunate.

Now, the minister controls the wording of the bill. I believe he should hold consultations on the bill's wording in coastal communities, in fishing communities, with the groups concerned, and make amendments. They are not major amendments. The bill the minister is introducing does not have to be rejected. With minor changes, it would be an excellent bill.

The minister could do that. According to the motion introduced by the Liberal fisheries critic, the minister could make the amendments that have been introduced. I therefore encourage him to do so.

However, what we have here and what we are going to discuss is the bill in its current form. Again, I do not think this is a bad deal. I think it has some weaknesses. I participated, as many others did, in the Atlantic fisheries policy review, a wide-ranging session of consultations with the industry, communities and the provinces, and we came to the acceptance of a document. We accepted the proposals of the review and I see pretty well all of them within this bill.

As for where I have problems with the bill, I am going to talk about two areas. Other colleagues will talk about other areas. I am going to talk about two areas that are problematic. They are not easy to resolve. Now that he has the text of the act, I would encourage the minister to consult, based on the text he received from the communities, on the modifications that would improve that act and that he consider bringing them forward to Parliament, as the committee will not be able to do it at second reading.

One problem is the question of licence ownership. It has been stated by the courts in decisions that a licence is not a property. It is a permit. It is not property. That is understood. It has been understood in jurisprudence. However, in the evolution of our fisheries it has become an asset. It has value. It is often the pension plan of the family participating in that fishery. When the family leaves the fishery, it transfers the right to exercise that licence for a consideration of capital, of money, and that forms the pension plan for that family.

Now the proposed act states directly that the licence is not transferrable. The minister has said in the media, and he probably will say it again in the House, that his intent is that it continue as it was in the past and that people be permitted to transfer or sell their interest, to sell their right to apply for that annual permit. I believe he is sincere in that desire.

What worries me is what a judge will say in 5, 15 or 20 years when he is presented with a case wherein people are objecting to a transfer of a licence. He will be presented with a case and with an act which specifically states that the licence is not transferrable. If an organization, a petitioner to the court, wants a licence to cease existing on the retirement of a fisherman because it thinks cute little crabs should be swimming around the bottom of the ocean forever and should not be harvested, what then would a judge say in that instance? I believe there is some work to be done there.

The other area that I want to discuss is the question of the tribunals. Currently in the act if there is an offence or allegations of an offence under the act, the choice of the department is to charge the fisherman or fisher person or company and take them to court. It is a long, arduous and expensive process that clogs Canadian courts. This proposed act wants to bring back the way it was a while back and which had been successfully challenged in court, that is, the administrative sanctions. It would bring them back in the form of a tribunal, so that rather than going to court, sanctions could be imposed by the department with agreement of the offender or after a trial before the tribunal.

That is all good. I think that is excellent. What is lacking is a method of appeal. I hear concerns in fishing communities that the people on these tribunals are going to be named by the government of the day and are going to be political hacks. I do not have a problem with the government of the day naming the people on the tribunal. As a government is replaced, people will be named by the new government.

What I am concerned about is that the people on the tribunal have the ability and ethical values to do their job properly, that is, that they are able to do it and that they do it properly. The only way we can ensure that is if their decisions can be appealed to a higher instance. If their decisions cannot be appealed, then they stand, whether the decisions are good or bad. Rather than properly exercising their judicial or quasi-judicial responsibilities, their master remains the person who appointed them, the minister. As long as they make the minister and the deputy minister happy, they will continue to be reappointed. I believe there should be an appeal process. It would ensure that their job is done with integrity and transparency.

I want to return to the licensing and give an example of a good principle poorly applied and its negative impact. I want to give an example of the ministerial order given by the minister a few weeks ago with respect to trust agreements.

Trust agreements exist in my part of the world in two areas. They exist in the groundfish industry and the lobster industry.

The minister has stated that it is his intention to legitimize the existing process and permit vertical integration within the groundfish industry. I applaud him for that. That is the direction I was suggesting. It is the direction in which we have been going. I think that is excellent.

In the lobster industry there are 1,000 licences in Digby County, Yarmouth County, Shelburne County and in part of my colleague's riding across the way, South Shore, in St. Margaret's.

