Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise and join my colleagues in the debate on Bill C-55, and more specifically the Senate amendments. Some of them were rejected by the government, which moved its own motion to somewhat amend the bill in response to the questions and criticisms from the Senate. That is the context in which I rise to express my opinion on this important bill.
I believe that protecting marine areas against the many potential threats concerns all Canadians. We must also protect the habitat of fish and marine mammals. I believe that Canadians are just as concerned about this issue as they are about protecting biodiversity and ecosystems on the ground.
All Canadians are proud of their national and provincial parks. They are places of national or local interest that deserve to be adequately protected to ensure their survival. That is the goal of protecting them. We will protect these places, which are beautiful and worth visiting, to preserve them for future generations and to conserve biodiversity. We also want to conserve the fauna and flora for future generations. I would also add that biodiversity must be protected not just in Canada, but around the world.
We also want to ensure that industrial development does not endanger certain plant or animal species. Scientists recently sounded the alarm over the protection of plant and animal species. Over a million species face extinction in the short term unless something is done to protect them. I believe that Canadians will agree that we need to conserve biodiversity and ecosystems around the world for future generations.
Canada needs to take action, but a global, concerted effort is also required. Although Canada is the second-largest country in the world by land area and has thousands of kilometres of coastline, we cannot singlehandedly do everything that needs to be done to protect global biodiversity. Global collaboration is needed for our actions to be effective.
A few years ago, we actually did enter into a collaboration with the international community. We set targets and made shared commitments to ensure the protection of biodiversity and sensitive areas. We pledged to protect 5% of our marine areas by 2017 and 10% by 2020. I do not need to remind anyone that 2020 is next year.
Right now, in 2019, only 1.5% of our marine areas are protected. That means we have missed our 2017 target of 5%, obviously, and we are on track to miss the 2020 target too unless the government wakes up and boosts protection to 10%. That would be surprising, but it would be woefully inadequate anyway, for several reasons that I will explain.
First of all, the protected areas, as defined by the government, will not be truly protected. That is the central problem with Bill C-55. It is a laudable commitment and a step in the right direction, since it would at least do something to protect certain areas, but the protection provided under the bill is grossly insufficient.
When it comes to terrestrial protected areas, such as national parks, these protections are very real and effective. Oil and gas exploration and activities such as hunting and fishing are not permitted in our national parks. The regulations governing these areas are clearly defined, and people know what can and cannot be done. These terrestrial areas are very well protected, and we should be proud of them. No one is allowed to do exploratory drilling for shale gas or oil in national parks, and everyone agrees on that.
The crux of the problem is that the government has decided not to extend those same protections to marine protected areas. On the one hand, we have the Conservatives who do not care one bit. They did not lift a finger to protect marine areas when they were in power. On the other hand, we have the Liberals, who only pretend to protect these areas. They are going to establish boundaries for protected areas in Canada, but if you really look at the details, it becomes clear that these areas will not be protected from oil and gas exploration. We know how dangerous drilling and oil and gas exploration and development can be.
All Canadians will be happy to hear about the 2% increase in marine protected areas, including a large part of the Gulf of St. Lawrence, for example. However, they will be surprised to learn that this area will not be protected from oil and gas development.
Everyone knows that this is just window dressing by the Liberal government. It lets them say that they are protecting marine areas when really these are not protected areas since oil and gas exploration and commercial fishing, including with trawlers that drag nets along the bottom of the sea to catch fish, crustaceans and other species that we consume, are allowed. It is ridiculous that these activities are permitted in marine protected areas. In fact, industrial activities are not permitted in terrestrial protected areas.
Marine protected areas should enjoy the same protections as terrestrial ones, but the government refused to make that happen. The government always caves when it comes time to take important decisions. When it is not caving to insurance or pharmaceutical companies, then it is caving to oil and gas companies, which have quite a bit of clout. When it is not caving to banks, it is caving to companies like Loblaws or huge multinationals like SNC-Lavalin, which have privileged access to the Prime Minister's Office. Again, the government was not firm on the issue of development.
The government did not want to protect 10% of Canada's marine areas from these industries. It wanted to take a half-measure and do a little better than the Conservatives. The Liberals would have people believe that they did something. They want to announce that they are protecting marine areas and that they have a better environmental plan to protect biodiversity and ecosystems. In reality, if we cut through all the rhetoric, we see that the government is not really taking any meaningful action, and that is unfortunate.
If memory serves, my colleague from Port Moody—Coquitlam tried to remedy that situation at the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans. He did extraordinary work to try increase protections. He did not want them to be protected only on paper. He did not want the government to simply chart out what areas should be protected and then for everything to stay the same as it was before.
The bill identifies the marine areas in need of protection on a map. However, if we were to go and check on what is happening in those areas after the bill is passed, we would see that the bill changes absolutely nothing and that it is business as usual. It is an opportunity for the government to claim to be doing something to protect the environment and to increase marine conservation targets by a few percentage points, when in reality it is doing nothing at all.
