House of Commons Hansard #63 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was elected.


Political Loans Accountability ActGovernment Orders

4:55 p.m.


Stéphane Dion Liberal Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Madam Speaker, although the Liberal opposition agrees with a number of the aspects of Bill C-21—I am going to repeat my sentence from the beginning because the minister was not listening.

Although the Liberal opposition agrees with a number of the aspects of Bill C-21 to amend the Canada Elections Act in terms of accountability with respect to political loans, we cannot support the bill in its present form because it contains a major defect. It gives financial institutions exclusive political authority that they should not have, that they do not want, and that will have the effect of discriminating against a large number of people, especially women. I first want to highlight the aspects we support, then the ones we do not support, before I propose a constructive amendment.

We support any legislative measure that seeks to ban the hidden power of money in politics. We also support any legislative measure that provides greater fairness and greater transparency in making loans for political purposes.

The Liberal Party strongly supports efforts to increase fairness, transparency and accountability in the electoral process. After all, we are the party that initially passed legislation limiting the role of corporations and unions in electoral financing and lowered contribution limits.

No loans should be made in secret and Canadians should not be kept in the dark. This is why under current legislation the details of all loans, including amounts and names of lenders and guarantors, must already be disclosed publicly.

We agree that all loans to political entities, including mandatory disclosure of terms and the identity of all lenders and loan guarantors, must be uniform and transparent. These rules should encompass loans, guarantees and suretyships with respect to registered parties, registered associations, candidates, leadership contestants and nomination contestants.

Thus we agree that financial reporting should be as transparent as possible, which is why we support clauses 5, 11, 25 and 32, which require disclosure of information regarding loan amounts, interest rates, lenders and dates of repayment.

However, we also favour transparent rules that guarantee the right and ability of all Canadians to run for office. It is a fundamental principle of democracy that all Canadians of voting age must have the opportunity to run for office.

In consequence, financial institutions should not be put in the position to decide who can run for office. Yet the bill would give financial institutions too much power to decide who would receive political loans, a power that would expose them to accusations of politicization and discrimination, real or perceived. Making banks the sole lending authority under clause 7 could potentially limit participation in federal politics to only those who would be able to gain credit from a financial institution, as defined under the Bank Act.

It would be a serious mistake to limit to financial institutions alone the ability to make loans beyond the annual contribution limit for individuals.

It would be a mistake to enable these companies to play a political role in deciding who would receive loans and the ability to marginalize certain applicants who did not fit particular criteria, or to discriminate against them.

Bill C-21 gives financial institutions a monopoly on decision-making that is completely contrary to the democratic values and principles of Canadians who do not want access to public services to be linked to a prospective candidate's financial status.

There is a fundamental difference between asking for donations or loans from people by appealing to their sympathy for the ideas or the qualities of a prospective candidate and lining up at a counter in a bank where strictly commercial lending policies are applied. You do not buy your way into a life of public service in the same way that you buy a washing machine or a snowmobile. We must not give Canada's financial institutions a political weight that they should not have and that they do not want, an unprecedented role that is dangerous on several levels. The role is dangerous for the institutions themselves. They are at risk of being accused of political favouritism or of discrimination in one direction or in another, either by turning a candidate down for a loan, or by approving one. They are damned if they do and damned if they don't, as the saying goes.

That is indeed a risk that financial institutions cannot allow themselves to take in these troubled times, when the financial sector is under the glare of the media and the scrutiny of citizens and a whole host of political and socio-economic groups. The reputation, independence and freedom of action of these financial institutions are essential to the proper functioning of our economy, our society and our democracy. The exclusive power that Bill C-21 grants them thus presents a twofold problem, a problem of perception and a real risk, the danger of politicizing our financial institutions and a risk of discrimination involving these loans.

Let us for a moment look at the criteria the banks would use to determine which candidates they would or would not lend money to. They could use a purely financial criterion based on the personal solvency of the candidates, which would favour the rich to the detriment of everyone else; or they could do a risk assessment based on the political probability that the candidate would obtain sufficient support, which would translate into a sufficient number of yearly contributions of less than a $1,000 in order to reimburse the loan. What this means is that we are asking financial institutions to make political judgments. Those institutions could even assess the probability of the candidate getting elected, and see that outcome as increasing his or her solvency. With all of this, we would be politicizing our financial institutions.

Let us now look at the problem of discrimination.

The bill would disadvantage lower income candidates who did not have the necessary credit history to receive loans. It would discriminate against people based on income and credit rating therefore favouring the rich and excluding many people from public service, notably many women, youth, newcomers and minorities in general.

Let me reiterate this. The lack of credit could potentially prevent not only low or middle-income Canadians, but also many women, aboriginal people and new immigrants from standing for office. The size of a wallet or bank account should not be an impediment to prospective candidates.

This is particularly worrisome as it applies to women.

This bill would disadvantage women candidates who had left the workforce for a period of time, resulting in a fluctuation of their financial status. The United Nations has stated that a critical mass of at least 30% women is needed in order for legislators around the world to produce public policy that represents women's concerns and for political institutions to begin changing the way they do business.

According to Equal Voice, Canada falls behind this standard. Despite enjoying economic prosperity and political stability, Canada has fewer women in Parliament than most of Europe and many other countries in the world. In Canada's Parliament, just about 24% of MPs are women. This places Canada 40th in the world on the Inter-Parliamentary Union, “List of Women in National Parliaments”. For Canada, 40th is not acceptable.

Further, Equal Voice notes that women encountered many barriers in seeking elected office at all levels, including lack of access to finances. This is the basic point. Restricting access to loans by financial institutions could disadvantage and create a new barrier to women entering politics.

This House should not do anything that would hinder women's success in politics. On the contrary, this House must do everything it can to promote women's successful participation in politics.

To conclude, the Liberal caucus strongly argues for full transparency and disclosure of political loans.

However, we are opposed to the idea of having financial institutions be the only ones that can grant loans in the political arena. That possibility must also be given to citizens, as long as transparency is made the hallmark of those loans. After all, it is much more legitimate for citizens than for banks to grant loans of a political nature, in keeping with their political convictions, and their confidence in the values or political credibility of a given candidate. We would be in favour of an amendment requiring that these individual loans only be granted at commercial interest rates.

I hope that this constructive proposal from the Liberal opposition will be well received by the government so that we can make our democracy more transparent and more open to everyone.

Political Loans Accountability ActGovernment Orders

5:05 p.m.

Edmonton—Sherwood Park Alberta


Tim Uppal ConservativeMinister of State (Democratic Reform)

Madam Speaker, I look forward to working with the member on this bill and having further discussion.

The fact is it is not only banks, but it is other financial institutions as well. Not just that, it is friends, family, supporters, the average Canadian who has the ability to make donations or to lend money, or even to guarantee money within the contribution limits.

