Mr. Speaker, it is my privilege to rise for a third time to express my support for Bill C-55 and to speak against the proposed amendment to refer the bill back to the standing committee for the purpose of reconsidering all of the clauses.
The Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard has been given a clear mandate to protect Canada's three oceans, our coasts, our waterways, and our fisheries to ensure they remain healthy for the benefit of future generations, something I thought about today when I saw so many young people in our gallery. This is a commitment that I take very seriously and very personally.
As I said previously, when we debated the bill at second reading, I am extremely honoured that my first piece of legislation as the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard is for such a worthy cause.
The Oceans Act is a fundamental tool that Canadians rely upon to ensure the future health of our marine ecosystems. I truly believe that at the end of the day, a pristine and abundant environmental ecosystem is our greatest underlying economic driver.
Specific to today's debate, the Government of Canada has committed to Aichi target 11 under the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity. As well, I just returned from the World Ocean Summit, where I was able to share the leadership that Canada had once again taken to protect our oceans.
In addition to this bill, we are returning lost protections and incorporating modern safeguards into the Fisheries Act through Bill C-68. We have committed to making the protection of our oceans a pillar of our G7 agenda. This includes leadership in four key areas, including ocean health, sustainable fisheries, addressing plastics, and building resilient coastal communities. We were applauded for making such significant progress on our targets.
As a government, we are committed to protecting 10% of our oceans and marine areas by 2020. When we took office, less than 1% of these areas were protected, but today we have protected 7.75%, representing hundreds of thousands of square kilometres of new protections, protections of which I know Canadians are proud.
Our three oceans are complex webs of ecological and human systems that need to be understood, protected, and in many cases restored. Marine protected areas and marine protected area networks preserve these ecological links and protect diverse marine ecosystems and species. We will continue to establish marine protected areas through science-based decision-making, transparency, and in a manner that advances reconciliation with indigenous peoples.
It currently takes an average of seven years to designate an Oceans Act marine protected area. It requires time to undertake scientific assessments and socio-economic studies, as well as conduct consultations with governments, indigenous groups, and stakeholders. These are important steps that cannot be eliminated as they ensure that a marine protected area achieves its intended objectives while supporting local culture, the economy, and other needs. That said, a very clear understanding of what needs to be protected typically emerges well before all of the data is compiled.
Amendments to the Oceans Act under Bill C-55 propose solutions that will help us protect critical and unique areas of our Canadian oceans faster, without sacrificing the necessary science and consultation processes. The amendments ensure collaboration continues, requiring provinces, territories, indigenous groups, industry, and other stakeholders to be part of both the establishment and management processes.
Essentially, Bill C-55 proposes amendments to the Oceans Act to provide an additional tool that will allow for interim protection of specific areas through a ministerial order. This interim protection will be done following initial science and consultations, which would take around 24 months.
Following this step, the full federal regulatory process would continue to formally designate the marine protected area within the next five years. These amendments would ensure that when needed, an interim marine protected area could be put into place. New activities that risk further harm to ocean ecosystems, habitat, or marine life would not be allowed to occur in these interim protected zones.
These amendments not only respect current activities but also the need to conduct comprehensive consultations and scientific research before the final marine protected area is established.
Therefore, the time frame to fully establish a marine protected area may still take up to seven years, but there could be some interim protections in place within the first two. No longer can a lack of 100% scientific certainty be used to delay or prevent the protection of a sensitive marine area. Right now there is no protection until there is full protection, which is a problem these amendments are effectively solving, a problem that is amplified by an ocean that is so quickly changing, along with our climate. This policy is entirely in lockstep with the precautionary approach, which is a founding principle of conservation in Canada.
To put it another way, an interim marine protected area would freeze the footprint of ongoing activities. Under this concept, only ongoing activities, which are those activities occurring one year before the interim protection is in place, would be allowed to continue. For example, current fishing activities, or fishing activities where a moratorium is in place but licences are still held would be considered ongoing activities.
To further support this new concept, which is integral to the creation of an interim marine protected area, Bill C-55 also includes amendments that would require application of the precautionary principle when deciding whether to designate new marine protected areas. That means incomplete information or lack of absolute certainty would not be justification for avoiding protection where there would be a risk to the marine ecosystem.
Bill C-55 also includes modernized, updated, and strengthened enforcement powers, fines, and punishments under the Oceans Act.
The proposed amendments to the Oceans Act have received broad support during outreach efforts to discuss the bill. Canadians recognize the amendments would not short-circuit the development of sound science or cut off people's opportunity to collaborate and be consulted in the development of marine protected areas. Instead, they would ensure protection would be put in place quicker, in the interests of all Canadians.
We would be able to act on initial science and information to help these areas safe while additional research, engagement, and regulatory processes would be worked through.
Supporting the health of our ocean is necessary to ensure that future generations will be able to rely on the unique and precious marine ecosystems and resources that underline our environment and economy. It should go without saying, but Canadians are counting on us to protect our oceans, a resource that at times we have too often taken for granted.
I would be remiss if I did not take this opportunity to congratulate the fisheries and oceans committee on the great work it has done on this bill and on additional studies it has taken on, including several fisheries and MPAs, which was raised by the previous member. An example of its extraordinary work is visible in Bill C-68, amendments to the Fisheries Act. The committee made 32 recommendations after examining the changes made to the act by the previous government. We now know all 32 recommendations were not only considered but incorporated into the act.
I was also very impressed by the committee's deliberations and thoughtful consideration of Bill C-55. It consulted broadly and incorporated amendments from colleagues on both sides of the House. This is the primary reason sending the bill back to committee does not make any sense. The committee has considered the legislation clause by clause and now it is time to pass it for third reading.
I invite everyone in the House to support Bill C-55, an act to amend the Oceans Act, and to oppose the Conservative amendment.