Madam Speaker, I want to thank my colleague from Calgary for his comments; that is definitely a high bar. I had the honour of being on the fisheries committee back in 2012, when the changes were made by our government, and they were necessary and important. I was also on the fisheries committee in 2016, when the revisions were being debated.
Let us talk about the old Fisheries Act, prior to 2012. There were many problems with the act. There was a great level of uncertainty. It introduced uncertainty into the development process. It had a wide scope. All of Canada became fish habitat, entire watersheds, extending the federal jurisdiction everywhere in the country. There was lack of discretion. The old Fisheries Act removed any regulatory discretion, since all fish habitat was considered important, no matter how small a puddle it was. There was a lack of knowledge. Knowledge of Canada's fisheries is rather poor, and that is no one's fault. It is just such an enormous task that we still have a long way to go. There were high compliance costs. The cost of compliance for rural communities and industries was extremely high, for very little return in terms of fisheries conservation. This added to the regulatory burden on top of things like the Species at Risk Act and various environmental legislation, most of which, quite frankly, introduced very little environmental improvement.
It is interesting. In 2009, the Auditor General evaluated the old Fisheries Act. She asked how it worked, what it did, and what results came from it. The program's lack of success, without sufficient support from science, was likewise documented in the Auditor General's 2009 report on the fish habitat management program. A report by the commissioner of the environment and sustainable development called “Protecting Fish Habitat” indicated that, over 23 years, the fish habitat management program could not be demonstrated to have adequately protected fish habitat, and by extension fisheries. All kinds of money was spent and staff time was used up with no effect on fisheries.
I have said it a few times in the House, but for those who do not know, I am a fisheries biologist by training. My entire career has been in fisheries, and I have been involved in conservation my entire life. In fact, I do not mind being called an environmentalist, but I am very much a right-wing environmentalist.
The changes we made to the Fisheries Act were very much in line with the 1986 fish habitat management plan, which actually was in place when the old Fisheries Act was in place. In the changes we made to the act, we went from equal consideration for all fish species and habitat to focusing on sustainability and the productivity of fisheries: commercial, recreational, and aboriginal. This was the most important part. How strange it is to have a Fisheries Act actually dealing with fisheries. Fisheries means the act of human beings harvesting fish in a sustainable manner. That is what our act was all about.
The 1986 fish habitat management program was in place when we changed the Fisheries Act. It said:
The policy applies to those habitats directly or indirectly supporting those fish stocks or populations that sustain commercial, recreational or Native fishing activities [that was the vernacular of the day] of benefit to Canadians.... In accordance with this philosophy, the policy will not necessarily be applied to all places where fish are found in Canada, but it will be applied as required in support of fisheries resource conservation.
As fisheries biologists, that is what we are supposed to do, protect fisheries. This was in line with the actual fish habitat policy.
It has been said by a couple of speakers already. I sat on the committee, along with my colleague from Cariboo—Prince George, whom I admire greatly for his perseverance and perspicacity. We asked witness after witness if they could prove that there was any harm done to any fish population in Canada because of the changes we made to the Fisheries Act in 2012. Not one person could provide quantitative evidence. They just regurgitated Liberal and NDP talking points. As far as I am concerned, what goes on on the ground in terms of fish population, fish conservation, and fisheries sustainability is what really counts.
I would just make the point that the 2010 sockeye salmon run in the Fraser and the 2014 sockeye salmon run in the Fraser were the largest in Canadian history. Wonder of wonders, which government was that under? It was the government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Now the sockeye salmon runs in the Fraser are in jeopardy.
What did we hear in our committee in terms of the Fisheries Act? From the mining association, the representatives said to our committee, when the government wanted to change the Fisheries Act of 2012:
...the 2012 changes to the Fisheries Act have in practice broadened the circumstances in which section 35 prohibitions apply and increased the circumstances in which an authorization and offsets are required.
While noting the increased burden on mining project proponents imposed by the amendments....
They then went on to talk about that. The point is that the mining association said that our act was tougher and protected fish habitat even better. Of course, the current government, by changing our act, would actually weaken fish habitat protections.
In a letter to the committee, the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities talked about what it was like prior to 2012. It stated:
Prior to 2012, the Act applied to all waterways in Canada, regardless of whether they actually supported fish habitats. This caused a significant administrative burden, increased construction costs and delays for many municipalities in Saskatchewan and Alberta, as impact assessments and modified design and construction processes were often required for municipal bridges and culverts to accommodate fish habitats that, in many cases, did not exist.
That is the kind of act we dealt with.
The Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties said this about our act, the Fisheries Act of 2012:
For this reason, the AAMDC is supportive of the Fisheries Act as currently written, as it effectively balances local autonomy with federal oversight of fish habitats, while also focusing attention on the protection of important commercial, recreational and Aboriginal fisheries. This structure allows for municipalities to leverage knowledge of their local environments to determine whether federal oversight of a project across or into a water body is necessary....
Fancy that, local people knowing more about their environment that some remote bureaucrat.
The crowning glory, in a negative sense, in terms of testimony, came from the Canadian Federation of Agriculture. The CFA represents all farmers across the country. Mr. Ron Bonnett, the president, said:
...these farmers are all too familiar with the Fisheries Act in its previous form [previous to 2012]. The experience that many farmers had with the [old] Fisheries Act, unfortunately, was not a positive one. It was characterized by lengthy bureaucratic applications for permitting and authorizations, and a focus on enforcement and compliance measures taken by officials coupled with a lack of guidance and outreach....
He goes on to say:
There are also many accounts of inconsistency in enforcement, monitoring, and compliance across Canada with different empowered organizations, which led to a confusion and indiscriminate approaches to enforcement and implementation. Even at the individual level, there were different interpretations of the act based on one's familiarity with agriculture.
What Mr. Bonnett was saying was that there were fisheries officers who knew nothing about agriculture, so they came and tried to implement this act, most of them while carrying firearms on their hips, which was very strange in peaceful rural communities, and that simply did not work. Mr. Bonnett went on to say:
It is CFA's position that a complete revert to reinstate all provisions of the Fisheries Act as they were would be unproductive, would re-establish the same problems for farmers, and would provide little improvement in outcome for the protection and improvement of fish habitat.
In terms of our act, Mr. Bonnett stated, “The current streamlined approach is working far better for all and efforts should continue”.
One last point I want to make is that it is really a disgrace that the current government cancelled the recreational conservation fisheries partnerships program, and I am quoting from testimony to the fisheries committee by assistant deputy minister, Kevin Stringer. He said, “Under the recreational fisheries partnerships program, $3.1 million was spent.” This was the first year. There were 74 different organizations that undertook 94 habitat restoration projects. There were 380 partners involved in those projects, 1,700 volunteers donated their time, 2.4 million square metres of habitat restored, and 2,000 linear kilometres of recreational fisheries habitat enhanced.
That is real, on-the-ground conservation, and the government cancelled that program.