Madam Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-55, An Act to amend the Oceans Act and the Canada Petroleum Resources Act. At the outset, while I understand that amending the Oceans Act and the Canada Petroleum Resources Act would allow the Liberal government to meet its political target of 5% protection by 2017, by introducing this bill the Liberals have failed to follow through with their commitment to consult Canadians on issues of importance. The government flaunts its ability to consult Canadians, but is not consulting Canadians on the right things. That is what we call mostly “selective consultation”. For example, the government does not intend to consult Canadians on the interim marine protected areas, MPAs, it would seek to put in place once the bill has been passed. The word “interim” can be deceiving. Having these MPAs in place for up to five years would make it difficult to reverse the protection in years to come.
Another example of the government's inability to consult Canadians is Bill C-47 aimed at enabling Canada to accede to the Arms Trade Treaty, which I rose to speak to yesterday and on which law-abiding hunters, sport shooters, and collectors have not been consulted. When I was advocating for these Canadians yesterday, the members opposite said that my argument was bogus and phony. There are many more examples of the lack of consultation, but the final example I will touch on is the current government's proposed unfair tax changes announced in July of this year in the midst of Canadians' summer holidays. I have heard from numerous constituents on this issue, and the finance minister has refused to extend his measly consultation period, even though Canadians are begging for it.
Now I will get back to the topic of the day, Bill C-55. I would first like to read from the summary of the bill, which I have in my hand. In the summary paragraphs (a), (b), and (c), the bill's objectives read as follows:
(a) clarify the responsibility of the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans to establish a national network of protected areas;
(b) empower the Minister to designate marine protected areas by order and prohibit certain activities in those areas;
(c) provide that, within five years after the day on which the order of the Minister designating a marine protected area comes into force, the Minister is to make a recommendation to the Governor in Council to make regulations to replace that order or is to repeal it.
If passed the bill could completely alienate fishing grounds for other important marine activities for up to five years without adequate consultations with Canadians. Once an area has been placed under interim protection, it would become increasingly difficult to reverse as it would require removing protections that had been in place for up to five years. That by itself is a major problem. When we are talking about problems like that, which could become irreversible, we are talking about what could become a permanent problem that will take more and more efforts to fix. It is a recipe for failure and danger in the longer term.
This bill would put too much power in the hands of solely one person, the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans. That is an unprecedented granting of power to one person, regardless of who the person is, in which government, and in which area. By eliminating any requirement on the minister to rely on scientific evidence and by speeding up an MPA designation process with no oversight or consultation, we would put Canadians' jobs at risk in our coastal communities.
As I said, we are looking at selective consultation by the government. When it needs to consult, it neither consults nor takes a scientific approach. However, we believe that attention has to be paid to consultation when presenting bills of this calibre. We must make sure that our job is done, and take the time to do so.
Our previous government, through the national conservation plan, NCP, invested $252 million over 5 years to secure ecologically sensitive lands, support voluntary conservation and restoration action, and strengthen marine and coastal conservation. The Conservative Party is not opposed to creating MPAs by any means. In fact, we have championed conservation and marine protection in the past. All we are asking for is a balance between the protection of marine habitats and protection of the local economies that depend on commercial and recreational fishing. To that extent, I come back to the many stakeholders with expertise in various areas who have spoken at length about this, asking the government to consult more and to take its time in its approach to this.
MLA Johnny Mike from Nunavut said that he strongly opposes the bill, calling it an “absolute travesty” for his constituency. This is from a local politician who knows best, on the ground, what is going on and reflects his constituency's opinion.
The former MP from Nunavut, the hon. Leona Aglukkaq, is a strong advocate for the people of the north. However, she says that it seems that the government and its representatives have not consulted enough, have not talked to the people, and that the bill's poor consultative process was an insult.
I have other stakeholder opinions here that are along the same track on how the consultative process has been handled. The government rushed this in the second half of its mandate. This will be one of the signatures of the government: pushing a bill through without proper consultation and without a proper evidence-based approach.
Conservatives understand the economic importance of fish and seafood to the Canadian economy. In fact, the previous government focused on building on existing international markets, introducing new ones, and making significant investments in marine research, harbour infrastructure, the sustainability of lobster, and indigenous participation. However, by choosing to fast-track implementation of MPAs in order to meet its self-imposed political targets, the current government is doing a disservice to all Canadians.
On a final note, the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans had studied MPAs. At the conclusion of its study, the committee concluded that understanding MPAs is quite complex. If the committee observed this at the end of its study and after hearing witnesses, it means that we have concerns on this and the approach taken by the government. Therefore, I encourage the government to take a pass on its bill. As my colleague, the member for Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound, said yesterday, take the time and get it right. To the government, to the minister, take the time and get it right.