Madam Speaker, I believe I have about 13 minutes left in debate before we go to the private members' hour, so I will try to make my remarks fit within that time.
The hon. member who spoke before me began by saying that Alberta's coastline was very important, and how great it was. Coming from the province of Saskatchewan, I think I come from the only province that has less of a coastline than Alberta. We are that square in the middle of the rectangle in the middle of the country whose boundaries are not made by any natural coastline or mountain, but by someone who just drew lines on a map.
People may think it is somewhat interesting that a member from Saskatchewan would get up to talk about this at the end of a Friday in the House of Commons. However, I think it is appropriate that we in the opposition push the government very aggressively on this bill for a couple of reasons. The first has been the theme of most of my colleagues today, that we feel that the people who are most directly impacted by this legislation have not been heard.
I was looking through some of the testimony at committee. Witness after witness said that this bill did not meet the needs of the local communities. There were representatives of fishers in Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia, and a professor from Simon Fraser University who was an expert on the subject. Time and time again they said that the government needed to slow down and talk to them. This has an impact on their day-to-day lives. This is something that could have vast repercussions for what they do.
When we hear the witnesses who represent these areas and the people who will be directly impacted say that they are not opposed to the idea in its entirety but need to have input because of the drastic implications this could have for their lives, we begin to realize that the government has not been doing an effective job at consulting with people.
I know that the government has been criticized in the past for over-consulting. Somewhere it needs to be able to find a balance. The purpose of consultation should not be delay, as the government tries to figure out what to do or to put off a difficult decision. The purpose needs to be to acquire the views of the people who are most directly impacted.
This drives to the nub of what the issues often are when it comes to conservation and environmental issues throughout the country. Now, I do not have personal experience in the fisheries or any of the marine industries. I was raised on a family farm and have experience there. Prior to being elected to the House of Commons, I was a mining exploration geophysicist, someone who had the privilege of working in northern Quebec, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Yukon. I particularly enjoyed my time up in the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, seeing the great majestic splendour of our north. I had the chance to enjoy and work in it, and I came to understand parts of Canada that, unfortunately, too many Canadians from the south never really get to live and experience.
When one works in those sorts of occupations, one really begins to understand that it is ultimately not a question of the environment versus industry. These things are necessary and work together. This can often be a problem for people who do not work in these natural resource, agricultural and, in this case, fisheries-related industries, where there is a real daily physical interaction between nature and the activity humans are trying to engage in to create a livelihood.
We can see that tension in the debate and the testimony by witnesses on this bill. They are very concerned that marine protected areas could be imposed upon them in a way that is detrimental to their livelihoods. That is a real concern, because nowadays there are increasingly large numbers of people who no longer have that direct connection to the places where raw, natural products come from.
The joke, which is a somewhat unfair stereotype, is that people in the cities believe milk comes from a carton in the store and not from a cow. The same could be said for fish and where it comes from. Not everyone can quite understand that someone has to go out there and harvest it. If environmental decisions for a marine protected area are made without direct consultation, this could have a real and direct impact on the livelihoods of people.
The concern about the legislation is that it would give power to the minister to create a temporary marine protected area, whereas previously, it was a long consultative process to ensure all interests were brought in, aboriginal, local sport users, and various people, to ensure there was a solution that worked for everyone in the area.
One might say if it is temporary, it can be quickly overturned. When temporary decisions are made, they often become de facto permanent decisions. While people are waiting for a quick resolution of the environmental issues for an area, their lives have to go on. They have to move, and they are unable to continue with their livelihood. That major concern is coming from communities in Atlantic Canada, the west coast, and, as we heard earlier in reference to an MLA speaking of Nunavut, communities up north.
They are concerned that a minister could be under political pressure to green wash the government's politics in time for an election, or to perhaps help the Liberals win some votes to get their much coveted seat on the UN Security council. With some quick green washing, a temporary marine protected area could be set up and that would have detrimental effects on the livelihood of people worked there to make a living.
Again, I do not have that direction connection with the fisheries community that some of the hon. members in the House do. However, I can understand how that would feel in the agriculture area. I was a farmer and I grew grew up in a farm family. I also worked in the natural resources industry up north. People feel very vulnerable when they realize someone, who has no understanding of the actual day-to-day operations of their industry and the necessity of the things that need to be done, can come out of nowhere and make an arbitrary decision that could absolutely ruin their livelihood. They feel vulnerable and scared.
I am pretty sure the government is not trying to frighten Canadians. Politicians generally do not try to. This might look good from political optics and it might look good if they need to burnish their environmental credentials with international bodies, but while it may look good, they need to understand this can have a very real impact on the ordinary livelihoods of people.
The opposition is asking the government to step back from the legislation, put it on hold for a while, spend more time consulting , and pull away from the whole concept of a temporary measure that could, out of nowhere, lead to de facto permanent impositions on an area. The hon. members on the other side talk about science. Science is rarely quick. That is why we need time to do this right, to be involved, and to consult.
As a member who has a scientific background, and a career based in the natural sciences before I came here, I urge the government to take those principles, the understanding of science and marry it with the democratic principles of consultation and working with people in the rural communities who are trying to make their living through fishing. Do not to scare them, but work with them.
Putting all that together, we can have better legislation, better protections for the environment, and economic growth for these areas. Ultimately, to have good environmental protection, and we see this throughout the world, we need a growing and strong economy and we need the local population to be strongly supportive. The Government of Canada taking steps to frighten local people away from supporting environmental provisions is not the proper way to do that.
As there are only a couple of minutes left, I would like to give my colleagues in the House the time to ask me a few questions. With about three or four minutes before the clock winds down, I will allow my colleagues to wind up the day with a couple of questions.