Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with my hon. colleague from Winnipeg North.
For countless generations, our fisheries have been an indelible part of a rural and coastal life, including in certain indigenous communities, and in my community of South Shore—St. Margarets. However, changes to the Fisheries Act in 2012 and 2013 weakened the government's ability to protect fish and the habitat they depend on. Today, I am proud to support amendments to the act that, together, would restore lost protections and incorporate modern safeguards into legislation.
The proposed amendments are part of the government's broader view of environmental and regulatory processes that cover several key areas. For my part, I would like to address proposed changes to restore our ability to protect fish and fish habitat.
As a member of the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans, we heard time and again that habitat had to be protected. Therefore, let me begin by providing some context into why these changes are so important.
Our fisheries sector and recreational fishing provides jobs for 72,000 Canadians, who help add $13 billion to our economy every year. Moreover, we respect and recognize the fishing rights of the indigenous peoples of Canada. Fisheries also contribute to the food security of coastal communities on all three coasts, as well as in freshwater areas.
However, the sustainability of our fisheries is under threat from various forces. One key threat is the degradation of fish habitat. Developments near water, for example, can disturb the ground and lead to erosion or increased sediment in water. This, in turn, can affect a myriad of things that support our aquatic food chains, including water chemistry, spawning beds, and vegetation that fish depend on for survival. Other threats include building dams and stream crossings, and extracting water. These activities, if not planned carefully, can alter the flow of water in a stream, lake, or river. This, too, can affect habitat or cause the death of fish.
More than 40 years ago, Parliament recognized these threats and acted. Parliament amended the Fisheries Act in 1977 to include protection for fish and fish habitat, and not just those connected to commercial, recreational, and aboriginal fisheries. In 1977, the amendments made had the foresight to protect all fish and fish habitat. Other amendments protected fish against the death of fish by means other than fishing.
Unfortunately, these sensible protections were undermined by omnibus bills introduced in 2012 and 2013. In addition, a reduced capacity at the Department of Fisheries and Oceans affected the department's ability to do its job properly. Put together, the results were much weaker protection for fish and their habitat.
Canadians, including indigenous peoples, industry, and environmental groups, told us they were concerned about these changes and how they were made. This government promised to review the changes made previously, restore lost protections, and introduce modern safeguards into the Fisheries Act. With the amendments to the act proposed today, that is exactly what we are doing.
Let me recap how we have arrived today with the bill before the House.
The Department of Fisheries and Oceans plays a significant role in the protection of our fisheries. It does this, in part, by assessing infrastructure and development projects that could affect our fishery resources. Indeed, over the next decade, the department expects to review some $600 billion in development proposals. For that reason, as part of the government's review of environmental and regulatory processes, we committed to examining changes made to the Fisheries Act in 2012 and 2013.
In 2016, as members may recall, the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans reviewed the impact of those controversial changes. In addition, the department consulted extensively with Canadians across the country, both face-to-face and online. Throughout that process, we paid particular attention to indigenous peoples. In total, we held more than 170 meetings with indigenous groups, and we will continue to engage with them as the bill moves forward.
In addition to input from the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans and indigenous groups, the bill is informed by expert reports and consultations with the provinces and territories, industry, environmental groups, and other stakeholders, as well as individual Canadians. Previous recommendations from the Auditor General of Canada were also considered.
Throughout this process, the message was clear. Canada needs to restore the strong habitat protection measures that were in place until 2012. I want to assure the House that the government has heard this message. Today, we are acting to restore lost protections and introduce modern safeguards that will help ensure future generations can benefit from the fishery.
Let me summarize some of the specific changes that are proposed.
The new and amended act would restore protections for all fish and fish habitats, rather than only giving protection to fish that would be part of commercial, recreational and aboriginal fisheries. It would restore provisions that prohibited harmful alteration, disruption or destruction of fish habitat. It would restore a prohibition against causing the death of fish by means other than fishing. It would provide the authority to develop new tools to allow flexibility for how the department would regulates projects, which includes tools to manage large-scale activities, activities in ecologically significant areas, and smaller routine development activities. Furthermore, it would improve transparency through an online registry that would release information on project decisions to the public.
These and other proposed amendments will strengthen the legal foundation for effective management of fish and their habitat by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
More than four decades ago, the House passed legislation that, in hindsight, was visionary. Long before the expression “sustainable development” was commonplace, our predecessors acted to protect all fish and their habitat. Six years ago, however, we lost those protections, which has put social, environmental, economic, and cultural values at risk.
With the bill before the House today, we have an opportunity to restore what was lost. For the sake of much-needed protections to fish and their habitat, as well as the integrity of the House, I encourage all hon. members to join me in supporting the bill, for now and for future generations that will benefit from a sustainable fisheries.