Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to speak tonight to Bill C-68, an act to amend the Fisheries Act and other acts in consequence, and there are some consequences.
In the 2015 election campaign, the Liberals promised to strengthen the role of parliamentary committees. The Prime Minister promised Canadians that committees would be independent, giving them the ability to better scrutinize legislation and “provide reliable, non-partisan research” through their reporting to Parliament. Two years after the election, the same Liberals introduced Bill C-68, legislation that would bring in a number of changes to the Fisheries Act without considering a single expert's advice from stakeholders or the committee study of the bill.
The proposed changes ignore some of the major findings from a report of the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans that was presented to the House in February 2017. On September 19, 2016, the fisheries committee agreed to the following motion, which stated:
...review and study the scope of application of the Fisheries Act, and specifically the serious harm to fish prohibition; how the prohibition is implemented to protect fish and fish habitat; the capacity of Fisheries and Oceans Canada to deliver on fish and fish habitat protection through project review, monitoring, and enforcement; the definitions of serious harm to fish and commercial, recreational, and Aboriginal fisheries; the use of regulatory authorities under the Fisheries Act; and other related provisions of the act, and provide its recommendations in a report to the House....
The committee convened 10 meetings in Ottawa from October 31 to December 12, 2016, before presenting the report to the House of Commons in February 2017. Overall, the committee heard testimony from 50 different witnesses during the study and received over 188 submitted briefing notes. It was a comprehensive and fact-based study with experts from almost every province putting forward policy suggestions. If the government were truly committed to strengthening the role of parliamentary committees, this study should have formed the basis for Bill C-68 with all of that consultation.
The Liberals essentially ignored the committee's report, including one of its most important recommendations, which stated:
Any revision of the Fisheries Act should review and refine the previous definition of HADD [the harmful alteration, disruption or destruction of fish habitat] due to the previous definition’s vulnerability to being applied in an inconsistent manner and the limiting effect it had on government agencies in their management of fisheries and habitats in the interest of fish productivity.
Following hours of testimony from the 50 witnesses and briefing notes from more than 180 associations, groups, and individuals, it was agreed that a return to HADD was not ideal, and that, should the government return to HADD, it would need to be refined and reviewed. Bill C-68 ignores this recommendation and introduces a return to HADD.
HADD is referred to in proposed subsection 35(1) of the legislation, which states, “No person shall carry on any work, undertaking or activity that results in the harmful alteration, disruption or destruction of fish habitat.” Essentially, this means that any sort of development that could be harmful to, alter, disrupt, or destroy any fish habitat could be stopped or not approved by the government, taking us back to one of the major issues we have seen, especially with municipalities and the concerns they had when they tried to make any type of alterations. They would have to go to DFO and the provincial governments to make sure they were satisfying conditions that they knew, on the ground, were not necessary. It added costs.
I had the opportunity earlier to question the member for Cape Breton—Canso about the concerns municipalities had. He indicated that they are getting so much money that they really do not care whether or not that is the case. Of course, I think they would question just how quickly that money is coming out, but the concerns they have are still there. Going back to a system that does not respect the rights of communities and municipalities, and the concerns about agriculture and different groups that some members discussed earlier, it is no wonder we are having trouble getting different types of projects off the ground. This is a major concern, and hopefully I will have a chance to discuss that later.
As the committee report noted, this section was applied inconsistently and it was unclear. The concern is always that developers are often bogged down in these battles over the vague guidelines. For example, there was no clearly defined outline of what constituted a fish habitat, or what was seen to be harmful, in the previous version of the act. There was no clear path forward, and HADD became an obstacle to development, growth, and investment within the industry. It was becoming a consistent roadblock for projects and growth.
We need to listen to expert advice, instead of politically motivated advice. In the debate over the bill's provisions, stakeholders have been flagging this proposed change as problematic. The reinstatement of these measures will result in greater uncertainties for existing and new facilities, and undue delay. This can very well discourage investment at a time when Canadians and Canadian businesses need it the most. The key component here is certainly.
A few months ago, I had an opportunity to be with the trade committee in southeast Asia, and in some of the discussions we had with fund managers, we wondered how we could, in good conscience, tell people to come to Canada and invest. That is shameful when we think of the tens of billions in project dollars that have already left, and the fact that people are starting to say that Canada is not a place for an investment dollar. It is not as though an oil and gas project is not going to be developed. Otherwise, it will be developed, but it will be developed somewhere else in competition with us. For those who suggest that this is going to help with greenhouse gases and so on, this just changes it from an opportunity for us to use our natural resources, to some other place taking advantage of that.
Certainly, the same situation has occurred with the Kinder Morgan discussion, in which the government used $4.5 billion to purchase a 65-year-old pipeline, and gave that company the opportunity to go someplace else to build pipelines to bring someone else's product into eastern Canada. How is that ever going to change anything?
That is the major concern I have, and people see this as one of the major issues with government overreach, which is certainly the case here.
Let me be clear: Conservatives wholeheartedly support the protection of our oceans and fisheries. Our previous changes to the act brought a fine balance between encouraging growth in the industry and responsible conservation. Our previous changes to the act also enacted provisions that provided transparency in the decision-making process, and provided a level of certainty to those invested in the act. Unlike the Liberals, Conservatives listen to the people on the ground, instead of importing ideas and policies from Liberal insiders, foreign interest groups, and radical eco-activists. As Conservatives, we take our cues from Canadians, and we understand the importance of finding the right balance.
It was for this specific reason that in 2012, our former Conservative government removed HADD and replaced it with the following:
35 (1) No person shall carry on any work, undertaking or activity that results in serious harm to fish that are part of a commercial, recreational or Aboriginal fishery, or to fish that support such a fishery.
This definition was much clearer, and was more universally accepted because it struck the important balance required between development and conservation.
There are also changes within this bill that would undermine transparency and due process by allowing the ministers to withhold critical information from interested proponents. How is that transparent?
Another change I am worried about is the fact that the bill would allow the minister to establish an advisory panel with taxpayer-funded members and panellists, but does not set the guidelines or limitations for its use. Without any guidelines, these panels may be subject to abuse, especially if they are established by politically motivated individuals.
On behalf of the many Canadians and industry experts against the new changes, I join my Conservative colleagues in urging the Liberal government to listen to expert advice and reverse this senseless change, revisit the return of HADD, and amend the legislation to ensure that economic development and environmental protection go hand in hand and not head to head.