Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to rise today to speak to Bill C-68, an act to amend the Fisheries Act and other acts in consequence.
I would first like to extend my best wishes to the fisheries minister. It is good to see him here in the chamber as he perseveres through the health challenges of life. Even though we may exchange barbs and strong differences at times, at the beginning and end of each day, we are all Canadians with families, friends, and loved ones. I wish him well.
I would also be remiss if I did not also wish my good friend and colleague, the member for Cariboo—Prince George, a speedy recovery. We all know his determination will drive his recovery as he continues to advocate for his constituents and all Canadians.
Much of what is in Bill C-68 is aimed at one objective for the Liberal government, the perpetuation of the idea of lost protections. I propose that this idea is based on false and unsubstantiated claims, and I will speak today to how those claims have not been proven or substantiated.
The Fisheries Act is one of the oldest federal statutes in Canada dating back almost 100 years. Amendments have been made to the act from time to time, and whether the act actually included a purposes section or not, the overall principle of the act has been to manage and protect our fisheries.
As we know, Canada is a vast country with coastlines and fisheries on three different oceans covering a multitude of species, some sedentary and others very migratory. Canada also has a vast array of fisheries, varying from small local clam beds to fisheries for cod and salmon extending over hundreds of thousands of square kilometres. Managing all those fisheries is complicated by the very fact that some of the most sought after species are very migratory. Some fulfill their life cycle over vast expanses of oceans, while others migrate from freshwater to marine environments and back again.
Over the years, federal governments have taken different strategies on managing Canada's fisheries. Some management strategies have been successful, while the failure of others has been self-evident. What has been consistent is that successive governments have attempted to maintain the health of our fisheries so they are all conserved and managed in ways that allow perpetual value to be drawn from our oceans and fisheries resources. Our prosperity as Canadians depends on the sustainable management of these resources to support fishers, harvesters, and the communities that depend on them for the benefits of their subsistence.
Changes made to the Fisheries Act in 2012 and amendments in 2013 were developed to address long-standing weaknesses evidenced by the inconsistent interpretation and application of the pre-2012 Fisheries Act. In studying the 2012 changes to the Fisheries Act, the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans heard from Canadians that the pre-2012 act required amendments to modernize it and make it more relevant and functional for those who live under the act every day.
Input from Ducks Unlimited Canada stated that under the previous Fisheries Act, many of its conservation projects and activities that sought Fisheries Act changes to restore, enhance, or manage wetland habitat were deemed to be “fish habitat destruction” by DFO. In other words, these projects that could have improved our habitat and fisheries were not allowed under the pre-2012 definition. As such, the effect of the previous Fisheries Act limited this conservation organization's ability to “deliver new conservation programming designed to protect and conserve habitat that is essential to waterfowl and other wetland-dependent species, including fish.”
This is the reality of the previous prohibitions of the Fisheries Act. These are prohibitions that the government is seeking to restore in the bill. What we are presented with in Bill C-68 are proposals to amend the Fisheries Act, including some seeking to restore the previous elements of the act that had proven to be dysfunctional. The bill has a significant number of proposals. In fact, there are 58 pages of proposed amendments, not including the 13 pages of explanatory notes and revisions.
In poring over the bill over the past week, many questions have come up, which will likely take time to be answered by the ministry, by the minister, or eventually by the courts.
As parliamentarians, we are provided technical briefings on bills that come before the House. It is a privilege that we do not take lightly. These technical briefings are meant to provide us as legislators answers to some of the difficult questions that are hidden within draft legislation.
I must say that after attending a technical briefing on Bill C-68 earlier this week, there are more questions than answers received. I have heard from stakeholders, Canadians who live under the Fisheries Act across Canada, who also have a significant number of questions, and as a result, reasonable concerns related to the bill.
How will habitat banks be established? There seem to be no parameters. Much of this is left to be within regulations that no one has seen any drafting of at this point. How will those habitat banks be monitored and validated? Again, there is nothing specific in the proposed act, and it is all left open to what it might be down the road. There are many questions but so few answers.
What class of projects will qualify as designated projects, meaning which ones will or will not have prior approval? There are no answers.
What is the definition of an “ecologically significant” area? I found the definition within Bill C-68 to be very vague. There was no specific direction as to what might or might not be considered an ecologically significant area. Would this be an area that may hold a few goldfish or would it be a key component to a spawning area for some of our precious salmon stocks? There are no definitions within the act.
What information factored into ministerial decisions will the minister be able to withhold from Canadians with a direct interest in the decisions? We see portions of the proposed act that say information to the minister may be held confidential and not released. What about the proponent whose project is held up and has no access to know what information or what area of information might be withheld from them?
Who will be able to establish laws over fisheries and oceans? How will consistency be ensured to ensure that a patchwork of legal regimes is not created across Canada? There were provisions in the previous act where laws regarding fisheries were shared with the provinces under agreements. We also see this now as a possibility with first nations. We welcome the involvement of first nations in the management of our fisheries, but with the multitude of different first nations across the country, there are questions from people who may potentially be impacted by this as to how they would monitor these new laws that might be in place. Who would oversee them in general?
Again, on the new laws that may come into place, who will enforce laws of the various jurisdictions that the bill proposes to recognize? We do not know whether that would be under the laws of Canada, under the laws of the provinces, or under the laws of other bodies that may be created to create laws, which the bill would enable them to do.
Again, how will those laws be applied and enforced beyond Canada's 200-mile economic zone to the entire continental shelf? I do not know if anyone has addressed that point in the debate on Bill C-68. It proposes that the Fisheries Act apply to all waters on the continental shelf, beyond Canada's 200-mile economic zone. These are the types of questions that may only be determined through committee work and the further development of regulations, but this may eventually end up in the courts, and it could be years down the road before we have answers.
