House of Commons Hansard #102 of the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was jobs.


Fisheries ActPrivate Members' Business

5:55 p.m.


Fin Donnelly NDP Port Moody—Coquitlam, BC

Mr. Speaker, first, I just want to say I am definitely an ardent supporter of wild salmon. It is a critical issue I have been working on for half my life, a quarter of a century.

I do want to point out that the bill is specific to Canada's west coast, so it is really just focused on British Columbia.

As to the important question about the impacts of transition, yes, there are always impacts when transitioning to a new technology. However, if we look to the world leaders, Norway is the largest open-net salmon farmer in the world. The Norwegians are making a transition to closed containment. What they have recognized is that the costs of keeping the salmon farming industry going, i.e., pesticides and Slice and the toxins that they have to use to combat disease, are getting too high. Therefore, they are seeing the idea of moving to closed containment as the way forward.

I think that Canada can play a significant role by adopting that technology and then, at the same time, not putting the much larger wild salmon economy at risk.

In my speech I spelled out exactly what the problems are with a smaller industry impacting a much larger industry of over $1.1 billion and almost 50,000 employees. We are talking about a small industry. It needs to make the change through adopting a new technology to stay relevant.

Fisheries ActPrivate Members' Business

5:55 p.m.


Mel Arnold Conservative North Okanagan—Shuswap, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask if the member has done research into where the industry would end up if we did transition into closed containment, whether it would stay in B.C., whether it would go to an area where land costs were much lower, and what sort of impact that would have on the work, the jobs, the employment that is in British Columbia.

Fisheries ActPrivate Members' Business

5:55 p.m.


Fin Donnelly NDP Port Moody—Coquitlam, BC

Mr. Speaker, that is a great question. In fact, I invited all my colleagues, and I know the hon. members for New Westminster—Burnaby and Coquitlam—Port Coquitlam, as well as a number of other colleagues, came to visit Kuterra, which is the leading salmon farm that uses closed containment technology in British Columbia. I wish the member had come to visit, but I know we have busy schedules so not everyone could make it. He would have seen and heard about how their operation is working. They were very open about some of the issues.

However, one of the things that impressed me was that they said how ideally situated we are on the west coast to raise salmon. We are right by the ocean to use seawater. We have a well-trained workforce, ready to go, and we have ideal growing conditions for salmon.

We cannot say that about other parts of this country. It is possible that, over time, there could be changes once the technology is perfected and it could start to move to other places, but currently, if we are to stay ahead of the Norwegians and Danes and the United States, we need to start implementing that technology right here in Canada, right now, so that we can become and stay world leaders.

Fisheries ActPrivate Members' Business

6 p.m.

Acadie—Bathurst New Brunswick


Serge Cormier LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Fisheries

Mr. Speaker, I want to start by recognizing the good work the member for Port Moody—Coquitlam is doing, his continued dedication to the issues concerning aquaculture on the west coast of Canada, and his good work on the fisheries and oceans and Canadian Coast Guard committee.

I would like to assure him and all Canadian stakeholders that our government takes these issues very seriously as we continue to support the responsible development of a sustainable aquaculture industry in Canada. I also want to thank all my B.C. colleagues who took the time to speak with me and inform me about the aquaculture industry in their province.

The government is absolutely determined to conserve wild Pacific salmon and ensure that our wild salmon populations remain healthy for generations to come.

To show our commitment, the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard went to British Columbia in August to announce that our government would continue to follow up on the recommendations of the Cohen Commission, which include tangible measures to conserve and protect wild Pacific salmon, measures backed by new investments in ocean sciences announced in budget 2016.

These new investments include research and monitoring in support of sustainable aquaculture and the improved health of fish stocks. We are hiring new scientists, biologists, oceanographers, and technicians to increase the monitoring of salmon populations, better predict where salmon mortality occurs, and increase our investment in fish health. This scientific data is used to inform aquaculture fisheries management and regulatory decision-making.

We have also held extensive consultations with first nations, environmental NGOs, and industry stakeholders on the choice of site for finfish aquaculture in British Columbia.

We are working on having assessments done of the risks associated with the transfer of pathogens between farmed salmon and wild salmon, taking into account the potential repercussions on the aquatic environment, when determining the optimal location and issuing the licence.

Bill C-228 seeks to relocate all the aquaculture finfish in Canadian waters off the Pacific coast to closed containment cultivation facilities.

Closed containment cultivation technology is still not technically viable. The only feasible possibility technically speaking would be land-based recirculating aquaculture systems, which are limited and not necessarily financially viable.

The bill addresses cultivated Atlantic salmon, but many other species would also be affected, including coho salmon, certified organic chinook salmon, rainbow trout, and black cod.

I would like to remind my colleagues that the aquaculture industry in British Columbia is already under federal regulation as a result of the 2009 decision by the British Columbia Supreme Court. The regulatory changes that were brought in at that time enable me to say with confidence that aquaculture in British Columbia is managed under a comprehensive and robust regulatory regime.

Measures are in place through regulations and conditions of licence to apply evidence-based thresholds and standards to manage environmental impacts. Moreover, the industry is required to report to Fisheries and Oceans Canada on all of its activities. Additionally, a new regulation requiring even more reporting on aquaculture activities was brought into force in 2015.

These regulations and reporting requirements provide a great deal of information about the management and implementation of aquaculture fisheries in British Columbia.