Twenty or 30 years ago the cost of getting involved in that industry would have been $20,000 to $100,000. A young person who wanted to enter that fishery would use the old backing system. He would see a lobster broker or buyer and the lobster buyer would sign at the bank or lend the young person $15,000 or $20,000. The young person would have to find another $10,000 and then he would be in. By a gentleman's agreement the harvester would sell his product to that buyer. That buyer would have security of supply. The young person starting in the industry would have a reasonable source of capital. Over time, times were very good in that industry.

The Marshall decision created the government buying lobster licences and other licences which quickly inflated the prices. All of a sudden, with the combination of the Marshall decision implementation and the economic benefits of that industry, licences hit $200,000, $300,000, $400,000, $500,000, $600,000 up to $800,000. The vessel and the gear would cost another $300,000 to $600,000.

The gentleman's agreement did not work any more. The person who was going to shell out or guarantee up to $1 million had to have some security. He needed two things. As a broker he needed security of supply; he needed lobster. He was not going to spend hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars marketing lobster if he could not be guaranteed supply. The other thing is he needed to be sure that if he lent $1 million to somebody that he would get it back.

The lawyers worked behind the scenes and they found ways around the policy and they came to the trust agreement. DFO policy continues to state that the licence must be held by an individual. They did the beneficial use or trust agreements. They were able to integrate in that way. In the beginning it worked fine, but with time there was movement by a few companies toward accumulation of a disproportionate share of the licences. It put fear in the community that no longer would it be an independently held industry contributing its maximum to the economy, creating riches for a lot of people.

There is another type of trust agreement. Of 1,000 licences my estimation would be that there are a couple of hundred in corporate trusts and probably 300 in individual and family trusts.

A lobster fisherman wants to turn over his assets to his son or daughter but it is $1 million and that is his pension plan. He is worried because he has to protect himself in case it does not work out, so he creates a trust and he turns the shares over bit by bit to the second generation and gets his pension. As people retire, a father or mother might want to buy licences in the market for two or three of their children. They will create trusts for those purposes. Those are not seen in the community as being dangerous. They are not seen as undermining the independence of the industry.

The minister, based on the good principle that the independence of the fishery has to be protected, said that only the banks would be able to mortgage and that within seven years all the other corporate trusts would have to be dissolved. The principle is good but what happened with the implementation of that is that the other 300 what I call reasonable trusts got caught in that trap. The average fisherman who was preparing to retire saw his licence value decrease from $600,000 to $300,000 overnight. About $600 million disappeared in capital value of fishing families, people preparing for retirement, in western Nova Scotia.

I have written to the minister asking him to reconsider. I understand there is a question of extending the sellout period or the dissolving period of those trusts to 17 years.

I would ask the minister to go further. I would ask him to look at the underlying causes that created those trusts. How do we change our policies in a way that would promote reasonable economic development of the fishery and maintain as much as possible the independent nature of the fishery? There are four points that I continually raise.

The first is the elimination of the capital gains tax. I congratulate the government for having done that. The government went further with this year's budget than it did with last year's budget and it came to what was in our Liberal policy platform. That was the responsible action to take and I thank the government for doing that.

The second point is access to capital. For an independent fishery to exist, the individual has to be able to compete with anybody else who would be trying to integrate into that fishery.

I should point out that what scares me under the tribunal system is the tribunal could decide who could and could not be a fisherman. That is risky. A fisherman should be a person who can acquire a licence or be entrusted with a licence and leave the wharf. It should be decided like that. It should evolve naturally and normally as it always has. A fisherman needs access to capital. He needs to be able to compete for it.

Then there is the brokerage sector. The brokerage sector, or the lobster buyers as we know them, need security of supply. They need to know they will be able to buy lobster in the future. They should have a reasonable way of competing with everybody else who is trying to do the same. That maximizes the value of lobster. It maximizes the revenue to the fisherman. It maximizes the return to the country and to the community.

I suggest that the licences be under a financial instrument. Because a licence is not property, it is difficult to call it a mortgage so I call it a financial instrument. We should let the banks enter into a financial instrument, or whatever the proper term would be, with the fisherman, so if he does not make repayment, the bank can get the licence, force its sale, and recover that way. The courts have found that to be okay and it is under appeal now.

I would suggest that we go further and let lobster buyers and the marketing industry get into those types of instruments. Then they would not have to do a trust. It would also cost them a lot less money. They would have more financial security as long as the person whose name the licence is in could buy out of the obligation in a reasonable manner as a person would on a mortgage on any other business or real property. That would help a lot.

