Mr. Chair, I appreciate the opportunity to participate in this take note debate. I want to thank the member for Humber—St. Barbe—Baie Verte for bringing this matter forward for debate. I do appreciate that the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans and other members of government are here to participate and to listen to the remarks made by hon. members here tonight.
I realize that we are talking particularly about the big changes in the total allowable catch, in the southern gulf in particular and that region, but I want to talk for a moment about other aspects of the problems in the snow crab industry and the fishing industry generally, particularly in Newfoundland and Labrador, where there is not, in some of the other areas, such a big change in the total allowable catch, but despite that, there is a significant problem and a significant crisis.
I am a little disturbed to hear the member for Wetaskiwin refer to the annual crisis in the east coast fisheries, partly because he is right. We have had a series of crises in the east coast fisheries. It is not the fault of the people who are in the fishery and it is not because of the fact that the Fisheries Act was first introduced in 1867. The way the member talks, one would not know that there was never an amendment made to the Fisheries Act since 1867 and that somehow that means that not only does it have to be changed, but changed in the way that the government proposed it be changed the last time around. It is no trouble having a review of legislation, but it depends what one wants to do with it.
I want to talk about the fact that what has been causing the crisis in the last couple of years in the east coast fishery, particularly in Newfoundland and Labrador, is a result of the recession that has been taking place, the one that the government denied in the first instance and then claimed to have solved a couple of months later. The fact of the matter is that regardless of what is happening in Canada, and we are seeming to have some turning of the corner here, the reality is that the products that we are talking about, crab, lobster and some high end fish, are really products that are sold in the worldwide market, principally in the United States, Europe and Japan.
What do we see? We see two things.
First, we have fish being purchased mostly in restaurants, a product that is based on the disposable income of people going to restaurants, and when we see the guts taken out of the incomes of Americans, for example, they are still suffering perhaps worse than many Canadians are, but they are the ones upon whom we depend to actually go and buy this product.
The second thing that we see happening is the devaluation by Canadian standards, and we call it a rise in the Canadian dollar but it was actually a devaluation of the U.S. currency, the devaluation of the British pound, the Danish krone, the Japanese yen and the Euro, all devalued in comparison with the Canadian dollar. What does that do? That significantly reduces the incomes of Canadian fishers and subsequently plant workers because the whole market depends upon them.
The crisis that we have is the result of the economic downturn in this particular instance, and the depreciation of other currencies compared to the Canadian dollar, so a reduction of 20% in the market price is just as devastating to them as a reduction in the total allowable catch.
I know the previous speaker is from Wetaskiwin. I was in this House before, 20 years ago, when there used to be an awful lot of debate about the family farm out west and the need to protect the family farm. We do not hear much about that anymore because maybe so many family farms are actually gone and consolidated into larger farms and ranches, and the industrialization of farming out west, but that was a major topic.
It was in fact a long-standing role of the Government of Canada to support farmers with programs when there were droughts, when the prices were low, and when there were significant downturns in the economics of the family farm as a result of either natural or market pressures. The farmers could look to and did look to the Government of Canada for support in those kinds of circumstances.
I do not think we have really seen that to the same extent in the east coast fishery. The treatment seems to be a little different, and perhaps the minister would like to comment on that during the questions and comments period.
We have occasional programs, the kind of programs that the minister is talking about in terms of the lobster fishery. It is not direct support for the people engaged in the industry. We have not used the kind of creativity that is needed to support the industry.
We have seen examples in major disasters, and I would refer to the cod moratorium in Newfoundland in 1992 as a major disaster, where there was a government response in those days. We are not talking about the same kind of devastating circumstances that came with the cod moratorium. Part of the issue had to do with the science at the time, and part of it had to do with overfishing, not only by foreigners, but also by Canadian fleets. There was a significant response by the Government of Canada.
We still think the Government of Canada has a role to play in trying to mitigate against the situation that fishers are facing in the whole of the Atlantic these days because of the recession. We could talk about the infrastructure program. Obviously there are some benefits to communities if there is a small craft harbours program or an infrastructure program for roads or other things. That does not directly engage fishermen in the activity, but it provides some economic activity in the communities. We do need some significant support in these particular circumstances.
We are not satisfied that the government and the minister have aided the industry enough during these difficult economic times. We have seen a major dent in the industry as a result of the recession. We know from our own experience, but also obviously market studies have shown that given the economic recession, people are dealing with significantly tighter household budgets. Disposable income is down. Crab and lobster and other products are seen as a luxury. Eating out at restaurants is seen as a luxury that many families cannot afford. We have that effect of the recession in particular in the areas of the fishery and there needs to be some special programs to deal with that. I understand the macro programs, the economic stimulation generally, but what about programs that directly support this?
While other speakers have talked about the retirement of licences and things like that, there has been long-standing from the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, along with the fishermen's union, proposals to engage in the program to help older workers leave the industry, leave the fishery and leave the fish plant industry with dignity. The Government of Canada has so far refused, despite repeated requests by the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador and the fishermen's union in Newfoundland to participate in this program. The Government of Canada has declined to do that.
These are some examples of the lack of sufficient support from the Government of Canada for fishers in Atlantic Canada, wherever they may be.
We have heard from the member for Beauséjour and the member for Humber—St. Barbe—Baie Verte about the inadequacies of the lobster program. I recognize it was a program in which some effort was made, and perhaps as one member suggested, the minister valiantly fought with members in cabinet and tried to get more money from the Minister of Finance and failed. I do not blame the minister totally for this, but her government obviously has to take responsibility for the failure to provide enough support and enough new programs aimed specifically at helping the people who are suffering as a result of this economic downturn.
We have seen it in the auto industry. We have seen it in the forestry industry. As one member said, we did have specific programs for the forestry industry. Where are the specific programs that are going to help with this particular problem that we are seeing all across Newfoundland and Labrador in the existing crisis in the fishery? It is a market crisis. It is a recession crisis. It is directly related to that. We have seen great difficulties in even getting the fishery industry going this year because of negotiation problems particularly related to the market price of fish.
As I say, it is a problem not simply of the reduction in total allowable catch, but that obviously does great harm to the fishing incomes in much of the southern gulf and other areas affected by the catch, but also the reduction in market price and the consequent significant damage to the fishery in Newfoundland and Labrador.