Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to speak to Bill C-55, an act to amend the Oceans Act and the Canada Petroleum Resources Act. Having just become a member of the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans, this is certainly an important topic for me, and I look forward to debate on this bill.
This bill would make a number of changes to the framework through which the government designates coastal and ocean areas as marine protected areas, otherwise known as MPAs. An MPA is defined by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans as “a part of the ocean that is legally protected and managed to achieve the long-term conservation of nature.” Essentially, MPAs prohibit or limit certain activities in the area, depending on their impacts to the ecological features that are being protected. Therefore, the overall intent is conservation, conserving the environment and species within these protected areas.
I have always been a supporter of efforts to conserve Canada's lakes, rivers, streams, and coastal areas. While I know this is outside the scope of this legislation, I have served alongside a number of local sportsmen's associations in Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound to protect the local inland fisheries. Furthermore, I am very proud to say that Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound is home to Fathom Five National Marine Park. Established in 1987 as Canada's first ever national marine park, it protects the local environment, as well as allows Canadians to witness some of the cleanest and clearest water one will ever see. It is a benchmark for conservation efforts.
Conservation efforts are paramount to protecting our environment, but they must be done in the right way, with proper consultation, and must take into account a range of diverse issues, including the specific ecological needs of the area being protected, as well as social, economic, and cultural factors. It is my fear that Bill C-55, in an effort to promote conservation, will not give due consideration to the range of factors that must be considered when establishing an MPA.
Designating an area as an MPA can often take several years, as the process requires a significant amount of consultation with all stakeholders involved and a full assessment of the scientific evidence available. What Bill C-55 would do is create conditions for the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans to simply designate areas on an interim basis, and once the interim protections are in place, the minister would then have five years to recommend that the interim designation become a permanent MPA.
It is quite clear that this bill is in response to the Liberal Party's promise in the last campaign, which subsequently worked its way into the mandate letters of the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Minister of Environment . Their Liberal platform stated that if elected, the Liberals would increase the amount of Canada's marine and coastal areas that are protected to 5% by 2017, and 10% by 2020.
The provisions in Bill C-55 would certainly make delivery on this promise much easier for the government, but there are costs associated with moving at this unreasonable pace. We are again seeing the government move forward with a timeline that is strictly tied to a campaign promises rather than reasonable timelines. This makes for good politics, but it certainly does not make for good policy.
For example, once an area has an interim designation, it would be very difficult to reverse. Once the minister decides to deem an area as an interim MPA, there would be restrictions, regulations, and prohibitions put in place that would affect the use of the area for a full five years. What if, for instance, at the end of the five years, it is determined that the area should not be deemed to be an MPA? This could very easily happen. It would appear to me that this is a classic example of the old adage of putting the cart before the horse. It would be a much more effective process to fully examine all of the evidence in advance in a fulsome process to determine MPAs rather than just creating a piecemeal approach whereby areas are designated on an interim basis and then reviewed.
This is all the result of arbitrary, self-imposed deadlines that are unreasonable and will result in a rushed and, quite frankly, messy process. Already a large number of academics, industry representatives, and commercial and recreational fishing groups have come forward to oppose these targets. They state that speeding up the process will only increase pre-existing concerns surrounding lack of consultation, transparency, and inadequate science. That final point is the one I want to highlight, because I have deep concerns about a section of the bill that deals directly with the use of science in decision-making about MPAs.
In the summary section of Bill C-55, paragraph (d) states that the bill will “provide that the Governor in Council and Minister cannot use the lack of scientific certainty regarding the risks posed by any activity as a reason to postpone or refrain from exercising their powers or performing their duties and functions...”
That goes away from what the government has talked about in some cases, in saying it wants to be science-based. It is an open door to basically ignore a lack of science. I cannot get my head around that one. Essentially, what it says is that even if there is no concrete, scientific evidence that an activity is affecting the local environment, the minister cannot use this as a reason to postpone or refrain from a designation.
For a government that is hell-bent on making evidence-based policy, I find this very odd, as do most Canadians. It is saying that even if there is no evidence at all, for example, that vessels are causing a disturbance to a local area, it will still forge ahead and prohibit the operation of vessels in a certain area. It makes no sense whatsoever. This is all despite having no evidence that the prohibition will result in ecological benefits either. Again, this offers the government another way to meet its arbitrary political deadlines.
At the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans we have undertaken a study of this topic to examine whether the current guidelines achieve the intended benefits of MPAs; assess the social, economic, and environmental impacts; and ensure that all traditional uses and values are respected when it comes to MPAs. We have just started hearing from witnesses this session. On Tuesday both the Cruise Line International Association and the Pacific Pilotage Authority expressed that they were quite concerned about how the proposed timelines would and could affect their respective industries.
I would like to take some time now to highlight what individuals from some communities have been trying to tell the government throughout this process.
Ian MacPherson of the Prince Edward Island Fishermen's Association stated:
[The Prince Edward Island Fisherman's Association] understands the requirement to protect marine environments, but we do have concerns surrounding the tight timelines to accomplish these goals.
We can sense a theme here. He went on to say:
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 to another as a result of an MPA would shift the economics of the island. Throughout the consultation process, fishing areas were discussed, but not the economics of how a large MPA along the small coastline of Prince Edward Island would impact the island.
Fishing is the lifeblood of many communities on P.E.I. Protection of the environment is paramount, but it must be done in a responsible and prudent manner.
We all know that the new proposed Liberal tax changes will also be shifting the economics of the island when it comes to small business and local fishing businesses. By the way, just this morning at the fisheries and oceans committee, the Liberals rejected a Conservative motion to study the impacts of these changes on small fishing businesses and businesses that depend on aquaculture. Of course, the government members all voted against this motion. They do not want to talk about the damage that these tax changes would do to the fishers and other small businesses across the country.
There is no denying that the protections need to be in place to ensure the health of our waterways for future generations. We all get that. The Conservative Party is not opposed to the creation of MPAs. In fact, we have championed conservation and marine protection in the past, establishing three MPAs under the Oceans Act, including of the Musquash Estuary in New Brunswick, Bowie Seamount off the coast of British Columbia, and Tarium Niryutait in the Beaufort Sea. I apologize to anyone from any of those communities if I mispronounced those place names.
Additionally, the previous Conservative government invested $252 million over five years through its national conservation plan to secure ecologically sensitive lands, support voluntary conservation and restoration actions, and strengthen marine and coastal conservation.
Striking the right balance between the protection of marine habitats and the protection of local economies that depend on commercial and recreational fishing is critical. I, along with the numerous witnesses who have appeared at the committee, agree that the current Liberal government is failing to strike that balance. We understand the economic importance of fish and seafood to the Canadian economy from coast to coast to coast.