Families or lobster fishermen should be permitted to create companies and put their licences under companies. Partnerships should be permitted. However, holding more than one lobster licence within a corporation or any individual or corporate entity having shares or interests in more than one of these corporations should not be permitted. Any one of those corporations or any fisherman should not be permitted to have licences in more than one lobster fishery area. We see that now in areas where they do very well. Fishermen use the capital to compete with larger vessels in other fisheries in their off season. That has a huge risk.

Existing trusts could be grandfathered. They should not be stale dated. If ever the fisherman sold his assets of the company holding the trusts, he could not sell those trusts with them. The fisherman could not sell one company to another. Any time those licences were moved, they would have to go under the new rules. I think that the market would level off.

People holding 20 or 30 licences in trust would have $20 million or $30 million tied up and they could not use that asset at the bank. They could not because of their trust agreements, their counter-policy with the department; with the signature on an order, the minister could dissolve the licence so it would have no value at the bank. The person could not use it to negotiate working capital in his corporation, but if the person sold the licences to the captains, if he got a financial instrument with the captains who owned the licences now, with an agreement that they sell their lobster to him at market value, they could buy out the person anytime, but the person would have a reasonable security of supply. The person could go to the bank freed up of the $20 million or $30 million obligation and as he negotiated his working capital, he could tell the bank what he expected in the amount of product he would be selling on the market in the next five years based on those things. Suddenly that business plan makes sense.

That broker has the ability to market Canadian product in the Japanese, oriental and European markets. The independence of the fishery is maintained and there is competition to buy that product from the fisherman maximizing in value.

Those four points, and there can be variations, would take away the underlying circumstances that have forced these trusts. These trusts were not some diabolical plan of people to take over the lobster fishery. If we talked to the people who are the beneficial owners of these trust agreements, they would tell us that they are not efficient at harvesting. The captains would tell us that it is not the most efficient way. The most efficient way is for the captain to own and operate his vessel. He will take care of things. He will fish when the conditions are right. He will take decisions that are appropriate for the safety of his crew and he will bring in the product.

People get involved in these trusts to have that security of supply. Lobster brokers need one thing. They need lobster. That is what they do very well.

As a young man growing up in Comeauville and fishing in the spring, I remember when there were two buyers who would come to Comeauville wharf. Essentially they were selling to two brokers in the U.S. The buyers would buy the lobster at the cheapest price possible. The price would be fixed in the spring and fixed in the fall and they would sell the lobster at a quarter a pound profit on the American market. The broker would make whatever money there was in marketing it on the American side and our fishermen lived in poverty.

Twenty or 30 years ago there started to be competition on the brokerage side. All of a sudden people were paying 15¢ to 20¢ more per pound. There were large fluctuations during the season. Fishermen themselves were brokering, developing lobster holding ponds and the lobster fishermen have done very well. They have very good family revenues. Their children are being well educated. They are contributing greatly to the economy. It is important that we protect that.

I hope the minister will give my reflections some consideration in protecting the retirement assets of these families as they approach the time to leave the fishery, as well as protecting the future of the fishery and the economy of western Nova Scotia.

Fisheries Act, 2007Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

St. John's South—Mount Pearl Newfoundland & Labrador

Conservative

Loyola Hearn ConservativeMinister of Fisheries and Oceans

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for his remarks about the bill. I believe he and his colleagues are starting to learn that even though there may be certain things in the bill with which they do not agree or with which they have concerns, and I appreciate that because it has always been that way and that is why we developed the legislation, he has admitted that there is a lot of good in the bill.

In every fishing province, the ministers and the governments involved have said to get on with it, get this bill to committee so we can get into the nuts and bolts and make the changes.

I want to refer quickly to a couple of things the hon. member mentioned. He talked about his concerns about the tribunal and no recourse to tribunal decisions. There is recourse. If a decision is made that will negatively affect somebody, there is the Federal Court. The main reason the tribunal was put in place was to have an arm's length, independent group that would take the politics out of who gets the licence and who does not. I am sure the hon. member would agree with me that too often in the past we saw games played along those lines.

