Mr. Speaker, the hon. member for Victoria asked, and as the good book says, “Ask and you will receive”. We have a member from Alberta here, standing to represent another province in this great debate.
I hope members will indulge me while I quickly mention my friends and colleagues, Andrea Khanjin, Lindsey Park, and David Piccini, who won their seats this evening in the Ontario election. It was a pleasure serving with them in Ottawa and knowing them as friends. I am very proud of them tonight, and I want them to know that.
I rise to speak on Bill C-68, an act to amend the Fisheries Act. For my whole life, from the Fraser River all the way to Ontario's Rideau Lakes, my passion for fish, fishing, and preserving and sustaining fish stocks is very important to me. I am passionate about preserving and sustaining fish and fish habitat, but I see little reason to support Bill C-68, a flawed bill that will over-regulate and would solve a problem that does not really exist.
Canada has strong protections in place to ensure the preservation of fish and fish habitats, but there is always room for improvement. However, the Liberal government has rejected any amendments from the committee, amendments that would ensure the best legislation for Canadians.
The government introduced Bill C-68, which introduces a number of changes to the Fisheries Act. However, it ignores some of the major findings from a report from the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans that was presented to the House of Commons in February 2017. On September 19, 2016, the fisheries committee, including Liberal members, agreed to the following motion. They would:
...review and study the scope of the 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 in 2016, before presenting this report to the House of Commons in February 2017. Overall, the committee heard from 50 different witnesses during the study and received over 188 submissions and briefing notes. It was a comprehensive study, which, if the government were truly committed to strengthening the role of committees in this Parliament, would have formed the basis for Bill C-68. However, Bill C-68 essentially ignores the committee's report, including one of the most important recommendations contained in the report. This recommendation stated:
Any revision of the Fisheries Act should review and refine the previous definition of HADD 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 testimony from 50 witnesses and briefing notes from more than 180 associations, groups, and individuals, it was agreed that a return to HADD was undesirable and that should the government return to HADD, it needed to be refined and further reviewed. However, Bill C-68 ignores the recommendation completely and introduces a return to HADD.
Now HADD is referred to in 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 is harmful, alters, disrupts, or destroys any fish habitat could be stopped or not approved by the government.
I have friends who have personally experienced the overzealous regulation of the Department of Fisheries in its enforcement of HADD. A dear friend of mine, who has played a senior role in the air cadets in western Canada, told me of how much trouble he had dealing with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans a number of years ago before the Conservatives made reforms. My friend needed to renovate a firing range for the air cadets. This was a public range that was used by private individuals and the air cadets to practice. He was required by new government regulations to renovate this range in order to make it live up to the codes that the government had set for it.
In the process of dealing with this one set of government regulations, he quickly ran afoul of another set of government regulations. Every spring, during the snow melt, a small stream would form and run straight through the range. For 10 months of the year, one could hardly tell that a stream existed. There was no water, as it would dry up. However, once DFO officials got involved, they discovered traces of a common fish that could have been in the stream. They immediately halted the renovations to the gun range, which had operated for decades, because of the possibility that a fish habitat existed on the range. It could only have been there for less than two months of the year, because that is the only time there was water.
Because they were not able to renovate the range because of these old DFO regulations the Conservatives had removed, they were unable to recertify the range. Effectively, they shut down the range, depriving air cadets and private individuals of a facility necessary for their training and improvement.
That is a personal story of how some regulations, although they are intended to do good things, can really impact the everyday activities of Canadians in a way that does not really achieve the accomplishment. That is why we need to review and make clear what HADD really means.
As the committee report noted, this section was applied inconsistently and was oftentimes very unclear. Developers were often bogged down in battles over what constituted fish development, and it was an inconsistent roadblock for projects. Therefore, in 2012, the Conservative government removed HADD provisions and replaced them with the following:
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.
That is a very broad way of putting it. It captures a lot of the environmental effects, but it also introduces a certain level of judgment. There is a balance between the environment and the economy, and when we have that judgment, we just cannot have something that says that nothing will be done if it does any harm to fish. We need to look at whether it is a serious harm or not. When we introduce that level of judgment, it allows us to get to the best decisions.
This previous Conservative law had a very clear and more universally accepted interpretation. It was accepted, and it struck an important balance between development and conservation. I submit that this is the right balance.
The committee report we did together with the government recognized this by cautioning against a return to HADD provisions. However, although the Liberals want to talk a big game about empowering committees, they ignored this recommendation.
The consultation was done for the government. As I said earlier, there were more than 50 witnesses at the committee and more than 180 submissions. All the Liberals needed to do was read the report, and they would have seen in black and white that a return to HADD provisions was not favourable among stakeholders. Not one single individual or organization was able to present the committee with any scientific proof of harm that resulted from the elimination of HADD in the 2012 legislation. Therefore, I think we must assume that the 2012 legislation was working quite well.
The government refused to listen to a committee and rejected all the amendments. The government's approach to legislative, regulatory, and policy frameworks governing infrastructure projects, from a gun range to the way local farmers manage their property, will cause competitive disadvantages for Canadian companies across Canada and a massive regulatory headache for everyday Canadians.
We will not have a chance to make the necessary adjustments on this side of the House, but I urge our colleagues in the other place to take a long, serious look at Bill C-68 and make any necessary recommendations to this flawed legislation.