Does the hon. member not think it is important to get out and engage Canadians and ask for that support? As members of Parliament, or as candidates, or as political parties, is it not important that we tell Canadians what we are about, tell them about our platform and ask for that support? Should we not ask them to be a part of the campaign and to donate money? It does not have to be $1,100. It could be $200, or it could be $50. It is a matter of engaging Canadians and getting more of them to contribute to a member's campaign either in donations, or loans, or as a guarantee. Is it not important to engage with as many Canadians as possible and to get that financial support so they are more engaged?

Political Loans Accountability ActGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.


Stéphane Dion Liberal Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Madam Speaker, if the minister were to come in with a bill saying that the maximum is $1,000 for everybody, we would discuss whether it was reasonable or not, and I would not have a problem with ethics. I have a problem with ethics on moral grounds when he tells me it is okay for a bank, an insurance company, or whatever, to give more than $1,000, but it is not okay for a Canadian citizen. I do not understand what is the basic ground regarding the morality of the bill. I have a problem with that. My party has a problem with that.

If he were telling me that he does not want the amount to be more than $1,000, maybe I would argue that it is too low and that it should be $5,000 and we need to discuss it. However, he is telling me it is okay for a financial institution to give much more than that, but it is not okay for a Canadian citizen to do that. The problem is that a Canadian citizen has the right to have a political opinion, to have confidence in a candidate and to show it, while a bank is not supposed to have a political opinion.

I asked what the moral ground of the bill is. The minister did not answer. What would be the criteria for financial institutions to decide if a candidate were to receive money or not? Would it be that the bank sympathizes with the candidate's platform? What is it? It will politicize the banking institutions of this country and that is wrong.

Political Loans Accountability ActGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.


David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

Madam Speaker, does the member for Saint-Laurent—Cartierville believe that the only changes necessary to funding leadership campaigns is more accountability? Does the member believe that we should still allow wealthy Canadians to totally bankroll someone's leadership campaign, thereby allowing the person possibly to go right from the street all the way to the Prime Minister's Office in one move?

I will be very curious to hear especially on the second question just what the member believes in terms of the health of our democracy with leaving that in place. Is the member saying that we should still allow wealthy Canadians to bankroll single-handedly leadership campaigns? I have not even made the point that under the existing regime hundreds of thousands of dollars of that money may never be paid back.

Political Loans Accountability ActGovernment Orders

5:10 p.m.


Stéphane Dion Liberal Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Madam Speaker, the Liberal Party fully agrees with everything that would provide accountability and transparency. Where we have a fundamental disagreement is when there is a bill before us which says that the financial institutions will have a monopoly and that Canadian citizens will lose. This I do not understand.

If my colleague was saying that we should cap the loans to a certain amount of money and we should strengthen the rules with respect to the obligation to pay back the money, I would be in full agreement. I have no problem with what is in the bill on that.

However, when he says that it is okay for the financial institutions to do so but not for Canadian citizens, I do not understand on which moral ground he is saying that.

He should be the first one to say that he does not want the power of big money involved, but that is what will happen now. That kind of monopoly power will be given to these institutions with respect to who will vote, who will campaign, who will run and who will not run. It will be detrimental and discriminatory, especially for women.

Political Loans Accountability ActGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.


Harold Albrecht Conservative Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Madam Speaker, it is important that we reflect on what got us to this point in the first place. The 2006 Liberal Party leadership race ended on December 3 and the leadership contestants had until May 3, 2008 to pay their debts. Most contestants were not able to repay their debts by May 2008, so an extension was granted. Then in 2011 another extension was given until December 2011.

How long does my colleague think this should be allowed to be perpetuated until there is no hope of possibly repaying?

Political Loans Accountability ActGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.


Stéphane Dion Liberal Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Madam Speaker, I want to say to my colleague that the Prime Minister decided to change the rules retroactively. When we started the leadership race, the amount of money allowed was $5,200 and we booked our budget accordingly. When he decreased it by $1,100, it was very difficult for all the candidates, including myself, to adapt to this retroactive rule.

I am proud to say that I will completely pay my debt as a matter of honour; it is very important for me to do so, but it has not been easy because we did not plan for a limit that would be only $1,100.

I want to add that my point with respect to this bill is not that I am against any limit. I am against a discriminatory situation that would give the financial institutions more power than Canadian citizens.

Political Loans Accountability ActGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre Saskatchewan


Tom Lukiwski ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Madam Speaker, in my colleague's opinion, when does a loan turn into a contribution?

We have seen with a number of the Liberal Party leadership candidates that five years has gone by. There have been loans--purportedly they are loans--that have gone unpaid for five years. At what point does the member actually think they should be considered to be a contribution?

That is what we deal with in this bill. I would suggest to the House and my hon. colleague that by anyone's definition, five years is far too long to have an unpaid loan. It must be considered a contribution at that time. Does he not agree?

Political Loans Accountability ActGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.


Stéphane Dion Liberal Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, QC

Madam Speaker, as I said, we agree with a lot in this bill. I identified what we disagree with.

I have not received an answer from my NDP colleagues or my Conservative colleagues on what is the basic moral ground to give financial institutions more power than Canadian citizens.

We agree that the loans are transparent, that there are clear rules that the money must be paid back. We are open to an amendment stating that the loan must be at commercial interest rates. Why? Canadian citizens would not have the same rights as financial institutions.

That is the basic problem we have with this bill and it is at the core of the bill. If my NDP colleagues want to propose a limit, it must be the same for individuals and the financial institutions. Otherwise, I do not understand on which grounds they say that financial institutions are more acceptable in political life than Canadian citizens.

Political Loans Accountability ActGovernment Orders

5:15 p.m.

Regina—Lumsden—Lake Centre Saskatchewan


Tom Lukiwski ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Madam Speaker, I think we have had a meaningful debate this afternoon. I know that we will end up agreeing to disagree on a number of points.

I am completely supportive of Bill C-21 and the elements contained therein. In the limited time that I have, I want to point out a few of the reasons, but I also want to use my time to try and refute some of the arguments that I heard from members opposite as to why they seem to disagree. Perhaps I will start there, because we only have about 10 minutes left before the debate has to end.

I have heard from a couple of members opposite that they believe individuals should also have the right to lend money and that moneylending should not be restricted to financial institutions. The bill came into play because of the situation where wealthy individuals could lend money. We have seen many times in the past where supposed loans have been given to political candidates and were never repaid. That is simply unacceptable. The potential and probability for abuse under the current situation without Bill C-21 is extremely high.

The situation, quite frankly, is simply this. As it stands now, any individual could be in a position where he or she knowingly lent money to a political candidate with no expectations of repayment. It is quite conceivable that individuals could have consulted with a candidate and agreed upon a mechanism by which they could circumvent the rules, by lending a certain amount of money with very favourable interest rates, as low as 0%, and basically nudge, nudge, wink, wink, told a candidate not to worry about ever repaying it because it is a loan and the lender will end up writing it off or forgiving it. That is not a loan. That is a contribution. That is a donation.

As a government we need to step in to ensure that the potential for that abuse is completely eliminated. Bill C-21 would do exactly that. It would put provisions in place which would prevent anyone from trying to circumvent the rules again.

