Mr. Speaker, at long last I am able to speak to what has become known as a travesty on the high seas: the Conservative Party's attempt to, in its words, reform the Fisheries Act. Unfortunately it has led to greater concern and more stress and frustration in fishing communities across my riding.
When I am back in Skeena in the northwest of British Columbia talking to the fishing communities that I represent, both first nations and non-first nations, there is an inordinate amount of concern for the future of our communities and for the future of the industry.
When the Conservatives put together this package, true and sincere consultations with the groups that would be most affected by the act were not taken up. When I asked the fishing industry groups, the recreational fishers, the residential fishers, people who are connected to this public resource, what level of consultation they enjoyed, the reply was often “none”. They had no idea what was in the bill until it was presented.
People were stunned to see aspects that were absolutely contrary to the interests of fishing communities and families that depend upon those resources. They were mystified as to how a government could even pretend there were consultations. They realize that these things were done behind closed doors and with the input of very few people whose interest is to further privatize what has to be seen by all members of the House to be a national public resource, one that needs to be managed in the interests of the public good and not some corporate narrow interests of a few.
There are a number of significant things in this bill, a number of parts of the legislation that are contrary to the interests of wild fish stocks, in particular. In the brief time that I have this afternoon, I will go through some of the most significant issues for people in the northwest of British Columbia.
To place into context the importance of the wild fishery to us, it is the absolute foundation, the bedrock of our culture. Communities have relied on a wild fishery for thousands of years. According to historical data, going back more than 12,000 years in the Pacific northwest, the original aboriginal communities in North America relied on a viable wild fishery. It led to some of the strongest and most brilliant examples of human organization. The fish were abundant and returned with some consistency. The proud nations of the Haida, the Haisla, the Taku River Tlingit, the Tsimshian, nations which across the river at the Museum of Civilization are represented to the world in their art, in their culture, in their history, have always relied upon the wild fishery resource to sustain themselves, to maintain their cultures and vivid communities. These communities have been in threat for a long time.
Year in and year out the mismanagement of this resource by the federal and provincial governments has gone unabated, with very few positive reforms. Unfortunately, that legacy has continued today but we are attempting to address that and to reform this deeply flawed bill.
Support for this bill is scant. I have looked around the country for the validators, for those fishing groups and people who are most intimate with the issue and who know the history of the issue. Of the environmental groups that work on ocean issues, I cannot find a single one that is willing to support this bill publicly, that is willing to do anything other than condemn it to the highest heights. Among the industry groups that I work with on the west coast that are seeking consultation, that have sought input, I cannot find any that are able to support this bill either.
One of the essential tenets of the bill is to further privatize a resource that has gone through far too much privatization already. A resource such as salmon that moves across boundaries and across jurisdictions and is international in its scope needs to have oversight. Someone needs to be looking at the long term viability of what it is that our future generations will enjoy.
Unfortunately, we have seen with the DFO that these so-called test fisheries, these quota systems that are meant to run for only a year and then be seen against the traditional use are not tests. This is an ideology that has been pushed forward and presented year in and year out to ensure that those who are catching the fish, those who rely on the fish for their resource are no longer able to even own their own vessels in many cases and certainly not the licences under which they operate.
The minister should have taken the time to look at owner-operator principles. The person who owns the licence should actually operate the licence. The people who are on the water and who rely on this resource and who have a vested interest in ensuring its long term sustainability are those who are actually catching the fish. They should own the licences as opposed to the system that the current Conservative government and the previous Liberal government before it wants. The government seems hell-bent on expressing the idea that licences can be purchased like any stock on the stock market. They can be stacked up and then divvied out. When fishermen talk about delivering a pound of salmon at the dock and only receiving a dollar in actual pay, one starts to wonder about the long term viability.
Clearly, the Conservatives have very little interest in engaging in that conversation. They would rather engage in other conversations aside from those that affect the fishing communities, particularly in British Columbia, but all across this country. They seem interested in engaging in work of other interests in this country rather than the communities that have built our nation, rather than the outlying and port communities that absolutely depend on this resource for survival. The government seems to be infatuated with other interests and engaging in other conversations. It is symbolic that that is what is going on here today also.
When consultation is considered by government, one of the absolute essentials is that the conversation and the consultation actually affects the proposed law. I asked the fishing communities in my region how much input they had on the bill. I asked how supportive of it they could be and what changes they wanted. They were deeply frustrated with the flawed process that had allowed them no access in the first place.
