Mr. Speaker, what a pleasure it is to rise and speak to this very important piece of legislation. I am going to talk about the commitment the government made to the fishing industry as a whole, about why this is such valuable legislation, and maybe even a bit about the process.
I believe that the minister and his staff have done a fantastic job in presenting the House with legislation that I would have thought all members would be supporting. It was a very thorough process. In 2016, the minister responsible asked the standing committee to review some changes brought in through the back door of a budget bill when Stephen Harper was prime minister, back in 2012. I sat in opposition during that period of time.
There were a number of changes to 70 different pieces of legislation, this being one of them. What we found was that the changes to the fisheries were quite negative. The reaction of different stakeholders and Canadians as a whole was one of disappointment. They wanted to know, first, why the government was making those changes, because it was generally felt that they were not in the best interest of the industry as a whole, and second, why the government decided to make those changes through the back door in a piece of budget legislation, when they had absolutely nothing to do with the budget.
From what I understand, the current minister asked the standing committee to review the 2012 approach of changing the legislation and to come up with some recommendations. There were over two dozen recommendations brought forward by the standing committee. The minister did not leave it at that. There were two sessions of online communications to the public as a whole. There were well over 100 different meetings with different stakeholders, always with special attention to indigenous people, especially on matters such as this.
The minister has been very thorough in terms of ensuring that what we have today is good, sound, well-supported legislation. I would challenge my Conservative friends across the way to rethink some of their positions on this piece of legislation. Not only does it address many of the problems created by the 2012 budget, but it also advances the whole framework of why we have this legislation, which I believe is really important.
It is all about proper management, control of the fisheries, and conservation and protection of fish and fish habitat. From my perspective, that is what the legislation is all about. The changes advanced by the minister are a positive reflection of what Canadians and stakeholders have said to the government over the last year and a half, in terms of trying to better understand the types of changes that are necessary.
The other piece of good news is that two promises, two commitments made to Canadians in the last election would be kept by the passage of this legislation. One of them was in regard to the 2012 budget. We made a commitment back then to make those changes, and this legislation does just that. At the same time, the Prime Minister made a commitment that we would bring forward legislation that would further expand the issue of fish and the protection of fish and fish habitat. Once again, that is something that is done in this legislation.
In going through the bill, there is one area I want to emphasize. From my perspective, it captures the essence of what the legislation would really do. It would:
provide measures for the protection of fish and fish habitat with respect to works, undertakings or activities that may result in the death of fish or the harmful alteration, disruption or destruction of fish habitat, including in ecologically significant areas, as well as measures relating to the modernization of the regulatory framework such as authorization of projects, establishment of standards and codes of practice, creation of fish habitat banks by a proponent of a project and establishment of a public registry;
That captures a lot of what this legislation is attempting to do. I would reflect on the legislation as a whole, and we have heard others comment on it. The fishing industry in Canada contributes in many different ways. One could look at it from a heritage perspective, whether it is the Inuit or indigenous people as a whole, and the meaning behind fishing as an industry or a lifestyle in the many different coastal regions.
We have heard from many members of Parliament from the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. We understand and appreciate our northern coast, and let us not forget our inland fishing industry. We have had members stand up and provide comment on that issue as well.
In many ways, we are talking about tens of thousands of direct, good-quality, middle-class jobs. These jobs have been there in the past, and if we manage this wonderful, valuable resource, they will continue to be there into the future. If we continue to look at ways in which we can do better, have a greener economy, and incorporate different forms of technology, I believe we can increase the overall economic impact of our fishing industry.
Over the years, Canadians have benefited both socially and economically. Is it too much to ask of legislators to look at what took place 40 years ago, which was referred to earlier? One could look at many of the environmental terms we use today or the idea of sustainable development. One could look at the fishing industry and some of the legislation that was first brought in dealing with environmental types of issues. This is one of the areas of debate that have occurred for decades inside the House of Commons.
There is nothing wrong with the Government of Canada making a statement through this legislation to recognize the importance of fish habitat and empower the minister, whoever he or she may be, whether today or in the future, to better protect fish habitat. I would suggest that this is very progressive in its nature as legislation.
I am pleased to hear the comments thus far from the leader of the Green Party and from the New Democrats. Both parties seem to support the legislation. I am not perfectly clear on how the Conservatives will be voting, but I get the sense that they are not going to be supporting it. Maybe during questions and answers we might get some clarification on that. If the Conservatives want to be in touch with what Canadians really think is important on issues such as this, they would be better off to appreciate that the preservation or promotion of fish habitat, looking after it not only for today but for tomorrow, is a positive thing.
The Conservatives should be onside with the government on this. What the government is saying, through the many members of Parliament who have spoken whether it is here or in caucus, is that this is good legislation. It is all about the preservation or our fish and fish habitat. That is a good thing.