Mr. Speaker, I have looked forward to engaging in this debate on the Fisheries Act amendments that the government has brought forward.
Let me begin by saying that I doubt there is a member in this House who would not promote the protection of our environment and, more specifically, the fisheries resources that we have across Canada. We are an incredibly wealthy country when it comes to fisheries resources. We live in a beautiful country with clean streams, clean lakes, pristine oceans, and we want to protect all of our fish habitat and the fish that find their way into that habitat.
We, as Conservatives, really pride ourselves on conservation. It is something that we did a really good job on when we were in government for 10 years. We believe that being stewards of the environment is one of the things that should characterize who we are.
I would like to share a story with members. I used to be a member of city council in Abbotsford, and of course had lots of interactions with developers, farmers, and people who were running commercial businesses. One day a farmer came into my office. He was very irate. He shared with me that he had just had an altercation with a fisheries officer. The farmer was on his own land; it was owned by him. A couple of years earlier, he had dug a ditch to drain the water from his fields so that he could grow crops and provide for his family, and make a living off the land. As he was on the land clearing his ditch, a fisheries officer, with a sidearm, by the way, approached him, without permission, and said, “Sir, what you're doing, cleaning the ditch, you cannot do. It's going to harm fisheries. You just cannot do that. You're going to have to make due with flooded fields.” As everyone can imagine, the farmer got really angry. That is why he approached me and asked what I could do.
We finally passed on our concerns, as did many of my Conservative colleagues, to the Conservative government of the day. In 2012, that government responded positively and said that there were elements of the Fisheries Act that were not reasonable, that did not reflect common sense. One of the reasons we were having problems was with the kind of work that was being prohibited in the Fisheries Act. It was defined as any work or undertaking that results in “harmful alteration, disruption or destruction of fish habitat”, which my colleague from Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound referred to as HADD.
That HADD standard had some very unintended consequences and side effects, especially for the farmers in my riding of Abbotsford. I went to bat for them, and I know many of my Conservative colleagues went to bat for farmers in their ridings, and the government delivered. In 2012, our former Conservative government changed the legislation to delete references to HADD. We introduced language that was more reflective of what actually happens in real life.
These changes were made, but our Liberal friends opposed them and our NDP friends opposed them, as they always do. When the new Liberal government was elected, it decided to send the matter of fisheries protection and the 2012 changes that we had made to the fisheries committee. As my colleague from Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound articulated, that committee looked very carefully at the revised provisions of the Fisheries Act from 2012 to see what kind of impact they had had.
Members of the committee asked witnesses at committee what they could point to specifically to show that the 2012 streamlining measures by the former Conservative government that reintroduced common sense to the Fisheries Act had had any negative impact on fish or fish habitat. They could not find anything. Not one witness before committee could point to one instance where streamlining the Fisheries Act in 2012 negatively impacted Canada's fishery resources.
Should these decisions to again revise the Fisheries Act and reintroduce HAAD, which caused so much angst among farmers and others who had to do business, not be based on evidence and science? There was no science basis for the decision to move forward with these new amendments to the act. The committee could not show one instance of where fish and fish habitat had been harmed. The government had no evidence, no science, upon which this legislation before us was based.
I did my homework as well. I actually went to our critic for fisheries, the member for North Okanagan—Shuswap, and asked him if he discovered any information that might lead us to believe that the Liberal government actually did some checking as to whether there was some science attached to the changes it is bringing forward today. My colleague said, “Yes, we submitted an Order Paper question to the Minister of Fisheries.”
In an Order Paper question, we can ask ministers any question about their portfolio, and they are compelled to respond. What question did my colleague ask the Minister of Fisheries? My colleague referred to the mandate letter the fisheries minister received from the Prime Minister when he was appointed minister to see what he had been mandated to do with respect to the Fisheries Act.
He found that the government had done no work to determine whether the new provisions of this act were even necessary or to determine what impact they would have. The questions were, for example, what loss protections the mandate letter was referring to. What harm or proof of harm to fish or fish habitat, attributed to the previous Conservative government's changes to these acts, exists? Is there any evidence of harm? What protections were lost, or are alleged to have been lost, as a result of the previous government's changes to these acts that are not provided for under other federal, provincial, or territorial legislation or regulations?
Here is the answer that came back from the fisheries minister:
the department has not been either resourced or mandated to conduct this type of comprehensive monitoring and has not undertaken specific monitoring or analysis to compare the impacts of the changes to the act. The department is, however, developing new processes....
After the fact, the Liberals are now trying to catch up, but this legislation that came forward has no science basis. It is intended to delay development in Canada.
We see what has happened with the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline, which has created a trade war between the provinces of British Columbia and Alberta, because there are certain individuals and governments in Canada that do not respect the rule of law. That project went through a rigorous scientific review.
The changes to the Fisheries Act being contemplated today in the House, presented by the Liberal government, have only one intent, and that is to slow down and stop critical development of our natural resources and critical infrastructure that is needed across our country.
I say to the Liberals, shame on them. They claim to be the defenders and promoters of a science-based approach to governing and legislation, and they brought forward a bill like this, which is nothing of the sort. It omits a science-based approach and simply imposes an ideological one, replacing badly needed changes our previous government implemented and reverting to the old system, which harmed so many businesses across Canada that tried to build critical infrastructure and develop natural resources.
That is not the way Canada is going to grow its economy. This is bad legislation. I hope when this gets back to committee, the Liberal and NDP members of the committee understand what is at stake and reconsider the changes they are bringing forward to the Fisheries Act.