Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to stand in the House today to speak to Bill C-45. I want to acknowledge the very good work that my colleague, the member for Sackville—Eastern Shore, has done on this. Following his lead, I too will be speaking against the bill.
The bill would amend an act that was first proclaimed in 1868. Many who work on the Hill will understand this comment when I say that I work in West Block, which is just a few years older than the act, and we know the terrible state that building is in after 139 years. We, therefore, agree that we need a new Fisheries Act but the devil truly is in the details.
Although I agree with the premise that the Fisheries Act needs amendment to create a modern act that is responsive to the needs of conservation, habitat enhancement, community control and that accommodates the treaty rights of aboriginal peoples in Canada, this bill does not provide those amendments, which is why the NDP cannot support it.
My colleague from Sackville—Eastern Shore has consulted groups from coast to coast to coast on this issue and the overwhelming response has been to oppose this bill. I have consulted with recreational and aboriginal fishers in British Columbia and I would like to share some of their responses with the House today.
Recreational fishing in British Columbia is the largest single fishery in the province. It includes: over 330,000 individuals who purchase saltwater fishing licences; 125 lodges catering to recreational anglers; 500 charter boat operators; and hundreds of businesses and industries that equip and cater to the sportfishing industry, including businesses like the St. Jean's Cannery & Smokehouse in Nanaimo which has created a niche industry canning the salmon caught by recreational anglers.
Coming from the riding of Nanaimo—Cowichan that has a coastline and had a proud tradition of fisheries, I can understand how absolutely important it is, not only to the fishing industry itself, but to all the other spinoff industries that support those fishers. In fact, we actually have a number to quantify that. This means over $600 million in economic activity while catching less than 6% of the annual Pacific salmon harvest and less than 12% of the annual Pacific halibut harvest.
I do not think it is unexpected that such an important fishery would expect some consideration when a wholesale revision of the Fisheries Act is planned. However, sadly, that was not the case.
Bill C-45 does not acknowledge the fishery as a common property resource, nor does it acknowledge the public's right to fish as a key value. Instead, Bill C-45 says that Parliament is committed to maintaining the public character of the management of fisheries and of fish habitat, and that is a distinctly different concept.
The Supreme Court of Canada has confirmed that fishing is a right not a privilege and that the fishery is a common property resource. The premise that the fishery is a common property resource with the public right to fish must be included in any reform of the Fisheries Act. A failure to do so would open the door to greater privatization and the concentration of a public resource.
The Sportfishing Defence Alliance explains it this way:
...we also see an attempt here to usurp the “Right To Fish” held by all Canadians under the Common Law of this land that has existed from time immemorial. The record of this right begins with Roman Emperor Justinian. It was further recognized and affirmed by English King John in the Magna Carta on the fields of Runnymeade in 1215. Since that time there have been many findings by the various Canadian commissions and courts ranging all the way up through the Supreme Court of Canada. ...the majority ruling in Nikal, where Cory J, stated, “It is for the Federal Government to ensure that all users who are entiltled to partake of the salmon harvest have the opportunity to obtain an allotment pursuant to the scheme of priorities set out in Sparrow.” In Comeau's Seafoods, Major J., for the court, stated: “Canada's fisheries are a ‘common property resource’ belonging to all the people of Canada. Under the Fisheries Act it is the Minister's duty to manage, conserve and develop the fishery on behalf of Canadians in the public interest.”
As the NDP's aboriginal affairs critic, I have been coming up against the issue of consultation and how little consultation the government does with groups. In a media release in December 2006, DFO claimed that the new bill stemmed from extensive cross-country consultations and discussions. That is simply not true. Discussions and consultations did not take place across the country, specifically on the new ideas and the changes outlined in Bill C-45.
Rather, Bill C-45 is the outcome of several major public engagement processes on fisheries management and policy that took place over the last several years, including the Pacific new directions and Pearse-McRae report, as well as the aboriginal fisheries strategy and the first nations panel on post-treaty issues.
It is very important to make the distinction that fishermen, commercial fishing groups, aboriginal people and other stakeholders were not consulted directly on the changes proposed in this bill. It is also interesting to note that last fall the provincial and territorial fisheries ministers urged the federal government to table new legislation that recognizes their important role in fisheries management but they also were not consulted on Bill C-45 prior to its release.
All stakeholders, including aboriginal people and fishermen, should have had an opportunity to participate in an extensive consultation process to recommend appropriate changes to a new fisheries act. I know we often talk about consultation in the context of aboriginal rights and I have a couple of papers here that are important to quote from.
