Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to rise in the House today to speak to Bill C-68 following the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans' review and analysis of this bill.
We thank the committee members for their careful study of this legislation and their thoughtful amendments. During this review of Bill C-68, my colleagues in committee heard from many different witnesses and experts. I would like to take this time to talk about what they heard. I would also like to share the concrete steps proposed to make improvements and move forward with this legislation.
From the environmental NGO community and members across the aisle in the Green Party and the NDP, the committee heard about the importance of water flow for fish habitat. The government supported the associated amendments put forward in committee.
The committee also heard from industry groups seeking amendments to the rules proposed for the processing of applications for habitat authorization during the transition from the current to the new legislation. In response, the committee adopted the amendment to provide clearer transition provisions.
The committee also heard about strengthening the federal government's legal obligations when major fish stocks are in trouble. This is why the committee proposed the inclusion of requirements, under the legislation, that the minister sustainably manage or rebuild fish stocks that are prescribed in regulation. However, the legislation would require that when such cases arose, Canadians would be informed and provided with a rationale. Our aim is to sustainably manage fisheries resources for the long-term benefit of Canadians.
As members know, in 2012, the previous government decided to change habitat protection without the support of or consultation with indigenous peoples, fishers, scientists, conservation groups, coastal communities, and the Canadian public. In contrast, our government has worked with all Canadians and has encouraged everyone to be part of this process. The proposed amendments to Bill C-68 are part of our government's broader review of environmental and regulatory processes under Bill C-69, an act to enact the impact assessment act and the Canadian energy regulator act, to amend the Navigation Protection Act and to make consequential amendments to other acts, which was reviewed by the committee.
The Standing Committee on the Environment and Sustainable Development also adopted some important amendments, which have been reflected in Bill C-68. These include better protections for indigenous knowledge and clearer transition provisions that would ensure better business continuity.
The changes proposed in Bill C-68 would support several government priorities, such as partnering with indigenous peoples; supporting planning and integrated management; enhancing regulation and enforcement; improving partnership and collaboration; and, finally, monitoring and reporting back to Canadians. This is transparency.
This bill would include the reintroduction of the prohibition against the harmful alteration, disruption, or destruction of fish habitat as well as the prohibition against causing the death of fish by means other than fishing. There are measures to allow for better management of large and small projects that may be harmful to fish and fish habitat through a new permitting scheme, for big projects, and codes of practice, for smaller ones.
The amendments would enable the regulatory authorities that would allow for establishing a list of designated projects, comprising works, undertakings, and activities for which a permit would always be required. We have been, and will continue to be, engaged with indigenous peoples, provinces and territories, stakeholders, and others to capture the right kinds of projects on the designated project list.
Habitat loss and degradation and changes to fish passage and water flow are all contributing to the decline of freshwater and marine fish habitat in Canada. It is imperative that Canada restore degraded fish habitat. That is why we proposed changes to the Fisheries Act that would include the consideration of restoration as part of project decision-making.
The bill is motivated by the need to restore the public's trust in government, which was lost following decisions made in 2012.
In order to re-establish the trust of Canadians in government, access to information on the government's activities related to the protection of fish and fish habitat, as well as protecting information and decisions, is essential. We listened and we proposed, through Bill C-68, measures to establish the public registry, which will enable transparency and access. This registry will allow Canadians to see whether the government is meeting its obligations and allow them to hold the government accountable for decision-making with regard to fish and fish habitat.
The addition of new purpose and consideration provisions will more clearly guide the responsibility of the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard when making decisions and provide a framework for the proper management and control of fisheries, and for the conservation and protection of fish and fish habitat, including by preventing pollution.
Fisheries' resources and aquatic habitats have important social, cultural, and economic significance for many indigenous peoples. Respect for the rights of the indigenous peoples of Canada, taking into account their unique interests and aspirations in fisheries-related economic opportunities and the protection of fish and fish habitat, is one way we are showing our commitment to renewing our relationship with indigenous peoples.
We listened to Canadians on the need for modern safeguards. That is why we have proposed changes to the Fisheries Act that provide a new fisheries management order power to establish targeted fisheries management measures for 45-day increments where there is a threat to the proper management and control of fisheries or to the conservation and protection of fish. This will help to address time-sensitive emerging issues when a fishery is under way and targeted measures are required.
Proposed changes to the Fisheries Act include a new ministerial authority to make regulations to establish long-term spatial restrictions to fishing activities under the act, specifically for the purpose of conserving and protecting marine biodiversity. This will support our international commitment to protect at least 10% of our marine and coastal areas by 2020. Proposed changes also include authority to make regulations respecting the rebuilding of fish stocks.
As I mentioned earlier, our government reached out to Canadians to help put the bill forward. We listened to the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development and the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans and provided direction for the restoration and recovery of fish habitat and stocks. We were pleased with the amendments of the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans during its clause-by-clause review. We listened to environmental groups, and the committee proposed provisions aimed at implementing measures to promote the sustainability of the major fish stocks.
In addition, in keeping with modernizing the act in line with other federal environmental law, changes are being proposed to the Fisheries Act to authorize the use of alternative measures agreements.
Through Bill C-68, the Government of Canada is honouring its promise to Canadians. By restoring the lost protections and providing these modern safeguards, the government is delivering on its promise as set out in the mandate letter from the Prime Minister to the Minister of Fisheries.
Since introducing this bill, we have heard support from a broad range of Canadians for these amendments that will return Canada back to the forefront when speaking about fish for generations to come.
I urge all hon. members on both sides of the House to join me in supporting this bill, which is so important.