Mr. Speaker, I would like to begin by acknowledging we are on the traditional territory of the Algonquin people, and express gratitude to them for their generosity and patience. Meegwetch.
I also want to thank the hon. member for Sackville—Preston—Chezzetcook for sharing his time with me, and acknowledge this shows a spirit of respect toward opposition benches from the current Liberal government. I am grateful for the opportunity to speak, although I still must object to the use of time allocation and reducing time for debate in this place. However, the respect shown in shortening time but still allowing a member such as me to have at least one crack in second reading to this very important legislation is appreciated. It is particularly appreciated when I stand to speak, with shared time from a Liberal member, with the intention of attacking Liberal legislation, which I have done recently with shared time.
Today is a different occasion. Bill C-68 would repair the damage done to the Fisheries Act under former budget implementation omnibus bill, Bill C-38, in the spring of 2012, as the hon. member for Sackville—Preston—Chezzetcook was just referencing. This bill goes a long way. Within the ambit of what the Minister of Fisheries can do, it would repair the damage done by omnibus budget bill, Bill C-38, in relation to the Fisheries Act. I want to speak to that, as well as the one aspect where it would not fully repair the damage.
This is definitely a historic piece of legislation. The Fisheries Act was brought in under Sir John A. Macdonald. Canada has had a fisheries act for 150 years. That act traditionally dealt with what is constitutionally enshrined as federal jurisdiction over fish, and some people may wonder where the environment landed in the Constitution of Canada and the British North America Act. Where was the environment? The fish are federal. The water is provincial if it is fresh water, and federal if it is ocean water, so there has always been a mixed jurisdiction over the environment.
Over fish, there has been no question. Fish are federal. In the early 1980s, this act received a significant improvement, which was to recognize that fish move around and they cannot be protected without protecting their habitat. The Fisheries Act was modernized with a real degree of environmental protection. It had always been a strong piece of environmental legislation, because if we protect fish then we tend to protect everything around them.
In this case, the Fisheries Act was improved in the early eighties by a former minister of fisheries, who by accident of history, happened to be the father of the current Minister of Fisheries. It was the Right. Hon. Roméo LeBlanc. We use the term “right honourable” because he went on to be our Governor General. He amended the Fisheries Act in the 1980s to include protection of fish habitat, requiring a permit from the federal Minister of Fisheries if that habitat was either temporarily or permanently harmed or damaged. This piece of legislation is the significant pillar upon which much of Canada's environmental regulation rested.
What happened in Bill C-38 in the spring of 2012 was a travesty that remains in the annals of parliamentary history as the single worst offence against environmental legislation and protection by any government ever. It was followed up with a second omnibus budget bill in the fall of 2012, Bill C-45, which took an axe to the Navigable Waters Protection Act. In the spring, Bill C-38 repealed the Environmental Assessment Act and replaced it with a bogus act, which I will return to and discuss. Bill C-38 also repealed the Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act, the National Roundtable on Environment and the Economy, and gutted the Fisheries Act.
Rather than go on about that, the hon. member who was just speaking referenced the changes made. I can tell people some of the changes that were made, and I was so pleased to see them repealed. When one opens a copy of Bill C-68, the first thing one sees is subclause 1(1), “The definitions commercial, Indigenous and recreational in subsection 2(1) of the Fisheries Act are repealed.” This is not a scientific thing. This is what Bill C-38 did to our Fisheries Act. Fish were no longer fish. They were only fish if they were commercial, indigenous, or recreational. That language came straight from a brief from industry. It did not come from civil servants within the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. It came from the Canadian Electricity Association. That is repealed.
This bill would bring back protections for habitat. It goes back to looking at some of the foundational pieces of how the Fisheries Act is supposed to work, and then it goes farther.
I have to say I was really surprised and pleased to find in the bill, for the first time ever, that the Fisheries Act will now prohibit the taking into captivity of whales. That was a very nice surprise. It is proposed section 23.1. I asked the minister the other day in debate if he would be prepared to expand this section with amendments, because over on the Senate side, the bill that was introduced by retired Senator Wilfred Moore and is currently sponsored by Senator Murray Sinclair, and I would be the sponsor of this bill if it ever makes it to the House, Bill S-203, would not only ban the taking of whales into captivity but the keeping of whales in captivity. I am hoping when this bill gets to the fisheries committee. We might be able to expand that section and amend it so that we can move ahead with the protection of whales.
This bill is also forward-looking by introducing more biodiversity provisions and the designation of areas as ecologically sensitive, work that can continue to expand the protection of our fisheries.
I will turn to where there are gaps. Because I completely support this bill, while I do hope for a few amendments, they come down to being tweaks.
Where does this bill fail to repair the damage of Bill C-38? It is in a part that is beyond the ability of the Minister of Fisheries to fix. That is the part about why Harper aimed at the Fisheries Act, the Navigable Waters Protection Act, and the Environmental Assessment Act.
There was not random violence in this vandalism; it was quite focused. It was focused on destroying the environmental assessment process so that we would no longer be reviewing 4,000 projects a year. Of those 4,000 projects a year that were reviewed under our former Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, most of them, about 95% of them, were reviewed through screenings that were paper exercises, that did not engage hearings, and so forth. However, it did mean that, at a very preliminary level, if there was a problem with a project, a red flag could go up, and it could be booted up for further study.
There is a reason that the Fisheries Act habitat provisions were repealed. They were one of the sections listed in our former Environmental Assessment Act under what was called the “law list”, where a minister giving a permit under section 35 of our former Fisheries Act automatically triggered that the decision was subject to an environmental assessment.
Similarly, why did the former government take a hatchet to the Navigable Waters Protection Act? Like the Fisheries Act, it is an act we have had around for a long time, since 1881. It was not an act that had impeded the development of Canada or we would never have had a railroad. Since 1881, we have had the Navigable Waters Protection Act. The previous government took a real axe to it. The current Minister of Transport has gone a long way toward fixing it under one portion of Bill C-69.
This is why. Navigable waters permits also were a trigger under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. Do members see where I am going here? This was synchronized action. It was not random.
The current government has pledged to fix all of the damage done by the previous government to environmental laws. Where the failure to fix things is evident is in what is called the “impact assessment act” in Bill C-69. It has abandoned the concept of a law list altogether. It has abandoned the concept of having permits and environmental assessments required whenever federal money is engaged. In other words, the Harper imprint of going from 4,000 projects reviewed a year to a couple of dozen will remain the law of the land without significant improvement to Bill C-69. In particular, the decisions the Minister of Fisheries makes should be subject to an EA, just as the decisions of the Minister of Transport should be subject.
In my last minute, I want to turn our attention to something I hope the Minister of Fisheries will take up next, because he is doing a great job. I hope he will take up looking at open-pen salmon aquaculture. It must end. It is a threat to our wild salmon fishery on the Pacific coast. It is a threat to the depleted wild Atlantic salmon stocks on the Atlantic coast, where I am originally from. There is no Atlantic salmon fishery because it has been destroyed. However, there are still Atlantic salmon, which could restore themselves if they did not have to compete with the escapement of Atlantic salmon from fish farms in Atlantic Canada, and the destruction of habitat by those farms. On the west coast, these are not even indigenous species that are escaping and threatening our wild salmon.
Let us close down open-pen fisheries, give aquaculture to the Minister of Agriculture, have fish in swimming pools on land, and let the Minister of Fisheries protect our coastal ecosystems.