Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise tonight to speak to Bill C-68, an act to amend the Fisheries Act, a lengthy bill that would have a number of impacts on fisheries and fish stocks across Canada. The bill would also have wide-ranging implications for economic development for farmers, rural municipalities, and others.
I am from an Ontario riding. While members may not think there are a lot of fish in Ontario, we have a thriving fishing industry in the Great Lakes and also in many of our smaller communities. In fact, right down the road from my farm is a fish hatchery that supplies fingerlings across the world. Fish and fish habitat is important to all of us in Ontario as well.
It is my understanding that the fisheries and oceans committee conducted a full study of the 2012 changes made to the Fisheries Act, and conducted a full study of changes brought in by Bill C-68. I would like to focus most of my comments on the testimony heard during the committee's study of the 2012 changes.
The committee started its study in October 2016 and presented a report to the House in February 2017. The committee heard from 50 different witnesses during the study and received over 188 submitted briefing notes. It was a very comprehensive study, and it would have been a useful tool for the government to use when it was drafting this legislation.
The study looked directly at the changes that the previous government, our Conservative government, made in 2012 to the Fisheries Act, changes that significantly improved it.
One of the significant changes that was made in 2012 was a shift away from what was commonly referred to as HADD, which stands for “harmful alteration, disruption or destruction of fish habitat”. It is contained within subsection 35(1) of the bill where it is stated, “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 seen to be harmful to, altering, disrupting or destroying fish habitats would be subject to an immense amount of review and red tape, and could be stopped or completely prohibited.
It is unclear, however, about what constituted a fish habitat. It was found that the DFO applied this definition in a inconsistent manner, and others played fast and loose with this term and used it broadly to apply to waterways that really had no impact at all on fish stocks. The system was ineffective and was a nightmare for development. Worst of all, after all this red tape and bureaucratic interference, it had no measurable success in protecting or preserving fish populations.
The changes in 2012 brought in a much simpler and effective definition to ensure fish were protected but that reasonable projects could still move forward. The definition at that time was “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 is much more effective and provides certainty and clarity for developers, for farmers, for fishermen, for first nations, and for others.
In the report from the fisheries and oceans committee, the third 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”. This is the heart of why HADD was changed in 2012. It was applied in such an inconsistent and subjective manner. The recommendation went on to say, “and the limiting effect it had on government agencies in their management of fisheries and habitats in the interest of fish productivity.”
I am confused as to why we are now seeing what looks to be a return to HADD in Bill C-68. It does not make any sense. The committee testimony is there in black and white, and it was heard time and again when the committee studied Bill C-68.
We all know that when the previous government brought in the 2012 changes, environmental associations and others threw their hands up in the air and screamed that these changes would be the death of all fish in Canada. However, the proof is just not there.
It is my fear here that the government is simply returning to the pre-2012 provisions to appease these groups.
One impact that is not always clear to many is the impact that farmers face due to the Fisheries Act, and it will be 10 times worse under a system that uses the HADD definition. When farmers are looking to expand their farm or develop their farmland, they can get caught up in reviews of their projects under the Fisheries Act. A return to HADD would make the lives of farmers much more difficult.
When testifying before the committee, the Canadian Federation of Agriculture stated that prior to 2012 there were “lengthy bureaucratic applications for permitting and authorizations”, but the 2012 changes “drastically improved the timeliness and cost of conducting regular maintenance and improvement of activities to their farm.”
That is so crucial, because farmers can get caught up in this red tape and actually be prevented from moving forward with improving their farmland or construction of buildings.
The CFA expanded on this by stating that:
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....
This was again reiterated during the study of Bill C-68 at the fisheries and oceans committee.
Farmers do not want to return to a pre-2012 system. In fact, no one but those who oppose development want a return to the pre-2012 system. The government should stop catering to these interest groups and abandon this plan.
It is not just farmers who have concerns, though. The Canadian Electricity Association has said that Bill C-68 is “one step forward but two steps back.”
They went on to state:
CEA is particularly concerned that the government has chosen to return to pre-2012 provisions of the Fisheries Act that address 'activity other than fishing that results in the death of fish, and the harmful alteration, disruption or destruction (HADD) of fish habitat. In practical terms, this means that virtually any action, without prior authorization, could be construed as being in contravention of this Act. Consequently, the reinstatement of these measures will result in greater uncertainties for existing and new...energy projects that directly support Canada's clean growth agenda and realize its climate change objectives.
To make a long story short, this is bad news for Canadian development and will have no positive impact on the protection of fish populations in Canada.
The government had an opportunity to make this legislation work when it was offered reasonable amendments during the committee clause-by-clause study. Unfortunately, again, as in so many instances when the Liberals talk about being open and amenable to amendments, when it comes to the actual committee work, committee members are always overpowered by the majority of Liberals on the committee, who refused the amendments.
As we have witnessed time and again, the Liberals do not care about rural Canadians or development. I only hope Canadians will listen to our message of positive change and send them packing next October.