Mr. Speaker, I would like to inform you that I will be sharing my time with the human dynamo, the member of Parliament for Yukon.
I have served on the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans for a number of years and I was the chair of that committee for a number of years. I must say that some of the most interesting times that I spent in the House of Commons were those years that I served on that particular committee.
Sometimes it was heavy, hot and heated in the committee because it was during a time of change when the Canadian Coast Guard went from Transport Canada to DFO. It was also the time when many of the port authorities were set up. People inherently resist change, but this made it one of the most interesting periods of the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans for some years.
I am also very proud of the role that my party played at that time in setting up the port authorities that members are talking about today. Previous to harbour authorities, harbour repair was based more on which side of government a particular MP sat. That fact determined whether or not his or her harbour would be repaired.
I know that in my particular riding of Egmont, and if anyone looks at the map, they will see the importance of the fishing industry to my riding. Fishing is probably the most important industry in the province or in my riding. The 11 or 12 harbours there, now with the addition of the Lennox Island First Nation harbour, received almost no repairs for over 10 years.
The story I like to quote, when I speak with fishermen, is when the chairman of the fisherman's group in Howards Cove sent a letter to the minister of the day, with a copy to me, along with pictures of himself and his fellow fishermen standing in the basin of his harbour on a sand dune. The caption asked to please dredge the harbour so that the fishermen could go fishing in the spring.
I went to the minister of the day, who is now the Lieutenant-Governor of the great province of Newfoundland and Labrador, and showed him the pictures. We had a meeting. He did come up with the dollars to do the dredging and I give him credit for that. Knowing his sense of humour, which he still retains to this day, he said that now I owe him a big favour.
At that time the minister was trying to increase the carapace size of lobsters. He wanted fishermen to leave bigger lobsters in the ocean to propagate and grow larger. The minister said that I now had to support him in increasing the carapace size of lobsters to two feet between the eyes. Anyone who knows John Crosbie would know exactly what he was referring to there.
In 1993, when Brian Tobin was the minister of the day, we had to address the great problem that was coming in small craft harbours and the lack of dollars that were allocated, and the way they were allocated to the Atlantic provinces and probably to the whole country, whether it was recreational harbours or active working harbours.
The previous Liberal government implemented the concept of fishermen taking control in managing the infrastructure of the harbours that they used every day, and to priorize what had to be done in the long term. It was up to us as politicians to furnish the dollars that could address those problems.
It was astronomical the amount of dollars that were required to bring many of the harbours up to scratch. I know in Judes Point in Tignish Shore, which is the largest small craft harbour in Atlantic Canada, the harbour was basically returning to the earth. It was a very dangerous proposition for the fishermen of Judes Point to go out through the run at Tignish Run. They were taking their lives in their hands twice a day going in and coming out with the timbers that were leaning into the run.
Miminegash and Northport, two other very large small craft harbours in my riding, had not seen any kind of repairs, almost no minimum maintenance, for quite some time.
This happened quite often. In those years it was the position of the Atlantic caucus that we should set up a different way to do things. We should give the fishermen a bigger role to play, a role that would tie them into their workplace more often. Before it was totally the government's responsibility and there was a hostile situation between fishermen and government officials on the condition of the harbour and what to do about it.
Even though the federal government still owns those properties, they are managed and run by local fishermen on their own time. Some harbours have difficulty getting enough fishermen to volunteer for those positions. The difference in the attitude of the fishermen before the harbour authorities were instituted and today is like night and day. There will always be problems and a shortage of dollars.
In the past two years of the Conservative government, it appears we have gone back to when the bureaucrats used to say they were colour-blind. Now the colour is a little more tinged on the blue side if we look at what has been done in my riding over the past two years compared to what was done before on a regular implementation basis. The only work that has been done in the last two years is work that was already approved before the change in government.
According to the information I have, $5 million or $6 million worth of repairs was required, from Tignish, West Point, Skinners Pond, Miminegash Harbour and so on. It is difficult for the fishermen and the harbour authorities to get any kind of an answer as to whether those repairs will even start to be carried out or if they are approved. There is supposed to be a grading system whereby the budget will be allocated among the large harbours, A harbours, B harbours and so on. The harbours I have talked about are large small craft harbours that need continuous repair and dredging.
On the Northumberland Strait side, the harbours of Cape Egmont and Egmont Bay need to be dredged almost every three years as a matter of course. The sand runs from west to east and these harbours eventually fill up with sand and have to be dredged. It is part of the minimum maintenance of that harbour. Every year they have to practically beg to get a dredge allocated to the area so they can go fishing.
It is always a battle for members of Parliament to get the government of the day, whether Liberal or Conservative, to allocate the proper funding for the program. When the right hon. member for LaSalle—Émard was minister of finance, he would make his rounds to all the caucuses and we were able to convince him to put $100 million into that program. To give him his due, he implemented that. The fund over the five year period has now expired. The fishermen need the program not only to be reinstituted, but to be upgraded as well.
As stated in my question for the previous speaker, the amount of damage done by storm surges and the environmental conditions of today can cause a lot of damage to small craft harbours no matter how well the wharves are constructed. They need to be protected with rock and granite.
After the storm surge of 2000, the damage done to Seacow Pond,Tignish Harbour and Miminegash will not re-occur because of the repairs made at that time to protect those harbours. This needs to be continued.