The environmental groups that are considering the long term sustainability of this resource are deeply concerned about the viability of our oceans. I asked them how much input they had. They too expressed frustration and dismay that the government continues to act with belligerence when it comes to this issue, as if all the answers somehow exist within the thin benches of the Conservative caucus as opposed to the wider community, those who are engaged in the issue on a daily basis. One has to wonder why the government would not consult the people who are most interested, most aware and most concerned with the issue. Why would it only consult with a select few?
It lowers the credibility of the legislation before it is even out the door. There is a tension that has to exist between conflicting views, between conflicting visions and opinions as to where our fishery will go. That tension is necessary in the creation of the law as opposed to a more narrow, one-sided approach.
I look at the efforts of the government to promote unsustainable fishing practices and use of our oceans to date, and it is well founded that Canadians lack trust in its ability to take care of the long term interests of our oceans.
No trust can be found for a government that randomly and recklessly adopts the notion that there is no moratorium on tanker traffic on the west coast suddenly. By some sort of arbitrary decision made during a mild conversation the Conservatives must have had over coffee, they will reverse a 35 year tradition in the history of the federal government to oppose, through moratorium, the idea of tanker traffic moving into the central and northern west coasts. Is this some kind of benevolent dictatorship that can decide and not decide when a moratorium exists and when it does not?
When the people of British Columbia are asked whether they seek to maintain this long held practice, they are in overwhelming support of it across political interests. The entire House, all of us, particularly those of us who come from British Columbia, represent people who are deeply disgusted with the notion that what happened in the case of the Exxon Valdez, what happened in the relatively recent B.C. Ferries tragedy could happen again.
The reason the moratorium was put in place in the first instance was to avoid the imminent catastrophe that could happen when a tanker spills. The margin of error is so slight on our coastal communities that a major oil spill hitting our coastal waters would be economically and socially devastating. That is without a doubt. The evidence is clear on this.
Not only is it enough for the Conservative government to willy-nilly deny a moratorium exists, but DFO documents support it. We have had briefings from up and down this department and others claiming that they arbitrarily change the rules as they see fit.
I remember the Minister of Natural Resources said in one of his very first statements upon being made minister that his top priority was to open up drilling in our coastal waters. What a magnificent statement from a minister who had consulted with nobody. I am sure he did not think of the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans. He simply decided that coastal drilling in British Columbia, which 80% of British Columbians in consistent poll after poll oppose, is suddenly at the purview of the federal government to decide. All this is taking place in light of a government that has committed to planning.
For Canadians watching and trying to understand this issue, when we ask what the plan is, oftentimes when we are dealing with land based issues, particularly in British Columbia but in other provinces as well, there is a long tradition of planning the competing interests over those resources. They plan the interests of conservation versus mining, the interests of forestry versus community development. That happens on the land base all the time, and we have great success with that.
One reason we do that is so government can weigh the options and give priorities to the various ideas being presented, while balancing the public interest and allowing the public to inform themselves and through the process communicate and change the course of government and change their immediate environment, their surroundings, their communities.
We do not do this in the oceans when it comes to ocean management and the planning. Whether the government is pushing for a pipeline, or coastal drilling, or more tanker traffic or open net fish farms, which it seems enthusiastically willing to support in regions such as mine, where the absolute and overwhelming opinion of bringing in open net fish farms into the northwest of British Columbia has decidedly been no, another issue that goes across partisan interests, it is not be for political reasons. It must not be for some reason such as the government's attempt to gain more votes.
In the last number of elections in my riding, as the Conservative candidates pop up like gophers promoting unsustainable fishing practices, the public pounds them with a little hammer and asks them how can they be so thick? How can they be so obtuse as to continue to suggest things that the people do not want, when there are other things they do want such as sustainable energy and micro-lending for business enterprises? On the things that we want, the candidates remain so silent. It seems strange to me politically, but ideologically it might make sense.
I remember one of my first meetings here. It took place in the lobby. My esteemed colleague from Sackville—Eastern Shore might remember it. It was a couple of years ago when the Liberals were in power. A minister had been named and we gathered around the table in the government's lobby to discuss issues with department officials. I remember this fondly because I was new to the House and very interested in how this all worked. The dismissiveness of the DFO officials toward elected members of the House was astounding.
