moved that Bill C-68, an act to amend the Fisheries Act and other acts in consequence, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, it is a great privilege for me to speak in the House of Commons on this important legislation. You, Mr. Speaker, are a former minister of fisheries and oceans yourself and will understand the significance of the Fisheries Act in communities like the ones you and I represent, so it is a privilege for me to have this opportunity to stand in the House.
Canada is uniquely blessed with an abundance of freshwater and marine coastal areas that are both ecologically significant and linked to the economic prosperity of Canadians. Our government knows that we have a responsibility to steward these resources for future generations while maintaining economic opportunities for many people and communities who depend on them.
In my mandate letter, the Prime Minister asked me to restore lost protections and incorporate modern safeguards into the Fisheries Act. In 2012, the government got rid of a number of fish habitat protection measures without engaging indigenous peoples, fishers, scientists, conservation groups, coastal communities, or the general public in any meaningful way and without their support. What made that decision even more unacceptable was the fact that the changes were buried in a 430-page omnibus bill in the hope they would slip by unnoticed. Canadians definitely noticed.
Indigenous and environmental groups were especially concerned with changes made to the act and rightly perceived those amendments as weakening what should be of shared concern for Canadians: the protection of fish and fish habitat. Industry partners were thrust into uncertainty with regard to their responsibilities under the act.
Our government has worked and consulted with a broad range of Canadians, and we encouraged everyone to be part of this important conversation. Provinces, environmental groups, fishers associations, indigenous groups, and thousands of Canadians helped shape the amendments currently before the House of Commons.
The proposed amendments to Bill C-68 are part of the government's broader strategy to review environmental and regulatory processes and cover several key themes, including partnership with indigenous peoples; supporting planning and integrated management; enhancing regulation and enforcement; improving partnerships and collaboration, including with industry; and monitoring and reporting back to Canadians.
The Fisheries Act is one of Canada's oldest pieces of legislation. It was enacted shortly after Confederation. It has been amended very little since that time, which is why it needs to be updated and modernized. To that effect, Bill C-68 adds new provisions dealing with the objectives and considerations that must be examined in the decision-making process under the act. The proposed objectives seek to create a proper management and control framework for fisheries and the conservation and protection of fish and fish habitat, particularly through pollution prevention.
The new considerations under these amendments are designed to clearly guide the responsibility of a minister of fisheries and oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard when making decisions under the act. Bill C-68 proposes amendments that would restore protections for fish and fish habitat to ensure that these protections apply to all fish. We are reintroducing the prohibition against the harmful alteration, disruption, or destruction of fish habitat, as well as the prohibition against the death of fish by means other than fishing.
We are also introducing measures that would allow for the better management of projects that may be harmful to fish or fish habitat through a new permitting scheme for big projects and codes of practice for smaller ones, so that industry partners, as well as everyday Canadians, can be certain about their responsibilities but not unreasonably burdened when undertaking small, local projects.
In the past, uncertainty in the act has caused some uncertainty among project proponents with respect to their obligations and responsibilities. The proposed amendments create regulatory authorities that will make it possible to establish a list of designated projects, including the commitments and activities that will still require a licence.
Our goal is to streamline these processes, and we will be engaging with provinces and territories as well as indigenous peoples and stakeholders to decide which kinds of projects should be on the designated project list.
We are also formalizing the creation of a proponent-led habitat banking regime. Habitat banking is an international best practice for offsetting project impacts where a freshwater or marine area is created, restored, or enhanced by working to improve fish habitat in advance of a project's impact.
Habitat loss and degradation as well as changes to fish passage and flow are all contributing to the decline of freshwater and marine fish habitats in Canada today. It is imperative that Canada restore degraded fish habitats. That is why amendments to the Fisheries Act propose requiring the consideration of restoration as part of project decision-making.
