Mr. Speaker, it is with pleasure that I rise today to talk about the important piece of legislation we have before us. It is quite gratifying to see that it is at the third reading stage, making it one step closer to receiving royal assent.
I do not say that lightly. I believe there is a far greater expectation of Canadians, no matter where they live, whether it is along the coast or the in core of the prairie areas. Canadians do have a very caring attitude toward what is taking place in our oceans.
I have found first-hand over the last number of years that more and more constituents of mine are concerned about the environment and the types of things that are taking place on our planet. One of the reasons we had a commitment from the government during the last election to look at ways in which we can improve the marine protected areas was the level of interest, not to mention that it is the right thing to do.
I recall when we first saw the legislation being talked about, to a certain degree, which was back when we had the Harper government. I believe it was in the 2012 or 2013 budget where part of that large bill amended something like 70 pieces of legislation, and tucked away in there was the deletion of navigable waters and the impact of taking many streams outside of government protection in one form or another.
Ever since, I have seen that it has been more and more a political issue, where different members talk about the issue of water conservation and protection. I suspect members will find a keen sense of this from a number of members of Parliament. I look particularly to my Atlantic caucus colleagues who are very passionate about anything related to issues such as the fisheries and issues surrounding the environment and the coastal regions, which is not to take away from the individuals on the Pacific coast where there is a great deal of passion and a high sense of awareness in terms of what we need to do to protect our coastlines.
Of course, we have to go all the way up north. Even in my home province, with the Churchill bay area, I can recall discussions with Speaker George Hickes, prior to becoming an MLA in the Manitoba legislature. He would often talk about the beluga whale stories and the manner in which he and the Inuit community would capture beluga whales. It was an interesting process to say the least, and how he incorporated that into his Speaker pin. Now, he is no longer the Speaker, but I think he left an impression on a number of MLAs, including me, of just how important it is that, when we talk about our oceans, we talk about the heritage, the opportunities, the jobs, the economy, and the environment. There is so much that needs to be taken into consideration when we deal with important legislation such as we have today.
I believe that the minister has done his work. There were extensive negotiations even before the legislation was brought in. I also listened to the second reading debate and saw the many stakeholders, individuals, and members who have an interest in the topic and who came forward and expressed their concerns. Ultimately in the standing committee, some amendments were brought forward to improve the legislation. That is what we have here today.
There is a sense of excitement with respect to the legislation passing. At the very core is the recognition of our coastal marine areas and the importance of having protected areas. This year alone we will achieve up to 5%, or maybe even a little higher, of our total coastal areas.
We have a very ambitious goal of 10% by the year 2020, virtually doubling during the next couple years, a very achievable goal, in good part because of the legislation. This legislation is a fulfillment of a commitment by the Prime Minister during the last election. A lot of the fine work was undertaken. Canadians participated through all sorts of means, sending a very strong message and helping to bring forward the legislation before us.
The legislation is very sensitive to our coastal regions, to the economic means and to the heritage of our coastal regions over the many years prior to Canada even becoming a great nation.
I highly recommend members across the way get behind the legislation. I appreciate many of the words of support coming from my New Democratic friends. They have raised consistently a number of areas of concern and potential amendments. I was not at the committee to hear the debate on those amendments. However, I know they were listened to as was the leader of the Green Party. They may not have gotten everything they wanted, but I would ask the opposition to look at the bigger picture as was presented by many individuals even prior to the legislation being brought forward. I was here during that debate on the navigable water amendments made in the budget motion. Many of the concerns that were expressed back then have been taken into consideration and incorporated in this legislation. That is a very strong positive.
On the other hand, at times it is hard to tell where the Conservative Party stands on issues of this nature. Over the years, the Conservatives have wanted to see less direct government involvement, which is surprising. I would think the Conservatives would listen more closely to the expectations of Canadians. If they did that, they would be a whole lot more sympathetic and would support the legislation.
I will wait and see whether the Conservatives actually vote in favour of the legislation. However, based on what I have heard, I do not anticipate they will. The Conservative Party demonstrates time and again that it really does not understand the mood of Canadians or the types of things Canadians expect government to provide.