We have heard many times before, in committee and in debate this afternoon, some of the problems with the 2006 Liberal leadership campaign. Like my colleague from Hamilton Centre I will try to be as non-partisan as possible, but it was because of the abuse that we saw and still see as a result of unpaid loans from that leadership campaign that our government felt that some bill had to be introduced to prevent that type of situation from occurring again. Bill C-21 would do that.

I also want to point out that despite the protestations of members opposite, borrowing money from financial institutions does not empower those financial institutions. It does not give them a monopoly over political financing. It does not give them any untoward power to influence political parties or candidates. It is simply a commercial transaction that we as Canadians deal with on a daily basis. Whether Canadians secure a mortgage for the purchase of a house, whether they secure a loan to purchase a car or a heavy appliance and so on, they have been using financial institutions to secure loans for generations.

I do not believe that any financial institution, by lending money, whether it be $10,000, $20,000, $30,000 or $40,000 to a political candidate or a political party, would feel that it had some undue influence over that candidate because it entered into a commercial transaction. It is simply not true. In my view it is silly. This is a normal daily activity that most Canadians perform and have performed for the last 200 years, as long as there have been chartered banks in the world. We need to discount the argument completely that suggests financial institutions would have more influence over political candidates and therefore we should allow citizens to make loans.

What we are trying to achieve with Bill C-21 is to ensure that there is accountability and that there can be no circumvention of election financing rules by disguising contributions as political loans. The financial institutions would be obliged, as they are obliged in daily transactions with Canadians, to provide clear terms for both the rate of interest charged on the loan and for its repayment, something that we saw sorely lacking in the 2006 leadership campaign for the Liberal Party. Five years have gone by, and some of those loans still have not been repaid. That is not a loan, in my view, but a contribution, and it should not be allowed.

With Bill C-21 we would not only be putting in clear, transparent rules that would make candidates and political parties accountable; we would also be giving confidence to the Canadian electorate that there will be no funny business or circumvention of rules, and that everything will be done in a transparent, accountable manner acceptable to Canadians.

One of the consequences of Bill C-21 is that if there are unpaid loans, the political parties themselves, whether as riding associations or federal parties, would be responsible for backstopping those loans and repaying the money. We have yet to see any activity by the Liberal Party of Canada in this regard. Has the Liberal Party of Canada stepped up to the plate and said it has a number of unpaid loans from some of its former leadership candidates back in 2006, that it does not think such a situation is acceptable, that it is going to repay them right now and then make its own arrangements with those leadership candidates to reimburse the party? I have seen no evidence and heard no discussion to that effect in this debate.

Members opposite in the Liberal Party have stood in this place this afternoon and said that they want accountability and transparency, but they believe that they can still play fast and loose with the rules. Where is the accountability when the once great Liberal Party that governed this country for many decades now does not even want to speak about repaying loans that some of its leadership candidates incurred?

We are not talking about candidates from a local riding association who might have been defeated in an election; these individuals tried to become leader of the Liberal Party of Canada and the next prime minister of Canada, yet that party refuses to be accountable for the debts incurred by its candidates. Instead Liberal members stand here this afternoon and criticize our government for this bill, which is trying to bring accountability and transparency to the political process.

I do not care what arguments they bring forward at committee. I will be there to ensure that I have a question for them: as a party, what do they plan to do about the unpaid loans? What happens if another five years go by? Will they still be advancing the same arguments as they have this afternoon? It is totally unacceptable.

Had we not seen the rampant abuse by the Liberals, we might not have seen the need for Bill C-21. Nonetheless, it is before us. It is a worthy bill, and one that deserves support from other parties.

I understand and appreciate the comments made by my colleague from Hamilton Centre that he wants to discuss this at committee. I would certainly be more than willing to entertain suggestions. I will certainly not commit that I would accept any of his suggestions; I have heard some of the arguments, I understand what he is going to be advancing at committee, and I think that is worthy of debate, but on its own merits Bill C-21, as it stands, deserves the support of all members in this place.

I know it has the support of all Canadians.

Political Loans Accountability ActGovernment Orders

5:25 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

The hon. member will have about nine minutes when the bill returns to the order paper.

It being 5:30 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

The House resumed from October 21 consideration of the motion that Bill C-308, An Act respecting a Commission of Inquiry into the development and implementation of a national fishery rebuilding strategy for fish stocks off the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Newfoundland and Labrador Fishery Rebuilding ActPrivate Members' Business

5:25 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Denise Savoie

Resuming debate. The hon. member for Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine has eight minutes left for his remarks.

Newfoundland and Labrador Fishery Rebuilding ActPrivate Members' Business

5:30 p.m.


Philip Toone NDP Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, QC

Madam Speaker, I will pick up where I left off last time, about a month ago. My colleague from St. John's South—Mount Pearl has proposed a very worthwhile bill. My colleagues in the Conservative Party have said that the collapse of the ocean fishery has already been studied and the federal government has already done all it can to restore the fish stocks that have collapsed. If that is really the case, the cod and other fish stocks in the Gulf of St. Lawrence would not be in danger or have almost completely collapsed. We know that the groundfish stocks, such as cod and ocean perch, are already considered to have collapsed. Their recovery prospects in the medium term are fairly poor, at best.

The cod population in the Southern Gulf of St. Lawrence is at its lowest level in 61 years of monitoring and is still declining. The mature cod population from 2008 to 2010 is estimated to be, on average, 37% of the average level observed from the mid-1990s to the end of that decade, and 10% of the average level in the mid-1980s.

Since 2009, there has been no cod fishery in the region because of a third moratorium imposed on catching cod in the southern gulf.

How can we rectify the huge mistakes that caused this catastrophe? We have to start with an inquiry, as the bill proposes. That will give us the scientific, ecological, economic and social information we need in order to rectify our mistakes, to undo the ineffective and often destructive fisheries management policies that the federal government has imposed on fishers.

An inquiry would allow us to understand the big picture, the economic, social, political, and scientific aspects of the fisheries collapse, which is without a doubt the biggest catastrophe that Atlantic Canada has ever faced.

We do know some of the causes of the fisheries collapse: overfishing, caused by a lack of essential scientific information needed to understand the true health of the fish species in the Atlantic and the Gulf of St. Lawrence ecosystems; overfishing, caused by weak international laws that allow fishers from other countries to decimate fish stocks with impunity; climate change, caused by greenhouse gas emissions, deforestation and rampant urbanization, which has led to changes in water temperature and water acidification; and many other forms of human intervention that have damaged the Atlantic and the Gulf of St. Lawrence ecosystems.

When settlers first came to the coast 500 years ago, cod was so plentiful that sailors could scoop them up into their ships with buckets. The cod fishery is one of the mainstays of the economy of the Maritimes, including the Gaspé Peninsula and the Madeleine Islands, and it was one of the main reasons for settlement.

As recently as the 1940s, cod fishers were landing between 300,000 and 600,000 tonnes of cod per year. Then in the 1990s, the federal government banned cod fishing in response to the collapse of the cod fishery. By 1993, all Canadian cod fishing was banned. Today, in 2011, no real solution to the devastation of the cod fishery has been either proposed or implemented.