What does all the data, collected over the course of five years, tell us? Does it indicate that the problems with finfish aquaculture in British Columbia warrant the restructuring of the entire industry? In my view, the evidence tells a completely different story. In fact, the evidence shows an industry that has steadily reduced its environmental impact, mitigated the impacts it has had, and minimized its interactions with wild populations and their habitats.

Let us now take a closer look at these elements. Operators in British Columbia must produce reports on a wide range of technical regulatory requirements from the state of the environment inside and around open-net farms to the number of sea lice on the fish. Operators must report details of any escapes and all illnesses that affect their farmed fish.

Starting in 2017, the drugs and pesticides used by aquaculture operators in Canada, including British Columbia, must be made public. All aquaculture operators are now required to report the steps they take to mitigate the impact of their activities, and the results will also be made public.

Our country and our government rely on the best scientific advice to inform our regulatory system. We use data to make our decisions. We have no evidence that the environment is sacrificed in order to pursue the economic development of British Columbia's aquaculture industry.

With respect to the state of the environment under and around marine finfish aquaculture facilities, the regulatory requirements ensure that these sites are left empty if they exceed the established threshold and they cannot be cultivated again until levels return to normal.

Because of the potential impacts an escape of farmed salmon could have, aquaculture operators in British Columbia are required to report any escapes to Fisheries and Oceans Canada within 24 hours. Escape events are very rare. Interestingly, the largest escape happened when a storm damaged an experimental at-sea closed containment facility.

With respect to the health of farmed fish, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency has a list of diseases that have the potential to seriously impact aquatic animal health or the Canadian economy. Anyone who knows of or suspects these diseases is required to notify the agency.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada periodically inspects the health of fish in British Columbia salmon farms. Three incidents involving infectious diseases were reported to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency over the past six years alone.

The presence of sea lice is another highly controversial fish health indicator, particularly in British Columbia. Even if the fish are raised in cages in a parasite-free marine environment, farmed fish can catch sea lice from contact with wild species.

To reduce the spread of these parasites, there is a regulatory limit of three lice per fish during the seaward salmon migration. Fisheries and Oceans Canada audits of the last migration showed that, on average, 96% of salmon farms were below that limit.

As a whole, Canada's aquaculture industry has an exemplary record. The Canadian environmental sustainability indicator shows that the compliance rate of aquaculture operations with Fisheries Act regulations was over 99% each year.

Based on the data, we believe that the regulatory regime is strong enough to ensure stable, well-paid employment for thousands of people living in rural and isolated coastal communities, as well as first nations, to promote an innovative, world-renowned aquaculture industry, and to protect wild populations and the aquatic environment.

Therefore, I stand in the House in full support of British Columbia's aquaculture industry as well as the aquaculture industry across the country, in support of our robust regulatory regime, in support of good jobs, and in support of the healthy and nutritious farmed seafood products that feed Canadians as well as people around the world. We recognize the potential of closed containment aquaculture, and as the industry evolves and grows, our government will continue to pursue innovation in salmon aquaculture.

I respectfully oppose this bill because I sincerely believe that we have a solid regulatory regime for aquaculture.

Fisheries ActPrivate Members' Business

6:05 p.m.


Todd Doherty Conservative Cariboo—Prince George, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise in the House today to speak to private member's bill, Bill C-228, An Act to amend the Fisheries Act.

First, I would like to commend the member for Port Moody—Coquitlam for having his bill debated at second reading. I know how tirelessly he has campaigned and worked on this. I know how much work goes into getting these bills to the floor of the House, and I would like to recognize his efforts.

Second, I would like to acknowledge the natural beauty of the rivers and lakes in my riding of Cariboo—Prince George, which are chock full of some of the finest fish on the west coast. From salmon to trout to char, Arctic grayling, dolly varden, Rocky Mountain whitefish, and even lean cod, we have it all in the Cariboo.

The fisheries are an important economic driver in the northern regions of our country, but they are struggling. A recent article in the Prince Rupert Northern View spoke of salmon being caught in Prince Rupert and shipped to Vancouver or China to be processed. The demand for same day catch or fresh-to-plate fish is high.

Demand for Canadian products is always high. While this is a good opportunity for Canadian producers and our Canadian economy, it does mean that it is putting jobs at risk.

Bill C-228 would ban finfish aquaculture in Pacific waters unless it were carried out in a closed containment facility. It would require that within 18 months cabinet conclude a transition plan for current licence holders, including specific support measures for corporations and workers affected or impacted by these changes. It also mandates that companies would have five years to phase out open-net pens.

British Columbia is Canada's largest producer of farmed salmon. Farmed salmon is B.C.'s largest aquaculture export. The wild and farmed salmon industries provide important economic activity for the province and for communities where families depend on the fishing industry to put food on their table.

Ninety per cent of all direct and indirect jobs in rural, coastal, and first nations communities are supported by fisheries. As a matter of fact, 78% of farmed salmon production comes from traditional territory. Nineteen first nations have joint ventures and partnership agreements in place with salmon producers. The salmon farming sector has become a significant economic driver and source of jobs for first nations communities, who provide an estimated 30% of the workforce in this industry.

If Bill C-228 were to be adopted, it would come at a significant financial and economic cost to our aquaculture industry, and a loss to those communities. This is an issue that has been studied at the fisheries and oceans committee numerous times over the years. Its most recent report was completed in 2013.