This is one of those things that I believe would receive wide support, in all regions of our country. We recognize that there are going to be some concerns. Some might raise the issue of the economic impact of having an area designated. There will be an impact, but the government has demonstrated clearly over the last two years that we understand the importance of working with others, consulting provinces or territories, indigenous people, opposition parties to a certain extent, but Canadians as a whole. By bringing in balanced legislation, we will allow for those areas that need to be protected to be protected faster, but also ensuring that we continue to grow our economy.
A good example of that is in regard to the pipeline issue. We have the Minister of Natural Resources who has demonstrated that we establish a process, put it in place, get behind it, and then move forward. We have seen a government that has been able to accomplish more in the last two and a half years on that file than the Conservatives did in over 10 years.
We have a track record that indicates, as a government, we understand the importance of the economic value of our coastal regions, but that we also have a moral responsibility and legal responsibility to ensure we are protecting our coastlines.
As I indicated, we are all connected to our oceans. I have been very clear on that. No matter where we live in Canada, all these bodies of water play a very important role in our culture, our economy, and are very essential to life on this planet.
The government is committed to increasing the proportion of Canada's marine and coastal areas that are protected. I made reference to five per cent this year, ultimately hitting 10% by 2020. When we say these percentages, it is worthy of noting how long Canada's coastal line is compared to any other country in the world. If we follow it from Vancouver Island going north and around the Arctic, and coming back down to New Brunswick and Nova Scotia and into the United States, it is a vast coastal line. Canada has a leadership responsibility that goes beyond our borders. We want to say to the rest of the world that we have targets, and they are reasonable targets. It will not be many years from now. We are virtually doubling them over the next couple of years. That sends a very strong message.
When we talk about our coasts and the importance of our oceans and ecosystem, it goes far beyond Canada, recognizing that Canada has played a very strong leadership role in the world on a wide variety of issues. This is yet another one, but one that is quite significant given the size of our coastal lines. Whether it is the right whale in the Atlantic, the beluga in Churchill, grey whales that go up the Atlantic, or whether it is salmon fishing, there are many issues surrounding our fisheries and protected species.
We heard a lot earlier about the plastics and microplastics. There are so many things that are taking place in our oceans, in our waterways, that we do have that responsibility to get that better understanding and to bring in legislation that will, in fact, make a difference.
This legislation will make a difference because it clarifies the responsibility, for example, of our Minister of Fisheries and Oceans to establish that national network of protected areas. It is something for which we have a minister who, in a very real way through the legislation, will ultimately, for the first time I believe, be in a great position to establish that national network. It also empowers the minister to designate marine protected areas by order and prohibits certain activities in those areas.
Again, depending on the activities, it could really have an impact in terms of what is underneath that water. We hear a lot about eco-tourism and the potential in tourism is absolutely phenomenal. We will continue to see, I believe, growth in that area. There is a big difference in providing, encouraging, and seeing that cultivated and developed, with all sorts of job opportunities that are there, versus things that might see the fore of some of our coastal lines being dragged or oil going in all areas of our coastal regions.
It is important that we recognize that there are many different types of activities, both today and going forward, that are taking place. Thus, it is important that we have a minister that has the authority to be able to prohibit certain activities in these protected areas. We look at it in the sense that, within five years of the day of which the order of a minister designating a marine protected area comes into force, the minister is to make recommendations to the Governor in Council to make regulations to replace that order or ultimately have to repeal it.
We are seeing an update in the strengthening of powers of enforcement officers. Far too often, we will see governments bring in legislation, and legislation is great. It helps set the framework, but at the end of the day, we need to look at ways in which we can invest in the resources to protect those resources. That means we need people on the ground. We need to have a better understanding of what is actually taking place. Without that, legislation will not do it alone.
I believe that we have seen the government as a whole invest in this. In particular, the Minister of Finance and the minister responsible for procurement are taking a look at how we can ensure that not only do we have legislation but we also have the resources necessary to be able to make a difference and to give additional strength in terms of powers to the minister to able to ensure that it does in fact take place.
It does create some new offences, which is important to recognize, for a person or ship that engages in prohibited activities within a marine protected area designated by an order or that contravenes certain orders. One would expect that to take place, and in fact, that is what we are seeing.
I am going to go back to the idea of establishing a process. Establishing a process of designating a marine protected area today is lengthy. This legislation is going to cut back on that time. That is a good thing.