These protections are more urgent than ever, especially in light of the impact climate change is having on biodiversity and ecosystems. When all of this changes and when the ocean's climate changes, the ocean's currents and water temperatures change as well. This all has an effect on marine biodiversity, which must be protected more than ever.
Humankind long thought that the ocean was infinite. That is certainly how it appears when you stand on the edge of the ocean. The beauty of Canada's Atlantic and Pacific coasts are world renowned. Our beaches are as well, even though the water is quite cold in some places. Some beaches are still good for swimming in the summer. When you go to the coast you can really see the expanse of the ocean. It looks infinite; it looks as though the horizon has no end and the resource is infinite. However, we now know that it is indeed finite and that we must take care of it. This resource is far from being infinite. With today's technology, we understand the ocean's resources are limited and must therefore be protected. We must ensure that they can endure and that future generations will be able to enjoy them, as I was saying earlier.
The ocean's resources are a treat for the palate. People across Canada enjoy seafood every day, and in some areas they are eaten in large quantities. We must be responsible and ensure that the species that we enjoy so much will be available for future generations so they may enjoy them in a responsible manner. That is why we must ensure that the laws we pass are stringent, have teeth and provide the resources needed by those who will enforce these new protections. We must ensure that irresponsible fishing practices are not used and that no trawlers will scrape the ocean floor to harvest resources in these specific areas. We need the financial resources, but they have yet to be announced by the government. It still has not announced how it will protect these areas. Not only do we have false protections on paper, but we do not even have the resources needed to monitor them and ensure that these areas are well protected once designated. That is worrisome for many experts.
The experts are far from unanimous. They do not agree on this bill. Some of those experts are very well-known organizations, such as the World Wildlife Fund, the WWF, which stated that oil and gas exploitation will still be permitted and that harmful fishing practices will not be legally prohibited. The World Wildlife Fund works with other organizations to make regulations as tough as possible. Even if this bill is adopted, some endangered species will remain endangered.
Another organization, West Coast Environmental Law, is very critical of the government. One of the organization's directors, Ms. Nowlan, believes the proposed amendments make useful short-term improvements to the federal Oceans Act and related oil and gas legislation but could and should go much further. For enforcement to be truly effective, we need even stronger legal authority, such as minimum protection standards that make respect for ecological integrity the top priority.
She added that this is not nearly enough, unfortunately. It is certainly a shame that the government is giving people the impression that it is doing something.
Academics have said that this is not enough. One well-known organization, the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, or CPAWS, advocates for increased protection for parks and wilderness areas. The organization is concerned because the areas being protected do not meet the standard set out under the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity and therefore will not actually count toward the target.
That is what Ms. Jessen from CPAWS said. She raised the issue that I just asked my Conservative colleague about, though he did not seem to have an answer. She does not have a definitive answer either, but I think one will emerge over time. This expert says she is concerned that the protection standards that will be implemented under Bill C-55 may not meet the standard set out under the convention to which Canada is a party. Members may recall that the convention commits us to protecting 10% of our marine areas. Today, only 1.5% of our marine areas are protected, even though our target is to protect 10% by 2020.
It is also possible that the international organization will not even recognize the areas that we will be protecting under this bill. I asked my colleague if he had gotten any more information in committee, but apparently no one knows yet. Organizations and experts are still deeply concerned that even if this bill increases the percentage of protected areas from 1.5% to 8%, 9% or 10% over the coming years, the new protected areas may not even count under the convention. This bill is so toothless that even if the government designates new protected areas, the convention will not recognize them. That is a shame.
It would be a serious mistake for the government to adopt protections that do not meet the standards laid out in the convention. This would be a lost opportunity to catch up with many other countries in this regard. Not only are we not meeting our targets, we are actually falling considerably behind every year in relation to countries like the United States and Australia, which are leaders in this area. Even the United States, which is not necessarily regarded as a huge champion of the environment and biodiversity, has protected 33% of its marine areas against various threats. Australia has protected 30% of its marine areas. They are the leaders. Canada, meanwhile, still ranks near the bottom in that regard, because it refuses to stand up to the interests of big oil and gas and say “no” to exploration and development by oil and gas companies.
That being said, in some places, such as the Beaufort Sea, which my colleague talked about earlier, the government decided to ban these activities. That move was criticized for the lack of consultation, but I think that at some point, we have to stand firm and refuse to allow these activities in such sensitive areas that are so hard to access, especially in winter when it is difficult if not impossible to clean up the mess. In the Gulf of St. Lawrence, there are extremely sensitive areas where we would not begin to know how to clean up the mess or restore the area after a disaster. The government has to be firm.
We in the NDP have the courage of our convictions. We are not afraid to stand up to the oil and gas lobbies and their highly dangerous activities to truly protect these areas. We have to protect these areas for future generations, to protect our environment and fight climate change. Unfortunately, the Conservatives are doing nothing and do not want to do anything, and the Liberals are only pretending to do something. At least there is one party in the House willing to do something meaningful to truly protect biodiversity and our ecosystems.