Madam Speaker, it is an honour to be speaking in the House of Commons this evening as we continue debate on Bill C-68. I am sure there will be more commentary as the night proceeds into the middle of the night and then late night, perhaps even early morning. Who knows in this place. It is an honour to serve the constituents of Parry Sound—Muskoka, regardless of the hour of the day. I am sure all colleagues feel the same about their ridings.
We are debating Bill C-68, which aspires to protect our oceans and fisheries. I believe all members of the chamber would want to do this. The issue is whether it does something meaningful in that regard. The answer is a resounding no.
As my colleague from Calgary just mentioned, there were extensive changes to the Fisheries Act under the previous government to ensure our fisheries were protected, and yet at the same time, it was much more user friendly for Canadians. It was important for economic development and it was also ridding the previous legislation of a nuisance factor, where every ditch all of a sudden became a protected area for fish that were too numerous to count.
Clearly, it was overreach in the pre-existing legislation, which the legislation of the previous Conservative government sought to remedy. Now we find ourselves again, with the Liberal government now in its third year, regurgitating legislation simply because there were changes made under the previous Conservative government. I am sure there is no ill will on the opposite side, but I tend to wonder whether the Liberals are simply trying to reinvent the wheel and put their own stamp on legislative priorities.
What happens with legislation like this is that it makes the situation worse for economic development. It makes it worse in trying to balance protecting fish habitat and at the same time moving forward in our communities. That is what we have with Bill C-68.
There are a number of things here. The bill seems to undermine transparency and due process by allowing the minister to withhold critical information from interested proponents. It goes against the Prime Minister's oft stated commitment in national and international fora to openness and transparency.
Let us talk about that for a few minutes. This is a constant theme of the government, that it is more open, more transparent, that the Liberals are the ones who cornered the market on openness and transparency. However, when we look at the record of the government, it is far from that.
In its 2015 platform, the Liberals said that they would fix the Access to Information Act. There was delay upon delay, and finally the President of the Treasury Board stood in his place and said that the government would have a two-pronged approach, that it would pick the fruit that it could pick first, and then it would leave the more difficult issues until later. That was denounced by the Information Commissioner, who had been waiting all these years for changes to the Access to Information Act. It was basically a big disaster for the government because it was not following through on its promises.
There has been a lack of transparency to the Parliamentary Budget Officer, and that is important. The Parliamentary Budget Officer is the person who works for the House, for Parliament, in analyzing the budgetary priorities of the government of the day. I will admit, when we were in government, and I was president of the Treasury Board, it was not exactly pleasant in this place for the Parliamentary Budget Officer to examine and be a pair of eyes over our shoulders.
It is not the most pleasant thing for politicians or bureaucrats, but at the same time, it is necessary. It is necessary for the proper functioning of this place to have that oversight. Because the executive has so much power under our parliamentary system, it is good to have that pair of eyes reporting to Parliament and reporting to the public on issues about budgetary priorities and the true cost of things.
The Parliamentary Budget Officer has been complaining about the lack of information given by the Liberal government. I know that governing is hard. I was there. What I find offensive, perhaps, disconcerting certainly, is when the government and Liberal politicians promise openness and transparency and deliver precisely the opposite, to the detriment of Canadians, and certainly the opposite of what they promised while campaigning in 2015.
In Bill C-68, there is a provision for advisory panels, but no guidance, no limitation, on how they would be used. What are the rights of citizens when we have these advisory panels? What are the property rights of citizens when we have these advisory panels? How do we balance these advisory panels with local interests and local knowledge? The bill is silent. I wish I knew the answer to that before I voted on this bill, but the answer is not forthcoming from the government of the day.
As I mentioned and the previous speaker from Calgary mentioned, there were amendments on these issues back in 2012 that received royal assent and came into force in November 2013. There was a proper balance between protecting fish and fish habitat and measuring the economic and social value so that fish and fish habitat that were at risk would get the protection they needed. However, this was not the case in every case. Not every fish in our environment needs protection. I hope this is not a politically incorrect thing to say.
In some places in our country, I would say to the audience watching television, there are a multitude of fish, and there are protections for them, but we do not need the uber-protections of the federal government deciding that it knows better than local people how to protect the fish in their environment. That is why it was important to have that balance.
Now that balance is gone, and alas, we are in a situation of debating this lamentable bill, which is just another way for the Liberal government to show the world how wonderful it is and how it understands fish habitat and the environment. However, what we are going to get is the national government deciding on fish in a ditch. This is ludicrous. This is the old, oft-used Shakespearean phrase, “The law is an ass.”
On this side of the House, we want to stand for common sense. We want to protect the fish environments that need to be protected, but we are not here just to create laws for the sake of creating laws. I know that the Canadian Electricity Association has said that this bill is two steps back. It is concerned that we are back to the pre-2012 provisions. In practical terms, this makes life tougher for its members.
On this side of the House, we will continue, as Conservatives, to represent and work with the fishers, the farmers, and the industry groups to make sure that their concerns are heard and to make sure that fish are protected but that our economy can move forward. That is why I am a Conservative, and that is why I oppose this bill.