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.