Unsurprisingly, the committee witnesses expressed a number of views on the matter of net-pen aquaculture. They pointed out that mandating closed containment and banning net-pen aquaculture without closed containment being economically viable could have a drastic effect on employment, especially in our rural coastal communities who have already been suffering from the lack of significant growth in salmon aquaculture production in recent years.

However, I do not just have economic concerns with this bill. It is worth knowing that environmental impacts are not unique to open net-pen aquaculture production. Closed containment aquaculture carries its own set of environmental impacts that, given the state of the industry, have been and are not well studied. The carbon footprint generated by a closed containment facility drawing in electricity, pumping in water, filtering waste, among other actions, is hugely significant.

Growing British Columbia's production in salmon in closed containment facilities at the current stocking density would require 4.16 billion litres of water just to fill the tanks. That is roughly equal to the water used by 135 million people, and if that were not enough, the current production in Canada alone would require 28,000 Canadian football fields, or 33,719 acres, or 159 square kilometres of land to grow fish in appropriate densities in land-based systems.

When it comes to this closed-pen aquaculture, and the environmental impacts in particular, more studies are needed.

The Conservative Party supports aquaculture development that is both economically sound and environmentally responsible. As it is written, Bill C-228 does not meet these thresholds. In fact, it was the previous government under Stephen Harper that put in place stringent regulations to protect Canada's aquatic species, both farm and wild, from disease. We worked with our provincial partners and developed some of the most stringent regulations in this industry.

A number of important changes have been made to environmental management regimes, including the relocation of poorly sited farms, new farm siting requirements, and the adjustment of stocking, harvesting, and sea lice treatment schedules in order to account for wild salmon migration seasons.

Conservatives made significant investments, which included more than $465 million per year on salmon alone, of which $20 million was directly related to activities to support sustainable management of sockeye, such as fisheries science, protection of fisheries habitat, salmon enhancement, and catch and monitoring enforcement. Finally, prior to the 2015 election, Conservatives renewed the sustainable aquaculture program, which would continue to improve the regulatory framework for the sector, support science, and require public reporting.

On the west coast, Abbotsford has a state-of-the-art health facility. It is called the Animal Health Centre. It is one of only three in North America and is probably the only institution in North America with two veterinarian pathologists certified by the American College of Veterinary Pathologists, who work exclusively with fish. That is on the west coast, in Abbotsford.

While Bill C-228 may have received ringing endorsements from Captain Kirk himself, it just doesn't make sense, certainly not from an economic standpoint and certainly not for those whose livelihoods depend on a sustainable aquaculture sector to put food on the table for their families. With more and more uncertainty in our forestry and resource sectors, and with the Trudeau government increasing taxes at every opportunity, communities like those in my riding of Cariboo—Prince George or those just north of us, like Prince Rupert, do not need more uncertainty.

If Bill C-228 were to be adopted, it would essentially be moving aquaculture away from small towns and into larger cities, where they are closer to resources and transportation hubs. I can say from first-hand experience that when jobs are slashed, communities are left without a lifeline. No amount of subsidization can make up for this fact. That is why I am unable to support Bill C-228 today.

It is the aquaculture industry that supports 4,900 direct, full-time jobs in this vast country, with salaries paid out to the tune of $106.2 million each year, which is 30% higher than other industries. If we want to include indirect jobs in that figure, we can add another 9,600. The industry contributes $500 million to the B.C. economy alone.

Bill C-228 would have a direct and immediate impact on our rural coastal communities. If we were to move it, based on the number of currently operating marine farms, conversion to land-based systems would result in an estimated lost investment in farm equipment of approximately $500 million. Capital investment in land-based systems for equivalent current provincial production can be roughly estimated to exceed $1 billion in capital investments alone based on the above figures.

Siting facilities close to urban centres would increase this estimate significantly. We know the price of real estate in the Lower Mainland is among the highest in Canada. We are not quite sure where we would find the amount of land needed to move these facilities.

Bill C-228 would put full-time, well-paying jobs in jeopardy during a time when we are faced with economic uncertainty and layoffs in many sectors across this country. I am not saying there are not benefits to closed-pen aquaculture. What I am saying is that more studies need to be conducted in terms of the impact of closed-containment aquaculture on our coastal communities, which need these jobs the most. Unilaterally banning finfish aquaculture unless it is carried out in closed containment is not the answer, and until the practice can be carried out in an economically and environmentally sound manner, I will be unable to support this bill.

With that, I again want to commend my hon. colleague for putting forth this bill and for the work he has done on it. Unfortunately, it has missed the mark.

Fisheries ActPrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

Before resuming debate, I want to point out a couple of things. One is that we cannot use an hon. member's name. It has to be by the riding. I am sure that slipped out.

I am sure hon. members appreciate it when somebody coaches them from far on the other side of the room, but it makes it very hard for the rest of us to hear what is being said. If members really feel compelled to coach someone, they can come to me; I will tell them who is going to be speaking, and they can talk to the person before the debate, so he or she is prepared when the speech is given.

Resuming debate, the hon. member for Drummond.

Fisheries ActPrivate Members' Business

6:15 p.m.


François Choquette NDP Drummond, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House to support Bill C-228, an act to amend the Fisheries Act (closed containment aquaculture).

I am really pleased to support my colleague, the hon. member for Port Moody—Coquitlam, in British Columbia. I had the opportunity to get to know him in 2011 when I was first elected and I can say that he has been working very hard for years, not only on protecting the oceans and animals, such as fish, but also on protecting the environment in general.