In the Gaspé and the Madeleine Islands, the loss of the cod fishery has been devastating. Not only were cod and other groundfish the mainstay of the economy in the region, cod was also a cornerstone of Gaspé culture, as exemplified by the tradition of cod curing, so famous to the region that it became known as the Gaspé cure.

The Gaspé Cure is the result of a drying method that is made possible by the climate on the coast of the Baie des Chaleurs, a dry, windy climate that provides ideal conditions for sun-drying cod.

Today, the Gaspé Cured company continues this century-old tradition that has been passed down over the years. The company has established a major processing plant in Sainte-Thérèse-de-Gaspé, one of the places in the Gaspé where fishing is most active.

According to Fisheries and Oceans Canada, cod fishing has been the backbone of the Quebec fisheries, in both the Gaspé Peninsula and the Magdalen Islands. As a result, the community had become heavily dependent on these resources. However, the moratorium and the decline in total allowable catch have affected it severely.

In 1985, there were nearly 1,700 groundfish licences in Quebec, and more than 3,300 fishers and fisher's helpers were engaged in the cod fishery. At that time, the total cod landed values were in the order of $18 million. In 2002, there were fewer than 1,000 groundfish licences. In total, for all of Quebec, the number of active cod fishers and fisher's helpers was estimated at 1 150 in 2002 for landings of a total value of only $3 million.

Nearly half of those fishers are found in the Gaspé Peninsula. The sustainability of many coastal communities that depend on fishing is under threat at present.

This way of life in my riding is threatened in large part because of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans' rules and regulations. Thanks to the department's questionable conservation policies, and thanks to its foot-dragging when it comes to taking real action on overfishing, the fisheries of the east coast have been mismanaged almost to the point of annihilation.

The minister said no to an inquiry into the state of the fish stocks in Newfoundland, even though federal management of the fisheries has clearly been a failure. An inquiry into the reasons for this failure is long overdue.

The minister's refusal to allow the inquiry has an impact beyond the borders of Newfoundland. This mismanagement that destroyed the Newfoundland fisheries has either destroyed or severely damaged many of the fisheries in my constituency also. When an Atlantic fishery collapses, it does not affect only one province; it impacts all of the regions that are part of the species' habitat.

The commission of inquiry called for by Bill C-308 would provide Canadians with a rare but crucial resource needed to rebuild the east coast fishery: clear and accurate information based on the experience of independent scientific experts, fishers and other stakeholders who rely on the Atlantic fisheries.

I urge the government to recognize the national importance of the Atlantic fisheries and pass the bill. I also urge the government to recognize the importance of the Gulf of the St. Lawrence to all Canadians.

By passing Bill C-308, the government will finally open the door to creating a sustainable Atlantic fishing economy throughout Atlantic Canada.

Newfoundland and Labrador Fishery Rebuilding ActPrivate Members' Business

5:35 p.m.


Robert Sopuck Conservative Dauphin—Swan River—Marquette, MB

Madam Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-308, the Newfoundland and Labrador fishery rebuilding act.

I would like to thank my colleague for introducing Bill C-308, which prompted this important discussion to take place on fisheries rebuilding; however, I will not be supporting this piece of legislation nor will the government.

With respect to the content of Bill C-308, Fisheries and Oceans Canada has already taken significant steps to rebuild cod stocks, including strict conservation measures, expanded scientific research, and are working on longer term strategies. Since the announcement of the moratorium in the 1990s, the government has been working with the province of Newfoundland and Labrador to address these challenges. Action teams have been established between the Government of Canada and each of the maritime provinces, including Newfoundland and Labrador.

These teams were asked to develop cod recovery strategies, which they did. On November 14, 2005, the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador action team for cod rebuilding presented the strategy for the recovery and management of cod stocks in Newfoundland and Labrador. This strategy was developed through extensive consultations with a variety of stakeholders, including industry, academia, conservation groups and local communities.

This broad representation ensured that proposed rebuilding objectives and strategies were realistic and took into consideration conservation requirements, plus social, cultural and economic considerations. In some cases, external advisory committees were established with representation from a variety of experts and stakeholders to further assist the cod action team.

However, we all realize the impacts that the events of the 1992 cod collapse have had on the people in the fishery and in rural parts of Atlantic Canada are fully recognized. As the member for St. John's South—Mount Pearl puts it, “The fishery is broken. The fishery is in perpetual crisis. The fishery can still be fixed. But it cannot be fixed without the facts”.

An inquiry can only reveal what we already know, the fish stocks were decimated in the late 1980s and early 1990s. We are all still recovering from the tragic collapse of the fishery on the Grand Banks of Newfoundland and Labrador. To recover these fish stocks, we need to dedicate the resources we have to the task of rehabilitating the fish stocks, not to finding blame and throwing accusations.

Our government has fostered an open door policy for proponents to discuss solutions and to make recommendations. Through consultations and through working groups, we have been listening and will continue to listen. Having worked their local fishing grounds for generations, these fish harvesters have an intimate knowledge of their local conditions.

As many know, groundfish are still being harvested in Newfoundland and Labrador. In fact, 4,300 groundfish licences were issued in Newfoundland and Labrador in 2010. Last year almost 40 tonnes, $52 million worth of groundfish were harvested in Newfoundland and Labrador. That includes more than 12 tonnes of cod.

The government recognizes that these numbers have been historically much higher. Our government has met with stakeholder and industry representatives. It comes as no surprise that there are significant and systemic challenges facing today's commercial fishing industry.

The fishing industry is going through fundamental changes, driven by significant and unprecedented shifts in global economics, consumer demand, technology and, of course, conservation and environmental realities.

Fisheries policy decisions have favoured the short-term rather than the longer view. Some of these policies have limited growth, curtailed efficiencies and, frankly, made little sense in terms of the conservation of fish stocks.

It has become all the more evident that we must modernize our practices, policies and regulations to remove unnecessary barriers to industry growth, global competitiveness, and fish stock conservation in the 21st century.

My colleague from St. John's South—Mount Pearl knows enough about fisheries to understand that rebuilding fish stocks is extremely complex. There are many factors that need to be examined and there are several challenges to be faced. Sacrifices have been made and will continue to be required in order to rebuild Atlantic fish populations.

Since the cod collapse in the early 1990s, the government has made significant changes in the way it manages fisheries, not just in Newfoundland and Labrador but from coast to coast to coast. Challenges such as the cod collapse have become drivers for the development of sound, science-based decision-making practices, and fisheries management decisions incorporating ecosystem considerations and the precautionary approach to ensure the future of Canada's fisheries.

The current ongoing scientific research may help further define the known causes that may have contributed to the collapse of the groundfish stocks in Newfoundland and Labrador.

The degree of accuracy with which possible outcomes can be predicted would not be increased by shifting funding from the research currently being done to the management of an inquiry.