In relation to the word “transfer”, I fully appreciate his concern. However, there is no change at all from the old act, none whatsoever. Transfer is just a term of practice. We cancel a licence and reissue it to somebody else, because the person receiving the licence has to be somebody who qualifies. He has to be a core fisherman. We just cannot transfer a licence on a whim to somebody who is not connected. That is the problem in the fishery, where people are trying to get other people out of it so that those who remain can make a living. The wording in the new bill in clause 30(1) is the same as the fishing regulations in the old act. The word “practice”, to practice itself on change, but if there is wording that can give the member more security, absolutely. It is not crucial that it has to be written like that if it is not clear.

On the other issues he talked about in relation to trust agreements and so on, we are aware of that. We have had discussions with groups. Some I have sympathy with, some I do not. As the member knows, people took advantage of that over the years for personal gain. People involved in the fishery want to benefit from it. They do not want people who are not necessarily connected raking in profits when they should be going to those on the ground. There are things that can be done, but these are done in regulations. They have nothing to do with the act, so--

Fisheries Act, 2007Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

NDP

The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

Order, please. The minister has had three minutes. We need to give the member some time to respond.

Fisheries Act, 2007Government Orders

10:30 a.m.

Liberal

Robert Thibault Liberal West Nova, NS

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the points made but part of my fear is that a true tribunal decides who is and who is not a fisherman, and that definition of what a core fisherman is.

I remember growing up in Comeauville and it was the same at every wharf where the local fishermen would decide by intimidation who could integrate the fishery and who could not, and then we sort of opened that up.

I remember a gentleman moving to western Nova Scotia from New Zealand. There was no way he would be encouraged to get in the fishery and no way that he would ever be defined as a core fisherman. Nobody would give him his first job but the guy had gumption. He bought the oldest boat he could find and got a licence before they were expensive. Bit by bit he learned to fish and within 15 or 20 years he was heading up the organization. He was representing those fishermen at that wharf.

A fisherman becomes a fisherman by leaving the dock at the helm of a vessel, baiting a hook and catching a fish. That makes him a fisherman. It is not by some definition nor by a judgment of a tribunal or by decisions by another group as to who is a fisherman or that the person must be the grandson of a fisherman to be a fisherman.

Things change and evolve but those types of directions and those types of claustrophobic things make me nervous.

I know a young man who started fishing this year, his first year as a captain in Comeauville, out of Meteghan, with his own rig. His father was not a fisherman nor was his grandfather, but he got the courage to try it. He got fishing under a trust agreement the first year, the first year that he was able to and the first year he could get out of the wharf. Now he is a fisherman. He has bought a rig and he is fishing. I hope he will do very well. I want to encourage young people to have that same opportunity.

Fisheries Act, 2007Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow NDP Trinity—Spadina, ON

Mr. Speaker, the Conservatives and Liberals say that they are tough on crime and yet here they are allowing corporate polluters who commit serious environmental crimes to get off easy, allowing them to have alternative measures agreements rather than guilty pleas and criminal records.

Corporate offenders who put toxic substances into water, which destroys fish habitats, should face stiff fines or even jail time if they are convicted. Canada needs tougher legislation to protect fish habitat and our lakes, rivers and oceans. The fishing industry needs clear standards that are applied equally to every polluter.

We need to protect our coastlines and our aquatic ecosystems. The biological integrity of the Great Lakes is already under stress by the invasive species and climate change.

Why is the Liberal Party not opposing this terrible Bill C-45, the new fisheries act that declares our water and our environment open season for corporate polluters? Where is the Liberal leader who claims that environmental integrity and protection are supremely important? Why is the Liberal Party supporting this bill?

Fisheries Act, 2007Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

Liberal

Robert Thibault Liberal West Nova, NS

Mr. Speaker, the member has made the assumption that the Liberal Party is supporting this bill. I would point out that one of the problems with presenting a bill like this, and it has been done in the past, is that if we make the environmentalists all happy, the fishermen cannot leave the dock. To make the fishermen 100% happy, it is a disaster environmentally, so it is tough. We need to find a balance.

The tribunal process has some good elements in it. If we look on the environmental side of it or on the fisheries side, depending on the severity of the offence, there is a severity of the sanctions and we can choose to go to criminal areas. Plus, it does not override any other act. It does not override the Canadian Environmental Protection Act or all the other conditions. We need to take those things into consideration.