This is not the first time he has raised the issue of protecting wild salmon. He previously moved a motion in favour of sustainable seafood.

We should be taking a very different approach, not just to agriculture at some point, but also to how we view seafood.

We currently have a very wide-scale, very commercial approach, which is having very serious repercussions on our ecosystem. I am going to elaborate on some very concrete examples of the direct and serious effects on our ecosystems of the current use of nets directly in the sea.

For example, there may be illnesses and parasites that spread to wild salmon. My colleague spoke at length about the economic importance of wild salmon to British Columbia. Unfortunately, there is a great deal of fecal matter on the seabed, which damages the flora and fauna. Moreover, farmed salmon that escape sometimes rejoin the wild population, which, sadly, can lead to illness or other serious consequences.

For all these reasons, it is important to remember that wild salmon is a national treasure in Canada, which, unfortunately, is threatened by the illnesses and pollution that affect open-net salmon aquaculture.

We must take action now to protect the wild salmon economy. My Conservative colleague spoke extensively about the economics of the salmon aquaculture industry. However, his arguments only referred to that aspect of the issue. We also have to consider wild salmon. If wild salmon begins to disappear from the oceans and coastal waters of British Columbia, we will lose even more jobs. We have to take this into consideration as well. In any event, these jobs will not disappear; they will simply be transferred to closed containment aquaculture operations.

Canada could become a world leader in closed containment technology and create a lot more jobs for Canadians in coastal regions and first nation communities, which is why this bill is so important.

When one has been an MP for some time, like me, entering my sixth year, we sometimes have to ask ourselves exactly what it is we are doing here. We think about it. As the days go by, we wonder what this is all about and what our true goals are for our time here.

When one can speak to an issue like this and introduce a private member's bill as important as this one, it is clear why we are all here. We are here to take positive, concrete action that will make a difference in our communities, not only for the people and employers we represent today, but also for our children and grandchildren.

I am thinking of my daughters and the children they may have one day. I am also thinking of my nephews, who are still young, but who will grow up. When you think about it like that, it is extremely important to regularly reflect on the decisions we make.

Once again, I want to congratulate the member for Port Moody—Coquitlam on his bill, which reminds me why I am here in the first place, and reminds me of the importance of our actions today. This makes up for the more difficult times we have here on a regular basis.

Bill C-228 seeks to strengthen the Fisheries Act by banning open net salmon farming. It is a relatively simple initiative that will have many positive effects. Its provisions require all salmon farms in British Columbia to transition from open net pens to safe closed containment systems on land.

As I have already explained, right now, salmon are being raised in nets in the ocean. I have already talked about all of the negative impacts of this method, which is extremely dangerous. The federal government must step in, because salmon farms are threatening the survival of wild Pacific salmon.

People are worried about their jobs and the transition. It is only natural to have concerns when an economic sector makes a transition. That is why my colleague had the wonderful idea of setting out a transition period. In order to support the transition of the west coast's salmon aquaculture industry to closed containment, the minister has 18 months after the bill is passed to create a transition plan. This will help to ensure a proper transition that is satisfactory and beneficial for everyone, as well as make sure that work continues in this industry.

The concept of closed containment farming is not far-fetched. It did not spring from the imagination of a gaggle of oddball scientists. My colleague talked about this in his speech. On the contrary, closed containment systems already exist. This technology is already being used. My colleague talked about Kuterra in British Columbia, a salmon farming operation. This farm already has the support of a number of organizations and scientists. It is a certified “best choice” according to the Living Oceans Foundation and its SeaChoice program.

This technique is already being used and the technology exists. It is being done in an environmentally-friendly and economically sound manner. Consumers are increasingly asking for environmentally-friendly products. As we have already heard, many fishers and people who profit from the wild salmon fishery want action to preserve our fish stocks, including Pacific salmon.

For all these reasons, these practices are crucial. When you think about it, consumers are asking for higher quality products. To make better quality products, better environmental practices are needed. Closed containment farming could help. The example of Kuterra in British Columbia and the SeaChoice program prove that it is possible to do from an economic and sustainable development standpoint.

We also need to think about what we want to leave for our children. Earlier I was thinking of my nephews and the children they may have later. We want to leave them a healthy, sustainable environment. Yes, we want prosperity, but we must still think about the future. That is why this bill is so important and why we must support it. I hope our colleagues will join us.

Fisheries ActPrivate Members' Business

November 1st, 2016 / 6:25 p.m.

Winnipeg North Manitoba


Kevin Lamoureux LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I will start off by complimenting the member for taking the initiative to ensure that we have the debate we are having here this afternoon. I can tell the member that the government's caucus, particularly my colleagues from British Columbia, take this issue very seriously.

I have had an opportunity to have discussions on this issue, which I believe goes outside the province of British Columbia, but I recognize the sensitivity to B.C. in particular. My colleagues, who are quite opinionated on the issue, want to make sure that the government gets it right, and that is something this government is committed to doing.

It is not quite as simple as some might try to make it appear. The issue of fisheries is something that a land-locked province can still care about, as well as our oceans and the industry here in Canada. At the end of the day, we want to make sure that the wild salmon is protected and that we do whatever we can do as a national government.

The parliamentary secretary to the minister made a couple of statements, one of which I will repeat in the House, because it is in budget 2016. The Government of Canada has invested $197 million over the next five years to improve fisheries and aquaculture science and to inform the development of regulations, which will contribute to further improvements to the environmental performance of this sector. This is really important for us to recognize, because the Conservative member made reference to it in his speech.

