Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise to speak in this debate. I recall very succinctly, in my previous career as a journalist, how important the ramifications of the changes in 2012 to the Navigable Waters Protection Act were to farmers, ranchers, and municipalities. I will share this story.
I lived in a municipality in Saskatchewan and a farmer had a drainage area across from his property, where six weeks of the year, during spring runoff, water would flow across the property. There was a very old bridge there. In partnership with the farmer, the municipality went to replace that bridge. However, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans said that it was navigable water, that there was the possibility of a fish habitat there, and that the bridge over this waterway needed to be large enough for watercraft to fit under.
I can assure everyone that for this waterway, which held water for maybe six weeks a year with a good snowfall, there was no reason for the bridge over this drainage area to be large enough for watercraft. There were going to be no canoes, kayaks, Sea-Doos, and certainly the last pirate of Saskatchewan was not going to sailing down the plains to the mighty banks of the Regina. That is exactly what farmers and ranchers in rural municipalities were having to face before the changes were made in 2012.
The Liberal government likes to say that the environment and the economy go hand in hand. Unfortunately, with a lot of the legislation it puts forward, including this, there is always one hand tied behind our backs, and that is the economic hand. That certainly is the case with our farmers and ranchers when it comes to this legislation.
We can go back to what has been a very clear theme with a lot of the Liberal legislation: consequences be damned to rural communities and agriculture. We saw that come to a head in the fall with the small business tax changes. The government did not understand the consequences the changes were going to have on the transition of the family farm or farmers using income splitting. It was not until the rural communities and farm families voiced their opposition quite profoundly to the changes that the Liberals finally decided to step back. I will not say they stepped down, because I want to see what is in the budget coming up later this month.
Canada's food guide is still the number one document that people download from the Government of Canada website. It has a profound impact on the agriculture sector. Canada's food guide asks Canadians to eat less animal protein and less dairy. During the discussions and consultations on this document, it specifically said that representation from the agriculture sector was excluded from those discussions. In addition, very important health experts were also excluded from that discussion. I have letters signed by 700 medical professionals who say the direction of Canada's food guide is wrong.
Then there is the carbon tax. Studies have shown, even by the finance department, that it is profoundly impacts rural Canada. We see this theme going through everything the Liberal government is doing, unfortunately. The consequences of its decisions on rural Canadians and our agriculture sector do not resonate, it does not matter, and that is very unfortunate. They are an important part of our economy, certainly a pillar of who we are as Canadians, and part of our Canadian culture.
That is still the case with the legislation before us today. I do not think there is anyone in the House who does not want to ensure that we protect our fisheries and pristine waterways. It is certainly a fabric of who we are as Canadians. As I said earlier, in my constituency and riding of Foothills, there is the Bow River Basin and some of the most pristine fly fishing areas in the world. I am very lucky. If I drive north to south in my riding, I cross the Bow, Elbow, Sheep, Highwood, Oldman, and Belly Rivers. My riding covers all of those rivers.
A lot of Albertans would be quite surprised to learn that hunters and anglers spend close to $1 billion a year in Alberta. Many of my rural communities, like Crow's Nest Pass, Longview, High River, rely on the dollars that are spent by those hunters, anglers, and tourists.
For my colleagues across the floor and in the other room today to say that the changes we made in 2012 dismantled protection of Canada's waterways is not only misleading, it is absolutely wrong.
I am a Conservative member. I understand the impact that has on my constituency and my communities. There is no way I would have stood up and voted in favour of something that I knew would have a detrimental impact on certainly one of the most important amenities in my riding, the lifeblood of southwest Alberta.
Some of my favourite moments as a child was going on fishing trips with my father, going into the back country, no one around, no cellphones, of course this this was before cellphones, and enjoying the wilderness. My son and his grandfather enjoyed many of those same excursions. They were important to him.
To say that we do not care about our environment is just not true. We worked hard to find a balance between what was best for the environment and at the same time ensure that our farmers and ranchers had the ability to operate their farms and that municipalities could work through what was very onerous red tape and bureaucracy in the process.
The Conservative Party believes the goals of the Fisheries Act should remain. They were there to protect fish stock while at the same time avoiding unnecessary negative economic impacts and the bureaucratic tape that industries and municipalities had to, ironically, navigate through to ensure they could even operate.
The changes made by the previous Conservative government in 2012 improved fisheries conservation, prioritized fish productivity, protected significant fisheries, and reduced the regulatory burden on rural and farming communities. It also ensured that we protected our environment by protecting critical waterways, while at the same time eliminating those unnecessary hurdles and obstacles that were impeding economic opportunities.
Prior to 2012, the Fisheries Act did not make any distinction between vital waterways, lakes, or rivers that supported Canada's fishing industry. It did not distinguish between those smaller waterways that likely never supported a fish population, maybe 150 years ago but certainly not now.
