Mr. Speaker, it is a delight to be able to participate in this debate on Bill C-38, the jobs, growth and long-term prosperity act. Like my colleague, the member for Cumberland—Colchester—Musquodoboit Valley, I want to address the changes proposed in Bill C-38 to the Fisheries Act, in particular.
Let me begin by telling the House how I approach legislation, and not just this legislation but all legislation that I see. I ask myself a couple of key questions. The first one is, “What problem is this legislation attempting to solve?” Of course a related question is, “Is there a problem at all, or are we happy enough with the status quo?” I think that is a key question to ask. The second key question is, “Does this legislation solve that problem in the best way possible?” In the end, my comments about these changes to the Fisheries Act are going to answer those questions.
The focus of the original Fisheries Act was to regulate fishing and activities that directly impact fishing. However, over the years the Fisheries Act has grown to include powers and authorities aimed at conservation and protection of fish and fish habitat. On its own, that may not have been a bad thing.
The problem is due to direction, some of it coming from the courts. We now no longer effectively discriminate how we regulate small-scale impacts and low-value fisheries, like stream crossings on farmland, and projects that are larger scale with those large impacts and more valuable fisheries, like a hydroelectric development or sockeye salmon.
The government has been talking with stakeholders over a number of years. I have been connected to Fisheries and Oceans now for several years and have been part of this. We know that people care about fisheries protection and proponents that undertake development activities in and around fisheries waters. They talk to us about their challenges.
Based on their knowledge and the issues they have raised, we have determined that we need to do at least three things to solve this problem. We need to streamline our process and reduce overlap and duplication. Second, we need to reinforce our commitment to protect Canada's commercial, recreational and aboriginal fisheries. We need to be more discriminating as to where and how we apply our mandate to protect fisheries.
We could add a fourth, and that is that we need to create an enabling environment to be able to partner with others, whether they be provinces or conservation groups and others.
In a nutshell, I think we need to move the federal government out of the business of reviewing every activity on every body of water, regardless of the impact, to focusing on activities that pose a significant threat to the sustainability and productivity of commercial, recreational or aboriginal fisheries.
We want to adopt a common sense approach to managing real and significant threats to fisheries and the habitat that supports them while minimizing the restrictions on routine, everyday activities that have little or no impact on the productivity of Canada's fisheries.
We recognize the importance of Canada's fisheries across the country, and our government is introducing changes that would focus our fish and fish habitat protection measures on Canada's commercial, recreational and aboriginal fisheries.
The new changes would protect the productivity of Canada's fisheries while providing much-needed clarity to Canadians by, first of all, focusing the government's protection efforts on those three fisheries; second, drawing a distinction between vital waterways that support Canada's fisheries and unproductive bodies of water, like man-made reservoirs, drainage ditches in some cases and irrigation channels; and third, identifying and managing real threats to the fisheries, including direct impacts to fish, habitat destruction and aquatic invasive species.
To help focus limited resources on projects and areas that are significant in scope and in impact, the act would enable the exemption of certain types of lower risk and routine activities or waters, like digging farm ditches or draining flooded fields, from the prohibition.
Under the revised Fisheries Act, the government would be able to enter into productive partnerships with provinces, industry and conservation groups to enable them to use their expertise to protect, monitor and conserve Canada's fisheries. This would allow the federal government to maximize its ability to collaborate with agencies and organizations that care about protecting fisheries. Enhanced partnering opportunities with organizations would help support the conservation of fisheries. Collaboration would also be streamlined by enhanced abilities to enter into legal agreements for the effective protection of fisheries.
Better partnerships with other government agencies are also key to reducing duplication and overlap. We are proposing to achieve this through new authorities that would allow other federal departments, such as the National Energy Board or the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, for example, or provinces, to issue authorizations under the Fisheries Act.
The new act would also give the minister the authority to declare that, if a provincial regulation made under the Fisheries Act meets or beats the federal government standards, only the provincial regulation would need apply. If the province has strong protection in place, the federal government would not need to intervene.
Let me say this, because this has been the subject of some question. There is a new prohibition in the act, a new section 35. This new section would replace text that had become outdated and no longer reflected today's reality. The prohibition states that it is prohibited for any person to undertake any works, undertakings or activities that result in serious harm to fish that are part of a commercial, recreational or aboriginal fishery or a fish that supports these fisheries. It also defines in the act what that serious harm is. It is the death of fish or permanent alteration to or destruction of fish habitat. Fish habitat is defined in the act as spawning grounds and any other areas, including nursery, rearing, food supply and migration areas on which fish depend directly or indirectly in order to carry out their life processes.
The amended Fisheries Act also includes tools to enable greater protection of ecologically significant areas such as spawning grounds for sockeye salmon, which is important of course in British Columbia where I come from. These amendments would make it easier to clearly identify and therefore to better protect these zones. Other tools to protect fisheries include enhanced compliance and enforcement tools, such as enforceable conditions, the obligation for proponents to notify government officials in the event of serious harm to fisheries, and penalties that are aligned with the Environmental Enforcement Act.
The amendments to the Fisheries Act would also provide for greater transparency in decision-making. Under the existing law the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans does not have to take any specific factors into consideration when he is making decisions. In the new Fisheries Act, factors that the minister would need to take into account when making certain decisions and exercising certain powers would add clarity and transparency to decisions. The minister would have to show that he has considered key factors before he can make regulatory decisions related to, for example, the new prohibition, regulations and authorizations. The minister would also need to consider these factors when he is exercising powers related to fish passage, exclusions and authorizations and designating ecologically significant areas, just to name a few. They are listed in the act, and I encourage my colleagues to go and look at them in more detail.
In addition, the minister would prepare and present to Parliament a report on the administration of agreements and equivalency, if any agreements are entered into with the provinces, and enforcement of the provisions relating to fisheries protection and pollution protection after the end of each fiscal year.
The new act would recognize that this is where protection is needed, not in farmers' fields, not in irrigation ditches, not where there are no fisheries; it would recognize that we cannot do this alone and allow us to effectively partner with the provinces and territories, aboriginal groups, conservation organizations and other stakeholders for the protection of Canada's fisheries.
Now I will get back to those questions. Is there a problem? I think there is, and I think many Canadians do as well.
Does this legislation address these problems in an effective way? I think it does. It is not perfect; no legislation is, but it goes a long way to addressing these problems. We are going to have sustainability and productivity of commercial, recreational and aboriginal fisheries for future generations of Canadians, and that is what we need.