Madam Speaker, if there is time, I will be sharing it with my colleague, the member for South Okanagan—West Kootenay.
Last year, I had the fortune to work with the Standing Committee on the Environment and Sustainable Development during its study of protected areas across Canada.
Our committee heard from 81 witnesses and received briefs from another 27 individuals and organizations. We also travelled to areas where national parks and marine protected areas are already in place, including the west coast, to meet with communities affected by these areas. The outcome of that study was the committee's fifth report, entitled “Taking Action Today: Establishing Protected Areas For Canada's Future”, which was presented to the House just a year and one day ago, on March 24, 2017.
I would like to speak today to Bill C-55, legislation which would expand the power of the Ministry of Fisheries to speed up the creation of new protected areas, in the context of what our committee saw and heard and the recommendations we made in our report.
The purpose of the bill is to expand the power of the minister to speed up the creation of new marine protected areas by making amendments to the Oceans Act and the Canada Petroleum Resources Act. It would increase ministerial powers to terminate private resource interests in MPAs, and create stronger penalties for those found violating the rules of MPAs.
The bill does not, however, define minimum protection standards for marine protected areas or legislate timelines or targets. Thus, the new powers would not have the teeth necessary to protect ocean biodiversity. The bill would provide some new legal tools to speed up the creation of it, but falls far short of Canada's international commitments to protect our marine biodiversity. It fails to set minimum protection standards and targets for zoning in marine protected areas, which renders the designation inconsistent at best. It gives the minister far too much latitude to decide what activities are permissible in an MPA. If oil and gas exploration can take place in an MPA, what is the point of the designation?
As many parliamentarians know, Canada has fallen far behind in meeting our international commitments to preserve important wild areas across our country. In our environment committee's 2017 report, it states that Canada committed to a set of 20 targets known as the Aichi targets, established under the Convention on Biological Diversity. Target 11 commits parties to an aspirational goal of protecting at least 17% of terrestrial and inland waters and 10% of coastal waters by 2020. As of today, we have protected only 10.57% of terrestrial areas and 1.5% of marine areas, 3.5% once Lancaster Sound MPA is approved, which is a far cry from the targets we have set for 2020.
Bill C-55 does introduce a framework that could improve the number of marine protected areas in Canada, and that is good. However, the environment committee heard that quality is just as important as quantity. The World Wildlife Fund told the committee:
While large MPAs are important, we must not simply designate vast expanses of the ocean that are not at risk from human use or that provide unproven or questionable ecological benefits at the expense of developing proper MPA networks. Canada's progress on MPA networks has to go further than developing a collection of sites without meaningful consideration of how they connect and complement each other, and without including representative coastal and offshore sites within all three oceans.
Arising from that testimony and the testimony of other witnesses, the committee recommended that the Government of Canada focus the expansion of protected areas not only on the quantity to meet the targets, but also to protect terrestrial and marine areas with the highest ecological value in the country.
Even more important than the issue of quality over quantity is the question of what uses may take place in a marine protected area. Bill C-55 fails to restrict the activities within MPAs, nor does it provide minimum protection standards. The rules are inconsistent and broadly permissive, allowing, for example, environmentally damaging bottom trawling, and allowing oil and gas exploration within MPAs.
Two key witnesses attended the fisheries committee discussion on this matter. One of them said:
The law is currently very inconsistent. As you've heard and will probably continue to hear, people are astonished to learn that oil and gas exploration, undersea mining, and damaging fishing activities are all possible in the tiny fraction of the sea that we call marine protected areas. That's why an unprecedented 70,000 Canadians, members of the public, spoke out about one of the proposed new MPAs, Laurentian Channel, and said that we need to keep harmful activities out of these areas.
That was from Linda Nowlan of West Coast Environmental Law.
Another quote was from the David Suzuki Foundation:
I think the other area of the act that needs strengthening is the area of indigenous protected areas. Many indigenous peoples have a long-standing interest in conserving resources and protecting areas of their traditional territory, and there's an opportunity to enable the government to accommodate indigenous protected areas, which are determined, managed, and governed by indigenous people. This amendment would not only facilitate additional conservation of natural resources, but would take Canada further down the path of reconciliation with indigenous communities.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature, IUCN, stated that in a marine protected area we need a “clearly defined geographical space, recognised, dedicated and managed, through legal or other effective means, to achieve the long term conservation of nature with associated ecosystem services and cultural values”.
It goes on to name the essential characteristics that a marine protected area needs to have, including being nature conservation focused; having defined goals and objectives; having defined boundaries; be a suitable size, location, and design; having a management plan; and, of course, the resources and capacity to implement it.
It also specifies, “Any environmentally damaging industrial activities and infrastructural developments with the associated ecological impacts and effects are not compatible with MPAs.”