A moderate fisheries management framework would enable us to focus on maximizing value and quality of output rather than quantity. Our goal would be to establish a coherent management system that would benefit individual fishermen and industry stakeholders in both the short-term and long-term.

Changes in fisheries management practices in Newfoundland and Labrador are reinforced by measures taken by the North Atlantic Fisheries Organization. These changes address long-standing challenges and opportunities associated with the management of international straddling fish stocks. A significant change has been to identify stock rebuilding as one of NAFO's main objectives.

In fact, Canada's leadership at NAFO has led to the implementation of a number of innovative plans for the recovery of stocks currently under moratorium, and to rebuild other fragile stocks based on scientific advice and the precautionary principle.

In October, I have been informed that my colleague from St. John's South—Mount Pearl quoted Rex Murphy's article, “Newfoundland is a province in denial”, in which Mr. Murphy offered some advice to our colleagues across the way.

We can assure him that we are working with the province to build policy that is more than about oil and more than about fighting with the federal government.

The purpose of Bill C-308 is to launch an inquiry into the collapse and recovery status of Newfoundland and Labrador's fisheries. An inquiry is not the path toward a competitive Canadian economy. An inquiry will not look at solutions that would help Canada strive in these times of fiscal restraint.

This government, including Fisheries and Oceans Canada, is rolling out a transformative agenda that would carry us forward toward international competitiveness and prosperity for Canadians.

The commission of inquiry into the decline of sockeye salmon in British Columbia is looking into improving the sustainability of the fishery, fisheries management policies, practices and procedures, and the factors influencing the management of this stock, including environmental changes and marine conditions.

These are areas that are already being examined and monitored in the Atlantic.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada was a key contributor to the Cohen commission of inquiry in British Columbia and continues to support the work of the commission. Recommendations made with respect to management of sockeye salmon in the Fraser River will be reviewed and will be considered in fisheries management decisions as they apply across Canada.

Implementing market-based approaches to fisheries management has proven successful. Other countries, and even some fisheries in Canada, have adopted change and, as a result, have seen flexible, market-oriented fishing seasons, improved product quality, increased economic value, a decline in instances of overfishing, and improved safety.

I believe strongly that with some changes at Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Canada's fishing industry has the potential to generate much more value. We will see the department untangle and standardize rules and processes.

We must increase transparency for decision-making and strengthen environmental sustainability in Canadian and international waters to ensure Canada's distinguished international reputation as a source for the finest sustainable seafood in the world.

Our government believes that the private sector is the driver of the Canadian economy, but we certainly have a regulatory role in this particular industry. We will continue to engage industry and stakeholders to work together toward a solution and respond to these complex and interrelated challenges.

The government is making the necessary investment to protect Canadians and create jobs now, while laying a strong foundation for long-term economic growth.

Our actions have already included providing to fish harvesters the same lifetime capital gains exemption enjoyed by farmers and small business owners and supporting coastal communities, through regulatory initiatives in support of the aquaculture sector and through investments in small craft harbours.

Canada is 144 years young and yet we have barely scratched the surface of our full potential, be it here at home or on the international scene. This is a country that is just brimming with confidence. It is strong, united, peaceful and prosperous. It is a Canada that will accept no limits, no bounds, and no ceiling to its great future. We are simply the best country in the world. Its unbeatable spirit has been leading us out of the global recession in the best position in the world.

Given these ongoing efforts, a judicial inquiry would represent a costly and duplicative exercise that would simply reinforce the need to continue focusing our efforts productively on future opportunities for Canada's fisheries and the Canadian economy.

Newfoundland and Labrador Fishery Rebuilding ActPrivate Members' Business

5:45 p.m.


Scott Simms Liberal Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Madam Speaker, it is an honour to be standing here once again to talk about something that is certainly a topic of discussion in my riding, which is probably the understatement of the night. Northeastern Newfoundland is predominantly my riding, as well as central Newfoundland or, as the fishermen like to call it, parts of 2J, 3K, 3L.

I would like to commend my colleague from St. John's South—Mount Pearl for bringing this bill forward. I have the honour of being one of the seconders of this legislation and it may come as no surprise that I speak in favour of it.

I have a few comments about the earlier speaker. I understand the intentions of wanting to create the right markets and the situations by which our harvesters can get more value from the occupation that they have to the point of being able to pass it on to the next generation. However, putting things in the window, like a capital gains tax, is probably not what we want to rely the entire fisheries policy on, given the fact that the value of that catch has decreased so badly that the capital gains tax is probably worth even less than that 1¢ people got off the price of their Tim Hortons coffee this morning.

I do want to talk about stock rebuilding. I bring that up because we did a study with the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans, as my colleague across the way, from British Columbia, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, can remember. It was November 2005. We paid visits to eastern Newfoundland, to Bonavista in my riding as well, and Twillingate. In those areas, what we saw and heard was, to me, some surprising testimony about how all the efforts being made to help recover a stock were not showing the results we wanted. Time and again, the stock assessments were showing, in the offshore stock, less than 2% of what they were in the 1980s.

Again, over quite a period of time, from the time of the moratorium when the directed fishery was ended on a mass scale, that was July 1992, until now, we have not seen that recovery. By his own admission, the member who just spoke talked about over 800,000 tonnes of a catch in the late 1960s and now down to 12 tonnes. So we can talk about markets all we want, but this is a question about stock rebuilding and how we go about doing that. Even the Auditor General, a few years ago, pointed out that it has been a dismal failure over the years and therefore we have to look at it. I am not specifically blaming any one particular government. I blame them all, as we should blame ourselves as well.

However, there is one element that the government needs to look at and I think has failed somewhat on this scale. The Conservatives entered into negotiations with NAFO. For anybody who is watching at home or in this House, NAFO is the North Atlantic Fisheries Organization, the international body that governs the offshore stocks outside of our 200 nautical mile limit. In this particular case, we saw bandying to the point where there was trade and negotiations going on that did not work in our favour, only to find this out after the fact. When the House voted to go against these NAFO agreements, the government went ahead and decided to reverse that and go ahead with this agreement, which I think is a shame, with species such as turbot, not just cod or Greenland halibut as it is called.

However, in the meantime the offshore directed fishery from international fisheries, primarily western Europe and I will not pick out any of the countries as they know who they are, have had their time on the open water. We have seen a lot taken from us in that particular vicinity, not only outside the 200 nautical mile limit but inside the 200 mile limit as well. When I look at the state of the fishery now in the northeast, and again I will restrict my comments to just the northern cod species, we see a small directed fishery taking place. In excess of 2,000 pounds would be the average. We are looking at a recreational fishery isolated to four weeks, three in August and one near the end of September. Right now, we are seeing an overabundance of cod.

I remember when we did the study and we talked about the fact that there was an offshore stock and inshore stock. The science was saying that the offshore stock was quite low. In many cases, the science was saying that the inshore stock was also very low. However, our own fishermen told us that this was not the case.

We have situations now where a bycatch of cod on the inshore becomes drastic. Believe it or not, for many of these fishermen, the cod has become a nuisance species on the inshore. Therefore, when they say that enough studies have been done, I do not agree.