We do not want to bog down our courts and our governments in endless court cases if we can settle and give the punitive penalties a lot quicker and stop the negative actions a lot quicker.

Fisheries Act, 2007Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

Liberal

Paul Szabo Liberal Mississauga South, ON

Mr. Speaker, the current Fisheries Act is some 138 years old and I think it has been about 35 or 36 years since it was amended. There has been a substantial amount of correspondence from provincial jurisdictions on this matter and I believe there is support for the review and update of the Fisheries Act.

However, it has been such a long time since there have been amendments to this act and there are so many issues, I am a little concerned. Would the member know why this bill was not referred to committee to hear the substantive concerns that people have about the legislation tabled at first reading and to have that input prior to second reading?

Fisheries Act, 2007Government Orders

10:35 a.m.

Liberal

Robert Thibault Liberal West Nova, NS

Mr. Speaker, I think the government had choices and one choice would have been to refer the bill after first reading to the committee. There are also reasonable arguments as to why the government would not do that.

However, there are interim positions. One is that once members have the text of the bill, either before or after it has been presented in the House, we could consult based on that text. If the text were sent to the committee for study it could consult with the Canadian public and make recommendations to the minister for changes prior to the introduction of the bill. It could have been done by the department itself, by the minister or by the provinces. There are a thousand ways it could be done.

It is a shame that there were no consultations on the text prior to the bill being introduced in the House. We know that at second reading the necessary substantive changes cannot be made to certain parts of the bill.

What we have in the communities is a lot of anxiety. People do not understand the bill and they are not sure of what certain wording would mean and whether the bill is good or bad. Therefore, constituents are asking us to not support the bill. They suggest that, while the act is bad now, they can live with it. They say that at present they have an industry but with this bill they may not.

Fisheries Act, 2007Government Orders

10:40 a.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer NDP Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, I rise today on behalf of our federal party with sort of mixed feelings. The reality is that it is always good to talk about the fisheries policy of Canada. The unfortunate part is that we need to take a little history test before we go into the context of the bill, the future of the bill and what we believe the bill means for Canadian fishermen and their families across the country.

The bill was tabled in the House of Commons for first reading on December 13, 2006. It was heralded as a bill that would modernize the fishery. It is 138 years old and it needs to be modernized. I agree with the department and I agree with the government that any bill that old needs to be looked at again and needs to be modernized.

However, we are not fishermen. We are politicians. One would think that something this important to fishermen and their families across the country would have had their valuable input into the bill prior to its tabling.

The government said, on many occasions, that this bill was brought to the House of Commons based on extensive consultations but that is simply not true.

What the consultations were on were specific regions of the country and the policies of those regions, for example, the Atlantic policy review and the west coast Fraser River review. Areas of the country where there were certain specific problems were dealt with in a consultative form in terms of various policies. It was those policies from across the country that were brought to bureaucrats and, thus, they came up with the bill that was introduced on December 13, 2006.

I would remind my Liberal colleagues that this is similar to a bill that was tried to be introduced in the mid-nineties but there was such pressure by the then Conservative Party, the Reformers at that time, that the bill was dropped, died on the order paper and did not see the light of day until last December.

Based on the minister's own comments about consultation, I asked for a list of all the people who were consulted on the bill prior to its tabling on December 13, 2006. I am still waiting for the list.

Therefore, I called fishermen, their organizations and provinces across the country and I asked them one simple question: “Were you consulted on the new fisheries act prior to its tabling on December 13 for your input?” I have spoken to aboriginal groups, to the provinces and to various fishing groups right across the country.

At the last Maritime Fishermen's Union convention in Moncton, the Minister of Fisheries stood and told everybody in the crowd that this bill was based on extensive consultation. I spoke after the minister and, with the minister in the audience, I asked the people in the audience to raise their hands if they were consulted on the new fisheries act prior to its tabling. Not one person in that room put up a hand.

If we are not going to consult with the fishermen on something that is that important in their lives then right away we have a problem.

The government, of course, has said that we should get it to second reading and then we can have consultations after the fact. The danger of that, and why we support the Liberal hoist amendment, is that after second reading there are certain clauses and amendments that cannot be brought forward. They will be ruled out of order.