In a letter from the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council dated February 12 to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans it talks about the fact that the council was not consulted in any kind of fashion. The letter reads:
Nuu-chah-nulth are also concerned about the timeline that you have set for this initiative given that you have not approached Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations to discuss a proper consultation process.
Later on in the letter it states:
Merely appearing before a Parliamentary Committee with comments on the proposed Fisheries Act is not sufficient to meet the test of full and meaningful consultation and accommodation.
Oftentimes when we are asked what we mean by consultation, I have commented in the House that talk is not consultation and it is not. Simply sitting down and speaking to someone does not constitute consultation. I want to quote what the experts in consultation have outlined what a due consultation process would look like.
A recent report on matrimonial real property, written by Wendy Grant-John, identified the need for full consultation on any amendments to matrimonial property because it would affect aboriginal rights just as any full scale amendment to the Fisheries Act directly affects aboriginal rights.
In a very a deliberative and thoughtful way, Ms. Grant-John and the others who worked with her on this report outlined what a consultation process would look like. I would argue that a consultation process that is suitable for Indian and Northern Affairs would also be suitable for fishery. She outlines the following:
The Department should develop, as soon as possible, specific procedures relating to consultation in order to ensure that future consultation activities can identify and discharge any legal duty to consult while also fulfilling objectives of good governance and public policy by:
1) Ensuring First Nations have relevant information to the issues for decision in a timely manner;
When we are talking about first nations I would argue that we would have any stakeholders involved in fishery also have relevant information to the issues in a timely manner.
Ms. Grant-John continues to state:
2) Providing an opportunity for First Nations to express their concerns and views on potential impacts of the legislative proposal and issues relating to the existence of a duty to consult;
3) Listening to, analyzing and seriously considering the representations and concerns of First Nations in the context of relevant legal and policy principles including their relationship to other constitutional and human rights principles;
4) Ensuring proper analyses by the Department of Justice of section 35 issues relating to any proposed legislative initiative are thoroughly canvassed before, during and after consultations;
5) Seriously considering proposals for mitigating potentially negative impacts on aboriginal and treaty rights or other rights and interests of First Nations and making necessary accommodations by changing the government's proposal;
6) Establishing, in consultation with First Nations, a protocol for the development of legislative proposals.
As members can see from this very thoughtful and lengthy list, consultation is not an ad hoc process. It is a complex process that involves dialogue, that involves taking information and analyzing it, and including those people who are affected in that decision making process.
Consultation also needs to be well thought out and a well communicated plan. As was indicated by the Nuu-chah-nulth council, many people were surprised when Bill C-45, the amendments to the Fisheries Act, was brought forward because their understanding was there would be a process that included some of those key stakeholders.
The other issue is that the government cannot declare previous meetings, which were not specifically focussed on a piece of proposed legislation, as consultation, especially if the people in those meetings were not aware that part of the purpose and intent of those meetings was to develop legislation.
I hardly call it consultation if the people in those meetings did not know the consultation was happening. People were not aware that their involvement in that meeting constituted consultation on this legislation.
Although the piece I read on matrimonial real property is specific to first nations, these considerations should also be in place for consultation with all Canadians on public resources, especially the idea that one cannot declare something was consultation when it happened in the past.
The Assembly of First Nations has examined the bill carefully and has a number of recommendations. I encourage other members to go to its website and look for this paper, “A Scoping of Aboriginal Implications of Renewal of the Fisheries Act 1985”. I will quote one of the priorities for governance issues from that paper because I feel Bill C-45 misses this point completely. It states:
Ensure meaningful references to Aboriginal and treaty rights with linkages to modern treaties, self-government, and the right to manage fisheries
New legislation needs to recognize the special relationship between Canada and First Nations. DFO suggests that language be added to recognize protection of Aboriginal rights and treaties....The purpose of “acknowledging” aboriginal and treaty rights in other legislation seems largely to be to avoid laws being struck down rather than to address Aboriginal and treaty rights. DFO obligations to involve First Nations in fisheries management are more than just good governance practice. The legislation should provide guidance on how regulators and policy makers need to recognize and accommodate Aboriginal and treaty rights and title in management.
As well, self-government is a core First Nations' value that could be supported in a reformed Fisheries Act. Self-government in fisheries may include involvement in decisions on management of First Nation, recreational and commercial fisheries, sharing of fish in a First Nations traditional territory and protection of habitat. First Nations may participate in advisory processes but should have a larger role in decision-making as discussed in the upcoming co-management subsection.
Finally, I will talk about the lack of habitat protection in the bill.
