Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to again speak to Bill C-55, an act to amend the Oceans Act and the Canada Petroleum Resources Act.
I had the opportunity to speak to the legislation back in September at second reading. I expressed some serious concerns with the legislation and how it might affect fishers and coastal communities. It was my hope that the government would make some significant amendments to the legislation in response.
It was not just me expressing concern. A huge number of Canadians who rely on the ocean for their livelihoods have voiced their concerns loud and clear, but these concerns have fallen on the deaf ears of the government.
As I stated back in September, the provisions in Bill C-55 will certainly make delivering on the government's campaign promise of increasing the amount of Canada's marine protected areas much easier, but there are costs associated with moving at this unreasonable pace. We are again seeing the government move forward with a timeline that is so strictly tied to a campaign promise rather than having promises that are based on reasonable timelines. This makes for good politics, but it does not make for good policy.
For example, once an area has an interim designation, it will be very difficult to reverse. Once the minister decides to deem an area as an interim MPA, there will be restrictions, regulations, and prohibitions put in place that will affect the use of the area for a full five years. What if, for example, at the end of the five years it is determined that the area should not be deemed to be an MPA? It would appear to me that this is a classic example of the old adage of “putting the cart before the horse”. It would be a much more effective process to examine all evidence in a fulsome process to determine MPAs rather than create a piecemeal approach wherein areas are designated on an interim basis and then reviewed. Again, this is all the result of arbitrary, self-imposed deadlines that are unreasonable and will result in a rushed and, quite frankly, messy process.
At the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans, the committee heard time and time again that the government was moving much too quickly and needed to take a step back to ensure the process for creating an MPA was actually based on scientific evidence and proper consultation rather than simply the will of the minister. My colleague, the member for Durham, eloquently explained that lack of science. While the government constantly pretends to base everything on science, quite obviously it does not.
A number of the amendments that the Conservative members of the committee put forward were rejected by the Liberals. These amendments would have made Bill C-55 much more effective and would have ensured that all those who would be affected by an MPA would be properly consulted before it was put in place by the minister.
I would like to take some time to present to the House some of the amendments that were rejected by the Liberal members of the committee, many of whom represent coastal communities by the way. In fact, six of the Liberal MPs on our committee represent Maritime ridings. Their constituents have told our committee constantly that they are not very happy with the lack of consultation and science.
Under Bill C-55, the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard, without any consultation with stakeholders, fishers, or community members, may implement an interim protected area. The committee heard time and again that an interim designation without any consultation was simply not acceptable.
Therefore, the Conservatives introduced an amendment to require the minister to give a 60-day consultation period before using his or her powers under this act. Given that the government's favourite word on almost any other topic is “consultation”, we naively assumed that this amendment would pass. Unfortunately, the Liberal members of the committee did not agree that it was a good idea for their constituents to have a voice and they ultimately rejected this amendment.
I represent a landlocked riding in Ontario, so the impact of Bill C-55 on my constituency is fairly minimal. However, that does not take away the fact, as I see it, as well as many of the constituents of the Liberal members at the fisheries committee see it, that this would take away their livelihood without any consultation. Nobody should have to put up with that. If this thing were affecting my constituents in Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound, they would be screaming bloody murder.
However, it truly boggles my mind that Liberal members at the fisheries and oceans committee would not fight against this legislation. We are supposed to be looking out for the best interests of our constituents, not the Prime Minister or the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans.
I feel truly sorry for the residents of South Shore—St. Margarets, Miramichi—Grand Lake, Avalon, and all other ridings of Liberal members on the fisheries and oceans committee. In 2015, they thought they were electing their voice in Ottawa. Instead it appears they have elected Ottawa's voice in their community.
Furthermore, the Conservative members of the committee also introduced two amendments that would have required some form of reporting to Parliament by the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans to update the House on the status of the MPA process and interim designations made under this act. Specifically, the amendment would have called for the minister to report to the House once per fiscal year regarding the administration and enforcement of this act for that specific year. The report would include any MPAs that were designated during that period, the extent to which, in the opinion of the minister, the conservation reasons stated for each designated MPA had been respected, and, finally, any further measures that the minister thought were required for any designated MPAs.
One would think that a party that has spent years in opposition, claiming that the former government had no respect for Parliament, would welcome this amendment with open arms. We were not asking the minister to come out every year and spill state secrets. It was simply to be a quick update on where things were at and where we were going. Unfortunately, once again, these amendments were rejected.
Before I wrap up my comments, I wanted to put on the record some comments that were made by Dr. Larry McKinney, executive director at the Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies at the University of Corpus Christi in Texas. Dr. McKinney is an expert on MPAs and has established a number of them throughout the United States. He told the committee that the MPA process worked best when the identification and establishment of MPAs were driven by the communities that would be impacted by their designation. He stated that the most successful MPAs he had overseen were the ones that were actually identified by local recreational fishers who saw a need for protection and worked with the government to protect these areas.
I always say that anglers and hunters are the true stewards of the environment and true conservationists.