These amendments provide clearer, stronger, and easier rules to establish and manage ecologically significant areas and provide stand-alone regulations to protect sensitive or important fish habitats. Given the important ecological characteristics of sensitive areas, certain types of work and activities may be prohibited and others may be identified as being subject to a special information gathering under a new authorization regime.
During the review of the 2012 changes to the Fisheries Act, we heard over and over again about the need to improve access to information on government activities related to the protection of fish and fish habitat. Indigenous communities, industry associations, environmental groups, universities, and my colleagues on the House of Commons standing committee all talked about the importance of transparency in the decision-making process under the act.
In order to re-establish public confidence, we are proposing amendments to establish a public registry, which would be available online. By enabling greater transparency, the registry would allow Canadians to hold the government to account in its federal decision-making with regard to fish and their habitat.
Fisheries resources and aquatic habitats have important social, cultural, and economic significance for many indigenous peoples. The respect for the rights of indigenous peoples as well as taking into account their unique interests and aspirations in fisheries-related economic opportunities and the protection of fish and fish habitat are important means of renewing our relationship with indigenous peoples.
For instance, the Fisheries Act is being amended to require the minister to consider any potential adverse effects resulting from decisions the minister might make in accordance with the rights of Canada's indigenous peoples, as set out in section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982.
In addition, our government recognizes the importance of the traditional knowledge of Canada's indigenous peoples in sound decision-making regarding fish and fish habitat.
Indigenous peoples across Canada, and other Canadians from coast to coast to coast, can rest assured that the government will act to protect the confidential traditional knowledge that indigenous people would share with the government under the provisions of this legislation.
Many indigenous communities are in close proximity to areas where projects that may affect fish and fish habitat are proposed, and many communities see new roles for themselves in how these decisions are made.
We have proposed long-overdue amendments that would provide for the making of agreements with indigenous governing bodies to further the purposes of the act, as we have done in the past with provinces and territories.
There are currently no legislative or regulatory requirements in place with respect to the rebuilding of depleted fish stocks.
The commissioner of environment and sustainable development, as well as our colleagues on the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans, have recommended that any revisions to the Fisheries Act should include direction for the restoration and recovery of fish habitat and fish stocks.
Environmental groups have also called on the government to adopt measures aimed at the rebuilding of depleted fish stocks within the Fisheries Act. This is why we are proposing amendments that would require decisions affecting a stock in the critical zone to consider whether there are measures in place aimed at rebuilding that stock, and, when a minister is of the opinion that habitat degradation is a cause of the decline of the stock, whether measures are in place to restore such habitat.
This positive obligation on governments and greater transparency, we believe are essential to strengthening the Fisheries Act.
We also heard Canadians' views on other important issues related to the Fisheries Act. Although the number of aquariums that keep cetaceans in captivity for public display has fallen overall, this is still a sensitive issue that Canadians are deeply concerned about.
Our government recognizes that it is now wrong to capture these magnificent creatures for public display. Consequently, we are proposing amendments to the Fisheries Act that would prohibit the capture of a cetacean when the intent is to bring it into captivity, except in circumstances where the cetacean is injured, in distress, or in need of rehabilitation.
The Senate has, for a long time, done good work in respect to this important issue. I want to salute former Senator Wilfred Moore of Nova Scotia and others in the Senate who have continued to press this important issue in the minds of Canadians.
Some 72,000 Canadians make their living from fishing and fishing-related activities. Most of them, including self-employed inshore harvesters, are part of Canada's growing middle class. In many places across Atlantic Canada and Quebec, the fishery is the economic, social, and cultural heart of communities. As the fisheries minister, one of my duties is to ensure that these important traditions endure. However, threats remain to this way of life. Fish harvesters, particularly in Atlantic Canada and Quebec, have told us time and again that they need greater protection for their economic security, and they need help to ensure their economic independence.
It was clear to me that these important policies, like the owner-operator and fleet separation policies, were being circumvented by controlling agreements, which threaten the independence of the inshore and midshore fleets by removing the control of licences from individual harvesters to larger corporate interests. The amendments we are proposing would entrench existing inshore policies into law, with all the legal enforcement power required to protect small coastal communities and independent inshore harvesters.