In this case, why do we have a stock that is in danger, overfished, yet on the inshore we have stock in abundance? This past season was a successful season for those who had the small quotas. These are the questions we need to ask and we need to ask them each and every time.

Right now, as members know, we have to take into account elements like climate change and seal populations. The seal population itself has grown exponentially just in the past two or three years, millions upon millions. To this day, even during the study we did in November 2005, there is not an exact science as to how much, or even why, these seals are eating all the biomass of cod. It is incredible. We need to look further into this.

When the government decides it will get to its deficit cutting and budget measures, but announces that the science assessments will be over a three-year period, it is a major mistake.

Stock assessments are on an annual basis and I would argue there should be more than that. It should be done twice a year, or three times a year, or even more, if the science that had been invested in was bad. As Conservatives say, it was bad to begin with, but they said that they would fix it. I remember former minister Loyola Hearn saying much the same, but it did not get much better. In fact, it is much worse as far as the science investment is concerned.

The recommendations of the FRCC show up in our report quite extensively. It is quite incredible. Why would they do this? I remember being on the government side with the Conservatives in opposition. They told us about all these changes that we needed to make. We fell short of these goals, but now it is even worse.

However, we should do this study. The effects of the offshore fishery, the international markets, those people who line up along our 200 nautical miles looking for fish and who are certainly not flying the flag of Canada, needs to be reassessed. We need to reassess the biomass itself across the northeast.

Cod was the king species that sustained a people for hundreds of years. My colleague pointed this out in his speech some time ago, and I will not reiterate. However, where I come from, we all know what it meant to us. Now we find that the king species are the snow crab and shrimp as well, but even those are not near what cod brought us over the generations.

The member is right in the sense that we have to do a more extensive study. The hon. member talked about the studies that had been done in his speech. Not really. The right studies have not been done yet. It takes a vast effort to look at how we can rebuild the species and not just the one species, but ecosystem management itself.

Fishermen, such as George Feltham from Eastport and Rick Kane from Bonavista North, were quoted in this study. They are harvesters, one with a smaller boat and one with a very large vessel. They talked about how they would go out to catch snow crab and shrimp in their nets and find large cod. How is this happening? Within the inshore regions, why do we show high numbers of cod, yet each and every time, northern cod gets close to the endangered species list? Do we know that this is the case?

When fisherman tell me that they went out and it took them three hours of fishing to catch their quota of over 2,000 pounds, and they are not big boats either but it is a lot of fish in a very short period of time, then one has to ask why this has happened. The fact is science is telling us we cannot have the fishery we used to have and that there is a long way to go. Somebody is wrong, and it is not the fishermen who show me the fish on the wharf.

Newfoundland and Labrador Fishery Rebuilding ActPrivate Members' Business

5:55 p.m.


Fin Donnelly NDP New Westminster—Coquitlam, BC

Madam Speaker, I rise today to speak in support of Bill C-308, Newfoundland and Labrador Fishery Rebuilding Act. I want to acknowledge my colleague from St. John's South—Mount Pearl for his tireless advocacy for the Newfoundland and Labrador fisheries and the people who depend on them.

In July 1992, John Crosbie, the then federal minister of Fisheries and Oceans, called for a moratorium and closed down the northern cod fishery. The cod fishing moratorium was supposed to last two years. We are approaching the 20th anniversary and there is still no rebuilding plan in place.

Newfoundland and Labrador commercial groundfish fisheries have seen little if any recovery since the early 1990s. The people of Newfoundland and Labrador had fished their waters for cod for over 500 years. It was said by British fishing captains in the 1600s, that the cod “was so thick by the shore that we hardly have been able to row a boat through them”.

The cod fishery was the backbone of Newfoundland and Labrador and the closure cost 39,000 people their jobs. It devastated coastal communities, which have yet to recover. This was the largest layoff in Canadian history. Approximately 80,000 people have left Newfoundland and Labrador since the cod fishery collapse.

The East Coast Report, an interim report tabled in the House of Commons by the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans in 1998, helped to frame the social and economic implications of the collapse of groundfish in Newfoundland and Labrador. Many people who appeared before the committee explained the devastating financial effect of the collapse on their personal lives. In communities across the province, it was clear the way of life that existed for hundreds of years was being lost.

In the same report, witnesses indicated that fishermen in coastal communities had very little confidence in the ability of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to manage the fishery. There were complaints that DFO policy-makers in Ottawa had no grasp on local issues. Further, there were concerns about enforcement, science and foreign fishing. I reference this report and the testimony because several years later we still have not addressed these concerns.

There have been studies on the collapse of the fisheries in Newfoundland and Labrador over the years. There have been several recommendations made. One of the last reports produced by the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans was entitled “Northern Cod: A Failure of Canadian Fisheries Management”. The report stated:

Concluding that overfishing was the cause of the collapse of the northern cod stock should not surprise anyone. Others who have studied this issue have come to the same conclusion. However, the Committee felt that it was necessary to travel to Newfoundland and Labrador to fully understand the factors that allowed the “world's greatest fish stock” to be grossly overfished for so many years. In our view, the major factor was clearly mismanagement.

It also concluded that the failure of the northern cod to re-establish itself was a lack of vision and long-term planning.

Nothing has been done with this report. These recommendations have yet to be acted on. There has been very little real analysis as to what has been successful and what has not.

The Conservative government likes to talk about streamlining and modernization, implying that fisheries should be run like a business, but successful businesses create plans with vision, goals and targets. Successful businesses understand the importance of innovation and research. None of this is happening.

The Minister of Fisheries and Oceans recently stated that “the fishery is broken”. However, rather than implementing the recommendations from the 1998 report and the 2005 report of the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans, the government is moving backward and making cuts to the department, including science and enforcement. Instead of putting forward a concrete plan to rebuild the fisheries, the government is determined to move forward with its reckless cuts.

We need to take a serious look at the future of Canada's fisheries and our many coastal communities and their local economies. This bill provides a real opportunity to take a fundamental look at the direction of Canada's fisheries and how we might rebuild our once great fishery.

Hans Rollman, a Newfoundland columnist for The Independent, wrote:

In short, this is not just an inquiry to lay blame for some long-over historical event. This inquiry is about our future. If it does not happen, we will be unprepared, uneducated, and unable to meet the demands and challenges our future world and economy...

It could examine DFO enforcement programs and determine whether they are truly underfunded or ill-equipped to deal with current problems or future problems, like our changing ocean ecosystems. The inquiry could examine the environmental impacts of fishing technologies, the distribution of inshore and offshore quotas, the quota allocation system and allowable catches or limits. It could inform the minister and the department what type or scale of fisheries we would need or how we would move forward to a truly community-based fishery based on co-operative management. It could help us learn how to prevent future collapses or deal with unprecedented changes to our oceans, whether it is climate change, acidification, overfishing, pollution or habitat loss.

