Madam Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak today, but not knowing when I will be cut off is awkward. Hopefully I can get through my speech today.
I rise today to speak to Bill C-55, an act to amend the Oceans Act and the Canada Petroleum Resources Act. The bill proposes to significantly increase the powers of the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard so as to allow the minister to designate marine protected areas, or MPAs, for an interim period of up to five years.
The Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans is currently studying MPAs, specifically the criteria and process being used to identify and establish them.
Last December, I presented a motion to committee to undertake this study because it was clear to me that massive efforts and a significant amount of funding was being exerted by the government to increase MPAs, while stakeholders living and working along Canada's coasts were unaware of what was happening. At that time, it was clear that the government was exerting pressure on the established process and protocols for establishing MPAs in an effort to speed up that process. It was also clear that the government was willing to sacrifice processes of consensus-building with Canadians for the sake of expediency.
First nations, fishermen, cargo shippers, tourism operators, conservation groups, academics, and many other stakeholders continue to face consequences of the government's frantic and half-baked approach to speeding up the process of establishing MPAs.
Why is the government in such a hurry? Why is it so desperate that it needs to propose a bill that would nullify long-established processes and protocols used to establish consensus among stakeholders?
The answer is that in 2015, the Liberals set delivery dates for achieving MPA objectives that the previous Conservative government had committed to through the Aichi targets under the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, or CBD.
Through the Aichi targets, the Conservative government in 2010 committed to conserving 10% of our coastal and marine areas through networks of protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures, not necessarily MPAs.
The objectives of conserving coastal and marine areas are worthy objectives, but the problem that thousands of Canadians working and living in coastal areas face today is that they have been cut out of the process for establishing MPAs. Why? Because the Liberal government has failed to deliver so many campaign promises that the pressure is on to deliver these commitments made by the Conservatives. The problem is that the timelines promised by the Liberals in the election were unrealistic in 2015, and they are unrealistic today.
The Liberal government has overwhelmed the established structures and processes for developing MPAs. Rather than stepping back and re-assessing its timeline, the Liberal government, through this legislation, is attempting to discard the systems, structures, and processes that have been used for years to establish MPAs in Canada.
Through the bill, the Liberal government proposes to give the fisheries minister increased powers to completely bypass established structures and processes designed to build consensus, designed to identify the right balance to strike in considering the interests of first nations, fishermen, and other Canadians affected by MPAs.
Bill C-55 would allow for arbitrary interim designation of MPAs prior to formal consultations with first nations or area stakeholders.
It is completely unacceptable in Canada, or anywhere for that matter, for the federal government to undermine structures and processes that allow citizens, including first nations, to engage and defend their interests when the government is considering a decision that could have a major effect on those citizens.
Upon reviewing the mandate letter of the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard, it was clear the government was going to do everything it could to reach its political targets come hell or high water, pardon the pun.
Considering that the 2010 Aichi targets were given 10 years to be implemented, it occurred to me that there may be a reason for the long time frame set to reach these targets.
The Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans, or FOPO, as it is known here on the Hill, consists of members from across the country and the three main political parties in the House. It is an honour to sit on that committee with members who I believe share a common commitment to fish, fisheries, and their habitat.
The FOPO committee is still in the midst of this study on MPAs, and has so far heard from witnesses from many areas of Canada and abroad. The committee had benefited greatly from testimony by first nations, fishermen, conservationists, and representatives from the shipping and tourism sectors. What has been even more interesting are the common themes borne in the testimony and the evidence the committee has received.
The committee has heard that proper consultation before and during the process of establishing MPAs is paramount to establishing MPAs that are both effective and accepted, especially consultation with and by local communities. Nowhere was this more evident than in the north where MPAs have been established for the protection of our aboriginal fishing and harvesting areas. These areas were established where the local people wanted them, in the manner in which the local people wanted them, and only after appropriate consultation was completed. It was not in an arbitrary manner, absent of scientific certainty, to meet a political target.
I raise the point of scientific certainty here, because in one of the most alarming clauses in Bill C-55, proposed section 35.2 reads:
The Governor in Council and the Minister shall not use lack of scientific certainty regarding the risks posed by any activity that may be carried out in certain areas of the sea as a reason to postpone or refrain from exercising their powers or performing their duties and functions under subsection 35(3) or 35.1(2).
Now, not everyone may take the time to understand what this means. However, it means that the minister would not need the backing of science to designate a marine protected area. There would be no science necessary.
It is shameful that the current Liberal government's 2015 policy platform alluded to basing decisions on science, yet now as government, it is proposing to discard the structures and processes of consultation and science by setting the will of the minister above the needs and interests of all Canadians, including first nations.
I support marine protected areas. Canada has some of the most biodiverse regions in the world, and our coasts are truly rich in biodiversity. We need to recognize and identify where those important and sensitive areas are and take measures to protect them while at the same time recognize that we can harvest and develop sustainably, so that our country can prosper, maintain our high standards, and be able to enforce the laws and protect the areas we designate. If we choose to move forward without first knowing what it is we were trying to protect, or what industry we may be prejudicing, we will fail in our duties to the Canadians who have elected us to represent them here in the House.
Getting back to the study by the FOPO committee, I could quote from a number of witnesses who testified that the process of establishing MPAs has been rushed. For example, Mr. Ian MacPherson, executive director of Prince Edward Island Fishermen's Association, stated:
...the PEIFA understands the requirement to protect marine environments, but we do have concerns surrounding the tight timelines to accomplish these goals. The first step to designating a ministerial order MPA is to gather existing scientific, economic, social, and cultural information on the area. Prince Edward Island is a small province driven by small fishing communities. The displacement of fishers from one community—
It would appear that I am out of time. Hopefully, I will be able to continue my speech tomorrow.