The government talks about the fact that the Fisheries Act maintains the publicness of the fishery. However, I would remind the government of the 1997 Supreme Court decision in Comeau's Sea Foods Ltd. v. Canada where the Supreme Court unanimously stated that the fisheries was a common property resource going back to the Magna Carta days. The fish and the resources are owned by the Canadian people, not the government. There is no reference at all in the bill to the Supreme Court decision of 1997. In fact, the only thing the bill says is that Parliament is committed to maintaining the public character of the management of fish and fish habitat. Those are two different things. Any corporate lawyer can tell us that as well.

In fact, Chris Harvey, a QC lawyer from British Columbia, said that this bill was the greatest expropriation of a public resource in the history of Canada. I did not say that. That was said by a very well-qualified lawyer who understands the constitutional aspects of fish law in this country.

I also remind the Conservative Party of Canada that there is only one commercial fisherman who is a member of Parliament, and that is the member for Delta—Richmond East. Naturally one would assume that individual would have some knowledge of the commercial fishery.

This individual who cannot be named is a Conservative member, has been here since 1993, has been on the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans since 1993, and voiced his concerns about this report quite loudly. Because of his objections, the Conservative Party of Canada removed him from the committee.

If the Conservatives are so proud of this act but say they understand there are problems with it that can be changed in committee, then why would they remove the only commercial fisherman in the House of Commons from the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans? Why would they do that? It is because they do not like the idea of dissent within the ranks.

The reality is that the member for Delta—Richmond East, who I have differences of opinion with obviously being that he is a Conservative and I am a New Democrat, is right in his objections to this bill. He was removed from the committee because of his objections.

I have travelled the country and spoken to many fishermen and their organizations. They have very serious objections to the method of this bill. I have also spoken to many environmental groups. I have held press conferences with environmental groups across the country. This bill does little to protect the integrity of fish and fish habitat. We see the direction the government is going in terms of what it is doing in the way of protection of fish habitat.

Let us look at Trout Pond in central Newfoundland, a lake that had five species of fish. What did the government allow the province to do under schedule 2 of the Mining Act? It allowed that healthy lake to become a tailings pond for a mining company. Instead of telling the mining company to keep its tailing pond separate from the water system, it allowed this lake to be destroyed, with the intention of course that it would restore something else so that there is no so-called net loss of fish and fish habitat. We have yet to see that in this country.

If we look at the bill very carefully, it says the government must take into account certain aspects of habitat management. If we turn over a couple of pages it says the governor in council may do something completely different.

Let us look at the bill. On page 22 clause 48 says very clearly, and I love this, “No person shall kill fish by any means other than fishing”. It seems fairly straightforward. If we turn over the page, we see that it says the governor in council may authorize “the killing of fish by means other than fishing”.

What is the government trying to tell us? It says, “You can only kill fish by methods of fishing, but don't worry, the governor in council can override the department, the minister, the government, Parliament and committees and say you can kill fish by other means”, which means pollution and destroying fish habitat. For anyone in this country to say DFO has done a good job maintaining the habitat of our fish stocks is simply out to lunch.

I remind Parliament and those who may be listening, the Conservatives were in power in 1992 when the greatest collapse of a natural resource happened just off our east coast shores and that was the northern cod. Over $4 billion have been spent readjusting the east coast fishery and not one person at DFO or in government was ever held accountable. Even though the Hutchings and late Ransom Myers report said very clearly in the late 1990s that there was manipulation of their scientific reports within the department, not one person was ever held accountable for that act.

It cost $4 billion tax dollars. There was the readjustment of many people, who had to move away from the great province of Newfoundland and Labrador to central and western Canada. One would think somebody would have the honour to stand and say the government screwed up, but no one has. Now this same department and the same Conservatives are saying, “Trust us, we know what we are doing. Just get it to a committee after second reading and we will fix the problems that have been addressed”.

I reiterate one more time that there are certain amendments and certain clauses that cannot be passed after second reading. This is why we have offered the government the olive branch prior to Christmas and again in January. The olive branch was offered again with the hoist amendment to allow this bill to come to committee prior to the vote at second reading, so that we can have consultations with fishermen, the provinces and aboriginal groups and come up with an act that definitely works for the majority of fishermen and people across the country.