I stand firm in supporting the economic and cultural fabric of these coastal communities. Our government has recognized that a licensing regime that supports independent inshore harvesters is critical to the economic livelihood of these communities and the families and Canadians who depend on them.
As I said, we looked at ways to strengthen the independence of the inshore sector and enforce the act more robustly. That is why we are proposing amendments that enshrine a specific power in the Fisheries Act, rather than a policy, in order to develop regulations that support the independence of inshore commercial licence holders. The amendments proposed today would entrench into law the power to make regulations on owner-operator and fleet separation policies in Atlantic Canada and Quebec.
In so doing, this act helps to protect middle-class jobs in our coastal communities by ensuring that present and future fisheries and oceans ministers may consider the preservation and promotion of the independence of licence-holders in commercial inshore fisheries in the decision-making process.
I want to thank a number of organizations that have played a key role in these amendments with respect to owner-operator and fleet separation. The FFAW, the Maritime Fishermen's Union, le Regroupement des pêcheurs professionnels de homard du sud de la Gaspésie, the Gulf Nova Scotia Fleet Planning Board, the Prince Edward Island Fishermen's Association, and the Canadian Independent Fish Harvester's Federation have been instrumental in this important work.
Fishing can be a dangerous occupation, involving many risks not only for fish harvesters, but for the marine environment as well.
With the unprecedented death of 12 North Atlantic right whales in the Gulf of St. Lawrence from June to September last year, we know that Canadians expect prompt and urgent action by their government. This is why we are proposing amendments to the Fisheries Act that provide a new fisheries management order power to establish quick and targeted fisheries management measures. These measures will be used for 45-day increments where there is a recognizable threat to the conservation and protection of our marine ecosystems. The proposed fisheries management order power is meant to address emerging issues when a fishery is already under way and when time-sensitive and targeted measures are also paramount.
In my mandate letter, I was asked by the Prime Minister to increase the proportion of Canada's marine and coastal areas that are protected to 5% by the end of 2017, and to 10% by 2020, which is the target we are now on track to achieve. I am pleased to report to the House that we have not only achieved our 2017 target, but we will continue to work diligently to ensure that we surpass the 10% commitment through the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity.
To help us fulfill these international commitments and obligations, we are proposing amendments to the Fisheries Act that provide ministerial authority to make regulations to establish long-term spatial restrictions to fishing activities under the act specifically for the purpose of conserving and protecting marine biodiversity.
We are also proposing amendments that will strengthen the act. During the many public engagement sessions that were held, Canadians made it clear that they wanted to see more fishery officers, conservation officers, and patrols, as well as more offenders being caught and punished.
To incorporate modern protection mechanisms into the act, some amendments are being proposed to clarify, strengthen, and modernize enforcement powers under the act, for example by empowering fishery officers to intercept any vessel or vehicle and require it to be moved to a place where an inspection can be carried out.
The proposed amendments also seek to increase the authority of the courts with respect to seizure and forfeiture under the act, and allow the use of alternative measure agreements to address certain contraventions.
As I mentioned earlier, the Fisheries Act is one of the oldest and most important environmental laws in Canada. It was passed in 1868, just one year after Confederation, and did not change much until the late 1970s, when habitat protection provisions were first added by one of my predecessors, who, coincidentally, was my father, Roméo LeBlanc.
Then, as now, the act remains a model among Canada's environmental laws. That is why we have ensured the amendments we have introduced to the Fisheries Act include updated and modern tools that are the hallmarks found in other environmental legislation. We are proposing modern provisions such as the power to create advisory panels, fee-setting authorities, and provisions respecting the collection of information.
I consider myself privileged to stand in this House, as my father did in 1977, to introduce amendments to the Fisheries Act that served his generation. I hope that this new modernized act will live up to my father's legacy and do for our generation what he and the previous Parliament did for theirs.