Later a ministerial official quietly described to me, when I left the fisheries and oceans committee hearing, that when a new minister came in there was a certain amount of training required by the department. There is a certain amount of indoctrination, letting the minister know how the DFO works because a unique and strange culture exists. There is this fortified mentality that it is the DFO. If on the water fisheries officers are cut, the enforcement officers who are meant to enforce the few rules that we have on our fisheries management, and more positions are moved to Ottawa, that is somehow a good thing. This has been done by the current government and the previous one.
I have not seen any fish counters on the Ottawa River lately. In terms of the productivity of a fishery, comparing the Ottawa River to the west coast, one of the few and most abundant fisheries left in the world, it seems to me that the balance of these positions and the balance of effort from the government should be where the fish are. They should not be where the bureaucrats have easy access to the politicians and to each other. If more of the decisions were being made on the ground in the communities that care about these issues, better decisions would be made.
Instead we see the blinders being slapped on, the policies getting spit out and the communities being left high and dry with a fishery in continued decline and with more boats off the water and lower catch rates.
We can take the recent non-run of the eulachon fish in the northwest of British Columbia. For those not familiar with British Columbian history, there is a grease trail, a traditional trading trail, that runs all through British Columbia. One of the essential commodities traded was eulachon grease. It was absolutely precious and seen as one of the most advantageous things to access, either directly or through trade.
The eulachon do not return any more. These fish represent the foundation for what is to come. They are the indicator species. They show us what is about to happen. There is a total disregard for the collapse of this fish stock because folks in downtown restaurants in Toronto and Vancouver do not eat it. This again shows the arrogance and the lack of insight as to what is really going on in the water, what is really going on with communities.
The Mifflin plan pops out and we lose 75% of our fleet in the northwest of British Columbia. One would think that a 75% decrease in an industry would be a red flag for governments. We would think governments of all stripes, of whatever inclinations and indications, would come forward. If 75% of the oil and gas industry shut down tomorrow, we can bet the Prime Minister would be there front and centre, wondering how to fix things. However, that is not the case in this instance.
Instead, the motivations are shown to be different. We see it manifested in the bills that are presented to us. The corridor concept for pipelines, with no cumulative impact assessment at all, is being suggested as a viable option from the government. The notion of introducing open net fish farms into regions that do not want them is a viable option for the government.
Regarding breaking and running moratoriums, it is almost like the government is running blockades and hoping nobody notices, with these little tests it keeps running. Another ship goes in with no consideration of a moratorium, which survived eight prime ministers. Progressive Conservatives, and that might be part of the problem, and Liberals alike defended the moratorium. They have said that this thing existed. It is in cabinet notes of all stripes.
The government kind of woke up one day in office and said that it would decide what the public policy would be, with no consultation, no consideration and with not a lot of public fanfare. Lord knows, usually when the government announces something, it tells us about it until it is blue in the face. It announces it seven times and re-announce it another seven, just to ensure we heard what little is getting done. However, when it comes to busting up a moratorium and allowing tanker traffic through to the coast, that is another consideration. Maybe that one is done a little quieter because of the interests at play.
When we talk about the stewardship, that is truly what this resource is about. It is about managing the resources for the foreseeable future and beyond. We must act as a generation of which the generations to come will be proud.
We have the most recent experience of the absolute collapse and devastation of the east coast fish stocks and the communities that relied upon them. We have that experience. It is salient. It is real. It is practical. There are members in the House who went through it and are living through it still.
With that experience at hand, we have a government willing and interested in perpetuating a similar scenario and disaster on the west coast. For the life of me and the people of the northwest of British Columbia, we cannot understand it.
Regarding first nations consultation, we had the Haida and Tlingit court case a year ago. It demands in law, as a ruling by the courts, that in any major consideration, the government of a natural resource in which the first nations are implicated has a duty and obligation to consult. Was that done in this case? Were first nations consulted on this new fisheries act, which is incredibly important to the 30% of my region that are first nations? No, not at all.
That seems to me in contrivance to the law. It seems to me that the Supreme Court has told the government explicitly that it must reform its policies because it is based upon our Constitution. Yet the government, for some strange alchemy, has decided that it has to do it another way.
If the government will not stand up against high seas bottom trawling at the international level, if it refuses to promote the types of practices that we need and consider a co-management model, which we are promoting in the northwest of British Columbia, then we demand, we beg, we plead that it adopt some humility, learn from the mistakes of others and allow other voices at the table.