I have been on the fisheries committee now since 1997. With the removal of the member for Delta—Richmond East, I am now the longest serving member on that committee. I am very proud to be on that committee working with members of other parties. We tabled well over 27 reports I believe and almost 23 of them have been unanimous.

If the Conservatives, the Liberals, the Bloc and the NDP agree time and time again on various fishing reports throughout this country, that shows that the committee process works. It shows that the recommendations can be dealt with within committee and the committee can deal with proper evidence and analysis, so we can come up with the recommendations that will help government.

We want to help the minister come up with a new act, but if this goes to committee after second reading, we simply will not be able to do it and thus will have no choice but to defeat the bill any way that we can. We would love to be able to work with the department and the government prior to that to put in the amendments that definitely work.

We suspect that the intention of the government is what has been going on for a long time and that is the corporatization of the public resource. I remind the House that just recently in committee Larry Murray, the deputy minister of Fisheries and Oceans, rightfully said that the debate in this country is going to have to be about the future of the fishery. What he is basically saying is, do we retain it as a common property resource or do we go more to an ITQ system which means individual transferable quotas?

Two countries have recently moved toward that system: New Zealand and Iceland. Those are smaller countries with different fishing areas than we have, but they went from a common property resource to a more private managed resource. Both of them say they have had success with those systems although many people had to get out of the industry. It made other people very wealthy and there is still dissension within those countries on that type of system. I do not fear debate on an ITQ system. We need to have an open, honest debate and dialogue across the country, not slip it through the back door as we have been saying over the years.

The Supreme Court said in 1997 that the fisheries is a common property resource owned by the people of Canada. If that is the case, why does the Jim Pattison Group control most of the wild salmon stocks on the west coast? Why does it control most of the herring stocks on the west coast? Why is it that the Barry Group controls most of the redfish stocks on the east coast? How is it that the Clearwater company managed to get just about all the scallop stocks on the east coast?

Why is that just the other day the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, along with the minister of fisheries in the province of Nova Scotia, allocated a 10 year allocation for clams on a particular beach in the Annapolis Valley? It is restricted now. Only this one company has access to those clams for a 10 year period. Everybody else, out the door. If it is a common property resource, how does the government consistently give a fisheries resource to private hands?

We see that happening over and over again, and this bill will just entrench that. We will not be able to change the direction of that bill after second reading. The government knows it and we know it. We have had it on legal advice from the Library of Parliament, and from the lawyers who said very clearly that certain amendments cannot and will not be accepted after second reading. That is not the way to conduct open and transparent government, and open and transparent processes.

We have asked consistently that the bill be brought to fishermen and their families for active consultation. Let us bring in the amendments and we can make the bill actually work. As my colleague from West Nova said, there are some good aspects in the bill. Just on a percentage basis, I would accept 40% of the bill right now having studied it very carefully.

However, we have concerns with other aspects of the bill, namely, the relationship between the minister and the governor in council in terms of fish habitat, the fishery management orders and how allocations are done.

The government is now talking about 15 year allocations. It is saying that a licence is a privilege and not a right. If that is the case, then how does someone take something that is a privilege to a bank to get a loan for something that may be a 15 year allocation? It is going to be very difficult to do that.

I have spoken with members of the Canadian Bankers Association and they have looked at this. They say that without sound collateral and something tangible in their hands, they simply will not loan the money that these fishermen need. That is a different topic related to fishery loan boards with the provinces and it is something that can be discussed at a later date.

These are some of the major problems with the bill. The thing is that we cannot say, as the minister or the government state, that a bill was brought to the House of Commons based on wide and active consultation when that simply is not true. That is simply unacceptable.

We know that the minister comes from Newfoundland. He has worked in the fishing areas for most of his younger life, as did the previous minister of fisheries. We respect them for what they did while working in those small communities.

The Minister of Fisheries and Oceans should know more than anybody else about the plight of fishermen in his own province. Over 50,000 people have had to leave the outports of Newfoundland and Labrador to find work elsewhere because of the collapse of a common property, the northern cod.

We now see on the Northumberland Strait between Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick and Cape Breton Island that many lobster fishermen are having a difficult time meeting their catches this year, although catches are up in other areas.

We know about the problem with trust agreements. I must give credit to the government that recently it came out with an agenda on how to deal with those trust agreements separate from the bill. I say to the minister right now that I am willing to work with him on that specific issue. The minister is correct that the last thing we need in this country are slipper skippers.