There are many proposals in this bill related to indigenous communities and their participation in the management and conservation of fisheries. The Conservative Party of Canada's policy declaration clearly supports the economic sustainability of indigenous communities. I believe that the fisheries could be a driving factor in sustaining those indigenous communities. However, the ambiguity of this bill's provisions for indigenous communities is not helpful. In fact, it may be counterproductive.
First nations, harvesters, and processors all need certainty of access to the resource to retain investments and to remain competitive in what is an ever more competitive world market. I have been meeting with stakeholders over the past few months, and their biggest concern is certainty of access to the market, but more so, certainty of access to the product, whether it is fish products, finfish fisheries, aquaculture, or other types.
Already I am hearing from indigenous organizations that work in fisheries that this bill is deficient in defining the essential details of what it proposes for indigenous communities. It is safe to say that the government's response will be something along the lines of, “Just trust us.” We have seen what the government does when we agree to just trust it. It has a Prime Minister who has been found guilty of breaking Canadian law four times, yet there are no consequences.
A significant number of indigenous governments and fisheries organizations have valid reasons for doubting the sincerity of the government. I will share with the House one example of how the government undermined the trust of indigenous peoples in the review process that led to this bill.
In 2016, the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard directed the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans to undertake a study to review the 2012 changes to the Fisheries Act and to table a report early in 2017. As such, a motion was passed to undertake a study and to table the report by January 30, 2017. Once the study was under way, it became very clear that the deadline imposed by the government was insufficient for the task at hand or for the process of consultation created by the government. The minister's office even put out a news release stating that feedback from public consultations would be provided to the committee for consideration in its report. That news release was revised a second and third time, but the original said that all feedback would be provided to the committee.
Opposition members of the committee tried repeatedly to pass motions for an extension of the study deadline. The government members on the committee eventually agreed to add four meetings, or two weeks, to the deadline. Indigenous fishery stakeholders were invited to participate in consultation sessions and to submit briefs for the committee's review of the Fisheries Act. In fact, through a participant funding program alone, 54 different indigenous groups received funding to assist in the preparation of their submissions to the committee. These 54 groups received over $900,000 to produce their briefs. What happened to their input? How did the government treat their consultations? Sadly, due to the government's refusal to extend the committee study deadline, these 54 briefs arrived after the committee held its last meeting for the study on December 12, 2016.
This is how the government has undermined the relationship with indigenous communities in the review process that led up to this bill. Indigenous Canadians deserve better. The government has repeatedly stated that this bill is necessary to restore so-called lost protections. I have asked the government for proof of harm resulting from these so-called lost protections numerous times. In response to one particular Order Paper question, the government indicated that it could not produce any proof, because the department did not have the resources or the mandate to make that determination. There we have it. This bill is meant to restore something the government cannot produce any proof of.
The minister made claims of face-to-face consultations when he appeared at the committee on November 2, 2016, yet an Order Paper question response, dated March 22, 2017, months after the minister stated that he was having face-to-face consultations, contradicted this, stating that no face-to-face consultations had taken place. So much for consultation, transparency, and accountability, a trend we see with the Liberal government.
Why should Canadians, indigenous or non-indigenous, trust the government's motivations in this bill? The proposed alternative measure section states:
No admission, confession or statement accepting responsibility for a given act or omission made by an alleged offender as a condition of being dealt with by alternative measures is admissible in evidence against them in any civil or criminal proceedings.
This is an absolute disconnect with accountability. The minister or ministerial staff do not have to disclose information or consequences to proponents. This is a case of a law being implemented with no consequences for breaking the law. Tie this to the fact that the Prime Minister has been found guilty of breaking the law on four counts, yet there are no consequences laid out in the law.
I also have concerns about the establishment of advisory panels, which would be remunerated and paid expenses. This sounds like typical Liberalism: creating additional layers of bureaucracy with no stipulations developed regarding membership, frequency and location of meetings, remuneration amounts, or any of the usual measures put in place to avoid runaway spending and lack of accountability.
Proposed subsection 8(1) of the bill sets out the establishment of fees for quotas, and proposed section 14 establishes the setting out of fees for conferral. In other words, more fees would be passed on to permit or authorization holders. Proposed section 14 would also create the ability to have fees for regulatory processes, with no parameters given as to who may be charged and how much. Proponents should open their wallets, because the government wants to empty them before anyone starts.
There are significant sections in the 2012 revisions to the act that gave the minister the ability to designate ecologically significant areas. This section has been retained. Many pieces of the 2012 legislation have been retained in this act. However, it will take more time to flesh them out and see what was done in 2012 that has been retained and is recognized as good work.
Sections 4.1 to 4.3 of the 2012 revisions provide the legal framework to guide future agreements with provinces to further the purposes of the act. They also allow the Governor in Council to declare that certain provisions of the act or its regulations do not apply in a province if a federal-provincial agreement provides that a provincial law is equivalent to the provisions of the federal regulations. This segment is retained in Bill C-68 and would be further extended to situations where there is an agreement with a recognized indigenous governing body.
The standing committee also heard from the Mining Association of Canada on the changes made to the act in 2012. I quote from Justyna Laurie-Lean, of the Mining Association, who said that the changes in 2012 have, “in practice, broadened the circumstances in which the section 35 prohibitions apply and increased the circumstances in which an authorization and offsets are required.”
These are only some examples of why I say that claims of lost protections are false and unsubstantiated. Many of the recommendations of the standing committee have been implemented. One of them, recommendation no. 3, was that the original definition of HAAD be revised before being reinserted.
As members can see, there are many more questions about this bill. I look forward to questions from my colleagues and to furthering this document in committee.