When we talk about our fisheries industry, whether it is wild or farmed, we have to make sure that not only is it good for Canada's economy but it is also good for our environment. As a government, not only are we talking about that, but we are also walking the talk on it. This is why we have seen a substantial investment in the area of science.

We have heard members in the House talk about the importance of regulation, and we do have some of the most stringent, robust regulation in the world, I would argue, dealing with this specific issue. It is absolutely critical that we do have that regulation. It is ongoing and monitored, because there is always room to improve. As the Prime Minister likes to say often, there is always the opportunity to do better, and this is a government that is committed to doing just that. In listening to the debate this evening, I believe that there are ideas that have flowed through thus far that will allow for more thought on this very important issue.

There is a lot of information on the Internet in regard to this issue. One of the websites I went to was the Watershed Watch Salmon Society. It comments on some basic facts of the salmon farming industry in British Columbia.

For example, one farm can hold 500,000 to 750,000 fish in an area the size of four football fields. The biomass of farmed salmon at one farm site can equal 2,400 tonnes, which equals 480 Indian bull elephants. B.C. has approximately 137 salmon farm tenures with about 85 farm activities at any one time. This information is coming right from the website, which also indicates that 84 tenures are on eastern Vancouver Island and the mainland coast, 48 on western Vancouver Island, and six are on the central coast. I bring this up because I think it is important that we recognize just how strong the industry really is.

Many years ago when I was first elected in the province of Manitoba, the whole concept of aquafarming was pretty much foreign. We did not really hear too much about that in the public arena because it was just starting. Over the last 10 or 15 years we have seen significant growth in the area. Some countries have really pushed the envelope within the industry.

I can appreciate the need for us to look at the industry here in Canada and realize that it has fantastic potential with respect to growth. The industry has quadrupled in size over the years. It is an industry that not only the Government of Canada or the Province of British Columbia is following, but many of my strong-willed Atlantic colleagues would tell us that there is a healthy, vibrant industry in Atlantic Canada as well and they want to see that industry continue to grow. My colleagues, no matter what region of the country they represent, recognize that we need to foster and encourage that growth but we also need to be sensitive to the environment. We want to make sure that the wild fishery is not negatively impacted.

The essence of Bill C-228, put forward by the member for Port Moody—Coquitlam, would be to impose requirements on the industry for the use of a technology that has not yet been proven to be commercially viable, and we need to be concerned about that. If we are concerned about the jobs and how the industry impacts many communities, particularly communities on the Pacific coast of British Columbia, we should not be overly quick to impose something on that industry that could virtually shut it down in a short period of time.

The responsible thing to do is what the federal government has committed to do and that is to invest the financial resources in the industry to allow the proper science to take place so that the industry as a whole can be protected.

Our indigenous communities have played a positive role in the development of this industry. They are not only providing the workforce in many ways but they are also spearheading growth within that industry. This growth is coming in good part from strong leadership within the indigenous community. We need to be sensitive to that.

Innovation and technology are two areas in which this government has been exceptionally proactive with respect to budgetary commitments. Maybe at some point in time we will see that difference, which will make what is being proposed in the legislation that much more commercially viable.

From what we have detected and from what the fisheries standing committee has provided and the expert witnesses have put on the record, today's science clearly indicates that as long as we continue to develop strong rules and regulations, ensure that they are followed and respected, and continue to have an industry that is developing and understands its important role, then we should continue to allow that industry to grow and prosper.

I would emphasize that we are not putting the industry's needs ahead of the environment. When we look at the industry we see it is a complement to the overall community, whether it be society as a whole or the economy. The responsible thing will be done.

Fisheries ActPrivate Members' Business

6:35 p.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the Order Paper.

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.

Official LanguagesAdjournment Proceedings

6:35 p.m.


François Choquette NDP Drummond, QC

Mr. Speaker, I rise in the House once again today to talk about official languages.

I have here a very important report that I was just reviewing. It is a special report to Parliament entitled “Air Canada: On the road to increased compliance through an effective enforcement regime”. Some people may be unaware that a number of complaints have been made about bilingual service at Air Canada, and there have been consequences.

Over the years, official languages commissioners have tried to fix the problem. According to the report, every single commissioner has repeatedly made recommendations concerning Air Canada. It is also worth noting that Air Canada has the singular distinction of being the only organization subject to the act that has been taken to court during the term of each of the commissioners since 1988.

Clearly, Air Canada has been having trouble providing services in both official languages across Canada for some time now. The report is damning, and the problem has been around for quite a while.

However, some attempts have been made to improve the situation. In 2005, a bill was introduced to clarify Air Canada's language obligations. However, Parliament was dissolved. In 2007, another bill was introduced, but it died on the Order Paper. In 2008, another bill did not make it past first reading. Finally, in 2011, a bill was introduced just before the election.

Parliamentarians have therefore recognized that improvements need to be made so that Air Canada and other organizations meet their obligations under the Official Languages Act. Unfortunately, no sooner had they made the announcement than these ministers realized they lacked the will to deal with the problem by passing one of these four bills.

The Commissioner of Official Languages is so discouraged that he decided to issue a special report on official languages, and more specifically on the problem at Air Canada. In this special report, he sets out three solutions.