The new bill fails to strengthen conservation and protection measures for fish and fish habitat. There are far too many loopholes in Bill C-45 that would place the fishery and its habitat at risk.
Under the old Fisheries Act, development projects like the Tulsequah Chief mine in British Columbia, which is a large mining project that will impact on the Taku River watershed, were allowed to proceed even though they would have significant impact on fish and fish habitat. Under Bill C-45, these projects would still be given a green light. The new bill simply does not strengthen opportunities to conserve and protect fish and fish habitat, and this must remain our top priority.
I need to mention my own recent experience with DFO and habitat protection. There are some concerns in my community over some contaminated soil being dumped on an industrial site near the Koksilah River by Kelvin Creek, near Duncan.
This is a really important issue in the riding of Nanaimo—Cowichan because the Cowichan River has been designated as a heritage river. The elders from the Cowichan people used to talk about the fact that the Cowichan River was so rich in salmon that people could walk across the backs of the salmon from one side of the river to the other. Sadly, nowadays the river is in trouble. Although certain fish return, they are not nearly in the numbers that they once were. Part of the struggle has been around the protection of the habitat.
We acknowledge the fact that it was a good thing that the river was designated as a heritage river, but the sad reality is it is simply in name only. There are no resources available to look at some of the very serious issues confronting the river. There are many users of the Cowichan River. The first nations people get fish for food and use it for ceremonial purposes. Agricultural lands abut the river. There are important recreational issues on that river. Yet we do not have a good plan in place to look at habitat protection and conservation for fish. I would argue that when we do not protect the river for fish, we do not protect it for any of the other users as well.
I digress slightly from the Koksilah River by Kelvin Creek, but Koksilah is also a fish-bearing stream. An industrial site abuts Kelvin Creek and the Koksilah River. This site allows contaminated soil, which needs an industrial standard, to be trucked from outside the riding and dumped in a gravel pit there.
Everyone will quickly point out that this is a perfectly legal use. It meets the provincial ministry permits. The larger question is this. Is this a suitable site when potential leachate could end up in the Koksilah River and Kelvin Creek? This is a question that nobody has been able to answer.
Part of my responsibility, as the member representing the riding, is to go and find out information and to work with the citizens in the riding who have raised a number of concerns about this site. This is just one example of the need for a stronger habitat protection for fish. I am sure this story is being repeated across the country.
When we started inquiring around who would take some responsibility for this very important salmon bearing stream, we found the proverbial finger pointing where everybody pointed to somebody else who should take responsibility for it. That was very distressing.
When we went to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, commonly referred to as DFO, it indicated that we needed to provide proof that habitat was being destroyed. It took the view that unless there was harm being done, it could not work proactively to protect that fish habitat.
We have something that many of us like to call the precautionary principle. The precautionary principle says that we should think ahead and prove that no harm will be done before we undertake an action that could have some serious impacts and long term consequences.
When we took a look at this, DFO could not do anything until we could demonstrate that the fish habitat was being destroyed. DFO also shares the responsibility with Environment Canada. We got the proverbial very thin wedge that it could do a tiny bit, but somebody else would have to do something else about it.
Although this new act aims to streamline projects that may alter fish habitat by making a distinction between small projects and large scale projects, the aim of these changes is to allow the department to focus on activities with more potential to cause harm. Streamlining projects in a new act could open the door more easily for industries that may pose a risk to fish and fish habitat.
We need to ensure that DFO streamlines projects for the enhancement of fish and fish habitat, not the other way around.
I want to go back again to the situation at Koksilah River and Kelvin Creek. Part of the frustration with this has been there are so many different levels of government involved in this situation. We have regional-municipal, or CVRD. The Cowichan Valley Regional District has responsibility for land use. It does not have in place a soil dumping bylaw.
Then there is the provincial ministry that takes a look at granting logging permits. Some logging is going on next to this river, which could have an impact on fish habitat. The provincial government has responsibility for the transportation and the dumping of soils, which it says meets an industrial standard that is perfectly suitable, but people cannot live on this soil.
Then we have the federal government where Environment Canada is responsible for water quality and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans is responsible for fish habitat.
Out of all those levels of government, there was not a coordinated response to the protection of fish habitat.
The bill now before the House does not provide that kind of assurance to Canadians and to the citizens of Nanaimo—Cowichan that fish habitat would be protected and conserved. I therefore I urge the members of the House to vote against the bill. The government should go back to the drawing board and do those meaningful consultations that will result in a Fisheries Act that protects the resource for future generations.