If the bill were to pass the way it is now without putting in the strong Canadian content that we want it to have in terms of the public access and public right to the fishery, there would be nothing stopping John Risely of the Clearwater Group from selling his entire operation to foreign interests. What we would have down the road is what is now a common property resource owned and controlled by foreigners. That is what scares the hell out of fishermen and their families.

I look at the plight of the great people of Canso, Nova Scotia. My hon. colleague from Cape Breton—Canso knows the area extremely well. Here is a community that has been fishing for over 400 years and had fish processed in the town of Canso. What happened this year? Nothing. What happened to the people of those areas? They are gone or they will leave. Hopefully, they will try to find something else. Hopefully, they will retire with some dignity.

This is the plight of fishing communities in this country when the fish are turned over to the corporations that now are looking at China and other areas for processing of their fish. We know that pickerel from Lake Winnipeg is caught on the shores of Gimli, Manitoba. The corporations take that fish and freeze it, and send it to China, process it, freeze it again, send it back, and sell it in the Safeway stores in Winnipeg. That is apparently cheaper than processing it right there in Transcona. The package says “Product of Canada”, “Made in China”. The fish was caught in Lake Winnipeg and sold in Winnipeg. We are talking here about exporting our jobs and also the environmental aspect of that.

In conclusion, I want to say to the government that it has missed a terrific opportunity to work with the opposition, to work with the committee in order to ascertain a proper, brand new, modern fisheries act that would meet the needs of fishermen in the communities from coast to coast to coast and address the issues of our first nations people.

This is why we ask one more time for the government to delay the proceedings of this bill, bring it before the committee, so that we can have those true consultations that the fishermen and their families have asked for. We can then come up with a modern bill, reach an agreement in the House of Commons, and have something of which we can be very proud.

Fisheries Act, 2007Government Orders

11 a.m.

Pitt Meadows—Maple Ridge—Mission B.C.

Conservative

Randy Kamp ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans

Mr. Speaker, I know my colleague is very interested in fisheries issues and makes an important contribution to the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans.

I have many questions for him, but I probably only have time for a couple.

He said that the Supreme Court of Canada had indicated that fisheries resources were a common property resource in Canada. In fact, we agree completely with that fundamental principle. We think the wording in the bill and the public character of the management of the fishery supports this fundamental principle.

Whether that language or any other language is in the bill, the law of the land is clear that it is a common property resource. Could the member point out for me anywhere in the bill where it contradicts that fundamental principle of it being a common property resource?

My second question is this. The member has crossed the country, holding poorly attended press conferences and talking to people here and there. In my opinion, he has been spreading misinformation from time to time about what is in the bill. He simply continues to complain about things, about the lack of consultation and so on, which I will address in a few moments. He talks about things that are not to his liking in terms of wording or things that are not in the bill.

Could the member be more explicit on what changes he would like to make to the bill? He said that he had talked to fishermen. Could he tell us what they are saying in terms of specifics, what they would like to see in the bill and which of those things he knows for sure could not be amended at committee?

Fisheries Act, 2007Government Orders

11 a.m.

NDP

Peter Stoffer NDP Sackville—Eastern Shore, NS

Mr. Speaker, I will start off by asking the parliamentary secretary to put in the entire text of the Supreme Court decision in the whereas section of the bill. Take out the part where it states that Parliament is committed to maintaining the public character and replace that with the common property resource. We will see if that is acceptable after second reading. I think he will find out it is not. If it were, we should put it in right now.

Many sports fishermen on the west coast have expressed serious concerns about clauses 43 to 46. The parliamentary secretary knows clearly that Mr. Bill Otway and others have stated this.

What I would remove is the 15 year allocation comments. I would also remove the aspect of the governor in council authorizing the killing of fish by other means. These are things that we would remove.

As well, the word “may” appears well over 100 times. I would take the word “may” out and put in the word “must” or “shall” in many of the circumstances.

Because of time permitting, I do not have all day unfortunately to go back and forth with the hon. parliamentary secretary. By the way, he represents his party well in our committee, although I fundamentally could not disagree with him more.

If the parliamentary secretary is so confident that it is a good bill, he should bring it to the committee now, before second reading, so we can put in those amendments and not have to worry about what may or may not be acceptable after second reading.