The first solution is enforceable agreements. In June 2015, the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act was amended to allow the Privacy Commissioner to enter into compliance agreements, which are also known as enforceable agreements. This would ensure that any organization that fails to comply with the Official Languages Act, for example, would be required to comply with the commissioner’s recommendations following an investigation. If not, action could be taken against it.

An enforceable agreement would therefore carry much more weight than a report that can easily be shelved and forgotten. As result, this is a very important recommendation. If memory serves, the report was tabled in June 2016. It is now October, and we want the government to implement these recommendations as quickly as possible.

Official LanguagesAdjournment Proceedings

6:40 p.m.

Edmonton Centre Alberta


Randy Boissonnault LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Canadian Heritage

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member for Drummond for this opportunity to affirm our government's commitment to official languages.

Since its privatization in 1988, Air Canada has been subject to the Official Languages Act and must serve the public in both official languages. The Commissioner of Official Languages has noted on a number of occasions that bilingual services still represented a challenge for Air Canada and that significant gaps remained, even though technology has helped to improve many passenger services.

As previously stated in the House, the application of the Official Languages Act is a priority for our government and of course we expect Air Canada to meet its obligations under the act. Let us be clear. Air Canada must take the necessary steps to address the gaps and make corrections to ensure that it fulfills its linguistic obligations.

We are paying particular attention to the report of the Commissioner of Official Languages to ensure that his recommendations are studied. The same goes for the work of the Standing Committee on Official Languages.

Air Canada is a major reflection of our country around the world and its bilingual services are a must. Canadians who travel with Air Canada expect to be served in the official language of their choice. That is a fair expectation.

The Minister of Canadian Heritage is working with her colleagues, the Minister of Transport and the President of the Treasury Board, to examine appropriate measures to improve the current situation. This represents very well our horizontal approach to leadership on the matter of official languages. More broadly, the President of the Treasury Board and the Minister of Canadian Heritage will work on issues and challenges related to the compliance of federal services with the Official Languages Act.

With respect to the services provided by federal institutions to Canadians in the official language of their choice, I repeat that the Government of Canada will ensure that all federal services comply with the law. I would like to reassure my colleague, the member for Drummond, in that regard. Our government believes in the importance of promoting the use of both official languages in Canadian society, particularly in public institutions that provide services to Canadians.

Official LanguagesAdjournment Proceedings

6:45 p.m.


François Choquette NDP Drummond, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the parliamentary secretary for his answers.

We will continue to monitor developments in this file and, especially, the evolution of the government's response to the report on Air Canada. It is extremely important because the Commissioner's conclusions and recommendations are pertinent, not just for Air Canada, but for any other organization or department that may decide not to abide by the recommendations of an enforceable agreement.

I hope that the recommendations will be implemented. There is no doubt that we will not be satisfied with a response such as the one given by the Translation Bureau. That was a totally unacceptable response. That is why I asked the Minister of Public Services and Procurement to start over.

I believe my time has expired—

Official LanguagesAdjournment Proceedings

6:45 p.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

Order, please.

The hon. parliamentary secretary.

Official LanguagesAdjournment Proceedings

6:45 p.m.


Randy Boissonnault Liberal Edmonton Centre, AB

Mr. Speaker, as I clearly stated here in the House, the minister is working closely with her colleagues on this issue, and the Standing Committee on Official Languages is also working on this important file.

Canadians expect federal institutions that have been designated bilingual to offer them services in their language of choice. This legitimate expectation is consistent with the Official Languages Act, which has been in force here in Canada for several decades.

As a government, we are committed to considering appropriate measures to support Air Canada in respecting its linguistic obligations. Our government strongly believes in the importance of promoting the use of both official languages from coast to coast to coast, and particularly in services to which Canadians are entitled.

Indigenous AffairsAdjournment Proceedings

6:45 p.m.


Georgina Jolibois NDP Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River, SK

Mr. Speaker, I rise in the House today to speak about the redirecting of provincial funding for the northern teacher education program, NORTEP, the Northern Professional Access College, NORPAC, and the unwarranted cuts to this program by the previous federal government.

The students, staff and communities in northern Saskatchewan see this issue as a multi-jurisdictional issue. We cannot sit by while witnessing the risk of seeing one of the most valuable educational institutions losing its independence or, even worse, closing its doors. The uncertainty regarding the future of NORTEP-NORPAC is causing great concern in northern Saskatchewan.

NORTEP-NORPAC is an inclusive learning environment where indigenous and non-indigenous students learn and grow together in northern Saskatchewan. This last summer, the program celebrated its 40th anniversary. That was when this successful institution learned that its funding would be redirected by the provincial government in July 2017.

NORTEP-NORPAC plays a crucial role in educating and providing meaningful employment opportunities to Indigenous northern communities. Eighty-four per cent of its graduates are Indigenous, 79% identify as women and 92% of NORTEP's employed graduates are working as teachers across northern Saskatchewan, which includes hamlets, villages, towns, resorts and on first nations.

I feel there has been a premature decision made without reasonable consultation by both the provincial and federal governments. I have written to the hon. minister about this concern and I am waiting for a reply.

NORTEP-NORPAC's graduates, in the last five years, are employed in northern Saskatchewan. This institution is a driving force in the northern economy. This is a positive indicator, particularly for my riding, considering that it is one of the regions with the highest rate of unemployment in the country.