All of this could be achieved by doing a serious examination of the greatest fisheries collapse in Canadian history. We owe it to future generations to act now. That is why this bill must pass. Canadians deserve an inquiry that will pose real solutions and rebuild what has been lost. As the bill states:

—the fisheries are a renewable resource which can, with revitalized conservation and management practices, be rebuilt for the benefit of present and future generations and contribute towards the economic growth of rural Newfoundland and Labrador and all of Canada;...

I urge all members of the House to support Bill C-308.

Newfoundland and Labrador Fishery Rebuilding ActPrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.


Jack Harris NDP St. John's East, NL

Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to follow my colleague, the member for New Westminster—Coquitlam, our fisheries critic on the bill.

I want to commend the member for St. John's South—Mount Pearl for bringing forth this private member's bill. It was an extremely important reason of why he ran for Parliament. It was also part of our party's platform in the last election. We called for an inquiry into the Newfoundland and Labrador fishery to talk about a recovery plan.

The story of the collapse of the Newfoundland fishery can be pretty simply told. I want to tell the House about a book which outlines some of the major problems. It is called Distant Water by an American individual named William Warner. He wrote the book in 1983. In the book he talks about the three things that came together that caused the initial devastation of one of the world's, if not the world's, most significant source of protein.

We have to remember that this fishery, which has been going on for 500 years, fed Europe through many centuries. The fishery was not a local fishery. It was a distant water fishery from Portugal, Spain, the Basque country and England. It sustained Europe throughout many centuries and was one of the most significant protein sources in the entire world.

In the fifties and early sixties, three things came together. First, believe it or not, there was a surplus of tankers, so shipyards that made big tankers were suddenly not very busy. Second, flash freezing techniques and plate freezers were invented. Third, the Germans developed a mechanical filleting machine.

The British started developing a distant water fishery from York, followed by East Germans and Russians. Pretty soon there was a huge distant water fleet coming from Spain, Portugal, East Germany, Poland, the Soviet Union, Cuba, and even as far east as Asia. This fishery was so efficient and enormously successful that by 1968, and that is the peak year others have mentioned, 800,000 tonnes of cod fish were taken from the north Atlantic.

The subtitle of the book Distant Water is “The Fate of the North Atlantic Fishermen”.

By 1992 the catch rate was way down because the fishery could not sustain it. It is estimated that the biomass of fish that was there could actually sustain 400,000 tonnes per year on an ongoing basis. That is the amount of biomass that was lost not only to Newfoundland and Labrador and Canada but to the world in terms of a food source.

One of the previous speakers talked about 12 tonnes, but I think he meant 12,000 tonnes of cod being caught in the last year. The annual catch is closer to 20,000 tonnes, but that is 20,000 out of a potential 400,000 tonnes.

The question has to be asked, where is the recovery plan? We have a recovery plan for the pine marten and for the British Columbia marmot. Where is the recovery plan for the cod stock that sustained Europe for centuries and Newfoundland fishermen for 500 years? About 40,000 people lost their jobs and their livelihood in 1992 as a result of the cod moratorium. With the recovery potential of 400,000 tonnes and we are up to 12,000 now, there is a long way to go.

The story of how the fishery collapsed is fairly easily told.

What is important about the bill is actually subclause 5(d), which is asking, pertaining to the terms of reference, to develop recommendations for rebuilding and improving the future sustainability of the fish stock including, as required, changes to the policies, procedures, et cetera, and talks about management of boundaries and all of the things my colleague, the fisheries critic, just so eloquently disclosed.

That is all we need. We need a recovery plan. We need some objective, evidence-based report. We had it from the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans in 2005, talking about fisheries management. The impetus is there.

There needs to be some evidence-based approach. Let us examine the things that the member for Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor talked about in terms of the fact that there seems to be recovery in some places. We need to hear from scientists. We need to do a proper job.

It is not good enough for the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, as he did here in the House and elsewhere, to say the fishery is broken. We do not say the fishery is broken and then walk away from it, and leave it to private enterprise or private industry. If we have this devastation and this loss of a critical food resource for Canada and the world, we have to do something about it. We do not cut back on science if science is needed to answer the questions.

We have more than a responsibility for the people and fishers of Newfoundland and Labrador. We have a moral responsibility as a country to attempt, if it is possible, to regenerate this fish stock for the sake of helping to feed the world and support the people of rural Newfoundland who have lived for generations and centuries on this resource.

The predecessor to the riding of St. John's South—Mount Pearl, which used to be called St. John's West, is my neighbouring riding. That was the riding that was held by John Crosbie when he was fisheries minister and the moratorium was brought in, in 1992, so it is very fitting that the current member for St. John's South—Mount Pearl is bringing this forth 20 years later, saying, “Where is the plan to recover the stocks”? Twenty years later, we are at 5% of what we were 20 years ago.

Now the member for St. John's South—Mount Pearl, the successor to Mr. Crosbie, is here telling the Conservatives again, “Where is your plan? Don't just say the fishery is broken, say the fishery has a problem”. There has been a failure to adopt a rebuilding plan. We want to have an inquiry to talk about that, just as we did in British Columbia. The Cohen commission is doing it in British Columbia.

One of the members opposite asked, why would we repeat that on the east coast? There is nobody from Newfoundland to B.C. going to talk about salmon in the Fraser River. We want to talk about cod fish in Newfoundland and Labrador and we want someone to do the same kind of study as is being done in British Columbia, with regard to the value of that fishery and the sustainability of the cod stocks.

The member for St. John's South—Mount Pearl said that we have oil right now and it has been very good for our economy. It has been very good for the provincial government's coffers. It has been very good for the federal government's coffers, better for the federal government's coffers, frankly, than it has been for the Newfoundland government's coffers. Any study will show that the benefits to the federal government are greater than the province. That may have changed slightly in recent years, but that is not a forever resource.

What we need to do is examine not why the cod has diminished because overfishing is the issue. Who did it and when is not necessarily what we need to get into. We need to get into how it is going to come back.

I will just leave the House with the fact that the fundamental problem with the Newfoundland and Labrador fishery is the lack of fish. That seems pretty basic. The way to answer that problem is not to say that the fishery is broken. It is to say that we need a recovery plan for the species, for the stock, and for the sustainability of Newfoundland and Labrador culture and way of life. It is to provide, as we should, the restoration of a prime source of protein, of food, for Canada and the rest of the world.

Newfoundland and Labrador Fishery Rebuilding ActPrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.


Yvon Godin NDP Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, I very pleased to speak to Bill C-308, a private member's bill presented by my colleague for St. John's South—Mount Pearl, and I am very proud that he has brought forward this bill. I also heard the member for St. John's East, the member from British Columbia and the other government members who spoke to this bill. It is unfortunate that the government opposes this bill.

The members spoke very well on the topic of the bill. They proposed a public inquiry to try to find answers and to restore our fish. I come from northeastern New Brunswick, and I do not have to tell you that my riding is bounded by the ocean, Chaleur Bay and the Gulf of St. Lawrence. It is the most beautiful riding in Canada. We have the ocean on one side, and the forest on the other. We have everything. But it is unfortunate to see what is happening. I do not want to mix fishing with forestry, but we have lost both our fish and our forest because the paper mills in Miramichi, Bathurst, Dalhousie and New Richmond have been closed. The primary sector has fallen.