The 1992 Canadian Environmental Assessment Act required environmental assessments for all protected waterways, even if it was a single project, like a small dock, cleaning a culvert, or minor bridge repairs. All of these were assessed in the same way that a major project on a major waterway was assessed. We tried to clean up some of these issues in 2012, and we did a strong job on that.
I have heard from our agriculture community and our rural municipalities that when spraying was being done near a drainage ditch, one of the biggest headaches was always looking for that DFO enforcement officer who would slap on a fine when minor maintenance or pest control was being done, the types of things that are done on a farm. Municipalities had to go through a lot of hoops and hurdles just to do a bridge repair or clean out a culvert after a long winter.
We want to ensure there are no unintended consequences with the legislation as a result of doing these things. However, the Liberal government has not given us that assurance. We just heard the minister say that he was hopeful that when the bill went to committee, there would be amendments to address some of these things. The Liberal government has not exactly been open-minded when it comes to amendments brought forward by opposition parties. I cannot say that I am hopeful that it will take our amendments in good faith and will listen to concerns of our farmers.
I recall many of our farmers in rural municipalities being quite relieved when we made these changes in 2012. These were important mechanisms and levers they had to ensure they could get critical infrastructure projects done.
It is important that they were going to be allowed to follow through on some economic development opportunities and some natural resource development. Again, these things have to be done with a balanced approach. We are not saying that this is wide open. Over the last five or six years, since the 2012 changes were made, we have not had constituents or communities or municipalities coming to us saying that this has been a horrible decision, to please go back to what we had before, that they needed those regulations and that red tape and things have gone a bit out of control. That has not been the case.
In fact, the changes we made have achieved the goals that we intended. They have allowed our rural communities to continue doing business without having that exorbitant amount of red tape and bureaucracy that they had to go through. That is critically important. Our rural communities are looking to our different levels of government to ensure we are giving them the tools they need to survive and to thrive. Unfortunately, over the last 18 months, what they have seen is a federal government that is doing exactly the opposite. Any tools that have been provided to them to be successful are being dismantled and one by one taken away.
On this side of the House, the Conservative members have been the voice of our rural constituents. We will continue to do that, whether it is the small business tax changes, the carbon tax, the Canada food guide, or the front-of-package labelling. Going back to putting restrictions and red tape and bureaucracy on to these communities is not a step forward; this is a punishing and debilitating step backward. We want to ensure that our municipalities and rural communities have an opportunity to thrive and grow.
It is troubling to see the Liberals reverting back to these pre-2012 regulations. Those regulations created confusion, they were difficult to enforce, and they certainly negatively impacted our farmers, communities, and natural resource development.
We have seen in the discussions we have had over the last couple of weeks on the Trans Mountain pipeline, the Minister of Natural Resources and the Prime Minister stand up and vehemently say that the pipeline is going to get built, but never will they say what they will do to ensure that project gets built. When it comes to a natural resource perspective, in my province of Alberta, we rely heavily on our natural resources, and we want to ensure that there is a clear path to success. Is there going to be some environmental impact analysis that needs to be done, some environmental boxes that must be ticked? Absolutely, there will be. We want to ensure that we protect our pristine Canadian landscape. At the same time, we have to ensure there is an opportunity for investment, an opportunity for natural resource development in Canada.
I would like to point to my colleague from Calgary, who a couple of weeks ago put it in a wonderful perspective. The direction we are going toward is adding hurdles to doing everything we can to ensure there is never another natural resource project built in Canada. Let us put that in perspective. They will say that oil is at $57 a barrel today. Absolutely, West Texas Intermediate is at $57 a barrel, but Canadian crude oil is selling at $30 a barrel. That is almost a $30 subsidy that we are giving to United States. That is a hospital being built in the United States every month that should be built here in Canada. That is a school being built every day in the United States that could be built here in Canada. However, it is not, because we have an ideological approach to our natural resources, to our agricultural economy, and to our rural constituents that is harmful not only to my province of Alberta but to all of Canada.
We had the Minister of Natural Resources say today that under 10 years of our former Conservative government, we never got anything built. Seventeen pipelines were built. They were not talked about being built, but built. Under the current government, it is zero. The Liberals have talked a lot about having pipelines built. Absolutely, I give them credit for that, but there is no shovel in the ground on Trans Mountain. Northern Gateway is done. Energy east was done, never to be heard from again. It is a lot of talk.
Again, on these environmental changes to the Fisheries Act, there has been a lot of talk; however, members do not understand the consequences of these decisions and what they are going to be doing to rural Canadians and our economy. That is something that I really hope my Liberal colleagues across the floor would start to understand and take into consideration, that the decisions they are making are having a detrimental impact on rural Canadians, our agriculture sector, and certainly our natural resources sector.