Many of my constituents are wondering why and how could this funding rearrangement happen without the decision makers offering support or even a short window of opportunity for the staff and board of directors of NORTEP-NORPAC to rethink or consider its financial options. This would allow them to continue what is clearly a program that has successfully contributed to education, employment and the economy of northern Saskatchewan for the last 40 years. The uncertainty is causing great concern about the future of this learning environment.

The federal government cannot stand idle and silent while proven educational and employment opportunities are in jeopardy. NORTEP-NORPAC is a pivotal entity that could be better utilized to effectively deliver culturally relevant educational programming. The government has committed to first nation and Métis post-secondary education, to a nation-to-nation relationship, and to the TRC's calls to action. We need to see action on these commitments.

The future of NORTEP-NORPAC is unknown. The program is important to northerners, the economy, and future generations of students, particularly in light of the recommendations for education made by the TRC.

While I believe that there has been unwarranted cuts of federal funding for this important institution and that NORTEP-NORPAC has been besieged by chronic underfunding and now is threatened by not having a current funding commitment from the Saskatchewan government, will the government ensure that NORTEP-NORPAC receives funding that strengthens the vision, sustainability, and high quality that northerners seek in their education services?

Indigenous AffairsAdjournment Proceedings

6:50 p.m.

Labrador Newfoundland & Labrador


Yvonne Jones LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to respond to the question that has been posed by my colleague this evening, and I recognize that we are on traditional Algonquin territory.

The government believes in investing to improve indigenous students' access to more and better educational opportunities at every level. This is fundamental to opening the door to a brighter future for first nation, Inuit, and Métis students, and the communities in which they live.

I am quite sure I do not need to explain how greater educational opportunities lead to greater life opportunities. This is why I want to refer the hon. member to examples such as the historic investments in elementary and secondary education on reserve that were found in budget 2016. The $2.6 billion over five years will help a new generation of first nation students prepare to secure post-secondary dreams. That includes all first nation and indigenous students across Canada, including those in Saskatchewan.

In addition to this new budget funding, investments are being made each year through the post-secondary partnership program, which is administered by Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada. This program provides funding to post-secondary institutions to design and deliver programs that are tailored for first nation and Inuit students. It will deliver some $18.5 million in support to nearly 100 post-secondary courses and programs in all parts of Canada this fiscal year alone, including the province of Saskatchewan.

We are also committed to working with indigenous students, communities, and leaders, as well as indigenous education institutions and personnel, to ensure that post-secondary students' support programs properly support first nation students pursuing post-secondary education by providing them with financial assistance.

We have a lot of students who are taking advantage of this particular program. The government currently invests over $310 million a year in this program and that is part of the $340 million that we provided for support for indigenous post-secondary students last year, as well.

Further, we have adopted a whole-of-government approach to improving access to these and other post-secondary programs for indigenous students. That includes financial support. For instance, we have increased the Canada student grant for full-time students from low- and middle-income families, as well as the Canada student grant for part-time students, by 50%.

We are working with students, with parents, with educators, and with indigenous groups to ensure that eligible first nation students are aware of these funds and are fully able to avail themselves of them.

I would like to assure the House and the hon. member that we are going to continue to work with indigenous groups to ensure that indigenous students have the resources and the supports they need to pursue and achieve their post-secondary goals. That is what we aim to do, that is what we are investing for, and that includes all first nation students across Canada.

Indigenous AffairsAdjournment Proceedings

6:55 p.m.


Georgina Jolibois NDP Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River, SK

Again, Mr. Speaker, I would like to reiterate that despite the important role it plays, funding for NORTEP-NORPAC is a continuing challenge. The institution underwent a complete federal funding cut under the previous government, and despite a recently-signed five-year agreement with the Province of Saskatchewan, there is now a decision on the redirecting of the institution's funding.

The organization, its staff, students, and community at large are grappling to understand these imposed program challenges, cuts, and changes, which are proposed to take place as early as 2017. They are counting on the federal government to do everything in its capacity to ensure that NORTEP-NORPAC remains independent and continues to offer the high quality that northerners seek in their education services.

The students, staff, teachers, and communities in northern Saskatchewan have made it clear: keep the north strong and save NORTEP-NORPAC.

Indigenous AffairsAdjournment Proceedings

6:55 p.m.


Yvonne Jones Liberal Labrador, NL

Mr. Speaker, I certainly understand the concerns expressed by the member opposite on behalf of her constituents and riding.

The Government of Canada is fully supportive of indigenous students in post-secondary education. We are making historic investments to ensure that indigenous students right across Canada are able to access and afford post-secondary education.

We have some 23,000 indigenous students who are already benefiting from investments we have made, such as the post-secondary student support programs, and we will continue to work with indigenous communities, indigenous groups, and first nations and Inuit students to reach their post-secondary and educational goals.

This is why this year the Government of Canada has again made record investments to ensure that indigenous students have access to a great and affordable education in Canada.

Veterans AffairsAdjournment Proceedings

6:55 p.m.


Irene Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

Mr. Speaker, back in September, I asked the Minister of Veterans Affairs about the report from the National Defence and Canadian Forces Ombudsman calling for significant changes to the process of transition for medically releasing members of the Armed Forces.

Many medically released veterans are falling through the cracks as they transition out of the military. Paperwork is not completed because of its complexity, veterans may be unaware of the services available, new approvals need to be sought, new doctors need to be found, and new medical assessments need to be done. Mistakes in the paperwork end with rejection and no indications of how or what went wrong. Just a letter is sent in the mail.