Who would have thought that this would happen? All the fishermen said that they once had fish in abundance. I remember going to the Shippagan harbour with my parents when I was very young, and the people working at the plant were walking around with wheelbarrows full of fish. Cod were falling off every side. There was fish in abundance. What is going on now? There are no more. It was closed in 1992, as my colleague for St. John's Eastsaid when talking about Mr. Crosbie, the former Minister of Fisheries. I have never been a fisherman, and my family has never been a family of fishermen. I was a miner and worked underground, but not far from the ocean. I was about 2,300 feet underground and had nothing to do with the ocean.

However, when I became a union representative in 1988, I started to get involved in the fishing industry and began working with the employees of fish plants in the Acadian peninsula. That is where I saw the damage that occurred in the communities when the groundfish fishery was eliminated in New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Nova Scotia.

I have read newspaper articles when the media has covered this subject. They used words like “managed annihilation”, “the biggest failure of Confederation”, “national embarrassment” and “national disgrace”.

The collapse of the cod fishery off the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador two decades ago is now considered a legendary environmental and economic disaster. I would go further and say that it affected not only Newfoundland and Labrador, but the entire Gulf of St. Lawrence and every other Atlantic province. It was a national disaster.

“An inquiry would reveal telling similarities with agriculture—small coastal fisheries are equivalent to the family farm, and the big freezer trawlers are the ocean's equivalent to the mega-farm. Such an analysis would inevitably lead to the realization—which is always the case when people band together—that in one way or another, we are all in the same boat. It is not surprising that the Conservative government is not taking the request for an inquiry by the member for St. John's South—Mount Pearl, NDP seriously.” That was an excerpt from an article written by Helen Forsey, published in the November edition of The Monitor, a publication by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

I could read aloud a lot of other newspaper articles were journalists have picked apart these issues.

Perhaps the bill should go further. There should not be an inquiry only in Newfoundland, but also in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island. In fact, there should be an inquiry in every Atlantic province to determine what went on.

The member for St. John's East is right; we do not want to accuse anybody. The fish are no longer there, period. Fishers and scientists need to work together to find solutions to bring the fishery back to the Atlantic.

We are talking about resources, food and jobs for these people. Rather than calling them a bunch of lazy slackers who do not want to work, like the member for Madawaska—Restigouche did by saying that too many people remain jobless in order to get employment insurance, why does the government not hold a public inquiry to get people back to work?

In my riding, people worked up to 35 weeks a year in the groundfish fishery, including crab, cod, and redfish. These are hard-working people, men and women who used to get up in the morning to go to work. What happened is unfortunate.

If the government wants to do something positive and if it has nothing to hide, why does it not sit down with scientists, fishers and experts and come up with solutions, for example, a public inquiry? Before fixing the problem, the root cause needs to be identified. Perhaps it was because of overfishing; but there may be another reason. The experts need to work together.

That is why I am going to support this bill. It is our hope that the government will reconsider things and admit that holding a public inquiry would not be the end of the world. An entire industry has shut down. That is not right. We need to get to the bottom of things and come up with solutions.

Newfoundland and Labrador Fishery Rebuilding ActPrivate Members' Business

6:20 p.m.


Ryan Cleary NDP St. John's South—Mount Pearl, NL

Mr. Speaker, there has been a major breakthrough in the fisheries since the introduction of my private member's Bill C-308, the Newfoundland and Labrador fishery rebuilding act. The breakthrough took almost 20 years. It took tens of thousands of job losses, the biggest layoff in Canadian history. The breakthrough took unparalleled out-migration from the outports of Newfoundland and Labrador. The breakthrough came after untold suffering and hardship and a devastating blow to our heritage, a blow that still threatens our culture. The breakthrough is the long-awaited acknowledgement that the Newfoundland and Labrador fishery is broken.

The word “broken” has been used in recent weeks to describe the state of our fisheries. The Minister of Fisheries and Oceans has used the word “broken”, as has the CEO of Ocean Choice International, one of the largest fish companies in Newfoundland and Labrador left standing.

Now that the acknowledgement has been made that the fishery is broken, the question now is: How do we fix it? The cracks in the broken fishery begin at the very foundation, the management. With Confederation, part of our dowry to Canada was the Grand Banks of Newfoundland, one of the richest fishing grounds on the face of the planet. Sixty-two years later and commercial stocks such as cod and flounder have been virtually wiped out. Stock after stock has failed under the current management regime.

The management has not worked, and it cannot be trusted to fix what has been broken. Twenty years and there has been no recovery plan. Shameful. Our future is too important to leave in the hands of the bureaucracy and the system that brought our fishery to its knees in the first place.

One of the only reports that has been carried out in recent decades on the state of fisheries management was written in 2005 by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans. The report is entitled, “Northern Cod: A Failure of Canadian Fisheries Management”, the key word being “failure”.

The report took DFO to task for failing to recognize mismanagement as one of the reasons for the stock collapse, describing DFO's lack of long-term vision as astonishing.

On September 12 of this year, I held a news conference in St. John's to announce my private member's bill calling for an inquiry into the Newfoundland and Labrador fisheries. The news conference was made in the same hotel room where then federal fisheries minister, John Crosbie, shut down the northern cod fishery in 1992.

Within hours of that news conference, Canada's current Minister of Fisheries and Oceans announced there would be no inquiry. His reasoning: the minister pointed out that some areas of the eastern Scotian shelf have seen some stock improvement. The ignorance is astonishing. The Scotian shelf is off Nova Scotia, not Newfoundland and Labrador.

When the Conservative government says no to my bill before the Conservative government has even seen my bill, that is a testament to the importance it gives to the Grand Banks of Newfoundland. When the Conservative government says no to my bill, it is saying no to the future of Newfoundland and Labrador. It is saying no to the future of our culture and the sustainability of our heritage.

The Prime Minister once said that the Atlantic provinces have a culture of defeat. Saying no to an inquiry will ensure that defeat. How can the Conservative government say yes to an inquiry into the disappearance of British Columbia salmon stocks and no to an inquiry into the Newfoundland and Labrador cod stocks? Are our fish, our cod fish, are we any less important?

John Crosbie once asked, “Who hears the fishes when they cry?” My question for the Conservative government is this: Who hears the fishermen when they cry?

Newfoundland and Labrador Fishery Rebuilding ActPrivate Members' Business

6:25 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

It being 6:30 p.m., the time provided for debate has expired.

Accordingly, the question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

Newfoundland and Labrador Fishery Rebuilding ActPrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

Some hon. members



Newfoundland and Labrador Fishery Rebuilding ActPrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

Newfoundland and Labrador Fishery Rebuilding ActPrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.

Some hon. members


Newfoundland and Labrador Fishery Rebuilding ActPrivate Members' Business

6:30 p.m.


The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

All those opposed will please say nay.