Contact with case managers continues to be challenging. It is very frustrating for veterans to use a 1-800 number when trying to get answers.

On top of all this, the Liberal government made clear promises to veterans in the last election. Now a year later, these promises are being delayed, ignored, or even broken. These promises included re-establishing lifelong pensions; hiring 400 new service delivery staff, thereby doubling the numbers already committed to by the Conservatives; two new centres of excellence in veterans care, providing greater education, counselling, and training for families; increasing the veteran survivor's pension amount from 50% to 70%; eliminating the marriage after 60 clawback clause; and doubling funding for the Last Post Fund.

We are a quarter of the way through the government's mandate and the minister has let veterans down. To add insult to injury, the government is taking veterans back to court and arguing that the government does not owe veterans a sacred obligation.

If the government is not interested in fulfilling the commitments made to veterans only a year ago, perhaps it will be willing to at least listen to the ombudsman who is speaking in favour of fixes for veterans that will improve the lives of medically releasing military members.

The ombudsman recommends three things, and I quote from his testimony before the Standing Committee on Veterans Affairs:

My report recommends that the Canadian Armed Forces retain medically releasing members until all benefits and services, including Veteran Affairs, have been finalized and put in place prior to releases; that one point of contact be established—if you will, a concierge service—for all medically releasing members to assist in their transition; and that the Canadian Armed Forces develop a tool that is capable of providing members with information so that they can understand their potential benefit suite prior to release.

These are three simple initiatives. They are not costly and would help the veterans who need it most, namely, those who are wounded and very much need our help and assistance on the road to recovery and becoming civilians again.

Will the government take concrete steps to help veterans, in particular those who have been wounded during their service? Will the government fulfill its promises? Will the Minister of Veterans Affairs implement the ombudsman's recommendations?

Veterans AffairsAdjournment Proceedings

7 p.m.

Kanata—Carleton Ontario


Karen McCrimmon LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Veterans Affairs and Associate Minister of National Defence

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise today to answer my colleague's questions about how we are addressing the needs of Canada's veterans. I appreciate her concern for veterans.

We owe a huge debt of gratitude to the brave men and women who have served Canada so well in times of war, in times of conflict, and in times of peace. The debt is even greater when a member of the Canadian Armed Forces becomes disabled as a result of doing his or her job. There is no doubt that we can always do better for them and their families, and we shall.

To be clear, in addition to implementing new benefits for veterans, Veterans Affairs processed over 37,000 claims last year. The 11,500 claims referenced in the report are in the process of being addressed. Some of them have actually come in very recently.

In the last year we have seen a 22% increase in the number of new applications for disability benefits. This is a good thing. It means that our efforts to reach out to veterans and encourage them to ask for the benefits they so rightly deserve are working.

Currently, of those applications in the queue, there are a few, 3,500, that are taking longer than we would like. We are taking action to resolve this. So far we have hired 250 new front-line staff to provide service to our veterans, and we are working on adding 150 more to improve our service level and thus reduce waiting times.

We are also streamlining both the process for applying for disability benefits and the decision-making process so that Canadian Forces members and veterans are approved faster for certain common conditions. In the past year, we have processed 27% more disability claims than in the previous year.

We have many initiatives under way to improve the services veterans and their families receive, and we are going to make them even more veteran-centric.

We are conducting a review of the financial benefits offered to veterans to determine how best to meet their needs and the needs of their families and to ensure that they have access to the right programs and services at the right time.

We will continue to work with the Department of National Defence to address closing the seam and addressing the transition period, because that is something we see as absolutely critical to their future.

In closing, we are working hard already to make sure that veterans and their families get the benefits they need when they need them. There is a lot of work to do. We have done a lot of work already. We are going to just keep going until we get it done.

Veterans AffairsAdjournment Proceedings

7:05 p.m.


Irene Mathyssen NDP London—Fanshawe, ON

Mr. Speaker, I want my colleagues to know that veterans are tired of hearing empty promises. They want action now.

Four hundred new workers are not enough, because so many of those service workers were either dismissed or left VAC.

Our veterans deserve respect and dignity. Sadly, many injured veterans receive neither. They feel tossed out of their careers and left without an identity. They have been abandoned by the government that asked them to serve in the first place.

We can and must do better for the men and women who put their lives on the line and for their families, who have sacrificed so much. By implementing the ombudsman's recommendations, the government can take an important first step in repairing the damage done through years of neglect of our veterans.

Will the government commit now to implementing the ombudsman's recommendations and to ensuring that our injured veterans and their families have a smooth transition to civilian life?

Veterans AffairsAdjournment Proceedings

7:05 p.m.


Karen McCrimmon Liberal Kanata—Carleton, ON

Mr. Speaker, this issue needs to be addressed, but it is not just Veterans Affairs on its own that can address it. We need to work with National Defence to close that seam to create that seamless transition to civilian life.

There are lots of improvements that need to be made to benefits, to pensions, and to services. We need to make sure that they are already all lined up, easing that transition to civilian life that will prevent the kinds of challenges we are seeing today.

We are going to continue to make things better for all veterans and their families, ensuring that they get the right benefits, in a timely manner, when they are needed.

Veterans AffairsAdjournment Proceedings

7:05 p.m.


The Assistant Deputy Speaker Liberal Anthony Rota

The motion to adjourn the House is now deemed to have been adopted. Accordingly the House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 2 p.m. pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 7:07 p.m.)